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Urban Sprawl Control

Sprawl is the result of a process that began largely after WW II whereby technological advances and business and marketing strategies spurred demographic shifts and altered consumption patterns in favour of privacy, local control, and flexible personal transportation.  Sprawl can be defined as extensive low-density development on greenfields.  Sprawl typically has the following characteristics:

bulletUnnecessary land consumption
bulletLow average densities in comparison with older centres
bulletWidespread strip commercial development along roads
bulletAuto dependence.  Physically and economically segregated subdivisions
bulletFragmented open space, wide gaps between development and a scattered appearance
bulletSeparation of uses into distinct areas
bulletRepetitive one story commercial buildings surrounded by acres of parking
bulletLack of public spaces and community centres
bulletAutomobile dependency.  New wide roads
bulletUtility expansion/extension
bulletSegregated land uses by zones
bulletLack of centralized or coordinated planning
bulletNew development that is outside established settlements
bulletLarge financial inequalities among localities

Causes of Sprawl

bulletPublic investments in roads, public buildings, water, sewer and other infrastructure in peripheral areas; decrease in investment in existing centres.
bulletLand regulations that promote suburban style development
bulletOther public policies, including tax policies and utility rate policies
Low cost fuel
bulletLower land prices in peripheral areas
bulletHigher costs of development associated with existing centres
bulletConsumer desire for rural lifestyle with large homes and large yards, safe environment and less traffic congestion
bulletPreference of business and industry for easy highway access, plenty of free parking and corporate identity
bulletDemands of commercial tenants for particular locations and designs for buildings and sites
bulletTelecommunications advances
bulletCommercial lending practices that favour suburban development

Sprawl Issues

bulletRelationship Between Population Growth and Sprawl

Analysing suburban sprawl shows that population growth variable explains about 31% of the growth in land area and even those areas that experienced no population growth increased in urbanized land area by an average of 18% and urban areas are expanding at about twice the rate that the population is growing.

It is important to remember that if there are multiple causes of sprawl, then their impact is multiplied together, so that if population increases by 50%, and density decreases by 50%, land consumed will increase not by 100%, but by 300%. So poor land use makes the impact of population growth worse, and vice-versa.

bulletSubsidies and Population Growth

A growing body of research shows that many communities are subsidizing new development in the form of new roads, water and sewer lines, schools, and emergency services.  Communities are also subsidizing growth by offering incentives to new businesses or industries that locate there, often sacrificing tax revenues needed to serve existing residents and businesses.

bulletReducing Density

Attempt to discourage population growth by reducing density can lead to more sprawl and more growth.  Tools aimed at simply capping growth by reducing density can be racially and economically exclusionary.  Low-density-only leads to exclusion of racial minorities either directly or by spurring a shift to lower housing production and single-family unit housing, leading to a lower percentage of renters and lower rental affordability.

Effects of Sprawl

Increased public costs

bulletUnnecessary public costs for redundant infrastructure outside existing centres
bulletExcessive public costs for roads and utility line extensions and service delivery to dispersed development
bulletUnutilised and under utilized infrastructure in existing centres
bulletReduced opportunity for public transportation services

Loss of sense of place and community decline

bulletFragmented and dispersed communities and a decline in social interaction
bulletIsolation of some populations, such as poor and elderly, in urban areas
bulletDecline in vitality and economic and fiscal viability of existing urban and village centres

Decline in environmental quality and natural resource production

bulletFragmented open space and wildlife habitat
bulletLoss of productive farmland and forestland
bulletIncrease in auto dependency and increased fuel consumption
bulletDecline in water quality from increased urban runoff, shoreline development and loss of wetlands

Decline in economic opportunity

bulletPremature disinvestments in existing buildings, facilities and services in urban and village centres
bulletRelocation of jobs to peripheral areas at some distance from population centres
bulletIncreased commuting times and costs
bulletDecline in number of jobs in some sectors, such as retail
bulletIsolation of employees from activity centres, homes, day care and schools
bulletReduced ability to finance public services in urban centres
bulletInability to capitalize on unique cultural, historic and public space resources (such as waterfronts) in urban and village centres