There is growing concern for the encroaching commercial developments in major cities of the country that are threatening to render open space in the city extinct. Governments are under pressure to attend to the ever growing demands for new houses and development of commercial hubs in the urban centres. Additionally, the same government is also accorded the task of ensuring open space in the city is preserved. Commercial development of the cities is the main reason if not the only reason why most cities exist; however, its economic importance should not be used to undermine social welfare and comfort of city residents.
A study by CITATION Lei12 l 1033 (Mercury, 2012) shows that there is 83% more sprawl in metro areas now than there was in the 1990s. An index was developed in the USA to determine sprawl. It showed that, a population boom doesn’t necessarily trigger sprawl. As a matter of fact, sprawling can occur even when the population is shrinking. Another observation from the sprawl index was the fact that, only 12 out of 271 cities harbored 90% or more of their population in the urban areas; 61% housed more than 80% of their population in the urban areas. Of key interest was the finding that suggests that, small metropolitan area with populations of less 250,000 people or less, occurring in some of the more pastoral areas of the country sprawl more than the larger metro areas with populations of 1000, 000 people or more. In fact, most of the country’s major metro areas experience the least sprawl.
Among the factors that limit sprawling is availability of water, for instance, in a popular desert City like Las Vegas, the water scarcity limits development to areas which are in close proximity with the city edge and its municipal water lines and not the open space areas.
Secondly, geography is another determinant of sprawling. Physical barriers such as mountains, oceans, valleys and others can force compact growth of a metro while flat land can allow development of any kind. This factor works both ways that is; it can either work in favor of or against sprawling. Take the case of Los Angeles; the powerful forces of natural anti-Sprawl barriers have limited the once-sprawling city, forcing it to turn inwards so as to attain further growth.
Thirdly, a lack of proper regional government planning can encourage sprawling. In most metropolitan cities specifically in the Northeast and Midwest, numerous local governments regulate development. The outcome of this is fragmented planning. Several efforts by both the state and local government to restrict sprawl, have grown significantly but have had limited impact.
Sprawl is rated among the most crucial problems in the cities in the same category as problems such as traffic tied, crime and violence. Sprawl was given an 18% level of impact according to a survey CITATION CRA09 l 1033 (WATTSON, 2009) with issues on health and education ranking below it. Because of the randomness in which sprawl occurs in the country, the issue has been quite difficult to address.
Sprawling in the city is disadvantageous because of its negative connotations such as poor living conditions due to overcrowding that may result to health complications. Sprawling also facilitates environmental degradation due to misuse and overuse of natural resources. Moreover, sprawling can lead to cultural conflicts and in some extreme cases, sprawling is a major cause of traffic fatalities.
In the past attempts have been made to curb urban Sprawl to no avail. Pressures mounted by campaign groups and formal proposal to the government to declare a given parcel of open space public land a reserved recreational area and to establish green belts, are some of the approaches that have been used in the past to address the issue of sprawling.
One of the key facilitators of the issue of sprawling, is some government anti-sprawl policies or private home ownership liberties such as the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) syndrome that inhibits housing developers from efficiently utilizing land in the metro areas. Unfortunately, the land-use laws that have been in operation for 30 years have been used to propagate this syndrome further, hence, encouraging local anti-development forces. A major contributor of low- density development is the resistance brought forth by suburban communities who would not agree to accommodate higher- density housing. Housing developers who are frustrated by the NIMBY proponents who reside in the areas desirable areas, that is areas close to jobs, amenities and urban infrastructure, are forced to move their development projects to more rural areas. The aftermath is a deficiency of houses in the desirable areas and sprawling in the initially low density areas.
Evidently, sprawl is a very challenging issue to address as it is quite evident from its random occurrence and its major causes. Since most of the factors that cause sprawling are natural occurrences, for example, the natural physical features and the geography, the only other viable approach to address the issue of sprawling comprehensively is to analyze the factor of improper regional government planning as a major cause of sprawling. Using this approach, all the cities that experience sprawling due to poor planning can be salvaged.
A feasible way of doing away with sprawling via reassessing of land-use laws and government policies are through the termination of the NIMBY syndrome. It has been observed that land owners use this liberty to hinder efficient housing in the metro areas and this greatly facilitates sprawling. The government has the mandate to step in and amend these land-use laws such that, if constructive development is essential in the metropolitan area, NIMBY should not be used as ammunition to deter such development. Efficient use of space in the metropolitan area would reduce the level of sprawling in most metropolitan cities that have been poorly planned by the local government.
A foreseen resistance to this measure is the lack of cooperation from the private property owners. This is mainly due to the popularity of the NIMBY syndrome and the fact that the land-use laws that need amendments have been in operation for quite some time. For this reason there is bound to be a significant level of resistance from the people when it comes to affecting this laws.
The obstacle of resistance to change can however be cured by sensitizing the metropolitan area residents on the negative effect of sprawling in their cities, the numerous benefits that they are bound to enjoy if the sprawling problem is eradicated, and the importance of proper planning in the cities.
Development of cities is important; however, this should not be a justification to allow sprawling to thrive in metropolitan cities.
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Mercury, L. (2012). The Urban Sprawl. Newyork: Polity Press.
SWANSON, J. (2013). The Rental Housing Affordability Crisis. MND News .
WATTSON, C. (2009). THE URBAN HOUSING CRISIS. NEW JERSEY: ADVENTURE WORKS PRESS.