Sprawl Now a Major Threat
Growth in the suburbs means increasing traffic jams, rising costs of public services, wasted tax revenue and increased air and water pollution, loss of open space and prime farmland, according to a report issued by the environmental group.
According to the report, "The Dark Side of the American Dream: The Costs and Consequences of Suburban Sprawl," Atlanta ranks as the worst city of 1 million residents or more for urban sprawl, losing some 500 acres of farmland, forest and green space each week.
Other cities making the list of the 10 worst were St. Louis, Washington, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Fort Lauderdale and Chicago.
Chicago's metropolitan land area growth expanded by 40 percent between 1990 and 1996, while the area population rose only nine percent, the report said. Fertile fields between Chicago and Milwaukee rank among the most threatened farmland in the nation because of encroaching development.
"Since World War II, the American dream has been a house in the suburbs," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "But that dream is turning into a nightmare of traffic, air pollution, lost open space and higher taxes."
"We need a sea change in the way cities think about growth and plan their development," said Pope. "We need to move away from the outdated and destructive planning and management policies established 50 years ago."
The Sierra Club offers smart growth solutions, including the purchasing open space, establishing growth boundaries, reinvesting in downtown areas, sharing the tax base more evenly between cities and their surrounding suburbs and developing agricultural zoning policies.
Portland, Ore., serves as a model city for one that is doing the right thing, said Sam Parry, the Sierra Club urban sprawl campaign leader. The city has passed an urban growth boundary beyond which growth will not occur. In turn the city is reinvesting in the urban core and allowing developers to do what they want within the boundary, said Parry. [Publisher's note: we've seen Portland and it's no model. Frankly, the Sierra Club needs more tools in its toolkit. The two-rate property tax shift is such a tool.]
Last week, the U.S. Agriculture Department said it would spend $17.2 million to help save productive farmland in 19 states from residential or commercial development. The funds, combined with state and local money, will keep 53,000 acres of land in cultivation.