Human Journey

Curbing Urban Sprawl

gr_10november_479x210.jpgBy Wendy Gordon

I was curious to see how Wikipedia defined “sprawl” and sure enough, it was appropriately harsh:

“Urban sprawl, also known as suburban sprawl, is the spreading of a city and its suburbs over rural land at the fringe of an urban area…The term urban sprawl generally has negative connotations due to the health and environmental issues that sprawl creates. Residents of sprawling neighborhoods tend to emit more pollution per person and suffer more traffic fatalities. Sprawl is controversial, with supporters claiming that consumers prefer lower density neighborhoods and that sprawl does not necessarily increase traffic. Sprawl is also linked with increased obesity since walking and bicycling are not viable commuting options. Sprawl negatively impacts land and water quantity and quality and may be linked to a decline in social capital.”

Earlier this month, in its battle to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, California passed a new law, the nation’s first, which takes direct aim at urban sprawl and the amount of time people spend in their cars. The number of miles driven in California has increased 50 percent faster than the rate of population growth, largely because people have to drive

greater distances in their daily lives. With passenger vehicles being the biggest single source of carbon dioxide in California, producing nearly one-third of the state’s total, citizens there felt something had to be done.

The new law requires emissions-reduction goals for 2020 and 2035 be assigned to each of California’s 17 metropolitan planning areas. Local governments will then devise strategies to meet the new targets. Zoning laws may likely be modified so developers can build new housing closer to where people work. And improving mass transit will be a priority so commuters don’t have to rely so much on cars. The bill contains significant incentives, including the promise of substantial federal and state money to regions whose plans pass muster.

This anti-sprawl measure is the latest in a string of initiatives from the California Legislature, including a 2002 law to greatly reduce carbon emissions from automobiles, and a 2006 law requiring that one-fifth of California’s energy come from wind and other renewable sources. In the absence of federal action on climate change, we are deeply indebted to states like California, and cities across the country, which are taking leadership action on this vital national security issue.

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