Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl, the decentralization of a city population to its surrounding suburbs, is a problem affecting many major cities in America. Most people prefer living in the suburbs and commuting to the city to living in the city. There are many personal benefits such as less air pollution and noise pollution, but sprawl has external costs. Some of these costs, such as the reliance on more expensive modes of transportation, affect the lower class more so than anyone else. Others affect everyone more or less equally, such as the environmental impacts. Although living in the suburbs can be beneficial, urban sprawl is harmful to the city because it creates segregation through means of transportation and harms the environment.

Urban sprawl and transportation go hand in hand, and with transportation you get segregation. As I discussed in my previous blog post, only those who can afford their own automobiles can afford to live in the suburbs. Everyone has to have access to certain essentials such as food and a source of income. Most of these things are found in the city, so, before the invention of the car, many people preferred living in the city. With the advent of the car, many white upper-class Americans decided to leave the city and commute to work. The effect this had on racial segregation in cities was devastating. “Racial segregation in housing, as well as in schools and jobs, is fundamental to the geography of the modern American city.” (Bullard) The geographical relocation of the privileged white Americans has segregated and spread out all major American cities. This map of Atlanta indicates the racial segregation problem.


The fact that population density in cities has decreased is bad for the lower class individuals relying on less expensive modes of transportation to reach their essentials because there are even fewer jobs, grocery stores, gas stations, etc. Overuse of improved transportation of the upper class has a negative effect on the rest of Americans.

Sprawl also has a negative impact on the environment. Population is increasing over time while population density in cities is decreasing due to sprawl, thus population density in suburban areas is increasing. This means that more land preserves have to be destroyed for houses, apartments, and parking. According to, “Between 1982 and 1997 America converted approximately 25 million acres of rural land – forests, rangeland, pastures, cropland, and wetlands – to developed land: that is, sub-divisions, freeways, factories, strip malls, airports, and the like.” (Key Statistics) Many of those developments can be attributed to urban sprawl. Sub-divisions and freeways have more obvious reasons for being attributed, but even strip malls are an effect of sprawl because their demand was a product of the movement of people from the city to the suburbs. In addition to the space that cars take up while parked at home, they also require roads be built between suburbia and the city. On top of that, all these cars output greenhouse gasses such as carbon monoxide that contribute to global warming. Global warming isn’t harmful to just lower class Americans, it’s harmful to everyone.

Urban sprawl conveniences a relatively small portion of the American community, but harms everyone else and destroys the environment in the process. The overall benefits are marginal at best compared to the drawbacks. Ultimately, we’ll have to change our ways or just accept America’s segregation and the declining global ecosystem.

Works Cited

Bullard, Robert D. “Anatomy of Sprawl.” Sprawl City: Race, Politics,

and Planning in Atlanta. Eds. Robert D. Bullard, Glenn S. Johnson, and

Angel O. Torres. Washington D.C.: Island Press, 2000. 1-20.

“Key Statistics of Urban Sprawl” NumbersUSA, n. d. Web 21 Sept.



“Maps of the African American and White Populations in the Atlanta, GA MSA” University of Wisconsin UWMilwaukee, n. d. Web 21 Sept. 2011.


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