Urban sprawl is not something that too many people really seem to spend that much time thinking about. Despite this, however, many people do have to deal with it. Those that are faced with the problem are often unsure about what they should be doing about it, and those that work in the field of trying to control it often struggle between making sure that there are enough places for people to live and making sure that the environment is not destroyed by the new houses and other buildings that are being created. Sometimes, balancing this is very difficult, and this is at the heart of the problem. For this reason, this paper focuses on urban sprawl and the environmental impact that is often seen when it takes place.
Environmentalists have so many concerns that they often can overlook the problems that urban sprawl is causing when it comes to environmental issues. Even though this is the case, many of the more metropolitan areas in the United States give a good indication of the environmental quality that is part of the lives of many individuals today. Many people in the United States today also feel that the conditions in metropolitan areas are getting much worse in many various respects. These include:
A loss in the amount of green space
The runoff of pollutants into various waterways
The increase of traffic that causes both air pollution and congestion
A landscape that is simply less pleasing overall (Gordon & Richardson, 1998).
Because of these concerns and others, there has recently been a movement to limit urban sprawl in many areas of the country, but most notably in the larger cities where the problems with urban sprawl and the pollution that it brings are becoming more obvious. In November 1998 there were many voters in the state of Maine that approved various and strong measures to keep urban sprawl to a minimum, thereby reducing some of the problems that this causes (Lomax & Schrank, 1998). Maine is not generally the focus of individuals when it comes to sprawl, but all states have problems with it some extent, and some areas of Maine are growing quite rapidly. Since the state is not large in the first place, there is only so much green space and unspoiled landscape available, and losing too much of it can cause many difficulties for those that live there and those that wish to visit on vacation.
In general, most of the lives of individuals in this country are metropolitan lives, and therefore people are becoming increasing concerned with the effects that urban sprawl has on their lives and on the environment in which they live. Currently, areas that are officially designated as metropolitan areas now account for approximately 19% of the vast land area in the United States. In 1960, that number was only 9% (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). This is a tremendous amount of growth in a relatively short period of time, and therefore it is something that environmentalists and others have not been completely able to keep up with. It appears that it is happening so fast, and coming up with good solutions to the problem is not always easy.
Eighty percent of the people in the United States live in a metropolitan area, and over half of the population lives in an area that has over 1 million people (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). Many people spend most of their lives in this kind of crowded, urban area, and they can often damage the land without deliberately intending to. The process of urban sprawl, as well as the consequences, were seen not only in Maine but in Washington DC as well. This area include the city of Washington, but also parts of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. In 1980, the population of the area was 3.1 million (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). In 1995, in had swelled to 4.5 million (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). This means that the population in that area had climbed by nearly 50% in only 15 years (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). In the suburbs was where all of that growth took place, and in the city of Washington itself, the population actually went down (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). This is indicative of what urban sprawl actually is, as the population keeps expanding outward from the downtown area while the downtown area slowly withers and dies away.
When this happens, many old businesses are lost and the larger, new businesses find that they must move into the suburbs to keep the business of the population (Whyte, 1968). Washington, however, is not the only place that had difficulties. Baltimore, Maryland is another area of concern for urban sprawl (Garreau, 1991). Since Baltimore is only 40 miles north of the city of Washington and the two cities have grown toward each other so much, they are now linked by the census bureau as the "Washington-Baltimore Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area" (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). It trails behind only New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and has a population approaching seven million people in the combined area (Gordon & Richardson, 1998).
It is important, however, that one city or area is not specifically focused on. Instead, the consequences of urban sprawl are what really need to be addressed, and they will be discussed here, as they pertain to all areas of the country where urban sprawl is becoming a noticeable issue for many people. In areas that have urban sprawl problems, the quality of life and the environment have both been affected greatly (Reid, 1996). In areas that have these problems shopping centers, businesses, and large residential housing developments are encroaching onto land that used to belong to farms, and also onto woodlands that used to be protected (Gordon & Richardson, 1998).
There is little mass transit in these kinds of areas and the highways have had to expand and then expand further to meet the traffic demands that are being placed upon them. Most of the people that live in these areas must commute to work, shopping, and other activities, and many of them do not know their neighbors well enough to carpool to save on gasoline and to help stop pollution and traffic congestion. The larger highways that have been built in an effort to reduce congestion have failed in this task. Instead, there are simply more people using them, and therefore they are even more crowded, especially during rush hour when many people commute from the suburbs into parts of the city to work (Gordon & Richardson, 1998).
The traffic is more than inconvenient. It also causes air pollution. This is very significant for many individuals that live in these areas, but it also harms the environment as well. Vehicles are seen to be the main sources of air pollution in heavily populated urban areas and the exhaust from them is still seen as being a serious problem. Surface-level ozone is the largest threat, and it comes from many factors, such as these vehicles just discussed (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). It is the main ingredient in the smog that is seen in many large cities, and is obviously detrimental to the health of living things, including plants, animals, and people (Gordon & Richardson, 1998).
High levels of ozone can cause breathing difficulties for many people, and those that already have problems such as asthma and emphysema are at particularly high risk. Pneumonia and other problems are also on the increase when ozone levels are high, and the traffic problems in larger metropolitan areas are not helping this problem (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). Even those individuals that are completely healthy are often urged to stay inside on days when the air is bad and if they must do activities such as jogging, they should do them in the morning (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). Not all people are affected by ozone, but many people are bothered by it to some degree and therefore it is becoming more of a problem than it was in the past.
The idea of air pollution, however, is not the only problem that urban sprawl creates. Waterways are also damaged by the amount of individuals living in an area, since pollution gets into the ground and leaches into the water table. Waterways in many metropolitan areas are also at a greater flooding danger because so much of the ground in urban areas has been paved over to make ways for roads, parking lots, and other things that are needed where people live (Gordon & Richardson, 1998). When this happens, water is not able to soak into the ground and it runs off. It ends up in the waterways and therefore the problems from flooding become more serious as the water level rises. Even a heavy rain that would have previously caused little to no problems can cause flooding in areas where there is too much pavement and not enough ground to soak up the water as it falls or as it runs off…