Urban Sprawl and How States Are Dealing With the Issue Term Paper

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Land Use Planning Policies and Urban Sprawl


Land planning for distribution has progressed manifolds in the past century. Increase in the number of communities in the country raises the demand for urban development. Developments are often referred as revolutionary plans meant for better living. However, by the end of the 20th century perception of better living means away from the mainstream urbanism. Communities shifted to new areas with open space, tranquility and yet with almost the same kind of amenities as those in the urban areas [Williams, 2000].

Urban spread has become a major concern for various reasons. According to some urban sprawl should be controlled through extensive planning campaigns. Proponents of this group argue that the open spaces for farmland, once considered an off-limits arena for the urban commuters, today with the help of developers has slowly encroached on farm designated land. Opponents to sprawl are quick to point out that the zoning rules, higher taxes and fewer consumer choices all contribute to sprawl. It is the duty of the government to devise effective plans to control sprawl. The federal government is responsible for limiting the gradual undertaking of this new breed of consumers [Gordon and Richardson, 1997].

Yet again, people feel the future of farmland is threatened by sprawl since the nation depends on farmland for food and sustenance. If sprawl is not contained in time it will likely decrease farmland for agricultural purposes. According to statistics 39 largest metropolitan areas have already grown more then 22% in the last 3 decades. Americans find it more feasible to relocate to suburbs then to the heavily congested urban cities. Although these suburbs are difficult places to live and do business in, they feel they can sacrifice such a life style for the peace and tranquility [Oliver, 1998].

Subsequently, urban sprawl has become a great concern for environmentalists, federal government, urban developers and planners. First of all environmentalists propose that the U.S. is seeing decreasing in land coverage each year. At this rate of urban sprawl people will have more space to live in but lesser space for recreation, natural habitat for wild life and lesser land for agriculture. Secondly, federal government is concerned with the kind of control they have for stopping sprawl. Until now federal policies have not been effective. By definition sprawls is unregulated spread of urbanism. Unregulated means there is no controlling authority to oversee the kind of environment people create when they relocate to a different place of their choice. Since all utilities are privately owned it is difficult for the federal government to stop them from going out of planned cities to these suburbs. Thirdly, developers and planners are concerned about sprawl because they raise the problem of planned urban centers. They leave less choice for the developers and planners to set up habitable place within the city limits. Since developers depend on commuters to provide funds for projects, most of these projects have to be relocated to suit the consumers. Even if developers and planners want to erect urban projects they cannot do so without funding.


The gravity of the problem of sprawl hence raises the following research question:

How effective have land use planning policies been on the ability of states to control sprawl?


Sprawl has become an important topic for discussion because of the controversial nature of its existence. States like Los Angeles and New York are finding it difficult to control sprawl which absorb development budgets. The study is important for developers, enabling them to view how other states are managing their sprawl and to encourage them to follow similar action plans.

The following researcher will identify states that have been able to implement comprehensive growth management program. They are finding it to be an effective solution for controlling sprawl. The states that are able to control sprawl are keeping taxes down, helping the environment and aiding in the economic growth of inner cities by easing traffic congestion and slowing the development of open space and farmland.

Through non-peer reviews the researcher have come across studies indicating there are solutions for the problem of urban sprawl. However these require the attention and action of the federal government. The researcher plans to review several historical cases through peer reviews to show how land use policies can enable the states to control sprawl. The question remains is how the effective are the government's controlling programs. The researcher found on its own land use policies has been effective. However, the government's controlling policies lack in their scope which is why land use policies have proved ineffective.



Before one move on to sprawl and its containment by the government, one must define what actually urban sprawl is. Some experts define sprawl as low urban growth with low residents living on the outskirts of the urban areas, auto dependent and often spread out from existing communities. "Research also describes urban sprawl as random development characterized by poor accessibility among related land uses, such as housing, jobs, and services like schools and hospitals. Sprawling development can occur in rural and urban areas and can encompass residential, commercial, and industrial zones." [Government Accounting Office, 1999].

Land use planning according to peer reviews requires continuous incorporation of new ideas and techniques. Without this, the traditional mapped land use design cannot function as a charter for urban development. The classification of land use and planning require management as well. The local and federal governments are the main contributors to development of infrastructure in this genre. Local plans for instance channel through councils and ministers to the federal government. They are then projected to the federal government for approval. It is at this stage that one come to see the deterioration of effective control. Since there are no rigid rules for contemporary local planning, they are taken as a guiding measure [not controlling] to fulfill administrative purposes [Ewing, 1997].

Planning regulations

Edward J. Kaiser and David R. Godschalk [1995] indicate urban growth require extensive planning to map land use. They believe the results of their studies of 38 states indicate planning is the platform for the formation of community living. If an urban area is well planned, consensus among community members will enable urban growth in a regulated manner. Participation among community members would become easier. Kaiser and Godschalk study show an acute influence of "the federal Standard City Planning Enabling Act of 1928" earlier the previous century. Peer reviews indicated that the Act was responsible for shaping and enabling many states' government in urban planning matters. "However, the Act left many planners and public officials confused about the difference between a master plan and a zoning ordinance, so that hundreds of communities adopted "zoning plans" without having created comprehensive plans as the basis for zoning. Because the Act also did not make clear the importance of comprehensiveness or define the essential elements of physical development, no consensus about the essential content of the plan existed." [Kaiser and Godschalk, 1995, 365(21)].

Edward Bassett in his book the Master Plan in 1938 indicates urban planning is an important aspect of development. According to him there are seven elements relating to land use plans. These are necessary for the living community. Any plan is incomplete without them. They are: streets, parks, sites for public buildings, public reservations, routes for public utilities, pier-head and bulkhead lines (all public facilities), and zoning districts for private lands. Tools like zoning and taxation proved secondary to these major reservations. Bassett's observation lead the researcher to comprehend the implication of a planning commission, who should act as an advisor on behalf of the community. The commission should be part of the local legislative body and city department. Without an intermediary body, there would be no link between the community's needs and the government's control over sprawl. It is this observation that one can relate to the current model of land use planning design.

The existing land use planning design is based on the influence of innovative ideas channeled from the 1950s to 1980s. At first the government planned the urban structure according to the needs of post war communities. Municipal legislators and managers participated in planning responsibility, hence developed Section 701 of the Housing Act 1954.

Gradually the communities realized the need for a comprehensive purposeful guideline. A local government is to prepare a general plan and there should be a regulatory measure for control. Land use was divided into categories of urban, recreational and forestry. Development expanded as the population expanded. These follow such a set categorization. Urban development received strategic mapping from the local bodies. They provided the funding for larger infrastructure projects like transportation, environment and community college etc. Today planning is in the hand of the American Planning Association. The planning process has to follow comprehensive policy implication. However, the planning process itself was found to be much influenced by the public and municipal. Whereas these plans follow the planning policy set up by the government…[continue]

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