Monday, November 8, 2010

What is Suburban Sprawl? Ideas to Manage

Suburban sprawl is defined as non-contiguous development occurring on or beyond the urban fridge on land typically classified as Greenfield space. This type of development is characteristically automobile dependent and low density with single use spaces segregated by zoning. Sprawl tends to lack identity, exhibiting the “geography of nowhere” in James Kunstler’s terms.

Communities want to manage growth and minimize sprawl because it is more cost effective to cluster development as there is less infrastructure to manage. By implementing mixed use infill development, communities run less power, water and sewer lines. Also, there are fewer roadways, which are considerably expensive to install and maintain. Emergency services travel shorter distances. In some instances, children may be able to walk to school thus eliminating school busses. There are also many social benefits including increased community interaction and in some cases, lower crime.

There are a variety of ways to limit growth. One of the most stringent, and controversial, ways to limit growth is by implementing the urban growth boundary (UGB) around a community with policies limiting the subdivision of land beyond the boundary. In twenty years, the community may wish to redefine the UGB but until that time, growth occurs only within the boundary. Another way to limit growth is to provide incentives for infill development. Incentives may waive taxes or fees, and could include faster planning approval time lines. Incentives are a more likely measure to limit growth and less politically contentious to implement.

Moving forward, certain policies are necessary to curb automobile use and increase alternative transportation modes. Policies need to encourage mixed-use infill development that bolsters alternative transportation. Zoning may need to be altered to allow higher densities.

Smart growth aims to implement infill development that mixes use that creates vibrant areas for alternative transportation. Smart growth examines development at a larger scale than the New Urbanist movement, which is more concerned with fine-scale design issues along with community function. Both are effective strategies for managing growth when implemented properly. The New Urbanist communities implemented like Seaside, Florida or Kentlands, Maryland have received major criticism for not having adequate job-housing balance, high automobile dependence, and Greenfield development.