History of Urban Sprawl

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What is Urban Sprawl?

History of Urban Sprawl
     Early History
     20th Century
     1970s-1990s
     Today

Urban Sprawl in Rochester

Ways to Combat Sprawl
     
Tolls on 490 to Combat Sprawl

The Future



References






Early History

     Urban sprawl first existed when the first city first existed.  As long as inner city areas have been overcrowded there has been a tendency for cites to expand their boundaries into neighboring rural lands.  One of the earliest documented examples of this was Rome , in the very beginning of the Christian era. 

“This great city had an estimated population of 1 million people piled up within city walls that enclosed a little more than six miles. […] A small group of Roans lived in splendor in spacious palaces […] that took most of the space within the walls” (Breugmann 23).  

     This caused the poorer citizens, who were the vast majority of the population,  to either live crowded together in the outer sections of the city, or to live just outside the city walls in the lands called ‘suburbium.’  As could be expected, the city would expand into suburbium over time, creating a new suburbium, literally meaning below city limits.

     Such expansion cycles can be found in virtually every major metropolitan area.  The surprising thing about North American urban sprawl, however, is that unlike the sprawl in Europe , the richer citizens tend to populate the outer edges of the city while the poorer citizens, still always a majority, tend to populate the inner cities.  Of course, this leads to even faster expansion since rich citizens have the money and affluence to expand their territory at a quicker rate on the outside of cities than that of earlier European sprawlers.  However, even in Europe the richest still tend to leave dense city centers eventually, it just takes many centuries, as opposed to a few years when immigration starts in America (Breugmann 29).
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20th Century

     In America , urban sprawl began in earnest in the early 1900s (Breugmannn 27).  As immigrants could afford to move out of densely packed inner city neighborhoods, they did so, and cities expanded rapidly.  Once World War One ended, this movement out of cities rose exponentially.  In many areas, by the end of the 1920s, a majority of families lived in single family, suburban homes.  It is in this period that “many of the characteristics that we tend to associate with postwar America [became] evident” (Breugmann 37).  This was the true start of the urban sprawl explosion in America .
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1970s-1990s

     Since the 1970s, urban sprawl has been as strong as ever.  Some areas, such as Atlanta , have doubled in land mass since 1980, and continue to grow.  Atlanta currently consumes more than 500 acres of undeveloped land every week (Lindstrom 275).  However, since 1970, there has been a concerted effort among most major cities to lure people back.  Urban renewal and neighborhood revitalization efforts have attempted to clean up inner cities and attract residents to living in cities again.  Ironically, this creates a new problem of people not being able to afford living in the inner city, though, as property values rise, and sprawl continues unfettered, with population decreases remaining constant in general (Breugmann 57).

     Fifty years ago, the centers of downtown metropolitan areas were the hub of social and economic activities in cities across the country.  However, this has dramatically changed since that time.  Today, in the majority of American cities, the downtown areas house less than 10% of the workforce that works there (Breugmann 52)!  This type of migration outwards since the middle of the century has started in motion many of the problems discussed on this webpage that are associated with urban sprawl.
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Today

     Today, urban sprawl is more and more becoming a topic of household discussion.  Urban sprawl is taught in classrooms around the country.  Everyone is familiar with the idea of expanding cities and the words urban sprawl, whether or not they know the truth behind those words or not.  The connotation is generally a negative one, however, since it is due mainly to anti-sprawl groups for getting the general public aware of the issue.    

     Population densities of cities are also at an all-time low.  Only two cities in America have a population density of more than 10,000 people per square mile.  New York City at 26,000 people per square mile and Chicago at 13,000 people per square mile, are also the two cities with , arguably, the best public transportation system in the country (Breugmann 55).  This leads many to believe that a density of 10,000 people per square mile is an indicator of how successful a public transportation system will be, with the public transportation of cities below that mark becoming failures in long run analyses.  Rochester's population density, in the 2000 census, was only 6,132.9 people per square mile.

     Many people tend to rally behind the positive aspects of sprawl, and speak out against anti-sprawl movements.  The positive aspects of sprawl include being able to hold a larger population, and development of land for sprawl often makes more jobs in the short run.  However, the long term negative aspects of sprawl outweigh any short term benefits, in my opinion.
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Email: Karl Keily

Nazareth College