Urban Sprawl: The American Nightmare

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Many Americans would be shocked to learn that the American Dream may be the cause

behind some of society’s most troubling problems. The dream of owning a house, a car, and a

yard with a white picket fence is the driving force responsible for the phenomenon known as

urban sprawl. Urban sprawl, sometimes referred to as suburban sprawl, is characterized by low

density development, geographic separation of essential places, and dependence on automobiles

(mackinac). Since the 1990’s, an ever-widening range of organizations have come forward to

support policy promoting socially and environmentally intelligent growth, known as smart

growth, in reaction to the many undesirable features of urban sprawl (Ye 301). Smart growth

policy encourages development that is environmentally sensitive, economically viable,

community-oriented, and sustainable (Ye 305). After examining the problems associated with

urban sprawl, studying an overview of smart growth, and discussing the actors involved in

promoting smart growth it will be clear that smart growth is the better policy when it comes to

building and maintaining America’s towns and cities.

One of the most startling consequences associated with urban sprawl are the endless array

of health implications that it has been linked to causing. According to Public Health Grand

Rounds, a collaboration between the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Gillings

School of Global Public Health, “the way we design our communities discourages physical

activity such as walking and cycling, contributes to air pollution, and promotes pedestrian

injuries and fatalities” (PHGR). “One of the cardinal features of sprawl is driving, reflecting a

well established, close ...

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...ation (Morris 23). “In contrast, if agricultural farmland and open space are

maintained, only thirty cents in services are for every tax dollar received, a gain of seventy

cents” (Morris 23). According to this information, urban sprawl is costing tax payers in areas of

new development upwards of ninety-five cents on every dollar. This is money that could be used

to fund public programs or make general improvements throughout a community. Urban sprawl

is expensive not only on people’s wallets, but is taxing on their health, the environment, their


After examining all of the problems associated with urban sprawl it is hard not to

question how America lost the genuine communities of old and adopted the new community of

strangers. This could all change, however, if communities began to implement principles of

smart growth policy.

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