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The Planet

The Planet
October 1998 Volume 5, Number 8

Club Exposes 'Dark Side' of Sprawl

Atlanta won the dubious distinction of being named the most sprawl-threatened large city in the United States, according to the recently released Sierra Club report, The Dark Side of the American Dream: The Costs and Consequences of Suburban Sprawl.

Atlanta leads the nation in miles driven per person and its air pollution is so severe that the area has lost federal highway funds for failing to meet clean-air standards.

"Between 1970 and 1990, suburban sprawl gobbled up more than 19 million acres of rural land nationally," said Larry Bohlen, the co-chair of the Club's Challenge to Sprawl Campaign, "and the rate of development is accelerating. Fortunately, citizens and policymakers are starting to wake up to sprawl's consequences - longer commutes, crowded schools, worsening air and water pollution, higher taxes and dying city centers." Sprawl is defined as low-density development beyond the edge of service and employment areas that separates where people live from where they work, shop, recreate and educate - requiring cars to move between zones.

The metropolitan areas were ranked by a committee of Club experts based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Highway Administration, the Texas Transportation Institute and the American Farmland Trust. Criteria included population shifts from city to suburb, land area consumed, time wasted in traffic and loss of open space.

St. Louis ranked second in the large-city category (populations over 1 million), followed by Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Kansas City, Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Ft. Lauderdale and Chicago.

Orlando, Fla., ranked first among cities with populations between 500,000 and 1 million. McAllen, Texas, a border city growing rapidly because of economic changes wrought by the North American Free Trade Agreement, was first in the small-city category (populations from 200,000 to 500,000).

Los Angeles - the granddaddy of sprawl - and Phoenix and San Diego received "dishonorable" mention. Like many cities in the West, they grew up sprawled and never grew densely populated urban cores.

The goal of "The Dark Side of the American Dream" is to educate the public about the devastating impacts of sprawl on our air, water, parks, wildlands and wildlife. The report promotes "smart growth" solutions - many are already being tested in cities across the country. These include purchasing open space to prevent development, establishing urban growth boundaries, revitalizing downtown areas, sharing the tax base more evenly between cities and their surrounding suburbs, and encouraging compact mixed-use development around transit stops.
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