Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2008
Table of Contents
Ice Manliness Cometh
A Six-Dog-Power Engine
I (Heart) Snowshoeing
Skiing Yellowstone
Welcome Back to the World
Rotten Fish Tales
Big Fun in the Green Zone
Hey Mr. Green
Comfort Zone
Mixed Media
Last Words
Sierra Archives
About Sierra
Internships at Sierra
Advertising Information
Current Advertisers

Sierra Magazine

Printer-friendly format
click here to tell a friend

Lay of the Land

Three Strikes, You're Hired | Ten Reasons to Oppose "Fast Track" | No Net Loss? No Comment | Spreading Their Wings | Costly Corn | Deadly Winter for Monarchs | It Pays to be Popular | Honor Thy Father | Sprawl | WWatch | Bold Strokes | Updates

Why Shrinking Cities Sprawl

And what residents can do about it

By Alison Wellner

For most people, the word "sprawl" conjures up images of boomtowns in the rapidly growing West and South, like Las Vegas, or Nashville, or Atlanta. But metropolitan areas with stagnant-or even declining-populations can also suffer from sprawl.

It may sound paradoxical, but in a "thinning metropolis" like Rochester, New York, land development is outpacing population growth as residents flee urban centers in search of better housing-and take their tax money with them. The cash-strapped downtown areas and inner-ring suburbs can't compete with outlying areas for developers' dollars, creating a hard-to-break cycle.

The ground for Rochester's dilemma was laid in the 1960s, when the population was booming. Growth slowed in the early 1970s, but investment in suburban sewage, water, and highways continued. Instead of creating a new regional plan, rapidly emptying Rochester let development accrete slowly but steadily along existing roads.

"A thinning metropolis has a different suburban character: It's a house here and a house there," says Rolf Pendall, a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University. "The growth is so incremental, you don't even notice it, but it ends up even more spread out."

Competition for scarce resources also prevents local governments from working together on "smart growth." Reformers point to Minneapolis and St. Paul, which have embarked on an innovative tax-sharing scheme that allows the entire region to benefit from development-and channel it to the most appropriate location. (See "How to Heal Our Cities," May/June 2000.) The private sector can also help, as General Motors recently did when it began developing its global headquarters in the heart of downtown Detroit, rather than in an outlying office park. Even in the region around Rochester, some individual towns are ahead of the curve. The 25,000-resident suburb of Pittsford has sold $10 million in bonds to buy up 1,200 acres on seven farms, and protected 800 more acres by changing zoning laws.

Regions at Risk

If current trends continue over the next decade, these metropolitan areas are the most likely to shrink and sprawl:

1. Anniston, Alabama
2. Johnstown, Pennsylvania
3. Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton, Pennsylvania
4. (tie) Sharon, Pennsylvania; Utica-Rome, New York; Steubenville, Ohio-Weirton, West Virginia
7. Charleston, West Virginia
8. Lewiston-Auburn, Maine
9. Alexandria, Louisiana
10. Muncie, Indiana
11. Wheeling, West Virginia/Ohio
12. Lima, Ohio
13. (tie) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Syracuse, New York; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; Decatur, Illinois; Bangor, Maine
18. (tie) Binghamton, New York; Jacksonville, North Carolina; Altoona, Pennsylvania; Cumberland, Maryland/West Virginia
22. Pine Bluff, Arkansas
23. (tie) Elmira, New York; Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia/Kentucky/Ohio
25. Youngstown-Warren, Ohio

Up to Top

HOME | Email Signup | About Us | Contact Us | Terms of Use | © 2008 Sierra Club