Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Small Cities
Number Five: Little Rock
"I think now we have the
energy to become a small Atlanta," said Little Rock mayor Jim Dailey in April
("Long-Delayed Revival of Little Rock," The Christian Science Monitor).
1990 to 1996, Little Rock's urbanized area population remained flat. Over the same time
period, its urbanized land area almost doubled from 109 square miles to 199. While the
density of the population plummeted by 45 percent - meaning offices, homes, shopping and
places of recreation and other activities were located farther apart - the number of miles
people traveled in their cars increased by 20 percent.
A proposal to complete the north end of a highway loop around Little Rock, a project
dubbed the North Belt, has been touted by local mayors as a positive investment in the
area's infrastructure. The promise of better commutes between home, work and shopping
would lure economic resources to the area, these leaders insist. When the region's
long-range transportation plan was being debated in 1995, a citizen advisory committee
recommended delaying North Belt construction for 25 years and reinvesting in the urban
However, local and state leaders
were not ready for such a soul-searching debate on urban sprawl and its consequences at
the time, and the North Belt project was quickly reinstated in the plan on the back of
vocal chamber of commerce support.
Local growth experts now predict that Little Rock's
urbanizing area - land area that is expected to urbanize in the next 20 years - shot up
from 321 square miles to 1,500 square miles. Much of Little Rock's future expansion
results from the local philosophy that any growth is good growth.
In fact, as recently as the mid-1980s, Little Rock stood as one of the least sprawling,
most compactly developed cities in the South. But, following the pattern set all across
the country, city residents began fleeing Little Rock for the suburbs to pursue the
promise of an improved suburban lifestyle. With so much recent growth, however, the
infrastructure of Little Rock's suburbs is rapidly reaching capacity.
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