Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Large Cities
Number Two: St. Louis
The five counties around St.
Louis lost more than 170,000 acres of farmland to urban development between 1981 and 1996.
St. Louis is one of the fastest spreading low-density urban areas in the country. The
St. Louis metropolitan-area population grew 35 percent from 1950 to 1990, while its
urbanized land area grew 10 times faster during that same period, at 354 percent
(East-West Gateway Coordinating Council). That trend has continued in the '90s. Between
1990 and 1996, the population of the St. Louis metropolitan area grew a modest 0.9 percent
while the urbanized land area expanded by 52 percent. Residents are pushing out the urban
boundary as they flee the St. Louis metro area for the outlying areas of St. Charles,
Lincoln and Warren counties, which have expanded in population by more than 20 percent
While the urban boundary expands and the suburban population grows, the city of St.
Louis is experiencing population decline: 12 percent between 1980 and 1990 and 11 percent
between 1990 and 1996. Between 1990 and 1994, more people left the city of St. Louis than
any of the 35 largest cities in the country, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in
1996. As a result, the newspaper reported, employment in the city has declined by one
third. Many buildings have been demolished over the past several years. The downtown has
an office vacancy rate of over 25 percent, the third highest among the 50 reporting
markets, according to the Wall Street Journal in 1996.
Federal and state taxpayers are carrying much of the burden for this manic expansion.
In the past 10 years, taxpayers spent $860 million to add or widen 215 miles of roads in
the region, five times the amount spent to maintain existing roads. More than $60 million
has been spent in St. Charles County in the past several years to build new schools while
schools in nearby established communities have closed. Sewage infrastructure is now needed
to keep up with growth in far-flung areas (St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
Sprawl is rapidly devouring choice farmland and open space. According to the American
Farmland Trust, the five counties around St. Louis lost more than 170,000 acres between
1981 and 1996, which comprised nearly one-third of developed farmland lost statewide
during that period.
Despite these losses, unchecked development continues. Major projects currently under
consideration include the controversial extension of Page Avenue across the Missouri River
to St. Charles County. The $550 million (up to $1 billion) needed to build and support the
extension would come from federal and state highway trust funds financed by gasoline
excise taxes. Federal taxpayers would pay 80 percent of the costs. The state has committed
$100 million. Supporters say the project would alleviate traffic congestion for commuters
from St. Charles County. Opponents believe the project would add to sprawl and destroy
Creve Coeur Park if built as now conceived.
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