Ten Most Sprawl-Threatened Large Cities
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 since 1990.
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.