Urban Growth And Urban Sprawl In Urbanization

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Urban growth or “sprawl” is a common affliction of many modern American cities; a collection of single-use low-density zoning that is spread out from each other and connected by highways. Driving through Metro Detroit suburbs I see examples everywhere, separated collections of subdivisions, office parks, and shopping centers placed close enough to call a city. However, seeing this in Metro Detroit should be no surprise as sprawl is an expansive landscape that was brought on by the rise of the automobile. Strictly from the definition I provided I would say I view sprawl negatively. Sprawl provides a lack of social connection, a reliance on transportation, a strain on government to provide utility resources, diminishes available green space, and promotes mankind’s descent into global warming. In fact, green space via landscape architecture plays an important part in promoting health, as green space produces oxygen and filters out harmful air pollution and promotes mental health by reducing physiological stress. Unfortunately the current sprawling built environment in the United States has been linked to chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and asthma. Sprawl’s emphasis on automobile transportation promotes less physical activity, and provides less walkability. While obesity may be caused by a variety of factors, built environment is one aspect taken into consideration.

However with all detractors noted, I understand why people would prefer low-density development and attain what is often referred to as the “American Dream”. From a cultural perspective owning a piece of land provides families with the aspiration of social stability and an investment for economic betterment. Also for many their land is an integral and personal part of their identity, their “home”. The personal/spiritual dimension of land is important to consider, as various cultures believe there is a tie between nature and the spirit. For example, in the Shinto religion, the traditional religion of Japan, practitioners believe that spirits possess each rock, tree, river, and mountain. To some who prefer an easy access to green space low-density development could provide a greater quality of life. Yet would someone who values green space to that extent feel comfortable knowing their presence on sprawled land was contributing to the loss of wetlands, agricultural land and open space? One example Oregon’s urban growth boundary law helps Portland maintain rural reserves and farmland outside the metro area’s growth boundary. Portland is also home to one of the largest urban forests (5,200 acres) in the United States, Forest Park.  

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