Bringing Sprawl to a Crawl

“Opposing sprawl does not mean opposing economic development…  It means guiding development in a manner that maximizes the economic benefits to a community.”

How Superstore Sprawl Can Harm Communities

A recent report indicated that over the past ten years, 4.3 million acres of prime and unique farmland were lost, amounting to nearly 50 acres every hour, every day.  The impact of this statistic on the long-term sustainability of our nation’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods is enormous.

Many people feel that conserving open space means the opposite of economic development and growth; however, evidence proves the exact opposite.

Smart growth conserves open space and encourages development into more densely settled, multi-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.  In addition, a recent study found that owners of small companies ranked recreation, parks, and open space as the highest priority in location decisions.  Corporate CEOs view quality of life for employees as the third most important factor when choosing locations for their businesses.

Open space conservation is not an expense, but actually an economic benefit.  According to the Real Estate Research Corporation, “there is no greater risk to land values than unrestrained development.”  Over the long term, the communities that are able to guide this process through land conservation and similar means will reap economic benefits.

Sprawl development has been defined as  “low-density, land-consumptive, automobile-oriented development located on the outskirts of cities and towns.”  It encourages disinvestment in older, established communities and business districts, consumes a large amount of land, requires more tax revenue, creates greater infrastructure costs and requires more police, fire and school services (Report of the Pennsylvania 21st Century Commission).

Urban sprawl is still sweeping across the U.S., but major steps are being taken at the national, state, and local levels to deter it and correct the problems it has already created.  On November 29, 1999, Colorado Governor Bill Owens announced “Smart Growth: Colorado’s Future.”   Owens’ four-pronged plan calls for preserving open space by creating a tax credit for landowners who preserve wildlife habitat; building stronger neighborhoods by allowing counties to decide how they will grow, but requiring regional cooperation on growth issues; building a “world-class transportation system”; and increasing job and business opportunities in impoverished areas by revamping the enterprise-zone system.

In addition, Vice President Al Gore indicated that “in the 1998 election, more than 200 communities discussed – and most adopted – measures to enhance livability.  They understand: not only is smart growth better for our families, but places with a high quality of life are more economically competitive as well.”

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