Urban Sprawl Rots Cities, Experts Says Limits on Development Needed to Portect Metropolitan Areas

Article excerpt

Urban sprawl rots the city of St. Louis, damages the environment and concentrates the poor into ever declining neighborhoods, a noted urban scholar said Saturday.

The cure to sprawl is urban growth boundaries - limits on development outside the metro area - said David Rusk, the former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M.

Urban growth boundaries in Oregon and elsewhere encourage development inside the boundary and prohibit it outside. By limiting the land available for new homes or factories, metropolitan areas control urban sprawl and benefit central cities. Rusk said the city of St. Louis and many older adjacent suburbs bear the burden when residents move to distant suburbs like St. Peters or Herculaneum or the towns near Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. As the black and white middle-class exit the city for the suburbs, they leave behind a concentration of poor people. And when a neighborhood's poor population reaches 20 percent or more, "each family's problems become problems for their neighbors," Rusk said. Crime and drug use increase, employment and home prices drop, and anyone who can get out of the neighborhood does. "You get a social meltdown," Rusk said. Rusk spoke about urban sprawl before the Metropolitan Table at St. Louis University. The conference was sponsored by the Churches United for Community Action, Congregations Allied for Community Improvement, and the Churches Committed to Community Concerns. Two numbers in particular explain the problem in the city of St. Louis, Rusk said. From 1970 to 1990, the number of St. Louis area households grew by 114,000. But 325,000 new dwellings were built here. "You built three times as many homes as you had households to move into them," Rusk said. Meanwhile, older homes in the city fall vacant and become derelict. Urban sprawl has increased the cost of roads, sewers, water and other infrastructure needed to support new housing in the suburbs, Rusk said. The price of the new homes never covers the cost of the infrastructure, he said, so taxpayers pick up the bill. Urban sprawl also damages the environment by converting farmland and forest into housing subdivisions and factories, he said. Some cities can solve suburban sprawl problems by annexing neighborhood communities. …