How and Why to Curb Urban Sprawl

Article excerpt

For decades, urban planners served as the architects of cityscapes, crafting green swards of parkland, gray ribbons of highways and an efficient marriage of housing and commercial buildings.

Increasingly, however, cities have allowed automobiles -- not urban planners -- to shape them, maintains Marcia D. Lowe of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. The resulting urban sprawl, she says, destroys valuable wildlands, wastes fossil fuels, traps commuters in daily traffic jams and imbues metropolitan vistas with a blanket of pollution.

In a report released Nov. 2, titled "Shaping Cities: The Environmental and Human Dimension," Lowe proposes some remedies that even well-established cities might adopt to limit further sprawl and the inner-city decay it can foster. These include severely curtailing inner-city parking, increasing housing density, integrating residential and commercial structures, and basing property taxes on the value of the land, not the structures that occupy that land.

Through creative zoning and tax strategies, most cities could accomodate huge population increases and still improve the quality of residents' lives "without bulldozing another square meter of forest or farmland for the next two decades," Lowe contends. …