Sprawl's Ills: Even Worse Than Advertised

Article excerpt

From the heart of Middle America, in a major Kansas City Star report, comes some of the most alarming news yet of the damaging effects of sprawl development.

Our continued "national obsession" with moving out to the edges of suburbia, write reporters Jeffery Spivak and Chris Lester, "has spawned a virus eating us from the inside out. Sprawl has hollowed out the urban cores of America, feeding on racism and government handouts. It has incited a civil war among neighboring towns fighting for business development."

Low-density development drives up infrastructure bills. Desperate- for tax revenue because residential development doesn't pay for itself, politicians offer tax abatements and other inducements for footloose firms. Homeowner taxes soar to fill the gap--even while street repairs, schools, libraries, other services suffer.

The inefficiencies of hundreds of splintered suburban governments--described by the Star as "mini-monuments to social and class division"--run up costs in ways the first homebuyers never imagined. Add the end of generous federal water and sewer grants and the scene's set for distrust of government and taxpayer revolts.

Around Kansas City, the paper found, each decade property values crest in a ring about two miles further from downtown. The "golden ring" of values is now about 16 miles out--a feasting circle of profit for developers, contractors, bankers, lawyers and realtors.

But yesteryear's homebuyers are not so fortunate. Property values, not just in center city but in most older suburbs, are stagnant and declining. The region writes the Star, "is cannibalizing itself."

The injury to the spirit seems just as grave. A "can-do" spirit once made Kansas City an object oF envy across the nation. Yet today, the Star reports, "the Kansas City spirit might as well be dead." Why?

"Blame it on sprawl," write Lester and Spivak. "It scattered us like ashes to the wind. A cacophony of separate, often competing governments provokes political polarization. When localities try to work together, they often bump against barriers that have dogged them for decades--parochialism, racism, animosity. Distrust dominates civic debates." The result? "An incoherent and dysfunctional region."

The Star's list of remedies is familiar: Manage growth better, combat crime, fix up infrastructure, resist new loop highways, fund the arts regionally, stop wealthy suburbs from offering tax abatements to steal the city's industries, consolidate governments, confront racism. …