Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Progress without Sprawl Planning Can Maximize Land Use, Prevent Waste

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Progress without Sprawl Planning Can Maximize Land Use, Prevent Waste

Article excerpt

Drive down any highway leading into any town in the country, and what do you see? Fast-food outlets, office parks and shopping malls rising out of vast barren plains of asphalt. Residential subdivisions spreading like inkblots, obliterating forests and farms in their relentless march across the landscape. Cars moving sluggishly down the broad ribbons of pavement or halting in frustrated clumps at choked intersections or parked in glittering rows in front of every building.

You see the graveyard of livability. You see communities drowning in a destructive, soulless, ugly mess called sprawl.

Or maybe you don't see it. Many of us have developed a frightening form of selective blindness that allows us to pass by the appalling mess without really seeing it. We've allowed our communities to be destroyed bit by bit - nicked to death by the urban-planning equivalent of a million paper-cuts. Most of us have shrugged off this destruction as "the price of progress." That's wrong. Development that destroys communities isn't progress. It's chaos. And it isn't inevitable, it's merely easy. Too many developers follow standard formulas, and we haven't demanded much better. And too many government entities, from the national Capitol all the way down to the smallest town hall, have adopted laws and policies that constitute powerful incentives for sprawl. Sprawl devastates older communities, leaving historic buildings and neighborhoods underused, poorly maintained or abandoned. We've learned we can't hope to revitalize these communities without doing something to control the sprawl that keeps pushing farther out from the center. But our concern goes beyond that, because preservation today is about more than bricks and mortar. There's a growing body of grim evidence to support our belief that the destruction of traditional downtowns and older neighborhoods - places that people care about - is corroding the very sense of community that helps bind us together as a people and as a nation. Preservation is in the business of saving special places and the quality of life they support, and sprawl destroys both. Two Types Of Sprawl One form of sprawl - retail development that transforms roads into strip malls - is frequently spurred on by discount retailers, many of whom are now concentrating on the construction of superstores with more than 200,000 square feet of space. In many small towns, a single new superstore may have more retail space than the entire downtown business district. When a store like that opens, the retail center of gravity shifts away from Main Street. Downtown becomes ghost town. Sprawl's other most familiar form - spread-out residential subdivisions that "leapfrog" from the urban fringe into the countryside - is driven largely by the American dream of a detached home in the middle of a grassy lawn. Developers frequently claim they can build more "affordable" housing on the edge of town - but "affordable" for whom? The developer's expenses may be less, and the homebuyer may find the prices attractive - but who picks up the extra costs of fire and police protection, new roads and new utility infrastructure in these outlying areas? We all do, through higher taxes for needless duplication of services and infrastructure that already exist in older parts of our cities and towns. People who say that sprawl is merely the natural product of marketplace forces at work fail to recognize that the game isn't being played on a level field. Government at all levels is riddled with policies that mandate or encourage sprawl. Federal transportation policy may be the biggest offender. Aided By Transportation Policy In the decades since the end of World War II, "transportation" has become practically synonymous with "car." But the real villain is not the automobile - or not the automobile alone, at any rate. By prohibiting mixed uses and mandating inordinate amounts of parking and unreasonable setback requirements, most current zoning laws make it impossible - even illegal - to create the sort of compact walkable environment that attracts us to older neighborhoods and historic communities all over the world. …

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