Any discussion of the pros and cons of urban sprawl, that is, the expansion of suburban neighborhoods around major cities, pits the benefits to individuals against broader social and environmental concerns. The attraction of living in a nice neighborhood with better schools and lower crime rates must be weighed against the continued destruction of the rural landscape, increased traffic and pollution.

Benefits

Affordability. The cost of a house with a yard in the suburbs is often less than the cost of a condominium or quality apartment in the city.

Better Schools. People with school-age children find that smaller, less crowded schools with better-funded programs are preferable to schools in the city.

Low Crime Rates. Law enforcement statistics show that the rate of serious crime in the suburbs is less than that in the city.

Sense of Community. An individual in a city can often feel lost in the crowd, while living in a less densely populated area can offer more of a sense of belonging to a community.

Problems

Automobiles. Living outside the city makes having a car almost a requirement. Businesses, schools, services, and recreational areas are all spread out at a distance, not to mention the need to commute to work. The increased use of automobiles contributes to increased pollution.

Loss of Undeveloped Land. The construction of roads and buildings destroys farmland and wildlife habitat. This means that food needs to be transported from farther away. The loss of wildlife habitat is not only an aesthetic loss. These areas also often serve as critical recharge areas for a region’s drinking water supply.

Higher Taxes. As the population becomes more dispersed, government agencies must also expand to meet the needs of these citizens. This means more government offices and the manpower to staff them. All this, in turn, means high taxes to pay for them.

Managing Sprawl

Given that populations will continue to increase, urban areas will continue to grow. The question then becomes a matter of how best to manage it, rather than trying to stop it. Planners are increasingly turning to something called “planned development.” This takes into account all the needs and potential problems of a given area before the sprawl occurs. Using such tools as zoning ordinances, communities can limit lot and house sizes, preserve some areas as open space, place residential neighborhoods near commuter stations, provide walking and bicycle trails and create a strong network of public transportation.