How Urban Sprawl Came To Dominate U.S. Cities—And How To Change That

The auto-centric development patterns of American cities are a result of decades of misguided, but reversible, policy decisions.

May 4, 2022, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


TierneyMJ / Shutterstock

The sprawl that characterizes many modern cities doesn’t have to continue to define them, argues Jocelyn Timperley. “As the world struggles to undo unsustainable systems, as well as the growing inequality between the rich and the poor, cities are making their way back into the spotlight as potential solutions—and missteps.”

Sprawl, as defined in the article by “low-density housing, segregated land uses (meaning housing is separated from shops, workplaces, schools and leisure activities), a lack of local town centers, and limited street connectivity,” increases carbon emissions from transportation and large, single-family homes with bigger carbon footprints. Reid Ewing, professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, estimates that “more compact development in the US would lead to a 7 to 10 percent reduction in total transportation carbon dioxide emissions (the largest source of emissions by sector in the US) by 2050, compared to continuing urban sprawl.” Meanwhile, “As of 2015, a single-family detached home in the US used around three times as much energy as an apartment in a building of five or more different units.”

Timperley outlines the history of sprawl in the United States, from its beginnings in early 20th century zoning codes to the suburban boom of the post-World War II era, and how infrastructure spending perpetuates car-centric development.

The article goes on to offer a range of solutions, from relatively inexpensive fixes like crosswalks and bike lanes to major public transit projects and zoning reforms.

Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Popular Science

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