Thursday, January 20, 2005

Urban Sprawl, Harmful to All

Urban Sprawl Threatens Plants, Animals

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Urban sprawl is gobbling up open spaces in fast-growing metropolitan areas so quickly that it could spell extinction for nearly 1,200 species of plants and animals, environmental groups say.

The National Wildlife Federation, Smart Growth America and NatureServe projected that over the next 25 years, more than 22,000 acres of natural resources and habitat will be lost to development in 35 of the largest and most rapidly growing metropolitan areas.

According to the groups, as many as 553 of the nearly 1,200 at-risk species are found only in those areas.

This particular report is about sprawl in the United States, but we are facing a similar crisis in Canada.

The move to suburban areas in lieu of urban has ravaged former wetlands, farmlands, and watershed spaces. It has caused extensive damage to local flora and fauna and has contributed to air pollution (more cars on the roads) and ground water pollution.

On the subway this morning, I spotted an tiny article about the detrimental affects sprawl has on our own health, particularly the increased obesity rate.

Suburban dwellers are more likely to drive - not only because there's a lack of sidewalks but also because there is a greater distance between commercial and residential areas.

This automobile culture promotes myriad deadly habits - limited walking, drive-through eating, and long periods of sitting in traffic. The combination of road rage, stress, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise creates an explosive combination of obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

It is no surprise to see fatter people in rural and suburban areas.

I noticed this trend when Rick and I were visiting my family in rural Indiana. It seems that all the small towns have turned into strip malls, fast food restaurants, and the one obligatory WalMart. And of course, a plethora of overweight people.

It's really a vicious cycle. And while the answer is not to eradicate the concept of the small town, there is certainly a reason for urban hubs to legislate how land is used (or not used, preferably) in the surrounding districts.

In turn, it would be nice for small towns to cultivate a forgotten Main Street mentality by investing in their downtown cores and discouraging the monoliths from setting up on the outskirts.

Does anyone have any examples of how towns are curbing sprawl? What changes have you noticed in your town/city over the past 10 years?


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