Sprawl News
April 04, 2003

US California: Fertile Ground for Sprawl - Governor Proposes Cutting Funds for Farmland Tax Break.  The Williamson Act protects more than half of California's agricultural acreage, mostly in the Central Valley. Landowners enter into 10-year deals agreeing to keep their fields undeveloped and in exchange are given a break on taxes. This helps farmers stay in business when development sends property values and tax rates skyrocketing. Since the early 1970s, the state has reimbursed counties for the taxes they are missing this year $39 million for the 15 million acres protected under the act. In the new budget proposal the state would end its reimbursement. If counties ended the agreements, it would take 10 years to get out of the deals. Environmentalists, farmers and lawmakers fearfully anticipate an accelerated development in 10 to 20 years, when the state's population is expected to grow by more than 11 million. That would send farmers' tax bills soaring and making the lure of selling out hard to ignore. Without the Williamson Act, there will be more sprawling suburban development. The state currently looses 50,000 acres of farmland a year to development. The act has curbed development in rural areas by limiting the number of subdivisions among farms and ranches.      March 23, 2003  San Francisco Chronicle 006298

Open Spaces, Urban Sprawl and Overpopulation.  When we talk about the effects of overpopulation they are generally on an international level, in terms of the growing shortages of food, water, fuel, medical services or similar items, plus the increasing levels of pollution. For example the millions of people who are starving in Africa, the destruction of the forests in South America, or the lack of clean drinking water in Bangladesh. These are extremely critical problems, but sitting in our comfortable homes they appear remote to us. We feel sorry for these unfortunate people, but we cannot see any way that this can affect our day to day way of life. Overpopulation is looked on as problem that does not really affect us. However if we open our eyes, the effects of overpopulation on our day to day living can be clearly seen all around us, especially in the outlying suburbs of our great cities. These effects have developed over the years and therefore we have become used to them and accept them as the normal growth of our society. But that philosophy is changing dramatically. "Save our open spaces" is the subject of many "letters to the editor" in our suburban papers. Residents groups are springing up in many areas in an attempt to halt or at least slow down the continuing development that is spreading farther and farther out from our cities. What was once farmland and forest is now covered with houses, supermarkets, shopping malls and business premises. Country roads now have traffic lights at every corner and traffic jams every night and morning. In spite of the introduction of tougher environmental standards pollution is creeping into almost every source of water. Although this form of destruction of the rural life style has become very obvious, there is a continuous drive for more development. We are told that development is necessary for the following reasons. To hold down property taxes. To provide employment. To improve our life style (in spite of the problems it causes.) Most of this is of course absolute nonsense and totally untrue. Development has one primary purpose and that is to make a profit for the developer, never mind how it impacts the residents of the area. We only have to note the frequent and lengthy legal hassles that ensue when new developments are proposed. However even profit is not the basic driving force behind development. When we strip away the politics, the emotions and the philosophical ideas, the ultimate cause is our expanding population. Development is the obvious way of profiting from the demand this generates. For example, the demand for housing has driven up the cost of a home in many cities to the point where the average worker finds it financially impossible to live there except in subsidized housing. Even in the suburbs, the demand has driven up housing costs until the only option has been to accept the hours of commuting time and seek an affordable home in the countryside. However what was an acceptable price for a home there only a few years ago has now rocketed to the point where it too is unaffordable and the unfortunate home seeker has to look even further afield. The ultimate consequence is an ever expanding area of homes, shops, factories and other business premises that is slowly but surely destroying all the open space around our cities. We read of plans to minimize the effect of our growing suburban and commuting population. For example the call for higher density housing in our cities and public or subsidized homes, but ultimately the only solution is to halt the population growth. We cannot provide more homes out of thin air, inevitably they demand land, utilities and roads. Their residents need services, all of which consume more land and other scarce resources. Meanwhile the level of pollution grows with the increasing population, and the countryside is destroyed forever. A more efficient use of land can slow this destruction but as long as our population continues to grow, more land will be covered by houses, shops, schools, commercial buildings and the wide expanses of blacktop for parking lots, roads and driveways. Inevitably pollution levels will continue to increase fouling the water and air. Slowing population growth and eventually arriving at a stable level is the only way that this destruction of our countryside can be halted. There is a limit to the population our land can support and we may well have already exceeded that limit. It cannot be determined solely from the number of people per square mile but rather from the effects of the growing number of people on the natural resources. Several major cities are facing water shortages, some are even considering desalination to enable them to use polluted water or seawater for drinking, all have problems in getting rid of sewage and refuse. Unlike the less fortunate peoples we have been able to use science and technology to hold back the effects of overpopulation, but this is like building a dam to hold back an ever rising tide. We can postpone the inevitable, but if the tide continues to rise, eventually we too will be overcome. So what can be done? This is the part of the solution that is seldom discussed, it is unpalatable and all too often pushed aside completely because it is contrary to personal, political and religious beliefs. But if we are to survive we must stop the tide from rising and flooding over the dam. We must develop effective birth control and see that it is used effectively. We must also stop the flood of immigrants that make up a large part of our population growth, and encourage them to stay in their own countries and reduce their own population growth to acceptable levels.   December 2002  Ralph Woodgate 005822

U.S.: Suburban Crawl: Even with Jobs in Suburbs, Commutes Get Longer; More Counties Have a Large Share of Imported Workers and 'Bedroom' Residents..  70% of Arlington County, Virginia workforce work somewhere else. Meanwhile, nonresidents come in to the county to do their jobs. 17 counties from Florida to Massachusetts export and import half their workforce on a weekday. Even though jobs are following Americans into the suburbs, jobs and workers end up far apart. It explains why a growing share of Americans are crossing county lines to reach their jobs. Jobs move out to the suburbs, and employees move to exurbs. 23% of Americans worked outside their county of residence in 2000. Much of this rise comes from workers' desire to live in less congested places, but in some residential markets workers can't afford to live near their work. San Francisco County imports nearly half its workforce. Workers' skills also affect commuting. Arlington County, the home of the Pentagon, attracts highly skilled workers who may choose to live in more exclusive areas. At the same time, its housing may prove too costly for the people who staff the county's low-end service jobs. The automobile's dominance means little room for new gains from public transportation or carpooling. Compounding the problem, immigrants are moving quickly from public transportation to cars and to the suburbs.      March 07, 2003  Grist Magazine 005787

US California: Sierra Club Leader Keeps Wary Eye on Manteca.  Manteca's urbanization isn't escaping the attention of the Sierra Club. Sprawl has been the biggest concern - low-density unplanned growth that spreads into agricultural and wildlife lands. Eric Parfrey of the Sierra Club's Motherlode chapte lamented the paving over of prime agricultural land and said that it watered down to developer's campaign contribution money corrupting or at least paralyzing elected officials. In neighboring Tracy, he said, the sprawl is an abomination and highway 205 is becoming a bottleneck. Air quality will soon put it out of the running for federal funding, which will push back widening ten years. It is bad management by the city but affects all in the Valley especially Manteca which has a responsibility to lead change, but is not taking up that mantle. It is suggested that fees are charged developers to upgrade the freeways, or use the money to set aside land for greenbelts to act as barriers between cities. The north of Stockton and the south of Lodi are indistinguishable and that isn't what Manteca wants. Manteca and Lathrop should work together and create one wastewater plant between them. It would save money, the environment, and protect the quality of life. Manteca's 3.9% growth cap is a start. When growth overcomes services there begins a deterioration in the quality of life. Manteca can be a positive force for the county's future.      February 19, 2003  Manteca Bulletin 005585

Grown Kids Should Live with Parents to Save Environment.  Researchers from Michigan University said the increase in single households has contributed toward the destruction of biological diversity. Each new single household is less efficient than a larger house with six or more people. The research concentrated on 76 countries where biological diversity has been eroded or threatened. There was a connection between the drop in biologic diversity and a high number of independent households even in countries with dropping birthrates. In the 76 countries with threatened biological diversity, 155 million new households have been founded since 1985 and will grow to 233 million by 2015. The phenomenon occurs even in countries with dropping birthrates, such as Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain.      January 13, 2003  Deutsche Presse-Agentur 005275

U.S.: Environment Pays Price as More Live Alone.  The proliferation of smaller households is straining the world's natural resources. Housing units create a need for building materials, appliances, and energy, and produces more waste. In the U.S. one of every four households is inhabited by one person. In countries with environmental problems, such as the U.S. the rise in the number of households from 1985 to 2000 outpaced population growth, explaining the environmental stresses as the number of households grew by 3.1% each year, while the population rose 1.8%. In other countries, the population and household growth rates were the same at 1.7% a year. In countries where the population is shrinking, the number of households is climbing. In China, many young adults are staying single longer and moving away from their parents. Governments should provide incentives to encourage more efficient use of living space. In the United States, the government should consider tax incentives to share homes, or penalties for people who choose to live alone. Government should also discourage urban sprawl. Cohousing is better for the environment, and offers advantages of a village-like atmosphere. Lawmakers should consider a tax on household energy.      January 13, 2003  The Boston Globe; 005277

U.S.: Officials Dissect Housing Needs.  Many would-be homeowners and renters cannot find homes they can afford in Southern California while the state expects to add 6 million people by 2010. At a conference of city officials, builders, real estate brokers and mortgage lenders, housing needs were discussed. Diminishing availability of land, the drive for commercial development because of the sales tax revenues, the "not in my backyard" feeling of many residents, and city officials who view homes as a drain on revenues have contributed to the shortage. Higher-density housing should be in the urban cores but commercial development has shifted to the areas along freeways. Officials in Sacramento are aware of how the sales tax has distorted land-use, but say ideas for reform should come from cities and counties. Also they say there is a need for flexibility in the federal Endangered Species Act and other regulations. There is plenty of common ground between advocates of environmental protection and the housing industry, but society has to make better decisions about locating new housing. We all agree the answer is density, but it's unclear if companies will insure condominium projects, what with state laws making it easy for condominium owners to sue builders over construction defects. As long as people don't want high density housing, elected officials are not going to support it.      November 2002  Los Angeles Times 005132

Open Spaces, Urban Sprawl and Overpopulation   When we talk about the effects of overpopulation they are generally on an international level, in terms of the growing shortages of food, water, fuel, medical services or similar items, plus the increasing levels of pollution. For example the millions of people who are starving in Africa, the destruction of the forests in South America, or the lack of clean drinking water in Bangladesh. These are extremely critical problems, but sitting in our comfortable homes they appear remote to us. We feel sorry for these unfortunate people, but we cannot see any way that this can affect our day to day way of life. Overpopulation is looked on as problem that does not really affect us.

However if we open our eyes, the effects of overpopulation on our day to day living can be clearly seen all around us, especially in the outlying suburbs of our great cities. These effects have developed over the years and therefore we have become used to them and accept them as the normal growth of our society. But that philosophy is changing dramatically. "Save our open spaces" is the subject of many "letters to the editor" in our suburban papers. Residents groups are springing up in many areas in an attempt to halt or at least slow down the continuing development that is spreading farther and farther out from our cities. What was once farmland and forest is now covered with houses, supermarkets, shopping malls and business premises. Country roads now have traffic lights at every corner and traffic jams every night and morning. In spite of the introduction of tougher environmental standards pollution is creeping into almost every source of water.

Although this form of destruction of the rural life style has become very obvious, there is a continuous drive for more development. We are told that development is necessary for the following reasons.

To hold down property taxes.

To provide employment.

To improve our life style (in spite of the problems it causes.)

Most of this is of course absolute nonsense and totally untrue. Development has one primary purpose and that is to make a profit for the developer, never mind how it impacts the residents of the area. We only have to note the frequent and lengthy legal hassles that ensue when new developments are proposed. However even profit is not the basic driving force behind development. When we strip away the politics, the emotions and the philosophical ideas, the ultimate cause is our expanding population. Development is the obvious way of profiting from the demand this generates.

For example, the demand for housing has driven up the cost of a home in many cities to the point where the average worker finds it financially impossible to live there except in subsidized housing. Even in the suburbs, the demand has driven up housing costs until the only option has been to accept the hours of commuting time and seek an affordable home in the countryside. However what was an acceptable price for a home there only a few years ago has now rocketed to the point where it too is unaffordable and the unfortunate home seeker has to look even further afield. The ultimate consequence is an ever expanding area of homes, shops, factories and other business premises that is slowly but surely destroying all the open space around our cities. We read of plans to minimize the effect of our growing suburban and commuting population. For example the call for higher density housing in our cities and public or subsidized homes, but ultimately the only solution is to halt the population growth. We cannot provide more homes out of thin air, inevitably they demand land, utilities and roads. Their residents need services, all of which consume more land and other scarce resources. Meanwhile the level of pollution grows with the increasing population, and the countryside is destroyed forever.

A more efficient use of land can slow this destruction but as long as our population continues to grow, more land will be covered by houses, shops, schools, commercial buildings and the wide expanses of blacktop for parking lots, roads and driveways. Inevitably pollution levels will continue to increase fouling the water and air. Slowing population growth and eventually arriving at a stable level is the only way that this destruction of our countryside can be halted. There is a limit to the population our land can support and we may well have already exceeded that limit. It cannot be determined solely from the number of people per square mile but rather from the effects of the growing number of people on the natural resources. Several major cities are facing water shortages, some are even considering desalination to enable them to use polluted water or seawater for drinking, all have problems in getting rid of sewage and refuse.

Unlike the less fortunate peoples we have been able to use science and technology to hold back the effects of overpopulation, but this is like building a dam to hold back an ever rising tide. We can postpone the inevitable, but if the tide continues to rise, eventually we too will be overcome. So what can be done? This is the part of the solution that is seldom discussed, it is unpalatable and all too often pushed aside completely because it is contrary to personal, political and religious beliefs. But if we are to survive we must stop the tide from rising and flooding over the dam. We must develop effective birth control and see that it is used effectively. We must also stop the flood of immigrants that make up a large part of our population growth, and encourage them to stay in their own countries and reduce their own population growth to acceptable levels.

     December 2002  Ralph Woodgate 004956

U.S.: Cities Eat Away at Earth's Best Land.  Although previously measured in other ways, Marc Imhoff and his colleagues at the NASA Goddard Space Center have quantified the loss of prime agricultural land to urbanization which ultimately threatens food supplies and "carbon sinks". Using weather satellites to "pick out city lights, oil flares forest fires", he divided the mainland US states into "urban, urban periphery and non-urban" and determined the amount of vegetation in each region by measuring reflectance in the red and near-infrared frequencies due to the chlorophyll of green plants. Factoring in additional weather data (temperature, humidity and rainfall), he calculated the "amount of plant growth or ‘net primary productivity’ (NPP) in each region". "He found that ... urban areas [which occupy just 3% of the land] cost the US 40 million tons of carbon per year, or 1.6% of the country’s total pre-urban NPP". This cancels out the "1.8% contribution to NPP made by agriculture", which occupies 29% of the US landmass. That is, urbanization is consuming the best farmland. Imhoff calculated that urbanization reduces "the dry vegetation in the US by 91 million tons per year", enough to feed 450 million people, if it were all edible. The reduction of food productivity has particular importance to developing countries with rapidly growing populations, but enhanced carbon release affects both developing and developed countries.   December 18, 2002  New Scientist 005045

U.S.: Growth: Sprawl of Communities Reaches Into Rural Missouri.  Only 30 acres of the 1-square-mile battlefield of Lone Jack remain untouched by roads or development. Suburban-style growth is surging into Missouri's countryside, bringing big-city problems. But only states set the rules of growth and must plan better, be careful with tax breaks and stop building highways that encourage sprawl. The major trends identified in the Kansas City area revolve around an ever-dispersing population into rural areas. Population in unincorporated or "open country" areas grew faster than in cities and towns. Land has been wasted, the Brookings Institute said. The land consumed for development increased 35%, while Missouri's population increased only 10%, threatening the natural areas and rural character. Meanwhile, overloaded sewer and septic systems have led to problems from algae to fish kills. For bigger cities, Missouri lacks the downtowns that draw smart young workers. Development has increased the costs of maintaining highways leading to roads in worse condition than in neighboring states. The state must analyze state growth, reward collaboration in metropolitan areas, tighten the definition of "blight" so new suburbs can't use funds for it, and set priorities for transport spending so projects don't shift economic activity from one part of a region to another. There is a desire to link public investments to local decisions.      December 2002  Kansas City Star 004976

Rural America’s New Problem: Handling Sprawl.  Struggling rural communities welcome growth but face unfamiliar challenges. Officials worry the boom will harm natural areas, the infrastructure and finances of their communities. Joplin, Mo grew faster during the 1990s than Kansas City. Unincorporated open country saw population rise 12.3%. In Joplin’s outlying areas 3,500 new housing permits were issued, greater than either Joplin (2,979) or its surrounding towns (3,079). Joplin’s population grew 16.% between 1982 and 1997, urbanized land expanded at 40.6%, with 23 square miles of rural land converted to urban use. Joplin’s unincorporated metro area has no planning or zoning. The area has not lost a lot of agricultural land and the region doesn’t suffer from traffic jams. But problems are surfacing. The county health department rules a minimum 0.9-acre lot for new homes with septic systems. The health department has tripled costs and personnel to handle septic-system issues. In Missouri cities and towns they offer sewer systems that free developers from lot-size requirements, which means they can pack more houses on the land. But Oronogo, north of Joplin saw its population increase 64% to 976 residents and household income doubled. The community has declared a moratorium on development because of infrastructure limits. The wastewater treatment it shares with other communities has reached capacity, and it faces a $ 2.6 million bill to expand its water system that would double residents water bills. A local developer would require a sewer line that would cost $ 50 a foot. Developers argue that they’re meeting a demand for housing.      December 2002   004943

Smart Growth America.  This website reports on Smart Growth. It encompasses transportation, housing, environment, economic development, farmland and open space, education, growth and management planning, state and local policy resources, and capitol correspondence. It does not mention population growth.   If anyone would like to comment on this report further, send me an email at gaia@calweb.com   November , 2002  Smart Growth America 004685

U.S.: Air Pollution Fatalities Now Exceed Traffic Fatalities by 3 to 1.  U.S. air pollution deaths equal those from breast and prostate cancer. Air pollutants include carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulates primarily from fossil fuels. When people inhale particulates and ozone at concentrations found in urban areas, their arteries become constricted, reducing blood flow to the heart. No "safe" level of pollution exists. Exposure to current levels of ozone and particulates affect death rates, hospitalizations and medical visits and take a toll on the economy. The costs of air pollution argue for raising taxes on fuels to encourage efficient use, a shift to clean energy sources, and the adoption of pollution controls. The solutions to urban air pollution are not difficult. Individuals can reduce car usage and use more fuel-efficient cars. Planning can redirect funding to mass transit options. Countries can shift electricity generation to wind and solar power and redefine safety to include decreasing air pollution.      September 17, 2002  Earth Policy Institute 004203


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