The Politics of Sprawl

Many of us think that sprawl is the product of chaos, that communities are built out of concert, an array of disjointed structures. While its true that sprawl has its roots in poor or absent planning, did you know that-like everything else- there are political decisions that nudge sprawl in various directions? Lengthy discussions about planning and conservation are perhaps better left to eco-dedicated blogs. What this blog is primarily concerned with, it seems, are the politics behind the problems. While we can always muster up a good rant about the environment, it is important that we link these matters to policy. What practices contribute to the problem? What remedies are available, and who is putting them forth? How does our government stand in the way of the remedy? When are they part of the problem, and when should we look to them for solutions?
Lets talk about the problem of sprawl.
"Land and the natural environment are limited resources that a growing population and poor land-use planning often strain. As we seek to rein in sprawl, we must work to address all its causes.

Many strategies have been proposed to help stem unchecked development, and as we seek solutions, it is appropriate to address the complex relationship between sprawl and population growth." (Sierra Club)
A Complex Relationship: Population Growth and Suburban Sprawl is a quick read.
So why do we keep sprawling and overdeveloping? As Sierra Club's two most recent national sprawl reports have shown, haphazard growth is fueled by a complex mix of billions of dollars in government subsidies and poor federal, state and local planning policies that in some cases make it hard not to sprawl. And in certain regions, rapid population growth exacerbates the problem.

There are solutions. Cutting the subsidies that feed sprawl and reinvesting in existing communities can help us rein in suburban sprawl. Smart-growth techniques can channel growth away from open space and sensitive habitat into areas with established infrastructure and existing resources.

Consider: "...planning policies that in some cases make it hard not to sprawl."
In many cases, zoning, codes, and land use policies undermine smart planning. Here is where diligence at the local level can pay off. Consider becoming involved in your local government. Consider participating in hearings, and send the message that there are citizens that are concerned and taking an interest in these proceedings. There are times when presence fosters acountability: just attend. Sit there. If you have a blog, consider reporting on what you observe, as information is always a step in the right direction. Thank you.

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