Consequences of Urban Sprawl
There is no doubt in that urban sprawl exists in most of the cities nowadays. For many, a suburban home or apartment is a very comfortable place to live in. To those who have recently escaped from the inner city, the suburbs are wonderful places. From the book "Future Shock" by Alvin Toffler, we can see that "The working masses in the high-technology societies are totally indifferent to the call for a political revolution aimed at exchanging one form of property ownership for another. For most people the rise in affluence has meant a better, not a worst, existence, and they look upon their much despised 'suburban middle-class lives' as fulfillment rather than deprivation."
The "fulfillment" Toffler mentions here has its inconveniences too. But some of these inconveniences have come about so gradually that many people have grown to accept them. The daily commute, which we refer to as 'Portal to Portal' transfer here, takes about three hours a day on the average for the average New York metropolitan dweller with a moderate income.
Typically for the larger cities, about an hour to an hour and a half of the wage earner's day is spent in portal-to-portal travel. Mothers spend a good part of each day accompanying their children because the streets are unsafe, distances have become too distant to walk, and because public transportation is too infrequent or is nonexistent. Dwellers in the suburban area often have to drive two miles for a can of soft drink or a load of bread. The decision as to where to shop is often based on the convenience of driving and parking. No one wants to shop or go to a theatre downtown in big cities any more if it involves the use of an automobile. It's not worth the time and effort to fight the traffic and the parking is too inconvenient and expensive.
Streets are dangerous place. In a metropolitan area with a population of two million, there are over 500 traffic deaths and 6,000 injuries per year. Highway accidents have become just another abstract statistic. The average losses for deaths, serious injuries, loss future earnings, is estimated to be around $5,900 per accident. Since there are over one-half million fatalities and serious injuries per year in the U.S, the total economic loss exceeds $3 billion per year.
On quiet streets in the suburbs, much time and effort is spent organizing activities to keep small children from getting run over by cars. Often, gardens and homes are fenced in for this reason. It is well to reflect on the psychological effect that all this shepherding and isolation must have on the growing child.
The relation of smog to urban sprawl is well known.
The more sprawl there is and the more the residential, commercial, recreational
and shopping functions are zoned apart from each other, the greater will be
the energy expended in getting people and materials back and forth between them,
and so, the greater will be their contribution to air pollution. Everything
is interrelated. The question is: What effect do population trends, patterns
of urban growth, zoning, and improved exhaust devices or fuel have on air quality?
One thing is certain though. If there is to be an improvement in air quality under the present governmental approach, it will have to come about by equipping factories with expensive anti-pollution devices, by modifying the design of cars, by using smaller vehicles and different types of fuels, by curtailing the use of cars and by developing mass transit, and so on. Everything has a price tag attached to it, and it means that direct and indirect costs of transportation will be even higher. The direct cost of transportation now runs about 10 percent of the budget of a moderate-income family.
Most people seem to derive pleasure out of their ability to control an automobile and to drive long distances cheaply and comfortably. To them, the automobile is nothing short of wonderful. It gives freedom to go where and when one chooses. With a car, one can live in the most remote of areas. One can go for a ride with a girlfriend and park in privacy where there is a lovely view. If people are unhappy, it is not with the automobile but rather, with the inconvenience and cost incurred when it needs repair, with the tension of driving on high-speed crowded freeways, with the bumper-to-bumper traffic jams, and with the problems of finding a parking place. Indeed, we have become so enamored with the automobile that we have gone to great lengths in its behalf. Lewis Mumford, the well-known social philosopher and authority on cities, describes the passion this way: "senses would be a clear demonstration of the fact that their highway program will, eventually, wipe out the very area of freedom that the private motorcar promised to retain for them."
What Mumford laments is the patchwork planning that allows an auto-based transportation system to displace all other transportation forms. In "The Highway and the City" Mumford, tries to warn the British not to follow in American footsteps, citing Oxford, England as an example of a city that has "suffered incredible devastation" from the overuse of the automobile. Mumford predicts that soon, the entire British Isles will become a greater Oxford, with an ever increasing number of
"Car owners vainly seeking to escape, at a high speed that turns into a crawl, into a countryside that no longer exists ..Cities, in turn, will be transformed into extravagant parking lots; and before you awaken from this nightmare you may, if you ignore the experience of Los Angeles, Detroit, Boston, and a hundred other American centers, dismantle the one kind of transportation that would, if properly organized, rescue you from this fate : the railroad"
Morris Neiburger, who is an expert on air pollution, sees things a little differently :
"I don't believe controls can be devised that will adequately reduce the poisons given off by automobiles and other machines that burn fossil fuels (such as gas and oil). All civilization will pass away, not from a sudden cataclysm like a nuclear war, but from gradual suffocation in its own wastes."
The consequence of the uncontrolled use of the automobile in a rapidly growing urban area leads eventually to an impossible transportation problem at the urban center. One solution after the damage is done is mass transit. In the San Franciso Bay Area, the BART System began operation in 1972. This is basically an improved (costly) version of the old Key System of electric interurban trains that was still operating in the 1940s but was displaced by the automobile. Another mass transit system, the METRO System for Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas was completed in 1974.
Many planners feel, however, that the best way to eliminate chaotic transportation habits within cities is to construct satellite cities, in which people can live in a satellite community that is close to the part of the city in which they work. Others feel that the answer lies in rebuilding the inner city, using super-block apartments, each super-block surrounded by green space, with good transportation from these to the city center.
The central city has suffered from the flight of its citizens to suburbia. With their departure went their tax dollars and their interest in civic affairs. As the vitality of the city was sapped, slum conditions were aggravated. But there are other consequences. The replacement of a slum with a super-block project looks beautiful on paper. In practice, these projects have profoundly altered the structure of community life and not always for the better.
For example, street life, which some planners consider "unwholesome" and which disappears when super-blocks are built, has in its hustle and bustle and unstructured supervision, which is something known to help raise kids successfully. Community life in the suburbs has also been found wanting. The practice of fencing in homes and gardens for privacy and protection, and the practice of using the car for every errand have the effect of isolating the family from personal encounters with those who live in the neighbourhood. To overcome this runs the risk of becoming over friendly with one's neighbours and losing one's privacy. Apparently, there is no happy in-between and so one usually ends up staying isolated.
Concerns about pollution, about the preservation of wildlife, about man's effect on the ecosystem, and about the kind of world left for future generations have become, in the decade of the seventies, national issues. Some people, on the personal level, try to collect cans, bottles, and newspapers for recycling. Others become smoke spotters or show up at meetings to protest the location of a new atomic power plant or the proposed site for Disney's latest wonderland. Most people feel that something must be done to undo man's negative impact on nature, but the accelerative thrust of fast-moving world societies has left everyone with a feeling of utter helplessness. The key problem is that, no one know if we make things worst some where else if we stop the "progress" that harms the environment in one place.
Clearly, many of the problems connected with urban sprawl could be avoided by proper planning, such as a total system planning. The problems of urban development are too crucial to the future to be left to real estate developers and urban planning authorities who recommend more freeways, multilevel parking facilities, and other temporary solutions.
The total system approach is a term that refers
to methods for evaluating the effects of a proposed design on as many aspects
of the urban system as possible, in particular, operations research, mathematical
models, and computers can all be used to simulate and analyze the total system.