The Urban Sprawl: Coming to a Neighborhood Near You!
We humans can be quite viral, like the common cold. We spread from place to place and clog up the lands and rivers by settling around them. Urban sprawl quite aptly describes the urbanization of green fields and lush forests, river valleys and farmlands, all because we like to be one with nature. But it’s one thing to commune with nature and another to uproot it to make place for you, like a school bully taking the lunch money from weaker students.
The irony is urban sprawl is mostly due to people’s lifestyle decision to move away from the hustle bustle of the city, not over-population or migration. In reality, the cities are actually spreading into suburbs, which are eating into prime farmland. The city, even though a big polluter, is at least concentrated in itself. If the population remained concentrated in the cities it would have spared the rest of the untouched land. However, we simply have made the cities unlivable and instead of fixing the problem, we simply move to the open lands and continue to destroy those as well.
There seem to exist a strong bond between farmlands and urban sprawls. A study done is the US shows that the country’s vast farmlands are being eaten up by encroaching sprawls in the form of scattered suburbs forming much too rapidly to be healthy. Scientists explain it as an old migration and settler’s pattern, to locate near farmland and river bed. It has also been stated jokingly that land good for growing crops is also good for growing houses!
Unfortunately, modern humans like their sprawl to come equipped with their own super stores, druggists, post office etc, eating up more and more space, using up more resources, emitting more green house gases and turning every bit of land they occupy permanently unusable.
It may be sooner then you think when you will never be able to have a long scenic drives. Each mile will be dotted with McDonald’s and KFCs, jutting out like ugly sores beside streams and meadows. So much so that parts of the country may find it hard to draw tourists. The urban sprawl is also cutting into the livelihood of the non-urban population, which depends on these farmlands. As small townships muscle in their way into the famed “wide open spaces”, the modern cowboys may again be crying for their lost Mustangs.
Speaking of Mustangs, the urban sprawl also is encouraging longer commutes to work, entertainment and family visits etc and thereby increasing pollution and carbon emissions. In European countries, with public transport being more efficient, the commute is less dependent on individual vehicles. But the US and other developing countries like China and India are more dependent on CO2 emitting vehicles and in some of these countries hybrid vehicles are difficult, if not impossible, to run.
The developed countries are already under scrutiny for being big CO2 emitters and environmental talks between nations are seeing constant appeal and even threat to these countries to reduce their emission levels in an effort to stop global warming. Adding to its usual industrial causes and other aspects of modern lifestyle, the urban sprawl is not doing any community any favors.
Urban sprawl for land means paved and cemented roads over lands. As the land does not absorb the natural elements of moisture and sunshine, after a while, it becomes quite unusable for future use as land resources as well. Sprawls also interfere in the natural ecosystems of a place and since they are strewn here and there all over the countryside.
A simple way to show the effects are the heat waves many countries experienced in 2009 and the irregular rain and extended draught in many places. Water is becoming a scare resource already and spreading the population in small pieces all over the country and especially near rivers is leading to misuse of the natural water resources. Even though to a layman it may not seem immediate threat, according to studies in the US, the country lost around 400,000 acres of farm land per year on the last one decade alone!
Along with the land, we are also losing life, in the form of animals and plants. Urban sprawls are literal home breakers for many animal families! Especially where these urban communities are cutting across migratory lines for animals, its disrupting breeding patterns and actually leading the species down the extinction line. And the plants of course are not even given the chance to protest. They are given the “chop chop” or “timber!” treatment, both fatal to them.
So here we have a modern development, a trend in urbanization that is neither benefitting men or animals or plants. And the million dollar question is why we are continuing to do it? Well, some planning and development societies across the world have become aware of the downside of the urban sprawl and are starting to introduce codes to discourage land destruction for such sprawls and restricting land allocation to save prime farmlands as well. One can hope that this is enough and in time. It also requires us citizens to realize how our pursuit for closeness to nature is actually destroying it.
By Maria Belgado