Sprawl-bashing only obscures what's really going on in the American landscape—and what can be done to improve the quality of life.
Whatever their opinion of development, most people believe that sprawl is bad. Conservationists decry the loss of agricultural land. Proponents of mass transit don’t like spending more money on highway construction. Environmentalists oppose continued dependence on fossil fuels. Sociologists claim that low-density suburbs undermine community. Urban planners see suburban sprawl as consuming resources that would be better spent on revitalizing inner cities. Architects object to sprawl on aesthetic grounds. And, of course, opponents of development see sprawl as their chief enemy.
The issue is not so simple. For example, sprawl is often blamed for urban poverty, on the grounds that peripheral growth drains jobs from the inner city. Yet Anthony Downs, a Brookings Institution researcher and longtime critic of sprawl, has found no significant relationship between sprawl and urban decline. “This was very surprising to me,” he wrote, “and went against my belief that sprawl had contributed to concentrated poverty and therefore to urban decline.”
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