Solution: Land Use
Most cities have developed near rivers and waterways, but most of the country's prime farmland is also located near rivers and waterways. From 1982 to 1992 we lost an average of 400,000 acres every year of "prime" farmland with the best soils and climate. We need to create “Smart Growth” alternatives to sprawl. Create towns where public transportation is possible.
Ecological land-use planning treats urban, rural, and wild areas as a continuum, creating “compact cities and towns, encircled by working rural landscapes, leaving a connected matrix of wildlands. A stable rural area with a broader matrix of connected wildlands ensures protection of habitat corridors. By controlling sprawl around urban developments, we can gradually restore a vast system of connected wildlands. Communities can avoid sprawl by creating clearly defined and legally enforceable boundaries, with a zoning tool called urban growth boundaries (UGB). Development boundaries will maintain a relatively high density of housing and commercial development inside the boundary and a rural low density outside the boundary. This encourages the formation of compact towns, cities, and metropolitan regions, with all the advantages for transit, infrastructure, and vibrant neighborhoods. The UGB relieves the farms, forests, and wildlands from development pressures.
Consequences of Sprawl
Even thought the United States still has the appearance of abundant farmland, we are losing the best of that land. The American Farmland Trust reported that from 1982 to 1992 we lost an average of 400,000 acres every year of "prime" farmland with the best soils and climate.
Most cities have developed near rivers and waterways, but most of the country's prime farmland is also located near rivers and waterways. The farms are rapidly being replaced by suburban sprawl around metropolitan areas. These areas currently produce more than half the total value of U.S. farm production. Their per acre yield is 2.7 times that of counties not near cities. Among the farming regions most seriously endangered by sprawl are California's Central Valley, the Northern Piedmont near Washington, DC and Baltimore, and the Northern Illinois Drift Plain near Chicago.
Research has shown that many communities are subsidizing new development in the form of new roads, water and sewer lines, schools, and emergency services . (6) JUMP A recent study by Professor Rolf Pendall found that smart-growth tools like Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFOs), which require that infrastructure like roads and sewer lines be fully paid for before new development moves forward, are very effective. Demanding that growth pay its own way, is very effective.
A good example is Oregon. Oregon adopted several statewide planning statutes in 1973, including one requiring the adoption of plans which zone for affordable housing within urban growth boundaries and the creation of protective zones outside of them. The plan has protected 25 million acres worth of farm and forest lands. Portland's population has grown by 50 percent since the 1970s, yet its land area increased by only 2 percent. In contrast, Chicago
Communities are also subsidizing growth by offering incentives to new businesses or industries that locate there, often spending billions of dollars to attract corporations to their areas. In doing so, sacrificing tax revenues needed to serve existing residents and businesses, and this cycle of subsidies encourages growth, and are often a contributor to sprawl.
In creating alternatives to sprawl, it is necessary to look at the whole range of areas: cities, farmlands and wildlands.
Ecological land-use planning treats urban, rural, and wild areas as a continuum, creating “compact cities and towns, encircled by working rural landscapes, leaving a connected matrix of wildlands stretching across the continent.
To stop further sprawling development and the resulting loss of farmland, we must establish boundaries, beyond which people can no longer build. All new growth must happen inside the existing city limits. This supports the creation of vibrant neighborhoods that encourage creating community rather than isolation and fragmentation.
The state of Oregon is the best example of this policy. Oregon adopted several statewide planning statutes in 1973, including one requiring the adoption of plans that zone for affordable housing within urban growth boundaries and the creation of protective zones outside of them. The plan has meant the protection of 25 million acres worth of farm and forestlands. It has also allowed Portland's population to grow by 50 percent since the 1970s while its land area increased by a mere 2 percent.
This alternative to sprawl would establish compact towns, cities, and metropolitan regions using “urban growth boundaries” and other planning and zoning measures. This focus on planning main services and infrastructure becomes increasingly cost-effective as density increases. Cities can protect rural areas and maintain them right to the edge of the urban area, safe from future development pressures.
Urban Growth Boundaries
Communities can avoid sprawl by creating clearly defined and legally enforceable boundaries, with a zoning tool called urban growth boundaries (UGB). Development boundaries will maintain a relatively high density of housing and commercial development inside the boundary and a rural low density outside the boundary. Inside the UGB we can set aside ecologically and culturally sensitive areas and permit a mix of residential, commercial, and green industrial uses. This encourages the formation of compact towns, cities, and metropolitan regions, with all the advantages for transit, infrastructure, and vibrant neighborhoods they offer. The UGB relieves the farms, forests, and wildlands from development pressures. A stable rural area with a broader matrix of connected wildlands ensures protection of habitat corridors.
Ideally, an urban growth boundary creates a strong transition between urban and rural areas. The boundary itself should be a place of great beauty and integrity.
Brownfields are abandoned or unused spaces that suffer environmental contamination from past industrial or commercial uses. Often the potential liability associated with contamination complicates business development, property transactions, and productive re-use of the site. This creates gaping holes in the urban or rural landscape.
Recovering Brownfield sites can transform contaminated industrial sites from wastelands into thriving new residential and commercial developments. Usually these sites are in urban cores and have excellent infrastructure already in place. These transformations play a pivotal role in the renewal of towns and cities.
Conventional land use planning and design create barriers to walking, often making it unpleasant and dangerous to try to walk from work to a restaurant, or from home to school. This forces a reliance on the automobile for routine daily travel, and it makes people more sedentary, contributing to health problems. Sprawl lengthens trips and forces us to drive everywhere. Adding new lanes and building new roads just makes the problem worse - studies show that increasing road capacity only leads to more traffic and more sprawl.
Human-scale neighborhoods, with a wide mix of housing types make it possible for people of all ages, classes, and family configurations to live in close proximity. Detached houses, small "granny flats" in backyards, duplexes, row houses, apartment buildings, co-housing, and other types provide a continuum of affordability and privacy. By organizing the metropolitan region into well-defined neighborhood centers, cities can create a framework for many different transportation modes: pedestrian, bike, bus, and light rail or commuter rail. With good alternatives, dependence on automobiles and their infrastructure of parking areas, roads, and highways decreases. Increased density developed near transit nodes can decrease vehicle miles traveled.
The car requires a vast and costly infrastructure of roads and asphalt, heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Highways fragment communities, degrade habitat, create smog, and alter global climate. But cars also offer great personal independence and convenience (for the 50% of the population that is able to drive), making people reluctant to try alternatives.
Alternative transit modes grow increasingly cost-effective, with more riders served per dollar of investment. Land-use planning and transportation planning must be conducted in parallel. Parking subsidies are worth $31.5 billion a year. California 1992 law requires employers who offer free parking to provide a cash alternative for employees who use public transportation or bicycles. This innovation spurred a 17 percent drop in solo driving at several firms. In 1998, a national transportation act changed the tax code to support such “cash-outs.”
The health of rural areas depends on that of nearby towns and cities. Rural areas need strong and stable market linkages for their produce. In much of a bioregion, rural areas are not sharing the prosperity of urban centers. Young people move away, and services like schools and healthcare decline.
Ecological land-use tools of zoning, land trusts, conservation easements, and the purchase or transfer of development rights have all been effective in protecting the character, beauty, and economic viability of rural areas. Rural land owners need assurance that rising and uncertain land prices will not drive them off their land, or make it impossible to pass it on to their children.
By controlling sprawl around urban developments, we can gradually restore a vast system of connected wildlands. A few animals such as raccoons and coyotes thrive around human settlement. Most wild creatures need spaces undisturbed by roads, dams, and other encroachments of civilization. The presence of people is not that detrimental, but the resources they take away and the footprints they leave behind are.
Land set aside in pristine or recovering areas to maintain fully-functional ecosystems are called “core reserves.” They provide essential habitat for a wide range of native plants, mammals, insects, birds, fish, and other organisms with full representation of populations, species, habitats, landscapes, and ecosystem types, particularly those that are scarce or endangered. The reach of technology is so pervasive, that these core reserves are essential for the preservation of biodiversity. Core Reserves must be large, and well connected to other protected areas, in order to support viable populations of all native species. They should also be large enough to support the fires, floods, and storms of up a natural disturbance regime.
Buffer Zones between farm and wildlife boundaries are necessary to protect and preserve native plants and animal’s health and variety. Disturbances, such as nearby mining, toxic contamination, or roads allow invasive species like magpies and opossums to take over. To solve this problem, the United Nations Biosphere Reserve model uses increasingly restrictive land-uses as closer to the core reserve. For example, allow drive up camping in the outer ring, restrict recreation in the inner zone to primitive camping and low-impact pursuits such as hiking, bird-watching, or cross-country skiing. Subsistence and cultural uses and ecotourism are compatible uses throughout the Buffer Zone.
Wildlife corridors connect multiple core reserve areas to increase the effective amount of habitat available to species and to reverse habitat fragmentation. Larger habitats support greater biodiversity, larger populations, and a wider range of food sources and shelter. They also allow populations to interbreed, improving long-term genetic viability. However, Wildlife Corridors, by themselves, cannot substitute for large areas of protected habitat, such as Core Ecological Reserves.
The most critical part of the ecological infrastructure is the movement of water and wastewater throughout the city. The urban hydrological cycle begins with water captured and purified in nearby watersheds. Nature’s systems are all round trip journeys, but we have designed one-way water and waste systems that short circuits nature’s cycle of water and nutrients. Only 2.5 percent of the earth’s water is freshwater. The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development reports that less than one-one hundredth of one percent of the earth's total freshwater resources is accessible for human use. During the last century, world water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population growth.
Importance of Watersheds
A watershed is all the land draining to the same body of water. Small watersheds combine to form larger ones. For example, thousands of small stream-scale watersheds combine to form the Columbia River watershed that drains into Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and British Columbia.
Watersheds provide a wide range of ecosystem services, including air and water purification, flood control, wildlife habitat, and recreation. Degraded watersheds show symptoms such as erosion, loss of plant and animal species, decreased ability to hold water during storms (leading to more frequent and sever flooding), and habitat fragmentation. Development has modified or degraded virtually all U.S. watersheds.
When we deforest watersheds, allow development on floodplains, pipe stormwater and channel rivers, we have more frequent, extreme, and expensive flooding, lose recreation benefits of surface creeks, degrade wildlife and plant habitat, jeopardize water quality and overburden wastewater treatment facilities.
Wetlands are nature’s water filters. Each year more than 100,000 acres of wetlands are destroyed, mostly for sprawl. Since wetlands can remove up to 90 percent of the pollutants in water, wetlands destruction leads to polluted water. Wetlands are also natural flood-absorbing sponges.
Sierra Club- Sprawl
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