The Comeback of Urban Sprawl

Househappy —  September 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

Christoph Gielen, from the book “Ciphers,” courtesy Jovis Verlag Berlin 2013, via NYTimes.com

“I think the death of sprawl was probably pronounced too soon,” said Taylor Anderson, an engineer in Atlanta, where at one point the 2010 census was expected to show that the metropolitan area had expanded into Alabama.

If there is any town that could support Anderson’s claim it would be the small city of Otsego, just thirty miles from downtown Minneapolis.

Defined by its proximity to two highways, its two wastewater treatment plants, one grocery store, and low crime rate, Otsego is the definition of suburbia. And while trends have indicated an increase the desire for city living––smaller spaces with high walkability scores and mass transit––as soon as the housing market showed signs of resuscitation, building in Otsego immediately followed.

This reemergence of urban sprawl is likely due to the fact that single-family homes still define the American dream and prospective home buyers overwhelmingly prefer them; However, the price of sprawl has become undeniable. For moderate-income families transportation costs have ballooned to a quarter of their income, cities have discovered that low-density developments fail to pay for their own infrastructure, and new studies have indicated that sprawl can even prevent access to higher paying jobs.

In 2011, the National Association of Home Builders projected the ideal home size to shrink. But the median size US home has continued to rise, reaching a record high in 2012. Still, unlike Anderson, others believe that our country is moving in the right direction. In fact, even before the recession, trends indicated a decrease in driver’s licenses and commute times, and found that the rate of farmland lost during the boom had decreased by almost a third.

According to Jennifer Dempsey, director of the Farmland Information Center, sprawl had reached its limit at the height of the boom. “We were pleasantly surprised,” she said.

This article can be found in its original form on NYTimes.com.

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