Urban Sprawl


Are Working Landscapes Desirable?

Natural Resources

Economic Development

Government Presence

Neighbor vs. Neighbor

Public vs. Private

Urban Sprawl


Many people who live in a city have the dream of moving to the country. They might desire peace and quiet, or decreased traffic, pollution, and perceived crime. For these reasons and more, people are moving out of city centers and into the outlying areas. As these people move out, businesses follow. After all, people need grocery stores and gas stations to satisfy their convenience-oriented needs.

As these newer communities grow, housing and business developments consume landscapes while inner city areas become more and more deserted. Some people believe we should build a new business on a vacant lot in a city before sacrificing more land on the edge of town. In fact, there are some cities fighting for this to become a law.

Choosing Our Neighborhoods
Don’t we all have a right to live wherever we want? Don’t we have a right to see nature, streams, and wildlife out our windows? Some people believe we do while others believe our wishes should be sacrificed to reserve more open landscapes where humans don't live. Some experts think there is a smart way to grow—to reserve some open space yet also satisfy the desire to move to the country. Planning seems to be the key and if our working landscapes are going to survive, respect for the environment needs to be a part of that plan.

How Sprawl Starts
The concern is urban sprawl. Urban sprawl happens when houses and businesses leap frog over each other. An example might be a person who buys a ten acres of land in the country not far from a town or city and wants to build a house on it.

  1. The first step in doing this would probably involve clearing the land to make room for the house. Trees or dirt may be moved or removed. Water lines, sewer systems, power lines, and roads might need to be added or extended to the area.

  2. Then development of the house takes place. When it’s done, the owner has the beauty of the country with some of the luxuries of the city. The expense to the owner and to the environment might be high but, in this example, the owner thinks it’s worth it.

  3. Urban sprawl takes place when other people also want to buy land and build houses or businesses on that same countryside. Urban sprawl takes place as these areas develop outside a city or town. Rural sprawl happens when small acreages pop up all over landscapes such as the mountains of Colorado and the prairies of northwestern Iowa.

Sprawl and the Environment
The ecosystems in these landscapes can suffer from sprawl when they are disturbed or destroyed. Landscapes also suffer when open spaces disappear or when erosion takes place due to over-development. Results like this affect our quality of life and the future life of our landscapes.

If we are going to preserve our landscapes for future generations, we need to find a balance between the country life dream and the ecosystem nightmare. How do we do this? A clue is in understanding the landscape and planning community growth.

What do you think?
By definition, working landscapes have people living on them. How should we accommodate people moving into a landscape?


Explore More: Working Landscapes
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.







The Law of the Land
Owning a house in a town or a farm in the country can guarantee a couple of things. More

What is a Conservation Subdivision?
A conservation subdivision is a housing development in a rural setting that has small housing lots close together, and common open space where the natural features of the land are maintained to the greatest extent possible. More

A Guide to Country Living
Water, power, sewer, and paved roads—these are all things that city dwellers enjoy. But for those who live in the country, the comforts of modern living are not as easy to obtain. More

PBS NewsHour Online Links

Portland, Oregon has an "urban growth boundary." This boundary is intended to limit the growth of the city into the rural (and agricultural) countryside. People for and against the growth boundary discuss the issue.

Web Site Links
"Urban Jungle Eats Up Coastal Beauty"
As urban areas spread out, natural environments are going to be swallowed up. Learn what may happen to urban and rural areas in the next twenty years.
This article from ABCNews.com

National Geographic Earthpulse
An online exploration into urban sprawl and a "new urbanist" neighborhood. Requires Flash.

Planned Land Use
Oregon has been working on "planned growth" since 1973. Research the planning goals and other related topics.

Planned Sprawl
National Geographic News reports on "green-based" urban growth and the difficulties with zoning and land use.