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Urban Sprawl Essay, Research Paper
Urban Sprawl is a problem that will have severe consequences for all life if left unrestricted. The unrestricted development of the United States and the world is rapidly contributing to the degradation of our ecosystem. Moreover, if over development continues there will be massive human suffering. Air and water quality are in jeopardy and topsoil is being lost at an alarming rate. If something isn’t done soon to curtail rampant development there may be no way to prevent its destructive consequences.
In order to understand Urban Sprawl it is imperative to understand the history and origin of cities. The historic causes of urbanization and then sub urbanization can be linked to capitalism. Although many would argue that the first cities came to exist due to an innate human need for solidarity, these Neolithic cities, such as Mesopotamia were mere villages in comparison to the metropolises of the last 200 years. True cities emerge when one class of individuals dominates another in order to extract a surplus. Whether it be the nobles exploiting the peasants in the middle ages, or Henry Ford exploiting autoworkers in 20th century Detroit, it is exploitation for the accumulation of wealth that is the catalyst of the city. When development is based on the marketplace it will be designed to maximize profit rather than maximize the health and welfare of its inhabitants. Least of all, the capitalist city has the least regard for ecology. The result is a sprawling detriment to human and ecological health.
At no time was this more evident than The Industrial Revolution. Europeans and then Americans found it profitable to harness rivers for power. They built gristmills first, and then saw mills, then textile mills. Eventually, entrepreneurs would produce anything that they could create a market for. Along the way they exploited what ever was available. Men, women children and immigrants competed for the lowest wages. Of course the earth itself was also exploited. Rivers were harnessed for their ability to turn the wheels. They were also utilized as a means to carry away industrial refuse. Eventually, Coal and other fossil fuels would be extracted to power steam engines. Raw materials were also extracted. Metal, lumber, and several other raw materials were converted to consumer goods.
The Industrial Revolution transformed once agrarian communities into industrial complexes. The pursuit of the wage concentrated populations into urban manufacturing centers such as Woonsocket RI., Lowell Ma., Merrimack NH., and Biddeford Me. What ensued was a large influx of immigrants from Ireland, Canada, Eastern Europe and South East Asia. This increase in population simultaneously increased the density and the area of cities. Furthermore, by the mechanism that Allen Pred called the “Multiplier Effect” the increased population created an increase in demand for goods. Thus, cities grew rapidly.
The advent of efficient forms of transportation such as canals and the railroad multiplied human ability to exploit Earth’s resources and distribute them. This opened trade routes and created new cities. Some cities were formed based solely on these new forms of transportation. They were places to get off the train and spend the night, or refueling stations. Moreover, the railroads made it possible to bring raw materials from all over for transformation into consumer goods in the cities.
The economic opportunities of manufacturing was the catalyst of the great migration of Southern African/Americans to Northern Manufacturing centers like Detroit. Just as the increase in immigrant labor had been doing for 100 years the influx of Southern African/Americans created a labor surplus. Of course the mill owning Bourgeoisie took advantage of this surplus by allowing working conditions to deteriorate in order to maximize profits.
As conditions deteriorated workers united and the labor movement was born. The International Workers of the World (IWW), The United Auto Workers (UAW), and several other labor movements changed the way that workers were treated. Movements for safe working conditions, 8-hour workdays, and fair wages were successful. However, Corporations eventually circumvented this obstacle by moving their operations where labor was more exploitable. First they moved to the American South. Then, relatively recently, corporations moved to Third world countries where labor and environmental restrictions were lax if they even existed. The deindustrialization of the 1950’s has as much to do with the deterioration of the American city as industrialization had to do with creating it.
What remains are several abandoned manufacturing facilities. The loss of jobs results in poverty and the degradation of neighborhoods. Areas that were once the cosmopolitan areas of the cities become ghettos. Worcester’s Main South with its grandiose French Second Empire and Queen Anne mansions that are now labeled “slums” support this assertion. Those who have the means to leave flee the city for suburbia. The advent of the automobile facilitates sub urbanization and sprawl is born. One after the other rural areas fall victim to sub urbanization. It spreads out from the city like ripples from a stone thrown in undisturbed water. Suburbs of Boston are now cities. Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, etc. are consumed by the city. Eventually the sub urbanization spreads further West into Framingham. Currently Westboro, Shrewsbury, Millbury and many other towns along the Massachusetts turnpike are being invaded by homebuyers who work in Boston. Moreover, in an effort to enhance their recruiting ability corporations such as Compaq build facilities in rural areas further encroaching on ecologically sensitive areas. However, this does not decrease commute time or miles. In fact, from 1983 to 1990 mean vehicle miles per household rose 29% . As these jobs become available in suburban areas with free parking and attractive landscapes they become attractive to everyone rather than just those in the local community. Therefore, cross commuting becomes common and travel miles increase. Consequently, increased traffic leads to street and highway expansion and development furthering deforestation and encroachment on wildlife habitat. Furthermore, this leads to global warming.
As urban conditions deteriorate more of its population moves out seeking better conditions. As a result service sector jobs move out of the city to suburban strip malls further increasing urban unemployment. The urban dwellers cannot afford to live in the suburbs, nor do they have the means to commute to the suburban jobs. The result is poverty concentration in the inner city. Of course, the affluent suburban dwellers want to gain as much distance from this poverty concentration as possible further causing the povertization of cities.
Author Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institute argues that as suburban population increases and support services move to suburbia the city will become obsolete . Many suburban areas no longer depend on their urban centers. They now have their own supermarkets, financial institutions, retailers ETC. Some cities lost 25% of their jobs while their suburbs enjoyed a 5% increase between 1969 and 1986 . As these jobs are lost the urban dwellers fall into a greater state of poverty than already exists. Urban tax bases are decreased and there is decreased investment in schools. These factors increase the gap between classes. Urban students receive inferior education compared to their suburban counterparts.
Urban decline leads to increased stratification, crime and human suffering. Of course the response of those living outside the city is that it is not their responsibility. However, suburban dwellers have a social responsibility towards the inner city.
First, suburban residents have contributed to the urban problems by supporting exclusionary laws that result in poverty concentration. These laws have their origins as early as 1930. As cities became more diverse affluent Caucasian urban residents established various legal devices including zoning, deed restrictions, and racially restrictive covenants to impose and increase racial residential segregation. Furthermore, real estate agents, appraisers, brokers and mortgage bankers ensured the concentration of poor minorities by refusing them access to property or loans . Many of these exclusionary practices persist today in the suburbs leading to a concentration of poor minorities in the inner city.
Second, Suburbanites have an interest in decreasing the decline of urban areas because all Americans benefit from effectively functioning urban centers and the low wage workers living in them. Functionalists would argue that the segregation of the poor from the affluent eliminates the ability to exploit low wage service industry labor. Thus, driving up prices for services such as housekeeping, lawn maintenance, and other functions served by the poor.
Third, from a Marxist perspective, it is in the best interest of the middle and upper strata of society to ensure that poor urban dwellers have an adequate standard of living to prevent social disruption or in other words riots.
Those who have the means to leave flee the city for suburbia. The advent of the automobile facilitates sub urbanization and sprawl is born. One after the other rural areas fall victim to sub urbanization. It spreads out from the city like ripples from a stone thrown in undisturbed water. Suburbs of Boston are now cities. Arlington, Brookline, Cambridge, etc. are consumed by the city. Eventually the sub urbanization spreads further West into Framingham. Currently Westboro, Shrewsbury, Millbury and many other towns along the Massachusetts turnpike are being invaded by homebuyers who work in Boston. Moreover, in an effort enhance their recruiting ability corporations such as Compaq build facilities in rural areas further encroaching on ecologically sensitive areas. However, this does not decrease commute time or miles. In fact, from 1983 to 1990 mean vehicle miles per household rose 29% (Downs, 8). As these jobs become available in suburban areas with free parking and attractive landscapes they become attractive to everyone rather than just those in the local community. Therefore, cross commuting becomes common and travel miles increase. Consequently, increased traffic leads to street and highway expansion and development furthering deforestation and encroachment on wildlife habitat. Furthermore, this leads to global warming.
As urbanization spreads the landscape is deforested. Forestland is the only resource that consumes the massive CO2 emissions from combustion engines. Moreover, as people move away from the city they become more dependent on the automobile for transportation. Their commutes are longer, and more of it is spent in gridlock traffic. This increase in CO2 emissions coupled with a decrease in CO2 consuming forestland results in an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere which will have severe effects on human existence if left unresolved. Public transportation is as inefficient as the automobile because there is no longer a common destination. Rather rails and bus lines would need to branch out in a dendritic pattern with minimal ridership. Hence, in 1990 only 5% of rush hour commuters used public transportation while 86% used automobiles (Downs, 8).
Another consequence of urban sprawl is a decrease in precipitation absorbing wetlands. As these wetlands are backfilled, developed, and paved there are fewer outlets for water absorption. The result is costly and devastating floods.
On the other hand, in developed deserts such as Las Vegas and Los Angeles water is stored in reservoirs behind dams to supply a burdensome population. The consequence to this is increased evaporation. In Arid areas such as these, even a 1% loss of water can have devastating effects on biological matter. Plant life that depends on the small amount of water dries up and dies. The soil becomes barren and is washed away by wind and rain. What is left is a barren wasteland.
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