Sprawl attacks American life

By the

September 6, 2001

Georgetown has something that most of the rest of the country lacks. There is something we love about this campus and D.C. that drew us all here. It’s a wonderfully livable community where we can walk to visit our friends or head down to M Street to eat or shop. But Georgetown is the ex-ception; suburban sprawl is the rule.

Sprawl is attacking American culture. First, it destroys the environment. Extremely low-density suburban subdivisions chew up forests, farmland and open space to create huge homes reachable only by car. Sprawl creates bland, cultureless strip malls that have no unique quality to them but do have enormous parking lots again accessible only by car. This Amer-ican reliance on the car not only pollutes but also discriminates against those who can’t drive. Children have to beg for rides and some elderly can no longer drive. Many handicapped individuals cannot operate a car, and those in poverty often cannot afford a car.

Second, sprawl is inherently socially stratifying. Zoning laws are created with minimum-lot-size requirements specifically to prevent lower classes from moving there. The rising number of gated communities separate people.

Sprawl creates deserts devoid of culture. Picture yourself cruising down a strip. You see a McDonald’s, a Kmart, a Burger King, a Subway and all the other common chains. When you are there you could be anywhere in the country. It’s the “Geography of Nowhere.” I once drove on a strip outside Grand Rapids, Mich. for 10 miles and counted eight McDonald’s, six Subways and five Texaco stations. Then there are the Levittown-type subdivisions with their cookie-cutter houses. You would not recognize one house from another if it did not have its street number on the front. Sprawl also isolates individuals because of the enormous distance to anywhere, even between neighbors.

Lastly, sprawl costs lots of money. It stretches a city’s infrastructure across vast expanses of land creating enormous sewer systems, power lines and road networks. Building and maintaining that system is not cheap.

I have only touched upon a few of the perils of sprawl in our lives ? there are many more. But there are also ways through which we can make our communities safer and healthier. First, everyone should be aware of what is happening … sprawl is a real problem. Solutions are available: urban growth boundaries, preservation of farmland and green space, alternate forms of transportation and building compact pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. You too can act by electing sprawl-conscious candidates, being conscious of where you shop and trying to reduce the amount you drive.

Sprawl is a real problem that lurks underneath the American consumer culture. We can control what our future landscape will look like. The environmentally, socially and culturally destructive effects of the present sprawl is not what we want. There is a better way, and we should all work together to achieve it.

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