Monday, May 31, 2010

Clean Water Action Council Catalogs Sprawl Damage To Wisconsin

What an accounting - - loss of farmland, especially.

In fact, I'll reprint the entire post below.

Land Use & Urban Sprawl

Land use and urban sprawl are major environmental concerns affecting us in a variety of ways. We must adopt sustainable patterns of development which are not self-destructive.

What is Urban Sprawl?

"Sprawl" is the increased use of urbanized land by fewer people than in the past. Traditional cities were compact and efficient, but over the past 30-50 years, the density of land used per person has declined drastically. Although the U.S. population grew by 17 percent from 1982 to 1997, urbanized land increased by 47 percent during the same 15 year period. The developed acreage per person has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, and housing lots larger than 10 acres have accounted for 55 percent of land developed since 1994, according to the American Farmland Trust.

Land use and urban sprawl are major environmental concerns affecting us in a variety of ways. We must adopt sustainable patterns of development which are not self-destructive.

Impacts of Sprawl

Land Use and Urban Sprawl
Between 1950 and 2002, the number of acres of
farmland in Wisconsin dropped by 32.6%,
from 23.6 million acres down to 15.9 million.

1. Loss of Farmland --- We're chewing up farms at an alarming rate across the U.S., to create new highways, fringe industrial parks and sprawled housing developments. This loss reduces our ability to grow food, fiber and timber. In many areas, urban development pressure and increased property taxes are forcing farmers out of business. They often sell their farms for housing developments, to provide financial security for their retirement.

* Wisconsin Farms - In 1950, Wisconsin had 23.6 million acres of farmland, but 32.6% of this farmland has disappeared, leaving us with only 15.9 million acres in 2002, according to the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service. The number of Wisconsin farms has dropped from 178,000 down to 77,000, from 1910 to 2002. [Some of this farm loss is due to consolidation into much larger farms.
* Nationwide - More than 13.7 million acres of farmland in the U.S. were converted to non-farm use just between 1992 and 1997, according to United States Department of Agriculture. This figure is 51% higher than between 1982 and 1992.

2. Loss of Wildlife Habitat --- Wild forests, meadows, and wetlands are also disappearing, replaced by pavement, buildings and sterile urban landscaping. [See Wildlife] The remaining habitat is smaller, degraded and more fragmented, making survival of certain wildlife species very difficult as they try to reach breeding ponds, hibernation sites, feeding locations, or to establish viable nesting areas. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, important habitat types are disappearing. For example:

* Grasslands - Wisconsin has only .5% (13,000 acres) of its original grassland ecosystem remaining in a relatively intact condition, but much of this remnant acreage has been degraded to some degree
* Oak Savannas - Intact examples of oak savanna vegetation are now so rare that less than 500 acres are listed in the Natural Heritage Inventory as having a plant assemblage similar to the original oak savanna. This is less than 0.01% of the original 5.5 million acres.
* Oak and Pine Barrens - Less than 1% of the pre-settlement oak and pine barren habitat remains
* Shorelands - Degradation of near-shore and shoreline wildlife habitat is increasing with the pace of development, particularly in northern Wisconsin where, since 1960, two thirds of the larger lakes have been developed, the number of home sites has doubled, and the annual number of permits for sea wall construction has tripled. The DNR now reviews and processes over 10,000 permits for piers, near shore ponds, and structures each year.
* Wetlands - More than 50% of Wisconsin's original wetlands have been lost. On the lower Bay of Green Bay, more than 90% of the wetlands are gone.

3. Increased Tax Burden --- The costs of providing community services have skyrocketed as homes and businesses spread farther and farther apart, and local governments are forced to provide for widely spaced services. Owners of these dispersed developments seldom pay the full government costs of serving them, forcing the rest of us to subsidize them with higher taxes at the local, state and federal level.

An example: a master plan for the State of New Jersey evaluated conventional sprawl growth patterns against a mix of "infill" development, higher density concentrated new development and traditional sprawl. The projected differences are large. Infill and higher density growth would result in a savings of $1.18 billion in roads, water and sanitary sewer construction (or more than $12,000 per new home) and $400 million in direct annual savings to local governments. Over 15 years, it amounts to $7.8 billion. This does not take into account reductions in the cost of other public infrastructure that result from "infill" growth: decreased spending on storm drainage, less need for school busing (and parent taxi service), fewer fire stations, and less travel time for police, ambulance, garbage collection, and other services.

4. Increased Air Pollution --- Sprawl increases car and truck traffic, leading to major increases in air pollution and smog. Vehicles are the #1 cause of air pollution in many urban areas, and a threat to public and wildlife health.

5. Increased Water Use and Pollution --- Sprawl increases air pollution, which falls out to become water pollution. In addition, urban activities create water pollution directly, through land run-off of construction site erosion, fuel spills, oil leaks, paint spills, lawn chemicals, pet wastes, etc. Sprawled, low-density development produces more than its share of this runoff. [See Non-Point Pollution] In addition, more water is consumed for lawn watering and other landscape activities, straining local water supply systems.

6. Increased Energy Consumption --- At a time when we desperately need to reduce our energy use, sprawled developments increase our energy consumption per person, for increased gasoline, home heating, and electricity use.

7. Social Fragmentation --- Old-fashioned neighborhoods with compact housing, front porches, a corner store, and a school two blocks away were much more conducive to social interactions. It was possible to feel a sense of belonging and community. Now, in sprawled generic housing tracts, many people never meet their neighbors as they pass them in their cars. It's rare for neighborhood events to occur. Families are more isolated and those living alone are marooned in a hostile environment.

8. Loss of Time --- People are forced to spend more time commuting longer distances to reach their jobs, homes, schools and shopping areas. In a compact, efficient city these travel times are often minimal, but sprawled cities take time to navigate. Suburban tract and country dwellers also spend more time maintaining large, empty residential properties: mowing the grass, plowing long driveways, raking leaves, weeding, etc.

9. Increased Private Costs and Risks --- Sprawling business and home owners often fail to realize the long-term personal costs and risks of maintaining distant properties. As property taxes rise to cover service costs, and fuel costs increase for travel and heating large buildings, the owners' budgets may have trouble keeping up. Transportation costs for children and handicapped family members are much greater. As sprawled homeowners age, their large properties become a greater burden to maintain. When they can no longer drive their car, they are stranded. As baby boomers age, large numbers of people will be forced to sell their suburban or country homes to move into the city, creating displacements and possibly lowering the value of expensive homes.

Experts in the building industry indicate cost differences of $5,000 to $20,000 per dwelling are seen for compact developments with 15 to 25 units per acre versus sprawled developments with only five houses per acre. These are overhead and maintenance costs faced by families, beyond the cost of buying or building the home.

10. Loss of Exercise --- Sprawled communities force people to drive their cars if they need to get groceries, go to school, or get to work. In the past, cities were structured so many of these destinations were within walking distance. Now, many neighborhoods lack even sidewalks for pedestrians, forcing residents to walk in the street next to the traffic whizzing by. In the past it was normal for kids to walk to school, but now their parents often drive them or they take their own cars. Is it any wonder that an epidemic of obesity is plaguing our country? Walking is the best form of life-long exercise, yet our development patterns actively discourage walking.

11. Degraded, Noisy Surroundings --- Helter-skelter sprawl is not attractive, yet many of our transporation corridors are now edged with jumbles of residential, commercial, and industrial developments (and their enormous parking lots), which have no sense of beauty or order. This adds to the stressful, disconnected feelings which urban residents often express. We're losing the "green space" we need as part of our natural heritage. Large areas of noisy, speeding traffic are also not conducive to peaceful communities. Many people want to live in the country to escape this stress, but urban escapees are helping to create these problems instead, as they commute back to the city for work, school and shopping.

12. Tourism Industry Damage --- As human developments sprawl into the countryside and wildlife habitat shrinks, we're rapidly losing the scenic qualities that attract tourists to our region. Our country roads are being straightened and widened, or worse yet, converted into 4 lane highways (often with additional frontage roads and ugly billboards). Hunters are left with fewer and smaller hunting lands. Anglers are left with crowded, less-appealing fishing sites. This will have direct economic impacts in Wisconsin, where the tourism industry is currently worth $13 billion per year.
Clean Water Action Council

1270 Main Street, Suite 120, Green Bay, WI 54302
Phone: 920-437-7304

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