Terminology Tuesday

Published on December 16th, 2014 | by GrowWNY Intern


Terminology Tuesday: Sprawl


The first time I heard the term sprawl, I thought it was a new yoga pose. However, after taking an urban environment course at the University at Buffalo, I found out what sprawl really meant.

Sprawl is the concept of expanding away from urban areas into rural areas, which as a result, creates suburbs and car dependent developments. Some people often refer to this area as the “outskirts” of the city. Sprawl has become a huge topic for new city developments and urban growth.

Urban sprawl can be caused by a variety of different conditions. The most common conditions include lower cost of land around an urban area, rises in the standards of living, lower taxes and people having a preference for rural areas.

Poorly planned developments can have major impacts on residents and the environment, as well as result in sprawl. Areas that experience high cases of sprawl often have higher public facility costs, more traffic, more wildlife and habitat loss and higher demand for cars which leads to health and environmental issues. These issues include pollution, climate change, global warming, deforestation, and overpopulation. Pollution is not only limited to water and soil, but also light, visual and noise pollutants which impact wildlife population. Due to overpopulated areas, the rapid demand for food and shelter leads to the demand for resources.

According to a study by the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), sprawl can be measured by four main factors; development density, land use mix, activity centering and street accessibility. The average score for an area is 100. This means that areas with a score higher than 100, are more likely to avoid sprawl whereas areas with a score less than 100 are more likely to experience sprawl.

For example, in 2014, New York/ White Plains/ Wayne, NY-NJ (the greater New York City Area) received a score of 203, leaving NYC a good standing of compactness and connections within.  On the other hand, Rochester received a score of 74, which landed it as one of the United States top 200 most sprawling large metro areas. Buffalo ranks 97th on this list with a score of 106.

There are many local efforts focused on decreasing sprawl in our region. For instance, One Region Forward has developed a series of maps that depict the resulting sprawling scenario that has taken place in Buffalo. According to their research, there are over 40,700 homes left abandoned across Erie County. Unfortunately, people have believed that it is greener to build new than to retrofit these abandoned buildings. However, we busted this myth a few blogs back.

We need to start thinking twice about continuing to sprawl out our community when we can retrofit and reuse materials that are being built already. Fortunately, Buffalo has started on many projects to repurpose these buildings. The Lafayette Presbyterian Church on Elmwood is currently being repurposed into a residential and worship space, along with contemporary services for all of Buffalo. One Region Forward even made an infographic on the benefits of sprawling smarter.  Even though sprawl continues to develop in areas all over the world, solutions can be made to better the community and the environment. Many working groups in the Western New York Environmental Alliance have taken initiative to help support and encourage these goals to strengthen our environmental impact in a positive way.

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