the vision of what we want our urban environment to be and what quality of life we want to attain. For hundreds of years, people have known how to build urban environments that are dense and also pleasing to human beings—cities in which people feel connected to each other. High urban density is not invariably associated with negative effects on physical or mental health. People enjoy cities with architecturally diverse three- and four-story buildings that encourage and welcome them to walk around—cities such as London and Paris. People enjoy living and working near parkland and cool green spaces and value these natural assets. By contrast, the urban sprawl in the metropolitan areas of our country is characterized by features that detract from the enjoyment of natural and man-made surroundings and reduce the sense of community (Box 2–1).

Box 2–1 What Is Sprawl?

Sprawl is a pattern of urban regional development that features the following:

  • Land-extensive, low-density, leapfrog development

  • Segregation of land uses

  • Extensive road construction

  • Architectural homogeneity

  • Economic and racial homogeneity

  • Shift of development and capital investment from inner cities to the periphery

  • Absence of regional planning

What has caused us to diverge so dramatically from the age-old urban design features that were so pleasing in earlier eras? What factors have led to the acceleration of urban sprawl that we are experiencing here in Atlanta and in other U.S. cities? The answers to these questions may help us understand what we can do to modify our design of urban areas, use of natural resources, and life-style behaviors to create a healthier and more livable urban environment.

Many forces, including cheap land, technological advances, and social policies, have combined to drive migration from cities to suburbs, creating what some have characterized as a “suburban nation.” In Atlanta, the main factor that has influenced urban sprawl is population growth. The population of the Atlanta area has tripled in the past 50 years (Brookings Institution, 2002a), and this rapid growth has placed strains on the natural and human environment. Ominously, the entire U.S. population is expected to more than double in this century, reaching 571 million by the year 2100 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000c). The environmental issues that may seem remote today will be brought dramatically to the forefront. A burgeoning population is one reason that many cities, including Atlanta, have become very difficult to live in. Commutes have doubled and tripled, and for many people, urban life has become taxing.

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