Land Use Policy

Date: 9 Jan 2009 | posted in: environment | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Largely a post Word-War II phenomenon, the word sprawl describes what its name evokes: formless, spreading, inefficent consumption of land. A "sprawling" landscape generally has no center and few public spaces where people congregate.

Many Americans feel that sprawling development has accrued too many costs: The environment has suffered as Americans make more and more vehicle trips, new houses gobble up farmland and scenic countryside and new sewer lines and septic tanks damage the water supply in many areas. Civic participation also suffers as we spend more time stuck in traffic, know fewer of our neighbors, and inhabit a privatized landscape with few public squares or "third places". In addition, as varying ethnic groups and social classes live in isolation from each other, there is less of a sense of unity and shared fate.

The sprawl model also negatively affects small locally owned stores. When permissive zoning laws allow large megastores to locate on the outskirts of town (with generous tax breaks often thrown into the deal), money is siphoned away from the local businesses, further undermining a sense of place and community. (See New Rules Project’s Retail Sector for more about this problem. Also see Stacy Mitchell’s book The Hometown Advantage: How to Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores and Why it Matters .)

Thissection offers several policy measures that encourage a more efficient use of land that fosters civic participation and social interaction.

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Lisa Gonzalez

Lisa Gonzalez researches and reports on telecommunications and municipal networks' impact on life at the local level. Lisa has worked in politics, education, and as a freelance journalist. In addition to her contributions at, Lisa writes for and produces the Broadband Bits podcast.