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Suburban sprawl: America lost a big gamble, by Rupert Farley.
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Back then it was said: "Gas is cheap. Forget funding public transit; instead we'll just lay asphalt to accommodate every car." Those miles of asphalt induced miles of sprawling suburbs. Big mistake.
People love the suburbs. Some people love a cheeseburger diet, too: another big mistake. But a bad diet has primarily one victim. Suburban sprawl hits us all with unjust financial, environmental, and social consequences. Here's how:
Financially, we're being bankrupted. Ignoring the trillions already wasted on expanding highways, families are now stuck with higher costs for utilities, transportation (one car per family member versus one car per household), delivery services, and more. Adding to that are higher taxes due to runaway costs of highway and bridge maintenance (now consuming most of the VDOT budget), emergency services, and fleets of school buses (diverting millions from teacher salaries).
The environmental costs of suburbia include polluted rivers and bays, huge energy demands that preclude sustainable alternatives, lost farmland and woodland, lost hunting and fishing areas, lost walking and bicycling options, and polluted air. We produce 25 percent of the world's pollution with only 5 percent of its population.
Among the many social costs, the worst is seeing a formerly fit nation of pedestrians become a nation of overweight drivers. We have less time and energy now for family and community involvement due to long commutes. Emergency-vehicle response times are longer. More unsafe drivers are forced onto the road. Historic sites have been lost and degraded.
You might say abandoning our transit responsibilities put us on this slippery slope, and the big push came from government becoming a cash benefactor of and active participant in the residential development business. No other industry has profited from selling its product with so many components provided at taxpayer expense. Only in recent years have we tried to alleviate this injustice by using the proffer system and impact fees.