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Urban Sprawl in the Great Lakes

3 | What are the effects of urban sprawl? (Part I)

Why is sprawl bad?According to a 1998 Sierra Club report, cities in six of the Great Lakes states account for six of the top 20 sprawl threatened cities (over one million residents) in the United States: Cincinnati, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. In Chicago, for example, the population increased only 9% from 1990 to 1996, but land area development has increased more than 40% in that same time period. In Michigan, over 100,000 acres of farmland are lost to urban sprawl every year. And the amount of time Cincinnati drivers were stuck in traffic jams increased 200% from 1982 to 1994.

Wetland pasture. Click to see larger image.Sprawl can damage ecological systems and their natural functions, such as wildlife habitats and wetlands. Housing subdivisions, commercial developments, and the roads that connect them all divide a landscape, which results in habitat fragmentation. This fragmentation forces wildlife to either find another place to live or compete with each for a smaller amount of land. Urban sprawl is also threatening wetlands, an important key to healthy ecosystems. In addition to being home to a number of critical wildlife and plant species, wetlands improve water quality by filtering out sediments and other pollutants, protect the shorelines of rivers and lakes from erosion, and help control and reduce flooding. However, since 1800, over two-thirds of Great Lakes wetlands have been lost or severely damaged, and land development continues to destroy wetlands today.

See also: Habitats of the Great Lakes Region

Pollution is also a cost of urban sprawl. Most sprawling towns are built for cars and force us to drive more frequently and for longer periods of time. And increased use of cars leads to more air and noise pollution as well traffic jams. As for water pollution, lands covered with highways, buildings, and parking lots increases runoff, polluting our streams, lakes, and watersheds. As a result, our access to clean and safe drinking water becomes threatened, and our aquatic plant and animal life suffer.

Graphic: Wetland pasture.

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