Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Urban Sprawl

Waldorf, Maryland is an extreme example of urban sprawl. It began as a few widely spaced truck stops, motels, and sleazy bars along several miles of U.S. 301. Then in 1949, slot machines were legalized and all the sleazy bars put them in. Land speculators, seeing the influx of visitors attracted by the slot machines, immediately gobbled up the vast tracts of vacant land between the sparsely spaced businesses.

No sidewalks or crosswalks were ever built, so walking anywhere was difficult, and driving everywhere was necessary. Traffic got congested. More businesses were built, and they all had to have huge parking lots because all their customers arrived by car, none by walking.

The combination of rampant land speculation and the need for huge parking lots forced the businesses to be far apart, thus increasing driving distances and congesting traffic even further. The city planners in their wondrous wisdom built wider roads instead of sidewalks and crosswalks.

The increased width of the roads used up land that would have otherwise been useful for businesses, thus forcing businesses even farther apart, thus increasing everyone's driving needs even further. Traffic became even more congested. Land speculators made a killing.

The city planners in their wondrous wisdom thought the slot machines were to blame, so they banned all public gambling in 1968. That made no difference whatsoever.

U.S. 301 is now up to ten lanes wide in some places. Many businesses were relocated in the process of widening it. The businesses had to be rebuilt even farther out, increasing driving time for everybody even further, and the vicious circle continues.

About 95% of the land area in Waldorf is now roads, parking lots, and giant weed patches owned by land speculators. Only about 5% is available for homes and businesses. Widening the roads even more is no longer possible because there's no available land to widen them onto.

There seems to be two things nobody has ever thought of. First, adjust real estate taxes to bear more heavily on location value of the land and more lightly (if at all) on the buildings, thus putting the land speculators out of their nefarious trade. Second, build sidewalks and crosswalks.

Do you know of any community suffering from urban sprawl? Would these same two solutions be applicable to your community?

1 comment:

Joe said...

There's talk about the rise of oceans due to global warming. I wonder how much will be a rise because of paved areas and the run off they cause. I'd like to see a statistic on how much surface area is covered with asphalt or concrete and how much that area increases from year to year.