Urbanization And Sprawl

Population expansion into rural areas is known as urbanization. This process uses agricultural, forest, and other lands. The quantity and rate of conversion of these rural areas into urban land uses affect many national, state, and local concerns, including adequacy of food and fiber production, economic development, environmental quality, public infrastructure, open-space amenities, rural lifestyles and ethnic patterns, and natural ecosystems.[2]

Uncontrolled urban development at the edges of cities and rural areas has been termed sprawl. Most definitions of sprawl include dispersed low-density development that uses a lot of land; geographic separation of work, home, schools, shopping, etc.; and almost complete dependence on the automobile for transportation.[3] Recently, concerns about negative consequences of sprawl have grown considerably. These concerns include public infrastructure costs, hidden costs of public services not included in residential taxes, property value impacts, traffic congestion, longer commutes, environmental impacts, changes in community structure, and quality of life.[4]

The processes underlying urbanization and the resulting development patterns at the rural urban interface are well understood. Changes in land use are the final product of many forces affecting millions of decisions by homeowners, businesses, and government. The fundamental drivers of these decisions and, hence, land use change are population growth, household formation, and economic development.[3]

Observers of urbanization over the last decade have noted two distinctive kinds of urban development. In one case, existing urban areas continue to grow into surrounding rural areas. In another, large-lot housing developments are being built in areas beyond the rural urban fringe.[3] Both kinds of development influence the amount and productivity of farmland. At this point there is no threat that insufficient land will be available nationally for food and fiber production.[3'4] However, high-value or speciality crops in some areas may be vulnerable as urbanization continues. Also, farming can adapt in rapidly urbanizing areas, but producers often must change the mix of products they offer in order to survive.[3]

Urbanization provides benefits and costs to rural areas. A key factor affecting competition for land at the rural urban fringe is citizens' preferences to live in lower-density areas and cheaper homes located within reasonable commutes from their jobs. Unplanned development imposes direct costs in terms of higher infrastructure and public service costs and adverse impacts on the environment and community structure, in addition to indirect costs of the forgone uses of the developed land.[3]

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