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How and why to curb urban sprawl.

For decades, urban planners served as the architects of cityscapes, crafting green swards of parkland, gray ribbons of highways and an efficient marriage of housing and commercial buildings.

Increasingly, however, cities have allowed automobiles -- not urban planners -- to shape them, maintains Marcia D. Lowe of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. The resulting urban sprawl, she says, destroys valuable wildlands, wastes fossil fuels, traps commuters in daily traffic jams and imbues metropolitan vistas with a blanket of pollution.

In a report released Nov. 2, titled "Shaping Cities: The Environmental and Human Dimension," Lowe proposes some remedies that even well-established cities might adopt to limit further sprawl and the inner-city decay it can foster. These include severely curtailing inner-city parking, increasing housing density, integrating residential and commercial structures, and basing property taxes on the value of the land, not the structures that occupy that land.

Through creative zoning and tax strategies, most cities could accomodate huge population increases and still improve the quality of residents' lives "without bulldozing another square meter of forest or farmland for the next two decades," Lowe contends.

Her solution: Focus development on tax-delinquent and unimproved property within a city's boundaries. For example, Lowe cites a 1989 estimate that vacant and underused land in central Portland, Ore., "amounted to nine times the space needed to accommodate [the city's] projected growth rate in the next 20 years."

As a result of Toronto's compact design, per capita gasoline consumption in that city -- and hence, auto emissions -- trails that of most U.S. cities. The difference reflects not only Toronto's greater use of public transport, but also its efficient layout, which fosters fewer and shorter trips, Lowe says.

"Even if all of Toronto's public transport trips were switched to automobiles," she says, "Toronto would still use less than two-thirds the amount Of gasoline per capita that Detroit does."
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Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 16, 1991
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