Imagine a luxury neighborhood that was just built less than a year ago. New residents enjoy nice homes, open spaces, and what seems like an escape from the sprawl of the inner city. Everything seems perfect, at first, but there’s a process that continuously grows, often with the primary focus of financial gain and land exploitation. Without careful consideration of the environment, the process of urban sprawl and blight begins from day one.
In 1945, the end of World War II marked the beginning a period of seemingly stable life in America. Returning troops were once again reunited with family and friends. This was a time when marriage and the family life was booming. The American Dream, after all, was to get married and own your own home. A married couple would also typically have kids, creating a baby boom, after 1946. Since the war was over, manufacturing shifted towards homeland goods. Mass production now focused on consumer goods, which ultimately led to a huge boom in cars, homes, electronics, and appliances.
The mass production and consumption that took place after World War II was evidence of remarkable technical advancement. We were able to better understand electricity, aerodynamics, and medicine. People were living in convenience, but this came at a cost. Ultimately, the mass production of homes and cars created a system of mass pollution. More cars on the road also statistically meant higher amounts of transportation fatalities. The growing amount of cars on the road created the need for a system of connecting highways, throughout the nation. These modern marvels came at a cost because they cause a snowball effect of pollution, inefficiency, deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and loss of privacy.
A once beautiful city becomes congested with traffic, pollution, and dense populations of people. Little to no land separated yards, if a person had one. The skyline was full of air pollution, often distorting the once awesome sunset on the horizon. The affluent saw this was ugly, undesirable, and unsafe. The congested city was unsafe because too many people lived there, it was the perfect target for thieves. The noise and pollution really took away from the American Dream.
At this point, the rich leave the cities to live outside, in the suburbs, leaving behind everyone else. Once the tax base leaves, it removes funds for goods and services. Many times the best businesses follow the affluent. If the rich leave, the businesses follow. This entire process describes urban sprawl and blight.
Without sustainable planning and action, a city of any significant size will most likely experience urban sprawl and decay. Sustainability involves the careful planning for utilizing resources in way that maintains them in quality and quantity for people today and the next generations. This process means that builders consider ways to construct with the environment, instead of against it. Sustainability requires individuals and communities to work together. Everyone must participate because our atmosphere is linked to our surface. One nation can emit pollution that is carried around the world by our atmosphere or oceans. Unsustainable lifestyles seem to be contagious because it’s easy to disregard long-term effects. No one is isolated from the global sustainability problem.
Often, sustainable cities will focus on walkable living, rather than car transportation. Everything is within walking distance. The end result is more human interaction, exercise, less pollution, and less money. People don’t have to pay car insurance or a car payment, if they never needed a car. Saving natural resources and money is just smart.
Environmental science applies the scientific method to solve our most critical problems today, including clean air, water, biodiversity, and population. Without sustainability, a beautiful city will fall to the socioeconomic process of sprawl and blight. The best cities will develop environmentally-friendly communities and will be resilient into the future.