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The History of Urban Sprawl and year. (1) These acts distributed rural
the Effects on the Environment land to prospective builders and
created settlements across the United
Danielle Gunnoe States, thus opening the untamed
frontier. Despite government
The phenomenon of urban sprawl began encouragement, the majority of United
over a hundred years ago and continues States population remained living in
to take over land in the United States. urban centers until the 1950s when
Urban sprawl adversely affects the the suburban movement began. The
environment in many ways. suburban movement fueled more
widespread development by
IN the United States progress is introducing the standard of driveways
and backyards for every home. Growth
often measured by growth and
and expansion were incessant forces
development, but as the quality of the
throughout the twentieth century and
environment diminishes with the
continue to plague the United States.
destruction of natural land, the
The effects of mass development are
question of progress must be re-
extreme and are encouraging the
addressed. The conquering and
United States to re-examine the
development of natural land has, in
definition of progress.
the past, been identified as a mark of
human civilization. People tend to
The widespread development and
equate development with success of a
demolishment of natural land is often
society. This is apparent in the
deemed urban sprawl. Just like it
settling of America in the eighteenth
sounds, urban sprawl describes cities
and nineteenth centuries and the
that have grown to gargantuan
pursuit of the American dream of
proportions, and stretch over vast
Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny, first
areas of land. Some of the most
proposed by John L. OSullivan in
visible cases of urban sprawl in the
1839, was the idea that America was
United States are the greater Los
divinely destined to spread across the
Angeles area, the stretch of
continent, from the Atlantic to the
metropolis between Boston-Washington
Pacific. Manifest Destiny stirred a rush
D.C. and the Dallas area. (2) These
to settle the frontier and spread
giant cities have overtaken
human development throughout the
neighboring towns to create seemingly
country. In order to stimulate this
endless urban regions. Urban sprawl is
westward movement, the government
apparent in most major cities in the
offered incentives such as the
United States. The plague of mass-
Homestead Act of 1862 and the
development poses many threats to
Morrill Land-Grant Act of the same
the environment.
Urban sprawl is encroaching on 1 The Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862,
Americas natural and agricultural also known as, The College Act, was
land, destroying the landscape and proposed by a Vermont Congressman,
consuming the resources of the given Justin Morrill, and passed by President
area. In effect farmland, forests, Abraham Lincoln. The act granted
rangeland, wetlands, and desert are 30,000 acres of public land for each
lost. Suburban and exurban growth congressman in each state in order to
also threaten wildlife and native plants build colleges. The act favored
because of the upset to their natural populous states and it is often seen
habitats. This is visible throughout the as a counter to the Homestead Act
United States. The U.S. Fish and of the same year. (John Y. Simon,
Wildlife Service have identified The Politics of the Morrill Act,
Southern California as one of the Agricultural History, Vol. 37, No. 2
most depleted habitat types in the (Apr., 1963), pp. 103-111,
United States. The state has become
inhospitable to many native plants
and animals of the area, including 2 The urban area between Boston,
varieties of Sage plants, which at one Massachusetts and Washington D.C. is
time grew rampantly throughout often known by the name BosWash
California. (3) The changed land of in reference to the two cities
California is in large part due to the seamless connection due to urban
phenomenon of urban sprawl. spraw.
Agricultural land in the United States
has decreased significantly as well. In 3 Jutka Terris, Unwelcome (human)
50 years, 1950-2000, The United Neighbors: The Impact of Sprawl on
States lost 22% of farmland to Wildlife, National Resources Defense
development. (4) The loss of natural Council (1999),
land is a pressing issue in todays
world, yet urban sprawl is relentless. /pwild.asp

4 Warren E. Johnston and Alex F.

McCalla, Whither California
Agriculture: Up, Down or Out?

5 Some Thoughts about the Future,

Giannini Foundation Special Report
04-1, (2004): Sect III,