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Environmentally and human friendly city sprawl

Shlomo Angel, the Director of the Urban Expansion Program and a Professor of City Planning at the Marron Institute, was cited in a Quartz article by Max de Haldevang titled "There are ways to let cities sprawl without destroying the environment and marginalizing the poor". Contextualized within the UN's New Urban Agenda, to be announced in Quito at the Habitat III Conference, the article delves into the inevitability of sprawl, the different types of sprawl, and the policy options for managing and planning for sprawl. 

If we broadly define sprawl as ‘cities expanding across the horizon in low-build houses,’ the next, somewhat bigger, issue is that in reality it probably can’t be stopped–especially in the rapidly-urbanizing Global South, according to New York University city planning professor Shlomo Angel. Instead of fighting it, he argues we should focus on how to deal with sprawl in a manageable, environmentally-friendly way that doesn’t cut off the urban poor.

“[Cities] can’t contain expansion. Expansion is growing in leaps and bounds,” says Angel, who heads an NYU initiative that advises cities on how to make sprawl as “vibrant, inclusive, and affordable” as possible. This rules out, for example, simply drawing an urban boundary to limit sprawl; places like Seoul and Portland, Oregon, have tried that and house prices have gone through the roof, making the cities unaffordable for many.

The good news is that new technologies should help make sprawl much less costly than in the past. In the relatively near future, we’ll have driverless electric cars, which will dramatically lower the environmental costs of voyaging out to low-slung areas, Angel points out. With solar energy becoming ever cheaper, he adds, it could actually be easier and more valuable to put solar cells on small houses dotted across the landscape than on giant tower blocks packed in a small space. However, a plan like that needs to be balanced against the costs to community of living in spread-out areas—and, crucially, needs to account for the precious little time we have before global temperature levels reach a point of no return.

“The solution is to organize the urban periphery better than [planners] have done to this day,” Angel says. “They’ve taken the easy way out, all the people that want to stop sprawl. It’s kind of an anti-planning movement–saying ‘we don’t want expansion, we’re not going to plan for it.’” But that doesn’t stop the city from expanding, Angel says, and because it’s unplanned, the expansion will be disastrous.

To read the full article, click here

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