Vanderbilt Law Review

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"Sprawl is America's most lethal disease." Although such a statement appears exaggerated upon first consideration, both the scope of urban sprawl and its attendant consequences support the suggestion that sprawl threatens the vitality of the United States. For example, in California, sprawl has reached such a dangerous level that one of the nation's largest banks publicly warned of the potential devastation: "Sprawl has created enormous costs that California can no longer afford. Ironically, unchecked sprawl has shifted from an engine of California's growth to a force that now threatens to inhibit growth and degrade the quality of our life." The costs California faces-including damage to the environment, depletion of fiscal resources, and deterioration of inner cities-are not unique but rather similarly jeopardize the future of states throughout the nation.

Sprawl, defined as "the process in [sic] which the spread of development across the landscape far outpaces population growth," is generally identified by an "I-know-it-when-I-see it" approach. As a result, it is helpful to consider what sprawl is not in order to understand what sprawl is. Specifically, sprawl is not the traditional American neighborhood, best characterized by mixed-use communities in which residents can walk to satisfy their daily needs. Rather, sprawl consists of developments that rapidly consume available land beyond the outermost boundaries of established cities-developments in which citizens cannot walk to work or to the grocery store but are required to drive almost everywhere. Such developments typically evoke images of large housing subdivisions and freestanding cookie- cutter homes, strip malls, big box stores such as Target or Walmart, parking lots, and six-lane highways. Sprawl effectively has five distinct components, none of which overlaps with any other: housing subdivisions, shopping centers, office parks, civic institutions, and roadways. Ultimately, sprawl's characteristic leapfrog growth pattern almost always results in low-density, single-use developments on the fringes of established cities.

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