Imagine the sprawl surrounding Detroit spread across the state as if the land were infected by gangrene or some other embarrassing and highly unattractive disease. This is the metaphorical danger that faces Michigan, as this infectious urban sprawl in its early stages of development threatens to overtake the state. As with any menacing ailment, an able practitioner typically seeks an antidote, and in this case Gov. Jennifer Granholm seeks to establish the Office of Smart Growth, an agency intended to curb urban sprawl.
Urban sprawl describes the gradual and unabated expansion of a city into areas less congested and more pristine. The process has varying degrees of intensity, ranging from the mass exodus of businesses from Detroit into the surrounding areas to the less jarring, less economically crippling construction of a Wal-Mart in a small town. But this growth, predominantly in reference to businesses, carries the same negative sentiment: urban enterprises, institutions and buildings move into areas reserved for local activity and farming. Their expansion is unwanted by many concerned observers, and the reasons for this animosity and trepidation are not always obvious.
The problem produces certain self-evident negative effects. The movement into rural and suburban areas increases congestion and has environmental and economic effects on the areas of conquest. However, there are some unforeseen issues that require further inspection.
Looking not at the local areas but at the urban regions that lose businesses, new social and economic problems arise. Homelessness, unemployment, the state of public education and urban problems of crime and violence are all effects attributed to unrestrained growth. Moreover, urban sprawl can virally spread these issues to new areas, exacerbating the problem. Compounding the costs of growth, as new buildings are built, state and local governments have to create new infrastructure.
Gov. Granholm’s proposal is therefore promising and progressive, for it seeks to rectify these problems before the effects become irrevocable.
Fortunately, the future of this policy is promising, for the issue bridges characteristically contentious parties: Democrats and Republicans, farmers and business owners and rural and urban legislators. In a strange twist of circumstance, Democratic environmentalists and Republican devotees to the economy both recognize the harmful effects of urban sprawl. Likewise, urban inhabitants want businesses to move into the city and local businesses want them outside their realm of competition.