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November 13, 2000

Urban sprawl issues discussed

By Eric Rangus

Discussions of urban sprawl and uncontrolled growth in Atlanta are as common as red leaves in October. Howard Frumkin, however, took a different approach to his discussion Nov. 7 in White Hall, adding the subjects of sprawl’s effects on public health and whether sprawl disproportionally damages minorities.

Frumkin, chair of environmental and occupational health in the School of Public Health, titled his discussion, “Urban Sprawl, Public Health and Equity,” and presented it to a crowd of about 100, many of them environmental studies students.

First, he defined sprawl, a condition that essentially describes 21st century Atlanta: an area with low-density development; a lot of roads; architectural, economic and racial homogeneity; the absence of regional planning; and a shift of development from the inner city to the periphery.

He admitted that solutions would not be easy: “The products of unhealthy lifestyles are difficult things to change.”

Frumkin proposed the philosophies behind “smart growth” as the way to combat sprawl and its problems. He defined smart growth as a pattern of regional development featuring high-density development (rather than spread-out suburban areas), walkable neighborhoods, green spaces, mixed racial and economic development, and coordinated regional planning.

Prior to discussing the solutions, Frumkin detailed the problems.

He listed seven health problems and addressed each. Many are intertwined, he said. Accord-ing to Frumkin, urban sprawl, with its inevitable automobiles, contributes to air pollution, which increases the number of car crashes and the number of pedestrian injuries.

Several of Frumkin’s slides quoted statistics showing that sprawling Southern cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix were much more dangerous to drive and walk in than older, more compact northern cities like Philadelphia and Boston.

To bring his point home, Frumkin displayed several photos of people walking along a stretch of sidewalk-free Buford Highway, in parts a notoriously dangerous seven-lane road.

“You might be able to imagine a more hostile pedestrian environment, but I can’t,” Frumkin said.
Frumkin also said that by driving more, people become less physically fit since they walk and exercise less. He listed statistics outlining the increasing obesity of the American population over the last 10 years.

Some indirect effects of sprawl include a disengagement from social networks because more time is spent commuting, and road rage resulting from increased commuting. Again, Frumkin brought out statistics that showed road rage was a bigger problem in sprawl cities than condensed ones.

One disturbing number came from a poll stating that 5 percent of respondents say they “sometimes” or “often” thought about hurting other drivers. “Remember,” Frumkin said, “you’ll pass more than 20 drivers going home today.”

Frumkin also tied into his argument another social aspect—that being sprawl’s effect on racial and ethnic minorities and the economically disenfranchised.

Quoting statistical evidence, Frumkin said minorities and poor people suffer greater heath problems, and are more susceptible to injuries in car crashes and pedestrian accidents. He again turned to Buford High-way; many of the residents along its corridor are poor Hispanics who do not have cars. Therefore they must negotiate the road without benefit of a sidewalk or many crosswalks.

Finally, the massive building, endless concrete and lack of trees, according to Frumkin, leads to the “urban heat island effect,” which can drive up city temperatures 6-8 degrees higher than surrounding rural areas.

Frumkin’s framed his hour-long discussion around a PowerPoint presentation that contained slides, photographs, statistics and satellite photos.

He had previously given this discussion to the Atlanta Regional Commission and will present it to the National Conference of State Legislatures in the near future.


Back to Emory Report Nov. 13, 2000