Charlotte earns another dubious ranking

by Taylor Batten

Back in November, we told you about a study that named Charlotte the nation's least walkable city. Now, further evidence that Charlotte is unusually spread out: A new study finds the Charlotte area to be the fifth most sprawling big metro area in the United States.

The report from Smart Growth America ranks the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill metropolitan area behind only Atlanta, Nashville, Riverside, Calif., and Warren, Mich. for sprawl among areas with a million people or more. (It also names the Hickory area as the most sprawling in the country overall.) Smart Growth America describes itself as an advocacy organization for sustainable growth.

Researchers used four primary factors to measure sprawl: residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network.

It analyzed 221 metropolitan areas. The Charlotte area ranked 197th overall. The Hickory area ranked 221st; Greenville, S.C. 214th; Winston-Salem 209th; Fayetteville 203rd; and Columbia 200th. It's important to note that the results would be significantly different if they considered only the city limits of Charlotte or Mecklenburg County. The census-defined Metropolitan Statistical Area has a higher sprawl ranking than just the county or the city.

The researchers argue that sprawl is linked to physical inactivity, obesity, traffic fatalities, poor air quality, lack of social capital and longer commutes. They say that more compact areas generally have greater economic mobility, lower housing and transportation costs, more transportation options, shorter commutes and longer life expectancy.

The study is just one more piece of evidence that Charlotte and the region need to reconsider how they are growing. Development needs to be done in a way that encourages more walking and less driving. It's hard to imagine such a reality in Charlotte, but other places do it. Shannon Binns, executive director of Sustain Charlotte, says, among other things, the zoning code could be reformed to better encourage compact development.

What do you think?

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