According to a report released today by Smart Growth America, a national research and advocacy organization for sustainable growth, Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill is ranked the fifth most sprawling large metro area (defined as population greater than 1 million) in the U.S.
In peer-reviewed research, sprawl has been linked to physical inactivity, obesity, traffic fatalities, poor air quality, residential energy use, emergency response times, teenage driving, lack of social capital and private-vehicle commute distances and times.
Measuring Sprawl 2014 analyzes development patterns in 221 metropolitan areas and 994 counties in the United States as of 2010, looking to see which communities are more compact and connected and which are more sprawling. Researchers used four primary factors—residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network—to evaluate development in these areas and assign a Sprawl Index score to each.
The researchers found that several quality of life factors improve as index scores rise. Individuals in compact, connected metro areas have greater economic mobility. Individuals in these areas spend less on the combined cost of housing and transportation, and have greater options for the type of transportation to take. In addition, individuals in compact, connected metro areas tend to live longer, safer, healthier lives than their peers in metro areas with sprawl. Obesity is less prevalent in compact counties, and fatal car crashes are less common.
Everyone experiences the outcomes associated with development decisions. How much families pay for housing and transportation, how long workers spend commuting home, the economic opportunities in communities and even personal health are all connected to how neighborhoods and surrounding areas are built.
Shannon Binns, Executive Director of Sustain Charlotte, hopes the Charlotte metro area's ranking will draw attention to the urgent need for sustainable growth and result in action to prevent further sprawl stating, "This report affirms how important it is that we encourage a more compact and connected development pattern, and conversely, how critical it is that we discourage additional sprawl through public policy. We must move quickly to reform our zoning code, which does not sufficiently encourage compact development. We are also concerned about plans to sprawl into the last remaining large tracts of undeveloped land west of the airport, and hope our city leaders will heed this report's findings, and resist that temptation."