Urban Sprawl: The Wide Spreading Problem

What is an urban sprawl? Urban sprawl is the unchecked spread of cities into its adjacent lands. These are what we name in India as suburbs. New Mumbai and Thane are a result of the urban sprawl of Mumbai just as Noida, Ghaziabad and Gurgaon are of Delhi. Now some people may ask what is wrong with an urban sprawl. It leads to larger cities and hence more development. You may also argue that it leads to families having larger houses as the land rates are lesser in suburbs and also that they are exposed to lesser air and noise pollution.

However at the cost of development, urbanization and luxury for a few we are giving up land and damaging the environment for the majority in ways we are not even minutely aware of. The following are the problems that an urban sprawl leads to:

Since these suburbs typically grow outside the city and fall under no particular municipality, there is no actual government body which plans its development. The result of this is a highly unplanned and unorganized city. This in turn leads to more land consumption than required. Many important sensitive ecological areas are disturbed and destroyed. This is like giving an open invitation to disaster. For example in Mumbai, wet lands containing mangrove trees have been destroyed in order to keep up with the ever expanding city and its population. The mangroves which stop the sea water from flowing onto the land have been uprooted. Hence the water level has risen giving the rain water no place to flow into. This is the major cause of floods every monsoon in Mumbai which lead to unthinkable loss of both human life and property. It also is very harmful to the environment inside and adjacent to the city.

The suburbs are mostly residential areas and hence most people who live here go into the heart of the city for work. Since these places are far away from the actual city, people travel hours every day to get to work. Children also travel long distances to get to schools and women too for shopping. All this results in excessive use of cars and other modes of transportation leading to very high levels of emissions and hence causing humongous amounts of air pollution. It also increases effort for people and traffic in the city.

High land sprawl also results in increased per capita usage of land, water and energy. The houses are cheaper and hence larger in suburbs. This leads to higher consumption of land by the people. Since houses are larger the energy consumption of each houses are also more. The amount of water needed to maintain such houses also large hence leading to excessive use and waste of land, water and energy. The harm caused by the excessive use of all three of these is known to all.

Other than the above mentioned environmental problems that sprawling cities cause, they also lead to larger amounts being spent on infrastructure, inefficient street layouts and absence of quality infrastructure. According to The American Journal of Public Health and The American Journal of Health Promotion, obesity is also a more common phenomenon with people who live in suburbs or sprawled areas. It is argued that since these people live on sprawled land, they are used to using a car everyday for commute. This forces them to drive almost everywhere hence making them walk lesser than those present in the city itself.

The population in our country is ever growing. Also the number of people migrating into cities from villages in search of work is increasing every day. Hence there is bound to be insufficient land in the cities. What do we do in such a case? We can’t tell people to stop migrating. Nor can we stop development as it is what characterizes us humans.

In case we think that there is nothing we can do about it, we have to wonder: What is the price of development and can we afford it? The consequences of our actions will only be paid by the future generations. So are we willing to jeopardise their lives and futures for the sake of our greed for development? The choice is ours to make.
Let us hope we make the right choice.

Dipen Shah

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