Assistant professor examines urban sprawl

The results were published in the September issue of Urban Studies.

by Andy Mannix

Assistant professor of environmental engineering Julian Marshall recently discovered some interesting trends regarding urban growth.

While examining census data, Marshall noticed that as people have moved to urban areas, they have taken up twice the amount of land as previously settled residents.

“I kind of stumbled on the findings,” Marshall said.

Marshall’s research was published in the September issue of Urban Studies, an international journal on urban planning and policy.

In his study, Marshall examined cities that have grown at rates greater than 10 percent over the course of the past 50 years.

While the population growth total has fluctuated, the relationship between new and settled residents remained constant, Marshall said.

He found that although people are taking up different amounts of space, there has been a consistent trend in “linear population density.” This means that if a person walks the distance of the state with arms stretched a mile wide, the person will consistently bump into the same amount of people, Marshall said.

“It was really quite surprising to me,” Marshall said.

Marshall said he is not exactly sure what his findings indicate and that he does not mean to pose, or answer, questions regarding the future of urban growth.

However, Marshall said he recognizes the significance of learning about urban patterns.

“It’s important to just understand how cities are changing,” Marshall said, “especially because the shape of those cities will have large implications for environmental issues and for social issues.”

Daniel Montzka, a sophomore political science major, said he has noticed the impact of urban growth in his everyday life.

“You can tell by the traffic,” Montzka said. “You can hardly get to Minneapolis from St. Paul in rush hour in less than a half hour.”

Katie Walker, a Hennepin County Transit Project manager, said she has seen the impact of urban growth while dealing with the Twin Cities’ transportation system.

Walker said continuing to grow the way we have been could cause some significant negative impacts.

From 1980 to 2000, the Twin Cities’ seven-county area population grew from 1,985,873 to 2,642,056, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That amounts to approximately a one-third increase in size.

The Metropolitan Council predicts that by 2030 the Twin Cities area will grow by nearly 1,000,000 people, a 38 percent increase.

In a world of finite resources, this magnitude of population growth poses sustainability issues.

Although Marshall’s findings do not offer any solutions for sustaining urban growth, some students believe that gaining a better understanding of how we are growing will, in turn, allow us to grow more efficiently.

“If you can figure out the way that cities grow, you can prepare for an influx of people and allow resources to compensate,” Spanish studies sophomore Erik Barthel said.

Marshall said his findings do not necessarily predict the future of urban growth, and he will continue to keep track of these trends in decades to come.

“The future is ours to choose,” Marshall said. “We’re not necessarily stuck.”