Speaker addresses urban sprawl

Emily Babcock

Controlling urban sprawl is possible and a must, a landscape planner and consultant told 30 students Wednesday at Coffman Union.
Frank Martin, who also co-chairs a two-person suburban documentation project that documents American cities through photography and publications, and Bill Droessler, an environmental advocate for the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, informed the audience of nearly 30 about issues surrounding urban sprawl.
“I believe it is the most important issue for our country,” Martin said.
Martin showed a collection of slides including photos of housing developments around the Twin Cities to display the current state of affairs with urban sprawl locally. The collection is part of a project on which Martin and his partner are working.
He said the intention of the project is to create dialogue regarding the movement of residence to outer suburbs and the occupation of more space.
According to the Sierra Club, a worldwide environmental activist group, the Twin Cities is the third most sprawled area of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the country.
Martin said he would like to raise public awareness about the social and environmental impacts people are making on the landscape. He said the sprawling leads to economic and racial segregation, and that it makes it difficult for people that need jobs to travel to the outer suburbs. It also causes ground water contamination from the fertilizers in yards, he added.
“These are the types of issues that are really going to affect us,” said Emily Irwin, a College of Liberal Arts senior and chairwoman for MPIRG’s state board of directors.
Nearly 80 percent of Minnesota college students are concerned about urban sprawl, according to a survey sponsored last year by MPIRG. Droessler said students are far ahead of the general public when it comes to recognizing the problem.
“Students really care about this,” Irwin said. “We care about what the Twin Cities are going to look like in the future.”
In fact, members of MPIRG designated urban sprawl as one of the issues to work on throughout the year.
Also, Droessler is lobbying the Minnesota Legislature to allow community groups to receive money for creating more greenways and natural areas around the Twin Cities and for public planning.
In order to decrease the sprawl, Martin suggested changing the market from the bottom up, which means making more affordable housing options available closer to the inner city, and using any available space in the inner suburbs. He also said better mass transportation systems will decrease the number of cars on the freeways, thus decreasing pollution.
“Density does not necessarily mean a lower quality of life,” Martin said.