Event addresses urban sprawl’s effects, alternatives

by Emily Dalnodar

Students and community members flooded Blegen Hall Saturday to learn about the history of urban sprawl and its potential future effects.
About 100 people attended “The Costs of Sprawl,” which offered all-day workshops on sprawl-related topics and featured keynote speaker Myron Orfield, Minnesota state representative and University alumnus. The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group hosted the conference.
Orfield, DFL-Minneapolis, is nationally known for his views on urban sprawl. In his speech, he addressed the problem of sprawl in the Twin Cities by citing the movement of city dwellers into the suburbs. The migration leaves behind low-income families who cannot afford to move, he said.
After years of this trend, the city’s central core is left with high concentrations of poor families, he said. As a result, taxable income is very low, affecting such things as the quality of education and area services.
“Tension and frustration builds up,” Orfield said. “And crime goes up because of it. All these factors put together makes city living seem very undesirable.”
And as more people move out, first-ring suburbs — those closest to the city — run out of room. People with more money move farther away creating second-ring suburbs, and the cycle continues, he said.
“We built these suburbs in the ’50s, use them for a few decades and we throw them away,” Orfield said. “And then we build a second ring of suburbs.”
He referred to Chicago, which has seven rings of declining suburbs, as well as Milwaukee and Cleveland as examples of cities with poor planning. He also mentioned cities pushing for alternatives to sprawl, such as Portland and San Francisco.
“We can look into the future by looking to these cities,” Orfield said.
Although this is the first conference at the University addressing problems of urban sprawl, the interest group has hosted similar events. In 1996, the group put together a grass-roots organizing skills function featuring nationally recognized environmental activist Ralph Nader.
Earlier Saturday, the conference provided three different workshop sessions, each offering numerous classes. Taught by University professors, Metropolitan Council members, Metro Transit officials and experts covering a wide range of backgrounds, the classes addressed several urban sprawl issues.
All the planning was coordinated and carried out by students, said Leslie Clapper-Rentz, an interest group official. As a sub-committee of the main public interest group, officials formed a land-use task force last year to study and teach the effects of urban sprawl in the Twin Cities.
“We had a limited number of people helping,” said Jill Davis, task force leader and College of Liberal Arts junior. “We all had classes and it takes a lot of time to call people and organize the event. It was a lot of work and a lot of hours.”