MPIRG survey shows student interest in land

by Andrew Donohue

College and university students around Minnesota said they are more concerned about urban development than ever before, a current survey showed.
The survey, titled “Land Use and Urban Development in Minnesota,” was conducted by the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. The group logged about 1,000 student opinions at nine universities from around the state and more than 200 of these surveys were completed by University students. The study took place from November to December.
Urban sprawl — a term used by opponents of urban development — is defined in the survey as “the consumption of resources and land in excess of what is needed to create a comfortable, livable, and functional city.”
The exploitation of urban and suburban land is now an issue that is plaguing big cities nationwide. The Twin Cities is now the third “most sprawled” city in the country, according to the survey.
Urban development such as housing and mall construction are leading to a growing loss of farm land and wildlife habitat. Between 1982 and 1992, Hennepin County lost 29 percent of its farmland to urban development.
The results and side-effects of urban sprawl have not gone unnoticed by the students. According to MPIRG, 70 percent of the students questioned showed concern in the trends of urban development now present in Minnesota.
“I am extremely impressed by the responses,” said Bill Droessler, Environmental Advocate for MPIRG. “Students are farther ahead of the curve than the rest of society in dealing with these kind of problems.”
Droessler said that one of the more remarkable results was that 92 percent of those questioned agreed that there should be greater public participation in the land use planning process, while 60 percent stated that they would not know how to become involved in influencing land use policy.
“We need to have some sort of planning. Our population is constantly growing and we need to start planning for the future,” said Emily Irwin, a senior in the Spanish department who helped conduct the survey.
Along with the effects of urban sprawl comes a growing transportation problem, with traffic on the Twin Cities highways increasing by roughly four percent annually. With 85 percent concerned about automobile use, a vast majority of the students agreed that they would like to see a commuter rail system in the Twin Cities.
“Results like this show the students are very cognizant of the issues,” Droessler said.
Environmentally, urban sprawl has been linked to increased air pollution, loss of water quality and increased rainwater runoff.
According to MPIRG research, urban development carries with it social implications, as well as environmental. The survey noted that the social costs imposed by urban development include loss of community, racial divisions and displacement of the urban workforce, among other associated problems.