Seminar addresses urban sprawl

Jessica Hampton

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group continued its crusade towards educating students and the community about the effects of urban sprawl.
MPIRG presented a student organized seminar Saturday to tackle the Twin Cities rising problem of urban sprawl. The event, “The Social Costs of Sprawl; Problems and Solutions,” attracted 50 students and activists to the third floor of Coffman Union.
The public interest group defines urban sprawl as “the consumption of resources and land in excess of what is needed to create a comfortable, livable and functional city.”
The event focused on the causes and effects of urban sprawl, as well as brainstorming possible solutions to halt the spread. The Twin Cities is currently is the third “most sprawled” metropolis in the nation, behind Atlanta and St. Louis.
Urban sprawl occurs as a city expands outward at a rate surpassing the population growth itself.
Without proper and well-organized expansion planning, racial segregation within cities and neighborhoods solidifies. Also, taxes within the city increase and government funds are moved toward projects in the outlying areas of the city rather than toward inner city revitalization and maintenance.
The expansion can have a direct effect on students, event speakers said. It relocates post-graduate jobs to suburban areas. Sprawl also perpetuates the lack of decent affordable housing within the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas. The Twin Cities currently has a less than 2 percent housing vacancy rate.
Opponents of urban sprawl claim the expansion keeps the inner city locked in welfare cycles, with education standards falling short of their suburban equivalents, who receive more government subsidies.
Nora Riemenschneider, a College of Liberal Arts senior studying sociology, women’s studies and community involvement for social change, took notes at the first lecture. “I hadn’t made the connection between urban sprawl and corporate welfare,” she said. “The implications are so big.”
Urban development such as housing and mall construction are also leading to a growing loss of farm land and wildlife habit. Between 1982 and 1992, Hennepin County lost 29 percent of its farmland to urban sprawl, according a 1998 MPIRG report.
The seminar featured lectures by a member of Good Jobs First from Washington, D.C., and a representative from the Institute of Race and Poverty. Alongside the lectures, numerous workshops ranged from finding jobs and affordable housing to techniques for effectively lobbying legislators.
Bill Droessler, environmental advocate for MPIRG, hopes students will join the group in visiting the Capitol Wednesday to meet legislators or take a tour of the Capitol.
“The idea is to show students how to do it themselves,” he explained. Even if students aren’t comfortable with jumping into the issues head-on, Droessler said MPIRG encourages a “whole gamut of involvement” to make students more visible in local and national politics.