ALBANY: Dr. Gary Kleppel, professor of biology at the University
of Albany, outlined the economic and environmental costs of
sprawl at Save the Pine Bush’s June veggie lasagna dinner
at the First Presbyterian Church in Albany.
Dr. Kleppel opened his presentation by challenging conservation
groups with the most important mission, “curbing urban
What makes urban sprawl particularly important now is the increase
in the technology sector which will lead to a proliferation
One of the activities Dr. Kleppel and his wife enjoy is traveling
around the country looking at healthy and unhealthy cities and
towns. The factor that makes the difference between healthy
and unhealthy cites and towns is that money runs through healthy
towns. However, growth is often likely to increase sprawl and
According to the Sierra Club, Austin, Texas is the second most
sprawl threatened city in the country. 1000 people a month move
to Austin. Austin has doubled in size from the 1980s to now.
Dr. Kleppel outlined his hypothesis:
The Capital District is susceptible to urban sprawl (demographic
patterns suggest a propensity for sprawl).
The Capital District is capable of avoiding sprawl.
The goal is not to talk about how to impede growth, but how
to use the assets of the community for growth.
Tonight, Dr. Kleppel will describe the trends in the nations,
explain the impacts of suburban sprawl, answer the question
Can it be stopped? and How can it be stopped?
Data from the US Census show a dramatic change in the percent
of people living inside and outside a metropolitan area. The
growth in Albany, Rensselaer and Schnectady counties has been
flat, but Saratoga has increased rapidly.
According to information prepared by Todd Fabozzi of the Capital
District Regional Planning Commission show that from 1960 to
1995, people in the Capital District have moved from the cities
to the suburbs. The Capital District is not unique, the national
trend is the same.
The population density in Troy in 1950 was 14 people per acre.
In Clifton Park and Guilderland today, there are 1 to 2 people
per acre, and the pavement has increased 200 to 300%. Are we
unique? No, in Dorchester and Berkeley counties in South Carolina,
the population increased 116%, and the urban land use increased
Dr. Kleppel showed photos of some of the communities that he
has visited. One photo showed the main street of Brunswick,
Maine, which Dr. Kleppel described as a bustling community.
The density in Brunswick is 23 people/acre, and there is no
feeling of crowding. Crowding has to do with how we build our
Places built before World War II, were built traditionally.
To compare, in the traditional community building, roads connect
and are easy to get around. The land is mixed use, government
buildings tend to be at the center, commerce and government
buildings are mixed, and the residential areas are closely tied
to the center of town.
Today, the suburbs are built with a sparce hierarchy of roads.
Roads are not connected, making getting around more difficult.
These roads have wide curves. (As an aside, Dr. Kleppel told
us that a planner explained to him once that the reason the
curves in the road had to be wide was so that a drunk person
driving a car could make it around the curve and stay on the
road.) Single-purpose zoning is the rule. Government, commerce,
and housing are all separate. The sparce hierarchy of roads
creates traffic congestion because there is only one way to
get from here to there. In a traditional town or city, with
a grid pattern of roads, there are many ways to get from one
place to another.
The traditional growth pattern is to grow in a connected way.
51% of the people in the world live in an urban setting. In
the United States, there is a shift from the central city to
the suburbs. Modern subdivision design urbanizes large tracts
Dr. Kleppel described the impacts of suburban sprawl. First,
he mentioned aesthetics. We need a pleasing environment to live
in. Traditional villages such as Saratoga Springs are so pleasing
that they are places where people go to vacation.
Next, suburban sprawl causes taxes to rise. Eighty-five studies,
funded by the American Farmland Trust, showed that the cost
of providing services (snow plowing, roads, sewers, water, etc.)
to suburban residential developments were greater than the taxes
received from the residences. The average cost was $1.16 for
every $1 paid in taxes. Contrast this to rural land, which costs
$.30 for every $1 paid in taxes.
Some suburban communities are even more expensive. The ratio
in Myrtle Beach was $1.25 for every $1 received in taxes, for
Richland County, South Carolina, it is $1.50 for every $1 received.
Dr. Kleppel argues that sprawl is more expensive than we can
Using the cost of $1.16 for every $1 in taxes paid on a residential
development, the residential development proposed Woodlawn Area
would cost the city of Schenectady $156,000 per year, based
on 240 houses, paying an average of $4000 a year in taxes.
Sprawl uses up massive amounts of habitat and natural resources.
In Austin Texas, between 1982 and 1992, 35% of their open space
Species richness changes. In the fastest growing communities
of South Carolina, 12% of the biodiversity is lost, with the
growth of less than 2 people per acre. With traditional development,
less than 1% of the species are lost.
Sprawl increases traffic congestion and degradation of water
quality. For example, traffic congestion increased 754% since
1960 on the major highway through Austin, Texas, I35. Water
quality declines. The conductivity of water in watersheds near
traditional is lower than the ones near suburban development.
One of the major causes of conductivity is road salt. Suburban
development has many more roads per person than traditional
development, increasing the need for road salt. On several measures
of water quality, traditional development has less effect on
the water quality than suburban development.
Dr. Kleppel offered reasons why zoning laws encourage sprawl.
Current zoning laws are based on outmoded 1920s department of
commerce legislation which were attempting to reform problems
from the industrialization of the late 1800s.
There are many approaches which can be taken to stop sprawl.
First, we must reinvest in cities. Bring back businesses to
cities. Restore the urban middle class.
Dr. Kleppel suggested strongly that we invest in local production,
especially in the local production of food. Join a CSA (Community
Supported Agriculture), where people sign up with a local farm.
Each week, for the growing season, the person gets a share of
the produce grown on the farm. Patronize the Troy Area Farmer’s
Market, every Satu, 9-1, to support local farmers and buy organic
and natural produce.
We need to re-organize our transportation systems by not building
any new roads, live where you work, and restore the existing
road grid. “Preserve what you’ve got” was
the advice of the City of Austin on SEMETECH expanding to the
We need to engage the business community in the process of reinvesting
in our cities, we need to bring back retail and break up the
slums. We need to engage the government, agriculture, and the
conservation movement in this process.
In closing, Dr. Kleppel said we can and should stop sprawl.
To find out more information, he suggested two books, Suburban
Nation — The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American
Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zybeck, and Jeff Speck
and The Power Broker — Robert Moses and the Fall of New
York by Robert A. Caro.