Causes and Effects of Urban Sprawl

Urbanization refers to the migration of the population from rural regions to towns and cities. Man has always moved to newer places in search of better opportunities and amenities. Hence, migration is not a new phenomenon. Studies report of a steep rise in urbanization that came about in the late 19th and early 20th century. This sudden increase in urbanization can be attributed to the Industrial Revolution, which provided better economic opportunities in the cities, owing to the newly set up factories and industries.

As the cities and towns reap most of the benefits of innovations in the fields of science and technology, urbanization still continues to take place in them. As a result of this, the cities and its suburbs spill over to the rural areas along their boundaries. This spread is termed as urban sprawl. In the following Buzzle article, we will study the causes, effects, and consequences of urban sprawl and what it signifies.

Causes

The following are the main causes of urban sprawl.
Cheaper land and housing costs in the suburbs as compared to urban centers has lured many to settle in these areas.
There has been an increase in public spending for the development of infrastructure like roads, water, and electricity in the suburbs than in existing urban centers, thus adding benefits to life in sprawls.
There has been an increase in commercial lending practices that favor suburban development.
Increase in family income of an average American has raised his standard of living. Owning a car and paying for gas to transit from the suburb to the city is affordable for many Americans.
Sprawls are characterized by low density populations and less traffic congestion. Therefore, even in the absence of any federal policies that would encourage growth of sprawls, these centers have proliferated due to the willingness of a growing number of people to live in sprawls, where they find life more calm and peaceful than in the cities.
Higher property and business taxes in the cities have pushed businesses to the suburbs where taxes are generally low.

Effects

The following are the main effects of urban sprawl.
Sprawls have been criticized for increasing public costs. Some view sprawls as a venue where public money is being spent on redundant infrastructure outside the urban areas at the cost of neglecting the infrastructure in the cities that is either not utilized or underutilized.
People living in urban sprawls commute to cities in their automobiles. This has resulted in heavier traffic on the roads, leading to traffic congestion, increase in air pollution, and automobile-related accidents.
Increasing dependence on automobiles has led the sprawl population to use their vehicles even for short distances. Such practices have, no doubt, led to an increase in obesity and hypertension in the population living in sprawls than those in the cities.
Sprawls have triggered concerns over environmental issues as well. Houses in sprawls are larger than those in urban centers. This is viewed, by some, as a waste of cultivable land and displacement of wildlife. Since large areas of land are covered with impervious material, such as concrete, there is lesser percolation of rainwater into the groundwater.
Sprawls are believed to cause disintegration in the social capital of America. Houses in the sprawls are more spacious than those in the city and usually come with large backyards―this set up tends to separate neighbors. Hence, social interactions among neighbors is lesser in these regions than in the cities.
People residing in sprawls depend heavily on automobiles to commute to the main city, thus, city planners are compelled to spend more money on building larger highways and parking spaces. This is considered as an additional burden on the state treasury because this reduces the area of taxable land.
Despite widespread anti-sprawl sentiments, urban sprawls have their own benefits. With a considerable portion of the population preferring to live in sprawls, houses have become more affordable in cities. Reduced housing costs in sprawls is believed to have provided minorities and recent immigrants better housing opportunities as well.

Urban sprawl is the later stage of urbanization and is an inevitable phenomenon. Just like every other process, urban sprawls have their own pros and cons. However, the negative effects of urban sprawls can be neutralized by monitoring their growth in a planned manner, such that they are not a liability, either to the society, economy, or the environment.

The Digital Divide

The digital divide is the gap in access to technology between individuals, businesses, households, and geographic areas due to socioeconomic status. This digital divide can be due to one household having less money than another and, therefore, not being able to buy all the new gadgets on the market that some other families may be able to afford. It can also be due to an area of the country or the world that doesn’t have the same access to the Internet as another.

In many countries, Internet is unreliable and that leaves the user without the same access to information and conversation tools as people in other parts of the world. There are also some countries that censor the Internet for civilians for political reasons, and this can lead to a further digital divide. When discussing different levels of access of the Internet between countries, this is actually called the global divide. The term “digital divide” first came into use in the 1990s’ and was first used to refer to the different levels of access to computers between different ethnic groups in the United States of America. By 1998, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration was using the term as a title of a survey. The quick launch of these terms into the public sphere draws attention to the fact that this is a huge problem in our country and the world. These different digital divides can have serious implications on people and cause gaps in earnings, education, and much more.

Gaps in Earnings

In a world and an economy that is becoming more global by the second, computer skills are a must have. It is difficult to find a job that does not require computer skills in today’s society. Whether requiring you to type, research, email, read, or perform more complicated tasks, almost everything revolves around computers and new software.

If you have not grown up with a computer and if you do not have access to a computer at home, you are at a serious disadvantage to someone who has been working with computers his or her whole life. No amount of computer training can make up for just being able to have access to a computer and learning how to use it naturally and intuitively. In this sense, it can be extremely difficult to climb the workplace ladder when you do not have the same skill set as someone else in the company. The digital divide, in this way, can cause a serious gap in earnings between someone who has a computer and someone who does not. Also, many companies are putting their job applications and postings online, so without a computer or access to the Internet, one cannot research or apply for high paying jobs.

Gaps in Education

Students and schools who have access to computers can learn more information in a few seconds than someone without a computer. Because of rapid Internet access, students are able to find whatever information they need in a very short amount of time. This not only changes the teaching atmosphere, but also further separates the haves and have-nots. When one student can find information at the speed of light and another cannot, the student without access to technology is starting at a lower level of information than the student with the access. There is nothing a teacher can do to level that playing field.

Sure, the same information is out there in books and other hard copy sources, but the time a student spends finding that information is valuable. When one student is afforded the opportunity to spend less time on an assignment because he or she has access to the Internet, it frees up time for other opportunities like work and socialization.

Urban Sprawl and Development

The fringes of urban centers have been eating up neighboring rural land, and causing a radical transformation in the management of a metropolitan area, or a big industrialized city. Initially, it was considered a healthy sign of development. Urban sprawl, in simple terms, comprises heavy migration of a population, land use, increased transportation along with economic and social development. These sparsely populated areas have become a regular feature of city development across the globe and also a big headache in most of the cases.

They do offer an attractive pattern of development. For example, in America the growth of an urban sprawl was associated with the fulfillment of the ‘Great American Dream’ where people dreamed of living in single-family homes with all the modern amenities. All this was coupled with an easy access to the vibrant and bustling local business districts and professional avenues. A thriving population is the biggest contributor to a country’s growth. Better living conditions influenced a large part of the civic life to develop and assimilate the benefits of modern life. But there have been several grave consequences of this trend in the human development. They are as follows:
Economic Problems: Modern colonies include a dense living infrastructure. Better housing, schools, hospitals, playgrounds, an improved transport system and other civic amenities have resulted in large-scale government expenditure. Consequently, heavy taxes are paid by the people, who are already reeling under heavy inflation.
Environmental Issues: The dependence on automobiles has degraded the quality of the surroundings, causing environmental pollution. Due to spread out societies, there is a frequent need of vehicles for commuting large distances. Some cities have seen an increase of over 10 times in the number of vehicles plying on their roads in the last 3 to 4 years. Rampant use of automobiles has resulted in severe air pollution leading to grave ailments and decreasing health standards. There is a severe strain on water resources due to wastage, lower ground water levels, leaks, soil erosion, and the requirement in urban activities like construction, etc. Noise pollution is another big nuisance in such an infrastructure. Automobiles, airplanes, and noisy activities, are a characteristic feature of an urban sprawl, which give rise to grave health problems like stress, anxiety, insomnia, etc.
Impact on Lifestyle and Society: People living in such a locality have generic houses, busy schedule, small families, and a secluded lifestyle. Therefore, the social development has received a setback. Neighborhoods with big porches, schools, religious places and shops just a few blocks away, encouraged social interactions which led to a peaceful, happy, and content society. The age-old concepts of a feeling of belonging or community welfare have eluded modern cities. There is less space and time for exercise and healthy living activities, leading to a faster aging and ailing population. In certain places, it has resulted in the creation of slum dwellings, rising discord between different economic classes of society, and increased criminal activities. Choosing urban lifestyle against rural living, is a fading option for many people.
Effects on Flora and Fauna: The loss of agricultural land for rapid growth in infrastructure is the single largest negative impact and the depletion of cultivable land has affected agricultural production. For instance, in America alone, almost 14 million acres of farmland was converted into non-farming areas between 1992 and 1997. This was a 51% increase in the rate of conversion from the previous decade, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Similarly, forests, wetlands, and wild bushes which were an integral part of a region’s natural features have almost disappeared and are being replaced by buildings, industrial zones, and the ever-increasing urban population. All these factors have made us susceptible to nature’s fury like frequent floods and storms, global warming, or a human-wildlife confrontation resulting in losses on both sides.
Despite all these concerns, people throughout the world find urban life more productive and enriching. There is still a huge scope for development, especially in the new cities. According to experts, at this crucial stage, the world must focus on planned and environment-friendly development. Our efforts should be directed at an organized and structured setup for cities with no or minimum impact on the surroundings and strain on vital resources.

Urban life is a beautiful creation of our quest for a more prosperous society but its growth should always be in harmony with our ecosystem, so that we can hope for a better future.

Our Society: Technology and Instant Gratification

“I hate traffic.”, “What is the hold up, here?”, “I just cannot wait.”, “Don’t put me on hold!”, etc. Do any of these seem familiar to you? No one likes to wait these days. No matter what it is that they have to wait for, it seems that people just can’t wait. As the human race, we are always looking to better ourselves, to make things easier and faster so that we eventually have to do less on our own. Over the past years, we have developed several new ways to travel, communicate, and entertain ourselves. It is both, a fantastic and terrible thing, that technology has brought us such conveniences.

What is so wrong with technology?
We have become a lazy society. We don’t have to cook, because we can grab food from a restaurant, or better yet, have it delivered. If not, we can always heat up a frozen meal in the microwave. Some people use their cars to travel a distance of two blocks so that they don’t have to walk. The television is often the babysitter. There are too many people who can’t cook, don’t get any exercise, and don’t spare time to teach and discipline their children.

We have also become an unhealthy society. While we might be one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, we do not rank high in health. The top five healthiest countries are Japan, France, Iceland, Sweden, and Cuba. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are killing the health of our nation, and technology is a major contributor to these factors.

It is not that there is a problem with technology itself, but it’s the abuse of that convenience.
The use of cell phones while driving has caused tons of accidents, yet so many continue to do it everyday. If many of those people are honest with themselves, it is not that they don’t have time to talk later; it’s that they just can’t wait. Teenagers text each other during class, and fill their heads with popular music in the hallways. It is not only distracting students from learning, but it feeds their need for instant gratification.

Abuse of convenience in case of credit cards is just that you can’t wait to earn enough money to buy things. The debt system is such a common pitfall. It drives us to work more, which causes more stress, giving rise to anxiety, in turn making us want to rush around and do everything super-fast. Do you see the cycle that impatience is causing?

How can we overcome the ill-effects of technology?
Remember that good things come to those who wait. If you can discipline yourself not to get so angry and frustrated when things don’t happen quite as quickly as you like, you will find yourself happier. Make the most of the waiting period. Look at it this way, maybe you aren’t exactly where you want to be, but you could be avoiding an accident that you didn’t know would happen. Sometimes unexpected delays can save our lives.

Take some time away from technology. Turn off your cell phone once in a while. Go for quiet walks on your own. Make something with your own hands. Cook a meal from scratch. Coming back down to the natural earth without all the wires, computer chips, rings, and beeps can keep you grounded, and reduce your stress. This shall show magnanimous benefits for your health.

Good health is worth waiting for, isn’t it? Enjoy the moments that you have, because life is too short to rush through everything. Take advantage of your free time, otherwise you will lose it.

The Moral-Entertainment Divide

The entertainment industry is constantly under scrutiny―whether it is the sex and violence in movies, the language in music, or the focus of video games. As entertainment becomes more progressive, those who are vocal against that progression try to speak up louder to drown out the noise. For them, it is a seemingly winless battle, though as there are few if any instances in which moral disagreement has had a significant impact on the way the industry operates.

Music

Music has long since settled into a groove in which essentially anything is okay. The result is, a music industry that does not provide nearly as much objectionable and public material as it once did. There was one point in the early 1990s, when it seemed like every day had another music artist’s name in the papers alongside that of an angry senator. While albums are still marked with the Parental Advisory stickers that were introduced in those early days of moral objection, the bounds are essentially gone.

Access to music is as free and prevalent as ever, with services like iTunes and MySpace making it nearly impossible to filter out the unwanted noise anymore, and so, for the most part, the watchdog groups have stopped. It’s an interesting result, and has only occurred in the music industry.

Movies

Film has always been subject to scrutiny. After all, it features graphic images of violence and sexuality that can be offensive for a number of demographics, from children to adults and everyone in between. And while violence and sex have essentially wormed their way into mainstream acceptance, there are still plenty of topics that can bring about an uproar in certain communities.

Consider the recent uprisings in religious groups over what they feel is morally objectionable material such, the most recent example of which is The Golden Compass. The film is based on a series of books that depicts a fractured sector of society acting as a metaphor for the author’s vision of the Church. This sect kidnaps and experiments on children, forcing them to stand up and fight back. The result is a series of books that teaches an alternate view of religion, one in which it is not as cut and dry as organized dogma would have you believe. It is a strictly agnostic approach and one that the Church finds offensive.

Similar to their response to The DaVinci Code in 2006, the Catholic League―with its 350,000 members―has decided to boycott the film in the hopes of convincing other Christians to ignore it. The result is a wash of publicity and controversy over a film which is not supposed to be that good.

It is interesting that the current state of moral ethics provides ample space for protest against films that breach religious and racial boundaries (The Passion of the Christ is a good example), but the long time proliferation of sex and violence that has recently seeped into even the most innocent of children’s films and television programs continues.

Video Games

By far the biggest source of discussion and controversy in recent years in regards to moral obligations is the video game industry. Today, the ESRB rates and labels video games between E (for everyone) and AO (adult only). The rating system is effective in telling parents what their children will be facing in a video game. However, the ESRB is a self-regulatory board run and operated by the gaming companies, which has caused many senators and ethics pounding lawyers to grow even more upset at games like Grand Theft Auto, or the most recent maelstrom in Manhunt 2.

Most recently, senators have called for an overhaul of this system for a particular instance in which Manhunt 2, which originally received an AO rating for its violent portrayal of murder, was rerated with an M rating for Mature. No game console will currently support an AO game, meaning that for Manhunt 2 to be released, it needed to be edited and rerated. However, there has now been additional controversy over the leniency with which the ESRB rerated the game.

For the Nintendo Wii edition in particular, which allows players to act out the specific violent techniques with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, senators are concerned as psychologists have come forward citing the damage this can do to a child’s mind.

While video games have continued pushing the same boundaries of sex and violence as films, they have a slightly different hurdle to overcome. Because they are traditionally considered for children, and because acts are specifically handled by manipulating an on-screen character, they pose a more substantial threat for some individuals to the child’s mind. Regardless of how much they might grow or change, they will always be scrutinized for what they allow you to do.

The moral dilemma that strikes any entertainment medium will continue to strike as long as popular media is available to the masses. While music and film have become more accepted over time, the video game and eventually Internet mediums will probably continue to spark controversy, both in the media and in government.

Computer Illiterates―The New Lepers

We’ve all heard the jokes. The funniest seem to be about those who are computer illiterate to the nth degree, such as the woman who used her mouse like a sewing machine peddle and couldn’t figure out why the computer wouldn’t go; or when the tech asked the customer what kind of computer he had, the customer replied, “a white one.”

These are not people to be shunned. Made fun of, perhaps, but not shunned. We all have things about which we are ignorant. For example, if I were stranded in deep space and the only way home was to repair the heavily damaged Flux Capacitor Model XL960, I’d be in pretty big trouble. Luckily, that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

Many people who haven’t had the opportunity to work with computers feel inferior―or worse―stupid. That’s unfair. At parties the illiterates are forced to talk to the stone deaf grandfather or pretend to have a deep fascination for finger foods to avoid admitting their lack of knowledge or to be left out of the latest techno buzz. In order to remedy this growing social stigma, computer user wannabes need look no further than the local newspaper or phone book. Schools, organizations, local governments, and community centers nationwide offer low cost or free computer classes for beginners. The participants range greatly in age, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed. Another option, if you’re up for it, is to take an introductory course online. There are hundreds, if not thousands, offered by distance learning programs and websites such as www.learnthat.com. They’re also easy to find. A third option is to visit websites such as www.newuserhelp.com to arm yourself with basic terminology before you venture forth.

There is also a faction of frauds who claim to know little to nothing about their computers and will take any opportunity to seek help from anyone stupid enough to take pity on them. Beware―they aren’t as illiterate as they seem; they’re just lazy. Take my former boss. (Please.) We both had computer training at the same time, a hundred years ago. We learned the same things in the same class. He understood it and was able to perform the functions, including a novel new thing called the Internet. I saw it with my own eyes. It’s true that I have a lot more hands-on experience via graphics programs and my insatiable need to e-mail. But somewhere along the way, all the information we’d learned in that class was sucked out of my boss’ head and ended up God knows where. I suspect that it’s somewhere in Iowa.

Over the next decade, I was called upon to help the boss perform the most basic routine functions. I had to re-teach him how to perform various tasks such as how to send e-mail; how to open Word; and how to send attachments. Every day. In his defense, he did have a great deal of responsibility and things to think about―such as how to make my life completely and utterly miserable or what was on sale at Cabela’s.

On the other hand, there are those who think of computer illiterates as the new lepers. The newbies are relegated to a pitiable class lower than TV evangelists. They are to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, a great number of these sadistic techno-snobs work in tech support. The haughtiness of nearly every tech person I’ve ever encountered is enough to make me want to stick sporks in my eyes before actually picking up the phone to ask for help. I’m pretty computer savvy but every time I call, I get the same treatment as a kindergartner who asks his father how the teacher had babies.

One of the most frustrating things to a less-than-savvy computer user in need is to get stuck with someone on the phone who cannot, even for one second, vary from his written script. In one instance, I had to call the tech support center of a very well-known international company. Before the well-experienced tech could grill me on what was wrong or what I’d done, I laid out the entire scenario, including the ten steps I took to determine and solve the problem. He didn’t hear a word. Instead, he insisted on taking me through each step in order to determine the problem. At first I interrupted him and explained, patiently, that I’d already done that step, as well as the other nine steps to follow. Interrupting a tech person is not a good idea. He started from the top of the script and asked me to follow the prescribed steps to determine my problem. He did this THREE TIMES. It was a little frustrating. Oh, and in case you think you have the solution to your frustration, you can forget about ever talking to a supervisor. I don’t think they exist.

Not so long ago, I actually called a repair company regarding a tech that had to come out to my house to replace a modem that had been struck by lightning. (It really does happen.) The tech arrived exactly on time and within 5 minutes, had dismantled my computer, replaced the modem, and had the computer put together. I was astonished. A tech person who knew what he was doing AND was nice? I took down his name and made a call to his boss, giving high praise to the tech’s efficiency, manner, and know-how. I bet he got fired.