The Worrying Effects of Urban Sprawl and the Importance of Architecture

Urban Sprawl

When we talk about expansion, we refer to the constant growth of the population and the defective high-rise constructions that have been destroying the cities little by little. What is the solution to this urban sprawl social problem?

It is predicted that by 2050, no less than 11.4 billion people will inhabit the earth, and 15.3 billion in 2100. The incessant increase in the world population and the urban space in cities is a problem that has been raised for years and has caused headaches among urban sprawl planners and architects.

The demographic challenge and urban sprawl

Long-term population growth affects cities in very different ways around the world, depending largely on the socio-economic context. In many urban regions of the United States, it has led to a notable increase in “sprawl,” a still uncommon term but a big problem due to the development of the metropolitan area.

The very definition of expansion is open to debate. For some people, it’s represented by rows and rows of detached houses with large yards, wooden fences, and an oversized mono-volume (or two) in the garage.

For others, like social critic James Howard Kunstler, it’s defined by eight-lane highways lined with convenience stores and supermarkets. A real disaster. His definitions of this population riot are: “national car slums” or “an asteroid belt of architectural garbage.”

Critical and ingenious in equal parts

Since 2014 this problem has not been reduced, but things have probably gotten worse: the population continues to grow with the notable concern for a space to live. And of course, each person, from their social class, will value one or another characteristic: for some people it will be important to think about the environment when designing our cities; For other people, this problem probably does not seem significant at all as long as they have a good room where they can dine and eat as a family. Individualistic thinking will probably continue to cause us problems if we do not know how to take the necessary measures to address this unstoppable demographic growth.

Researchers at Smart Growth America released a report titled “Measuring Sprawl,” where they analyse certain metropolitan areas for their tendency to sprawl every increasing reliance on cars and costing the general public a great deal of money to design new roads and other essential infrastructure.

We can check in an image (and perhaps convince ourselves) of the consequences of the expansion: a comparison between Atlanta and Barcelona and their carbon emissions.

Practical solutions to Urban Sprawl

The arguments for suburban living value more privacy, less noise and air pollution, less crime, and better schools. However, for architects, urban planners and other professionals, this scattered growth is unsustainable. If we study an architectural solution to this problem, a natural starting point would be to look at the opposite pattern: recent megastructures that form vertical cities, combining a multitude of residential and civic uses with a minimal footprint.

But be careful, because it is true that one of the most practical solutions to this problem of space could be the alternative of vertical constructions, at least from a structural point of view. However, super-tall buildings also bring with them inherent side effects that raise many environmental, social, and ethical concerns.

Restricting light at ground level is currently a hot topic. With long shadows cast by numerous structures in our cities, we would be missing out on one of nature’s most precious gifts: natural light. Who does the horizon belong to? Given the intensity with which we live and given that the sky provides us with natural light, do we really have the right to steal it?

We must also assess the social implications. Urban Sprawl Plans with high-rise buildings ultimately lack a community spirit, filled with residents living in relative solitude and social apathy; Take for example Glasgow’s infamous Red Road tower blocks, now thankfully demolished.

In 1968 the architect Sam Bunton idealized a city in the sky called Red Road, a high-rise housing complex located between the districts of Balornock and Barmulloch in the northeast of the city of Glasgow. They were all demolished in 2015. It was the largest skyscraper development in Europe up to that time. The tallest of the eight towers was 31 stories. The modernist development, inspired in part by frequent visits to Marseilles by officials of the Glasgow corporation and plans purchased from Algeria, housed 5,000 people.

The asbestos that plagued the buildings was manually removed before demolition a short time ago. Thirty of the workers who built the flats contracted asbestos-related illnesses. Devastating consequences of bad practices. As a result of this, only more problems arose: illegal occupation of homes by people with problems, delinquency, drugs and an unproductive environment. Perhaps Red Road was an idyllic place for a few years, but with the corporation at the helm in bankruptcy, it’s a different story.

Red Road – Glasgow

Is it possible to design a vertical city that fosters a sense of community cohesion and without harming the environment or people’s health? Companies like Perkins+Will are trying to do just that: their proposal for a Manhattan tower filled with multifunctional parks seems like a sure step in the right direction.

Is there a way to take advantage of the best qualities of both conditions? Countless professionals in architecture and urban sprawl planning try to find that magical balance, and some have come to the same conclusion: that “Low Rise High Density” designs, low rise and high density, offer the best solution.

This concept is nothing new. Low Rise High Density emerged 40 years ago, when the need for space and better living conditions led to alternatives to high-rise public housing.

While these proposals are by no means idyllic, they are admirable for their basic premise: to increase the density and accessibility of cities without sacrificing suburban ideals that many hold dear, such as private outdoor spaces and the ability to live indoors. a social and connected community. This hybrid construction typology has yet to be perfected, but it is essential that it play a significant role in future discussions of urban design for our ever-growing population.

Should we urbanize or build? Perhaps we simply need to build with more social and environmental awareness.

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