Frogtown to Burnsville commuters whose drive on Interstate 35W gets
slower each year, no one is immune to sprawl’s effects.
pits Brookdale’s comedown against Maple Grove’s hope to attract a new
cheap city housing from low-wage jobs in developing suburbs. It causes
blight to spread from growing pockets of Minneapolis and St. Paul into
Even in a developing suburb like Eagan, Mayor Tom Egan worries about
If that happens, Eagan too could become a casualty of sprawl. Reduced
would have to increase to produce funds needed to pay off bonds sold to
finance schools, parks and roads.
“It’s hard to know where the lines are anymore,” he says.
But sprawl has complex and manifold features. So what’s the problem?
Rising concentrations of poverty in central cities and older suburbs: In
Minneapolis and St. Paul, growing sections of the cities lost
working-class and middle-class residents and became home to poor
families. The proportion of census tracts with 20 percent or more of
households living in poverty rose from 9.4 percent 1980 to 15 percent in
1990. Crime rose along with poverty. Older suburbs like Bloomington,
Fridley, St. Louis Park, Richfield, West St. Paul and South St. Paul
showed similar trends.
“It’s not that they’re bad places to live,” says Lyle Wray, Citizens
Twin Cities highways grows 3 percent to 4 percent a year. But with a
decline in federal highway and transit funding and resistance to
money to maintain and repair the current system. With more traffic and
no new highways, there will be more congestion.
“Pretty soon growth will outstrip our ability to manage it.”
The state is considering proposals for toll roads and congestion pricing.
Such measures would dramatically increase the cost of commuting.
Meanwhile, bus fares have risen and service been reduced.
of the region’s job growth was in developing suburbs or in free-standing
cities like Stillwater and Hastings. Central-city residents without cars
can’t get to jobs in distant suburbs, and suburban employers often have
trouble attracting enough workers. Some companies opt to expand
outside the region, taking their jobs and tax base with them.
Polluted land deters many employers from locating in central cities and
older suburbs. In a 1993 study, University of Minnesota researcher
Barbara Lukerman found that environmental liability had the greatest
impact on location decisions made by Twin Cities companies. The two
central cities and first-ring suburbs were at a significant disadvantage.
They had almost two contaminated sites per square mile, compared to
about one per square mile in developed suburbs, one in every 2.5 square
miles in developing suburbs and one in every 10 square miles in rural
Of more than 44,000 acres developed in the Twin Cities for commercial
and industrial use in the 1980s, only 1,400 acres were in fully developed
suburbs and only 100 acres were in Minneapolis and St. Paul, she found.
Leapfrog development beyond urbanized counties: Since 1980, Wright
and Sherburne counties have experienced dramatic growth. During the
1980s, the number of households grew 52 percent in Sherburne County
and 25 percent in Wright County. A large portion of those residents drive
on highways and consumption of farm and forest land. Other byproducts
annexation fights between towns and neighboring townships.
Even areas like St. Cloud experience traffic congestion, sprawl into
scenic areas and concentrations of poverty at the urban center.
“If we don’t do something on how we plan and how we want to grow,
we will become one undifferentiated metro area with the Twin Cities,
there’s no question about that,” says Rep. Joe Opatz, a St. Cloud DFLer.
“We are beginning to see the disparity between the urban core and the
Rising local taxes and fees: Developing suburbs often require large lots
in hopes of attracting more expensive homes with higher property taxes
moderate-income families and incur high costs for sewers, schools and
A detailed 1992 study by economists at Rutgers University estimated that
by concentrating population and job growth in already developed areas or
in new urban centers, New Jersey municipalities and school districts
would save $400 million a year.
Metro Council staff estimates it will cost $3.1 billion for new sewers and
water systems if the current low-density development — about two units
per acre — continues as the region’s population rises by 650,000 between
now and 2020. They say the region’s taxpayers could save $600 million in
public infrastructure costs by concentrating development.
Loss of farmland and open spaces: Between 1982 and 1992, Minnesota
of farmland, or 20 percent of its total. Hennepin County lost 29 percent
and Anoka 17 percent. This reaches beyond themetropolitan area:
Chisago County lost 19 percent; Olmsted 7 percent.
Environmental pollution: More sprawl means more driving, which sends
more carbon monoxide and other pollutants into the air. More paved land
also means that more phosphorus and other pollutants flow into storm
sewers, rivers and lakes, rather than soaking into the ground.