Examining the Environmental Impact of Suburban Construction and Sprawl
As we look for methods to combat climate change, suburban home construction continues to fill the nation with sprawl. This construction has been shown to fragment habitats, cause water and air pollution, and even impact social equality. Facing climate crises across the globe, it is more important than ever to evaluate the impact of suburban construction on the environment and explore methods of alleviating this impact.
Since their introduction into the framework of American society, suburbs have raised environmental concerns. Now, these iconic centers of single-family living prove to be problematic to the environment for several reasons. With studies showing points of concern like suburban dwellers driving 31% more than their urban counterparts, it’s time to explore ways we can address these problems.
First, we’ll dive into a summary of the rise of suburban living and why it matters as far as the environment is concerned. You may think of the suburbs as a lifestyle that is inseparable from an American identity, but that has not been the case for long. By examining the rise of these sprawling communities, you open your mind to better possibilities.
Suburbs have been around in some form for about as long as human civilization. However, it was not until the emergence of the automobile that these neighborhoods outside urban limits began to truly take off. Family cars exploded in popularity, and the U.S. interstate highway system was born. Then, governmental incentives furthered the rise of the suburbs.
By 1934, legislation passed to make it cheaper for developers to build on the outskirts of cities. This, in combination with newly available mortgage insurance, gave families plenty of reason to move away from the city. Since then, economic booms, “White Flight,” and rampant population growth saw the expansion of the suburbs.
Now, developers and local governments increasingly see the need to pivot the other direction. Affordable housing typically is unavailable in the suburbs in the modern era, but cheaper housing is necessary for a sustainable future. Suburbs have come to represent unsustainable development practics as much as they’ve come to represent socio-economic inequality in many circumstances.
And these trends don’t appear to be ending anytime soon. The number of housing starts across the nation has been on a fairly consistent upward trajectory, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether they’re good or not, suburbs are a part of our housing market that won’t be going away with this deluge of homes. This means a growing environmental impact of suburban construction unless practices change.
Studies have long highlighted the environmental concerns that come with suburbanization. From habitat fragmentation of local wildlife to toxic pollutants, there is a lot to consider when building in the suburbs. And yet, many developers move forward with little or no concern for the ecosystem they are disrupting.
The environmental impact of suburban construction has been devastating across the decades in which suburbanization has flourished. Careless development away from urban environments creates hazards for the eco-systems already living there. Even installing and maintaining a septic tank can lead to environmental damage if not handled correctly.
Because of the scale at which development in suburban areas has taken place, the environment has already sustained significant damage. Here are some important statistics to consider:
- With more suburbanites driving, more carbon dioxide is released into the air at an average of 4.6 metric tons per year per vehicle.
- 290,000 square kilometers of natural habitats will be demolished for urban land use by 2030.
- Suburban development correlates with increased water pollution, a problem that now affects 40% of surveyed U.S. water sources.
These and many more devastating consequences of suburbanization mean unhealthier circumstances for the millions of families that live in the suburbs. But unsustainable suburbanization extends far beyond these families alone. Instead, the impact on climates all over the nation and even the world may be felt from irresponsible suburban growth.
To mitigate the problems that grow with the sprawl, we must integrate more sustainable practices into housing development and create environments of equitable housing solutions.
Reducing the impact of the suburban developments isn’t impossible. Yet, it can be difficult to access all the tools and methods necessary for a clean, renewable process. From individual homes to city zoning ordinances, there are measures we can take towards cleaner, more affordable housing. All you need are insights necessary to make an actionable change depending on your situation.
As you navigate the problems of a complicated housing market, explore these methods to reduce the impact of suburban development on the environment:
- Alter the construction process. First, explore builders and construction methods that buck unsustainable standards. For instance, modular construction has proven to be more environmentally friendly. Suburbs developed in this fashion can reduce waste and cut costs, all while creating more affordable housing units.
- Power construction with clean energy. Over 20% of the world’s energy comes from renewable sources. Suburban developers can tap into these resources with the help of renewable energy engineers to make the construction process clean from the beginning.
- Build homes with renewable energy integration. In addition to powering construction with renewables, suburban developers should consider integrating these power sources with each home. This will reduce carbon emissions while giving residents cost-saving potential through the power of solar energy.
- Use innovative materials. Additive manufacturing and modular construction make it possible to branch out with cleanly sourced materials. Developers can explore this range of resources to look for cheap, green suburban building materials.
- Change zoning limitations. Finally, research shows that urban residents do not add pollution to the atmosphere at the same rate new suburban residents do. To make a difference, cities should consider revising zoning limitations to allow more units to be developed within existing municipalities.
These are just a few of the strategies the average citizen can support and integrate with their interactions with suburban developments and local legislation. The most important thing you can do is understand the importance of the issue and how suburbs play a part in modern climate crises. From here, you can take steps to advocate for a cleaner future through suburban change.
A future of cleaner living is within our reach. Advancements in green energy and alternative materials have taken us far from complete reliance on fossil fuels. However, there is a lot of progress still to be made.
Suburban construction is one sector of the economy in which sustainability is often overlooked because of the needs of people within a community for affordable housing. Historically, high price tags associated with renewables made this a problem. Now, however, renewables are the world’s cheapest energy source, having fallen 85% in value in a decade.
This is great news for suburban developers, who can now more cheaply integrate the kinds of power and processes needed to build cleaner neighborhoods. With reduced pollution, we can all enjoy cleaner air and water as well as other environmental conditions that support a healthy lifestyle.
From the city to the farm, sustainability is important to us all. The suburbs, then, should not be free from our demands for safer and cleaner processes that will improve the world for future generations. Instead, explore the impact of suburban construction on the environment and do your part to support better practices.
About the Author
Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.