Sunday, January 23, 2005

Hazards of Sprawl

The recent mudslides in Southern California reiterate the long-standing critiques of suburban development that argue that environmental realities of diverse landscapes are frequently ignored, causing areas of human settlement to be subject to environmental disasters. Rather than thinking of the damage caused by mudslides simply as the result of unfortunate "acts of god," we should rather note the poor planning and land use guidelines that support poor development decisions.

The USGS has developed a sophisticated prediction and warning GIS system that can provide data identifying hazardous areas, providing ample information policymakers need to make sensible decisions about rebuilding and exurban expansion in mountainous regions.

In addition to dramatic "natural" disasters like mudslides, it is important not to forget the more banal hazards that are being exacerbated in exurban mountainous regions. A recent AP story points out the increasing traffic usage on rural and mountain roads as people use them as alternatives to freeways. While the article mentions the push to make "safety improvements" on mountain roads to keep up with growth, given the fact that such expansion will undoubtedly require changes in the landscape, it seems as if this activity may engender future hazards in the form of landslides.

A better solution would be to minimize the amount of development in ecologically-sensitive areas while at the same time investing public transportation dollars into policies that create multiple forms of mobility, rather than privileging the automobile.

(Linked to Outside the Beltway)