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Report: NC Communities Crawling with Sprawl

PHOTO: The Raleigh metropolitan area ranks 155th in the country for urban sprawl, in a survey of 221 major cities by Smart Growth America. Photo credit: J.M. Turner
PHOTO: The Raleigh metropolitan area ranks 155th in the country for urban sprawl, in a survey of 221 major cities by Smart Growth America. Photo credit: J.M. Turner
April 7, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. - Today, as millions make their way to work in North Carolina, many are driving farther and spending more time in traffic. What's labeled by many as an inconvenience is called "sprawl" by analysts, and a new report from Smart Growth America has found that several metro areas in the state are crawling with sprawl. The Triangle region is one of them, ranking in the middle of the 221 areas surveyed in the U.S.

Jennifer Dean, grassroots and membership coordinator with the group Wake Up Wake County, said the value of surveys like this comes in the follow-through.

"It's important to make sure we're monitoring our growth, because we're one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. Then, we're using that information to make sure we put policies in place that will help to mitigate sprawl," Dean said.

Hickory ranked number one as the area in the country with the most sprawl. In its analysis, Smart Growth America examined residential and employment density, mixed-use neighborhoods, the strength of activity centers and downtowns - all of which are seen as helpful in reducing sprawl.

Charlotte also ranks high on the list, at number five. That comes as no surprise to Shannon Binns, who heads the organization Sustain Charlotte. For the last three years, his group has been part of "Connect Our Future," a 14-county effort to alleviate sprawl and work on other issues related to growth.

"There is a recognition among many city and county leaders, as well as other towns in the metro area, that the way we've grown in the past is not the way we can grow going forward," Binns said.

The report also highlights strategies to curtail sprawl, including creating "mixed-use" communities and expanding public transportation. Dean pointed out that the benefits go far beyond spending less time in traffic.

"With more compact communities, in the long term, the people living there have longer, healthier lives; they also have lower household costs, more transportation choices, better public health," he explained.

Raleigh and Durham join the Triangle in the middle of the list of cities studied. Greensboro fared better, at 208 on the list, and Asheville is at 193. Dean added that Durham and Orange counties' decision to move ahead with their public transportation plan should help, and she said Wake County should do the same.

The report is available at www.smartgrowthamerica.org.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC