The town that I grew up in is a small, quiet and very boring town squeezed between Camden and Philadelphia. According to the US Census, the town has a population of 15,569 and is primarily comprised of older white people. It is only about 15 minutes from Philly, about an hour and a half from New York and around an hour from the closest beach. Although it is small, it is not very socially connected. It is divided by one highway (Route 130) and has limited mixed uses. There are many residential areas but only a basic park in the middle to connect the community. There are essentially no “downtown” stores that kids can go to (like Main street in Haddonfield) and people have to rely on stores along the highway for entertainment such as the local Supermarket, Seven Eleven, Wawa, McDonalds, Wawa, Target, Walmart, or Wawa.

I have always wondered if Cinnaminson could be described as “urban sprawl.”According to “Public Opinion on Sprawl and Smart Growth in Southern New Jersey,” by Rutgers students, Ted Geortzel and Jason Leonardis, most South Jersians consider the Philadelphia Metropolitan area and Delaware Valley region to contain urban sprawl and  definitely  need to undergo “smart growth.” The goal of this study was to “explore the issue of public opinion on sprawl and smart growth issues in more depth…specifically at the case of Southern New Jersey” (Geortzel and Leonardis). The conclusions of this study show that people strongly support measures to preserve open space, promote anti-sprawl and stop over population in South Jersey. However, these studies may indicate  biased  opinions  according  to Geortzel and Leonardis because of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) syndrome and the fact that South Jersey has a distinct identity as a place amongst its community members and are therefore only anti-sprawl because they don’t want anymore people to be part of the South Jersey Club. To read more about this study, click here.

However, there are better ways to indicate if an area is considered sprawling or not. For example, according to Contemporary and Urban Planning, by John M. Levy,”smart growth” was a term first used within the Maryland state plan that refers to dealing with the issues that occur from increased population growth. It is  essentially  driven by the concern of suburban sprawl. Although Levy explains how there is no standard definition of sprawl, he points out many indicators of it that can be identified within a city. Some of these include:

  1. Leapfrog or scattered development
  2. Commercial strip development
  3. Large expanses of low-density or single-use development
  4. Poor accessibility
  5. Traffic congestion
  6. Large signs (Billboards)
  7. Vehicle dependency
  8. Increased accident rates (car, bicycle, pedestrian)
  9. Lower air quality
  10. Increased obesity rates
  11. Underutilized open spaces

Cinnaminson New Jersey, in my opinion, fits many of these criteria. Since most of the town is over the age of 40 (according to the U.S Census), many people only use vehicles to go from A to B. It also doesn’t help that all the stores anyone in my town would need to go to are only along the highway which is in the middle of the town and not very pedestrian friendly. As far as I’m concerned, Cinnaminson fits at least 6 out of the 11 listed criteria above.

Although, identifying random features within a town that happen to be indicators of urban sprawl may also not be a very legitimate way to classify what is and isn’t considered as a city of urban sprawl. Smart Growth America defines and measures urban sprawl by identifying four factors:  residential density, neighborhood mix of uses, strength of activity centers and downtowns, and accessibility of the street network. In 2002, Smart Growth America conducted a “first-of-its-kind study” to define, measure and evaluate metropolitan sprawl and its impacts (Smart Growth America). The  organization  developed an index scoring system in which a lower number indicates a greater degree of sprawl. The four areas of density, mixed uses, centeredness and street accessibility are the only indicators of sprawl, according to Smart Growth America. I think this is a great way to try and define a city in terms of measuring its “sprawlingness.”

There are other strategies for measuring urban sprawl that are currently being developed such as mapping sprawl. The Rowan University GeoLab is using information from hundreds of people to display sprawl trends since 2007. Hopefully the results, that are coming out in January 2014, will help me visualize the degree of urban sprawl my town experiences.  To read more about this, click here.

To what degree, do you think, is your town experiencing the negative effects of urban sprawl if any? How would you measure urban sprawl within your community?

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