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IndianapolisUrban Sprawl


Urban sprawl, or the haphazard spread of urban development, is a serious issue that has drastically changed Indiana’s landscape. Sprawl is specifically the spread of development in an unorganized manner. Inefficient distribution of land and failure to reduce space between and around developments leads to fragmentation of the habitats that are left after the development.

Sprawl is a major cause of habitat and wetland destruction in Indiana. It has been a continuous problem since the late 1800s, when industrialization and exponential population increases expanded the borders of Indiana's cities. In the twentieth century, the problem grew worse when city-dwellers began to move from urban to rural areas. In housing patterns of recent years, even greater responsibility for sprawl has fallen upon the commuter who wants his or her own five-acre haven in the country.

In order to support the number of people moving from the city to the country, Indiana farm fields have been transformed into housing developments, schools, and shopping centers. Forests have been further fragmented as 5,000-square-foot homes have been built in the middle of "unused" woods. One result of the sprawl is that Hoosiers, like other Americans, have become utterly dependent upon the automobile to reach their destinations. Traffic has increased, and with the added time spent behind the wheel has come an increase in air pollution.

Another result of sprawl is the destruction of wetlands. Over eighty-five percent of wetlands in Indiana have been drained or filled in order to be used for other purposes, including housing and commercial development in suburban and rural areas. Wetland loss, in turn, increases water pollution, since wetlands can remove up to ninety percent of the pollutants in water.

While urban sprawl is an issue all over the state of Indiana, it's a particularly important topic in the northwest and east central regions. Statistics from Lake County, along Lake Michigan, show that during 1990s, 18,000 new housing units were created, while 11,000 were vacant or demolished. Muncie, seventy miles northeast of Indianapolis, was listed as the “tenth most likely city in the United States to shrink and sprawl” (“Sprawl”). Muncie's population is decreasing, but more surrounding land is being used for new developments.

The Sierra Club lists several solutions for curbing urban sprawl. For example, people could buy development rights for land that is in the pathway of sprawl. Other solutions include more public transportation, fewer new roads, more compact developments, and the rebuilding of the inner city. When focus turns from the suburbs and toward the inner city, growth can happen without the pollution and landscape destruction that come with sprawl.


"Dunelands Group Conservation Issues." Hoosier Chapter. 2002. Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club. 16 Oct. 2002. <http://indiana.sierraclub.org/Dunelands/

"Sprawl." BioMuncie. 2002. 16 Oct. 2002. <http://www.biomuncie.org/Sprawl.htm>.

"Stop Sprawl: Sprawl FactSheet." Sierra Club. 2002. Sierra Club. 16 Oct. 2002. <http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/factsheet.asp>.