OUR OPINION: Urban sprawl in Southeast moving west in short time

A recently released study from the U.S. Geologic Survey strongly illustrates the complexities in managing and planning economic and population expansion in the southeastern United States, with projections showing population growth of 190 percent in the next 46 years (2060). That span, as much is it may seem the distant future, is less time than has transpired since 1960.

The study, under the umbrella of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, projects a likely “long urban zone reaching from Raleigh through Charlotte, through Greenville and down to Atlanta. Columbia and Birmingham also could be part of the mega-city, which would be similar to those now reaching from Boston down to Washington and from Jacksonville to Miami,” The Washington Post reported.

The possibility of a megalopolis reaching to Birmingham of course places Tupelo and other eastern Mississippi cities on alert because of new and soon-to-be-completed highway connections creating a four-lane corridor from Memphis through Tupelo, to Birmingham and all the way to the east coast in the Carolinas.

The consequences of new highways so long sought are multidirectional. The urban sprawl foreseen by USGS is built on a Business as Usual model – BAU – that is a model of constant expansion and the consumption of assets like forest land and agricultural property.

The BAU approach, an abstract of the USGS document, “favors low-density development that requires large areas of land to support single-family housing and extensive road networks.”

“If we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years, we can expect natural areas will become increasingly fragmented,” Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement.

Terando used the word engulf to describe the phenomenon.

If to Birmingham, why not farther westward with the right infrastructure in place? What are the downside ramifications of such “engulfing” growth for our region?

The next four to five decades, like the post-war era, present great opportunity, and also pose new potential problems to simultaneously assess and correct.