Last week, I took a look at the growing problem of urban sprawl in the DFW area. The truth is, over recent years, residential preferences of Americans have changed. Some call it the “de-urbanization” of America. No matter what the term, it’s obvious that Americans, specifically North Texans, are moving from big cities and into smaller ones. This is especially alarming for the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, because as people move outward into smaller cities, the metroplex grows, thus creating more congestion on our transportation network which generally wasn’t designed to handle all of the suburban traffic.
The obvious solutions to this are to offer more mass transit throughout the metroplex, and for residents to move back into cities. The former solution, however, would be incredibly difficult to implement on such a large scale. Sure, implementation of mass transit can help commuters within big cities, but those commuting from smaller cities usually rely on local roads and freeways for transport. As more and more people move outwards, the existing rural roads become more and more congested, suddenly creating massive traffic problems for commuters. And construction of new retail businesses in these sprawling areas just adds to the problem.
Sure, it may be possible to build a mass transit system that covers much of the metroplex, but it wouldn’t be feasible. Furthermore, it would be nearly impossible to create a system that covers all of the hundreds of sprawling subdivisions out there. And sure, roads are just fine as long as they have the capacity to support all of the rush hour commuters. But there lies the problem–many roads don’t have the sufficient capacity, and expanding them is an expensive, temporary solution. The only efficient, long-term solution out there is a re-urbanization of society.
It may seem like a ridiculous suggestion at first, but when we look back at the history of residential preferences in the United States, it almost seems like a possible and natural scenario. See, every time there’s a change is residential preferences in society, there’s always an impetus that causes it. The invention and implementation of factories during the Industrial Revolution caused a massive shift in preference from rural living to living in big cities. Eventually, though, pollution and congestion, along with the spread of low-cost, low-density housing, pushed people out of big cities and into suburban homes. Around the same time, the idea of an Interstate Highway System was in development. However, with the massive growth of suburban development, the costs incurred in expanding and maintaining these highways has exploded, leaving little money of the development of new highways. The situation is so bad now (in DFW) that there is not even enough revenue to support existing highways, which is why we’re seeing the continual development of toll roads and toll lanes.
With the perpetual frustration of road congestion and the growth of pay-to-use roads, I believe it’s inevitable that we will see the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex begin to densify. With more and more people becoming impatient over their worsening commute, we will see an increased demand for more mixed-use and high-density developments, and, eventually, and decrease in urban sprawl. The only question now is, “when?”