Worldwatch Paper #156: City Limits: Putting the Brakes on Sprawl

Author: Molly O'Meara Sheehan

ISBN: 1-878071-58-0
Publication Date: June 2001
85 pages

Today, every world region suffers from sprawling, car-choked urban areas. Accidents and pollution-related illness take lives, while traffic delays sap human productivity and waste fuel. Part of the reason that Americans now guzzle 43 percent of the world’s gasoline is to wheel around expansive metropolises. Transportation, spurred by road traffic, is now the fastest-growing contributor to climate change.

Decades ago, Copenhagen, Denmark; Portland, Oregon; and Curitiba, Brazil, made tough choices to give precedence to pedestrians and cyclists, steer new construction to locations easily reached by a variety of transportation means, and reserve green space for nature and people. Today, their economies are thriving, and their children are enjoying safer streets and cleaner air. These stories show other places how they could gain by revamping government agencies and policies to link transportation and land use decisions and remove incentives to sprawl.

In this Worldwatch Paper, author Molly Sheehan reports that citizens and local leaders around the world are using the political process to demand attractive public spaces and better transportation choices. “We realize that … traffic is a major problem,” says Patricio Lanfranco, who is involved in an effort to take back the streets of Santiago de Chile from private cars. “But it has a bigger context: What kind of city do we want? What kind of quality of life do we want?”