Urban Sprawl: Burbs vs. City

Tonight on Urban Sprawl, we look at two boxers that have a long standing feud. In the red corner, we have Su “Burb” An. “Burb” tends to stick to the wide open spaces and appreciates long walks to the strip mall. In the blue corner, we have Rick “City” Slicker. “City” enjoys the fast paced lifestyle and staying close to the things he needs. May the best contender win, and let the round begin!


The city lights from Signal Hill. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

For centuries, man’s inclination has been to claim as much land as possible for himself. As we have progressed from villages into towns and again into cities, communities have become so expansive that people move away from them in order to live a more reserved lifestyle, thus creating urban sprawl. However, this tendency can be less effective and less beneficial to family and environment alike, as the further away one goes from the city, the more unincorporated their life becomes. There are pros and cons of living in the city or the suburbs, but one proves to be a more sustainable option. The characteristics in both of these locations can be identified through the communities’ abilities to be breathable, livable, and commutable.

Breathable: Round 1


Common blossoms of Central California. Photo by Cierra Guerra.

Common blossoms of Central California. Photo by Cierra Guerra.

One may think that by living outside of the car congested city, air quality will automatically get better, but that is not always the case. Communities in the suburbs that are more countryside oriented are facing poor air quality mainly due to their consumption of available space. Oftentimes, new developments are taking away land that is agriculturally and ecologically rich and replacing it with Walmarts and new subdivisions. When undeveloped land is not used for growing crops, it is often home to herds of cattle. These cattle are some of the main contributors of methane gas to the atmosphere, and almost anyone in Central California can assure you that a portion of their poor air quality is a byproduct of raising cattle. The fact of the matter is urban sprawl is causing us to take up more and more space in the world, from where we live, to the clothes we wear, to the food we eat.


Downtown Los Angeles at dusk. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

Not only is air quality less than acceptable in the suburbs, but residents of the city also suffer from sub-par levels. Car dominated communities obviously produce a lot of carbon, but it is not always from the actions of city-dwellers alone. Although they do contribute their share of carbon output from idling in traffic, residents of the suburbs are more at fault for their desire to commute to the city rather than live in it. In an attempt to combat air pollution, city planners are integrating more vegetation and other sustainable practices into their designs. Even though some projects are years away from completion, the positive effects that they will have on the environment are worth the wait.

The Winner of Round 1: Rick “City” Slicker

Livable: Round 2


A quiet Sunday in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

How nice does a one bedroom apartment for $2,000 a month in downtown sound? To some of you it sounds cheap, and for others you are thinking that you can get a nice two-story house in the suburbs for that price. That is one of the main reasons that people move away from the city, because all too often it is not practical to live there. Paying a higher premium however does have its perks. Considering utilities are usually part of the cost of living in an apartment, and a lot of times the location is prime and close to a person’s essentials, the city becomes an ideal place to live. As a result of living in the city, urban consolidation allows people to find most of the things that they need in a more confined space. By bringing people closer to the things that they need and encouraging them to give up the excess in their lives, the issue of urban sprawl is easier to combat.


Countryside of Clovis. Photo by Cierra Guerra.

So if the city is supposedly the place to be, why do so many people live in the surrounding suburbs? Well, for one, living outside of the city is typically more affordable. The only real downside to life in “Suburbia” is that everything is spread out and not as easily accessible. Also, not everyone sees a future forming in the outskirts and as a result, more jobs can be found in the city. Even though someone may have the big house with two cars like they had always dreamed about, they sacrifice convenience and opportunities because they live in a more dispersed community. Urban sprawl does not only hurt the land, but it also alters the yet to be determined future of development.

The Winner of Round 2: Rick “City” Slicker


Commutable: Round 3



The city streets of Clovis, CA. Photo by Cierra Guerra.

Often people move to the suburbs to avoid city specific issues such as traffic, but they end up taking the very things that they were trying to avoid with them. Mainly due to the fact that most jobs are in the city, they are driving long distances, praying there is no traffic, and hoping that they make it to work on time. When they get home, their spouse says that they are out of milk and asks that they go get more. Considering the suburbs are so spread out, they have to get back in the car and drive another five miles to get the milk. Suburbs were designed with ample space in mind, and as a result, walking or riding a bike to run errands becomes a daunting task. Although they are trying to avoid car dependent cities, the same issues that the city faces are also the biggest contributors to urban sprawl within the suburbs.



Alternatives to sitting in traffic within the city. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

It may be hard to believe, but city-dwellers actually live healthier lives than their suburban counterparts. This is because they tend to walk, bike, or take public transportation to nearby spots within the community to get what they need. Considering that many of them have little need for a car, the money that they saved can in turn be put back into the community. People of the city have a mentality that local efforts are more beneficial to them and the economy and therefore have no problem reinvesting in them. Cities need to look at combating urban sprawl by ensuring that everything its residents need is within walking distance, because not only will it improve the quality of life, but it will also attract new opportunities.

The Winner of Round 3: Rick “City” Slicker

After three intense rounds, Rick “City” Slicker proved to be the contender who held out the longest. Even though “Burb” threw out some setbacks, “City” proved himself to be the most sustainable fighter. What he hopes to show his challengers is his drive and determination to make the world a better place, one sustainable “City” at a time.

Feature Images: 1. Typical suburban neighborhood. Image via 2M Realty. 2. Downtown Los Angeles from above. Photo by Gabriel Guerra.

About The Author

As a recent transplant in the city of Los Angeles, I have a way of looking at the city that natives themselves have not been able to. My focus in school is urban planning, environmental science, sustainable design, and rooftop gardens. Follow me on my adventures throughout L.A. to see all that this sustainable city has to offer.