As housing developments sprout across the United States, smart growth proponents have urged communities to cluster developments in concentrated pockets, instead of the more standard and familiar sprawl. Cluster developments create a far smaller footprint on the environment, affecting a smaller portion of the land area than dispersed houses. The initial motivation for cluster development was to protect open space, farmland, and rural character. Yet few studies exist that empirically demonstrate that such concentrated development patterns are indeed better for the surrounding environment.
Now a study in this months Ecological Applications, a journal of the Ecological Society of America, finds that while cluster development is indeed much easier on the surrounding environment, the location of housing developments is key.
Charlotte Gonzalez-Abraham and Volker Radeloff (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and colleagues focused their study of housing patterns and habitat loss on Northern Wisconsin over a 50+ year time period. While the number of houses in the study area increased by 353 percent from 1937 to 1999, the amount of habitat lost was far lower than expected, underscoring the effectiveness of cluster development in minimizing habitat loss.
Supported by federal grants from the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station, the researchers determined the environmental impact of cluster development by mapping 27,419 houses from historic aerial photos for five time periods in 17 townships in northern Wisconsin.
The percentage growth of disturbed land area was much lower than for housing growth; in the most extreme case, a 1658 percent increase in the number of houses resulted in only a 204 percent increase in the disturbed land area, says Radeloff.
Development in northern Wisconsin was already clustered in 1937 and as new houses were constructed, they were generally placed within the vicinity of existing homes.
|Contact: Nadine Lymn|
Ecological Society of America