Investigating links among urban sprawl and environmental justice indicators in US territories





sprawl, environmental justice, air pollution, vulnerable populations, urban form


Sprawl often characterizes unsustainable, car-dependent, and low-density urban development at the edges of cities. Much research has documented the relationship among sprawl and air pollutant concentrations and many studies have addressed sprawl’s social implications, especially for low-income and minority groups. However, limited research has investigated the links between areas with increased levels of sprawl and air pollution, where vulnerable populations reside. This paper brings together the refined sprawl dataset from Smart Growth America and selected environmental justice indicators on air pollution-ozone and air toxics- from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (EJSCREEN), in a national-level analysis of U.S. territories. Through Pearson correlations and a series of logistic regressions, the significant connection of sprawl and ozone concentrations is shown, in areas with more low-income, and less educated groups with higher percentages of children. On the other hand, while air toxics cancer risk is higher in areas with low-income, and linguistically isolated racial minorities, it has lower levels in more sprawled areas. Upon a closer look, it is shown that only selected dimensions of compactness link to higher cancer risk, while aspects such as a higher mix of jobs may have a reverse effect on it. These findings provide new directions in the ongoing discussion of sustainable urban development patterns and suggest that the focus should be on development that can promote better air quality, while simultaneously reducing social vulnerability to environmental challenges, with additional benefits for local innovation and community building.




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