Let’s talk about sprawl.
Generally, if we discuss it at all, that conversation centers around cost — about $1 trillion a year in the U.S., according to a 2015 report by LSE Cities and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.
That’s what happens when you snatch up farmland and forests to plunk down new housing developments. You need more roads, sewers and streetlights. You drive farther to work, which increases travel time, congestion delays, traffic accidents and pollution emissions. You become more reliant on cars and less active and healthy.
And all that adds up. If we put all that money in terms of sprawl itself, those 1 trillion dollar bills spread out next to each other would cover an area roughly the size of Delaware.
But this month’s feature story “Under the Gun,” about a dispute over firearms in Lorain County’s Eaton Township and what potential development means for that farming community’s identity, has me considering sprawl from another perspective.
I grew up in a township, somewhere just on the suburban side of rural.
My great-uncle, Joe, originally built our house and then built his home next door, where he had a big fenced-in garden and a hand-laid brick smoker just over the hedgerow. My grandparents, two uncles and some second cousins all lived within a few country blocks of each other in what they called “The Acres” — even if no one my age ever called it that.
Still, the neighbor’s field was big enough for hardball games until well into our teens, when someone finally blasted a homer off our siding. And we fought BB gun and slingshot wars using unripened grapes in the overgrown woods of Snake Hill.
We had ditches, not sewers, and wells, not city water, but I hardly knew the difference.
These days, there’s a big garage where we used to play ball and some of my relatives have since passed away, but that part of the township hasn’t changed much since I left.
That doesn’t seem to be the case in Eaton, where development threatens like a summer thunderstorm and acre after acre of agricultural land is being gobbled up like ants at a picnic. “It’s kind of like in the old days when they were moving west,” says longtime Eaton Township resident Pat Ables. “I’m sure the Indians weren’t real happy when we came storming through.”
We just need to be aware of all that we’re losing when we do.