Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 /

January 21, 2004 |


Sprawl makes life more difficult.
Our modern landscape and the systems that service it make every loaf of bread, day at work, soccer practice, friendly meeting, doctor appointment, and night out harder to get to. Each means yet another ride in a car, more expensive gasoline to buy, and increased wear and tear on shock absorbers and nerves. It encourages us to avoid exercise, tolerate gridlock, and adjust to road rage. At best, it leaves us peering through windshields at people we will never know; at worst, it forces us to compete with them for the next opening in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

But if life in a badly sprawled landscape is hard for average people, it is profoundly discouraging for people with disabilities. A lack of sidewalks does not deter most people from walking along a road or across someone's front lawn, but it defeats someone using a wheelchair or crutches. Crossing a four-lane highway or getting to the store, work, a youngster's practice, a physician, or a friend is either impossible, an imposition on someone else, or a wait for a paratransit van whose journey grows ever lengthier as sprawl spreads development to the hinterlands.

So while sprawl wears down anyone's sense of community, it can destroy it for people with disabilities. With few nearby places to go and no good ways to get there, the world outside can be un-navigable and unavailable. Full participation in our community is impossible if we can't get to it or around in it.

This is why, as the state Legislature deals with the recommendations of the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council in general, and these 10 most vital first ways in particular, we urge legislators to be particularly mindful of people with disabilities.

For example, legislation that encourages quality urban housing that everyday people can afford should require “visitibility” in all new homes and support existing “accessibility” laws and regulations. Designated commerce centers and regionalized planning should emphasize compact design, conveniently mixed uses, and locations that people with disabilities can easily reach.

Ultimately creating livable communities means that public transportation must become far more efficient, effective, accessible, and widely available than it is now. And all design and improvement of public transit, sidewalks, bike paths, greenways, railways, and highways should formally include the counsel of people with disabilities.

As we begin curbing sprawl, we cannot leave people with disabilities behind. In fact, we should follow their lead on many issues.

Sprawl is making life harder for people with disabilities because, at its root, sprawl is slowly but surely ruining genuine community for everyone. We must listen to what people with disabilities are telling us.

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org