By Christina B. Farnsworth. What do Ocala, Fla., and San Luis Obispo, Calif., have in common beside palm trees? The doubtful distinction of having the highest sprawl ratings of all U.S. cities and cities under 250,000 in population. Do you know where your city stands in our national sprawl-a-thon? It probably is sprawling; 83 percent of metro areas sprawled in the '90s.
Get the skinny from www.sprawl.usatoday.com where USA Today scored 271 metropolitan areas. Nashville, Tenn., rated as the sprawling-est major metropolitan area with a population over 1,000,000. And Little Rock, Ark., topped the charts for populations between 250,000 to 1,000,000.
USA Today assembled its index by combining the U.S. Census Bureau population density definition for urbanized areas with 1,000 or more residents per square mile with changes in population density during the 1990s. Metro areas were ranked from one to 271 based on two density measurements: population density today and change in population density during the 1990s. The two rankings were then combined to produce each area's score. The highest, or worst, possible score was 542 and the lowest, or best, was two.
Surprisingly, Atlanta, once the national poster child for sprawl, ranked a mere 392 on the sprawl index, far beneath Ocala's chart-busting 536 but noticeably more pudgy than minimalist Laredo, Texas' low, low 26. The traffic-jammed Washington/Baltimore, Md./Va./W.Va. metroplex only managed a middling sprawl rating of 261 despite having the second worst national traffic congestion; Phoenix ranked 216; and Los Angeles/Riverside/Orange County, Calif., home of the most traffic congestion, trailed the pack at 78.
It's worth remembering that USA Today's study measures, as much as anything, how quickly conditions have worsened nationwide. And that it does not measure either traffic congestion or air quality. Other findings: Sprawl is definitely possible even in areas where population is shrinking, smaller areas are often more vulnerable to sprawl than larger areas; and water availability and geography limit sprawl, explaining lower rankings for places such as Las Vegas (159) and San Francisco (62).
Top 10 Sprawlers
|2.||San Luis Obispo, Calif.||528|
|8.||Terre Haute, Ind.||477|
|9.||New London, Conn./R.I.||474|
|9.||Little Rock, Ark.||474|
Top 10 Least Sprawling
|3.||Colorado Springs, Colo.||55|
|6.||Salt Lake City||60|
|8.||San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose||62|
|9.||Sioux City, Iowa/Neb.||63|