Urban Education

March 17, 2004 1 min read

Fighting Sprawl

Suburbanites consumed with concerns about traffic congestion and land preservation should look to America’s cities to help ease their troubles, a researcher argues in a new paper.

By addressing urban problems—including low- performing schools and residential and school segregation—long-lasting solutions can be found to the woes of suburban residents, according to Howell S. Baum.

“It’s a psychological issue,” Mr. Baum, a professor with the urban studies and planning program at the University of Maryland College Park, said in an interview last week. “There lacks an emotional connection between many white families who live in suburban areas and black families who live in the city.”

Mr. Baum argues that advocates of “smart growth,” or policies that seek to contain sprawl, must become involved with efforts to improve city schools to boost a region’s capacity for addressing growth-management concerns. His paper, “Smart Growth and School Reform: What If We Talked About Race and Took Community Schools Seriously?,” appears in the winter issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association.

While most growth- management advocates focus on improving suburban residents’ way of life, Mr. Baum said they ignore the fact that sprawl has contributed to racially segregated cities.

Mr. Baum writes that “physical manifestations” of suburban expansion are “easy problems” and more “reasonable” to address.

But it’s to city classrooms that Mr. Baum believes planners and growth-management activists need to shift some of their advocacy work. By making urban schools more effective and desirable, he said, more students would become productive citizens and racial isolation would be reduced, producing much-needed cross- cultural connections.

Mr. Baum, an associate with the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education, based at the University of Maryland, added that the educational choices that middle-class and white families have aren’t available to lower-income and minority families, which only heightens problems associated with sprawl. Simply “increasing choice,” he said, won’t improve the situation.

—Karla Scoon Reid