The sprawl of concrete for new housing has helped heighten temperatures in many of these growing cities. The spread of hard surfaces has also led to flash flooding, as Houston found out during the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Moreover, even as housing developments relentlessly spread across the parched Southwest, drinking water shortages are becoming more prevalent.
But our cities need not be driven to such harsh living conditions.
With respect to the Ellis-Island era, we are 50 years into the greatest wave of immigration in American history, numerically speaking.
Legacy media outlets and most politicians have been the biggest cheerleaders of population growth, which grows the economy* by increasing consumption and demand. In Congress' case, they are applauding themselves since it is their policies driving the growth.
Using immigration to grow the economy is a short-term vision with long-term consequences, some of which we're just beginning to pay attention to.
From "Extreme Heat Is Making the Fastest-Growing US Cities Unlivable," in The Guardian:
There's been this tremendous amount of growth and it's come with a cost," said Jesse Keenan, an expert in climate adaption at Tulane University. Keenan pointed out that since the 1990s several states have gutted housing regulations to spur development that has now left several cities, such as in Scottsdale, Arizona, struggling to secure enough water to survive....
"We are seeing places run out of water, no proper subdivision controls to ensure there are enough trees to help lower the heat, and lots of low-density suburbs full of cars that create air pollution that only gets worse in hot weather. We've reached a crunch point."
Look at the population growth in the Southwestern States alone:
NumbersUSA's study of urban sprawl in Arizona notes:
These millions of additional residents in Arizona and neighboring states all need additional space and land for their homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, commercial areas, recreation sites, and surface transportation facilities, as well as infrastructure for energy, water, and other utilities, among other developed land uses that service their needs as modern American consumers."
"[T]his growth," according to The Guardian, "is now clashing with the reality of the climate emergency, with parts of the sun belt enduring the worst drought in more than 1,000 years, record wildfires and punishing heat that is triggering a range of medical conditions, as well as excess deaths."
Sara Meerow of Arizona State University tells The Guardian: "Rapid urban expansion, which means more impervious surfaces like roads and buildings and waste heat from cars and buildings, typically exacerbates the urban heat island effect, which means these cities are even hotter."
Our media and political elites express an inexhaustible appetite for converting open spaces into urban jungles ("smart growth" is better than "dumb growth," but both inevitably lead to the loss of open space). Nature isn't always accommodating. The future of the American Southwest looks hotter and drier, with more droughts that are longer and more severe.
"We are seeing the limits to growth," Keenan says.
We've measured the conversion of open and natural space into urbanized areas across the country. Click on your state to see what's been lost over the last 35-year study period.
Humans have evolved to be sensitive to rapid changes around us. Heat waves, floods, and wildfires are quick to grab our attention. We aren't as adept at recognizing threats that are slow to develop. Such is the case with the conversion of open space into urbanized areas. We often have to look back years or decades to recognize what is taking place.
Michael Overall does just that in "As 'edge of town' keeps moving south, where is 'too far' for suburban Tulsa?":
In the span of just 20 years, Utica Square went from 'the edge of town' to being described as 'close to downtown.' The new edge of town lay near Memorial Drive and 71st Street, where Woodland Hills Mall erased 152 acres of farmland in 1976. But suburbia still seemed to have limits.
"As recently as the mid-1990s, the Tulsa World described 81st Street as "the edge of town" and quoted a retail manager saying "nothing was past 91st Street."
"Fast forward another couple of decades and Tulsa's first Costco opened at Memorial Drive and 103rd Street....
"....New suburban development in Oklahoma covered more than 1,133 square miles between 2002 and 2017, the most recent year with available data, according to a recent national study by NumbersUSA.
"More than 67% of all the land that has ever been developed in the state has been developed in just the past 40 years, according to the study. Nearly one-third of all development has occurred in just the past 20 years...."
Population growth, driven by Congress' policies, was responsible for 60 percent of urbanized development, nationwide. NumbersUSA's study warns (p. 58):
Over the coming eight decades until the end of this century, unless more restrictive immigration policies are enacted, the U.S. population will continue to grow by tens of millions to surpass 400 million by about 2050 or 2060 and approach or surpass 500 million — half a billion — by 2100."
What happens when Raleigh, NC and Atlanta, GA slowly merge into one giant heat island? Or Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Denver?
"There's an old joke about south Tulsa and suburban north Dallas eventually meeting somewhere in the middle," Overall concludes, "Maybe it's not really so funny."
*GDP is the favorite metric of the investment class to measure success, despite it being of dubious value to the average American. The Happiness Research Institute measures per capita GDP, not GDP. Moreover, their findings demonstrate that population growth (often a major driver of GDP growth) does not necessarily correlate with happiness.
JEREMY BECK is a V.P., Deputy Director for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Sep 27th 2022 @ 1:59pm EDT