Lake St. Clair Coastal Habitat
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Urban Development

Urban Sprawl

Photo: Lynn Betts, NRCS

One of the most significant land use issues in the Great Lakes region is the continuing growth of major metropolitan areas and sprawl of residential areas and related development. C-CAP data show that 23 percent of the project area, or approximately 175,000 acres (70,819 hectares) is "developed" land, including both high and low intensity developed lands.

Urban expansion is predominant on the U.S. side of Lake St. Clair while the Canadian side remains primarily agriculture with pockets of urban development. Only about 9 percent of the Canadian side of the project area is considered developed while about 43 percent of the land on the U.S. side is developed. On Walpole Island First Nation, although development tends to be lower density, the pressure to develop housing and infrastructure is growing as the population increases. Pristine natural areas are often used for home sites, in spite of a pervading respect for nature among community members, as land for building is difficult to acquire.

Urban development and expansion destroys and degrades habitat in numerous ways. Construction activities remove all or nearly all vegetation on the construction site and the soil is compacted and graded, decimating the natural habitat once provided by the site. Without vegetation to intercept the flow of rainfall, construction sites generate large volumes of sediment that readily runs off into nearby storm drains, streams, rivers and lakes. Urban development results in impervious land cover in the form of roads, parking lots, sidewalks and rooftops. The "green" areas around these developments rarely compensate for the impervious cover as soil is compacted and vegetation is usually comprised of lawns and ornamental shrubs and trees with lower water absorption and filtering capacity than native grasses, trees and shrubs.

There is growing interest in policies and programs, often known collectively as "smart growth" that aim to redirect public investments into existing developed areas, protect existing open spaces and guide urban development in a more sustainable and less environmentally-damaging, manner. However, urban sprawl has become entrenched in North American culture and significant changes in land development patterns will take concerted long term efforts that cut across all public policy arenas. Changes in tax policy, transportation policy, real estate policy and others will be required before a more planned or sustainable urban form or development pattern becomes well established.

For more information, see: Habitat Assessment, Section V (PDF)