Sociologist on how urban sprawl contributes to stress, limits community

A sociologist argues urban sprawl boosts stress levels and inhibits social interactions:

Urban sprawl in Alberta’s two largest cities could be contributing to high stress levels and lack of community ties reported in the province, a sociologist suggests.

Statistics Canada’s age-standardized figures show nearly a quarter of Alberta’s population aged 15 and older perceive most days as “quite a bit or extremely stressful.”

Out of the 10 Canadian provinces, Alberta was second-highest for perceived life stress — second only to Quebec — in 2011.

It also had the second-lowest percentage of the population aged 12 and over who reported their sense of belonging to the local community as being “very strong or somewhat strong” — higher only than Quebec.

Tim Haney, an urban sociology expert and assistant professor at Mount Royal University, said the way Calgary, and more recently Edmonton, are growing outward affects residents’ quality of life.

Difficulty or inconvenience commuting from place to place can impact a person’s relationships and ability develop some sense of community, he said.

This sounds like possible correlations – we would have to see more specific data before making any conclusions. But, these arguments are related to earlier theories and findings. Some of the early sociologists, people like Georg Simmel, worried about how individuals would survive in cities. Simmel didn’t think much about suburbs but perhaps his ideas about “nervous stimulation” in cities could be adapted to suburban settings where there is less regular interaction with strangers but still a lot of movement (particularly driving) amidst populated areas. Also, Robert Putnam argued in Bowling Alone that sprawl contributed to a decline in community life and civic engagement.

If all of this is true and life in sprawl does include a stress penalty, this is an interesting trade-off for Americans: buy a bigger and cheaper house within the sprawl and participate in the suburban good life but have more stress than living elsewhere.

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