A discussion of habitat fragmentation and suburban sprawl.
When looking at the Midwest, I think there are two main problems that are seen region wide. The first and most important in my opinion is the disregard for the natural systems that are found in the region, and urban sprawl. These two problems are acknowledged by many people, but I define the problems differently than most.
The main argument that people have against the Midwest, is that we have destroyed our natural systems by deforesting for agriculture. I agree that ideally all of the land that we have planted as corn and soybeans should be converted to natural areas, but that isn’t feasible. We grow crops here because our climate, soils, and hydrology is good for agriculture, so in my opinion the agriculture we find in the Midwest does fit with the natural systems. The problem is with new construction, and the fragmentation of the habitat we have left. We leave pockets of habitat, most of which is unsuitable due to any number of reasons such as invasives, size, and human intervention. The habitats must be preserved and linked, and must be large enough to provide space for large predators. The reason cities have so many deer is because they do well along edge habitat, so relatively small areas can host a sizeable population of deer, whereas a bobcat for example needs large tracks of natural land to establish a hunting ground. Habitat fragmentation is the most important problem that the Midwest needs to fix in order to retain our biodiversity.
One of the main causes of habitat fragmentation is now urban sprawl, however I disagree with what many people are saying about urban sprawl. There is a difference between sprawl and growth, and I think most people are looking at any new development as sprawl, and suburbs that have been in existence for 60 years as sprawl. The kind of sprawl that is doing damage is the purchase of farm fields and natural lands far from the city, and putting massive lots with complete disregard for the natural systems. Not all suburbs are sprawl. The majority of the suburbs of Chicago resulted from increased development around the small towns that lined the rail lines. This type of development is necessary, and in my opinion should not be considered sprawl. The “suburbs” that are being built now that can only be accessed by interstate, and that 5 years ago were cornfields aren’t suburbs in my opinion. Sprawl is a problem because the new development that is occurring around cities doesn’t have to respond to any context. Entire new systems of infrastructure are created, and they have no restrictions because they don’t have to meld with the existing infrastructure of the city. This results in poorly planned developments, and inadequate infrastructure. Unless sprawl can be controlled, the beauty of the Midwest could entirely be replaced by a sea of pavement, chemical covered lawns, and interstates.
The Midwest has an amazing amount of natural beauty, as well as man-made beauty in cities large and small. The problems that the region faces on a large scale have taken away from that beauty, and solutions need to be implemented at both regional and site scale.