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Los Angeles

Traffic on Sepulveda Pass, Los Angeles.

Karol Franks/Flckr/Getty Images

The City of Angels is probably the first that comes to mind for many people when talking sprawl. The far flung design of the city, replete with suburbs that stretch halfway to San Diego and notoriously bumper-to-bumper traffic, is as legendary as the Hollywood sign, Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Santa Monica pier.

There are 24,869 miles (40,023 kilometers) of road in the sprawling Los Angeles, which the Sierra Club has dubbed "The Granddaddy of Sprawl" [source: Levy]. The moniker can be traced to zoning and development laws passed more than a century ago, including a 1908 Residence District Ordinance, which spurred horizontal growth by banning a wide variety of commercial businesses from residential areas and put the kibosh on mixed-use development. At the time, this was seen as a good thing, intended to keep factories from going up next to family housing [sources: Sierra Club, Rosenberg].

But the times, they may be a-changing, if residential permit statistics are any indication. Approximately 77 percent of the new residential building permits issued in L.A. in 2011 were for multifamily construction. According to a federal study, much of that new construction is "infill," that is, on land that has previously been developed rather than on raw acreage available in far reaching exurbs [sources: Kolko, Boxall].

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