Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Urban Sprawl

While Lisa and I were growing up on the north side of Houston, our parents would occasionally shake their head wonderingly and say, “I remember when all of this was trees and the road nothing but a two-lane farm-to-market.” At the time, the county began a project that widened the FM from four to seven lanes across. Now, twenty plus years later, that area has bloomed and wilted, with dense commercial development past its prime.

On a recent visit to my brother-in-law’s home in North Texas, we drove to Fort Worth, heading across on a road that I used to drive regularly to attend graduate school seventeen years ago. I remember well the two-lane blacktop with a wide shoulder where farm trucks and occasionally an 18-wheeler would pull over to let you pass. For two years I watched the changing seasons of sorghum, corn, and cotton being planted and harvested. Farmhouses dotted the landscape every few miles, especially this one little white house sitting on a slight rise surrounded by an ocean of green waves.

Now, the black-top is a modern three-lanes each way with a dedicated turn lane in the center. Billboards line the roadside announcing master planned communities like Prosper, Providence, and Savannah. Where big fields of sorghum and cotton once stood are rows and rows of homes clustered together. Signs advertise lots for sale and retail pad development.

In between the communities, fields lie fallow, a few hay bales lining the road. As a throwback to my memory, a late crop of sorghum stretches across maybe 100 acres. A new stoplight creates an intersection showcasing a grain silo faced by a head of forty-plus black Angus grazing. However, the sign says “CC Land Company, 101.5 acres for sale.”

The little white farm house I remember admiring every day is gone, without any landmark to remind me where it had stood. Eventually the remaining fields give way again to fully developed communities. Tractors that once plowed fields now mow swathes of St. Augustine. Finally, a few miles outside of Denton, I recognize a few familiar landmarks, homes and businesses that existed seventeen years ago.

During the entire drive, I marveled at the sprawl of urban living reaching out so far into this once rural farm community. Only forty miles north of here, just south of the Red River, my husband’s family once farmed Texas over 125 years ago. How long until the urban sprawl between Sherman and Gainsville encroaches on that land?

As this urban living creeps out steadily, will there be a day when there are no rural farms left?

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