Fact sheet from "What Have We Done?,
The Foundation for Global Sustainability's State of the Bioregion Report for the Upper Tennessee Valley and Southern Appalachian Mountains."

Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth.

Isaiah 5:8

Population Growth

  • As population around our bioregion increases, urban scenes are becoming more common, while open rural scenes decline. Population growth exacerbates all other environmental impacts in the East Tennessee area--from air pollution to water pollution. Population, tourism and transportation throughflow have all grown dramatically. Tourism puts the same stresses on our environment and infrastructure as do our permanent residents.

    Population Figures

  • Historically, our bioregion has not been densely populated. However, the region has seen dramatic growth since the 1960s. In 1990, while the average U.S. population density was 70.6 persons per square mile, eleven counties in our region have population densities greater than 150 persons per square mile.

  • While population change around our region has varied over the past three decades, all counties showed at least some growth from 1970 through 1992. Several counties doubled their populations, while others almost did. In 1970, the Knoxville metropolitan area (Knox, Anderson, Blount, Sevier, Grainger and Jefferson counties) had 424, 586 people. By 1992, the area's population had grown to 631,097--an increase of 44.3%.

    Future Population Trends

  • In 1992, Knoxville was the nation's primary destination for immigration of any city, while Chattanooga was fifth. In Knoxville, for every 100 households that left the area, 141 moved in.

  • The four metropolitan areas in our region are projected to continue to grow through 2010, and probably beyond. Knox, Blount and Anderson counties are anticipated to increase by as many as twenty persons per square mile, with Knox growing the most, to some 108 persons per square mile.

  • The emerging populous zones in the bioregion include Hamblen County, and parts of three contiguous counties: Jefferson, Greene, and Hawkins.

  • If growth in the Knoxville and Chattanooga continues as anticipated, an almost continuous line of development would then stretch from northwest Georgia to extreme upper East Tennessee, and beyond into Washington and Scott counties in southwest Virginia. The Appalachian Mountains and the Tennessee River and its drainage system, the most important natural features of our region, lie in or near the path of this development.

    Effects on Flora, Fauna, and Agriculture

  • As people inhabit all parts of our region, using more land, there is increasingly less available land for other life forms. Indeed, the primary threat to our bioregion's wildlife is loss of habitat.

  • Land is directly devoured by residential and commercial development. But, more people and more development require infrastructure--highways, sewers, power stations, transmission lines, landfills, recreational facilities, government buildings, schools and more--all subsidized by taxpayers.

  • Some areas are running out of undeveloped land. Remaining green space is typically fragmented, further impacting the region's wildlife. Coexistence with this area's original inhabitants, from beavers to deer, becomes increasingly difficult.

  • The region's fauna is under similar attack. Plants become victim to the paver, the developer and the bulldozer, as our forests and natural spaces give way to residential and commercial development. The region's agricultural land is also consumed. Between 1986 and 1995 in Southern Appalachia, more than 600,000 acres of farmland, were converted for suburban use.

    Effects On Air and Water

  • Ultimately, more people in our region means more vehicles, driving farther distances, consuming more fossil fuels and contributing to rising air pollution. Centralizing business and housing can help, along with instituting public transportation.

  • While industrial air pollution is generally decreasing, seven counties in the bioregion are on the list of the 210 worst counties in the United States in toxic releases. In crowed urban areas, large numbers of people are threatened with pollution-related diseases.

  • In the name of development, waterways are frequently routed underground or diverted, while their banks are denuded, causing increased erosion, loss of wildlife habitat, pollution and flooding. Our groundwater is vulnerable to pollution due to dumping of construction debris by developers and run-off from roadways.

    Shoreline Development

  • Residential development along the huge reservoir system created by the Tennessee Valley Authority threatens the remaining natural environment and existing recreational resources. Some 38% of the reservoir shoreline is open to development, with 17 percent of this already developed just since 1995. While this may seem small, the visual impact and potential for related shoreline destruction is tremendous. Meanwhile, to help raise revenue, TVA is considering selling or leasing additional shoreline property for development.

  • The clearing of vegetation for shoreline development endangers wetlands, affects flood plains, and erodes the banks, increasing siltation of the water. Sewage systems and other "by-products" from increased human presence pollute the river system. The Fort Loudon shoreline is almost devoid of riparian habitat because the banks have been denuded and crowded with development.

    Effects On National Areas

  • The development in our region endangers all of our natural areas, including our national forests and parks. The impact of our permanent population is compounded by aggressive marketing of the outdoors for recreational use. A few decades ago Sevier County was a rural country. Now, the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge complex of motels, tourist attractions, billboards and other facets of gaudy sprawl threaten not only the once magnificent wilderness, but also smaller, more peaceful towns such as Pittman Center, Wear Valley, and Kodak.

  • Residents of the area and friends of the region are taking measures to save some of land from further development. By 1996, the Foothills Land Conservancy, with participation of thousands of citizens, had purchased 6,114 acres near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for wilderness protection.

    The Importance Of Planning

  • Planning is necessary to change the pattern of population density. The first step is to stabilize the population. Providing skill training for residents, thus insuring that jobs go to natives rather than immigrants can help. Another step is to provide education, counseling, and family planning to encourage zero population growth within the resident population.

  • Community well-being does not require growth. Sustainable enterprises within communities should be fostered. While "green" businesses can be attracted to the region which can use the skills found in the local work force. To promote clean industry and reduce pollution, tax-and-fine structures can be used. Incentives can be adopted to attract environmentally friendly employers.

  • Cities must have a vital center (downtown) to effectively provide basic necessities such as water, clean air, transportation, health, and waste disposal to its urban population. The trend for businesses to flee downtown for the suburbs--a clear sign of urban sprawl--must be reversed. Urban sprawl has tremendous impacts--requiring ever more infrastructure and increasing ecosystem destruction. Inevitably vehicle use increases, while the pollution cycle is exacerbated.

  • Most of the negative impacts of urbanization can be reduced by simply limiting the geographic area over which urbanization can spread. Incentives for the reuse of buildings and revitalizing urban centers rather than constructing new ones miles away can help to reverse urban sprawl trends. Public and non-motorized transportation must also be encouraged. Asheville and Chattanooga have made tremendous strides toward revitalizing their downtown centers. Knoxville has done little. While some effort at renovating the Old City has had limited success in recent years, it too is on the decline again.

  • Central planning must be correlated with long-term planning for transportation, zoning, tax incentives, power & water dispersion, and recreational sites. For example, population in the Mechanicsville neighborhood in Knoxville gradually declined, leaving empty houses and shops. This lead to an increase in poverty, crime, lack of new investment, unemployment and inadequate healthy food for remaining residents.

  • The rapid commercial sprawl along Kingston Pike in Knoxville has shifted the center of economic activity, leaving downtown and abandoning businesses closer to town. The spread of shopping malls throughout our bioregion contributes to the urban sprawl phenomena.

  • An ecologically sustainable urban design must provide for public and nonmotorized forms of transportation. Chattanooga has set an example in our region by providing an electric public transportation system. The bicycle remains the most energy-efficient means of transportation, one that should be fostered through creation of bicycle lands and greenway paths. Planning must also be done to limit truck traffic--a destructive force on the environment, infrastructure and neighborhoods.

  • Land with recreational potential needs to be used more wisely. Parks and greenways provide a wide range of opportunities for a diversity of citizens. On the other hand, golf courses serve a limited population, consume large tracts of land and require chemically-intensive maintenance.

  • Poor urban planning is all too evident in Knoxville and Knox County. The impending development of Turkey Creek, which incorporates the largest remaining wetlands in Knox County, is just another instance. While examples of thoughtful planning are few in our bioregion, Pittman Center, near Gatlinburg, does set an example. Its citizens have worked to review commercial development in terms of zoning ordinances, slope and soil conditions, water-quality and wastewater treatment strategies.

    The Upshot

  • From 1980 to 1992, the population of our 61 county bioregion, now around 2,750,000, grew over 8%. In just twelve years, our region gained some 230,000 people. Once a region of remote mountains and valleys, with unlimited biodiversity, now few roadless areas remain outside of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A wall of development is quickly being erected on the Tennessee side of the park, while the shorelines of our region's rivers become crowded with ever more development.

  • We are experiencing signs of excess, not of health. To save the bioregion, we must learn to accommodate the new without obliterating the old. We must embrace moderation--in our desire to reproduce, in our desire to attract tourists and jobs and in our desire for ever-increasing wealth.