As North Carolina grows, it is the larger cities that are losing open space to subdivisions, shopping centers and other development at the rate of 18 acres an hour, according to the Brookings Institution’s Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.

Most of the growth in North Carolina spreads outward from the state’slargest metropolitan areas, where three out of every four new residents moved in the past decade. Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro are three of the cities that are experiencing growing pains not felt by most other residentsof the state, the report notes.

Today, Charlotte and Raleigh have the Southeast’s most expensive housing andsome of the dirtiest air in the country. Both are building highways aroundthe city as a way of relieving traffic and environmental problems. Manyobservers consider these efforts futile and a waste of state funds. The report calls for greater spending on public transit and preserving openspace.

In the Charlotte region, the number of miles commuters travel each day andthe amount of fuel wasted in traffic congestion more than doubled in the last decade, according to the study.

The report found that North Carolina spends 100 times more each year on highway construction and maintenance than on public transit.

Other highlights: Nearly two-thirds of the people who moved to the state duringthe 1990s went to the Charlotte, Raleigh or Greensboro areas; the state’sHispanic population growth rate during the 1990s was the highest in theSouth; from 1982 to 1992, an average of 94,000 acres were developed each year. Since 1992, that has increased to 156,000 acres a year.

North Carolina’s loss of 18 acres an hour to new development means that everyyear an area approximately the size of Charlotte is developed. At itscurrent pace, Charlotte itself loses 41 acres of open space a day todevelopment, roughly 1.7 acres an hour.

Local polls have found that most North Carolina residents are fairly happywith growth in their communities. Six out of 10 said the amount of development was about right, while 27% said their community was growing tooquickly.

According to the report, North Carolina cities frequently rate among the nation’s best places to live or work. The state is fifth in the nation in attracting new residents from other parts of the country.

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