Jan 31 10:30 AM

Snow or an unwise way to grow?

Tami Chappell/Reuters

There were helicopters in the sky and authorities on the ground, racing to help stranded drivers along a debilitated American South on Tuesday.

Snowfall accumulated to around 2 inches, essentially crippling cities, leaving thousands of motorists locked in traffic jams and their children sleeping on school gym floors.

"I was out on the highway for 15 to 20 hours," said one Atlanta motorist.

Governors issued states of emergency from Alabama to South Carolina, deploying their national guards.

By three days later the blame game was in full throttle, with residents wondering why the situation got so out of hand.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal responded.

"We did not have adequate preparation for the storm for the time frame in which it came," he said in a press conference.

The state's emergency management chief apologized too, for not notifying the governor quickly enough.

"I made a terrible error in judgment," said Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Charlie English.

But as the bucks are passed, a permafrost of problems remains: When you live in a suburb of a metropolitan sprawl, your livelihood relies on a car.

It’s a product of middle-class migration from the 1960s and 1970s, as people with money fled from crime-ridden urban areas to quieter, secluded, planned communities outside.

One prime example is Atlanta, where of the 6 million people who live in the metropolitan area, fewer than 10 percent live in the city itself.

The rest live in suburbs, with their own local governments and mayors. Administratively, they're essentially islands, bridged by a web of highways.

It's a common story in the Sun Belt. In Montgomery, Ala., the metro's walkability score is 25 out of 100

AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman

Living in a car

Montgomery, Ala., scores 25 out of 100 for "walkability," according to the online calculator Walkscore.com.

In 2012, there was a proposal to build alternative transit for the Atlanta suburbs, including a rail line downtown. It was rejected by 67 percent of voters.

Many suburbanites opposed the project, saying it would create too much construction in their neighborhoods. Those who supported it primarily lived in the city.

This week, the mayor of Atlanta mentioned the metro area's reliance on cars during the storm chaos.

"The nub of this problem — and the part that is hurting so many folks — is that people are stranded on our highways and interstates right now," said Mayor Kasim Reed. "We're going to get folks out of these cars."

People bemoaning weather-induced paralysis say it's also a lack of preparedness, not just the regional makeup and infrastructure, that is to blame.

This week’s storm isn’t the first time snow has brought Southern states to a standstill. An ice storm caused cars — and thus daily life — to grind to a halt in 2011.

How much of the South's near-apocalyptic frozen meltdown was not authored by an unusual natural event but by suburban sprawl?

How much does unpreparedness play a role?

Was it the snow, or just an unwise way to grow? 

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

The above panel was assembled for the broadcast of “Inside Story” to discuss.

For future hard-hitting conversations, find Al Jazeera America on your TV.


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