Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Costs of Sprawl Reconsidered: What the Data Really Show

by Wendell Cox and Joshua Utt

The Costs of Sprawl? The “anti-sprawl” movement has received much attention in recent years, and has been successful in implementing its “smart growth” policies in some areas. Much of the justification for the current campaign against the lowdensity (sprawling) urban development that Americans and Western Europeans prefer is based upon assumptions that it is more costly than the more dense development of central cities. A federally financed research project (Costs of Sprawl) concluded that we can no longer afford sprawling development and that failure to force more dense development in the next quarter-century would impose more than $225 billion in additional costs. Current Urban Planning Assumptions. The urban planning profession generally contends that the following assumptions (called in this paper Current Urban Planning Assumptions) are compelling reasons why greater control should be exercised over land use to fight urban sprawl.
1. Lower spending will be associated with higher population densities.
2. Lower spending will be associated with lower rates of population growth.
3. Lower spending will be associated with older municipalities.
Research to Date. Most of the research on which these assumptions are based is theoretical, projecting standard costs into the future. It makes no attempt to test the actual expenditures of more dense, slower growing, and older municipalities ompared to municipalities with the suburban land-use patterns that have developed over the past half-century. The research contained in this paper examines the actual data on municipal expenditures and finds that the Current Urban Planning Assumptions are unreliable and that other factors—principally, variations in employee compensation per capita—explain virtually all of the variation in municipal expenditures. However, before describing this research, it is important to examine the Costs of Sprawl claims. Although $225 billion in additional costs sounds like a lot (and there are many questions regarding this claim), the cost is actually modest because it is spread over a quarter-century and an average of 115 million households. In fact, in the last 20 years, the average annual increase in local government expenditures in the United States has been 25 times the annual Costs of Sprawl projection.

more about urban sprawl:

Do We Really All Have To Live Like New Yorkers? Does Density Matter?

Five Myths About Sprawl: a review of "Sprawl: A Compact History"


Cleanliness from a car

New Urbanism: A Salve or Bane to Urban Wounds?

Suburban Immigrants Feel Arizona Heat

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