The Argument Against Smart Growth
Over the past 50 years, America's suburbs have grown to
contain most urban residents. As the nation has become more affluent,
people have chosen to live in single family dwellings on individual lots
and have also obtained automobiles to provide unprecedented
Will smart growth result in more traffic congestion and air pollution?
Wendell Cox presents the argument for sprawl and against urban 'smart
By Wendell Cox
As it appeared in PLANETIZEN
Jan 22, 2001
As population has continued to grow, the amount of new
roadway constructed has fallen far short of the rise in automobile use. As
a result, American urban areas are experiencing increased traffic
congestion. The good news is that improved vehicle technology has made the
air cleaner in many cities than it has been in decades.
suburbanization is perceived by the anti-sprawl movement as inefficiently
using land, by consuming open space and valuable agricultural land. The
anti-sprawl movement believes that suburbanization has resulted in an
inappropriate amount of automobile use and highway construction and favors
public transit and walking as alternatives. Moreover, they blame
suburbanization for the decline of the nation's central cities.
anti-sprawl movement has embraced "smart growth" policies. In general,
smart growth would increase urban population densities, especially in
corridors served by rail transit. Development would be corralled within
urban growth boundaries. There would be little or no highway construction,
replaced instead by construction of urban rail systems. Attempts would be
made to steer development toward patterns that would reduce home to work
travel distances, making transit and walking more feasible. The
anti-sprawl movement suggests that these policies will improve the quality
of life, while reducing traffic congestion and air pollution.
the anti-sprawl diagnosis is flawed.
- Urbanization does not threaten agricultural land.
Since 1950, urban areas of more than 1,000,000 have consumed an amount
of new land equal to barely 1/10th the area taken out of agricultural
production. The cultpit is improved agricultural productivity, not
- Only 15 percent of suburban growth has come from
declining cental cities. Most growth is simple population gain and the
movement of people from rural to suburban areas. The same process is
occurring throughout affluent nations, from Europe to Asia and
Australia. In these nations, virtually all urban growth in recent
decades has been suburban, while central cities have lost population.
Since 1950 Copenhagen has lost 40% of its population and Paris
- There is no practical way for low density urban
areas to be redesigned to significantly increase transit and walking.
Whether in America or Europe, most urban destinations are reasonably
accessible only by automobile. Transit can be an effective alternative
to the automobile only to dense core areas, such as the nation's largest
- Large expanses of land are already protected as
open space. All of the nation's urban development, in small towns and
major metropolitan areas, accounts for approximately four percent of
land (excluding Alaska).
Ironically, smart growth will bring more traffic
congestion and air pollution, because it will concentrate automobile
traffic in a smaller geographical space. International and US data shows
- higher population densities are associated with
greater traffic congestion.
- the slower, more stop-and-go traffic caused by
higher densities increase air pollution.
Further, urban growth boundaries ration land for
development. Rationing, whether of gasoline or of land drives up prices.
For example, in smart growth oriented Portland, Oregon, housing
affordability has declined considerably more than in any other major
metropolitan area. This makes it unnecessarily difficult for low income
and many minority citizens to purchase their own homes.
anti-sprawl movement has not identified any threat that warrants its
draconian poliicies. As the "Lone Mountain Compact" puts it, people should
be allowed to live and work where and how they like absent a material
threat to others.
As urban areas continue to expand -- which they
must do in a growing affluent nation -- sufficient street and highway
capacity should be provided, so that traffic congestion and air pollution
Wendell Cox is principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy, an
international public policy firm. He has provided consulting assistance to
the United States Department of Transportation and was certified by the
Urban Mass Transportation Administration as an "expert" for the duration
of its Public-Private Transportation Network program (1986-1993). He has
consulted for public transit authorities in the United States, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand and for public policy organizations.
(c) 2000 www.demographia.com --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.
Demographia is "pro-choice" with respect to urban development. |
People should have the freedom to live and work
where and how they like.
is an undertaking of
WENDELL COX CONSULTANCY
P. O. Box 841 - Belleville, IL 62222 USA
Telephone: +1.618.632.8507 -
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