Quotes on Smart Growth, Sprawl & Urban Development

"American sprawl was built on the twin pillars of low gas prices and a relentless demand for housing that, combined with the effects of restrictive zoning in existing suburbs, pushed new development outward toward cheap rural land."

Eduardo M. Peñalver
The Washington Post
December 30, 2007
Library Topic

"If prices at the pump continue to increase, as many analysts expect, the eventual recovery of demand for new housing may not be accompanied by a resumption of America's relentless march into the cornfields."

Eduardo M. Peñalver
The Washington Post
December 30, 2007
Library Topic

"One way planners create congestion is by diverting an ever-increasing share of highway user fees to expensive light-rail and other transit projects. But planners' hopes for transit have proven unfounded. Even while highways are crowded, transit buses and railcars in most cities run around nearly empty. In 2005, the average public transit bus had room for 60 people but carried just 10. The average light-rail car had room for 175 people but carried just 25. As The Onion satirically observes, we persist in building expensive rail systems because '98 percent of U.S. commuters favor public transportation for others.'"

Randal O'Toole
Cato Institute
September 29, 2007
Library Topic

"Planners also argue we need to limit low-density development to protect open space. But 95 percent of the U.S. is rural open space. Given that unaffordable housing and congestion hit low-income families the hardest, government efforts to protect open space are a tragic misplacement of priorities that simply exacerbate housing, mobility, and other serious problems."

Randal O'Toole
Cato Institute
September 29, 2007
Library Topic

"Urban planners have given us surpluses of condos and apartments, shortages of single-family homes; surpluses of open space, shortages of developable land; surpluses of public transit, and shortages of highway capacity. These are only some of the surpluses and shortages government planners have foisted upon an unsuspecting public.

It is time to say the emperor of planning has no clothes. Congress and the states should repeal planning laws. Instead of long-range planning, cities and counties should solve problems using markets and user fees. Public or private toll roads can relieve congestion. Privatized transit systems can provide mobility for those who can't or prefer not to drive. Restoration of people's property rights will allow developers to meet the demand for housing and other land-uses. Various fees and other market mechanisms can protect air quality. Private, voluntary efforts can protect critical open space. Such market-based solutions will do far more to improve our quality of life with far fewer unintended consequences than the policies that result from government planning."

Randal O'Toole
Cato Institute
September 29, 2007
Library Topic

"VISION: The Congress for the New Urbanism will reinforce the relationship between the art of building, the making of community, and the conservation of the natural world. It will reform the practice of community building to restore existing urban centers and towns, create coherent metropolitan regions', reconfigure sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, and protect our natural environment.

MISSION: Within a generation, the Congress for the New Urbanism seeks to minimize automobile dependence and to replace climate-changing sprawl with a sustainable urbanism integrating diverse, walkable, transit-served places across a regional transect with high performance buildings and infrastructure. It educates professionals on how to implement the Charter of the New Urbanism, provides a forum to harness the expertise."

Congress for the New Urbanism
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"Transit and the high-density development that accompanies it both have tremendous value in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and putting us on the path to a low-carbon economy."

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"As housing-price trends in the U.S. over the past decade reveal, the intensity of a region's land-use regulations is a key factor in the region's relative house-price inflation, affordability, and recent foreclosure experience. Areas with less land-use regulation consistently sustain housing prices that are affordable, while regions with greater regulations consistently sustain prices that are unaffordable to the majority of the citizens living in the region."

Wendell Cox
Robert Utt
Backgrounder, #2247
The Heritage Foundation
March 5, 2009
Library Topic

"In the United States, 75% of residents in large metropolitan areas live in the suburbs. In Europe, the number of large metropolitan area residents living in the suburbs is 65%."

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"Surveys consistently show that between 10% and 20% of people want to live in dense cities."

Joel Kotkin
New Geography
April 6, 2009
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"[A]n analysis of land-use trends at the national and state levels reveals:

Suburbanization and sprawl are local issues. Urban development does not threaten the nation's food supply. Cost-of-development studies exaggerate the effects of suburbanization on local-government costs. Declining cities suffer from many 'push' factors. Air quality deteriorates as residential densities increase. Open space is increasingly protected through the private sector."

Sam Staley
Reason Foundation
January 1999
Library Topic

"For more than 75 years, architects and urban planners have proposed compact development as an alternative to low-density suburbs, which they derisively term 'sprawl.' In addition to higher-density housing, most compact city proposals also include plans to make neighborhoods more pedestrian-friendly and include investments in mass transit and other alternatives to auto driving. Together, compact development and alternative transportation projects are sometimes called 'smart growth.'

Although the term smart growth was not applied to these policies until 1996, the desire on the part of urban planners and some environmentalists for higher urban densities long predates that year or any concerns about global climate change. Criticism of low-density suburbs dates back at least to the 1930s. ... First in Europe and later in the United States, those critics have sought to use the power of government to herd large segments of the population into high-density cities and to prevent owners of rural land from developing their property for residential uses."

Randal O'Toole
Policy Analysis, No. 653
Cato Institute
November 18, 2009
Library Topic

"One of the first to promote such [smart growth] policies was Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect who promoted the reconstruction of cities into vast regions of high-rise apartments that he called 'Radiant Cities.' His ideas so heavily influenced urban planners throughout the world in the 1940s and 1950s that planning historian Peter Hall calls Corbusier 'the Rasputin of this tale,' both because Radiant Cities turned out to be unlivable and because of his authoritarian approach to planning,'the evil consequences of which are ever with us.' ...

In 1947, the British Parliament passed the Town and Country Planning Act, which could be described as the first modern compact-city law. This law set aside vast regions of rural land as greenbelts and mandated the construction of high-density, high-rise housing within existing cities along Radiant City lines.

Unlike the United States, which built public housing only for the poor, the British government built these apartments for working-class and middle-class families. Many of the buildings proved to be so unlivable, observes Hall, that 'the remarkable fact was how long it took for anyone to see that it was wrong.' ... By the late 1960s, few people were willing to live in such apartments even at heavily subsidized rents, and so by 1970, says Hall, 'the great Corbusian rebuild was over.'"

Randal O'Toole
Policy Analysis, No. 653
Cato Institute
November 18, 2009
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Commentary or Blog Post

People say that suburban and exurban housing growth is offset by a move to the cities. Wendell Cox looks at empirical data to prove that this is not the case, and deduces that people still tend to move to suburbia when they relocate.

This is a list of ten things wrong with suburban sprawl and how it can be fought under smart growth. A useful article that is very concise for understanding the anti-sprawl position.

These two authors join to write an article that comes to the conclusion that by adding more government regulations to land use, it will add to the "push" factors that are already in place as one of the reasons to move from the city to the suburbs and exurbs. People want to protect their property rights, and they should be allowed that freedom.

This article looks at policies in place for growth regulation and compares them to effectiveness. The authors find that the growth regulations impose costs too high, which leads to minority displacement and high housing costs for buyers.

"[T]he way environment and transportation patterns were built caused many of America's public health problems. [The researchers started] with the premise that the best way to combat an obesity epidemic, diabetes, and their attendant health problems (and health spending) is to encourage walking and physical activity--New Urbanist principles would help accomplish...

"Michael Lewyn's article Sprawl in Europe and America attempts to demonstrate that suburbanization (pejoratively called 'sprawl') is not, as Robert Bruegmann suggests, a predictable result of increasing wealth. He further indicates that suburbanization occurs only to a 'limited extent' in Europe. Bruegmann's authoritative...

"This is our first stop in a thought leadership series that discusses the current state of transportation infrastructure and explores future funding solutions. In 'Falling Behind,' we examine how today's investments are not meeting the growing needs of the U.S. transportation system, creating a gap that will continue to grow if action isn't taken."

"It is well known that the largest percentage losses in house prices occurred early in the housing bubble in inland California, Sacramento and Riverside-San Bernardino, Las Vegas and Phoenix. These were the very southwestern areas that housing refugees fled to in search of less unaffordable housing in California's coastal metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose...

Rick Harrison designed 'Prefurbia' as an alternative to smart growth planning that is an attempt to fix some of the errors that occur now with land use regulations.

An answer to the question "What is Smart Growth?" given by the NewUrbanism.org site. It is a good starting place for research on this topic from the New Urbanism perspective.


The Congress for the New Urbanism will reinforce the relationship between the art of building, the making of community, and the conservation of the natural world. It will reform the practice of community building to restore existing urban centers and towns, create coherent metropolitan regions, reconfigure sprawling suburbs into...

This piece comments on the growing popularity of sustainability majors on college campuses. According to Annesty, students who pursue sustainability degrees are experienced in applying effective environmental practices to the...

Chris Fiscelli believes that the issue of sprawl is much more complicated than many people make it appear at first. He looks at sprawl under an economic lens, and believes that it is illogical to fight sprawl by building new public transit and other works that people do not use. He proposes a look at basic math concepts like orders of operations, like fixing the current problems of policy...

This article shows that people are not moving in large numbers to the city like planners wish because people prefer to live in single homes where they are affordable. He shows that around 80% of Americans would prefer to live in suburbia, and explores why this fact is.

"The collapse in the housing market and high gasoline prices are bad news for middle-class homeowners left to sift through the wreckage. But if there is consolation to be found amid the rubble, it may be that the inexorable spreading out that has characterized American life since World War II might finally be coming to an end. Given the connections between car-dependent suburban development...

"Decades of white flight transformed America's cities. That era is drawing to a close.

In Washington, a historically black church is trying to attract white members to survive. Atlanta's next mayoral race is expected to feature the first competitive white candidate since the 1980s. San Francisco has lost so many African-Americans that Mayor Gavin Newsom created an 'African-American Out-...

Samuel Staley looks at the issue of sprawl and deduces that it is not being dealt with in the correct manner.  He looks at the problems sprawl is said to begin and then shows how they are being presented in an incorrect manner.  He writes that, "an analysis of land-use trends at the national and state levels reveals:

  1. Suburbanization and sprawl are local issues....

"Back in 2008, I ran this updated chart of the Case Shiller Housing Price Index by BP reader Steve Barry. It was widely reproduced around the web....

I asked Steve to update Shiller’s NYT chart, now that much of the government intervention has run its course. There is still massive Federal Reserve subsidies in the form of record low rates. But the short term bounce caused by HAMP,...

"Numerous articles have been written in the Rockford Register Star about urbanization of the Rockford downtown with the creative class, construction of artist live-work lofts, a school of art, galleries and expanded music venues, etc.  One such group of downtown advocates, The Element, is pursuing their goals by seeking $75,000 in TIF district funding at...

"Despite these failures, governments continue to plan. Almost every city and county in the country has a planning department. More than a dozen states have passed laws requiring local governments to write comprehensive land-use plans that place strict limits on how people can use their property. Congress has passed numerous laws requiring federal agencies to plan, including the National...

Chart or Graph

The pace of home values would indicate a housing boom the size of which has not been seen in over 100 years.

"As figure 1.1(A) shows, average developed land per capita in the United States increased from 0.32 acres in 1982 to 0.38 acres in 2002...."

"Cropland used for crops—cropland harvested, cropland failure, and cultivated summer fallow—totaled 340 million acres, or 77 percent of total cropland acreage (table 1)."

"There is an inverse relationship between two of the components of total cropland: as idled cropland increases, cropland used for crops decreases, and vice versa."

"The NRI indicates a net decline in cultivated and uncultivated cropland area of 8 million acres between 1997 and 2002 (table 3)."

Major land use by state showing each state's share of land-use.

"Land-use patterns vary greatly by region, reflecting differences in soils, climate, topography, and patterns of population settlement."

"The most consistent trends in major uses of land (1945-2002) have been an upward trend in special-use and urban areas and a downward trend in total grazing lands...."

"The United States has a land area of about 2.3 billion acres, which is allocated among a variety of uses (fig. 1)."

"Land classified as cropland totaled about 442 million acres in 2002 (fig. 1). This total represents all land in crop rotation, including cropland pasture (fig. 2)."

This article looks at the difference between median house price changes and compares the price change to the city's growth policy initiatives. She found all but 13 of the top 50 cities had smart growth initiatives tied to a falling median home price in the United States.

"Figure 1.2 illustrates how population and income growth have helped to drive up land consumption and reduce development densities."

"If the population were evenly distributed, the spatial Gini coefficient would be zero; if the population were concentrated in a single zone, it would be one."

This graph shows that the urban land area has stagnated over time, but the suburban land area has grown steadily.

"Land in farmsteads, farm roads, and farm lanes accounted for 11 million acres in 2002."

"However, land classed under rural housing lots could also be classed as forests or grassland pasture and range, particularly given the prevalence of large lots that could serve multiple uses (fig. 7)."

This graph shows that the urban population has stagnated over time, but the suburban population has grown steadily.

Analysis Report White Paper

An overview of many different types of land use regulation used by the different states. There are policies in place in all fifty states, so the question here is what the best type of regulation is, not if regulation is needed or not needed.

"This publication presents the results of the latest (2002) inventory of U.S. major land uses, drawing on data from the Census, public land management and conservation agencies, and other sources."

This piece is a case study example of sprawl in a city in Texas. The city was planned in the 90s and is a popular place to live now. The author, who is the director of operations for Plum Creek, believes the community is an example of the buyer's approval of New Urbanism.

An article that shows concern over Obama's remarks on urban sprawl and how he would like to see it fixed. The main concern is the inability for the government to have a true effect on growth management, as shown by past attempts in the United States to limit growth.

This article looks at the similarities and differences of suburban sprawl in Europe and the United States. The author looks at the Inevitable Theory, which states that affluent people in affluent nations want to live in suburbia and that sprawl is inevitable. He tries to disprove this theory in his paper.

"Proponents of compact development argue that rebuilding American urban areas to higher densities is vital for reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

This article provides a quick overview of the history of urbanization. The paper begins by looking at the history of the city to the inception of large scale urbanization.

Randal O'Toole writes that New Urbanism is not helping with the problems it is supposed to, but rather is making for more expensive housing and creates economic problems and these regulations should be repealed.

As the title suggests, this piece traces the roots of the sustainability movement and details the various areas that the sustainability mindset especially affects.

An analysis that looks at the belief that urbanization is hurting America's farmland. Staley finds that there are other reasons that farmland is being lost, mainly inefficient public policy across the nation.

"Despite the widespread adoption of smart growth principles ..., there has been little systematic assessment of their effectiveness or consequences."

"Overall, it seems clear to us that Americans are better off than they were prior to the rise of sprawling cities, largely because urban sprawl has created opportunities for significantly higher levels of housing and land consumption for most households."


"Robert Bruegmann talks about his path-breaking book Sprawl: A Compact History, lauded as the 'first major book to strip urban sprawl of its pejorative connotations.'  What in the world – or at least in the suburbs – possessed him?

'Virtually overnight,' he writes, 'the anti-sprawl reformers' new catchphrase "smart growth" seemed to be everywhere.  It appeared as...

This video was the winner of The Congress for New Urbanism CNU 17 video contest.

"This short film explores the connection between New Urbanism and environmental issues."

"Ellen Dunham-Jones takes you through retrofitted suburbia, transforming dead malls into buzzing downtown centers."

Bruegmann speaks about a variety of planning issues and how we need to rethink government's role in city design. While he doesn't advocate for a complete free market system, he does argue that government's role needs to be reduced and that other groups and individuals can fill the void left by government and, in fact, do a better job by improving aesthetics, building emotional buy-in,...

Primary Document

CNU members ratified the Charter of the New Urbanism at CNU's fourth annual Congress in 1996. Applying valuable lessons from the past to the modern world, it outlines principles for building better communities, from the scale of the region down to the block. View also the Canons of Sustainable Architecture and Urbanism...

One of the government agencies that is in charge of helping local governments begin smart growth initiatives is the United States' Environmental Protection Agency. The Agency believes that the, "EPA helps communities grow in ways that expand economic opportunity, protect public health and the environment, and create and enhance the places that people love. Through research, tools, partnerships...

"'Last year, Congress took major steps to reduce global warming pollution, passing sweeping legislation to increase vehicle fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2020 alone will be the equivalent of taking 28 million of today's cars and trucks off the road.

'But it is not enough to improve vehicle efficiency and...