Smart Growth, Sprawl & Urban Development

You have heard the rhetoric: the suburbs are unsustainable, destroy farmland, lack community, and cause global warming. "Anti-Sprawl" messages are popular and the images of friendlier neighborhoods and healthier lifestyles are appealing. But what exactly is sprawl? And is this a new phenomenon, or merely another stage of development? Or, perhaps, sprawl is what humanity really wants and smart growth proponents just want to run everyone's lives...

Evidence suggests that there are multiple issues behind the spread of suburbia including population growth, the allure of safer neighborhoods, the desire to have a little bit of green space to call one's own, better schools, the advent of the automobile, etc. Obviously, by the spread and popularity of the suburbs, people seem to like the lifestyle.

At the same time, many look upon the suburbs and new developments as a blight on the land, which is unnatural, ugly, and a threat to the environment. New urbanists would hope to push people back into urban environments with new developments that incorporate public transit and mixed-use developments, while limiting or even preventing further new developments outside of existing suburbia.

Others reject new urbanism and see a brighter future with more freedom and opportunity to improve urban and suburban environments by reducing government regulations and zoning controls to let the market provide new housing options.

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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.

"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...

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."

Video/Podcast/Media

"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...

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