NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Some Cities Opt For "Sprawl" Models

March 6, 2000

Critics of urban sprawl often cite Los Angeles as the nation's worse example. But the city's defenders say that is not exactly true. There are several measures of sprawl -- including the density of development and the density of its freeway systems.

  • The Los Angeles metropolitan region contains an average of 5,500 people per square mile -- the highest of any metropolitan region in the nation.
  • Even the New York region -- which includes parts of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey -- has only 4,100 residents per square mile.
  • Surprisingly, the Los Angeles metropolitan region has the fewest freeway miles per capita of all American metropolitan regions -- which shows that although it is congested, L.A. is not freeway-bound.

Oregon has adopted "urban growth boundaries" for each of its 241 metropolitan areas. Thirty years ago, Portland, Ore. adopted the first such boundary and became an artificial island on the land. While its goal was not to become another Los Angeles, observers say it will one day substantially resemble L.A.

Portland intends to increase the density of its region to 5,000 people per square mile and reduce its miles of freeways per capita from twice L.A.'s to one-third more.

Other cities across the nation are drawing similar boundaries around themselves.

Source: D.J. Waldie (Lakewood, Calif., city official), "Do the Voters Really Hate Sprawl?" New York Times, March 3, 2000.


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