NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

"Sprawl" And Its Benefits

December 20, 1999

Politicians who view increased suburbanization with horror can't really be in tune with the feelings of American homebuyers, who want a piece of real estate with trees to call their own. Opponents of so-called urban sprawl, such as Vice President Al Gore, may be on dangerous political ground with this issue, since it attacks the heart of the American dream, political analysts point out.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo, an economist at the Center for the Study of American Business, has come forward with a study that puts the sprawl issue in perspective.

Here are some of his observations:

  • Only 4.8 percent of U.S. land has been developed -- and in only 13 states is more than 10 percent of the land developed.
  • The reason the U.S. has lost farm land is that farmers have discovered how to grow more crops on less land and they have been retiring their marginal parcels.
  • As for sprawl increasing traffic congestion, the average commute has actually fallen by 1.3 minutes since 1969, thanks in part to the development of suburban communities.
  • Sprawl opponents who seek high-density developments will actually end up creating greater traffic congestion, since commuters have made it clear they prefer to drive their cars rather than rely on mass transit, DiLorenzo points out.

DiLorenzo warns that the greatest problem with anti-sprawl proposals is that they rely on giving the government ever-greater powers. Planners want more power to restrict land use and force development into approved models.

They want more subsidies for mass transit and they want to create regional authorities to make decisions otherwise made by free markets.

Source: Macroscope, "Why Not Sprawl?" Investor's Business Daily, December 20, 1999; Thomas J. DiLorenzo, "Suburban Legends: Why 'Smart Growth' Is Not So Smart," Contemporary Issues Series No. 97, November 1999, Center for the Study of American Business, Washington University, Campus Box 1027, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63130, (314) 935-5630.


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