NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wrong-Headed Approaches to Urban Sprawl

July 16, 2002

In recent years, environmentalists and urban planners have been pushing Congress to enact legislation to limit urban sprawl through taxation and other economic incentives. Their "smart growth" plans propose tighter government regulation of land development and would encourage more people to live in smaller areas of land.

However, a study released by the Heritage Foundation shows not only that current urban growth rates pose no danger to the environment, but also that these plans would seriously infringe on property rights and discriminate against lower income individuals.

  • According to the most liberal estimates, only 5.2 percent of land in the continental United States is developed.
  • This number drops to 3.2 percent when Alaska is included -- and includes all highways, roads, railways and power lines that run through otherwise rural areas.
  • Environmentalists would charge homebuyers of detached homes between $20,000 and $40,000 per unit, making it extremely difficult for lower income families to purchase a home -- and effectively limiting the freedom of lower-income families to live where they choose simply because they couldn't pay the environmentalists' fee.
  • The Sierra Club defined "efficient urban density" as 500 housing units per acre, which is more than three times the highest density tracts of Manhattan and more than double the most dense area of Mumbai (Bombay) -- which achieves this density with a 55 percent homeless population.

However, even in states such as New York and Virginia, only 10 percent of the land is developed.

Source: Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D, "Will Sprawl Gobble Up America's Land? Federal Data Reveal Development's Trivial Impact," The Heritage Foundation, May 30, 2002.


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