NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 28, 2004

An Environmental Protection Agency report offers evidence of the benefits of "smart growth" communities -- less congestion and pollution. However, complaints from another government agency over the accuracy of the report forced the EPA to retract its findings.

According to researchers Wendell Cox and Ronald D. Utt, the report compared urban areas that have promoted "smart growth" practices, i.e. high density housing, pedestrian-friendly streets and mass transit, with "control group" cities (those that are auto-oriented and low density).

The report concluded that three smart growth cities -- Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Orleans had less traffic congestion and more transit ridership than control group cities such as Houston, St. Louis and Charlotte, however:

  • The EPA failed to mention that the three smart growth cities selected have higher unemployment rates than the control group cities; for example, Charlotte has 20 percent more employment per 1,000 people than New Orleans.
  • Furthermore, the smart growth cities have seen significant population declines since the 1990s: Philadelphia, 4.3 percent, Pittsburgh, 9.5 percent and New Orleans, 2.5 percent.
  • Finally, the EPA report left out one of the most controversial smart growth cities -- Portland, Oregon -- which has the worst traffic congestion of any metropolitan city its size.

The report selected smart-growth cities with generally stagnant economies and population declines. Such characteristics obviously have an impact on reducing congestion, as fewer people travel to and from jobs, say Cox and Utt.

Source: Wendell Cox and Ronald D. Utt, "The EPA Withdraws Inaccurate Smart Growth -- Traffic Congestion Report," Backgrounder 1782, July 28, 2004, Heritage Foundation.

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