NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Antisprawl Illusions

July 13, 2000

Over the past two decades, environmentalists have decried the suburbanization of America. They claim that the growing suburbs of American cities are endangering the environment, causing congestion and destroying potential farmland. However, Peter Gordon and Harry Richardson point out that:

  • U.S. cropland acreage peaked in 1930 and has declined ever since because agricultural productivity has increased.
  • Average driving speeds have increased from 28.0 m.p.h. in 1983, 32.3 m.p.h. in 1990 and 33.6 in 1995, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • As a result, even as suburbs spread further out, automobiles spend no more time on the road because the speed of traffic has increased.
  • Although more than $350 billion has been spent on mass transit, both use per capita and miles traveled are at historic lows.

Gordon and Richardson point out that countries in Europe are increasing automobile use and decreasing mass transit use despite artificially high gasoline prices. They argue that all affluent nations have spreading suburbs, because people do not prefer to live in cities.

Source: Peter Gordon and Harry Richardson, "Defending Suburban Sprawl," Public Interest, Spring 2000.


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