Study Refutes Myths Of Suburban Growth

Dallas – Criticism that "urban sprawl" damages the environment and threatens open spaces is based on false beliefs, according to a report by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Despite widely cited reports calling for curtailment of suburban growth, urban land remains a very small part of overall land use and its development has little bearing on pollution, according to the report:

  • More than three-quarters of the states have more than 90 percent of their land in rural uses, including farming, forests and wildlife reserves.
  • Less than five percent of the nation's land is developed. Three-quarters of the country's population live on only 3.5 percent of the land.
  • Only about one-quarter of farmland loss since 1945 is attributable to urbanization.
    Auto pollution is highest in areas that have the least urban sprawl.
  • Acreage in protected wildlife areas and rural parks exceeds urbanized areas by 50 percent.

"Urbanization also has been blamed for the decline of big cities," said author Samuel Staley. "But the truth is, many cities have contributed to urban flight. People have fled because of bad public schools, high taxes and crime. Old housing is another factor." The NCPA report is based on a lengthy analysis of land use published earlier this year by Reason Public Policy institute.

Predictions of future farmland loss based on past trends are misleading because farmland loss has moderated since the 1960s. Farmland loss has declined from 6.2 percent per decade in the 1960s to 2.7 percent in the 1990s, said the report. With dramatic increases in agricultural output, American farmers are producing almost 50 percent more food than in 1970 using less land.

"The experience of Los Angeles during the last 40 years shows there is little evidence that local and state government is better suited than real estate markets and private conservation efforts to provide the kinds of homes and communities people want," Staley said. "Many planners even acknowledge that large-lot zoning was a significant contributor to the urban sprawl they now want to eliminate."