.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


City rankings of Urban Sprawl

I believe we've mentioned the website sprawlcity.org in class, but I didn't see any writings on it in the blogs. It's a website devoted to "smart-growth" policies and population control (I don't know about you but I think of China, where millions of girls are given up for adoption). The main thing I want to high-light and the site is its sprawl-growth rankings. It gives the top 100 cities according to how much land area became urbanized in and around those cities in an attempt to show how bad sprawl is.

"Over a 20-year period, the 100 largest Urbanized Areas sprawled out over an additional 14,545 square miles. That was more than 9 million acres of natural habitats, farmland and other rural space that were covered over by the asphalt, buildings and sub-divisions of suburbia. And that was just for the half of Americans who live in those 100 cities."

However, these top 100 cities include the most densely packed cities in the nation. In fact, L.A., the "densest urbanized area," ranks number 6. New York, Washington D.C., and every other major city in America is on the list (including Denver and Colorado Springs). If you return to the homepage, there is an article about L.A. and how, despite its density (and "smart growth" planning), it has continued to grow outward. The site blames this on population growth, particularly immigration. Another page talks about Detroit, where population declined but sprawl increased. Here, it doesn't give an explanation, but only says that the sprawl would have been far worse with growth, adding that such cities should hear the "education" of the woes of population growth. If you can't tell yet, the site is quite against population growth, and very much for "smart growth" initiatives.

However, there are several issues it doesn't seem to address. The first is people's choice and why they spread out. Many people don't always like to be clustered together, especially if such clustering means living with large amounts of pollution. They make the choices they do to be better off. Such choices can increase health, life expectancy, or even just their personal happiness.

The second issue the site doesn't address is where this population is coming from. A large part of it, seemingly their most feared population increase, comes from immigration. Is this really population growth? People come to cities for jobs. They congregate, creating economies of scale and thus a potential for higher income. This congregation means they actually find it more worthwhile to move to higher denstity areas. If everyone started out perfectly sprawled (meaning the earth was divided per capita with each person being as spread out as possible), we would gather to denser areas, forming cities. This is why cities grow. This means that immigrants come to cities, which often means they see better economies of scale, which means they usually come from more sprawled out areas! Not counting immigration from foreign countries, cities would still be growing by more than the birth rate. This has been witnessed by the phenomenon of small towns disappearing as its citizens move to larger cities (I personally am an example of this). This means that the city growth which is criticized by Sprawlcity.org is actually the result of a reduction in sprawl. This doesn't mean that sprawl is decling per capita, but it does mean that the population growth of cities which such sprawlist doomsayers criticize is actually a good thing. As people gather into cities, they reduce transportation costs, economize on education, and overall become better off. If they didn't, they wouldn't make the move.

One last thing I want to point out because it is interesting to note is a comparison between Denver and Portland, which as sprawlcity states "is at the top of most Smart Growthers' list for best planning and execution of anti-sprawl efforts." The comparison comes from http://www.demographia.com/db-porden.htm. It makes a shocking comparison, since sprawlcity boasts that Portland's NEW population density was 53% better than the decade before. I capitalize new because its overall density declined by 6% according to the other site's figures. Meanwhile Denver's urbanized population density increased 16%, with the imposition of fewer, if any, smart growth initiatives. Apparently, government involvement once again hinders the goal it seeks to achieve by telling individuals how to live. Go figure.

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?