Is Suburban Living Gouging American Pocketbooks?

New Book Measures True Cost of Sprawl for Nation, Top 20 Sprawling Areas

Nov 14, 2005, 00:00 ET from Island Press

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- Americans are paying $84 million a day
 ($31 billion annually) to live in sprawling communities, according to the new
 book, Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development, released today
 by Island Press.  Sprawl Costs is the culmination of a 10-year research effort
 which offers the first comprehensive analysis of the economic costs of low-
 density development, or sprawl, from now to the year 2025.
     Sprawl Costs also names the nation's top 20 sprawling metropolitan areas
 plus their rural counties (referred to as "economic areas" in the book and
 research) and documents both the cost of sprawl to the areas' economies as
 well as the savings of more compact development closer to the core (list of
 top sprawling areas below).
     "Sprawl has direct and quantifiable costs to our economy and in our
 individual lives.  This book shows that we are all paying a staggering price
 for sprawling development in this country, and that price will only go up as
 gas prices increase," said coauthor Robert Burchell.  "Sprawling communities
 need longer public roads, increase the cost of new water and sewer hookups by
 20% to 40%, impose higher costs on police and fire departments and schools,
 and more."
     The environmental impacts of sprawl are well documented, but few studies
 have examined its economic costs.  The research project and book were
 undertaken by Dr. Robert Burchell, co-director of the Center for Urban Policy
 Research at Rutgers University, Anthony Downs, senior fellow at the Brookings
 Institution, Barbara McCann, transportation and land use policy writer, and
 Sahan Mukherji, research associate at the Center for Urban Policy Research.
     Over the next thirty years, the United States is expected to become home
 to 90 million more people.  Seventy-five percent of all the development on the
 ground today will be needed to support this boost in population.  To
 accommodate this rate of growth, sprawling development will cost $6.4 trillion
 during the period 2000 - 2025.  Under compact development, costs would be
 reduced by $420 billion.
     What does that mean for the average American?  The cost of buying a home
 would drop as well as the taxes necessary for roads and infrastructure. "It
 seems so much simpler to buy farmland at the edge and build a familiar housing
 subdivision, but in the long run, this is a more costly strategy for
 everyone," added Burchell.  "If just a modest percentage of this growth were
 more compact, the savings we reap as a society overall would be huge."
     Shifting just 25% of low-density development to more compact growth would
 save American taxpayers billions of dollars, according to Sprawl Costs.  For
 example, we would save:
     * $2.6 billion over 25 years (from 2000 - 2025) because 4.6 million fewer
       water and sewer hookups  would be needed for single-family, detached
     * $110 billion over 25 years in road construction costs because the need
       for local roads would be reduced by 188,000 lane miles;
     * $420 billion over 25 years in development costs because the average cost
       of a home would drop by $16,000;
     * $24 million/day in costs associated with the automobile because
       Americans would drive 56 million fewer miles each day (and this figure
       was calculated prior to $3 per gallon gasoline!).
     Smaller mortgages in outlying communities give the false impression that
 the overall cost of living in these areas is lower.  But low housing costs
 hide the higher cost of transportation and other costs in these areas.
     Sprawl is expensive for local governments.  Taking into account all
 revenues and costs, sprawl will create a fiscal deficit for local governments
 that is 10% higher than it would be if compact growth were to take place
 instead.  Ironically, the argument for developing agricultural lands into
 housing developments is that the new homes will expand the tax base.  However,
 the infrastructure costs associated for those homes outweigh their tax
     Top 20 Sprawling Economic Areas - See for information on
 what urban sprawl costs in these areas.  (An economic area is a metropolitan
 area plus its rural counties)
     1.  Los Angeles Area
     2.  Washington/Baltimore Area
     3.  San Francisco Bay Area
     4.  New York City Area
     5.  Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas Area
     6.  Atlanta, Ga. Area
     7.  Boston-Worchester-Lawrence-Lowell-Brockton, Mass.
     8.  Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Area
     9.  Chicago-Gary-Keno Area (Ill., Ind., Wis.)
     10. Denver-Boulder-Greeley, Colo. Area
     11. Houston-Galvenston-Brazoria, Texas Area
     12. Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz. Area
     13. Orlando, Fla.
     14. Sacramento - Yolo, Calif.
     15. Las Vegas, Nev.-Ariz.-Utah Area
     16. Portland-Salem, Ore. -Wash. Area
     17. San Antonio, Texas Area
     18. Nashville, Tenn.-Ky.
     19. Indianapolis, Ind. - Ill. Area
     20. Jacksonville, Fla. - Ga.
     Contacts:  Carrie Collins, 301-664-9000, ext. 18, or, or Laura Dely, 301-664-9000, ext. 10.

SOURCE Island Press