Low-density development away from city centers can be a drag on growth for several reasons…
For poorer people without access to a car, it can make it harder to physically get to a job. For those with a car, it can lead to longer commute times and more money spent on gas.
It’s also more expensive for taxpayers. Infrastructure costs can be 40% higher in low-density areas than higher ones…
America’s jobs are moving to the suburbs | 4/18/2013 CNNMoney
Oddly, other reports have looked at data and titled it with variations on “Recession slows job sprawl.” Yet trends still show that job sprawl will likely continue. Here’s a quote from an Atlanta Business Chronicle article today:
as the economy picks up speed, the outward shift of employment will also likely resume within most major metro areas…However, efforts to encourage denser forms of suburban development and to attract jobs to the urban core have accelerated in recent year…
The point: despite some gains in acceptance of smart growth ideas in recent years, there’s a lot of work to do to stop the sprawl madness and turn the ship around to development that’s in a less car-dependent, land-hogging format that allows for transit access to a greater percentage of jobs.
There’s a fascinating article in Atlantic Cities about the theory of “low density metropolitan collapse,” using the decline of once-powerful Angkor Wat, Cambodia in the 17th century as a main example. After centuries of prosperity, that city expanded quickly in a sprawling way in a spell of mild weather but crumbled when weather grew more extreme.
One doesn’t have to look too far to find a correlation in Atlanta, with both weather and other stressors showing our vulnerability. Atlanta’s suburban sprawl boomed when rainfall was plentiful and our water supply seemed certain, land was plentiful and cheap, and surging economic growth — the kind that paid for new infrastructure easily — seemed unstoppable.
The fix for this kind of vulnerability, obviously, is to undo sprawl damage. A quote from the article:
The lesson for American and similar land use pattern nations like Canada and Australia is to build compact, flexible settlements. One direction already underway is urban consolidation, in cities such as Miami, Indianapolis, and Louisville. Another is containment of sprawl, similar to Portland and Seattle and now Los Angeles. Finally, Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas are trying to re-knit the suburbs with the cities using light rail to generate development along corridors rather than continuous outward development.
Image of Atlanta sprawl from Discovering Urbanism
"We’ve built more houses than we’ve needed — and built them farther away from jobs. This has led to longer commutes, which has created more traffic…It’s a vicious, seemingly endless cycle, and at its core is the notion that the American dream can exist only within the framework of the single-family home on a large lot."
— The American Dream: Phase II | Allison Arieff | NY Times, June 18, 2012