World Urban Areas: Population, Density & Projections Released


Demographia announces publication of World Urban Areas & Population Projections. World Urban Areas & Population Projections remains the only known source in the world for comprehensive and consistent estimates of urban land area and densities. This 4th comprehensive edition replaces publications released in March of 2007. The product includes:

(1) Population, land area and density estimates for all 723 identified urban agglomerations in the world with 500,000 or more in population. In all, 1,316 urban areas are included, representing 50 percent of the world urban population. Tables are provided in population, land area, population density and alphabetical order.

(2) There is also a summary of the data by the largest nations and major world regions.

(3) Population projections for all 204 urban agglomerations anticipated to have 2,000,000 or more residents in 2025. There is also a projection of the 2008 population of all such urban areas. Tables are provided in alphabetical order and population order by 2008 and 2025 projections


Consultant Memo on Houston Misleads Tauranga Council

A Tauranga Councillor (New Zealand) raised questions about “smart growth” (prescriptive land use planning) in relation to the superior housing affordability of Houston, where no such policies exist. The resulting memorandum in response is evaluated below.

Principal Points

1. All of Texas is affordable and most of Texas is unzoned.

2. Houston’s affordable housing is not just on the urban fringe, contrary to the statement in the memo.

3. Houston’s suburbanization (or “sprawl”) is about average and not much greater than Portland’s.

4. Houston’s traffic congestion has been materially improved by road construction.

5. Houston’s traffic moves considerably faster than Auckland’s.

6. The loss of housing affordability is associated with smart growth-style land use policies.

Houston and Texas: Superior Housing Affordability

The city of Houston (local government authority) has no zoning, which the memo rightly points out. Virtually all of the other local government authorities in the Houston metropolitan area have zoning. However, most of the land in the Houston metropolitan area is unzoned, because it is outside local government authority areas and under the jurisdiction of counties. In Texas, counties have no zoning power. Thus, while local government authorities in Texas outside the city of Houston generally have zoning, they are forced to operate in a competitive environment under which housing can be readily built, without zoning, in adjacent unincorporated areas. Indeed, given this competitive environment, it is appropriate to think of the state of Texas as unzoned (environmental regulation, which is established at the state and federal level is observed).

The memo notes that Dallas (actually the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area) has slightly better housing affordability than the Houston metropolitan area as measured by the Median Multiple (median house price divided by the median household income). The important point is that both metropolitan areas are below the historic maximum norm of 3.0. By comparison, the Median Multiple in Tauranga was 7.5 in the third quarter of 2007 (Auckland was 6.9). This means that residents of these New Zealand urban centres face relative home ownership costs more than 2.5 times those of Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and a number of US and Canadian metropolitan areas that have not adopted smart growth policies.

Affordable Housing in Houston: Not Limited to the Fringe

The memo indicates that housing is affordable only on Houston’s fringe. This is absurd and betrays an acute unfamiliarity with Houston housing markets. The referenced map shows house asking prices in Harris County (which is core of the urban area). Affordable housing is to be found throughout the metropolitan area Indeed, the low bound of the highest price category is lower than the median house price in Tauranga. No one would expect the consultant to have expertise on Houston housing markets. It does seem inappropriate, however, for the consultant to be erroneously opining that affordable housing is available only on the fringe

Houston’s "Sprawl:" Like Portland

As for Houston's suburbanization, (pejoratively called "sprawl,") the urban area (urban footprint) is approximately average the density for a US urban area over 1,000,000. It is only 10 percent less dense than Portland, despite that urban area's strong smart growth policies. Houston’s density is virtually the same as that of Dallas-Fort Worth and a quarter higher than that of Boston.

Traffic Congestion: Road Building Made it Better

The memo cites Houston as having some of the nation’s worst traffic congestion. It does --- the latest data shows that Houston ranks 8th in traffic congestion, which is not surprising for the nation’s 6th largest metropolitan area. Houston has done quite well. According to the Texas Transportation Institute (leading authority in the US on the subject), Houston had the worst traffic congestion in the US in the middle 1980s (among urban areas of more than 1,000,000 population). After a strong road building program, traffic congestion was materially reduced (though has increased in more recent years, since the road construction program has not kept up with population growth). By the mid-1990s, Houston had improved to 23rd place.

Since the middle 1990s, population growth has outstripped highway expansion and Houston has risen back to rank 8th in traffic congestion (Houston is one of the three fastest growing metropolitan areas over 5,000,000 population in the high income world). Houston has done better than smart growth Portland over the past 20 years, which has seen its excess peak hour traffic delay (based on the Travel Time Index) rise from approximately 1/4 that of Houston to 3/4 that of Houston.

Houston Traffic Moves Faster than Auckland Traffic

Finally, average travel speeds on the motorway and arterial network in Houston were more than 60 kph in 2002 (latest data from the Texas Transportation Institute). By comparison, according to the New Zealand Travel Time Indicator report, the average peak period travel times on the motorway and arterial network of Auckland was 36 kph in 2007.

Smart Growth Land Use Policy: The Root of New Zealand’s Unaffordable Housing
The report misses the point that New Zealand’s housing affordability loss is the result of overly prescriptive land use planning (smart growth or urban consolidation policy). This connection has been identified by some of the world’s top economists and is detailed in our 4th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. The situation was best summed up by former Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Donald Brash, writing in the Demographia report: the affordability of housing is overwhelmingly a function of just one thing, the extent to which governments place artificial restrictions on the supply of residential land.. In short, where there are no prescriptive land use policies, housing is affordable. Among the six nations surveyed in our report, there are no exceptions.

Addendum: Understanding US Urban Geography

The memo exhibits the usual (and understandable) confusion about US urban geography. The memo refers to the city of Houston (which is a local government authority or municipality of 2 million population). The referenced housing affordability measures apply to the metropolitan area, which has 5.5 million people. There is also the Houston urban area (or agglomeration), which has more than 4,000,000 people (the difference between the agglomeration and the metropolitan area is that the urban area is the continuous urbanization (or urban footprint), while the metropolitan area includes areas considered in the labor market that are outside the urban area and generally in rural areas. Urban area and metropolitan area are formal designations by the US Bureau of the Census.


On the Success of Airline Deregulation

Missing the Point

Re: Airline Deregulation Article: April 17


To Micheline Maynard
New York Times

Just saw your column in the New York Times.

Perhaps I missed something, but it is astounding that you could have written an article assessing airline deregulation and not have prominently mentioned the impacts on consumers --- that deregulation has been associated with a huge increase in passenger usage, that simply could not have happened in the regulated environment.

This article seems to convey a much greater concern about producers than consumers. Businesses and society, in the final analysis, exist for the good of consumers and by that standard, airline deregulation has been a huge success.

Best regards,

Wendell Cox
Principal, Demographia (St. Louis)
Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (Paris)


Historic Annapolis Core Threatened by New Urbanist Interloper

A City Struggles To Find Its Niche: Competition Has Annapolis Planners Pondering How to Save Downtown

New urbanists have long claimed to admire traditional urban cores (downtowns) and sought to replicate them in new developments. However, their admiration of genuine urbanism is shown to be wanting, as revealed by the opening of the Annapolis Town Centre, which today’s Washington Post indicates is not only not in Annapolis, but could well decimate the already struggling, genuine core of Annapolis.

Thus, the contempt that new urbanists have toward how the majority of people have chosen to live, appears to extend to the very districts they claim to adore. It may be that new urbanism is more about securing fees for architects than maintaining urban cores

Transit Ridership Increase in Context

Note to Lena Sun of the Washington Post
Re June 3 article

In context, the transit increase represents somewhere around 5 percent of the urban driving decline... which indicates that while driving is down, transit's ridership increase is up only a fraction of the decline.

Best regards,
Wendell Cox
Principal Demographia
Former Member, Los Angeles County Transportation Commission
Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers

Lucky Honolulu Wasn't Founded on Upper Peninsula: The Brookings Metropolitan Carbon Footprint Report

Re: Mayor Hanneman Letter
June 2, 2008

To the Editor
The Honolulu Advertiser

The Mayor boasts about Honolulu’s superior carbon footprint and some boasting is appropriate.

It is no surprise that Honolulu has one of the smaller transportation footprints in the nation. With its bus system, Honolulu often ranks second in the nation in transit market share to the New York area. It is hard to imagine that the proposed, expensive rail system will make that any better.

As for residential energy, had the city founders instead chosen a location on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, things would look much worse. Honolulu’s modest residential carbon footprint is a function of Hawaii’s marvelous climate, which reduces energy demand substantially.

Wendell Cox
Principal, Demographia, St. Louis

Alex Marshall's Delusions About Anti-Transit Bias

Letter to the Editor
Hartford Courant

June 9, 2008

Response To 'Idealism Takes A Wrong Turn'
June 9, 2008

In response to Alex Marshall's June 1 Place article, "Idealism Takes A Wrong Turn," in which he criticized my views on cars and transit:

Marshall deludes himself about a bias toward highways and against mass transit. Indeed, government transit spending per passenger mile is nearly $0.95, while all government spending on roadways is less than $0.04. Some bias. Transit spending is 25 times highway spending. This does not consider the fact that roads carry a large share of the nation's freight. Transit carries none.

Further, government highway spending is principally from gasoline taxes on drivers, not subsidies from non-users. In contrast, more than 75 percent of transit spending comes from non-user subsidies.

Ending the bias would require transit to be funded by taxes on transit fares. This, of course, would be the end of transit.

Despite romantic notions to the contrary, we cannot replace the mobility of the automobile. This is not to deny transit's important roles in serving low-income households in city cores and its principal niche market, the 10 percent of jobs that are in downtown areas.

The unparalleled democratization of prosperity (read, poverty reduction) in Western Europe and the United States since World War II could not have happened without the mobility of the automobile and the new, owner-occupied houses on cheap suburban land.

Wendell Cox

Principal Demographia Metropolitan St. Louis Belleville, Ill.

The writer was a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Committee, 1977-85.


GHG Emissions Less in Auto Oriented Suburbs than Urban Cores: Australia

Deflating the Myths on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Policy Conclusions: This report summarizes the data developed by the Australian Conservation Foundation in its Conservation Atlas. This nearly 100-page report provides detailed information by local authority area (geographical sector) of Australia’s largest urban areas. The conclusions are different than would have been anticipated.

Lower GHG emissions are associated with urban fringe locations, not the core.

Lower GHG emissions are associated with higher rates of detached housing.

Lower GHG emissions are associated with greater automobile use.

Lower GHG emissions are associated with lower population density.

Repealing the “Great Australian Dream”? Climate change concerns have propelled the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the top of the public policy agenda. For some years the urban planning community and other interests have sought to contain urban expansion (pejoratively called “urban sprawl”) and force more dense development through policies referred to as “smart growth” or “urban consolidation.” There is a presumed preference for multi-unit residential development in city cores and an aversion against low-priced detached housing on the urban fringe. An important objective of these policies has been to reduce automobile use, which it is assumed will naturally occur as a result of higher urban densities,

In Australia, these policies have seriously limited the availability of market priced land on the urban fringe and driven house prices up at a far greater rate than has occurred in international urban areas where compact city policies have not been implemented. Thus, the present dominant policies are at odds with the “Great Australian Dream,” which has been based upon detached housing on the fringe and automobile access.

Smart Growth and GHG Emissions: The urban consolidation agenda is perceived by many to be an appropriate strategy for reducing GHG emissions. Part of this is due to the fact that automobiles are an obvious example of fossil fuel use.

Generally, urban planning policy assumes that greenhouse gas emissions are higher in portions of urban areas that are more suburban, especially areas in which there is a preponderance of single-family detached housing. There is also the assumption that greenhouse gas emissions are lower in higher density areas, especially where there are more high-rise condominium and apartment buildings. And, as noted above, a parallel perception is that greenhouse gas emissions are greater in portions of the urban area that rely more on cars, and less where there is greater dependence on public transport. Finally, higher population densities are associated with lower GHG emissions.

The Reality: However, reducing GHG emissions is not so simple as to be achieved through the urban consolidation agenda. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to the contrary.

GHG emission estimates from the recently published Australian Conservation Foundation Consumption Atlas, indicates virtually the opposite of the generally held perceptions. The data shows that lower density areas, which rely more on automobiles, tend to produce less in GHG emissions than the high density, more public transport dependent areas that are favored by urban consolidation policies.

The reality, as indicated by data from the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Consumption Atlas is virtually the opposite.

The Consumption Atlas: The Consumption Atlas relies on a holistic approach, which allocates greenhouse gas emissions to final consumption at the household level. This includes not only direct energy consumption (such as household electricity use and automobile use) but also a much larger component, indirect energy consumption, which includes GHG emissions from electricity generation, manufacturing, processing, transport and otherwise producing consumer products. The Consumption Atlas provides a groundbreaking model for GHG emission analysis that establishes a model for the field, not only for Australia but also around the world.

The approach of the Consumption Atlas avoids what could deteriorate into agenda-driven approaches that focus only on the particular GHG producing sectors that are in the political sites of interest groups. Any approach that begins at any level other than allocating all GHG emissions to specific final consumption runs this risk. For example, the authors note that emphasis on direct consumption (such as automobile use and land use policy) may be “misdirected since direct energy use constitutes remarkably small portion of the total energy requirement over a range of incomes.”

The more important risk is that agenda-driven policies may fail to achieve the objective of substantially reducing GHG emissions. Any serious, good faith program for reducing emissions must be based upon comprehensive analysis that does not begin with pre-conceived notions, despite their popularity even at the highest policy levels.

Note: This report was prepared by Demographia for the Residential Development Council of the Property Council of Australia.