The American Dream: For 300 Million

The American Dream: For 300 Million

This week the United States celebrates its 300 millionth resident. Never in human history has one nation achieved such a high standard of living for so many people. Today, American average incomes are a third higher than that of the EU-15, the European Union before expansion to Eastern Europe.

All of this has been achieved as our people have pursued the American Dream of homeownership and personal mobility. Since World War II, home ownership rates have increased 75 percent and now more than 90 percent of households have access to cars. Home ownership has made it possible to build up capital, through equity, that funds new business start ups and finances university for the kids.

The car has made it possible to work nearly anywhere in our now larger urban areas and still spend a minimum of time traveling to and from work. Despite the frequent publicity accorded traffic congestion, American urban areas are the least congested in the world. Even in the most congested urban area, Los Angeles, average work trip travel times are a quarter less than in Paris or London, despite the clear superiority of their mass transit systems. It is not surprising that virtually every first-world nation has followed a suburbanization model similar to that of the United States (though it is not obvious to tourists whose foreign visits tend to be limited to historic cores)

Moreover, the American Dream is spreading throughout the population. African-American and Hispanic home ownership rates are growing faster than the White-non-hispanic rate and there is the potential that they will continue to converge. A Swedish research institute found that average African-American incomes are as high as average Swedish incomes.

Once smog ridden urban areas have seen massive improvements in air quality --- so much so that mountains hidden for much of the year by pollution before can be seen much of the time in Los Angeles. American urban areas are among the cleanest in the world, and will continue to get cleaner as more efficient air pollution reduction technology plays a greater role.

In short, the modern American urban area is an “open city” in which individuals, communities and the nation have prospered as households have been permitted to live and work where and how they like.

Regrettably, many urban planners are threatened by this success --- out of a misguided fear for the future or perhaps a compelling urge for control. The result is imposition of authoritarian planning policies and practices (mislabeled “smart growth”) that would circumscribe the growth of urban areas into carefully confined spaces, so as not to occupy any more of the more than 97 percent of the nation’s land that is not in urban development.

But there is a bigger reality than a compulsion to hem in the growth of urban areas. The result is clear from places where authoritarian policies have been imposed with the greatest vigor. It all has to do with a simple economic concept --- that rationing raises prices. And so, in places like Portland (Oregon), San Francisco and San Diego, authoritarian planning policies have severely rationed land for development, driven the price of land through the roof and seriously retarded housing affordability. For example, in the San Francisco area, the cost of a median priced house has gone up so much that the average household would have to pay an additional $600,000 over a 30 year mortgage. Not even Hugo Chavez or OPEC can compete with this --- their price increases over the past five years would add little more than $10,000 to the average household’s budget over 30 years.

Authoritarian planning policies and practices are robbing many households, present and future of the potential for home ownership and joining the economic mainstream. Because of their disproportionately lower incomes, this burden will be born most by African-American and Hispanic households.

Fortunately, most of the nation has not opted to destroy home ownership through short sighted authoritarian planning. In places like Kansas City, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Cincinnati and many others, the open city prevails and housing remains affordable. Thus, for most, the American Dream remains alive and well. It is not surprising that recent census data shows a strong out-migration from metropolitan areas with authoritarian planning and high housing costs to metropolitan areas with lower prices. The American Dream is still alive, though not as widely available as before.

Census Bureau projections indicate that sometime around 2025, the nation will celebrate its 350 millionth resident. The nation will be far stronger and more socially cohesive if most of those new residents live in suburban houses they own and have the mobility only the car can provide to employment, shopping and other destinations they find make their lives more rewarding.

Originally posted to On the Heartland 2006.10

Serious Questions About “A Heavy Load” Report

Serious Questions About “A Heavy Load” Report

A report by the Center for Housing Policy relies on data that is at odds with consumer expenditure data as reported by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report modeled transportation data that was readily available in consumer expenditure reports. The Center’s report generally puts the cost of transportation at more than double the figures reported by the Department of Labor. As a result, it would appear that the report, A Heavy Load is of dubious value.

Recently, the Center for Housing Policy issued a report on the costs of housing and transportation to American households in metropolitan areas (A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families. The report found, among other things, that transportation represents a larger share of household income in a number of metropolitan areas. Moreover, a thesis of the report seems to be that people who move farther away from their jobs to obtain less expensive housing end up spending most of the savings on additional transportation costs.

It is worthy of note that the figures developed by the Center for Housing Policy are considerably at odds with the Consumer Expenditure reports of the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. For example, among the seven metropolitan areas that the Center singles out for detailed analysis, the share of household income committed to housing averages 28 percent, while the share committed to transportation amounts to 31 percent. Data from the 2004 Consumer Expenditure report indicates rather more moderate figures --- 22 percent for housing and 12 percent for transportation.

What is the difference. To start, the Center used 2000 Census information (1999 data) for consumer expenditures on transportation. It is fair to suggest, however, that the authoritative source for consumer expenditures is the Consumer Expenditures report and its data is five years more current. The Center used a modeling technique to estimate the transportation expenditures, which it notes was “peer reviewed.” This was a wholly unnecessary exercise, since 1999 transportation expenditure data was directly available from the Consumer Expenditure report for that year.

Moreover, the Center notes that lower income households spend a larger share of their incomes on housing and transportation. True enough. The Center estimates that households with incomes from $20,000 to $35,000 spend from 54 percent to 70 percent of their income on housing and transportation. The 2004 Consumer Expenditures report shows that households with incomes of $20,000 to $30,000 (the closest approximation to the Center’s $30,000 to $35,000 classification) have total household and transportation expenditures of 49 percent --- below the low range estimate in the Center’s report.

None of this is to dispute the fact that housing and transportation costs are a burden for lower income households. It is simply to point out that the data in A Heavy Load is at considerable odds with the Consumer Expenditure report and may not be appropriate for serious consideration.

A Heavy Load makes a very useful recommendation: “Policies to encourage car sharing or make car ownership more accessible and affordable (through subsidized loans or insurance, for example) could go a long way to reducing the transportation cost burdens of Working Families.” Amen to that. Research by the Brookings Institution and the Progressive Policy Institute has come to similar conclusions.

However, A Heavy Load slips into the usual hopeless rhetoric about improving mass transit for commutes to suburban areas. If mass transit could be made competitive with the automobile for employment locations outside downtown areas, then people would use it for such commutes. Nearly three years ago, we issued a challenge to the transit industry to propose an automobile competitive transit service design for an entire urban area. Not a a single serious reply has been received. There is good reason for the silence. Automobile competitive mass transit service cannot be provided for a price that can be afforded, except to downtown. Even the Center’s report finds average transit commutes to approach or even double average car travel times. Working households choose cars because they minimize their transportation burden, by providing far more time for household activities and leisure.

However, whatever the reality, the fact is that people often move farther away from their jobs to obtain better housing at a lower cost. They do so in the full knowledge that their commuting costs will be higher. In the longer run, many may change jobs and restore lower commuting costs by working closer to home, a choice made possible by the dispersal of employment locations. This factor is an important reason why American urban areas have such short average commute times by international standards.

Finally, A Heavy Load uses 1999 data that does not reflect the huge runup in housing prices that have occurred, principally in areas that have adopted authoritarian planning practices, such as the more draconian “smart growth” measures. Perhaps the greatest threat to the future expenditures of lower and middle income households is the escalating housing prices that have been generated by these opportunity destroying policies. For example, the average household buying the median priced house in 2004 in the San Francisco area will pay, at least $600,000 more in mortgage payments and capital costs than if the house had been bought in 1999. This is a price not even Hugo Chavez or OPEC can match. Over the same 30 years, the average household can be expected to pay less than $11,000 more on gasoline due to the gasoline price increases over the same 1999-2004 period.

Originally posted to On the Heartland: 2006.10.14

Coordinating Land Use & Transport

One of the most enduring urban planning mantras is coordinating land use and transportation. While no one can dispute the desirability of coordinating land use and transport, the current strategies do exactly the opposite. That is because urban planning has been captured by an anti-automobile dogma that has the equation backwards. The idea is to locate as much as possible and densify adjacent to existing transportation infrastructure. The result, of course, is to significantly increase transportation demand.

However, the demand side is never addressed. When densities are intensified, more intense roadway systems are required. Failing to expand the roadways means that traffic congestion gets worse and that transport and land use have demonstrably not been coordinated. The planners may try to address the heightened demand by adding transit service or rail lines, but that is like attempting to reduce traffic congestion by increasing the frequency of garbage collection --- one has nothing to do with the other. The reality of the modern, large urban area is that people need to travel throughout to undertake their activities and to spur the economic growth that has produced an unprecedented expansion of jobs and affluence, while making poverty less of an issue than ever before. That cannot be done on transit.

Coordination of land use and transportation requires that sufficient practical transportation capacity be provided to support the land uses. If an area, such as Portland, seeks to densify, then it had better be prepared to expand and intensify its roadway system to maintain or improve reasonable traffic flows. Of course, Portland has failed to do that, has some of the worst traffic congestion among urban areas of its size and is losing businesses because of it.

Before today’s planners set about trying to coordinate land use and transport, they need to understand what it means.

Winnipeg Toys with Planning Disaster

Winnipeg Toys with Planning Disaster

In a Winnipeg Free Press commentary today, I argue that the city of Winnipeg’s slow development approval processes have the potential to do as much damage to housing affordability as radical smart growth policies. Our Demographia Second Annual International Housing Affordability Survey had ranked Winnipeg as one of the most affordable housing markets out of 100 in six nations in 2005. The bottlenecks now occurring at Winnipeg city hall could, if not corrected, destroy housing affordability just as surely as the anti-suburban policies that have been adopted in places like Vancouver, BC and Portland, Oregon.

Time Lost in Transit: Drag on Canadian Economy

Time Lost in Transit: Drag on Canadian Economy

It’s time to stop pretending about transit. That is the message of the new Statistics Canada data that shows the average transit commuter spends three hours more time weekly traveling between home and work than the average automobile driver or rider. The complete story is outlined in my National Post oped Travel Times Prove Transit a Non-Starter. The National Post is Canada’s second largest national newspaper.

School Buses: Most Used Form of Mass Transit

Most people, if asked, would probably respond that buses or subways are the most frequently used method of mass transit in the United States. They would be wrong. One of the best kept secrets in transportation statistics is the extent of school bus ridership. Part of the reason is that statistics are not as readily available as for school buses as they are for other modes of transport. Every school day, school buses carry 65 percent more travel than the nation’s transit buses, subways (metros), light rail, trolleybuses (electric buses), commuter rail and dial-a-ride services combined.

Of course, many school buses are operating in rural areas. Yet, even in urban areas, school buses carry a huge volume of travel. On school days, school buses operating in the nation’s urban areas carry 85 percent as much travel as all transit bus and rail services combined.

Sometimes it is suggested that school buses services should be merged into transit agencies, to save money. However, that would hardly do, since transit expenditures per passenger mile are approaching three times that of school buses. Transfering transit services to school districts would make more sense.

Originally posted to On the Heartland: 2006.07.15

Improved Transport Infrastructure a Necessity

UPS Chairman and CEO Michael Eskew recently addressed the Philadelphia World Affairs Council on the importance of transportation infrastructure to the nation’s economy. Eskew is in a good position to talk about that subject, since his company is one of the largest trucking companies in the world, runs the world’s 9th largest airline and is the nation’s largest user of freight railroads.

Eskew notes that the nation’s freight transportation system --- its highway, navigable waterway freight rail and air system --- has received poor or even failing grades in an American Society of Civil Engineers 2005 review. This is just the beginning of his concern. China, increasingly America’s most dynamic competitor, is building new seaports, expanding its rail system and is in the process of developing an interstate standard highway system more extensive than our own Eisenhower system.

There is no doubt that globalization is going to make the world a richer place. That does not mean, however, that nations, like the United States, that are on top now will continue to occupy such positions. Continued investment is required. Traffic in urban areas is frequently congested. This means that it takes longer to move freight, which means it is more costly. It also impedes productivity. Studies in Portland and Vancouver, where public officials have systematically discouraged highway expansion, demonstrate the importance of expanding urban highways and keeping the traffic moving.

A University of Paris study showed that as urban travel improves --- as people are able to access more jobs in a fixed period of time (such as 30 minutes) --- there is an increase in economic output.

Texas Transportation Institute data shows that the share of urban travel in congested conditions has risen from 20 percent to over 50 percent in just 20 years. This has occurred principally because urban highways have not been expanded sufficiently to meet the demand. As a result, the nation loses more than $60 billion in congestion costs every year. However, that will only get worse. Many urban areas intend to spend few of their resources on the highway capacity improvements that are the only hope for addressing traffic congestion.

There is an important exception, however, The state of Texas, at the direction of Governor Rick Perry, is undertaking the nation’s first serious program to reduce traffic congestion. The program, arising out of the Governor’s Business Council plan of 2003, is to reduce traffic congestion by up to one-half in the state’s metropolitan areas. Metropolitan planning organizations have developed traffic congestion reduction objectives and the necessary strategies. With Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston being among the fastest growing large metropolitan areas in the high-income world, this will not be easy. Amazingly, however, the modeling is showing that the goals are achievable and that they will not break the bank. Atlanta, the high-income world’s fastest growing metropolitan area has now followed suit, under the direction of Governor Sonny Perdue.

The Texas and Georgia programs represent a first --- transportation agencies actually implementing traffic congestion reduction objectives. It is astonishing that such objectives were not already the rule throughout the country. If the nation is to respond to the need for a sustainable, competitive transport infrastructure, no less than the Texas and Atlanta programs will be require in every metropolitan area in the nation. Such a beginning needs to be expanded to include all segments of the freight transportation system, from air cargo to navigable waterways and freight railroads.

Wendell Cox is a public policy consultant in St. Louis, a Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute, and a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris.

Originally posted to On the Heartland 2006.07.13

Vancouver: Containing Opportunity, Not Sprawl

Vancouver: Containing Opportunity, Not Sprawl

It is probably too much to expect The Economist to make sense in assessing suburbanization, which it and those inclined toward fashionable urban planning dogma call “urban sprawl.” In an article on page 53 of the 8-14 July issue (“Growing Pains”), the magazine characterizes Vancouver as having had “relative success in containing sprawl.”

Of course, like the urban planning priesthood so quick to damn suburbanization from their academic pulpits, The Economist does not bother to justify its assessment with anything remotely resembling quantitative analysis. Like the proverbial US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who could not define obscenity, but knew it when he saw itThe Economist apparently “knows sprawl when it sees it.”

In fact, by various measures, Vancouver has suburbanized as much as many other urban areas. For example, by the ultimate indicator of suburbanization, urban population density, Vancouver trails Los Angeles by 40 percent (1,650 persons per square kilometer, compared to 2,350). True enough, Vancouver is more dense Portland, but then so is Phoenix (1,300 and 1,400 respectively).

The anti-suburban dogma claims that urban areas with less suburbanization have less traffic congestion, which is predictably untrue. In the case of Vancouver, the intensity of road traffic (kilometers driven per square kilometer) is more than Atlanta, which is by many accounts the most suburbanized major urban area in the world (700 per square kilometer).

The Economist bemoans the fact that Vancouver has been slow to build urban railways. Actually, Vancouver is one of the better served urban areas in North America in this regard. The problem is that urban railways feed little beyond downtown. Downtown in Vancouver represents less than 15 percent of employment and most employment growth is in the suburbs.

The anti-suburban movement speaks with platitudes about housing affordability, yet housing affordability tends to be the worst in urban areas that adopt its policies. This is because anti-suburban policies tend to ration land, raise its price and thereby make housing less affordable. Vancouver has been, like Portland, among the world leaders in anti-suburban policy. Like Portland, its housing affordability has paid the price. Vancouver has, by far, the worst housing affordability of any large urban area in Canada and ranked 86th out of 100 international urban areas in housing affordability in the Second Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.”.

Anti-suburbanites claim that air pollution is less intense in urban areas that adopt their policies. Again, no one ever bothers to consult the data. Yet, an international database indicates that the intensity of air pollution emissions in Vancouver is similar to that of Houston, Phoenix and Atlanta, which are considered to be highly suburbanized (and have lower densities).

None of this is to discount Vancouver’s attractiveness. However, much of what makes Vancouver attractive is not due to urban policy. Its downtown area has been invigorated by unprecedented immigration by highly affluent residents of Hong Kong in recent decades. It has an incomparable physical setting. Yet, its suburbs extend far into the countryside, just like in any American or Western European urban area.

Perhaps it is that The Economist is blinded, like the priesthood, by Vancouver’s “chic” core. Cutesy cores do not negate suburbanization. They occur with and without it. It also helps that Vancouver, unlike Phoenix and other younger urban areas, had a strong pre-automobile core to work with. No one builds them anymore, though they can expand and be converted into residential areas (as is occurring throughout North America, regardless of anti-suburban policy). Nonetheless, most growth continues in suburban areas, whether in Vancouver or Phoenix.

The fact is that, by the criteria that can be deduced from the anti-suburban literature, virtually all urban areas sprawl. Some are more suburban than others. But those that are more compact and less suburban are not necessarily better places to live. Just ask the young people no longer able to afford to live in Vancouver, Portland or Sydney, who are being driven away by housing prices that force them to choose a less favored urban area as the price of achieving and maintaining middle income status.

Thus, The Economist would have been more accurate to have noted Vancouver’s “relative success” in preserving and improving downtown. However, Vancouver’s “relative success” has been in containing opportunity.

Originally posted to On the Heartland 2006.07.10

Europe: Commuting Faster in Suburbs than Cities


There are few public policy issues more driven my myth than land use and the currently fashionable strategies of “smart growth” or “urban consolidation.” Virtually all of the arguments made in support of smart growth’s densification and land restriction policies melt away when subjected to the light of scrutiny.

Further evidence of this is provided by an analysis of Western European work trip travel times. The anti-suburban smart growth theorists often suggest that cities should artificially constrained in their expansion because suburban areas put people farther away from their jobs and thus force people to spend more time traveling to work.

Estimates based upon data from the European Union Urban Audit indicates that commutes by suburban residents are faster than commutes by city (core) residents. that the average work trip travel time for suburban residents is 23 minutes, one-way. This is five minutes less each way that the central city estimate of 28 minutes. Of course, the reasons that suburbanites can get to their jobs more quickly are that lower densities mean less traffic congestion (contrary to smart growth claims) and that jobs have followed people to the suburbs. Doubtless, urban planners who are more inclined to believe their conceptions than the data will be surprised that this improved jobs-housing balance has occurred with little or no direction from the planning profession.

Land use policy needs to be based upon fact, rather than the myopic perceptions of a small urban elite. The data could not be more clear. Smart growth --- the compact city --- means more traffic congestion, more intense air pollution and longer travel times. This, of course, is just the beginning. Smart growth also means significantly reduced housing affordability, a redistribution of wealth from lower and middle income households to the more affluent and, as a result, the likelihood of future greater poverty and less economic growth.

Note on the methodology: The Urban Audit provides commute time estimates for central cities and metropolitan areas (Larger Urban Zones). The suburban estimate has been developed using a population based ratio supplied by the Urban Audit. This must be considered an estimate. A more precise figure could have been calculated with employment data, which is not available.

If central city labor participation rates are higher proportionally in the central cities than in the suburbs, then the extend to which suburban commute times are shorter than central city commute times has been somewhat underestimated.. If central city labor participation rates are lower proportionately, then the reverse would be true.

Nonetheless, the data shows that, generally, metropolitan area travel times are less than central city travel times, which means that suburban travel times are lower yet, which is indicated by the estimates above.

Originally posted at On the Heartland 2006.10.04

An Urban Planning Driven Recession?

An Urban Planning Driven Recession?
By Wendell Cox

Recent national economic news has focused on the softness in the housing market. Last month, downward price pressures in new housing were noted as having contributed to less than expected economic growth. This week, the National Association of Realtors issued its third quarter report showing a 12.7 percent decline in existing house sales compared to last year.

All of this, of course, will refuel the debate on the “housing bubble.” Is there one? If there is, will it burst? Columnist and economist Paul Krugman of The New York Times has it right --- there is a bubble, but it is geographical. The Krugman thesis is that the “zoned-zone” is the home of artificially inflated housing costs.

The zoned-zone is the areas of the nation that have embraced land-rationing policies, usually under the misleading title of “smart growth.” These policies include restrictions on suburban development, such as Portland’s urban growth boundary and requirements for excessively large lots, which reduces the supply of land for residential development. There is little argument in economics about this dynamic --- rationing raises prices.

Rationing raises prices with a vengeance. Take “smart growth” San Diego, where today the median house price is more than 10 times the median household income (a measure called the “median multiple”). The historic median multiple norm has been 3.0 or less. In San Diego, the median multiple was 3.6 times in 1995. Over just 10 years, the total cost ---including interest --- of the median priced house in San Diego has risen more than $900,000. It is no wonder that nearly 100,000 domestic migrants --- people who move from one metropolitan area to another --- have left San Diego in just the first half of the decade. Huge housing cost increases and outward domestic migration has generally occurred in the metropolitan areas that have adopted “smart growth” land rationing policies.

Meanwhile, in the metropolitan areas that have generally allowed the supply of land for development to keep up with the demand for housing, prices have remained fairly constant relative to incomes. Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, which as three of the high-income world’s fastest growing large urban areas, have managed to maintain a median multiple of 3.0 or less. Midwestern metropolitan areas, long losers of residents to the two coasts, have generally resisted the temptation to ration land and are now gaining domestic migrants. This includes places like Kansas City, Indianapolis and Columbus.

The state level existing house sales tell a stark story. In the states with stronger smart growth or other land rationing policies, the fall off in existing house sales has been by far the greatest. Over the last year, existing house sales have fallen an average of 20 percent in the highly regulated states. All 18 highly regulated states experienced declines, such as historically fast growing California, Oregon, Washington, Florida, Nevada and Arizona. By contrast, in the less regulated states, the annual loss was just 4.0 percent, while one-third of these states experienced sales increases, such as Texas and Georgia.

It is too early to tell for sure, but the signs are worrying. The housing bubble may be bursting in those areas where it was inflated by urban planning policies that took no account of their economic consequences. The nation could be headed toward a “smart growth” induced recession.

The economic and social consequences are ominous. The hundreds of thousands of additional dollars that must be paid to own a home in California, Oregon, Florida or other smart growth states will mean less money for other needs. Fewer consumer products will be purchased. Fewer jobs will be created. However, worst of all, there will be fewer homeowners. Lower income and many middle-income households will find their way to the mainstream of economic life blocked by artificially high prices that are the result of naïve urban planning policies. The cost of this urban design extravagance will fall most significantly on minority households, whose income is generally lower and whose home ownership rate remains a full one-third below that of White-Non-Hispanics. In the longer run, none of this is good for the economy or the people on whose enterprise and wealth creation the economy relies.

Wendell Cox is a Senior Fellow with the Heartland Institute and co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey,” which analyses housing affordability in 100 markets in six nations.

Originally posted on On the Heartland 2006.11.21

The EU Sprawl Report: Rewrite Needed

The EU Sprawl Report: Rewrite Needed

For any who perceive that “urban sprawl” (a pejorative term for suburbanization) is an American phenomenon, the new European Environmental Agency report Urban Sprawl in Europe: The Ignored Challenge provides a radically new perspective. Yes, there is suburbanization in Europe, and plenty of it. Regrettably, Urban Sprawl in Europe is far from an objective, comprehensive review of urban trends. It blindly repeats dogma and, most importantly, fails to consider the momentous advantages that the land use developments of the last one-half century have provided in Europe.

The Positive: Hysteria is Absent

Starting with the positive, Urban Sprawl in Europe generally uses muted language and is devoid of the hysterical theology so often found in anti-suburbanization reports in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Repeating the Dogma

Nonetheless, there are serious problems with Urban Sprawl in Europe. Predictably, the report finds all manner of problems with suburbanization and no benefits. The report repeats the dogma that has misled planners and public officials in the United States, Canada and Australia. For example:

The European Model: Los Angeles

The report applauds Munich and Bilbao for being the only two urban areas studied that since 1950 increased their populations than their land areas. In effect, this means that Munich and Bilbao “sprawl” less in relation to their populations than they did in 1950.

The European Environmental Agency might be surprised to find out which urban area is the champion in that regard. It is Los Angeles, which managed to increase its population at more than double the rate of its increase in land area from 1950 to 2000. Moreover, during that period, urban development in Los Angeles was largely market, rather than planning driven.

The European Environmental Agency acknowledges that suburban low-density lifestyles are more attractive to people (so much for the theory that Europeans like high rise city living, while Americans, Canadians and Australians like the suburbs). Nonetheless, the report implies that it would be better for bureaucrats to make lifestyle decisions, not the people who are living the lives.

The Usual Absent Public Transport Vision

Predictably, the report complains about Europe’s automobile oriented culture. Just as predictably, the European Environmental Agency offers no vision that would get people out of their cars without seriously hobbling their mobility and quality of life. There is, of course, good reason for this. No such vision could be financed by any economy in the world (see The Illusion of Transit Choice).

Ignoring Economics

However, the most serious problem with Urban Sprawl in Europe is not what it says. The principal problem is rather what the report ignores.

Somehow, over the past 60 years, the Western European (and other high-income world nations) have suburbanized as never before and have embraced the personal mobility of the automobile. These developments that anti-suburbanites and the European Environmental Agency view as negative have in fact been associated with the greatest expansion of affluence in history --- what I call the democratization of prosperity.

Urban Sprawl in Europe simply ignores the important issues of economics. Research indicates that personal mobility is associated with greater economic growth and the reduction of poverty. There is plenty of evidence that development of housing on less expensive land on the urban fringe has created wealth and played a major role in producing a comfortable middle class. These are issues that an intellectually honest and comprehensive discussion would include.

The Risks of Ignoring Economics

The failure to consider these issues is already taking a toll in urban areas that have blindly followed the anti-suburban pied pipers. Some urban areas have consciously sought to limit personal mobility and seen businesses locate to other urban areas. The urban areas of Australia and New Zealand, along with Portland and a number in California have so strangled their land markets by development controls that the (see Second Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Surveyhistoric relationship to incomes has been shattered. The result is that millions of future households will not be able to own their own homes or will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more. This translates, at least in part, into consumer spending that will not occur, jobs that will not be created. United States Federal Reserve Board has published research showing that metropolitan areas with more stringent land use control experience less economic growth than would have been expected.

Revisions are Needed

Urban Sprawl in Europe would best be thought of as a preliminary working draft. Serious revision is required. The dogma needs to be replaced with objective research. Most importantly, the missing elements of economic impact need to be added.