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Urban sprawl not a threat, report claims

According to the report, "The Truth About Urban Sprawl," suburbanization does not threaten the quality of life for most people   

March 31, 1999
Web posted at: 3:30 PM EST

Over the past few months, the Clinton administration has proposed a series of initiatives and bond measures to curb urban sprawl and preserve open space and farmland.

These measures, which include the $9.5 billion Better America Bonds program to curb urban sprawl and the $1 billion Lands Legacy Initiative to preserve places of natural beauty, have been applauded by those campaigning against sprawl across America.

Nevertheless, the National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank based in Dallas, Texas, has released a report that refutes the argument that urban development is causing the disappearance of open spaces and damage to the environment.

According to the report, "The Truth About Urban Sprawl," suburbanization does not threaten the quality of life for most people and land development can be managed more effectively through real-estate markets than comprehensive land-use planning.

"There is little evidence that local and state government is better suited than real estate markets and private conservation efforts to provide the kinds of homes and communities people want," said the report's author Samuel Staley.

The think tank is concerned that government programs aimed at curbing urban sprawl will limit the ability of land speculators to develop lands outside of city limits for residential communities.

"If government is considered ill-suited to provide the communities that people want, then why have land speculators traditionally been the largest contributors in political campaigns?" asks Larry Bohlen, co-chair of the Sierra Club Challenge to Sprawl Campaign.

"They must think that they are getting something for their money," he answered.

One of the major arguments against urban sprawl made by the American Farmland Trust is that prime farmland is lost to suburban development.

To refute this argument, the National Center for Policy Analysis' report cites figures which show that farmland loss has been moderating since the 1960s, falling from a 6.2 percent decline in farmland per decade in the 1960s to a 2.7 percent decline in the 1990s.

Bohlen said such a comparison is "apples to oranges" because not all of the land lost to sprawl is farmland. "It's also undeveloped lots, forested lands, wetlands and open space once promised to communities under covenants later broken."

The National Center for Policy Analysis report takes on many of the issues associated with the anti-sprawl campaign, such as the loss of inner-city open space due to increased pressure for urban development as a result of limits imposed on suburban sprawl and poor inner-city schools driving families out of the city in search of better education for their children.

Bohlen was able to counter each of these points, rendering the debate to who controls the rules for development outside of urban centers.

The National Center for Policy Analysis believes such control is best left to real estate markets and private conservation efforts. The Sierra Club views this as a debate to be settled by public policy.

"It's government rules that determine where houses go, what density is allowed, whether stores can be near neighborhoods and whether taxpayer money is spent on roads, rail or bike paths. Real estate markets influence all these decisions, but ultimately they are made by the people elected to office," said Bohlen.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

Suburban sprawl cited as a threat
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The Truth about Urban Sprawl
The Dark Side of the American Dream
American Farmland Trust
New Initiatives for Fiscal Year 2000
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