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Study: sprawl costs US $1 trillion annually

Distorts markets

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Americans living in sprawled communities directly bear $625 billion in total incremental costs and impose an extra $400 billion in external costs on governments, businesses and other households, according to a new study reported in Planetizen:

A major new report, Analysis of Public Policies that Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Sprawl, written by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute for the New Climate Economy in partnership with the LSE (London School of Economics) Cities program, estimates the costs of sprawl, identifies planning and market distortions that foster sprawl, and describes smarter policies that can help correct these distortions.

The new report defines smart growth—the opposite of urban sprawl—as compact, connected and coordinated urban development. Smart growth cities and towns have well-defined boundaries, a range of housing options, a mix of residential and commercial buildings, and accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and public transportation. By reducing per capita land consumption and infrastructure and transportation costs, smart urban growth policies can deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits.

The study’s analysis starts by estimating the physical impacts of sprawl, including increased per capita land consumption, and greater distances between homes, businesses, services and jobs, which raises the cost of providing infrastructure and public services, and per capita motor vehicle travel and associated costs. It estimates that the most sprawled quintile American cities spend an average of $750 on infrastructure annually per capita, 50% more than in the least sprawled cities. This is consistent with findings previously published in another New Climate Economy report,  Better Growth, Better Climate, which found that smarter urban growth policies could reduce global urban infrastructure capital requirements by more than US$3 trillion over the next 15 years.

The study finds that Americans living in sprawled communities directly bear $625 billion in total incremental costs and impose an extra $400 billion in external costs on governments, businesses and other households. Correcting this problem provides an opportunity to increase economic productivity, improve public safety and health and protect the environment. The report identifies specific smarter growth policies that can lead to healthier, safer and wealthier communities in both developed and developing countries. MORE

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