Today, most Americans who live in metropolitan areas live in single detached homes and commute to work by automobile. New York City is America’s sole urban center where a significant fraction of the population lives in apartment buildings, works downtown and commutes by public transit. As transportation costs continue to decline and household incomes rise, we are choosing sprawl as we live and work in the suburbs.It's always been about freedom and choice in America. And that's what the liberal elites behind "smart growth" want to take away from us to further their environmental and social agenda.
The conventional wisdom is that this trend imposes major social costs relative to its benefits. An advanced Google search reveals that there are 39,500 entries for the exact phrase “costs of sprawl” while there are only 455 entries for the exact phrase “benefits of sprawl”. The beneficiaries of sprawl may be a “silent majority” who are not as politically active as center city boosters, environmentalists and the urban poor’s advocates in voicing their views on the merits of the ongoing decentralization of jobs and people taking place across cities in the United States.
Walmart and other “superstores” could not exist in an urban world of compact cities with binding zoning laws. “Wal-Mart has sometimes had difficulty in receiving planning approval for its stores. Currently, Wal-Mart has either no presence or an extremely limited presence in New England, the New York metro area, California, and the Pacific Northwest. However, its expansion into new areas has proceeded over the past few years (Hausman and Leibtag 2005).
These stores require large physical spaces and large parking lots to accommodate their inventory and to attract shoppers. Such stores offer one stop shopping and prices that can be 25% lower than regular supermarkets (see Hausman and Leibtag 2005). The diffusion of these stores may mean that the U.S consumer price index over-states inflation because this index does not properly reflect the prices that people face for core goods. These stores are disproportionately located in suburban and rural areas where land is cheap. Center city residents often drive to suburban locations to shop at such stores. While the popular media often reports stories critiquing Walmart’s employee compensation and its effects on driving out of business smaller “mom and pop” stores, it cannot be denied that consumers gain from having access to such stores. The key counter-factual here is what prices would residents face in a compact monocentric city without Walmart and other superstores?
Today the diversity of major cities within the United States offers households a wide menu to choose from. People with a taste for “new urban” living can move to a New York City while those that want their own private space can move to Houston, Texas. Do European cities feature “too little” sprawl? As documented in this paper, an unintended consequence of urban compactness is that the diversity of choices for consumers and firms is shrunk. How much would these economic agents value increased choice?
I highly recommend this paper to you.
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