Laws of the Landscape
by Pietro Nivola

Reviewed by Greg Vliestra

This book raises important questions about the tremendous growth of suburbia in America's metropolitan regions: How has government influenced the pattern of urban development? Has the intervention been unsound or better than its alternatives? And if sprawl is to be controlled and core communities revitalized, what changes in policy would be desirable? Nivola addresses these issues by comparing the dispersed layout of U.S. metropolitan areas with the relatively compact settlements in Europe.

Laws of the Landscape (1999) examines why the United States is sprawling faster than other countries, specifically those in Europe and Japan. Nivola provides the following answers:

  • The U.S. has more space than most other industrial counties.

  • The U.S. population is growing faster than other industrial countries.

  • The U.S. has more violent crime, most of which is in the central cities.

  • The U.S. has more ethnic groups, immigrants, and minorities, and suburbanization has reduced conflicts between these different groups.

  • The U.S. has adopted most technologies, particularly automobiles, faster than other counties.

Nivola concludes by suggesting eight prescriptive policies that strengthen American cities. A greater emphasis on taxing consumption, and less emphasis on taxing income and property.

    1) Ending the highway trust fund, and more intensive use of road congestion pricing.

    2) Reduce urban crime, partly by getting rid of failed public housing and partly by strengthening families.

    3) Better schools through the expanded use of vouchers.

    4) Small business development by allowing mixed-use zoning and reducing regulations on businesses.

    5) Reduce central city taxes, partly by reducing unfunded mandates from the federal government.

    6) Replace Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by raising the excise tax on motor fuel.

    7) Maintain and promote liberal immigration laws, as American cities have more to gain by a liberal immigration policy.

Nivola is a senior fellow in Governmental studies at the Brookings Institution. His previous Brookings books include Comparative Disadvantages? Social Regulations and the Global Economy (1997) and The Extra Mile: Rethinking Energy Policy for Automotive Transportation (1995).

Greg Vlietstra is a public administrator. He lives in the Kalamazoo, Michigan area.

(c) 2000 --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.
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