European Sprawl

Digest of Wendell Cox Heritage Foundation Policy Paper Reprinted From:


Original Available on Page 4 of May-June PDF Document)

A relatively new school of urban planners blames the geographic expan-sion of Americaís urban areas for in-creased traffic congestion, higher air pol-lution, the decline of central cities and a reduction in farm land. Their literature often touts Europeís more compact and more densely populated urban areas as being superior to those in the United States. But European cities are subur-banizing, too, and like their American counterparts, many European central cities have lost population. For example:

    In Paris, with one of the world's most intensive rail transit systems, the central city population loss and suburban population explosion since the 1950s mirror those of Philadelphia.

    Copenhagen ,Liverpool , Manchester and Glasgow all lost about 40 percent of their population to the suburbs in the past 40 years compared to 45 percent in Detroit and Cleveland, 39 percent in Newark and 32 percent in Washington.

    Stockholm has lost 16 percent of its population to the suburbs since 1950.

The same pattern is occurring in other developed nations as well:

    Toronto's population fell by 8 percent and Montreal's by 20 percent from 1970 to 1990.

    Tokyo has lost more than two million population to the suburbs since 1960.

Europe's comparatively high public transit market share has led to the mis-taken impression that transit is gaining there at the expense of the automobile. But European automobile use has grown at three times the U.S. rate since 1970, largely as a result of increasing affluence. Europe's trend toward higher automo-bile dependency and lower transit mar-ket shares is following U.S. trends by a decade or two, just as its rising affluence has followed U.S. trends.

Some planners want to impose ur-ban growth boundaries on cities to force higher densities. But urban growth boundaries have a long history of failure. Queen Elizabeth I established one around London in 1580 and King Louis XIII around Paris in 1638. Both failed to contain growth, as did subsequent urban growth boundaries established by Louis XIV and Louis XV.

Source: Wendell Cox, "The President's New Sprawl Initiative: a Program in Search of a Problem," Backgrounder No. 1263, March 18, 1999, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, (202)

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