Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Here’s a second day of thoughts on the arguments defending suburban sprawl and the auto-dependent culture, set forth by Reason Foundation authors Balaker & Staley. One of the most interesting statistics they cite is that the average home lot size has in fact fallen from 1970 to today. This may be true (I found Census figures stating that while the median lot size of a new house has shrunk noticeably since 1976, the “average” is almost unchanged –- evidence of a growing number of really large new lots), but one wonders about the relevance of using 1970 as a starting point in an assessment of sprawl. What about, say, 1920, when widespread auto usage was just starting? Cities were certainly denser, but many more people lived on spacious farms.
The smaller-lot-size argument is also hard to reconcile with the oft-cited statistic that while the Chicago metro area barely increased in population from 1970 to 1990, its square-mile “footprint” grew by a stunning 24 percent (Or was it 46%? See the debate between the anti-sprawl National Governors Association and the Heritage Foundation). Perhaps the significant shift from apartments to single-family homes simply isn’t reflected in the statistics about the size of the typical new home lot. But even though the Chicago area clearly has expanded relative to its population, no one can deny that there still are a lot more acres of corn in Illinois than there are acres of subdivisions.
Selective use of statistics should be viewed with a skeptical eye, especially with such an amorphous topic as suburban sprawl.