Tuesday, September 6, 2011
In public debate over suburban sprawl, one common argument is the “Inevitability Theory.” The Inevitability Theory is based on the following chain of logic:
1. Sprawl happens even in places where government policy doesn’t favor sprawl (such as Canada, Europe, etc.)
2. Therefore, sprawl is an inevitable result of the free market, rather than government policy.
The Inevitability Theory is designed to rebut the environmentalist argument that sprawl is the result of American public policies such as highway construction, minimum parking requirements, anti-density zoning, and anti-pedestrian street design.
My next article criticizes the Inevitability Theory by focusing on Canada. Part 1 of the Inevitability Theory discussed above can be broken down into two assumptions: (a) that Canada sprawls as much as the U.S.; and (b) Canadian public policy is antisprawl. But in my article, I challenge both assumptions, arguing that:
a. Canada is less suburbanized than the United States; even controlling for changes in city boundaries, Canadian central cities have been more likely to grow than their American counterparts. Even Canadian cities that have lost population are better off than many older American cities. For example, the fastest-declining major Canadian city, Montreal, lost 18 percent of its population between 1971 and 2001 (excluding areas annexed to the city in the intervening decades). By contrast, St. Louis lost 44 percent of its population, and other cities such as Cleveland and Detroit lost over 30 percent of their population.
b. If you treat sprawl as a matter of “how we develop” rather than “where we develop”,Canada again differs. 14 percent of Canadian commuters (as opposed to 6 percent of Americans) use public transit to get to work, and 5 percent walk (as opposed to 2 percent in the U.S.)
To be sure, Canada has some automobile-dependent cities and suburbs. But is this necessarily the result of the market at work? In my article, I show that Canadian cities and suburbs have the same kind of anti-density, pro-sprawl regulations as their American counterpart. For example, in both nations, municipal zoning regulations limit density, thus limiting the number of people who can live within walking distance of public transit and other destinations. And in both nations, zoning regulations require businesses to install large amounts of parking, thus reducing density, making driving more convenient, and also making businesses more inhospitable to pedestrians (who often have to walk through large parking lots). And in both nations, streets are often designed to be too wide to be comfortably crossed. However, Canadian regulations do tend to be more lenient (and thus less anti-pedestrian) than their U.S. counterparts.
The full article is at http://works.bepress.com/lewyn/65/ .