Reviewing the Costs of Sprawl

The book Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development by Robert Burchell, Anthony Downs, Barbara McCann and Sahan Mukheri has been a sensation with its arguments that suburban development is more costly than urban development. The arguments have an intuitive appeal, but don’t hold water, as this review shows.

The book is an outgrowth of a study led by Burchell, which concluded that more compact (less suburban) development over 25-years could save $225,000,000,000 in government expenditures. The study made the all-too-common error of concluding that many zeros after a number make it significant. They do not. It will probably take the average reader at least 225,000,000,000 nanoseconds to read this article. $225 billion over 25 years is less than $30 per capita each year. This is a pittance in comparison with overall public expenditures, which have.risen more than 100 times that fast over the past 25 years after adjustment for inflation. Aside from the shock value, the validity of the numbers is questionable. . .