Antisprawl crusaders make a big deal about how low-density housing–with its yards, trees, and furry backyard creatures–damanges the environment. However, I have a hard time believing suburban kids in the U.S. don’t know what kind of trees grow in their back yard. This is apparently the dilemma faced by many kids in England and Scotland, a country often heralded by Smart Growth proponents for its greenbelts, high densities, and strict controls on greenfield development. An article in the on-line issue of the Scotsman.com,for example, laments a survey by the Woodland Trust that found most kids could not identify native trees and 1 out of 7 had never been to “the countryside”. The Trust’s survey blames the sprawl of urban living and states that the majority of the children were unable to identify the leaves of our most common native trees. But saddest part of the commentary may be the solutin: Programs that take kids from their urban environment to the countryside: But Scotland’s increasing urban sprawl can’t be all that is to blame. Why aren’t these potential eco-warriors taken out of town on day trips and adventures by their parents? It can’t cost much more than the equivalent in petrol used on the weekly trip to Asda. And once you get there, it’s all completely free. In suburbs in the U.S., low density living ensures kids have daily exposure to the environment. Having a manicured lawn may be more important for promoting an environmentalist ethic than no lawn at all.
Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.