The benefits of sprawl?

To many ears it’s nearly the same as addressing the benefits of cancer. Yet Matthew Kahn thinks there’s much to like about sprawl:

Today, most Americans who live in metropolitan areas live in single detached homes and commute to work by automobile. New York City is America’s sole urban center where a significant fraction of the population lives in apartment buildings, works downtown and commutes by public transit. As transportation costs continue to decline and household incomes rise, we are choosing sprawl as we live and work in the suburbs. The conventional wisdom is that this trend imposes major social costs relative to its benefits. An advanced Google search reveals that there are 39,500 entries for the exact phrase “costs of sprawl” while there are only 455 entries for the exact phrase “benefits of sprawl”. The beneficiaries of sprawl may be a “silent majority” who are not as politically active as center city boosters, environmentalists and the urban poor’s advocates in voicing their views on the merits of the ongoing decentralization of jobs and people taking place across cities in the United States. This paper seeks to address this intellectual imbalance by presenting original empirical work documenting some of the benefits of living in a sprawled metropolitan area.

More here. Also check out this NYT mag profile of Kahn collaborator Ed Glaeser. Some who gripe about sprawl seem to have their terms confused. In a Denver survey from 2000, the Pew Center highlighted this quotation from a resident:

“Urban sprawl is creating more problems than anything else right now: Too many people crammed too close together.”

Too many people crammed too close together? That sounds an awful lot like sprawl’s antithesis, smart growth.