We begin with an overview of the causes and consequences of urban sprawl in the twentieth century, focusing in particular on lower transportation costs and self-sorting of the population. By sprawl, we will mean the tendency toward lower city densities as city footprints expand. Overall, it seems clear to us that Americans are better off than they were prior to the rise of sprawling cities, largely because urban sprawl has created opportunities for significantly higher levels of housing and land consumption for most households. These gains, however, have not come without associated costs. Following the overview, we focus on four issues that raise clear efficiency and equity concerns: unproductive congestion on roads, high levels of metropolitan car pollution, the loss of open space amenities, and unequal provision of public goods and services across sprawling metropolitan suburbs that give rise to residential segregation and pockets of poverty. Finally, we consider the trade-offs inherent in some policies commonly proposed to address urban sprawl.
Nechyba, Thomas, J., and Randall P. Walsh.
Journal of Economic Perspectives,