Argument in defense of sprawl: only 3% of US land is urban areas

In discussing sprawl, a “free-market think tank” posts some figures about land use in the United States:

When speaking to audiences on the subject of the environment, I’m often confronted with people who express concerns about “urban sprawl,” and “over-development.” And polls suggest such concerns are widespread: In a March 2011, Gallup poll, 57% of people worried a great deal/fair amount about “urban sprawl and loss of open space;” and 42% of people said they worried “not much/not at all” about the same issue.

With so many people worried, the pie chart, below, offers some interesting context. Note that only about 3 percent of the US is urbanized. 56 percent is forest and pasture.

Driving outside urban areas makes this quite clear: most land in the United States is not urbanized. But here are some potential flaws with this argument:

1. Just because 3% of the land is urban doesn’t necessarily mean that this 3% is used well.

2. Misusing this 3% could have an overly large effect (compared to its proportion) on the rest of the land.

3. Most people live in these urban areas so while 3% is indeed small compared to all of the land available in the United States, people are much more concerned with the open field near them than they are with the more abstract idea that there is plenty of open land halfway around the country. And since they spend most of their time in denser areas, they think all other areas are like that.

4. Not all of that remaining 97% is “usable land” where it would be easy to build.

The page doesn’t say this but I’m amused that this could essentially be labeled a “pro-sprawl” page. Perhaps they would rather suggest it is a “pro-liberty” argument as there are not too many people who will outright endorse sprawl these days.

One thought on “Argument in defense of sprawl: only 3% of US land is urban areas

  1. Pingback: Hyperbole: we are a country with McMansions and sprawl everywhere | Legally Sociable

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