Discovering the Efficiency of Urban Sprawl

Alex Anas

in The Oxford Handbook of Urban Economics and Planning

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780195380620
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Discovering the Efficiency of Urban Sprawl

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  • Economics
  • Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics


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Sprawl refers to the aggregate land area in urban use. Planners view sprawl from a descriptive perspective, whereas economists view it from a normative one. This article opens with a brief review of how unpriced traffic congestion causes excessive travel, as well as excessive urban sprawl, and how Pigouvian taxation could restore efficiency by eliminating the excessive travel. It also examines how this conclusion has been reversed in recent theoretical models. New results, based on polycentric theory, have helped discover the efficiency of urban sprawl. It argues that excess urban sprawl can often be negative. Further, it turns to key empirical facts about urban areas and presents a statistical analysis of the city size's effect on average commutes. Finally, it emphasizes the fact that new urbanism perceived as antisprawl tools, may be wrongly promoted. But these tools of modern planning have an important role to play in serving niche markets.

Keywords: urban sprawl; planners; economists; Pigouvian taxation; unpriced traffic congestion

Article.  10455 words. 

Subjects: Economics ; Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics

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