Professor Edward Glaeser of the Harvard University Department of Economics

Professor Edward Glaeser of the Harvard University Department of Economics writes on a vaeiety of Urban Growth, Housing Costs, Transportation, Regulation and other related subjects. His papers can be found on the Harvard site.

Of the many papers which may be of interest to this site’s readers is: “Sprawl and Urban Growth”, April 2003 by Edward L. Glaeser and Matthew E. Kahn. Its Abstract and Introduction follow:


Cities can be thought of as the absence of physical space between people and firms. As such, they exist to eliminate transportation costs for goods, people and ideas and transportation technologies dictate urban form. In the 21st century, the dominant form of city living is based on the automobile and this form is sometimes called sprawl. In this essay, we document that sprawl is ubiquitous and that it is continuing to expand. Using a variety of evidence, we argue that sprawl is not the result of explicit government policies or bad urban planning, but rather the inexorable product of car-based living. Sprawl has been associated with significant improvements in quality of living, and the environmental impacts of sprawl have been offset by technological change. Finally, we suggest that the primary social problem associated with sprawl is the fact that some people are left behind because they do not earn enough to afford the cars that this form of living requires.

I. Introduction
In the early part of the 20th century, cities grew upward. Tenements and luxury apartment
buildings replaced brownstones. Skyscrapers came to adorn urban landscapes. But at the
end of the 20th century, urban growth has pushed cities further and further out. The
compact urban areas of 1900 have increasingly been replaced by unending miles of malls,
office parks and houses on larger and larger lots. At first, people continued to work in
cities but lived in sprawling suburbs. But the jobs followed the people and now
metropolitan areas are characterized by decentralized homes and decentralized jobs. In
2003 America, urban growth and sprawl are almost synonymous and edge cities have
become the dominant urban form.

In this essay, we review the economic literature on sprawl and urban growth, and make
four points. First, despite the pronouncements of academic theorists, dense living is not
on the rebound. Sprawl is ubiquitous and expanding. Second, while many factors may
have helped the growth of sprawl, it ultimately has only one root cause: the automobile.
Suburbia, edge cities and sprawl are all the natural, inexorable, result of the technological
dominance of the automobile. Third, sprawl’s negative quality of life impacts have been
overstated. Effective vehicle pollution regulation has curbed emissions increases
associated with increased driving. The growth of edge cities is associated with increases
in most measures of quality of life. Fourth, the problem of sprawl lies not in the people
who have moved to the suburbs but rather the people who have been left behind. The
exodus of jobs and people from the inner cities have created an abandoned underclass
whose earnings cannot support a multi-car based lifestyle.

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