Outsmarting smart growth. Population Growth Key Reason for Sprawl

OUTSMARTING SMART GROWTH – Population Growth Key Reason for Sprawl

WASHINGTON (August 26, 2003) — In recent years, many local governments, states, and non-profit groups have adopted initiatives to save rural land from sprawl. Most anti-sprawl efforts have focused on “Smart Growth,” which emphasizes better planning to create more efficient land use.

A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies finds that this approach will have limited success in saving rural land because it fails to address a key reason for sprawl — population growth. Based on data from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the study shows that about half the loss of rural land in recent decades is attributable to increases in the U.S. population, while changes in land use account for the other half.

New immigration and births to immigrants now account for nearly 90 percent of U.S. population growth. Therefore, population growth, and the immigration policies that drive it, must become an integral focus of efforts to preserve rural land.

The 122-page report, entitled “Outsmarting Smart Growth: Population Growth, Immigration, and the Problem of Sprawl,” contains detailed information for every state and is available at http://www.cis.org/articles/2003/sprawl.html

Among the report’s findings:

* Department of Agriculture data collected between 1982 and 1997 show that in states with less than 10% population growth, developed land expanded 26% on average, compared to a 46% expansion of developed land in states that grew in population by more than 30%.

* On average, each 10,000-person increase in state population resulted in 1,600 acres of undeveloped rural land being developed, even controlling for other factors such as changes in land use per person.

* Nationally, population growth accounted for 52 percent of the loss of rural land between 1982 and 1997, while increases in per-capita land consumption accounted for 48 percent.

“Immigration-driven population growth is out-smarting Smart Growth initiatives by forcing continued rural land destruction,” said Roy Beck, Executive Director of NumbersUSA Education and Research Foundation, and lead author of the report. “Smart Growth programs in the face of rapid population growth will require increasingly onerous government regulation; without such population increases, artificially imposed by the federal government, Smart Growth policies would not only be more successful, they will also encounter less public opposition.”

Among other findings in the report:

* Smart Growth must also play a significant role in anti-sprawl efforts because per-capita land use has been increasing. Between 1982 and 1997, land use per person in the United States rose 16 percent.

* There is significant variation between states in the factors accounting for sprawl. For example, population growth accounted for more than half of sprawl in five of the 10 states that lost the most land, while increases in per-capita land use accounted for more than half of sprawl in the other five worst sprawling states.

* An examination of the nation’s largest urban areas reveals the same pattern as in the states.  Census Bureau data show that between 1970 and 1990, population growth accounted for slightly more than half of the expansion of urbanized land in the nation’s 100 largest cities.

* In the 1990s, new immigration and children born to immigrants accounted for most of the 33-million increase in the U.S. population. Census Bureau data from 2002 indicate that the more than 1.5 million legal and illegal immigrants who settle in the country each year, along with 750,000 yearly births to immigrants, are equal to 87 percent of the annual increase in the U.S. population.

* Contrary to common perception, about half the country’s immigrants now live in the suburbs. The pull of the suburbs is even greater in the second generation. Of the children of immigrants who have settled down and purchased a home, only 24 percent have done so in the nation’s central cities.

* The suburbanization of immigrants and their children is a welcome sign of integration. But it also means that they contribute to sprawl just like other Americans.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS STUDY: Most studies in this field, as well as the work of most anti-sprawl organizations, have not focused on the actual destruction of undeveloped rural land. Instead, they have evaluated the density of new development or the use of various urban-planning techniques. While such studies are valid for analyzing various aspects of sprawl, they have the distinct disadvantage of largely disregarding the loss of agricultural land and natural habitat, because all of the emphasis is on the quality of the planning or the density in the new development.

By examining the actual loss of undeveloped rural land, this study avoids this problem. Our findings show that population plays an enormous role in driving sprawl. Thus, stabilizing the U.S. population must become a central goal of anti-sprawl efforts. Since Americans already have only about two children on average, the primary reason for the country’s ever-increasing population is immigration. If we wish to deal effectively with sprawl, then immigration levels will have to be reduced.

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