Sprawl

Government Growing Wild: Is Sprawl Exacerbated by Jurisdictional Fragmentation?

By Bryan Grady, Research Analyst at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency An underappreciated element of what can make a location a good place to live - or not - is the regional governance structure: the number and configuration of counties, cities, townships, and special districts that comprise a metropolitan area. Across the country, there are substantial differences worth noting. I began looking at these issues when I was an intern at Greater Ohio ten years ago and now, as a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University and a research analyst at the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA), I am studying the impacts that these forces have on housing outcomes. I worked with Judd Schechtman, a land use attorney and colleague at Rutgers, on developing some preliminary findings regarding the role of fragmented local government in generating sprawl.

 

To operationalize such an amorphous topic, we employed data published in Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact, which defined sprawl as a lack of four characteristics – residential density, mixed-use development, strong economic centers, and connected streets – and computed an index that incorporated all four elements. (A newer version, based on similar methods, was published earlier this year.) With regard to measuring regional governance, we used the Metropolitan Power Diffusion Index (MPDI). In short, MPDI encapsulates both the density of governments (e.g. how many incorporated areas and districts exist for every 100,000 people) and their relative budgetary influence, with a value of 1 representing a unitary regional government and increasing values indicating more diffuse political authority. A handful of other variables were included in the work as statistical controls, including population, manufacturing employment, per capita income, and educational attainment.

A quantitative analysis across 77 regions nationwide found that fragmentation and sprawl were directly correlated with one another at a statistically significant level. This was particularly true when evaluating the residential density component of the sprawl index, as well as the economic concentration component. Why? As Judd and I wrote,

Exclusionary zoning, as practiced by small municipalities, is specifically conceived to limit residential density in order to keep home prices and tax revenues high; reduced fragmentation would seemingly reduce the incentives to maintain such policies. Similarly, every city in a fragmented metropolis attempts to leverage agglomeration effects in office space and retail to their own advantage, whereas a single municipality that dominates a region would be able to channel development into a smaller number of commercial centers.

In short, in a region where dozens of localities are left to zone with only their own constituents in mind, land use patterns that are economically and spatially suboptimal are the direct result. A more regional approach to land use planning is necessary to ensure that money and land are not wasted chasing artificially-created shortages of various types of development.

The full study is available here. If you have any questions, feel free to email Bryan Grady. Please note that any opinions herein are the author's, not those of OHFA or the State of Ohio.

Where Ohio is Sprawling and What It Means

Some areas in Ohio are sprawling, some are building in compact, connected ways, and the difference between the two strategies has implications for millions of Ohioans’ day-to-day lives.

Measuring Sprawl 2014, released today by national advocacy group Smart Growth America, ranks the most sprawling and most compact areas of the country. The new report evaluates development patterns in 221 major metropolitan areas and their counties based on four factors: density, land use mix, street connectivity and activity centering. Each metro area received a Sprawl Index score based on these factors.*

Here is how regions in Ohio ranked:

Metropolitan Statistical Area National Rank Composite (total) score
Canton-Massillon, Ohio 93 106.99
Akron, Ohio 111 103.15
Dayton, Ohio 116 101.48
Toledo, Ohio 117 100.90
Columbus, Ohio 138 93.00
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio 153 85.62
Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 166 80.75
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 175 78.08

* The four factors were combined in equal weight to calculate each area’s Sprawl Index score. The average Index is 100, meaning areas with scores above 100 tend to be more compact and connected, and areas with scores below 100 are more sprawling. Visit Smart Growth America to view the full rankings >>

The new report also examines how different development patterns relate to the quality of life in these areas—and the differences are startling. People in compact, connected areas have greater upward economic mobility than their peers in sprawling areas. That is, a child born in the bottom 20% of the income scale has a better chance of rising to the top 20% of the income scale by age 30.

People in compact, connected metro areas spend less on the combined expenses of housing and transportation. Housing costs are higher in compact, connected areas, but these higher costs are more than offset by lower transportation costs. People in compact, connected metro areas also have more transportation options. People in these areas tend to walk more, take transit more, own fewer cars and spend less time driving than their peers in sprawling areas.

Finally, people in compact, connected areas have longer, healthier, safer lives. Life expectancy is greater in compact, connected areas, and driving rates (and their associated risk of a fatal collision), body mass index, air quality and violent crime all contribute to this difference.

Outcomes like this are why Greater Ohio Policy Center is dedicated to helping Ohio’s regions develop in a more sustainable way. Helping people in Ohio live healthier, wealthier, happier lives is why we do the work we do, and smarter development is a key part of making that happen.

Read the full findings of Measuring Sprawl 2014 and see how every major metro area in the country compares when it comes to sprawl at www.smartgrowthamerica.org/measuring-sprawl.

Google Earth Timelapse Shows Sprawl Since 1984

From 1984 to 2012, the Central Ohio region has changed in population and in land development, as shown in the satellite images above. To view land use changes in any part of the world from 1984 to 2012, click here and scroll down to the embedded Google Earth map, in which you can zoom and scroll to find your area of interest.

The City of Columbus has grown from 564,866 in 1980 to 809,798 persons in 2012. Land development has expanded out from the city center over that period as well, as can be seen in the satellite image timelapse. In the last decade, however, it appears as though more development has occurred within the inner city ring, which is a promising trend for smart growth.

Google is working with its public and private partners to continue releasing these images to the public in the future.  According to Google, this is the most comprehensive photography ever created of the planet.  Timelapse videos of this sort could be used as a tool to see the outcomes of sprawl, climate change, and natural disasters over time--hopefully contributing to public awareness about the need for smart land use decisions.

"A Terrifying, Fascinating Timelapse of 30 Years of Human Impact on Earth" - The Atlantic Cities