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Sprawling, but affordable

The Wall Street Journal recently published an interesting article that ties in nicely with two of my recent posts. My post about North American population growth and my post about the San Francisco pro-development group known as BARF.

The WSJ article is about the growing divide between affordable and expensive cities in the US. And the argument is that expansionist, or sprawling, cities are better at suppressing home values and maintaining affordability:

“The developed residential area in Atlanta, for example, grew by 208% from 1980 to 2010 and real home values grew by 14%. In contrast, in the San Francisco-San Jose area, developed residential land grew by just 30%, while homes values grew by 188%.”

Now, here’s a chart saying that same thing:

The reality is that greenfield development (suburban sprawl) generally has far fewer barriers to development than urban infill development. So I’m not surprised to see cities like Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Phoenix clustered towards the bottom right.

At the same time though, I’m obviously not convinced that sprawl is an optimal outcome. I think there are other costs not reflected in the chart above. So what’s the best solution here, assuming we want to build inclusive mixed-income cities?

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