Sunday, May 07, 2006

And We Thought We Knew All About Sprawl...

Sprawl. While there are lots of different definitions of what it is and explanations for how it happens, maybe we don't know as much as we think we do.

A recent story about a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto gives some interesting and surprising results.

The study is based on complete aerial photography and satellite images of the entire United States from 1976 and 1992. The researchers used a variety of techniques to examine the extent of development of urbanized areas and the density of that development. They then looked at various factors to explain some of the differences.

Some of the interesting conclusions: "Overall, Boston is less scattered than Atlanta, but recent development in Boston has been more scattered than it has been in Atlanta. Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles (!) were the most compact major cities, while Pittsburgh and Atlanta were the most scattered."

"Hilly places see more scattered development as people avoid the costs of building on hillsides -- but mountains act as barriers and lead to more compact development" (hence the idea that the Salt Lake metro area has natural urban growth boundaries).

But most surprising -- "roads do not seem to have any impact on the extent to which development is scattered, despite commonly held beliefs to the contrary. 'We looked at a lot of measures of road density -- miles of road per area, average distance to a road, distance to an interstate exit -- and we could find no relation between those measures and the scatteredness of development... ." Now that's a blow to the common wisdom!

So what are the factors that seem to be most responsible for low-density sprawl? "'The presence of aquifers is particularly important,' says Turner, 'and that seem to me to have policy implications. It looks as if controlling access to groundwater is an important way to control whether development spreads or not.'"

Also, "The number of municipalities in a metropolitan area...does not affect development patterns. ... However, the team also found that development near cities is less scattered if it occurs in a municipality than if it occurs in an unincorporated area of a county. This suggests that (in some areas) people may be moving out to just beyond municipal boundaries in order to avoid more stringent municipal regulations."

And we thought we knew the enemy!


At 2:11 PM, Blogger Utah Peaknik said...

Wilf, Wilf, Wilf...

This way of life we know as suburbia is going to come undone eventually. It's such a high-energy lifestyle, and fossil fuels are going to go into depletion, and realistically speaking, no combination of alternative energy sources is going to save us. Check out

Right now we need to focus on how to build sustainable, self-sufficient economies with local merchants and food production. A global economy can't survive without oil. Right now we're living on borrowed time, but the crap is going to hit the fan eventually.

At 2:39 PM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

to utah peaknik:
dude you're stealing my gimmick. I'm sure Wilf is thinking "oh great another peak oil loonie."

You beat me to the utahpeakoil blog name but I got the "peakoil" Utah plate.

Good luck spreading awareness of what we all need to prepare for.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

Oh, my gosh, now there's two of you! Come on guys, don't turn this into the Peak Oil blog, there's more issues than that out there.

Then again, if no one else comments, then I guess it is what it is. But then, I've always had a soft spot for doomsdayers, even back in the 60's when I first heard that we were about to run of of oil. Let's see, that was about 40 years ago...

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Utah Peaknik said...

Well let's think about this logically Wilf- Do you really believe that oil resources are infinite? Or that nature magically regenerates the stuff at the rate we use it (the world uses millions of barrels of oil per day)?

And just because peak oil didn't happen 40 years ago, doesn't mean it will never happen. That's about as logical as saying "Since I haven't died in the past, I'm not going to die in the future."

Honestly Wilf, educate yourself. Peak oil isn't about doomsday nuts. It's all backed up by observations from geologists, economists, etc. Do you think that M. King Hubbert was just a nut?

Read James Kunstler's "The Long Emergency." It might be a cold slap in the face for you.

Because as they say - you can either deal with reality, or reality will deal with you.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger James said...

I think Wilf had his tongue firmly planted in his cheeck in that comment, Peaknic...

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

OK, peaknic, let's not make assumptions we can't back up. I am a least passingly familiar with Kunstler and the peak oil arguments -- I do not live in a total vacuum.

I have also read and, as recently as last week, heard arguments against the peak oil idea from expert analysts. Like many things, there is more than one credible side on the issue, of which I am not totally ignorant.

But that is not the point of this blog, and the posts I make and the comments I write. You are entitled to your viewpoint, and are welcome to make them here. But please do not discredit those who may disagree with you or have a differing viewpoint -- I do not know of anyone who is the fount of all truth.

Now, as to the original post that started this spate of comments, I find it immensely interesting that the Toronto study did not find that access to roads was a significant factor in "sprawl," so the arguments about peak oil may be moot. The more important issue seems to be access to water. Hmmm.

At 4:58 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

OK, Peaknic, Euclid is right, I was saying much tongue in cheek, and my comment using the term "doomsdayers" was not meant to offend. I know we can all get passionate about things, and I welcome all such to comment here --just please acknowledge there will be those who do not agree, and that is fine. Many commenter here take issue with what I blog, and that's just as it should be -- let's get all the ideas out there for consideration.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Well if we're not allowed to scorn planners here then why did you name it "utah planner scorner"?

I'd like to see some aerial photographs from before and after we got the bright idea of motorizing the masses. Having to walk to your job would probably have a major impact on your decision of how far away to live from it.

At 9:03 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

Touche, Google. By the way, much of what I've learned about peak oil has come from you, so feel proud.

Yeah, it is an interesting question about the aerial and satellite photos. Intuitively it just doesn't seem right -- but then, intutition can be wrong and that's why we do research. I need to see more details from the study as well.


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