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Urban Sprawl and the Cost of Public Services


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One of the principle criticisms of urban sprawl is that it undermines the cost-effective provision of public services. In this paper the authors examine whether or not this is true through an exploratory analysis of the influence that alternative development patterns have on twelve measures of public expenditure: total direct, capital facilities, roadways, other transportation, sewerage, trash collection, housing and community development, police protection, fire protection, parks, education, and libraries. The objectives of the analysis are threefold. First, the authors, through a background discussion, provide a brief overview of previous research on the relationship between urban development patterns and the cost of public services. Second, through empirical analysis, they examine how the character of urban development affects per capita public outlays in a cross-section of 283 metropolitan counties during the 1982 - 92 time period. A separate equation is estimated for each measure of expenditure, providing substantive evidence on how density, the spatial extent of urbanized land area, property value, and political fragmentation affect the cost of services. Finally, the authors use the results of the empirical analysis to develop a set of policy recommendations and directions for future research.
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1 Introduction
Over the last several decades there has been a sustained interest in measuring the
relative costs of alternative forms of development in US metropolitan areas (Burchell,
1998; Frank, 1989; RERC, 1974). Throughout, a major emphasis has been on the
question of whether or not urban sprawl
low-density, discontinuous, suburban-style
development, often characterized as the result of rapid, unplanned, and/or uncoordi-
nated growth (Nelson et al, 1995)
undermines the cost-effective provision of urban
services. This issue is important because, unlike many other criticisms of sprawl, it
provides a practical point of departure for debates over the role that governments
should play in regulating the outcome of urban growth. In particular, the high service
costs allegedly incurred through far-flung development patterns serve as a key source
of leverage for urban planners and others advocating the use of growth management
and `smart growth' programs to promote more compact urban areas (for example, see
Ewing, 1997). But despite claims that land-use regulation is necessary to maintain
efficient service provision, the supporting evidence remains thin and inconclusive.
How does the character of urban development affect the cost of services, and what
does this imply for land-use planning and growth management efforts administered in
the name of economic efficiency?
In this paper we respond to these questions with an exploratory analysis of the
influence that alternative development patterns have on twelve measures of public
expenditure: total direct, capital facilities, roadways, other transportation, sewerage,
trash collection, housing and community development, policy protection, fire protec-
tion, parks, education, and libraries. Our objectives are threefold. First, we provide a
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services
John I Carruthers
Mundy Associates LLC, 1825 Queen Anne Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109, USA;
Daniel J Evans School of Public Affairs, Box 353055, University of Washington, Seattle,
WA 98195-3055, USA; e-mail:
Received 6 August 2001; in revised form 28 October 2002
Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 2003, volume 30, pages 503 ^ 522
Abstract. One of the principle criticisms of urban sprawl is that it undermines the cost-effective
provision of public services. In this paper the authors examine whether or not this is true through
an exploratory analysis of the influence that alternative development patterns have on twelve meas-
ures of public expenditure: total direct, capital facilities, roadways, other transportation, sewerage,
trash collection, housing and community development, police protection, fire protection, parks,
education, and libraries. The objectives of the analysis are threefold. First, the authors, through a
background discussion, provide a brief overview of previous research on the relationship between
urban development patterns and the cost of public services. Second, through empirical analysis, they
examine how the character of urban development affects per capita public outlays in a cross-section
of 283 metropolitan counties during the 1982^ 92 time period. A separate equation is estimated for
each measure of expenditure, providing substantive evidence on how density, the spatial extent of
urbanized land area, property value, and political fragmentation affect the cost of services. Finally, the
authors use the results of the empirical analysis to develop a set of policy recommendations and
directions for future research.
brief overview of previous research on the relationship between urban form and the
cost of public services. Second, we examine how the character of urban development
affects per capita public outlays in a cross-section of 283 metropolitan counties during the
1982 ^ 92 time period. A separate equation is estimated for each measure of expenditure,
providing substantive evidence on how density, the spatial extent of urbanized land area,
property value, and political fragmentation affect the cost of services. Third, we use the
results of the empirical analysis to develop a set of policy recommendations and
directions for future research. We suggest that growth management programs may be
justified from the standpoint of public finance and that development impact fees have
significant potential for mitigating the fiscal effects of urban sprawl. Future research
should focus on evaluating the cost of services by means of alternative measures of urban
form, on determining whether or not the quality of service provision is affected by the
physical character of development, and on evaluating the relative costs and benefits of
political fragmentation, after taking into account its influence on urban sprawl.
The paper is organized into four sections. In section 2 we review previous research
on the relationship between urban development and the cost of services in US metro-
politan areas. In the section 3 we present the empirical analysis, including the research
hypotheses, modeling framework, and estimation results. In section 4 we provide a
discussion of the modeling results, focusing on policy recommendations and directions
for future research. Finally, in section 5, we conclude the paper with a summary of the
research findings.
2 Background
Widespread interest in evaluating the causes and consequences of alternative develop-
ment patterns emerged in the 1960s, just following the first major postwar boom of
suburban development in the United States. At the time, urban sprawl was a relatively
new phenomenon, so much of the early research focused on defining its key character-
istics and its relationship to newly evolving land markets (Bahl, 1968; Clawson, 1962).
Although generally inconclusive about the costs and benefits of sprawl, these and other
studies collectively characterized it as being composed of low-density, scattered, strip,
and leapfrog development patterns and as being eminently associated with land specu-
lation, suburbanization, and political fragmentation (Burchell, 1998; Downs, 1999).
Since its initial rise, sprawl has come to represent the dominant mode of growth in
most US metropolitan areas and, as a result, it continues to generate extensive debate
over its desirability as a pattern of land use. On the one hand, proponents defend urban
sprawl as a fulfillment of consumer preferences whereas, on the other hand, detractors
fault it for contributing to numerous social and economic problems (Ewing, 1997;
Gordon and Richardson, 1997).
Despite its intensity, this debate has been hampered by a failure on both sides to
distinguish sprawl from general suburbanization and by a lack of criteria for establish-
ing what constitutes an ideal urban form in the first place. Suburbanization often occurs
at high densities
as the experiences of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and many
other western cities have shown
even though it is still considered sprawl. Meanwhile,
in other instances, low-density suburbanization has produced many communities that
present none of the problems, such as environmental degradation, socioeconomic
segregation, and traffic congestion, that sprawl is commonly faulted for. Because of
this dichotomy, density emerges as only part of the picture and can sometimes provide a
misleading image of urban form. Placed in a broader context, the problem of sprawl in
Los Angeles, for example, may stem more from the city's tremendous land area and
extreme separation of land uses than density alone (Burchell et al, 1998). Even so,
504 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
density remains the most common measure used to describe urban form because of its
intuitive appeal and the difficulty of obtaining data on alternative measures.
On a more pragmatic level, there remains the question of what constitutes an ideal
urban form. Planning is a normative profession, responsible for shaping cities into what
they `ought' to be, but there are very few rigorous criteria for justifying one outcome
over another (Talen and Ellis, 2002). But urban form matters in meaningful ways
to people who live, work, and/or otherwise spend time in cities, so policies that aim to
shape it should be guided by well-founded theory and have a clear set of objectives
(Carruthers, 2002a). The physical outcome of urban development directly affects the
livability, property values, transportation alternatives, and many other aspects of
the urban environment and therefore is central to the planning process. This is expressed
in one of the fundamental theories of urban form (Lynch, 1981), which suggests that
cities may be evaluated on the basis of five dimensions (vitality, sense, fit, assess, and
control) and two metacriteria (efficiency and justice). Together, these social use values
describe how well a city serves the needs of its populace and promotes its quality of life.
Ultimately, they suggest that an ideal urban form is one that is dynamic and responsive
to the needs of its residents
in short, one that produces net benefits for the public at
large and that may continually be adapted to minimize negative externalities.
Among the most tangible points of departure for evaluating urban form is urban
planners' well-known contention that sprawl undermines the cost-effective provision of
public services (Altshuler and Gome
¬ez, 1993; Kaiser et al, 1995). In particular, it
is argued that, for many services, the cost per unit of development rises as densities
decrease (Kelly, 1993; Knaap and Nelson, 1992; Nelson et al, 1995; Porter, 1997). That is,
low-density, spatially expansive development patterns lead to greater costs because of
the large investments required to extend roadways and other types of infrastructure that
transmit water, sewage, electricity, and other services long distances to reach relatively
fewer numbers of people (Carruthers, 2002a). Urban sprawl may also undermine
economies of scale for other services, including police protection and public education,
by lowering the density of individual consumers. That public goods and services are
priced according to their average as opposed to their marginal cost adds to the problem,
as land developers have little motivation to help maintain a cost-effective urban form.
The location of new development continues to be determined by land speculation and
potential for profit instead of its impact on aggregate public welfare. As an outcome,
growth commonly enjoys significant subsidies, as the costs it imposes end up being
financed through collective property tax revenues (Bruekner, 2000; Lee, 1981).
The logic behind this reasoning is straightforward but the supporting evidence
remains thin, and little is known about the actual relationship between urban form
and the cost of services
if any exists at all. As a practical matter, site planners and
engineers have investigated how alternative development patterns affect the cost of
delivering physical infrastructure, including roads, schools, sewers, and other public
facilities. Although many of these studies find that low-density developments are more
expensive to support, they have produced few generalizable conclusions because of
their site-specific focus and an overall lack of standardized measures of expenditure
(for a thorough review, see Frank, 1989; for a recent analysis of this type, see Speir and
Stephenson, 2002). The most well known of these was undertaken by the Real Estate
Research Corporation (RERC, 1974), publishing its findings under the title The Costs of
Sprawl. RERC attempted to use an `internally consistent' set of estimates for the direct
costs of alternative development patterns to illustrate that urban sprawl was approx-
imately twice as expensive to serve as `high-density planned' development patterns. But
despite its extensive impact, the RERC study has also received significant criticism over
the years for its methodology and failure to control for the influence of factors other
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 505
than density that affect the cost of service provision (Altshuler and Gome
¬ez, 1993;
Ladd, 1998).
More recently, a series of regression-based analyses conducted by Ladd and Yinger
(1991) and Ladd (1992; 1994) suggests that greater densities are associated with higher,
not lower, public service expenditures. Drawing on cross-sectional data and controlling
for other determinants of spending, Ladd and Yinger found that the cost of services
rises with density, contradicting the findings of earlier site-based analyses. Specifically,
using a `piecewise' regression procedure, Ladd (1992) illustrated that the relationship
may be U-shaped, first declining as density increases but then increasing sharply,
leading to average costs that exceed the minimum by as much as 43% in very dense
counties. The implication is that urban services are subject to economies and disecono-
mies of scale
a finding that is explained in terms of the `harshness' of high-density
areas or, in other words, the increased traffic congestion, crime rates, and other
conditions associated with urban environments (Ladd, 1998). If this is the case, urban
sprawl may not be as costly as planners claim, undermining the rationale for policies
aimed at shaping compact development patterns.
Despite the high quality and methodological rigor of these analyses, other evidence
suggests that further research drawing on cross-sectional data is needed before the
relationship between urban form and service expenditures is fully understood. For
example, in an analysis of the 159 counties forming the 25 largest metropolitan areas
in the United States, Pendall (1999) finds that public indebtedness is associated with
urban sprawl. Although the direction of causation examined is the opposite of that
examined here, the implication is that low-density development patterns require greater
public expenditures to support them than do high-density development patterns. More-
over, in a cross-section of 283 metropolitan counties we have found that density has
a negative influence on the cost of infrastructure, including roadways and sewers
(Carruthers, 2000b; Carruthers and Ulfarsson, 2002). Unlike Ladd's (1992; 1994) expen-
diture model, in which indicator variables were used to partition the dataset categorically
by density, we assumed a linear overall relationship and focused specifically on the
interconnected influences of several characteristics of urban development. The results
suggest that per capita spending on infrastructure declines at greater densities but
increases with the spatial extent of urbanized land area and property values. It may
therefore be the `spread' of a metropolitan area and that relative strength of its property
tax base, rather than its `bulk', that leads to greater per capita service expenditure.
Finally, in addition to these and other characteristics of the built environment,
urban sprawl has also been described in terms of the political structure of metropolitan
regions (Burchell, 1998; Downs, 1994; 1999). In particular, new local governments
and special districts are often formed in order to increase and/or maintain the
quality of service provision in newly urbanizing areas (Foster, 1997; Lewis, 1996).
This process is fundamental to the perpetuation of sprawl because new incorporations
and service districts literally enable suburban development to proceed at the urban
fringe (Carruthers, 2003; Carruthers and Ulfarsson, 2002). In turn, the `fiscal zoning'
and growth-control strategies often employed in these communities work to lower
densities, virtually ensuring that metropolitan areas become more spread out over
time. Even so, the thinking among many suburban residents is that the formation of
small general and special purpose governments helps to secure the highest possible
quality of public services for the lowest possible price. In this way, the process of political
fragmentation compounds questions regarding the relationship between the character of
urban development and service expenditures by simultaneously promoting the physical
dimensions of urban sprawl and seeking to achieve greater cost-effectiveness in service
delivery (Fischel, 1985).
506 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
In theoretical terms, the role that fragmentation plays in reducing the cost of public
services may be understood through the Tiebout model of metropolitan governance.
Specifically, the model suggests that, assuming a mobile population capable of `voting
with their feet', highly fragmented metropolitan areas should exhibit relatively lower
per capita service expenditures as communities minimize their operating costs in order
to attract and retain residents (Tiebout, 1956). This expectation has generally been
reinforced by empirical research finding that the greater the number of jurisdictions,
the lower their overall expenditure, but little is known about how spending on different
types of services is affected (Dowding et al, 1994). The question is an important one
because it has direct implications for the role of planning and growth management in
many metropolitan regions, especially if the physical characteristics of development
also make a difference.
In sum, the relationship between urban form and public service expenditure
remains ambiguous and controversial. Early research developed a strong foundation
for characterizing sprawl but remains inconclusive about the desirability of sprawl as a
form of land use. Meanwhile, normative theory suggests that an ideal urban form is
one that maximizes social use value by creating net benefits to the public at large and that
may be adapted to minimize negative externalities. Within this context, public service
expenditures represent a tangible point of departure for evaluating the impact of urban
sprawl on aggregate public welfare. Site-based analyses have attempted to address the
issue from a practical standpoint, estimating the infrastructure costs associated with
alternative development patterns, but these have provided only limited insight because
of their overemphasis on density as singular determinant of public spending. Regression-
based analyses have produced conflicting evidence, partly because of methodological
differences but also because of differences in the way the character of urban development
is measured (an issue discussed in section 3.1). Adding to the complexity, the political
structure of fragmented metropolitan regions may also affect service provision by
promoting greater cost-effectiveness, even as it works to create low-density development
patterns. Meanwhile, the alleged costs of sprawl continue to serve as leverage for growth
management and `smart growth' programs aimed at shaping compact, high-density urban
areas in both academic and applied planning forums. Although it is impossible for any
single analysis to account for all the relative costs and benefits of alternative development
patterns, there is a clear need for more detailed testing of how the various physical and
political dimensions of metropolitan areas affect public service expenditure.
3 Empirical analysis
In this section we present an empirical analysis of the relationship between alternative
development patterns and expenditure on public services in a cross-section of 283
metropolitan counties, observed over the 1982 ^92 decade. The process is divided into
three steps. In the first we provide a framework for measuring the physical and political
characteristics of urban development (section 3.1). In the second we describe the data
and specify the empirical model (section 3.2). In the third we deliver the estimation
results for twelve different forms of expenditure: total direct, capital facilities, roadways,
other transportation, sewerage, trash collection, housing and community development,
police protection, fire protection, parks, education, and libraries (section 3.3).
3.1 Measuring the characteristics of urban development
Two key factors have detracted from analysts' ability to estimate accurately the costs of
alternative development patterns in the past: the interconnected influences of different
physical characteristics of urban development, and the difficulty of obtaining appro-
priate measurements. First, most research has been narrowly focused on the question
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 507
of how density, as a singular measure of urban development, influences public service
expenditure. This approach is problematic because although density may help to create
economies of scale for certain urban services it does not unilaterally describe the
character of urban areas. For example, many services are also subject to economies
of geographic scope, which depend on the spatial extent of the area they provide for
especially where facilities are immobile and the cost of service delivery varies from
location to location (Knaap and Nelson, 1992). Moreover, measurement of the influ-
ence of density in isolation may yield misleading results because dense urban areas also
have high land values and therefore generate greater property taxes (Ewing, 1997). In this
way, density may `pay for itself', obscuring the actual costs that it generates.Where this is
the case, density is likely to be positively correlated with the cost of service delivery,
because of the greater spending through property tax revenues, not because of the
physical form of the development itself.
Second, because of data limitations, analysts have until recently been limited
to measuring the density of specific sites or, in the case of cross-sectional analyses, to
using county land area as the spatial unit. As mentioned in section 2, the site-based
approach has limitations because its findings do not necessarily apply beyond a
localized area. The use of counties as the spatial unit of analysis is even more problem-
atic because their large size obscures actual urban density. Counties are also ineffective
spatial units for measuring changes in density through time
because the spatial
unit remains fixed, any amount of population growth, by definition, leads to greater
density. When measured this way, changes in county density over time more accurately
represent changes in population than in the character of development occurring within.
In this analysis we address these two shortcomings by accounting simultaneously
for the influence of density, the spatial extent of urbanized land area, and property
value. Measurement of these dimensions is made possible by the National Resources
Inventory (NRI), of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which records the
number of acres of urbanized land and other major land-use categories at the county
level every five years (USDA, 2002). Using these data: density is measured as the
number of jobs and people per acre of urbanized land; the spatial extent of urbanized
land area in a county is given by the total number of developed acres; and property
value is expressed as the total locally assessed property value per acre of urbanized
land. Employment plus population is used to calculate density, because the amount of
developed land depends both on residential land use and on nonresidential land use.
Also, in the case of property value, it is assumed that assessed land value corresponds
primarily to urban development because the analysis focuses on metropolitan counties
and it is impossible to separate the data according to land use. Together, the three
measures provide a more realistic profile of the character of urban development within
a county than is possible when the land area of the county itself is used. The approach
has the added benefit of allowing the spatial unit to vary over time.
In addition to physical characteristics, in our empirical analysis we control for
the effects of political fragmentation. Urban service expenditure is closely linked to the
underlying political landscape
especially where land-use authority is distributed
among numerous jurisdictions. In order to capture this effect, political structure is
measured in terms of per capita municipalities and per capita special districts, with
higher values corresponding to greater fragmentation. For example, a perfectly frag-
mented metropolitan area, with each person being his or her own mayor, would have a
measure of 1 on an index of per capita municipalities. Note that measurement of
political fragmentation in this way `double counts' people, because total population is
the denominator both in per capita municipalities and per capita special districts. This
is appropriate because it is hypothesized that the ratio of each type of government to
508 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
the total population affects public service expenditure. In addition to these measures,
because we make use of county-level data (described in section 3.2), an indicator
variable is used to distinguish between central city and suburban counties; the two
types of counties often have very different socioeconomic characteristics, so it is
reasonable to expect that their spending patterns may vary systematically.
Finally, it is important to note the limitations and strengths of the analytical
framework just described. At issue here is the scale at which the analysis is conducted.
On the one hand, these measures
density, the spatial extent, or spread, of urbanized
land, property value, and political fragmentation
are limited in the sense that they
cannot capture the place-to-place variation in urban form that occurs within large
metropolitan areas. It is quite possible, for example, to have `traditional' urban neigh-
borhoods imbedded in an overall pattern of urban sprawl. At a finer scale, urban form
may be described in terms of centralization, concentration, connectivity, grain (which
describes land-use mix), and numerous other measures that deal more directly with
patterns of land use and that are capable of drawing out localized variation (Alberti,
1999; Galster et al, 2001). On the other hand, the measures incorporated in this
analysis capture a great deal of variation in the overall character of metropolitan areas
and provide a detailed basis for testing hypotheses regarding how alternative develop-
ment patterns affect public service expenditures within an interregional framework.
Although none of these variables measures sprawl directly, given previous interpreta-
tions in the planning literature, lower density, larger urbanized land area, greater
fragmentation, and suburban county classification may generally be viewed as lying
at that end of the spectrum.
3.2 Empirical model
In order to investigate the relationship between public service expenditures and the
physical and political dimensions of sprawl, the variables described in section 3.1 are
imbedded within an equation containing additional variables measuring sources of
where expenditure, e, on a given public service is a function of: the characteristics of
the built environment, including density, urbanized land area, and property value (B);
political characteristics, including per capita municipal governments, per capita special
districts, and the indicator variable marking counties that contain a central city (P);
revenue, including local tax and intergovernmental sources (R); and u, a vector of
unobserved effects. The two revenue variables are defined as the total value of locally
assessed taxes
because communities rely on different combinations of property and
sales taxes and tax rates
and state plus federal aid, respectively. These variables were
originally tested in disaggregated form, including separate variables for property tax,
state aid, and federal aid, but the detail added little to the results of the analysis:
property tax alone was not an adequate explanatory variable, and state and federal
aid were often collinear with one another.
In table 1 (see over) we provide a definition of each independent variable and
summarize the effects that each is expected to have on the dependent variables. One
variable that is conspicuously absent from the list is income, which plays a major role
in shaping residents' preferences for public services (Ladd, 1992; 1994). Income was
tested in the model but competed with property value because of multicollinearity
between the two variables
when income was added, property value would become
insignificant and/or reverse its sign, and the density variable was also negatively
affected. For this reason, income was discarded as an explanatory variable.
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 509
The functional relationship identified in equation (1) is specified as an econometric
model with variables collected for 283 counties located in fourteen states at three points
in time: 1982, 1987, and 1992. The dataset includes all metropolitan counties in Arizona,
California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina,
Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington (1998 Census definition). These states
are similar in the sense that each ranks among the top twenty most rapidly growing
states in the country, but they also capture significant geographic diversity. The wide-
spread growth in the states makes them especially good locations for examining the
relationship between urban development patterns and service expenditure because their
cites are evolving rapidly, producing changes that may be traced through the long-
itudinal structure of the dataset. In figure 1 we show all counties included in the
analysis (shaded dark gray), and in table 2 (see over) we list descriptive statistics and
data sources for each dependent and independent variable used in the analysis.
Two accommodations are made in order to make the best use of the dataset within an
econometric framework. First, because we employ cross-sectional and time-series data
the model is specified by using a fixed-effects estimation method, adding constant terms
for the years 1987 and 1992, and thirteen of the fourteen states
one from each group
(1982 and Texas) is omitted in order to avoid perfect multicollinearity with the overall
intercept. This controls for correlation across locations, because observations from all
locations at a particular time are likely to share unobservable effects, and for correlation
through time, because observations from a particular location are likely to share unob-
servable effects. The fixed-effects approach also helps us to minimize any omitted variable
bias that may affect the parameter estimates. Ideally, location-specific fixed effects would
be added for each county in the dataset, but this would require the addition of too many
additional constant terms (282 instead of 13). The state-specific fixed effects represent a
good compromise because they capture everything that sets a given state apart from the
rest through time. Second, because the data are based on countywide aggregations, and
because the counties are of different sizes, it is likely that the observations are hetero-
scedastic. Within an ordinary least squares (OLS) regression model, heteroscedasticity
causes the estimates of the coefficients to become inefficient; although they remain
unbiased and consistent, the usual estimate of the variance ^ covariance matrix becomes
Tabl e 1. Expected influence of the independent variables on public expenditure.
Variable Expected Variable definition
Built environment
density ÿAverage number of people plus jobs per acre
of urbanized land
urbanized land Total number of acres of urbanized land
property value Average locally assessed property value per
acre of urbanized land (US$1000 per acre)
Political characteristics
per capita municipal ÿNumber of municipal governments
governments (thousands) headquartered in county, divided by population
per capita special ÿNumber of special districts headquartered in
districts (thousands) county, divided by population
central city indicator 1 if the county contains a central city; 0 if not
per capita local tax revenue Total value of locally assessed tax dollars
within county, per person
per capita intergovernmental Total value of state plus federal aid (US$)
revenue received by general purpose governments within
county, per person
510 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
biased, thereby making it difficult to make statistical inferences about the coefficients. In
order to avoid this problem, the model is estimated using White's heteroscedasticity-
consistent estimator for the variance ^covariance matrix. For a discussion of fixed effects
and White's heteroscedasticity-consistent estimator, see Kennedy (1998).
As little is known about the exact nature (shape) of the relationship between urban
development patterns and service expenditure, extensive sensitivity testing was con-
ducted in order to achieve the best possible fit between the dependent and independent
variables. As Ladd (1992) found, we also found that neither linear nor log ^ linear
forms are appropriate; instead, a semilog form was adopted by taking the log of the
dependent variable only. This allows the function itself to be nonlinear but still to
preserve the linear-in-parameters assumption necessary to estimate an equation properly
by using OLS. Because of the semilog form, the estimated coefficients were interpreted
as percentages
that is, a unit change in the independent variable produces a percent-
age change in the dependent variable (Kennedy, 1998). The result is an econometric
specification of equation (1), with the following functional form:
ln e
, (2)
where iranges over all counties; tranges over the three time periods (1982, 1987, and
1992); jranges over the fourteen states; arepresents the overall constant; lrepresents
the locational fixed effects; trepresents the temporal fixed effects; brepresents a vector
of estimable coefficients; xrepresents the vector of independent variables given by
equation (1); and erepresents the stochastic error term. As noted above, two of the
fixed effects are restricted in each equation (t
0, and l
0) in order to
avoid perfect multicollinearity with the overall intercept (a).
0 270 540 810 1080 km
Figure 1. Counties included in the empirical analysis.
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 511
512 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson N:/pdf-prep/
Tabl e 2 . Descriptive statistic and data sources for the dependent and independent variables.
Mean Median Standard Data sources
Dependent variables USCG, various years c; REIS, various years
per capita total expenditure (US $) 1 463.31 1 348.74 984.48
per capita spending (US$) on
capital facilities 188.56 144.56 258.66
roadways 58.63 56.31 31.90
other transportation 16.46 3.99 38.53
sewerage 34.08 24.70 36.70
trash collection 19.61 16.79 17.12
housing 22.19 16.60 23.61
police protection 59.93 55.82 27.65
fire protection 29.03 26.98 21.12
parks 26.22 19.62 24.27
education 547.05 542.40 173.17
libraries 7.63 6.11 6.51
Built environment
density (number of jobs and people per acre) 4.80 3.90 4.41 USDA, 2002; REIS, various years
urbanized land (acres) 68 677.64 45 900.00 96 784.27 USDA, 2002; REIS, various years
property value (US $ thousands per acre) 67 258.69 42 003.99 96 784.27 USDA, 2002; USCG, various years b
Political characteristics
per capita municipal governments (thousands), tÿ5 0.07 0.04 0.09 USCG, various years a; REIS, various years
per capita special districts (thousands), tÿ5 0.12 0.08 0.13 USCG, various years a; REIS, various years
per capita local tax revenue (US$) 494.99 454.00 213.01 USCG, various years b; REIS, various years
per capita intergovernmental revenue (US$) 408.88 376.23 195.21 USCG, various years b; REIS, various years
Note: tÿ5, previous period.
3.3 Estimation re sults
By using data from the Compendium of Governmental Finances of the US Census of
Government (USCG, various years c), we estimated twelve separate models for per
capita spending on public services: total direct, capital facilities, roadways, other trans-
portation, sewerage, trash collection, housing and community development, police
protection, fire protection, parks, education, and libraries. In table 3 we provide a
description of each dependent variable, as defined by the census survey form used to
collect the data; the first two variables
per capita total direct expenditure and per
capita spending on capital facilities
are aggregate measures, extending over all indi-
vidual types of services. The results for each model are presented in table 4 (see over),
showing the OLS estimates and t-statistics for all independent variables. The number of
included observations varies slightly across equations because observations where the
dependent variable was equal to zero were dropped. Because of the exploratory nature
of the analysis, greater emphasis is placed on the hypothesis tests (the t-statistics) than
the coefficients; although the coefficients are useful for judging the relative magnitude
of the influence of a significant variable, they should not be interpreted literally.
The OLS estimates provide strong support for the hypothesis that public service
expenditure is closely linked to the physical and political structure of metropolitan
areas. First, the parameter estimates for density are negative and significant in several
of the models, suggesting that it creates economies of scale for: public spending on the
whole (total direct expenditure), capital facilities, roadways, police protection, and
education. For each of these services, the per capita cost decreases as densities increase,
Tabl e 3. Description of dependent variables (source: USCG, 2000).
Variable Description
Per capita total direct
Sum of direct expenditure, including salaries and wages
Per capita spending
on capital facilities
Sum of capital outlays, including new construction, the purchase
of equipment, and outlays on land and existing structures
Per capita spending
on roadways
Expenditure on the construction and maintenance of municipal
streets, sidewalks, bridges and toll facilities, and street lighting, on
snow removal, and on highway engineering, control, and safety
Per capita spending
on other transportation
Expenditure on municipal airports, parking facilities, and sea and
inland port facilities and subsidies to private transit facilities
Per capita spending
on sewerage
Expenditure for the construction, maintenance, and operation
of sanitary and storm sewer systems and sewage disposal plants
Per capita spending
on trash collection
Expenditure on street cleaning and the collection and disposal
of garbage
Per capita spending on
housing and community
Expenditure on urban renewal, slum clearance, and housing
Per capita spending
on police protection
Expenditure on municipal police agencies, including coroners,
medical examiners, vehicular inspection activities, and traffic
control and safety activities
Per capita spending
on fire protection
Expenditure incurred for firefighting and fire prevention,
including contributions to volunteer fire units
Per capita spending
on parks
Expenditure on parks and recreation, including playgrounds, golf
courses, swimming pools, museums, marinas, community music,
drama, celebrations, zoos, and other cultural activities
Per capita spending
on education
Expenditure on local schools
Per capital spending
on libraries
Expenditure on municipal and nongovernmental libraries
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 513
Tabl e 4 . Ordinary least squares estimates for expenditure equations: aggregate expenditure (total direct and on capital facilities) and expenditure on roadway,
other transportation, sewerage, trash collection, housing and community development (`housing'), police protection, fire protection, parks and recreation,
education and libraries.
Total direct Capital facilities Roadways Other transportation
coefficient tcoefficient tcoefficient tcoefficient t
Constant 6.07* 82.27 3.69* 27.75 3.29* 32.43 ÿ1.82* ÿ5.48
Built environment
density ÿ0.03* ÿ2.52 ÿ0.03* ÿ1.86 ÿ0.06* ÿ7.09 0.10* 3.41
urbanized land 2.8410
* 1.55 6.0310
* 1.82 3.1210
* 1.30 2.6610
* 3.62
property value 8.6310
* 1.80 1.2310
* 1.61 1.6310
* 3.83 ÿ3.8010
Political characteristics
per capita municipal governments ÿ0.47* ÿ3.27 ÿ0.51* ÿ1.54 0.62* 3.72 ÿ0.90 ÿ0.82
per capita special districts ÿ0.21 ÿ0.85 ÿ0.43 ÿ1.28 ÿ0.06 ÿ0.31 ÿ0.80* ÿ1.40
central city indicator 0.12* 4.78 0.09* 1.83 0.03 0.64 0.91* 6.56
per capita local tax revenue 1.2710
* 6.90 1.6710
* 5.70 1.0710
* 4.27 3.9710
* 8.48
per capita intergovernment revenue 1.3010
* 9.26 1.0210
* 5.00 4.5810
* 3.40 2.2110
* 4.00
Temporal effects
1987 ÿ0.02 ÿ0.65 0.08* 1.54 0.07* 1.55 ÿ0.11 ÿ0.70
1992 ÿ0.08* ÿ1.99 0.14* 2.00 ÿ0.04 ÿ0.95 ÿ0.39* ÿ2.10
Locational effects
Arizona ÿ0.04 ÿ0.94 ÿ0.37* 3.62 0.59* 9.02 ÿ1.00* ÿ2.38
California ÿ0.21* ÿ3.36 ÿ0.43* ÿ3.68 0.13* 1.63 ÿ0.46* ÿ1.58
Colorado 0.09 1.12 0.27* 2.10 0.48* 5.60 ÿ0.41* ÿ1.51
Florida 0.10* 2.70 0.27* 3.47 0.23* 4.87 0.75* 4.13
Georgia 0.07* 2.18 0.33* 3.40 ÿ0.02 ÿ0.42 ÿ0.43* ÿ1.71
Idaho 0.01 0.12 0.29* 1.92 0.38* 4.36 1.54* 5.45
North Carolina 3.8710
0.07 ÿ0.35* ÿ3.58 ÿ1.09* ÿ10.31 ÿ0.09 ÿ0.38
New Mexico 0.01 0.08 0.27* 2.05 0.40* 3.27 0.49* 1.51
Nevada 0.10* 1.93 0.56* 2.61 0.64* 5.61 1.48* 2.57
Oregon ÿ0.01 ÿ0.18 ÿ0.20* ÿ1.96 0.15* 1.90 ÿ0.36 ÿ0.99
Tennessee 0.42* 7.55 0.09 0.96 0.44* 8.35 0.34 1.08
Utah 0.25* 3.79 0.38* 2.52 0.11* 1.45 0.40 0.88
Washington 0.14 1.27 0.31* 2.94 0.39* 4.33 1.33* 3.98
Number of observations 849 849 849 684
Adjusted R
0.62 0.40 0.61 0.42
514 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 515
Tabl e 4 (continued).
Sewerage Trash collection `Housing' Police protection
coefficient tcoefficient tcoefficient tcoefficient t
Constant 1.76* 9.40 1.28* 7.07 1.31* 5.16 2.93* 35.11
Built environment
density 0.03 1.12 ÿ0.02 ÿ0.71 0.01 0.31 ÿ0.02* ÿ1.87
urbanized land 5.4210
1.08 7.3010
* 1.89 6.8610
* 1.88 3.2010
* 2.25
property value ÿ1.4610
*ÿ1.34 2.6510
0.24 5.9810
0.64 6.3210
* 1.37
Political characteristics
per capita municipal governments ÿ1.82* ÿ3.11 0.21 0.45 ÿ2.54* ÿ3.21 ÿ0.63* ÿ1.95
per capita special districts ÿ1.24* ÿ2.80 ÿ1.39* ÿ2.69 ÿ1.97* ÿ3.34 ÿ0.46* ÿ1.83
central city indicator 0.18* 2.04 0.39* 4.48 0.52* 5.33 0.12* 4.82
per capita local tax revenue 2.2810
* 7.82 1.3610
* 5.66 8.2810
* 2.51 1.4710
* 9.43
per capita intergovernment revenue 1.3810
* 4.42 1.8010
* 5.51 2.0510
* 4.89 7.3310
* 4.97
Temporal effects
1987 ÿ0.07 ÿ0.62 ÿ0.17* ÿ1.97 ÿ0.23* ÿ2.30 1.9110
1992 ÿ0.12 ÿ1.10 ÿ0.02 ÿ0.26 ÿ0.29* ÿ2.37 ÿ1.5310
Locational effects
Arizona ÿ0.17 ÿ0.74 ÿ0.11 ÿ0.83 ÿ0.16 ÿ0.79 0.37* 7.67
California 0.08 0.45 ÿ1.40* ÿ5.53 ÿ0.16 ÿ0.71 0.23* 3.59
Colorado 0.17 1.00 ÿ1.62* ÿ4.04 0.43* 1.99 0.16* 2.37
Florida ÿ0.67* ÿ3.50 0.56* 6.03 ÿ0.12 ÿ0.82 0.38* 10.80
Georgia ÿ0.36* ÿ2.57 0.13* 1.44 0.20 1.29 0.10* 2.66
Idaho 0.81* 3.99 0.93* 5.67 1.25* 3.26 0.49* 5.87
North Carolina ÿ0.61* ÿ3.35 0.37* 4.46 0.30* 1.94 0.07* 1.62
New Mexico ÿ0.27 ÿ0.73 ÿ0.04 ÿ0.20 ÿ0.43* ÿ1.62 0.47* 6.56
Nevada ÿ0.48 ÿ1.16 ÿ2.82* ÿ7.40 0.40* 1.80 0.88* 7.40
Oregon 0.50* 3.26 ÿ1.78* ÿ5.90 0.92* 4.48 0.04 0.80
Tennessee 0.24* 1.61 0.65* 5.41 0.85* 4.69 0.21* 4.18
Utah 0.49* 2.21 0.17 0.83 0.23 0.70 0.28* 1.56
Washington 0.59* 3.89 ÿ0.17 ÿ0.92 0.10 0.54 0.18* 2.97
Number of observations 753 839 849 849
Adjusted R
0.34 0.41 0.32 0.70
516 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
Tabl e 4 (continued).
Fire protection Parks and recreation Education Libraries
coefficient tcoefficient tcoefficient tcoefficient t
Constant 1.58* 8.73 1.13 6.08 5.64* 74.03 0.33* 2.09
Built environment
density ÿ0.02 ÿ0.78 ÿ4.8610
ÿ0.28 ÿ0.04* ÿ4.48 ÿ0.01 ÿ0.49
urbanized land 3.9410
1.16 6.1110
* 1.50 ÿ1.8910
*ÿ1.36 57210
* 1.68
property value 7.2610
0.65 4.2410
0.48 9.6510
* 2.52 32210
Political characteristics
per capita municipal governments ÿ2.64* ÿ6.52 ÿ2.10* ÿ3.64 0.03 0.18 ÿ1.61* ÿ4.15
per capita special districts ÿ0.57 ÿ1.24 ÿ1.26* ÿ3.17 ÿ0.34* ÿ1.32 ÿ1.22* ÿ3.43
central city indicator 0.32* 5.96 0.39* 6.48 ÿ0.03* ÿ1.38 0.18* 2.61
per capita local tax revenue 2.0710
* 5.71 2.5910
* 6.39 7.9310
* 5.78 21810
* 7.03
per capita intergovernment revenue 1.1510
* 3.87 1.0210
* 3.72 1.2510
* 6.99 6.9710
* 3.17
Temporal effects
1987 ÿ0.07 ÿ0.91 ÿ0.14* ÿ1.86 0.02 0.92 ÿ0.02 ÿ0.29
1992 ÿ0.15* ÿ1.55 ÿ0.28* ÿ2.88 ÿ0.06 ÿ1.19 ÿ0.08 ÿ0.95
Locational effects
Arizona 0.31* 2.29 0.52* 4.23 ÿ0.08* ÿ1.58 0.55* 3.68
California 0.24* 1.58 0.34* 2.05 ÿ0.32* ÿ4.59 0.52* 3.97
Colorado 0.19 1.28 0.90* 5.77 ÿ0.03 ÿ0.53 0.59* 4.27
Florida 0.36* 4.96 0.60* 6.28 ÿ0.10* ÿ3.73 0.31* 3.18
Georgia ÿ0.01 ÿ0.11 0.02 0.18 ÿ0.27* ÿ6.14 ÿ0.57* ÿ4.93
Idaho 1.03* 7.89 0.92* 5.81 ÿ0.08 ÿ0.93 1.13* 8.05
North Carolina 0.14 1.21 0.23* 1.65 ÿ0.12* ÿ4.01 0.46* 3.87
New Mexico 0.39* 2.17 0.81* 3.53 ÿ0.17* ÿ2.63 0.77* 3.82
Nevada 0.95* 4.60 1.59* 8.41 ÿ0.24* ÿ3.11 0.86* 5.52
Oregon 0.74* 6.33 0.32* 2.63 0.12* 1.99 0.64* 5.13
Tennessee 0.46* 3.79 0.26* 1.64 ÿ0.17* ÿ3.34 ÿ0.20* ÿ1.66
Utah 0.85* 3.81 1.52* 5.96 0.14* 2.13 1.22* ÿ7.82
Washington 0.71* 5.91 0.99* 6.21 ÿ0.08* ÿ1.37 1.19* 7.38
Number of observations 846 843 849 827
Adjusted R
0.53 0.58 0.55 0.54
* Significant at p<0:10.
Note: For units of measurement, see table 2.
with the greatest savings realized in areas with very high densities. An individual police
officer patrolling a square mile in a dense urban area may provide protection to many
more people than his or her counterpart in a suburban area. Likewise, fewer roads are
needed in high-density areas, and school systems may be operated more efficiently
fewer (though larger) schools and less bussing of pupils are needed, for example. Among
the rest of the models, density is insignificant and/or negative except in two logical
instances: other transportation and sewerage.The positive coefficient in the equation for
other transportation makes sense given the increased need for parking garages, public
transit, and other facilities in high-density areas. Similarly, the positive correlation
between density and sewerage is likely attributable to the use of private septic systems
and lack of stormwater systems in low-density areas. Assuming a one-tailed hypothesis
test in the opposite direction to that specified
positive instead of negative
the density
coefficient in the sewerage equation is significant at an 85% confidence level. Overall,
the models provide good evidence that density works to increase the cost-effectiveness
of public service expenditure.
Second, the spatial extent of urbanized land is positive and significant in most of
the models, indicating that the spread of a metropolitan area plays an important role in
determining public service expenditure. As explained in the background discussion,
urban sprawl requires roadways and sewer systems to be extended over long distances
to reach relatively fewer people. Trash collection and street cleaning activities must
cover larger areas and, similarly, police and fire protection are spread thin, requiring
more patrols and, potentially, more station houses to achieve a given level of service. In
the case of parks and libraries, a greater number of facilities must be built in order for
people throughout the metropolitan area to enjoy equal access. In one instance
the urbanized land coefficient is significant and negative, but this effect
is more likely to be a result of the overall size of the urban area than its spatial extent.
The coefficient is positive and insignificant in the housing and community development
equation, indicating that the spatial extent of urban development has little effect on
spending on these services.
Third, property value is significant in five of the twelve equations and positively
correlated with per capita spending for all services except for other transportation and
sewerage. These findings illustrate the balancing effect that property value has in
helping dense urban areas support themselves
and also how an examination of the
influence of density in isolation may provide misleading results. As property values are
generally the greatest in high-density areas, their contributions to public revenue
through property taxes enable density to support itself. In the case of other transporta-
tion and sewerage, the negative coefficient is logical, because parking garages, sewerage
treatment plants, and other locally undesirable facilities are less likely to be built in
areas with high property values.
Fourth, the three political characteristics are significant in most of the equations,
highlighting the role that political fragmentation plays in influencing patterns of public
spending. Specifically, all of the coefficients for per capita municipal governments and
per capita special districts carry negative signs, except in the roadways model, where
municipal fragmentation has a positive influence, and in the trash collection and
education models, where the respective variables are insignificant. These findings
suggest that the formation of small general and special purpose governments may
work to lower per capita spending, although it remains unclear just how this occurs.
Although it is possible that greater efficiencies are achieved through competition
among jurisdictions, some analysts have suggested that fragmentation may create fewer
opportunities for budget maximization and/or may reduce communities' willingness to
provide certain types of collective services (Dowding et al, 1994). In either case, further
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 517
research is needed in order to develop a better understanding of how fragmentation
affects public service expenditures. Meanwhile, the central city indicator captures signifi-
cant differences between the spending patterns of central city and suburban counties. In
all cases except for education, the parameter estimates indicate that more money is
spent on public services in central cities. This finding is realistic, as central cities
commonly house facilities such as parks and museums that are used by the metropolitan
area at large and are often where infrastructure systems converge. The negative sign on
the education coefficient is interesting because it reinforces the notion that higher
quality school systems are located in suburban areas.
Finally, the remaining control variables
revenue and the temporal and locational
fixed effects
fulfill their expected role within the equations. Being perhaps the most
important determinants of public spending, local tax revenue and intergovernmental
revenue are significant and positive in all equations. The temporal fixed effects are only
occasionally significant, indicating that little time-specific correlation exists among
locations at the times of observation. The locational fixed effects, in contrast, are
mostly significant, revealing important state-to-state differences in per capita spending
patterns. Unfortunately, because the fixed effects capture an amalgamation of unob-
served effects, they have no straightforward interpretation; instead, they highlight the
need for further research aimed at uncovering state-level variables that affect local
governments' spending patterns.
4 Discussion
The results of the empirical analysis (summarized in table 4) illustrate the numerous
ways in which the characteristics of urban development affect public service expendi-
tures. Collectively, they point to two overarching conclusions: (1) the physical pattern
of development has a multidimensional effect, with density, urbanized land area, and
property value all influencing the per capita value spent on service provision; and (2)
one way or another, the political structure of metropolitan areas makes a difference,
with greater fragmentation being associated with lower expenditure. Although the first
of these findings is a well-known argument that is widely accepted among the planning
community (Kaiser et al, 1995) there was little in the way of supporting evidence prior
to this study. What follows are several policy-relevant insights and directions for future
By far the most salient finding of the analysis is that the per capita cost of most
services declines with density (after controlling for property value) and rises with the
spatial extent of urbanized land area. This reinforces planners' claim that urban sprawl
undermines cost-effective service provision, and lends support to growth management
and `smart growth' programs aimed at increasing the density and contiguity of metro-
politan areas
at least from the standpoint of public finance. In particular, the models
show that there are savings to be gained in numerous areas, especially where both the
density and the spread of the metropolitan area matter for the cost of service delivery.
One important exception is sewerage, but further investigation is needed to determine
whether the positive correlation is attributable to the increased cost or increased use of
sanitary and stormwater sewage systems in high-density areas. In other words, the
coefficient may reflect the greater reliance on septic tanks and above-ground storm-
water drainage in low-density areas. The positive influence of the urbanized land area
variable (though not quite significant within acceptable tolerances) suggests that this
may be the case because it indicates that sewerage systems are more expensive when
spread over greater areas. Although this evidence does not unilaterally justify growth
management, it indicates that communities may wish to carefully evaluate whether or
not greater efficiencies could be achieved through their urban form.
518 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
Empirical research on the effectiveness of state-based growth management programs
suggests that they may help to reduce public expenditures through their influence on
urban form. Specifically, programs that require local governments to produce plans
that are consistent with state-defined goals and objectives and that incorporate urban
growth boundaries (such as in Oregon) have been found to increase urban densities,
which in turn affect the cost of public services. Programs that do not require consis-
tency among jurisdictions' planning activities (such as in Georgia) and/or that rely on
concurrency (such as in Florida) may inadvertently contribute to sprawl, thereby
raising the cost of services (for an analysis demonstrating these results, see Carruthers,
As an extension, the strong link between urban form and service expenditures
reinforces the rationale for `market-based' approaches to growth management, such
as the use of development impact fees. As described in section 2, one of the principal
complaints of urban sprawl is that it often ends up being financed by the public-at-
large through average cost pricing mechanisms. Impact fees alter this situation by
shifting some or all of the costs of growth to the private sector, forcing developers to
consider more seriously the costs of alternative development patterns (Altshuler and
¬ez, 1993). As these costs are eventually passed on to homebuyers
new housing more expensive
low-density development patterns may continue to be
accommodated as long as market demand is sufficient to uphold the increase in price.
Ultimately, the effect on the physical pattern of development rests on the elasticity of
demand for low-density growth. Although it is probably unrealistic to assess impact
fees for the ongoing costs of service provision, evidence suggests that it may be
relatively easy to shift the costs of physical infrastructure to the private sector (Speir
and Stephenson, 2002). It may therefore be worthwhile to compel new development to
finance the roads, sewerage, schools, and other infrastructure that it requires. For
example, in the average county in the dataset, capital facilities account for about 13%
of total direct expenditure
a substantial proportion of their overall budgets. Density,
urbanized land area, and property value are all highly significant in the capital facilities
model, providing good evidence in favor of assessing impact fees at least for physical
infrastructure. Even if growth continues to proceed at low densities, the increased price
of housing and other development will strengthen the tax base, raising the amount of
revenue available to support the ongoing costs of operation.
The results of this analysis point to several directions for future research. First,
there is a need for additional work to incorporate alternative measures of urban form
of the sort mentioned in section 3.1. For example, Galster et al (2001) have recently
defined seven distinct dimensions of urban land-use patterns beyond density: centrality,
clustering, concentration, contiguity, nuclearity, mixed use, and proximity. Each of
these has been developed for and tested in thirteen metropolitan areas. Similarly,
Alberti (1999) has emphasized the need to look beyond density and to include measures
of centralization, connectivity, and grain in studies of urban form, especially with
respect to its impact on the environment. Although the development of these types of
measures for multiple metropolitan areas presents a considerable challenge, they hold
much promise for offering further insight into the relationship between urban form and
the cost of public services.
Second, given the potential savings to be gained through more compact urban
development patterns, a major question that remains is whether or not the quality of
service is affected. In this paper we have dealt with intermediate outputs but not the
final outputs eventually consumed by the public. Future research should focus on
evaluating how the character of urban development influences people's enjoyment of
public services
congestion, for example, may overshadow the benefits of reduced cost
Urban sprawl and the cost of public services 519
if it significantly lowers the accessibility of a given service. However, the increased
property values of high-density areas may yield sufficient revenue to maintain a high
enough level of service provision to offset the effects of congestion and/or to provide
specialized forms of services that are unavailable in other areas. These issues are
important because, ultimately, citizen support for growth management programs and
for other policies aimed at shaping more compact development patterns is likely to rest
heavily on how the outcome affects their quality of life.
Finally, the finding that fragmentation is associated with lower per capita spending
suggests that there is a trade-off to be made between the physical and political
structure of metropolitan areas. In particular, a number of studies have shown evi-
dence that fragmentation contributes to urban sprawl in a physical sense by lowering
densities and/or promoting growth at the urban fringe (Carruthers, 2002b; 2003;
Carruthers and Ulfarsson, 2002; Lewis, 1996; Pendall, 1999; Shen, 1996). So, even if
the lower costs are attributable to interjurisdictional competition, as the Tiebout model
suggests, they may not offset the effects caused by the physical pattern of development.
Likewise, if the correlation reflects the limitations of smaller tax bases, the creation
of new municipalities and special districts may not be an advantageous approach to
dealing with public services
no matter what the effect of the physical pattern of
development. In any case, further applied research aimed at uncovering the nature
of the relationship between fragmentation and service expenditures and at evaluating
the relative costs and benefits of alternative political structures is needed before any
substantive conclusions can be made.
5 Summary and conclusions
Over the last several decades there has been a sustained interest in evaluating the
relative costs of alternative forms of development in US metropolitan areas. In this
paper we examined this issue through an analysis of the relationship between the
physical and political structure of metropolitan areas and twelve separate measures
of public expenditure: total direct, capital facilities, roadways, other transportation,
sewerage, trash collection, housing and community development, police protection,
fire protection, parks, education, and libraries. Our primary contribution has been to
provide empirical evidence of the widely held
but largely unfounded
belief among
planners that urban sprawl raises the cost of providing public services. In this way, we
have contributed to the sprawl ^ antisprawl debate in favor of more compact cities;
although US metropolitan areas will continue to suburbanize, the results presented
here suggest that they may maintain a more cost-effective urban form by doing so at
higher densities and by consuming less land. Although public service expenditures
represent just one aspect of urban performance, minimising the cost of such services
to residents produces net benefits to the public at large, as long as the quality of those
services remains unaffected. Talen and Ellis (2002) recently called for research to
develop well-validated criteria for identifying desirable outcomes of urban develop-
ment. The findings of this analysis represent substantive evidence that, at least from
the standpoint of public finance, a more compact urban form is a desirable planning
Acknowledgements. Special thanks to Peter Johnson for his invaluable research assistance, and to
the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions. An earlier version of
this paper was presented at the meetings of the Pacific Regional Science Conference Organization
in Portland, Oregon, in July 2001.
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522 J I Carruthers, G F Ulfarsson
... Empirical analysis is one way to gauge urban sprawl. An empirical study of the link between development patterns and the relationship between different variables and the cost of public service (Carruthers & Ulfarsson, 2003). Urban sprawl is a multifaceted issue that is difficult to define, quantify, and evaluate accurately. ...
... As long as there is no agreed-upon definition of sprawl, a wide range of methods will be used to approach various concepts of sprawl, the efficacy of which will be contested. Urban sprawl is measured by following stages in Figure 7. (Carruthers & Ulfarsson, 2003). ...
... fire protection, open space and parks, education, and libraries (Carruthers & Ulfarsson, 2003). ...
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Rapid changes in socio-economic condition in Bharatpur Metropolitan City (BMC) caused the rapid urban growth and which led to a several environmental damages such as: land fragmentation, unplanned settlements, uncontrolled land use conversion, increasing environment pollution and anthropogenic disasters. In recent years migration rate increases rapidly. This type of projections presented that gradual shift of human population from rural area to urban areas. Rapid urbanization plays a crucial role for arable land fragmentation and irregular land use changes. Which are major issues for urban planners and land developers. Due to irregular urban growth, urban managers and developer cannot predict the process of city growth and its modeling in future with precise methods for management. Major objectives of this study are: (i) To identify the sprawl pattern, major driving forces of urban growth, sprawl types (ii) To identify most significant urban expansion zone, urban expansion rate. (iii) To develop the future urban growth model of BMC. Analysis of spatiotemporal distribution pattern of land use from (1990 – 2020) shows that most of the arable agricultural land and forest area changes to urban and settlements during this study period. This study has been executed through Cellular Automata (CA) model for validation and development of future model and GIS based multi criteria decision making (MCDM) for land suitability analysis. Analytic hierarchy process (AHP) is a combination of qualitative and quantitative method used to calculate the weights of multi criterion by using pairwise matrices. By this method the biophysical and socioeconomic factors underlying the expansion has identified. Medium resolution satellite imageries of 1990, 2000, 2010, 2020 has used for analysis of land use and land use pattern 2020 used for model calibration. This study predicts the LULC in BMC for 2030 and 2040. Finally, suitability maps have been prepared for several classes: highly suitable, moderate suitable, less suitable and restricted area and its percentage of area.
... Although urban areas need to be expanded to accommodate the increasing population, too much expansion of urban areas results in a set of problems called urban sprawl: low-density, dispersed, suburban-style development, often described as the result of rapid, unplanned and/or uncoordinated urban growth (Carruthers and Ulfarsson 2003;Ewing 1997;Nelson and Duncan 1995). Urban sprawl creates the following prominent issues: (1) central city decline without investment in urban core areas; ...
... This is because the cost of road networks is shared among all the residents in urban areas rather than being charged directly to those who require them. In fact, the price of road networks is approximately at average cost rather than at marginal cost, and far-flung development patterns increase the average cost due to the large investments required to extend road networks to reach relatively few people (Brueckner 2000;Carruthers 2002;Carruthers and Ulfarsson 2003;Ewing and Hamidi 2015). The way to correct this problem is to adopt a system of impact fees that are calculated specifically to offset the road network cost of the new development (Brueckner 2000). ...
... Urban sprawl undermines the cost-effective provision of urban public infrastructure services, including road networks, and economies of scale for other services (e.g. police protection and public education) by lowering the density of individual consumers (Carruthers and Ulfarsson 2003). This issue provides a practical point of departure for debates about the role that governments should play in regulating the outcome of urban growth (Carruthers and Ulfarsson 2003;Ewing 1997). ...
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Although methods based on bottom-up approaches to delineating urban areas have been developed by focusing on the locations of buildings and road networks, they fail to account for the relationship between the delineated urban areas and the average total management cost of the road networks connecting the buildings. Focusing on building locations, a two-step method is proposed: clustering buildings with intervals that are shorter than a criterion, rc, before delineating built clusters that are bigger than a criterion, mc, as urban areas. Although rc has been optimised in the literature, rc and mc have not simultaneously been offered as optimal solutions. This is the motivation for answering the following question: how can we simultaneously optimise rc and mc to minimise the average total management cost (per building)? The study’s main conclusions are that: (1) there is an rc and mc pair that can minimise the average total management cost and delineate optimal urban areas; and (2) in the empirical study region (Chiba prefecture), the optimal rc and mc are 48 m and 42, respectively. Such optimal urban areas are expected to provide urban planners with a norm that can be compared not only with current but also with future images of urban areas.
... The environmental effects of sprawl as well as its effects on social interaction in cities have been documented in many studies, but the effect of sprawl on public accounts and the financial sustainability of municipalities and local governments is still an open question. There is evidence of the effect of urban form on the spending of local coffers (Benito et al., 2010;Carruthers & Ulfarsson, 2003;HortasRico, 2014;Hortas-Rico and Sole´ -Olle´, 2010;Sole´ -Olle´, 2001;Sole´ -Olle´ and Bosch, 2005), which form higher costs in providing basic public services. One of the most controversial issues is the relationship between urban sprawl and local financial stability (McGuire & Sjoquist, 2003). ...
... Some researchers have stated that it is very difficult to measure the costs and benefits of spatial use (including sporadic and consolidated development) (Litman, 2004;Knaap, 2003;Cox & Utt, 2004). Carruthers and Ulfarsson (2003) argue that a single analysis cannot consider all the costs and relative benefits of alternative development models. However, these authors argue that more research is needed on how the physical and political dimensions of metropolises affect the cost of public services. ...
... Sprawl costs in different countries are well documented (Camagni et al., 2002;Sjoquist & McGuire, 2002;Carruthers & Ulfarsson, 2003;Deal & Schunk, 2004;Hortas-Rico & Solé-Ollé, 2010;Sosa et al., 2017). Some studies have analyzed how local land taxation changes due to urban sprawl (Nuissl & Schroeter-Schlaack, 2009;Varela-Candamio et al., 2019). ...
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International literature on urban sprawl mainly emphasizes its environmental, social, and economic effects on urban areas. Many studies have dealt with the environmental effects of urban sprawl. However, the financial and economic consequences of this phenomenon are not yet clear. This study seeks to find the financial and economic consequences of urban sprawl on urban management. For this purpose, it uses an interpretive approach and a systematic Meta-synthesis method. Meta-synthesis is the systematic review and integration of findings from qualitative studies to form a new interpretation of the research field. The statistical population is the findings of other researchers in the field of urban sprawl in the period 1970–2022. The data were encoded and interpreted using MAXQDA software. MAXQDA is a qualitative research tool that can be used for coding and analyzing source materials. The results show that the financial and economic benefits of urban sprawl fall into seven categories: “real estate’s income; business, sales and services; government grants and subsidies; reduction in security costs; reduction in the cost of environment and urban services; reduction in physical costs and urban development; and reduction in the cost of transportation and traffic. But the costs of urban sprawl include "social and cultural costs; transportation and traffic costs; physical and urban development costs; environmental and urban services costs; current and administrative services costs; security and emergency services costs". Most researchers have acknowledged that the sprawl costs far more than the financial and economic benefits to the city, with most of the costs being borne by the environment and urban services, as well as transportation and traffic. Regarding the benefits of urban sprawl, researchers have emphasized the benefits of real estate. In many cities around the world, including cities in developing countries, extensive urban land ownership, and physical assets mean that taxes and charges on them can significantly increase public revenues, which can continue to increase as urban productivity increases. It seems that until there is not a fundamental change in the financial structure of urban management; the growth of urban sprawl or expansion is inevitable.
... Using an instrumental variables strategy for identification, Breschi and Lenzi (2016) study 331 MSAs over a relatively short time period (1995)(1996)(1997)(1998)(1999) and find that MSAs with larger average inventor networks have higher rates of patented innovation. Similarly, in a panel of 355 MSAs from 2003-2014, Bennett et al. (2021 find that metro areas with larger innovation networks have significantly more high-growth firms, defined as those growing at least 20% per year for at least 5 consecutive years. They argue that regional inventor networks facilitate the flow of new knowledge and technologies to individuals, organizations, and, ultimately, to the entrepreneurs who create new products and services. ...
... An often cited criticism of polycentric governance is that it can lead to urban sprawl. SeeCarruthers and Ulfarsson (2003) for an overview of this work.2 The polycentricity approach to municipal governance is far more nuanced than we can address in this paper. ...
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As declining state and federal aid forces regional governments to become more self-reliant, there is new interest in understanding factors that support regional resilience to economic and natural disasters. Using a sample of 365 metropolitan statistical areas, we examine one such factor: how regional government fragmentation shapes patented innovation, a known mechanism for bolstering resilience. While we find no evidence that the number of general-purpose governments (per capita) impact regional innovation, we do find that regions with a higher density of special-purpose governments have less inclusive innovation. This is true in terms both of who does the inventing and what is invented. Previous research links higher numbers of special-purpose government units to weaker economic performance; our results suggest higher numbers may also hinder regions’ abilities to adapt to disruptions.
... One of the significant costs of urban sprawl is excessive expenditure on the new infrastructure in the leapfrog development [49,99]. The results of the multiple research concern all types of infrastructure [109][110][111][112]; however, for the purposes of this article, the cost of the sewage network has been selected. It was not a random choice. ...
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The phenomenon of spatial chaos is ever-growing challenge in Poland. Its most common explanations are the weaknesses of spatial planning and the households’ economic-based decisions of building a house in the suburbs. In this context, Polish publications lack analyses of the impact of local authorities’ on shaping conditions for the development of new housing and renovation of the existing ones. The authors put forward a thesis about the persistence of an extensive land use policy model in Poland, in which local governments create conditions favouring area-consuming approach to locating buildings. At the same time, the same local governments allow de-agriculturalisation of land plots with a consequence that newly developed areas are not equipped with utilities (e.g., sewage or heating networks). Chaos in the development of residential areas is also illustrated by another phenomenon. Local authorities designate large degraded and revitalisation areas. This results in the dispersed effects. The article concentrates on these three symptoms of spatial chaos in Poland, i.e., random and dispersed expansion of new investments in sewage system, lack of integration between district heating systems and direction of residential development and dispersed effects of revitalisation, which cannot prevent flight from blight. The obtained results allowed to confirm the thesis about the extensive land use policy model in Poland.
... Population growth can become a challenge for cities if it is not managed well, as it will exacerbate localized environmental stress. Not only does expansive population growth typical of urban sprawl have social and environmental costs (Camagni, Gibelli, and Rigamonti 2002;Johnson 2001), it also increases stress on city services and infrastructure-from transportation to water/sewer and energy usage-inducing leaders to attempt some control over growth (Carruthers and Ulfarsson 2003;Feiock 2004;Feiock et al. 2008; Hortas-Rico and Sol e-Oll e 2010; Ladd 1992). Cities implement various policy strategies to try and manage growth and mitigate the less desirable effects. ...
The use of land use regulations to enhance a city’s sustainability portfolio is not well understood by public administration and policy scholars. Given the positive impact higher-density, environmentally conscious zoning instruments can have on a city’s overall progress toward increased sustainability, we seek to determine why some cities use these sustainability-focused land use regulations and others do not. After developing an explanatory framework emphasizing a city’s population growth and environmental stress, as well as its political institutions and economic conditions, we use an enhanced ICMA’s (International City/County Management Association) Local Government Sustainability Practices survey to test our predictions. We find that cities experiencing greater population growth and environmental stress will be more likely to include land use regulations in their sustainability portfolios. We also find that cities operating under council-manager forms of government and those with greater fiscal resources are more likely to have sustainability-focused zoning regulations in place.
... Gordon and Richardson suggest that there is no empirical evidence to show that higher population densities lead to economic growth [15]. Another study, of 283 metropolitan areas in the United States, showed that per capita spending on infrastructure declines at greater densities [38]. Many urban studies claim that while the compact city concept is efficient regarding the cost-of-service provision, no clear direct connection can be easily drawn between economic growth and the intensification provided by the compact city model. ...
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Urban sprawl is one of the most challenging urban phenomena. Many urban planners believe that it is difficult to achieve sustainable development without managing undesired urban growth. Since the 1960s, a wide range of urban planning policies have been introduced to manage urban sprawl. The concepts of New Urbanism, smart growth, and compact city started to be discussed and implemented in developed countries. Jeddah, as the second largest city in Saudi Arabia, is no exception. The planning authority has attempted to apply a compact city model to control urban sprawl. This study aims to evaluate the implementation of the compact city model in Jeddah by comparing the outcomes to what was expected. It presents the historical urban growth pattern and discusses in detail the effect of the policy implementation on both district and city growth level. The main study findings are as follows: (i) While the compact city model depends on encouraging people to live in high-density districts and mixed-use development to reduce commuting time and increase the efficiency of public transport, Jeddah failed to provide an efficient public transportation system to encourage investments in mixed-use real-estate projects. (ii) A higher population density was achieved (from 44 to 155 person per hectare), but it came with many other infrastructure, social, and economic issues. (iii) The implementation failed to control the sprawl as was anticipated. The city grew within the study area by about 20% and the price per square m was increased by 300%. Thus, the main finding of the study shows that to achieve noticeable sustainable urban development—in the case of Jeddah—the planning authority should aim for more regulation of flat urban development and promote a more realistic and sustainable intensification policy. A well-designed approach to guide future development and provide functional open spaces to enhance the sense of community, reducing automobile dependency and respecting all other local social, economic, and environmental aspects, could be more effective in reducing and controlling the rate of urban sprawl.
... Spatial planning and land-use policies have a long tradition of steering urban development. However, the efficacy of these has been both proven (Wende et al., 2020;Carruthers and Ulfarsson, 2003) and brought into question (Siedentop et al., 2016;Pagliarin, 2018;Altes, 2006). A contradiction emerges because the capacity to steer landchange processes is affected by many contextual factors not directly within the reach of spatial planners . ...
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Today, most countries in the global north have developed and implemented urban growth management (UGM) programs and policies aimed at mitigating the impacts and negative externalities of urban sprawl and achieving a more compact urban form. However, there is substantial disagreement about their effectiveness and effects of these programs. In this paper, we systematically review the extensive literature on growth management to better understand a) the current state of the practice of UGM, and b) the determinants of successful UGM implementation. Compared to previously available literature syntheses, which focus heavily on North American research, we also take into account studies based in Europe and some Asian and Oceanic countries. From this literature, we identify several key factors to successful growth management implementation: a multi-level governance approach, intersectoral policy coordination, a regionally adapted mix of policy instruments, balancing development needs with preservation goals, and the ability to develop positive narratives around growth management.
This paper presents the notion of spatial signatures as a characterisation of space based on form and function designed to understand urban environments. The spatial configuration of the dif-ferent components of cities is relevant for at least two main reasons. On the one hand, it encodes many aspects of the phenomena that created such an arrangement in the first place. On the other, once in place, this arrangement of urban form and function underpins many outcomes, from economic productivity to environmental sustainability. Our approach unfolds in three main stages. First, we propose a new spatial unit –the Enclosed Tessellation (ET) cell– to delineate space in a way that is exhaustive and matches the underlying processes at which urban form and function operate. Second, we propose to attach a large variety of form and function-based characters to ET cells to describe each of these units. Third, to build spatial signatures, information on ET cells can be clustered using unsupervised learning techniques. This process results in a theory-informed, data-driven typology of space that follows form and function. We demonstrate the flexibility of the approach to a variety of data landscapes and cultural backgrounds by providing five illustrations of spatial signatures for five cities across five continents. These showcases demonstrate the ability to successfully differentiate areas of a city that were built at different points in time and under different technological regimes, but also highlight broader comparisons about the nature of urban fabric in different regions of the world. Our contribution resides in leveraging modern data, tech-nology and methods to propose a detailed, consistent and scalable methodology that characterises urban form and function. The spatial signatures can be used across academic disciplines and by a variety of practitioners and policymakers supporting initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
Public sector objectives in land use policy planning can be evaluated by comparing them with the various types of market failure. In general public policy corrects some instances of market failure, fails to correct others, and creates yet others. By using a market failure perspective government could greatly reduce negative externalities in the form of pollution and land use incompatabilities, inefficiencies in the provision of public services along with the attendant incentives for sprawl, as well as the costs inequities of achieving social objectives. These results would come from designing policies to take advantage of and enhance market processes rather than replacing markets with political process.
This article develops an analytic framework for evaluating the effectiveness of regulatory growth management programs. First, the literature review assembles a large body of recent research examining the evolution of growth management programs, the role of government institutions, and evidence of policies' effectiveness. Second, working from the findings of the literature review, the article inductively develops a conceptual model identifying the relationships between program implementation, land market processes, and land use outcomes. Finally, the conceptual model is used to derive a set of principles that may be used to inform future research.
This paper examines the impact that alternative state planning frameworks have on five dimensions of urban development: density, the spatial extent of urbanised land area, property value, public expenditures on infrastructure and population change. The objectives of the analysis are threefold. First, the background discussion provides a brief overview of urban sprawl as a public policy problem and outlines how state growth management programmes attempt to respond to it. Secondly, the empirical analysis examines the effects of growth management in a cross-section of metropolitan counties during the 1982-97 time-period. The five outcome measures are modelled in a simultaneous equations framework in order to test several specific hypotheses about how state land-use policies affect the character of urban growth. Thirdly, the results of the empirical analysis are described within the context of previous research on the effectiveness of growth management. The findings suggest that state growth management programmes with strong consistency requirements and enforcement mechanisms hold much promise for reducing urban sprawl, while programmes that do not require consistency and/or have weak enforcement mechanisms may inadvertently contribute to it.
This paper reviews the empirical evidence on the relationships between urban patterns and various dimensions of environmental quality and performance. I first examine approaches to measuring urban environmental perfomance, drawing on the concepts of carrying capacity, ecological footprint, environmental space, and appropriated ecosystem area. Since cities affect and are affected by ecological systems far beyond their physical boundaries, I propose including interactions at the local, regional, and global scales in the definition of environmental performance. I then systematcally review the current literature on the reltionship between four structural variables typically used to describe urban patternform, density, grain, and connectivity and four dimensions of environmental perfomance sources, sinks, ecological support systems, and human well-being. I conclude that what we measure and the scale of analysis affect the direction of observable urban ipacts. We must consider these factors as we select measures of urban environmental peformance.
This article assesses the public water and sewer costs associated with alternative housing patterns. These patterns are defined in terms of lot size, tract dispersion, and distance from existing water and sewer service centers. The engineering cost model presented here gives empirical evidence of how sensitive local government service costs are to the spatial pattern of single-family residential development. The results show that more spread out housing patterns are more costly to supply with public water and sewer services, but that shifting a majority of these costs to the private sector may be a relatively simple matter.