Last week, Smart Growth America released “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” a report detailing the benefits of living in compact urban areas. Living in compact areas is great because you can walk places, like say a grocery store, but the report found that the benefits to non-sprawling areas were far more in-depth, including lower costs for housing and transportation, access to more modes of transportation, lower obesity rates, fewer fatal car accidents, and overall greater economic mobility.
The study was led by Reid Ewing, professor in City & Metropolitan Planning and director of the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center, with assistance from Shima Hamidi, PhD student in Metropolitan Planning, Policy & Design.
Researchers used four primary factors—residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network—to evaluate development and assign a Sprawl Index score to each. Number one, America’s least sprawling metropolitan area, was New York City. Salt Lake City was number 94. Hickory, N.C., and Atlanta were the two most sprawling cities of the 221 surveyed.
“This is the most extensive study to date to define and measure the costs and benefits of sprawl development,” says Ewing. “We found that as a region’s scores improved—that is, as an area sprawled less—several quality of life factors improved along with them, including greater economic mobility, lower combined costs of housing and transportation and higher life expectancies. This research demonstrates the many ways our development decisions impact us every day, and informs how better development practices can improve our quality of life.”