Kolankiewicz - Beck response to criticism of report
"Weighing Sprawl Factors In Large U.S. Cities"


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FROM: Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz
DATE: 22 MAR 01

John Holtzclaw has circulated the following response to our study, Weighing Sprawl Factors In Large U.S. Cities at www.SprawlCity.org. We thought it might be helpful to go through his concerns. Our comments are included in John's response, below. Following our joint comments is a more in-depth article by Leon Kolankiewicz, The Entire World's Population Could Fit Into Texas And There'd Be No Sprawl!, which addresses points that John Holtzclaw makes.



Comments by authors Leon Kolankiewicz and Roy Beck are included below, interleaved with John Holtzclaw's original text.
From: John.Holtzclaw@sierraclub.org and transportation action --
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2001
> Hi folks,
> I received the booklet, "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities" Kolankiewicz and Beck, 19 March 2001; also featured on www.SprawlCity.org), by mail yesterday. It should have come with a warning: based upon a clever, tricky ? and ultimately dishonest analysis. It purports to prove that half our sprawl is due to population increase and half to "land use choices," or land/capita.

K-B response: John has incorrectly stated the finding. We do not say that half of sprawl is due to "land-use choices." We say that half of sprawl is due to "land-use and consumption choices that lead to an increase in the average amount of urban land per resident." (p7) our study clearly measures the role of the increase in per capita land consumption in sprawl. Although this doesn't begin to tell us everything about the effect of all land-use choices, it does answer a very important question: how much of America's sprawl since 1970 has been due to Americans choosing to live, work, play, transport, shop, park, etc. In a less dense and more spread-out manner?


> It argues, for instance, that if a region's urbanized area grows 40% while it population grows 20%, half its sprawl is due to population and half to land-use-choices.

K-B response: Actually, we show out that if overall sprawl is advancing at twice the rate of population growth, that actually means that around two-thirds of the sprawl is related to population growth (p.38). The same is true if sprawl is advancing at twice the rate of the growth in per capita consumption. There is a very logical mathematical explanation for this, even though nearly all journalists, commentators and even urban planning experts consistently get it wrong.


> Until you think about it, that seems reasonable. But hidden in the analysis is the assumption that present sprawl isn't sprawl, or at least isn't land-use-choice sprawl. Or, if we retain the same land-use-choice sprawl that isn't sprawl. (This "choice," of course, is the only choice most builders and zoning offer, not what families would choose if given real choices. But that's another argument, not to be dealt with here.) Land-use-choice sprawl is land-use-choice sprawl, even it's ONLY a continuation of present sprawl patterns. Whatever size a population, it can be compact or sprawling.

K-B response: John is close to understanding the study. Here is another way of explaining it: our study first looks to see if the residents in an urbanized area have increased the amount of land used for the average person. It then determines how much of the total sprawl of an area was related to that increase in per capita land consumption. Because total land consumption can increase from only one other factor other than per capita land consumption (pg 30), we then find what part of overall sprawl is related to population growth. As we make very clear, the apportioning is on the basis of which type of growth (population growth or per capita land consumption growth) is responsible for which part of sprawl.


> By their analysis, if Phoenix doubled in both population and area, continuing its egregiously wasteful land use, that's not land-use-choice sprawl! Nonsense! Arizona State University Professor Ignacio San Martin has a telling slide of Phoenix, which covers only about one-third of its metropolitan area. It shows the outlines of Manhattan, Paris, Rome and San Francisco superimposed upon the outline of Phoenix ? with half of Phoenix left over!!!

K-B response: John is suggesting that if phoenix had a 100% increase in total urban land and at the same time had a 100% increase in population, our study would say that all the sprawl was related to population growth and none was related to increase in per capita consumption. That is correct.


> Phoenix could easily take a doubling in population (whether or not it should) within its present land area, AND absorb all its surrounding metropolitan area population and still have excessive land-use-choice sprawl. But it could return its now-emptied burbs to cactus forests and arroyos. And some of its neighborhoods would be more human and livable, and more residents could walk to visit friends, relatives or parks, and to shop. A veritable renaissance.

K-B response: This is the main theme of John's concern throughout his e-mail: he believes that since it is theoretically possible for all population growth to occur within an existing urban boundary that no sprawl should be attributed to population growth. Far from ignoring this opinion, our study addresses it on pages 40-44. One problem with John's view on this is that it is truly theoretical. We conclude that because there are no examples of Urbanized Areas experiencing substantial population growth and restricting all or most of it inside existing urban boundaries, there is not practical reason to hold that as a possible model under any forseeable political, social and economic conditions. The fact that Paris is settled at a much higher density really has nothing to do with Phoenix, because Phoenix is already built as it is built.
In fact, Phoenix has been greatly reducing its land per person (that is, increasing its density) and moving in the direction that john suggests. From 0.287 acre per person in 1970, it shrank consumption to 0.236 in 1990, which is just over the national average. But our study emphasizes that despite an impressive shrinking of the land diet, Phoenix still sprawled an additional 353 square miles because it added more than 1.1 million residents. John seems to suggest that population growth should not be held responsible for any of that since 'theoretically' all 1.1 million could have been forced into existing structures by sub-dividing houses, tearing down houses and building apartment buildings, tearing down apartment buildings and building higher apartment buildings, constructing on every available piece of open land, etc. He is entitled to that view. Our study merely says Phoenix was unable to reduce its per capita land consumption at anything like the rate of its population growth and that per capita land consumption growth played no role in the sprawl there.


> Don't let yourself be taken in by such their deceptive analysis. It's land-use-choice sprawl as long as it wastes land, and as long as it doesn't give us housing type, neighborhood and transportation choices! Most American cities have sprawled so much that there is abundant land to take population growth, if compact, inside their present boundaries. Even Manhattan, already our densest city, is growing within present boundaries. Sprawl outside present boundaries is land-use-choice sprawl.

K-B response: Yes, every person who settles outside an urban border does so through some kind of land-use choice. But our study looks at Portland to see if there is any hope of controlling sprawl through land-use choices alone. The conclusion is clear. Portland's land-use restriction walls are crumbling, and people have already sprawled well beyond the boundaries -- because of population growth. When perhaps the most willing residents in America are unwilling to live by the rules that John would impose on them, one has to conclude that it is impracticable to believe than land-use choices alone can get the job done.


> Perhaps worst of all, by misleading activists and by fouling the discussion of both population and sprawl, it distracts from, disparages and damages the Sierra Club's excellent Global Population and the Environment Program. These fine activists have enough challenge fighting the Bush Faux Presidency, they don't need this infighting too.

K-B response: Suggesting that anti-sprawl efforts tell the truth about all the sources of sprawl is not infighting. It is not distraction to focus on the whole story instead of just half the story. And focusing on the whole story does not mean reducing any efforts on the land-use half; it means adding efforts to the population half.


> I'd immediately relegate my copy of this booklet to the trash (paper recycling, of course) if I didn't need to keep it on hand to show doubters that I haven't distorted it. I hope I haven't hidden my true feelings by beating around the bush.

K-B response: For environmentalists to hide their heads in the sand and pretend that adding nearly 200 million people to our local communities this century has no environmental consequences simply plays into the hands of the developers who aggressively encourage policies to force this level of population growth.

As we say in our study, some of us expected that population growth was related to even more than half of overall sprawl. In fact a number of readers have contacted us to protest that we have underplayed the role of population. But the dozens of scholars who participated in this quantification insisted on an objective, credible effort and were willing to let the numbers fall where they fell. We have reported this information as straightforwardly as we knew how and will welcome further dialogue among all who are seeking ways to battle sprawl and the loss of rural land.


-- Roy Beck and Leon Kolankiewicz



The Entire World's Population Could Fit Into Texas

And There'd Be No Sprawl!

By Leon Kolankiewicz


Over the years, some of those who deny that America and the Earth are overpopulated have made "gee-whiz" claims to the effect that the world's entire population could fit into Texas... with space to spare to boot! Of course, even as such meaningless calculations demonstrated a respectable command of fifth-grade arithmetic skills for one really could stuff every last human into the Lone Star State (and they might even last a few days before dying of thirst, exposure, or each others' bodily wastes) they also displayed a woeful ignorance of just what overpopulation really is. Overcrowding is but one symptom of it. Except for certain incredibly dense pockets of sheer pulsating humanity like Calcutta, Tokyo subways, and L.A. freeways, which comprise no more than a few percent of the terrestrial surface area of the world, by and large Earth is not overcrowded, but it is overpopulated. It is overpopulated because even with today's (to say nothing of future) numbers, standard of living, and technology, we are collectively running down Earth's resources and environment; humanity is not living sustainably off of nature's "income," but is rather squandering its "capital."
Reading one particularly harsh attack by a Sierra Club official on "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S Cities" brings to mind just this Texas fallacy, because the critic objects strongly that authors Kolankiewicz and Beck have systematically, sharply, even dishonestly, overstated the role of population growth in driving sprawl. Critic John Holtzclaw claims that by using 1970 as a baseline, at a time when many American cities were already quite dispersed, and then measuring the relative influence of further declines in density and growth in population on their total sprawl from 1970-90, the Kolankiewicz-Beck (K-B) results are deceptive biased in favor of population growth rather than inefficient land use (i.e. low population density) when apportioning shares of sprawl to one or the other.
Overall, K-B concluded that population growth was linked to about half of all sprawl in the 100 largest U.S. cities from 1970-90. Holtzclaw evidently thinks population growth accounts for less, much less, of the overall sprawl, because American towns and cities are so spread-out and wasteful of land that they could have "easily" absorbed the 40 million or so increase in the nation's urban population from 1970-90 without having to expand one inch. Therefore, in his view, sprawl was not connected to these multitudes of new residents, but only to the continuation of our grossly wasteful land consumption.
Holtzclaw specifically stated that Phoenix, Arizona "could easily take a doubling of population (whether or not it should) within its present land area, AND absorb all its surrounding metropolitan area population and still have excessive land-use-choice sprawl." He is optimistic or naive if he thinks this would be easy. Yet this enthusiastic, uncritical faith in the supposed ease with which high-density, compact settlement patterns can be superimposed on existing neighborhoods is belied by the difficult experiences of those areas actually undergoing this process, either by design, as in the case of Portland, Oregon, or by (mostly) accident, as in the case of Los Angeles.
Portland in particular bears closer scrutiny precisely because it is lauded so frequently by smart-growth advocates as a model for other American cities to emulate. This progressive city tucked away in the fragrant conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest has received lavish accolades from urban planners and environmentalists for its commitment to innovative anti-sprawl measures aimed at keeping the city core vibrant even as they protect high-quality farmland on the outskirts. Yet, as one in an important series of December, 1998 articles in the Portland Oregonian on the 25th anniversary of the Urban Growth Boundary ("Legacy on the Line") pointed out: "25 years after Oregon staked its future on ambitious land-use rules, city folk feel too tightly packed and farmers feel beset by urban sprawl... Like seeds sown before the final frost... much of the praise... now appears premature." i
The plea "Don't Californicate Oregon" has appeared on bumper stickers for decades. Oregon passed its urban growth boundary (UGB) law in 1973 to preserve farmland, prevent sprawl and promote orderly growth.ii Each of Oregon's 241 cities is now surrounded by a UGB, which is a line drawn on planning and zoning maps out to which cities can grow. Beyond that line, land will remain rural.iii At least that is the intent. In the Portland metro area, however, even though "the region is arguably better equipped to manage its growth than any other U.S. metropolitan area," with an elected metropolitan government ("Metro") that possesses wide-ranging powers to control development, "there are ways growth can leap over such lines and defeat their purpose, even turn it on its head."iv A number of towns beyond Portland's UGB already serve as bedroom communities for Portland itself (with their new ex-California residents accustomed to hour-plus commutes). In recognition of the expanding pattern of commutes and commerce, in the mid-nineties the Office of Management and Budget and the Census Bureau redefined the Portland metropolitan region from the Portland-Vancouver CMSA (Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area) to the Portland-Vancouver-Salem CMSA. This vast urbanizing corridor encompasses an area spread over eight counties that extend far beyond the Portland UGB and well outside of Metro's jurisdiction.
This is what happens when large population increases descend on an area as demographic pressures intensify, the populations will break through whatever boundaries are established to contain them. A tide that never stops rising will eventually overtop a dike. The very fact that when Portland's UGB was first drawn in the 1970's, it was not drawn at the then-existing limit of development (in fact it was drawn some distance further out to allow for additional development) reveals that politicians and planners well recognized the difficulty of stopping sprawl in its tracks once it has already reached a line on a map. Now, as growth squeezes up ever more tightly against Portland's UGB, push is coming to shove and the "Great Wall of Portland" is facing ever more severe pressures. In 1998, under intense lobbying from developers to accommodate more residential development, Metro permitted the first major expansion of the UGB since it was established in 1979.v The Metro Council approved a 5,359-acre expansion onto prime farmland, which if fully developed, could fit an estimated 9,000 homes occupied by 22,000 or more people. Meanwhile, from 1990 to 1998 the Portland-Vancouver metro area grew by about 35,000 people a year, so that even this expansion was only a stop-gap measure, able to absorb less than eight months' population growth in the region.
In the meantime, however, Metro and Portland officials are aggressively implementing measures designed to accommodate this rapid population growth without breaching the wall further. And existing residents are feeling the squeeze. Reporters Robin Frenzen's and Brent Huntberger's article "Have we outgrown our approach to growth?" in the December 13, 1998 Portland Oregonian is worth quoting at a number of places:vi

  • "Oregon has zoned more than 16 million acres of farmland half of all privately owned land in the state into an agricultural preserve envied by other states as a feat of near-political impossibility....as a huge trade-off affecting the livability of more than a million people, the Portland region is squeezing more people, more rowhouses, more small-lot subdivisions into established cities and neighborhoods."
  • "Portland officials have angered many residents by subsidizing development and relaxing zoning codes to squeeze 40 percent more growth into neighborhoods than Metro envisioned. And the city approved the growth without first determining if its roads, services and design controls could handle the increased housing densities."
  • "...the Portland area, superb at big-picture planning, still struggles to make compact development compatible with established neighborhoods concerns that, if ignored, can erode support for the urban growth boundary and blow city life right onto the best farmland."
  • "Many older neighborhoods near Portland's downtown core are becoming richer and whiter while the outer edges of Portland and its suburbs grow more diverse and poor. In Multnomah County, between 1990 and 1996, home values doubled, but incomes grew by only a quarter. During that same time the number of low-income renters spending more than half their income on housing rose twice as fast as the national average."
  • "Within the urban growth boundary, lot sizes have shrunk by one-fifth since Oregon's land-use system took effect. In 1997, one of every two new homes was an apartment, condo or rowhouse. One of every four homes fills an empty or oversized lot."
  • "This denser development also comes at the expense of open space. The city of Portland's amount of parkland per 1,000 residents dropped this decade from 21 acres to 19 acres. While open space dwindles, land prices inside the urban growth boundary have almost tripled in some areas, in part because the boundary restricts land supply."
  • "Some families, seeking affordability and space, continue to look outside Metro's grasp. In the future, Metro predicts, nearly a third of the Portland region's newcomers will settle outside the boundary..."
  • "James A. Zehren, a Portland attorney and citizen policy advisor to Metro, said if residents think Metro's only goal is to increase density, 'we're going to continue to have opposition flare up. If it evolves in the wrong way, it's going to put the entire plan in jeopardy.' "
  • "Twenty-five years after Oregon's land-use system was established, the ongoing debate of the plan's effectiveness is not so much an overly critical analysis of past successes and failures as it is a frightening glance forward. With 1.5 million people - population mass the size of Portland - expected to move to the Willamette Valley over the next 40 years, will planners and voters have the tools they need to control growth?"

Because of the local stresses and strains the UGB has given rise to on its inside, even some environmentalists have been expressing their doubts about Portland's Great Wall. "This process has taxed my support greatly for the boundary," one air quality analyst for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (who doubles as president of his local neighborhood association) told the Portland Oregonian.vii And the former director of the Oregon Environmental Council accused the UGB of chasing away jobs, pushing up housing costs, and worsening traffic congestion and air pollution.viii
Yet environmentalists and the anti-sprawl movement continue to tout smart growth and compact settlements almost as a panacea. According to smart growth devotees, instead of shunning the compact development and higher housing densities of a country like Japan as foreign to the American Dream and our traditional notions of "elbow room" and personal freedom, more closely packed dwellings ought to be embraced so that population can continue to grow without spurring more sprawl. Pile people on top of each other instead of allowing them to spread out. Yet none of these density enthusiasts appears to have asked whether people like the Japanese actually choose to live compactly or are forced to by circumstances, namely the inescapable reality of such a large population crammed onto a mountainous archipelago with limited habitable area. "Perhaps nothing defines Japan, the Japanese psyche and a Japanese person's daily life more than space or the scarcity of it," concluded a Washington Post article. "You definitely have a feeling of no privacy," said one Tokyo resident, who hears every time a neighbor flushes a toilet, turns on a washing machine or shouts at his children. "Japanese daily life is filled with rules and more rules, and many of them exist because of the space shortage," observed the story.ix Is this the sort of future anti-sprawl, pro-population growth environmentalists are urging on America?
Returning to the case of Phoenix, it is interesting to go all the way back to the Census Bureau's urbanized area data for 1950, before both the post-war suburban boom and baby boom had fully detonated together. At that time, neither the population growth nor the affluence-driven, suburban expansion factors in sprawl had yet ignited in their explosive interaction. In fact, the Census-designated Phoenix urbanized area in 1950 was just 55 square miles, compared to 741 square miles by 1990. Thus, Phoenix's built-up area grew by more than 13 times in the 40 years from 1950-90. Yet its population also grew from just 216,000 to over two million, more than a nine-fold increase. Again, there is a striking correlation between the land area increase or sprawl and the population growth. Applying the same apportioning method used in "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S Cities" shows that 86% of this increase in land area is related to population growth and just 14% to rising per capita land consumption. This is not much different from the 1970-90 results for Phoenix (92%), to which John Holtzclaw takes such exception.
If American urbanized areas were all at the density of Manhattan or downtown San Francisco, or if there were no suburbs period, obviously sprawl would consume much less of the landscape, although the "ecological footprint" of each consumer would still co-opt ecologically productive land rural land beyond the urban limits. However, to the extent that compact development can reduce the high energy, water, and other resource consumption of dispersed development, its ecological footprint would be smaller.(x) "Weighing Sprawl Factors in Large U.S. Cities" gauges the degree to which increasing or decreasing density from the 1970 baseline contributed to 1970-90 sprawl. The authors had to start measuring at some point, and had to start with densities as they actually were, not as activists would have wanted them to be.
In a larger sense, Holtzclaw's denunciation of the method used in the K-B report to apportion shares of sprawl between rising per capita consumption and rising population represents one faction in the long-running, internecine feud among environmentalists over the relative roles of population and consumption in bringing about environmental degradation and resource depletion. At one extreme are those who blame sheer human numbers for all our environmental woes, at the other those who blame bloated per capita consumption and in particular, the gluttonous appetites of the heaviest consumers. The argument that rapid population growth could easily be absorbed into existing urban areas if only we became less inefficient in using land could be and has been made in other areas of environmental policy: with greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, water consumption, and so forth. In each of these areas, and others, Americans, compared to the world averages, have very high levels of per capita consumption. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption both rose markedly in the 1990s, and U.S population also grew by more than 30 million. Applying the same reasoning of Holtzclaw, none of the 1990-2000 increase in national greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption would warrant being attributed to this population growth, because our use patterns in 1990 were so wasteful. If we used energy more efficiently, as we should, then these 30 million residents could have been absorbed with no increase in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, we can just keep packing people into Texas.
Several years ago, pioneering ecological economist Herman Daly, in speaking at a seminar on Capitol Hill, addressed the population-consumption debate. He said it was sterile to debate whether it was population growth or high and rising consumption that was destroying the environment, because in fact it was both. Daly analogized that arguing whether population or consumption was at fault was like arguing whether the length or the width of a rectangle was responsible for its area, when the area was a product of both dimensions. Increasing one while the other is held constant increases the overall area. If both factors increase, the area increases even more. On the other hand, if one factor increases while the other decreases, the area may increase or decrease, depending on the relative strength of each factor. The K-B report explicitly relies on these basic mathematical concepts.


(i) Robin Franzen and Brent Hunsberger. 1998. "Have we outgrown our approach to growth?" The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon). 13 December.
(ii) Mike Padgett. 1998. "Critic slaps growth rules in Portland." The Business Journal (Phoenix, Arizona). 25 May 1998.
(iii) Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. 1995. "What is an Urban Growth Boundary?" Found on the World Wide Web at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~pppm/landuse/UGB.html.
(iv) Patrick Mazza. 1995. "Best Urban Growth Management Planning in the Nation?: Part 3 Gaps in Portland's Urban Growth Boundary." Cascadia Planet. Available on the World Wide Web at http://tnews.com/text/portland3.html.
(v) R. Gregory Nokes. 1998. "Urban growth boundary shift stirs lobbyists." The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon). 15 December.
(vi) See note
(vii) Brent Hunsberger. 1998. "Portland's desire for density stirs up residents' worries." The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon). 15 December. Comments of Wesley Risher, Hillsdale Neighborhood Association president.
(viii) See note 2. Comments of John Charles, former director of the Oregon Environmental Council; environmental policy director of the Cascade Institute at the time of the article.
(ix) Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan. 1999. "Never Far From the Madding Crowd: Japanese Have Most Things in Life Except Space." The Washington Post. July 29. P. A1, A26.
(x) Mathis Wackernagel and William Reese. 1996. "Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth". Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.



Information on Sprawl

The Sprawl Ballot Question

The Overlooked Factor in Sprawl

The Sprawl Ballot Question - Looking for the Root Cause

Facing the Future and Sprawl

StarWhat you can do to help

Sprawl and Population

Supporting statement (short)

Census Adjusted Upward

Supporting statement (long)

Sprawl: It's Too Many People

Sprawl resolutions passed by Club Chapters

www.SprawlCity.org shows
population-sprawl relationship

Frequently Asked Questions

Democracy in the Sierra Club?


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