Urban sprawl costs Americans $34 million a day, according to a new book that reports on a 10-year study into the economic costs of spreading out. Additionally, another new study debunks a common statement that policies to control sprawl drive up housing costs.

Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development, produced by a team of veteran researchers, offers the first comprehensive analysis of the cost of low-density development. If even 25 percent of growth shifts from traditional sprawl to compact development adjacent to existing structures, development costs would drop by $420 billion, says co-author Barbara McCann. That's primarily from building attached housing—townhouses and condos—that are less expensive to build than detached housing and because less infrastructure would need to be created.

Not only would it save money, it would give home buyers a desirable housing option that is currently lacking.

“We like to talk about people having choices, but we're very far from where most Americans have a real choice,” McCann says.

The second new study, “Does a More Centralized Urban Form Raise Housing Prices?”, focuses its attention on housing costs related to higher-density development. “The mantra chanted is that if you pursue smart growth, it's probably going to raise housing prices,” says Robert Wassmer, professor of public policy and economics at San Diego State University. What he found was that if the population in urbanized areas goes up by 10 percent, the price of land goes up, but people respond by building smaller houses on smaller lots, and the median home price actually drops by about 3 percent.

TOP 10 STATES FOR SPRAWL Defining sprawl as unlimited outward extension, low density, and leapfrog development, the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University ranks these states as having the highest scores on the sprawl index:




4.North Carolina

5.South Carolina






Learn more about markets featured in this article: San Diego, CA.