Media Release
Date Mar 4, 2004
For Immediate release

Halifax – “Urban sprawl”. Concern over this low-density suburban development in Canada, the United States, Australasia, Western Europe and Japan has prompted an “anti-sprawl” policy agenda often referred to as “smart growth.” In general, smart growth involves establishing intrusive and arbitrary controls on land use. It prohibits urban development outside “urban growth boundaries,” increases neighbourhood population densities and tries to substitute mass transit for highways to accommodate population growth.

A world leader in smart growth has been Portland, Oregon. Many urban planners view Portland as a model for limiting sprawl. While most urban areas in North America are not willing to adopt Portland’s more radical policies, some Canadian cities are expressing considerable interest in smart growth.

In the latest paper in AIMS’ Urban Futures project, “Smart Growth”: Threatening the quality of life, author Wendell Cox challenges the many assumptions promoted by smart growth advocates. He argues the evidence is mounting that Portland’s smart growth policies simply don’t work. Traffic congestion has worsened considerably. Housing prices have been forced up by land rationing and a shortage of commercial land appears to be hurting the regional economy. Voters have gone so far as enacting a referendum prohibiting further densification of existing neighbourhoods. As a result, Portland finds itself retreating from its smart growth policies.

Mr. Cox, an international expert in transportation policy and demographics says, “The justification for smart growth rests on faulty foundations. The anti-suburban advocates have failed to identify any problem that requires such policy interventions. There is no reason to hobble the economy with ‘smart growth’ policies that would reduce home ownership and worsen traffic congestion.”

In “Smart Growth”: Threatening the quality of life, Mr. Cox says in spite of claims by anti-suburban advocates that smart growth policies would reduce traffic congestion, virtually all of the evidence indicates higher densities mean greater traffic congestion. Additionally, land rationing increases housing prices and raises barriers to home ownership, especially for younger households, ethnic minorities and immigrants. Portland, with its smart growth policies, had the greatest loss in housing affordability in the United States during the 1990s. Harvard University research indicates that the principal cause of housing affordability differences in the US is land-use regulation.

On the release of the paper, AIMS President Brian Lee Crowley pointed out that the move toward land restriction is also being met with forceful opposition in Atlantic Canada. “In his paper Mr. Cox effectively challenges the interventionist thinking behind ‘smart growth’ with hard evidence of its failure. Municipal officials and urban planners are coming to understand their role is not to tell people how they ought to live, but to facilitate the choices people make for themselves about how they want to live. You cannot solve the problems of urban growth by rationing land any more than you can solve traffic congestion by rationing cars.”

Mr. Cox added “Canada’s urban areas and their residents will be served far better by continuing the land-use policies that have made them such good places to live. With appropriate stewardship of the environment, Canada’s high quality of suburban life is surely sustainable.”

Wendell Cox is principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy, an international demographics and transport firm headquartered in metropolitan St. Louis. Mr. Cox also serves as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris. He was appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to serve three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. On the Amtrak Reform Council Mr. Cox was instrumental in drafting the Council’s congressionally mandated plan for intercity rail in the United States.

Mr. Cox is sought after as a compelling and thoughtful speaker with extensive consultation experience on urban transportation issues throughout Canada. He has provided the strategic planning, competitive tendering report and performance audits of BC Transit. Mr. Cox was a vocal opponent of amalgamation of the city of Toronto and during the debate he became one of the few Americans ever to be invited to debate at both the Canadian Club and the Empire Club. In 2003 he spoke at Quebec Public-Private Partnership conference and was the only non-Toronto area speaker at the Greater Toronto Transportation Summit in March. Mr. Cox also spoke at the 10th annual Canadian Society of Civil Engineers Student Conference at the University of Toronto. He is vice-president of CODATU, which seeks to improve urban transport in the developing world and a member of the organization committee of the International Conference on Competition and Ownership in Land Passenger Transport. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg.

Recently, Mr. Cox met with urban development stakeholders in Nova Scotia to present his arguments at an AIMS briefing.

For more information on “Smart Growth”: Threatening the quality of life, please contact:

Jordi Morgan
Director of Communication and Development
Atlantic institute for Market Studies
902 446 3532
jordimorgan@aims.ca