Proximity Trumps Mobility: Smart Growth Maximizes Accessibility

The increased proximity provided by more compact and centralized development is about ten times more influential than vehicle traffic speed on the number of destinations that people can reach within a given travel time.

Researchers analyzed the number of destinations that can be accessed within a given amount of travel time by mode (automobile and transit) and purpose (work and non-work trips) for about 30 US metropolitan areas. They found that although denser urban development tends to reduce vehicle travel speeds, the increased proximity is about ten times more influential than travel speed in determining a metropolitan area’s overall accessibility. This indicates that smart growth policies which increase development density and mix, transport network connectivity, and transport system diversity can do more to improve overall transport system performance than efforts to increase traffic speeds and reduce congestion. 

The authors conclude, "Having destinations nearby, as when densities are high, offers benefits even when the associated congestion slows traffic. Where land use policy frequently seeks to support low-development densities in part in an attempt to maintain travel speeds and forestall traffic congestion, our findings suggest that compact development can often improve transportation outcomes."

Full Story: Does Accessibility Require Density or Speed? A Comparison of Fast Versus Close in Getting Where You Want to Go (PDF)




And high density obliterates community character. Smart growth maximizes bad taste.

Density Can Enhance Community Character

It depends on the design. For examples of how high density can enhance community character, see my pictures of Le Plessis-Robinson at and my article Le Plessis-Robinson: A Model for Smart Growth at

"Smart" is NOT the right word

This is "physical determinism". That is, the belief that any city can be turned into something like Manhattan in terms of its density and its transport mode shares, without having anything like Manhattan's main source of employment or the centuries of historical accident (and geography) that has made Manhattan what it is.

This is just as stupid as the cargo-cult savages in New Guinea who saw amazing demi-god humans build an airstrip in the jungle, following which magic metal monsters descended from the sky and unloaded cargoes of food and other goodies. Therefore the savages proceeded to build facsimile airstrips so that the magic metal monsters would visit them too.

It is no less stupid to assume that by mandating something closer to Manhattan's density and transport modes, you will end up with everybody still employed and housed at all, let alone increasing their wealth.

"Smart Growth" has been practiced in the UK under different names, since 1947. It has "worked", sort of, in London; but like NYC, London just happens to have flows of fee income from global capital movements as its main source of income.

But the UK economy is comprised of a far higher proportion of "rust belt" cities than the US one, mostly BECAUSE of straight-jacket urban planning. The US's rust belt cities low land costs will be the main reason they will rebound economically. The equivalent cities in the UK still manage to inflate land prices by strict "planning", so that they "price out" new business startups and potential agglomeration economies, and price out young people from home ownership - even those with jobs - all the while that 20 to 30% of the workforce remains permanently unemployed.

"Smart" is certainly NOT the right word for this.

Paul Cheshire, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics, has recently started arguing that economic land "rent" represents FOREGONE agglomeration economies. This is a brilliant insight - tragically, few people who have much to do with urban form policy advocacy, will have the slightest clue about it. Economic land rent is not "rent" charged by landlords - it is "rent" in the pure economic term of "unearned" increments or zero-sum wealth transfer. The UK economy is a working example of an economy being destroyed by decades of successful "rent-seeking" by the major property-owning classes. "Smart growth" is simply one of the worst ever rent-seeking rackets in economic history. The "economic rent" that exists in the UK's urban economies is, however, reflected in the fact that actual rents charged by landlords, per square foot, is hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of times as high as what is charged by equivalent landlords in an exemplar free market city like Houston. Paul Cheshire is one of a team of authors at the LSE who have been producing papers on this for more than a decade now.

" hundreds, or

" hundreds, or thousands, or even tens of thousands of times as high as what is charged by equivalent landlords in an exemplar free market city like Houston."

Yeah, but who really wants to live in Houston? You're making the classic economists' mistake which is to assume that economic value is the only value that matters.

Classic and moumental ignorance of economics

Ahh, the classic, classic, classic "local amenity explains everything" argument. Regulatory distortions cannot exist in the small-l liberals parallel universe. Even a factor of tens of thousands of times is just "because of where people want to live".

There is no lack of literature from, say, the London School of Economics Spatial Economics Research Centre on regulatory distortions in land rent.

Regulatory distortions are a far stronger explanatory variable for wild variations in land rents, than amenity. Otherwise how do you explain that rents are very much higher higher in virtually every city in the UK, including some blighted urban hells, that they are in the most expensive location in the USA, Manhattan? And that many continental European cities are more expensive than Manhattan but still nowhere near as expensive as, say, Liverpool or Manchester or Newcastle? Uh, huh, Liverpool must be more desirable than Zurich, uh-huh, uh-huh.

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