Are Churches Causing Sprawl?

By moving out to areas where planning approvals are faster, rapidly-expanding churches are creating suburban sprawl, according to a recent study from researchers at Ryerson University.

"Fast-growing churches, frustrated with the slow pace of municipal planning, often find themselves pushed into setting up shop in rural areas on the edge of town, where they end up contributing to suburban sprawl, a Ryerson University study has found."

"'They rapidly gobble up prime agricultural land, adding to the sprawl and causing burden on the city's infrastructure,' says the study by Sandeep Kumar Agrawal, an associate professor of urban planning."

"Once the new church is built, the parishioners soon follow, and housing springs up around the building – determining the character of the new subdivision."

Full Story: Churches kickstart suburban sprawl, study shows



Michael Lewyn's picture

not rocket science

The bottom line from this story is simple: if you allow NIMBYs to have a veto over infill development, people and their institutions will be forced to pave over the Earth by moving to the countryside where there are fewer NIMBYs.

The simple solution to this problem is to treat city and country equally for purposes of land use regulation. This can be done in one of two ways:

1. The libertarian solution- increase property rights everywhere by outlawing the NIMBY veto and allowing people to develop as easily in the city as in the country.

2. The not-so-libertarian solution- through urban growth boundaries and similar tools, regulate development in the country as strictly as government regulates development in the city.

Either way reduces sprawl; both ways have some side effects.

Alternative 3

3. The slightly-less-libertarian solution: regulate development in the country, as in 2, because of its environmental costs. At the same time, encourage infill development because of its environmental benefits, so housing does not become scarce and unaffordable.

Ways of encouraging infill development:

- Used form-based codes rather than conventional zoning, with approval by right to developers who conform to the codes, to avoid prolonged battles with NIMBYs over each new building.

- Come up with some financial mechanism for giving lower interest loans to buyers of houses or condos in walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods. This would be like the post-war FHA in reverse, encouraging development of walkable neighborhoods as the FHA encouraged development of freeway-oriented suburbs.

Charles Siegel

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