Resisting Dickensian Gloom

High-density development in Australia is causing more greenhouse gases than the suburbs, argues Dr. Tony Recsei of the group Save Our Suburbs, in this rebuttal of a blog post by Michael Dudley.

 Tony Recsei

There has been a tremendous response to my introduction to the Demographia Survey. Many have asked me to expand upon the arguments and provide documentation (such as Michael Dudley in this space), which was not possible in a preface. This I am pleased to do.

Greenhouse gas emissions.

Advocates of high-density policies (often termed "Smart Growth" but also under other descriptions and euphemisms such as "urban consolidation", "compact development", "growth management" and "urban renewal") maintain these policies save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A comprehensive study of per capita emissions in Australia based on household consumption of all products and services appears in the Australian Conservation Foundation's Consumption Atlas. Unexpectedly, this analysis shows that greenhouse gas emissions of those living in high-density areas are greater than for those living in low-density areas. An analysis of the data (1) shows that the average carbon dioxide equivalent emission of the high-density core areas of Australian cities is 27.9 tonnes per person whereas that for the low-density outer areas is 17.5 tonnes per person. As mentioned in the Demographia Survey introduction, food and goods purchased account for most of the emissions and this amounts to more for wealthier inner-city dwellers.

Surprisingly, transport emissions amount to very little (only 10.5%), household electricity and heating fuel being about twice as much at 20.0%. (2) It should also be noted that the emissions from household dwelling construction and renovations at 11.8% are greater than emissions for transport. It is clear that transport, so heavily emphasized by Smart Growth advocates, is responsible for only a small fraction of household emissions.

Interestingly, using regression analysis to attempt to isolate variables influencing household emissions, the paper on which the data is based (3) finds that density, as an isolated variable, has practically no effect on total energy requirements. The paper also finds that density has little effect on the per person energy requirement for mobility and automotive fuel consumption.

Another study which solely measures direct household energy consumption (4) (thus excluding the effect of purchases) found that annual greenhouse emissions from this source in high-rise equated to 5.4 tonnes CO2 per person per year whereas that for detached housing was only 2.9 tonnes. So even when excluding purchases associated with wealth, high-rise still comes out worst.

Yet another study, also not incorporating factors directly associated with wealth (5) finds that the total of transport, building operational and building embodied annual greenhouse gas emissions per person for city apartments is 10 tonnes whereas that for outer suburban dwellers is 7.3 tonnes – once again more for apartments.

The explanation for these findings probably partly arises from lower occupancy rates in high-rise compared to single-residential (as revealed in the above-mentioned studies) and the use of elevators, clothes dryers, air-conditioners and common lighted areas such as parking garages and foyers. Most studies do not include this latter important element, simply because they are based upon consumer bills which do not include common consumption. In addition there is the greater energy per resident required to construct high-rise.

Looking towards the future, if we are to reduce our urban energy and water footprint by individually collecting localised solar energy and rainwater it appears reasonable that this will only be practical for dwellings that have a large roof area per inhabitant. That means low density.

In summary, in the Australian situation there is no environmental emission evidence that justifies forcing people to live in apartments - if anything the reverse seems to be the case.


Not only does transport comprise only a minor portion of household emissions, the energy difference between the use of public and private transport modes is surprising small. The Sydney City Rail website states "greenhouse gas emissions per passenger kilometre for rail transport is up to five times less than that of car transport" (my emphasis).

However one cannot assume optimal conditions to always prevail such as full carriages. Such theoretical figures are just that – theoretical. Theoretical figures for automobiles would also be much more favourable if one assumes for example full occupancy of seats.

In fact the actual greenhouse gas emissions per passenger kilometre for the Sydney rail network, transporting around 500,000 passengers each day, is 105 grams. (6) The figure for automobiles in Australia, assuming an average seat occupancy of 1.3, averages 155 grams and is much less for modern fuel-efficient vehicles that emit a mere 70 grams. It needs to also be considered that direct point to point travel distances by personal transport are frequently less than that for equivalent public transport journeys so further reducing the energy difference.

Our research shows that high-density developments hardly reduce per person travel intensity at all. Dudley dismisses a Melbourne study (7) I mentioned that shows that people who moved into newly converted dense areas did not use public transport to any greater extent, and there was little or no change in their percentage of car use. He claims this is due to Melbourne being "a sprawling city". However the overall density of Melbourne is not relevant here as, in addition to being well served by public transport, the converted areas are located very close to the central business district. It sometimes seems that the last refuge of Smart Growth advocates is to declare whatever they don't like as sprawl. Indeed, it could be argued that there are no cities in the developed world that do not sprawl.

Developers recognise that units without parking are not saleable. In Melbourne medium density housing projects located near commercial or transit centres invariably include one or two parking places per dwelling. (8) The initial developers of a 5.7ha site near Sydney Central Station abandoned their proposed development of the huge multi-unit project mainly because authorities insisted that a maximum limit of 60 per cent of the units could be allocated parking. (9) This abandonment was in spite of the fact that the site could not be in a better location for public transport, being adjacent to the central railway station and major bus routes that radiate out from the locality.

The reality is that, for many journeys undertaken (including travelling to locations outside the city centre, attending childrens' sport and recreational activities, transporting pets and visiting friends), public transport is unsuitable or even forbidden as with bulky goods or pets, as well as being too inconvenient and time-consuming to be of practical benefit.

A 2008 Canadian studyon the relationship between density and transit use does not alter the above assessment. It plainly shows how little density contributes to a change in automobile use. Without any evidence to the contrary, it seems reasonable to assume that the Canadian fraction of total household emissions that relate to transport is similar to that shown on the Australian Conservation Foundation's website, being 10.5%. Applying this value to the data in Chart 2 of this Canadian study one finds that for those living within 5 km of the city centre there would be a difference attributable to density of only 1% in total annual emissions per person. For people living 20 km or more from the city centre the difference would be much less at 0.2%. Yet it seems that for Smart Growth advocates this miniscule difference justifies cramming people together like sardines. These believers ignore other much more significant factors affecting emissions that completely over-ride this minute transport-related effect.

It is interesting to note that journey to work travel times do not seen to decrease as density increases. Looking at New York and some examples of large cities of different density there is no indication that these times are less in dense cities:

The increased congestion caused by high-density policies results in inefficient stop-start traffic which increases greenhouse gas emissions as a direct consequence of burning more fuel per km and increases the concentration of dangerous micro-particles from vehicle exhausts. The resulting greater traffic per area and less volume available for dispersion exacerbates this. The World Health Organization maintains that several times as many people die from these particles every year as do from traffic accidents. (10)

The evidence is that the imposition of high density policies does not lead to reduced traffic congestion, lower air pollution levels and improved travel times. The reverse appears to be the case.


The increasing concentration of dangerous micro-particles from vehicle exhausts is mentioned above.

In addition, mental health problems are of major concern. A study of over 4 million Swedes (11) has shown that the rates for psychosis were 70% greater for the denser areas. There was also a 16% greater risk of developing depression. The paper discusses various reasons for this finding but the conclusion is compelling: "A high level of urbanisation is associated with increased risk of psychosis and depression in both men and women".

Another study of a population of 350,000 people in Holland (12) also finds adverse mental (and other) health consequences. After allowing for demographic and socio-economic characteristics, for those living in areas with only 10% green space the prevalence of depression and anxiety was 32% and 26% respectively. For those with 90% green space the prevalence was respectively 24% and 18%, a significant difference for an increasingly serious problem.

Research also indicates that bringing up young children in apartments can have adverse consequences. (13) Keeping children quiet emphasizes activities that are sedentary. There is a lack of safe active play space outside the home - parks and other public open space offer poor security.

There are other indirect indicators that relate to this question:

    • The Australian Unity Well-being Index (14) reported that the happiest electorates have a lower population density.
    • A recent study in New Zealand (15) asking people whether residents in particular areas would most like to live in that type of area, revealed that the answer was yes for 90% of rural residents, 76% for small town residents, 75% for city suburbs and only 64% for central city dwellers. Apparently as density increased, so did dissatisfaction with that type of living.
    • The inference from a study on apartment life (16) is that half of the apartment living households in Sydney and Melbourne would prefer to live in single-residential dwellings. This corresponds to only about 10% of all those in occupied dwellings in the two cities wishing to live in apartments. A recent housing preference survey (press release) sent out with rate notices by Ku-ring-gai Council in Sydney reveals a similar result. Within reasonable limits people should be allowed to live in the type of housing they prefer. They should not be forced into living in a manner prescribed by planners who profess to know what is best for them. It should be emphasised that we recognise that there are some people that prefer high-density living. What we are arguing against, is the forced imposition of high-density policies, such as is occurring in Australia and other countries, to the overall detriment of their citizens and the environment. It appears from deprecating comments about the "free market" and "libertarian" views that Smart Growth advocates are unconcerned about what people actually want.
    • Social networks should also be considered. Putnam in his famous book "Bowling Alone" sums up that "suburbanisation, commuting and sprawl" have contributed to the decline in social engagement and social capital (17): However charts in this book show the opposite. The chart below aggregates Putnam's portrayal. This indicates that involvement (18) in these social activities of people in the centres in the more spacious small towns is nearly twice that in dense large cities. It is also apparent that such community involvement is greater in low-density suburbs than in denser central city areas, especially for the larger centres.

The data therefore show, contrary to what was claimed, that as density increases, people's involvement in community activity declines. Facts available indicate that adverse health and social consequences of high-density living are significant.

Housing Cost

This aspect has been adequately covered in the Demographia Survey. It seems reasonable to conclude that the major cause of excessive housing costs in Australia lies in over-prescriptive land use regulation. In Sydney, where housing costs are the second highest in the 272 markets surveyed, the New South Wales government has restricted the release of greenfield housing sites (19 while at the same time demanding municipalities increase densities under threat of removing the councils' planning powers. Since 1977 the New South Wales population increased by 38% while the proportion of greenfields land release sites decreased from an annual average of 20% of dwelling production to 5%. (20)

As a consequence of the resultant land shortage the land component in the price of a house in Sydney has increased from 32% in 1977 to 60% in 2002 (21) and to an estimated 70% today.

High-density policies increase the cost of housing, with special disadvantage to the younger generation by locking them out of the housing market. In addition, they disadvantage the economy by throttling the competitiveness of new business trying to set up in the region.


The evidence available so far indicates that Smart Growth policies forced into unwilling communities do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, do not facilitate travel, do not improve health, do not increase housing choice and do not reduce overall costs. It seems that planners are intent on sweeping us backwards into despotic, overcrowded Dickensian gloom.

Dr. Tony Recsei has a background in chemistry and is an environmental consultant. Since retiring he has taken an interest in community affairs and is president of the Save Our Suburbs community group which opposes over-development forced onto communities by the New South Wales State Government.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see my own blog post on this editorial here.

1. Demographia, Housing Form in Australia and its Impact in Greenhouse Gas Emissions: An Analysis of Data from the Australian Conservation Foundation Conservation Atlas (2007)
2., Figure 1
3. Manfred Lenzen, Christopher Dey, Varney Foran, Energy requirements of Sydney Households, Ecological Economics, 49 (2004) 375-379. See table 4.
4. Paul Myors, EnergyAustralia, with Rachel O'Leary and Rob Helstroom, Multi-Unit Residential Building Energy & Peak Demand Study. NSW Department of Planning (October 2005), Energy News VOl 23 no 4 Dec 05
5. Perkins, Alan, Hamnett, Steve, Pullen, Stephen, Zito, Rocco and Trebilcock, David(2009), Transport, Housing and Urban Form: The Life Cycle Energy Consumption and Emissions of City Centre Apartments Compared with Suburban Dwellings, Urban Policy and Research, 27: 4, 377 - 396
6. RailCorp letter 28 October 2007 in response to a Freedom of Information application by the author
7. Hodgetts, C.J.B. (2004) Urban Consolidation and Transport, Masters Thesis (Melbourne, University of Melbourne).
8. B. Birrell , K. O'Connor, V. Rapson, H. Healy, Planning Rhetoric Versus Urban Reality, Melbourne 2030, Monash University Press, Victoria, 2005, pp. 2-17
9. M. Melish, Moore sticks to her community mandate, Australian Financial Review, 24-28 March 2005
10. For data see Air Quality Criteria for Particulate Matter, US EPA/600/P-99/002aC, April 2002, Third External Review Draft, Volume II, page 284 on particulates associated with a reduction of life of 1.31 years and US Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstracts of the United States, 1999 which gives the number of traffic accidents as 42,400.)
11. Kristina Sundquist, Golin Frank, Jan Sundquist, Urbanisation and incidence of psychosis and depression, British Journal of Psychiatry (2004), 184, 293-298.
12. Maas J, Verhej RA, de Vries S et al. J Epidemiol Community Health published online 15 Oct 2009
13. Bill Randolph, Children in the Compact City. Fairfield (Sydney) as a suburban case study, University of NSW, Paper Commissioned by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, October
14. 2006 Sydney Morning Herald 13 February 2006
15. UMR Omnibus Results, UMR Research, Wellington, March 2009
16. Hazel Easthope, Andrew Tice & Bill Randolph, The Desirable Apartment Life?, City Futures Research Centre, University of NSW, Housing and Urban Form Workshop (W05), 2009 Housing Researchers' Conference, Sydney, Australia
17. R. D. Putnam, Bowling Alone, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2000, p. 283
18. Average of % who have served as officer or committee member of local group and % who have attended a public meeting on town or school affairs.)
19. Urban Development Institute of Australia,The 2009 UDIA Sate of the Land, Canberra, 2009.
20. New South Wales Department of Planning Metropolitan Development Program 2007, Section 3, p 31, Figure 3.5: Sydney Region Dwelling Production - Existing Urban and Greenfield Areas (1981/82 - 2011/12)
21. Housing Industry Association, Restoring Housing Affordability – the housing industry's perspective, Housing Industry Association Ltd, Australia, July 2003.



do you even read what is at the links I post?

mmc2068 says "Would you concede that compact, walkable, mass transit-rich, multistory urban development would be the most sensible way to organize people, goods and services?"


Pray tell, why not?

Pray tell, why is post-population reduction urbanism anathema to you?

Is it because, at the end of the day, you don't like people, in general? Or is it the cosmopolitan flair of cities you don't like? The artsy-fartsy aspects? The locally-owned stores? The gays? Sexually liberated women? People of color?

Do you just want to live in your little shack in the woods, writing your manifestos with homemade paper and ink?

Is that it, sugarbuns?

a resourceful reply

mmc2068 says "Pray tell, why is post-population reduction urbanism anathema to you?"

Because it still relies heavily on non-renewable resources, and that is simply unsustainable. Now get up off your knees and stop praying.


I'll be happy to get off my knees.

Now, it's your turn.

Rick's policy prescriptions

From what I gather from reading those blogs, you have essentially three policy prescriptions:

1) stop immigration
2) stop issuing building permits in cities of any significant size
3) stop subsidizing pro-creation through the tax code

I have no problem with #3 - actually agree with you. On #1, don't you just keep a person/family out of one place and have them consume resources in another? It seems like a wash. If anything, a move to a first world country may result in fewer children. On #2, growth just goes somewhere else. You don't eliminate the people, just displace them.

If you really want to limit population growth and size worldwide, you should really consider advocating economic development, urbanization, enforceable contracts, and property rights in emerging countries. History seems to have demonstrated that as nations get wealthier and more "mature" and have more advanced economies, people have fewer children. Look at birth rates of the US and most of Europe, for example. What about that?


Thanks for the cogent comments, contrarianplanner.

Regarding #2, if #1 is implemented (more on that in a minute), growth will not happen in most developed countries.

Regarding immigration, I have posited some environmental reasons for halting it. If we are in fact as far into ecological overshoot as many learned sources claim, in effect allowing immigration to the developed countries is robbing many people in the developing world of the very resources they need to survive. The resources consumed by allowing one immigrant from most developing nations to the U.S. would be sufficient to double the standard of living of many, many residents of other countries. Yes, I know that distribution is an issue.

As well, as detailed in one of my blog posts, immigration to developed countries significantly exacerbates the environmental problems we already face on this planet. I have the same comment here as with "smart" growth: promoting individual reductions in consumption is futile, and intellectually dishonest, if we at the same time promote adding more people to increase the total consumption.

The "demographic transition" theory is just that, a theory. As contrary examples, Kuwait and the UAE have some of the highest per capita wealth on the planet, and also the highest population growth rates (3.69 percent and 3.55 percent respectively, as of January 1, 2009). Even the U.S. growth rate has just increased year over year, and there are many more examples. Clearly, there are other factors at play here.

Various studies, including a recent report to the Canadian Senate, are pointing out something that many people are having to come to grips with. Our foreign aid has simply made matters worse in the receiving countries - there are now even more people who are just as badly off as the people we were trying to help in the first place. That is why I promote the idea of linking aid to education of women, making contraception available, and removal of any pro-natalist policies. Unless each country comes to grips with population issues, how can we expect the planet to do so?

Demographic Transition

"As contrary examples, Kuwait and the UAE have some of the highest per capita wealth on the planet, and also the highest population growth rates (3.69 percent and 3.55 percent respectively, as of January 1, 2009)."

Let's see, can I think of any reason why the wealth of Kuwait and the United Arab Emerates is different from the wealth of Italy, Japan, Germany, and South Korea? No, that's too hard a problem for me.

The demographic transition has occurred in every country that has gone through the process of industrialization and modernization. It has not occurred in two countries that became wealthy by exporting oil without going through the process of industrialization and modernization. That certainly disproves the theory that industrialization and modernization cause a demographic transition.

And people born in the United States have a fertility rate well below the replacement rate, but people who immigrated from more rural, less developed countries bring our fertility rate up to the replacement rate. That also disproves the theory that industrialization and modernization cause a demographic transition.

Charles Siegel

Hard to believe anything you say, Charles.

Again with the lousy data, Charles. The U.S. population is growing at just under 1% currently. That's not replacement, that's doubling in just over 70 years. And that growth rate has just increased year-over-year, which, if continued, would reduce the doubling time.

Oh, and nice red herring by the way. I clearly was responding to the claim that wealth leads to a demographic transition, or didn't you bother to read the previous posts?

simple is as simple does

Here is an excerpt from one article among many which dispels the simplistic notion maintained by some (and at least one here) about the theory of demographic transition.

"The only completely valid conclusion to date on the demographic transition is that fertility and mortality are high in traditional societies and low in industrialized societies. It is clear that the demographic transition and modernization are inseparable, but the causal mechanisms producing the demographic changes remain unclear. The theory of demographic transition initially accorded great weight to the dual processes of urbanization and industrialization as causes of fertility decline, but the very early onset of the transition in France and the occurrence of fertility decline among peasants in Hungary constitute exceptions to the rule. The discovery by the Princeton group of researchers that there was no strong association between urbanization-industrialization and fertility decline in the European provinces they studied cast further doubt on the explanatory power of socioeconomic explanations. Recourse to cultural factors has been made in recent years, but few variables have been operationalized except language, religion, and political attitudes, and the weight of such variables has been found to have varied. Ideologic factors related to the crumbling of barriers to social mobility, the primacy of the individual, the importance attributed to education, and similar factors have been adduced to explain the transition. "

This one is an older article (source available if you really want it), but I have lots of newer ones if you want to persist in this vain vein, Charles.

Fertility Rate Vs. Population Growth Rate

I talked about the US fertility rate. You responded with the population growth rate.

Don't you know the difference?

Elementary demographics: you cannot project future population by projecting the current population growth rate. You have to take the fertility rate into account.

(Again, if you can't respond to the point about the fertility and population growth rate, please don't forget to respond with a random insult.)

Charles Siegel


See my most recent post, Charles.

keep it simple, Rick, or he won't understand

Charles says "Elementary demographics: you cannot project future population by projecting the current population growth rate. You have to take the fertility rate into account."

Okay, kindergarten demographics. Population growth rate already encompasses fertility and mortality rates (and of course one other major factor), and in fact is always used by demographers to project future population. Duh!

Can I point you to anything more complex than Wikipedia, or is that about the level you need?

Another urban(ization) myth

Charles says "And people born in the United States have a fertility rate well below the replacement rate"

Evidently, you don't know U.S. history all that well. Even this Canadian knows that there is a large and growing group, well-established since the 18th century in the U.S., which currently has a fertility rate that is at or near the highest on the planet - an average of 6.8 children per family, according to one source. Although that group may not have embraced industrialism and modernization to the same extent as many others, they are still far more "modern" than many people in developing nations. But their high fertility rate is not linked at all to lack of modernization, but rather to several other factors.

Other sources point out that "demographic transition theory" is a simplistic ethnocentric myth, and that there is no support for the idea that other cultures will experience that transition. Indeed, China, the most populous country on the planet, actively sought a transition to lower birthrates (by means which even I object to, in some cases), long before any process of industrialization or modernization was complete.

Do simple minds always look for simple answers?

density about growth?

Charles says "This is what Smart Growth advocates are saying - not that they want to increase population but that they want higher densities to reduce per capita ecological footprint. "

Um, doesn't the phrase "smart" growth contain the word "growth?" Perhaps a different name is in order, along with publicizing the idea that more growth will only make the efforts futile. It would be helpful as well to be very careful about the conflation of per capita information with totals.

But thanks for acknowledging my point about growth and total environmental impact.

And again, you make all sorts of claims about densification, but there are data and studies which indicate to the contrary. That was one of the points of Tony's comments here.

Densification leads to a situation where urban living is unaffordable for many, so they are forced to look for affordable housing in suburban areas and commute in order to keep the urban clockwork running. Then we say that they are doing a bad thing, thus blaming the victim.

Meanwhile, as others here seem to acknowledge, urban centres become gentrified.

Doesn't have to be...

"Densification leads to a situation where urban living is unaffordable for many, so they are forced to look for affordable housing in suburban areas and commute in order to keep the urban clockwork running."

This statement is true today, but mainly because the regulations on development today make it so. Change the rules to bring housing costs inline with constructions costs again (these two variables only disconneted in the 70s) and this statement would not be valid.

Good comments, Ricardo, and thanks.

Ricardo, I note that Portland and Vancouver have had active "smart" growth policies and regulations for years now, yet housing costs in the dense urban core are unaffordable for many. As Tony has pointed out, agree or not with the method, there seems to be a correlation between density and unaffordability.

So, at least given the two examples I have mentioned, are you proposing that Vancouver and Portland abandon their "smart" growth practices, and look for other regulations which would make housing more affordable? Sure, "smart" growth pays lip service to creating affordable housing, but in practice the two rarely go hand in hand.


My comment was based on the idea that density and affordability are not necessarily a casual reltionship. Worldwide, density can be very affordable (just look at what governments call slums), but in the US it is usually the opposite because of our land use policies (I am assuming somehting similiar is true for Canada). And historically, this wasn't always the case in the US.

There are multiple reasons urban cores are unaffordable, supply and demand being the two most important... but how supply and demand are channeled through the legal land use framework is also very important and affects prices greatly. I believe, generally, the largest land-use supply factors that limit supply tend to be zoning and the permitting process, with things like "smart growth" and "UGBs" and "open space" laws coming in further down the list on making places unaffordable (all this is not in static world either as things like inflation, tax law, etc. all have an affect as well).

In terms of places like Vancouver and Portland, I honestly think that centrally-planned zoning laws and their respective permitting processes most likely contribute to unaffordability more than any smart growth polciies they may and may not have, although the latter may just exascerbate the former (as in the Bay Area). I'd scrap the regulations altogther (save necessary building codes) and let the property owners decide what to do because I sure know that you can't legislate "affordable housing" out of wishful thinking/sounding lines in a statute somewhere.

May I just clarify or challenge one assumption

in your #7: why do you assume, perhaps somewhat implicitly, that smart growth opponents or at least critics or skeptics, defend the status quo or want to? That may be true of this particular author, though I'm not sure. But, I agree with much of Ricardo's points below. While I'm critical of many public policy aspects of smart growth, I am MORE critical of the urban/land use policies of the so called "status quo". It's just that there is usually not much to say on that since most everyone on here is critical of these bad zoning/growth subsidy policies. And, to be fair, since so many "smart growth" like or related policies (growth management) have been enacted into law, would it not be fair to say in many instances that you are also defending the status quo in those cases?

Policy justification

I strongly agree with Michael Lewyn that discussions such as these must be conducted professionally and without name-calling or attempts to score points.

It is important to focus on the broad issues. People would rather do what they like than be forced to act in a manner inconsistent with their preferences. They should be allowed to do so unless this is undisputedly against the greater public interest.

An example is the New South Wales government that implements Smart Growth policies while being unable to show that these policies are for the overall public good. The government instructs local councils to submit strategies to increase residential density on unwilling communities under threat of taking away a council’s planning powers. Such confiscation has taken place.

Coinciding with these impositions is the severe curtailment of greenfields land release. The consequence of the resulting land shortage is the increased housing cost and unaffordability described in the Demographia Survey. Parallel to this, stemming from scarcity-induced high prices, are huge profits for land bankers and high-density developers.

The media extensively report the widespread practice of many of these beneficiaries giving massive donations to political parties, a practice that is considered to be the main driver of these policies. Numerous cases are reported where such donations appear to coincide with approvals for specific developments. It is the general public, of course, who ultimately pay for these excessive profits and donations through the increased cost of housing. The ultimate result is benefit to a few to the detriment of many.

The burden of proof for overall public good is always on those who would interfere with or attempt to steer people's preferences, as Smart Growth does. The onus does not lie with the victims of these policies.

Burden of Proof

You are claiming once again that the entire burden of proof is on those who want to protect the public interest, and not on those who want to pursue their private interests. There is no justification for this claim.

Global warming deniers say the same thing: People should do whatever they want, and we should not protect the world's climate, unless there is absolute proof that global warming is human caused.

Isn't the preponderance of evidence good enough? Doesn't the precautionary principle apply? If there were a 50% chance that something I do is harming my children, I would stop doing it.

Charles Siegel


Charles says "...those who want to protect the public interest..."

Now there's a conceited euphemism if I've ever heard one. That's rich. It sounds like something straight out of "1984."

It's more like "those who want to continue to reap profits and those who want to keep their employment secure."

If they were truly protecting the public interest, they wouldn't be resorting to the obfuscation, outright lies, and fuzzy thinking that has been so evident already in this discussion.

More On Burden Of Proof

In addition, I think that, in some ways, Tonei Recsei wants stricter land-use regulation than smart growth advocates.

In the central parts of cities, you want lower-density zoning than smart growth advocates, don't you? That means that you advocate interfering with and steering the preferences of people who want to build in central parts of cities and of people who want to live in central parts of cities. (And Rick's proposal to stop issuing building permits completely in large cities obviously does much more to interfere with people's preferences.)

If we accept your premise that "The burden of proof for overall public good is always on those who would interfere with or attempt to steer people's preferences," then the burden of proof is on you to prove that the low-density zoning you advocate advances the public good.

I think it will be hard for you to prove that conclusively, considering that most of the academics who have studied the issue believe that low-density zoning is contrary to the public good.

Charles Siegel

pots and kettles, part 2

Charles says 'If we accept your premise that "The burden of proof for overall public good is always on those who would interfere with or attempt to steer people's preferences," then the burden of proof is on you to prove that the low-density zoning you advocate advances the public good.'

Nice try to dodge any responsibility, Charles, but nope, given the quite recent implementation of "smart" growth policies in many cities, it's clear that the "smart" growthists are attempting to "interfere with or ... steer people's preferences." Tony is right. It's up to the gang of "smart" growth wannabe social engineers to supply the proof.

Social Engineering

How about the massive social engineering that you propose to interfere with people's preferences: no new building permits in cities.

That is a far more recent and far less well supported policy than anything that smart growthers propose. Burden of proof is on you.

(If you don't have an answer to this point, please don't forget to respond with a random insult.)

Charles Siegel

one model is as good as another? Ask Chrysler.

"How about the massive social engineering that you propose to interfere with people's preferences: no new building permits in cities. "

I asked you first. Quit dodging.

Then again, despite the fact that you labelled me a "troll," you keep responding to what I post. That just reinforces to me that I have some valid points, and that "smart" growthists, way down deep, know that what they are doing just might be wrong.

So, keep it up. This is all great fodder for a book I am writing, even if you choose to remain silent after this point out of sheer embarrassment. Thanks!


Let me apologize for turning it into a personal issue and resorting to name calling.

I will try my best not to do it again.

Charles Siegel

My opinion on burden of proof

is that it should always be on the side of government intervention using taxpayer money to provide the burden of "proof" to act or at least have good evidence/justification/cost benefit analysis. I am coming from the perspective that we live in a market economy and government intervention is justified, but should be used carefully and prudently. This would be true whether regulation maintains a sprawl-like environment or dense urban core. I don't know if urban design or land use density, per se, has a real justification on policy grounds, though it's related effects (traffic, energy consumption, pollution) do. The problem we run into in society is that what is in existence has some sort of de facto justification like zoning. It doesn't have to be justified even though we may agree it sucks. It's like a better alternative has a guilty verdict that has to be proven innocent. Call it political intertia.

I actually think it's good to have all of this arguing (excuse me, discourse) over policy action. I wish Congress spent this much time and thought over the nearly $2 TT it authorized to spend about a year ago. In regards to your previous comment about "would we do something if it had a 50% chance of hurting our children", I would say the out of control public debt has a 100% chance, but nobody seems to care about doing anything about that government created problem. Just an observation.

Agree About Public Debt

I agree with you about public debt. This is one of many ways in which we are living for today at the expense of future generations.

I think some people care about this, but no one is willing to do anything about it, because it would cause some pain in the short run.

Charles Siegel

likely redundant, but so is much of what I post

It's probably unnecessary to point this out, but I will anyway. This debt has been incurred based upon the assumption that further economic growth in the future will help to eliminate it. As with population, at some point our economic growth will run hard up against the limits of a finite planet, yet the neo-classical economists' radical paradigm of perpetual growth rules the day. Herman Daly, of course, has much to say about that.

If we do not deal with growthism in all forms, and now, then it will come back to bite us, or perhaps tear great big chunks out of us, soon.

Growth and Debt

That is true. People say we can tolerate increased debt because debt will remain constant as a proportion of GDP - which assumes that GDP will keep growing. It is a Ponzi scheme that cannot last forever.

The Canadian economist Peter Victor has done some computer models which show that Canada can transition to a no-growth economy successfully, if it pays down debt, shortens work hours, and changes other macronomic variables. He has a good summary of his model at

I have heard some criticisms of this computer model, but I think it is remarkable that one economist has done so much. The general ideas apply to other countries as well as to Canada.

Charles Siegel

Carbon Footprint - Suburban House v. High Rise

"Another study which solely measures direct household energy consumption (4) (thus excluding the effect of purchases) found that annual greenhouse emissions from this source in high-rise equated to 5.4 tonnes CO2 per person per year whereas that for detached housing was only 2.9 tonnes. So even when excluding purchases associated with wealth, high-rise still comes out worst." From Tony's Article

This is a considered and researched point, but Tony could you tell us which study this comes from? In my experiences in both planning and architecture, this seems contrary to what I have seen and worked on. A few specific points:

How do this study relate to square footage or square meters per person? In the US at least, the vast majority of high rises have less sf/person than their suburban counterparts at similar levels of per capita income. In other words, in denser housing people are content with smaller spaces which cost less to heat, cool, etc.

In high rises this is far less exterior surface area per area of interior living space. Again, far less to heat, and cool and with a potentially smaller lifetime maintenance costs. Exterior envelopes are the most costly portions of housing to maintain. In a high rise, less exterior walls, far less roof, and less foundation per capita than detached housing.

You make valid points. As opposed to detached housing, high rise construction has to construct and maintain common lobbies, hallways, and parking garages. Nonetheless in the US, common areas in high rise construction account for less than 15% of the total building square footage (based on direct experience designing multi-family housing).

Parking garages do indeed have more embodied energy than parking pads, but I am not certain how true that is in comparison detached garages or internalized garages within detached housing. Parking garages are NOT weather sealed and designed properly can be naturally ventilated. They have no envelope cost and only 1 (granted very large) foundation.It would be interesting to see a real comparison of embodied energy for both construction and maintenance between an 150 car parking garage and 150 detached garages.

To build on a point stated by others, multi-family housing has less of subsurface infrastructure than detached housing. This results in less maintenance, because there is less roadway, shorter water lines, fewer service access points, etc. This became one of the reasons early on that municipalities supported "Smart Growth" policies long before they were ever identified as such. See the 1972 decision Golden v.Town of Ramapo, NY.

You make a valid point that cities which adopt growth limits tend to have higher costs of housing. For example, in Colorado it was very well known that Boulder, which has a growth boundary, has a far higher housing cost than the rest of the metro region, which has far fewer restrictions on development. However, even in many US cities without growth boundaries, developers would provide affordable housing only in exchange for grants for higher densities. In other words, if zoning were changed to let them build denser housing, the economics of financing and land costs worked well enough to let them build affordable housing as well. Market forces seem to have a lot of moving parts and it is not necessarily the case that Smart Growth wrecks the housing market for new home-owners or that other policies can't adjust for the market distortions caused by Smart Growth.

Otherwise, I am really happy to see your post because it forces us to re-examine our biases and challenges the current conventional wisdom. Smart Growth policies do have dramatic impacts on future development and I agree that we should not blindly accept them simply because they seem to cover the current talking points of the day. We are not bad citizens if we question whether or not Smart Growth really aids us with climate change, sustainability, environmental preservation etc. or if we do not accept the notion that people prefer urban 'culture' over suburban 'sprawl'. We should be constantly checking the impacts of Smart Growth and clarifying its merits and shortfalls.

More per-capita footprints.

This is a considered and researched point, but Tony could you tell us which study this comes from?

He did. The higher per-capita footprint, according to this paper in the gray literature and some others, is due to greater wealth and greater consumption. So context is needed when asserting urban areas have higher footprints.

Here in the U.S., we see the rural areas generally have higher per capita emissions, when many more factors than the post are counted. We see that we have known for some time now that generally across the planet rural emissions are higher, a point Kahn makes in Green Cities with much better research than this piece.




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