Sprawl’s share of US housing starts has declined dramatically, says EPA

A new report from the US Environmental Protection Agency documents a dramatic shift in the pattern of new development in the nation over the past two decades: Central cities and counties are now claiming a much larger share of overall regional development, and sprawl locations are claiming a much smaller share, than in the early 1990s. (The graph to the left, for example, depicts the trend of central-city share of growth in five US regions.)

In particular, Dr. John V. Thomas examined US Census data on residential building permits for the 50 largest metropolitan regions in the country over an 18 year period from 1990 to 2007. He compared the number of permits issued by central cities and core suburban communities in those regions to the number issued by suburban and exurban communities.

Although the shift in the geography of development has not been uniform, it has been common throughout the country. In roughly half of the metropolitan areas examined, urban core communities dramatically increased their share of new residential building permits.

For example, in the early 1990s, New York City issued only 15 percent of the residential building permits in its region. Over the past six years, by contrast, it has averaged 44 percent. Chicago saw its share of regional permits rise from 7 to 23 percent over the same period. Thomas believes that this acceleration of residential construction in urban neighborhoods reflects a fundamental shift in the real estate market.

Go here for my summary of the report.

Kaid Benfield is director for sustainable communities and smart growth at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. He has his own blog on land development and community issues and enjoys contributing here, too, since there is so much common ground.


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