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Is suburban sprawl evil?

April 01, 2005

Is suburban sprawl a primary cause of Pennsylvania's problems, or are other factors holding back the Keystone State?

The debate began with a Brookings Institution study that was released in December 2003.

That study said that when it comes to urban sprawl, the state has some of the worst in the nation. In addition, the study said, the state has "no vision" for strategic planning, which means that older towns are being abandoned while the state spends money on services for newer suburbs.

Not true, said the Pennsylvania Prosperity Coalition, a group of builders, real-estate professionals and manufacturers.

Released on Wednesday, the coalition's report was based on work done by Mike Young, a retired Penn State University professor who surveyed 814 residents in December. The report blames the state's problems on high business taxes, low-quality city schools and higher costs for labor.

But according to Young, residents surveyed didn't agree on whether sprawl was as big a problem as the Brookings report said it was.

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Instead, Young said, about half thought growth and development were problems, while half didn't.

In 2000, a public-advocacy group called 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania released a study on the costs of suburban sprawl in the state.

The study noted that while the state has a very low rate of population growth, there is a lot of sprawl.

When that's taken into account, the study said, "Pennyslvania is consuming more land per person than any other state."

The study also noted that sprawl creates air pollution, while extended commutes lead to stress problems for commuters and their families.

The good news is that Brookings researchers and Pennsylvania Prosperity Coalition members agree that the state is plagued by a fragmented system of government and a lack of good regional planning.

Nobody is talking seriously about stopping growth, but what both sides seem ready to agree on is that it can be accomplished and regulated in a much more economical way.

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