Pioneers of Rural Sprawl in the Rocky Mountain West
Urban sprawl has been criticized for its disproportionate impact on the environment. Yet urban areas are in fact less land-intensive than recent rural development patterns. Residential first-movers into such virgin areas may spark waves of ensuing development without incorporating the true social costs of their pioneering. This paper first explores both benefit/cost and game-theoretic frameworks for understanding the private strategies and social implications of such pioneer developments. Evidence regarding regional land-use intensities, path-dependence of rural development, and accumulating social costs of rural sprawl are then presented to highlight the relevance of this paper's theoretical perspective in the Rocky Mountain West. The primary conclusion of the combined theoretical and empirical work is that pioneering development in innovative rural locations is likely relative to the social optimum, suggesting a rationale for public policy.
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