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Urban Sprawl and the Cost of Public Services


  • John I Carruthers

    (Mundy Associates LLC, 1825 Queen Anne Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109, USA)

  • Gudmundur F Ulfarsson

    (Daniel J Evans School of Public Affairs, Box 353055, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3055, USA)


One of the principle criticisms of urban sprawl is that it undermines the cost-effective provision of public services. In this paper the authors examine whether or not this is true through an exploratory analysis of the influence that alternative development patterns have on twelve measures of public expenditure: total direct, capital facilities, roadways, other transportation, sewerage, trash collection, housing and community development, police protection, fire protection, parks, education, and libraries. The objectives of the analysis are threefold. First, the authors, through a background discussion, provide a brief overview of previous research on the relationship between urban development patterns and the cost of public services. Second, through empirical analysis, they examine how the character of urban development affects per capita public outlays in a cross-section of 283 metropolitan counties during the 1982–92 time period. A separate equation is estimated for each measure of expenditure, providing substantive evidence on how density, the spatial extent of urbanized land area, property value, and political fragmentation affect the cost of services. Finally, the authors use the results of the empirical analysis to develop a set of policy recommendations and directions for future research.

Suggested Citation

  • John I Carruthers & Gudmundur F Ulfarsson, 2003. "Urban Sprawl and the Cost of Public Services," Environment and Planning B, , vol. 30(4), pages 503-522, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:envirb:v:30:y:2003:i:4:p:503-522

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    Cited by:

    1. Ahlfeldt, Gabriel M. & Pietrostefani, Elisabetta, 2019. "The economic effects of density: A synthesis," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 93-107.
    2. Thomas E. Lambert & James Catchen & Victoria Vogelgesang, 2015. "The Impact of Urban Sprawl on Disaster Relief Spending: An Exploratory Study," Journal of Economic Issues, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 49(3), pages 835-864, July.
    3. Kakpo, Eliakim & Le-Gallo, Julie & Breuillé, Marie & Grivault, Camille, 2019. "Should French municipalities foster urban densification to reduce their expenditures?," MPRA Paper 94985, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Jun 2019.

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