Media Release – Urban Planners Do Not Always Give Us Greater Sustainability: A Time for a Paradigm Shift

Provincial and municipal governments are attempting to increase density and transit use in most Canadian cities. Rather than increasing affordability and mobility, that approach is doing the opposite. The report argues that cities should embrace, rather than reject, urban dispersion.
Published on July 4, 2013

Winnipeg, 4 July 2013:  The Frontier Centre released a study today entitled Urban Policy: A Time for a Paradigm Shift.  The author is Wendell Cox, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre.

The study examines the shift toward growth management in Canadian cities. While urban dispersion comes with costs, Cox argues that so called “sprawl development” has many benefits, which is why 94 per cent of population growth in major Canadian cities has taken place outside of the historic urban cores. While policy makers and activists deride suburban development, residents and markets are choosing dispersion over density.

Cox examines the primary justifications for urban containment. He identifies five primary goals of so called “smart growth”: 1) maintaining agricultural land and open spaces, 2) reducing automobile usage, 3) encouraging people to live close to their workplaces, 4) reducing infrastructure costs associated with dispersion, 5) reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Cox points out that improved agricultural yields has allowed for more farmland to be taken out of use than the amount of land that has been claimed for urban dispersion. Less land is required for farming, which means that more farmland is falling into disuse. Hence, dispersion does not pose a threat to food production.

Activists often assume that reducing automobile use and the distance of work commutes is intrinsically good. However, the report highlights how conscious efforts to meet these objectives by reducing automobile use can lead to economic Balkanization because people’s economic opportunities decline when they have less mobility (and forced density leads to higher housing costs). Cox points out that public transit trips take much longer on average than car trips. Moreover, he notes that increased fuel efficiency in private automobiles has done dramatically more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than efforts to increase density and transit use.

Perhaps the most convincing argument for urban containment is the argument that the infrastructure required to accommodate urban dispersion is expensive. However, Cox notes that many metropolitan areas have been able to expand while providing necessary infrastructure. He argues that if municipalities believe expansion is too expensive, provincial governments could either allow for the incorporation of new municipalities, or the creation of municipal utility districts, which allow for developers to bear the entire cost of new development.

Thought anti-sprawl measures are popular with many municipal and provincial governments, the evidence suggests that they fall short of their own objectives. Instead of cracking down on dispersion, governments should allow for the expansion of affordable suburban development, while internalizing related infrastructure costs.

Download a copy of Urban Policy: A Time for a Paradigm Shift here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendell Cox is principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy, an international public policy, demographics and transport consulting firm. He has developed a leadership role in urban transport and land use and the firm maintains three internet websites:, and Mr. Cox has completed projects in Canada, the United States, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Africa. He is author of War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life, and a co-author with Richard Vedder of The Wal-Mart Revolution: How Big-Box Stores Benefit Consumers, Workers, and the Economy. He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation which oversaw high-ways and public transit in the largest county in the United States. He was also appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council. Mr. Cox is visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (a national university) in Paris, and is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

For more information and to arrange an interview with the author, media (only) may contact:

Wendell Cox
Tel: (618) 632-8507


Steve Lafleur
Policy Analyst
Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Tel: (204) 957-1567 ext. 104
Cell: (204) 228-5599


Wendell Cox is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (

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