Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
Sprawl

Sprawl Costs the Public More Than Twice as Much as Compact Development

This graphic compars the cost of servicing suburban development versus urban in Halifax, Canada (in Canadia dollars) Image: Sustainable Prosperity
Public services for suburban development cost more than double the services for urban areas in Halifax, Nova Scotia (figures are in Canadian dollars). Click to enlarge. Image: Sustainable Prosperity
This graphic compars the cost of servicing suburban development versus urban in Halifax, Canada (in Canadia dollars) Image: Sustainable Prosperity

How much more does it cost the public to build infrastructure and provide services for sprawling development compared to more compact neighborhoods? A lot more, according to this handy summary from the Canadian environmental think tank Sustainable Prosperity.

To create this graphic, the organization synthesized a study by the Halifax Regional Municipality [PDF] in Nova Scotia, and the research is worth a closer look.

Halifax found the cost of administering services varied directly in proportion to how far apart homes were spaced. On the rural end, each house sat on a 2.5 acre lot. On the very urban end, there were 92 people dwelling on each acre. Between those two extremes were several development patterns of varying density.

Sprawl is a lot more expensive for municipalities to serve, this study of the Halifax region found. Graph: Halifax Regional Municipality
The denser an area is, the less expensive it becomes to provide infrastructure and services. Graph: Halifax Regional Municipality
Sprawl is a lot more expensive for municipalities to serve, this study of the Halifax region found. Graph: Halifax Regional Municipality

Researchers evaluated how much of a given type of infrastructure -- like roads or water mains -- is needed for each type of development, then calculated the associated capital and maintenance costs per capita. They also determined how factors like travel distances and population density affected the cost of services like fire fighting.

The chart below goes into more detail (all costs are in Canadian dollars). The most sprawling areas impose three times the annual cost per household as the most compact areas. For hard infrastructure like water, sewers, and roads, the high cost of sprawl is even more stark -- "ten times the cost of other patterns" over the lifecycle of the investment, according to the authors.

Data: Halifax Regional Municipality
Table: Halifax Regional Municipality
Data: Halifax Regional Municipality

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

Friday’s Headlines Go Back to the Future

If you liked the first Trump administration's transportation policies, you're going to love the second Trump administration's transportation policies.

July 19, 2024

Advocates Share What It Takes to Fight Highway Expansions in Court 

What does it take to sue your state DOT? Time, money, the right partners, and a little creativity, a recent survey of activists found.

July 19, 2024

Friday Video: Paris Does it Again

Come for the bike-friendly streets, but stay for adopt-a-tree program and all the car-free school roadways.

July 19, 2024

Talking Headways Podcast: IrrePLACEable

Kevin Kelley on his book Irreplaceable: How to Create Extraordinary Places that Bring People Together, and the future of downtowns.

July 18, 2024

This Heat Wave is a Car Dependency Problem

Our quickly warming planet has a unique impact on people who don't or can't drive — and we need policy action to protect their health.

July 18, 2024
See all posts