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Re: “Pondering sprawl


First, if we are going to get into semantics about variations in density, I think its important to note that there is no precise definition of sprawl.

Second, studies indicate that artificial limits to growth are the single most important cause of high and volatile housing prices. Additionally, the implementation of artificial growth limits like green belts often have the opposite effect on sprawl. Instead of blocking sprawl, businesses and residences often relocate outside of the greenbelt and enjoy lower property taxes.The attractiveness of the surrounding area eventually increases, leading to further development and sprawl in rural areas. The next thing you know you have a special district popping up in the middle of an unincorporated area of your county.

As I stated before, every policy has a negative externality. Taking into account the dynamics noted above, how do you stop sprawl without actually exacerbating it? Is the solution a City and County of Colorado Springs?

2 likes, 4 dislikes
Posted by Colorado_Skeptic on 05/27/2015 at 11:32 PM

Re: “Pondering sprawl

I wont argue with you Leloupe. The NIH study was simply to spark discussion, but the follow-on studies I mentioned provide additional and relevant discussion points related to urban fatigue. There is certainly mental illness in rural America, but you don't get urban fatigue in rural America.

A rational person would recognize that the very fact that you have to employ urban greening to mitigate urban fatigue should tell you something about the psychological impact of high density living. You don't see rural municipalities transplanting a 12 story apartment building into their landscape so that Ted Kaczynski can cope with his mental condition. Why is that?

I agree that Colorado Springs is a far off comparison to Brooklyn, but I am looking 20-30 years into the future. Urban planning is about strategic long-term planning and shaping your future living conditions. My concern is not about moderate and visionary Urban Planners like JO, who advocate for mixed-use districts (I am a fan). My concern is for the more radical Urban Planners who want to impose their vision of high density living in a concrete jungle with a 12 x 12 shared green space.

This is America, so you have to consider that not all Americans want to raise their kids in that type of environment (no matter how incredible you think it is). You have to find a balance through the process of evidence-based proposals and civic engagement. Since this is Colorado Springs, you have to provide more definitive evidence of the positive impact of density (that is what JO's blog is about). What you cant do is expect the community to buy into increasingly higher density and TIF without presenting a good case for change. You also have to be upfront with the results and not cherry pick the data. Every policy has negative externalities, so you have to describe the good and the bad and present the costs to the community. Its not just about painting a rosy picture of your proposal and then a destructive picture of the current policy. An Armageddon approach will only go so far. You are asking people to make a long-term behavioral change and that takes more than fear.

Lastly, I would ask you to re-read the IU crime study. I am not sure you were able to absorb the salient points presented in the research.

2 likes, 6 dislikes
Posted by Colorado_Skeptic on 05/27/2015 at 8:22 PM

Re: “Pondering sprawl

Jo Urban

I am not advocating for sprawl. I am advocating for a wider and balanced discussion on both the negative and positive externalities of increased population density. You are clearly an advocate for walkable, mixed use districts. I enjoy them too, and I see the benefit, increased efficiency, and reduced infrastructure and maintenance costs they produce. So where does the equilibrium tilt into the negative for increased population density? How far do you go? Policy discussions must address both sides of an issue or they will ultimately fail during implementation (short-term or long-term).

Placing the previous study primer aside on mental illness, there are other very relevant studies related to urban mental fatigue. These studies indicate that there is a negative threshold related to the amount of mental stimuli produced by high population density urban areas and that the introduction of green space is needed to mitigate the impact of the high stimuli urban environment. I would also add that exercise is not exclusive to mixed use districts, but I am sure it provides increased opportunity. Again, I am trying to spur a balanced discussion on the cost/benefits of these policy recommendations.

"The constant stimuli of city life can be mentally exhausting, and life in the city can actually dull our thinking.1 In navigating the outdoor environment, one must continually monitor traffic and pedestrian flow while constantly focusing on where one is going and the means to get there. Constant response to even such low-level stimuli cannot be maintained indefinitely. A few minutes in a crowded city setting can cause the brain to suffer memory loss and reduced self-control. Even brief glimpses of natural elements improve brain performance by providing a cognitive break from the complex demands of urban life.2"

1. Lehrer, J. January 2, 2009. How the city hurts your brain - And what you can do about it. Boston Globe.
2. Berman, M.G., J. Jonides, and S. Kaplan. 2008. The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature. Psychological Science 19, 12: 1207-212.

I also noticed that no one has touched the University of Indiana violent crime study tied to population density. What say you?

2 likes, 6 dislikes
Posted by Colorado_Skeptic on 05/26/2015 at 6:43 PM

Re: “Pondering sprawl

Mr. K,

You are correct. Its correlation and not causation. The conclusions were based on statistical significance (significant correlation). The methodology is sound, the article was peer reviewed, and the study was replicated. It indicates that population density may function as an intervening variable when using a path analysis approach.

The results indicated that population density when combined with the independent variables of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or immigration demonstrated increased admissions to behavioral health facilities in the study. Although causation is difficult to achieve in the preponderance of scientific studies, the study does indicate that further research is warranted in the area of population density and mental health.

While I am sure it is in the best interest of population density advocates to marginalize this research, I would only caution that an ongoing and holistic analysis of the impact of increasing population density should continue. We wouldn't want to find out 20 years from now that density is a problem.

I would also look for a study that indicates that population density improves mental health. Of course, you will have a hard time finding one. What you will find are studies that indicate that traditional attributes of suburbia and sprawl, like trees and green space, may improve mental health.

So while it is not conclusive that population density increases mental illness, it is interesting that the introduction of attributes commonly associated with suburbia and sprawl may actually improve mental health.

Again, my post is only intended to generate discussion about the potential trade-offs (positive and negative externalities) of increasing population density.

5 likes, 7 dislikes
Posted by Colorado_Skeptic on 05/25/2015 at 8:56 PM

Re: “Pondering sprawl

An examination of age specific rates of psychiatric admissions within Brooklyn, New York, indicated that population density may function as an intervening variable in the production of mental illness. Measures of household and family contact were found to be significantly correlated to four rates of hospital utilization. These same measures carried unique components that were also significantly related to service use. Other measures of density such as people per acre and structures per acre were found to be unrelated to the rates of psychiatric utilization. The results of this study suggest that if density does produce mental illness its likely mechanism of action will be routed through household contact.


There are numerous other studies linking both violent crime and an increased occurrence of mental illness with higher population density. In terms of cost, there seems to be a opportunity cost trade off with increased population density. With higher violent crime there is a need for increased policing and additional human services. While reducing infrastructure requirements and maintenance in higher density population areas provides a cost savings over time. What is the cost benefit/analysis?

3 likes, 12 dislikes
Posted by Colorado_Skeptic on 05/25/2015 at 3:34 PM

Re: “Pondering sprawl

SPEA study shows links between land use and violent crime rates: (

The study found higher rates of all types of violent crime in areas of high-density residential land use, even after controlling for overall population. The correlation was more pronounced in disadvantaged areas but held true in other areas as well.

"There seems to be something about (high-density residential) units that is associated with all types of serious violent crime, even controlling for the other factors in the model," the authors write. "Apparently, high-density housing units promote serious violent crime."

6 likes, 14 dislikes
Posted by Colorado_Skeptic on 05/25/2015 at 2:44 PM

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