Per capita urban land consumption is not limited to the size of a person's house lot or to a person's proportion of the land covered by an apartment complex. It also includes a portion of all the other land that has been converted from rural to urban use to provide for jobs, recreation and entertainment, shopping, parking, transportation, storage, government services, religious and cultural opportunities, waste handling, and education.

So the level of per capita land consumption is based both on direct individual decisions and behavior, and on collective decisions made through the government and the marketplace.

The effect of all urban planning, development and transportation decisions shows up in the per capita land consumption figure.

Among the factors that influence per capita land consumption are urban planning, zoning, transportation and other infrastructure investments, consumer and builder preferences, the vitality of central cities and affluence.

It is very difficult to measure precise effects of trying to change each of the planning, consumption and other behavioral factors mentioned above. But we can know the overall effect of all those factors together by looking at the simple statistic of the average amount of urban land per resident in an Urbanized Area.

If that per capita land consumption figure goes up markedly, then we know that Smart Growth efforts related to the above factors are failing to achieve their desired result. But if the per capita figure grows only slightly, or remains the same, and especially if it goes down, the above factors are collectively moving in the direction desired by the anti-sprawl leaders. It is difficult to know whether their efforts made the difference, but we do know in such cases that per capita land consumption patterns are being brought under control.

Factors That Drive Increases in Per-Capita Land Consumption


• consumer preferences for size of housing and yards
• developer preferences for constructing housing, offices and retail facilities
• governmental subsidies that encourage land consumption, and fees and taxes that discourage consumption
• the quality of urban planning and zoning
• the level of affluence

• governmental subsidies and programs for highways, streets and mass transit
• consumer preferences
• the price of gasoline

Quality of existing communities and ability to hold their residents
• the quality of schools
• perceptions about crime and safety
• ethnic and cultural tensions or harmony
• the quality of government leadership
• job opportunities
• levels of pollution
• quality of parks and infrastructure

Number of people per household
• marriage rate and average age for marriage
• divorce rate
• recent fertility rate
• level of independence of young adults
• level of affluence enabling single people to live separately