About the Book

Urban sprawl — low-density subdivisions and business parks, big box stores and mega-malls — has increasingly come to define city growth despite decades of planning and policy. Urban planning has focused on curbing sprawl by treating its symptoms — aiming to regulate more compact, livable urban forms into being. Most urbanists view sprawl as an expensive and unsustainable pattern of development. Yet a few defend it as the natural expression of the market neutrally responding to consumer demand and as a reflection of consumers’ lifestyle preferences.

In Perverse Cities, Pamela Blais argues that both views fail to recognize market distortions and flawed policy that drive sprawl. She shows that, as a result of crude public policies, a wide range of urban goods and services are subject to inaccurate price signals, including housing, non-residential properties, transportation and utilities. Mis-pricing creates hidden, “perverse” subsidies and incentives that promote sprawl while discouraging more efficient and sustainable urban forms — clearly not what most planners and environmentalists have in mind.

Perverse Cities makes the case that accurate pricing and better policy are fundamental to curbing sprawl and shows how this can be achieved in practice through a range of market-oriented tools that promote efficient, sustainable cities.


“This highly practical book will give urban policy makers a better understanding of the implications of a number of tools available to them. It is a welcome addition to the debate over the use of regulatory policy as opposed to tax/subsidy measures to address land use issues and outcomes.”

— David Amborski, Professor, School of Urban and Regional Planning, Ryerson University

Table of Contents


1 The Price of Sprawl

Part 1: The Planning Problem

2 Sprawl: A Planning Problem
3 The Costs and Benefits of Sprawl

Part 2: The Problem with Planning

4 The Costs and Benefits of Planning
5 How Do Our Cities Grow? Plans versus Reality
6 Prices Drive Sprawl

Part 3: Subsidies, Cross-Subsidies, and Mis-Incentives: How Public Policy Finances Sprawl

7 Municipal Services: Costs and Prices
8 Network Services: Costs and Prices
9 Housing, Infrastructure, and Energy: More Mis-Pricing and Mis-Incentives
10 Driving Sprawl: Pricing and Policy Mis-Incentives

Part 4: What to Do

11 Principles for a Market-Oriented Approach
12 A Toolbox of Market-Oriented Instruments
13 Perverse Subsidies, Perverse Cities

Sample Chapter

Download front matter and Chapter 1 [PDF] , click here.



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