Land use change

Human Health Risk
Land use change
Ecological Risk
Socioeconomic Risk
The dramatic physical transformation of open, wooded, agricultural, and wetland areas to
suburban development in recent decades has had significant impacts. Most obvious are
ecological insults including habitat loss and fragmentation, and increased impervious
surface cover that worsens flooding hazards and pollutant runoff into surface waters. There
are also important distributional socioeconomic impacts, as urban and rural areas lose
jobs, tax revenues, and social capital to suburban areas. Statewide, suburbanization
appears to provide net gains in employment and property values, and net losses in aesthetic and psychological terms. Sprawl imposes large direct costs due to increased commuting distances, congestion, and inefficient infrastructure investment.
What’s at risk?
Land use change occurs statewide. Ecological
effects are discussed under Habitat Loss, Habitat
Fragmentation, and Impervious Surface. Socioeconomic effects include the pain associated with a
spatial redistribution of wealth and opportunity,
plus statewide aesthetic and psychological impacts.
Ecologists analyzed impacts of habitat fragmentation, habitat loss and increase in impervious surfaces, rather than on land use change as a whole.
What are the socioeconomic impacts in
New Jersey?
From a statewide perspective, employment and
property values have only increased as
suburbanization has progressed. A majority of
New Jersey residents are voting with their feet and
saying that they prefer suburban to urban living.
There is growing evidence that this vast dispersal of
population has also been costly. Some costs are
simple transfers, as suburban areas attract housing
and commercial investment and jobs, while cities
suffer from declining property tax bases and a
spatial mismatch between housing and jobs. For
example, the magnitude of the transfer in property
values away from New Jersey cities to the suburbs
is estimated at $3.5 billion to $7.1 billion. Although
there is no associated statewide loss in property
values, these transfers diminish the overall level of
social capital within the state, by pitting new
winners and losers against one another, and by
weakening long-established social networks. There
are also direct costs associated with sprawling land
use patterns relative to centralized development
patterns, most significantly the higher cost to
provide transportation, utilities, schools, and other
public services, recently estimated at about $400
million annually in New Jersey. Both opinion polls
and public support for open space preservation
indicate that New Jersey residents perceive significant social costs associated with long commute
times, traffic congestion, reduced housing choices,
unwalkable neighborhoods, and less varied scenery.
What’s being done?
Local governments largely control the development
of land in New Jersey, and some municipalities
actively encourage compact development while
others do not. The New Jersey State Development
and Redevelopment Plan details a voluntary
approach for managing growth, and the
Governor’s Smart Growth Policy Council is
attempting to coordinate the efforts of state
agencies in this regard. Federal government involvement in this issue includes substantial highway
subsidies and home mortgage guarantees that
encourage sprawl development, and minor mass
transit and urban revitalization subsidies that
discourage it.
Final Report of the New Jersey State Comparative Risk Project