Audubon Society States We Are Losing 50 Acres per Hour!

We Appreciate The Compliment For Our Efficient and Effective Use Of Our Land!

At an August 2001 conference of New England home builders, Jack Clarke, Massachusetts Audubon Society, in speaking about the need to grow smarter, commented, "We lose fifty (50) acres per hour.” That sounds serious but in retrospect it’s confirmation that the United States population has been growing in concert with sound land stewardship by land developers even in the face of pro-sprawl regulations and outdated ordinances that force developers to "use" more land than they otherwise need to satisfy the population's needs.

Before we look at the numbers, first let’s put aside a full debate about whether we "lose” land to development or whether we transform previously undeveloped land, or sometimes land that has been abused or misused, to another use. For now, suffice it to say that we believe that vacant land that is transformed to a home for someone is not "lost.”

Now, let’s look at the suggested numbers.

A rate of 50 acres per hour equals 438,000 acres per year (50 x 24 x 365).

The population of the United States has grown from 248,825,735 (April 1990 U.S. census) to 281,421,906 (April 2000 U.S. census). The difference of about 32,600,000 averages out to 3,260,000 new people per year or 372 people per hour.

Thus, assuming that all newly developed acres are attributable to just the new people (i.e., none of the existing folks buy second homes or demand other facilities), the 3,260,000 new people per year use 438,000 new acres (i.e., 372 people per hour use 50 acres). That’s about .1344 acres per person. That’s also 5,853 square feet (72% of a baseball diamond, i.e., the part in between the base paths) – for each new person to live, play, work, shop, learn, travel and be provided all necessary goods and services. To us, that is a pretty efficient use of land.

Viewed from the perspective of our tremendous available land resources, the landmass of the United States is 3,537,441 square miles or 2,263,962,240 acres (640 acres/square mile).

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the argument that we are using up land at a faster rate than at any time in the past – which confounds us since land use statistics have been kept only in relatively modern times – and at the rate of .1344 acres used per person times the current population (281,421,906), we have used at most 37,823,104 acres. That is 1.67% of the United States land mass. Estimates from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture have put the amount of United States land that’s been developed at 5% to 6%. Either the amount of land that has been developed has been overestimated or we are transforming land more efficiently than in the past.

Let’s also assume that we set aside 20% of all United States land for open space – off limits to development of any kind – at the rate of 438,000 acres developed per year, we have enough land to last another 4,049 years. By our estimate, that’s the year 6,049 AD – the year our land will be all gone (except for the 20% open space, of course) – the year the U.S. population will reach 13,481,161,906 (at the current growth rate of 3,260,000 per year). Is that the year people begin to move to Canada, Mars or Alpha Centauri?

Different people and organizations are entitled to their own opinions, but nobody is entitled to their own facts.  We laid out the facts above.  Our opinion:  It is environmentally wise and business smart to be sound stewards of our land resources. A clean environment means a higher quality of life, especially when in balance with other necessities of life, like safe, decent and affordable homes to live in. In spite of archaic regulations that demand large lots, huge frontages and wide roads, land developers have established an enviable record of efficient land use.  Nonetheless, we continue to urge home builders and everyone else to please keep things in balance, and in perspective.

See also our Transportation & Housing Policy - Vital Economic Links Yet Huge Policy Disconnects in CT.

 

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