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Why Better Urban Planning Won’t Reduce Traffic — but Taxes Will


As urban areas become more congested, and concerns over the environmental damage that can be caused by vehicle emissions grow, many municipalities are adopting land use guidelines that encourage compact development. A city with greater density, they theorize, will reduce the need to drive by bringing services and retail closer to the areas in which people live.   

But new research co-authored by Wharton real estate professor Gilles Duranton finds that such policies may not have as great an effect as planners believe. In “Urban Form and Driving: Evidence from U.S. Cities,” Duranton and Brown University professor Matthew A. Turner find that increases in density cause only minimal decreases in aggregate driving, meaning it is unlikely to be a cost-effective policy for responding to traffic congestion or automobile-related pollution.

Duranton recently talked with Knowledge@Wharton about their findings and how they might be applied by businesses or governments.

An edited transcript of the conversation appears below.

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