Monday, December 13, 2010

The Solution to Pollution is Still Dilution: The Case for Sprawl Rests on Second Hand Smoke in Multi-Family Apartment Housing

Kids who live in apartments are exposed to more second hand smoke even if their parents don't smoke.  No, this isn't an income effect.  Rich people live in apartments in New York City and this offers a decent control group.

The nerds who publish in Pediatrics have a new study. "The study tested for cotinine, a tobacco metabolite used to assess exposure to secondhand smoke, and found that children living in apartments had higher levels of the chemical in their systems than those who lived in detached houses, even though their own units were smoke-free zones. Children living in town houses with shared walls had the same problem, the study found, though to a lesser degree. Average blood levels of cotinine for these children were lower than for children living in apartments but higher than for those living in detached houses."


Now the $64,000 question here is what is the impact on a child's long run development if she is exposed to extra tobacco metabolite?   The nerds do not appear to know the answer to this.

But, let's turn to the urban economics here.  Land is expensive close to the city center and in desirable parts of a city (such as Santa Monica's beach areas).  Where land is expensive, people consume little land by living in multi-family apartments.  Far from the city center (sprawl country), people live in single detached homes.

So, here is the irony.   Compact cities are good for the environment because your carbon footprint is smaller there. Use consume less land and you use public transit and you consume less electricity.  Ed Glaeser and I document this in this  Journal of Urban Economics paper.

But, in terms of minimizing your own family's exposure to urban environmental ills --- the suburbs are the place to be!   I document this point in this NBER paper.  Air pollution and crime (and apparently 2nd hand smoke) all decline in "intensity" with distance from the same center city.  So,  Greenacres is the place to be.  Farm living is the life for me.  Don't forget what Eva Gabor has to say.  See it here.  Keep Manhattan , just give me the country side.

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