Open Space in an Urban Area: Might There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

20 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2015 Last revised: 6 Aug 2015

Date Written: April 14, 2015


Numerous policies encourage the preservation of open space in urban areas. Two of many examples are large-lot zoning and tax benefits to donors of conservation easements. These policies rest on the plausible inference that an open space can benefit nearby residents, for instance, by enhancing scenic vistas and recreational opportunities. But commentators tend to underestimate the costs of open space. The key advantage of urban living is proximity to other people. Open spaces reduce urban densities, increase commuting times, and foster sprawl. I advance the heretical view that a metropolitan area can suffer from having too much open space, and briefly suggest some reforms, particularly in zoning and conservation-easement policy.

Keywords: open space, parks, large-lot zoning, conservation easements, agglomeration benefits

JEL Classification: D62, H41, H70, K11, Q24, Q26, R14

Suggested Citation

Ellickson, Robert C., Open Space in an Urban Area: Might There Be Too Much of a Good Thing? (April 14, 2015). Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 525, Available at SSRN: or

Robert C. Ellickson (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-7033 (Phone)

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