III. Land and the "Costs" of Development

Many people believe that suburbanization in Michigan increased dramatically in the 1980s. Part of the reason for this belief is that farmland loss data are typically only reported for recent decades rather than through long-term historical trends. For example, Governor Engler’s task force on farmland preservation popularized the term "10 acres an hour" as a rallying cry for constraining suburban development by citing data from 1982 to 1992.[21]

While the task force’s report mentioned that the period of the fastest decline in farmland was between 1954 to 1974, it failed to show that the rate of farmland loss has declined steadily since then and that urban land development may account for less than one-third of this decline. A more critical analysis of state and national land use trends suggests that suburbanization and farmland loss are, in fact, moderating. Thus, historical loss rates may be misleading unless they account for moderating influences and the dynamics of land markets.