Earth Log: Paving over farmland has slowed, study finds

July 24, 2012

Years of recession have made a mess of California's real estate market and driven three cities into bankruptcy, but something good has also happened -- cities aren't paving over as much precious farmland.

That's one finding in a study released last week by the nonprofit Great Valley Center and UC Merced's Sierra Nevada Research Institute.

It's not the main message of the study. Researchers were taking the environmental pulse of the Central Valley over the past five years.

They say there has been progress in many areas, including air quality, but it isn't happening fast enough. That's a message I've been writing for a while. But the recession slowing the urban march over ag land is a new twist in the story.

The fastest expansion of cities over farmland took place in the northern San Joaquin Valley between 2006 and 2008. It has slowed since then.

The research looks to the future, saying it would be wise to increase the density of cities and preserve ag land. That approach would slow the ever-growing mileage associated with city sprawl. As cities spread, people do more driving. That usually means more air pollution.