Newspaper headlines around Michigan paint a grim picture of "urban sprawl," or the transformation of rural towns and farmland into suburban neighborhoods. Public debate over this economic phenomenon—and the reasons for it—is often rife with unjustified hype and groundless fears.

Alarmists claim sprawl will lead to food shortages as more farmland is suburbanized. They urge policy makers to restrict economic development such as home building in rural areas.

But the facts are not so alarming. It’s true that the number of farms is declining, but food production is not in danger. Michigan farms are becoming more efficient. The state’s agricultural output is projected to grow by almost 25 percent through the 2010—just the reverse of a food shortage.

Understanding sprawl means understanding why people move from the cities to the suburbs. Better schools, safer streets, and lower taxes are just a few reasons people prefer a suburban environment.

To the extent sprawl is a true problem, policy makers should focus on solutions such as improving schools, reducing crime, and lowering taxes so city residents have fewer reasons to leave for the suburbs in the first place.

For the Mackinac Center, this is Catherine Martin.