Sunday, January 23, 2005

Drink and density

Google finds 32,500 sites that talk about urban sprawl and obesity. I imagine that many of them include the currently favored causality story.

Now, the NY Times reports high levels of alcohol abuse in Manhattan. Google is not as helpful here because I do not have a good single-word antonym for sprawl.

Peculiar environments draw particular populations. People, once there, also tamper with their environments. The interactions are complex but the sprawl-obesity link has been irresistable for many commentators.

Could high-density living cause alcohol abuse? The observed link has now been reported by the NY Times. Is there causation? Does alchohol abuse cause high-density development? Unlikely. Does some force in nature simultaneously prompt imbibing and high-density development to occur in close proximity? Also unlikely. Are tipplers disproportionately drawn to and enabled by Manhattan-type environments? For the case of NYC, that's the thrust of the Times report.

Those who worry about sprawl have cited the obesity studies as ammunition for their case. Now, it appears, they have to deal with the news about booze.

No one ever said that environmental determinism would be simple.