Los Angeles is the very archetype of the sprawling, American sunbelt city. Just ask The New York Times, which persists in its utterly lame, outdated, stereotype-ridden observations of our 13 million–population metro area.

Funny thing is, L.A. is not the very archetype of urban sprawl. In fact, it's “the least sprawling metro in the country,” according to a new analysis of research conducted by New York University's Thomas Laidley, a doctoral student in sociology.

Fellow NYU researcher Richard Florida breaks down Laidley's eye opening work this week for The Atlantic's CityLab

Laidley created a “sprawl index” for the country's largest cities by using aerial images and estimating populations of at least 3,500, 8,500, or 20,000 per square mile in the towns he examined. Each population category was assigned a number, and those numbers were plugged into a matrix that helped him churn out the results for each city.

How did L.A. turn up with the lowest sprawl?

Laidley says Los Angeles County lacks relatively low-population communities even in outlying areas, a cornerstone of sprawl. In other words, L.A. is all killer, no filler. Laidley:

Although Los Angeles is often popularly associated with sprawl because of its pollution and traffic, its sheer lack of very low-density development places it atop all U.S. metro areas.

Credit: Laidley/NYU/CityLab

Credit: Laidley/NYU/CityLab

His research found that six of the top 10 cities with low-sprawl density were in California. Those include San Francisco, San Jose, Salinas, Santa Barbara and San Diego. New York ranked second in low sprawl. Chicago came in seventh.

Midsize southern cities, including No. 1 Columbia, South Carolina, dominated the high-sprawl list.

Still, if you define sprawl by the amount of time it takes you to drive from one end of urban Southern California to another, we're still king.

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