I've been at two very different events recently. One was a gathering of grassroots organizations and community activists, representing poor communities with high minority populations. The other was a gathering of municipal decision makers, representing the conservative, tradition-bound folks of Lancaster County.
Both groups heard the same message: Sprawl is bad.
Sprawl creates unsustainable, environmentally wasteful development. It adds to the burden on government by demanding wave after wave of government support for new sewer and water infrastructure and new roads, more fire and police resources and more schools. It forces people to work farther and farther away from their homes. And it segregates middle- and upper-income residents from lower-income residents.
The thousands of suburbs that have popped up across the country since the 1950s were built with government-subsidized highways, cheap gas and consumers with money to spend on their houses. Guess what: Governments are out of money, gas isn't cheap and consumers don't have money, if they even have a house.
Which is why Christopher Leinberger says "Sprawl is the root cause of the financial crisis."
Fixing the economy, for the long term, means ending this perpetual push to the 'burbs. It means less money for highways, more for mass transit. It means investing in cities, older first-ring suburbs and other walkable communities. It means building new developments close to existing communities and not in some out-of-the-way cornfield. It means having municipalities incentivize high-density and mixed-housing requirements for new communities, and it means builders and developers figuring out how to do that and still make money.
In other places, community leaders are learning the lesson that sprawl is bad. The same thinking will help York County, too.
- Dan Fink