09 October 2009

Sprawl is bad

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


yosh said...

I agree with you, but Lancaster is pretty liberal by Pennsylvania standards when it comes to land-use issues.

Deron S. said...

I have to wonder what it's like to be a homebuilder that must keep building homes in order to please its shareholders, despite the fact that it destroys communities, including their health and their valuable land. To me, it seems similar to Big Tobacco and Big Food, who are set up to profit from hurting society.

I tend to focus on the health aspects when I look at sprawl. It forces entire communities to have to drive everywhere instead of walk. Take two trips: one to the Galleria Mall and one to Manhattan. Look at the differences in waistlines between the two areas. We would be naive to think sprawl doesn't play a role in that difference.

yosh said...

My experience working with the building industry is that many of the home builders do get it, and would like to do TND, new urban developments, but the land use regulations are such that it can be difficult and uncertain to go that route. Take the proposed Independnece development in Lancaster County. Charter Homes had it right with this one: a mixed use, relatively dense development planned on a rail line. But the other people in the area showed up at planning meeting and declared that this would be the end of the rural character of the area. And thus we go on building low density subdivisions...

YorkCounts said...

Yosh, you have to marvel at the irony of people who would shoot down proposals like Charter Homes'. At the Lancaster Smart Growth Summit, somebody mentioned the yard signs that popped up in response to Independence: "No TNDs. Save our farmland." Can you say oxymoron?