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Diagnosis Underlies Post's Pessimism on Smart Growth
We would be amused if Martian observers, seeing people with crutches,
concluded that crutches had crippled these folks. Analysts cited in the Washington
series on sprawl are not from Mars, but many confused the crutches
localities fall back upon as the cause of our region’s crippling growth
1) regional population growth,For example, a 1980 Congressional study found that Metro, still unfinished, had already generated $2 billion in new land values, “the biggest share of these new values…going to people lucky enough to own land within easy access of Metro stations.” Neither Metro nor the taxpayers who financed it recoup the values they generated.
2) public works like roads and schools and
3) special natural features like waterfronts.
Speculation. Sprawl starts at the center of the metropolis and radiates outward. Smith owns a vacant downtown site. If he builds offices or housing, he invites risks and sizeable property tax increases. He keeps his parcel in minimal use like a parking lot. Brown, seeing its potential, offers to buy it. Yet Smith who enjoys rising land values without effort asks a price so high that Brown’s venture can’t fly. Brown approaches owners of other first-class parcels, meets the same hurdle, and finally buys a cheaper second-class site. More “Browns” do the same.
Soon Jones and other enterprisers find owners of second- and third-class sites boosting their asking prices. Owners get away with this because land hoarding in the core creates an artificial scarcity of affordable sites. “Joneses” are driven farther into the hinterland. Developers, denied entry by inflated land prices to close-in sites best suited for their ventures, invade open space. This race to beat speculators to cheap land fosters leapfrog growth.
How many infill sites in D.C. are withheld by speculation? Some 11,000 vacant lots and 7,000 boarded-up housing units were counted several years ago.
Subsidized Sprawl. Federal and state spending on misplaced highways, utilities, schools and the like subsidize premature urbanization of outlying areas. Tax abatements for malls lay waste to cornfields and forests and sap the vitality of older communities.
Sprawl defenders incorrectly equate the mini-ranch with the American dream. If affordable, many families prefer compact walkable neighborhoods with charm, amenities and mixed uses. People pay premiums to live in the places like Capital Hill, Old Town, Ellicott City and Georgetown. The popular New Community Design and New Urbanism are not new; they copy the virtues of old American cities. A 2001 nationwide survey by the National Association of Realtors found that
Given the barrage of pro-sprawl propaganda, these are remarkable
This Page Last Edited: December 18, 2004. All images and information © 2004
Montgomery County Civic Federation (except where noted).
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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper