For failing cities especially, smart growth has allure

Smart growth, Denver, Colo. style
Smart growth, Denver, Colo. style

Fresno, California has fallen on hard times – really hard times. Fresno is not alone.

The Fresno Bee columnist George Hostetter in a May 25, 2013 article wrote: “City Hall is broke. [Fresno Mayor Ashley] Swearengin has been fighting budget woes since she took office in January 2009. She expects to make ends meet in the fiscal year ending June 30 but is looking at a budget gap next year of perhaps $6 million.”

One could easily argue that it is the failure of Fresno and other cities suffering the same and similar plights to recover from the Great Recession and housing bubble burst. I don’t believe this is it. What I do, however, attribute Fresno’s fiscal meltdown to is sprawl.

William (Bill) Fulton blogging on the California Planning & Development Report Web site in “The Fiscal Case for Smart Growth” states, “After eight years in elected office in California, I can tell you that I often fell into the same trap as everybody else: chasing revenue. When you’re up against the wall on budget problems, any new revenue – especially a boost in property or sales tax revenue – looks like the solution to all your problems.

“And it is – at first. How many times have I heard a city councilmember or a city manager say they’re just trying to hang on for one more year until the revenue from some new subdivision ‘comes online.’ But as I’ve written before in this space (‘The Multari Curve’), the revenue boost is short-term and over time it’s eaten up by increased service costs, meaning you always have to approve another subdivision to make up for the deficits on the one you approved in the past.” If I didn’t know better, I could swear Fulton was describing Fresno.

Adding to this, Jeff Turrentine in “Neighborhood Watch” writes, “…I believe the champions of sustainability should be emphasizing how ideas that fall under the rubric of smart growth benefit all of us, wherever we reside. Their new message needs to be: if you really love your suburban quality of life, then know that the greatest threat to it isn’t coming from bureaucrats, environmentalists, or liberal politicians. It’s coming from that brand new, almost-completed housing development going up right next to yours.”

So, what to do?

This is where smart growth practices can help.

If the proof is in the pudding then one place to learn from smart growth planning and implementation-wise is Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fulton, pointing to Smart Growth America (SGA) research, observed that regarding fire departments serving Charlotte’s conventional suburbs, costs were four times that of neighborhoods developed following a blueprint of smart growth, emphasizing “…SGA concluded that a smart growth approach could avoid the need for Charlotte to build two fire stations when the city is built out, saving about $13 million in capital costs and $8 million per year in operating costs.”

If only Fresno et al. powers that be were in the loop and hence getting with the program.

Meanwhile, as I brought to bear in “What makes smart growth so ‘smart,’” in referencing the Center for Clean Air Policy’s “CCAP Transportation Emissions Guidebook – Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management,” smart growth strategies, with emphasis on “urban sustainability,” includes:

Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif., style
  • concentrated activity centers
  • mixed use development
  • increased density near transit
  • pedestrian oriented design
  • interconnected travel networks
  • parking management
  • open space preservation

(Source: “CCAP Transportation Emissions Guidebook – Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management, Written and Developed by Greg Dierkers, Erin Silsbe, Shayna Stott, Steve Winkelman & Mac Wubben,” Center for Clean Air Policy)

And what does all this have to do with helping in the area of air emissions?

Less dependence on driving which, in turn, means less traffic and therefore fewer emissions.

– Alan Kandel

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