Thoughts on sprawl, July 6, 2005

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2005

A friend passed the following along last night about sprawl that I thought might be applicable to Suffolk…

From Governing Magazine’s Otis White’s Urban Notebook

The Bad-Investment Gambit


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Lassoing Sprawl

If there’s a city where sprawl isn’t just tolerated but celebrated, it’s Houston. After all, this is a place where people love their property rights so much, they don’t allow zoning.

But even in Houston, residents are having second thoughts about plunking houses and strip shopping centers ever farther out on the prairie. Still, leaders are careful how they criticize these developments. &uot;I don’t want, nor do most people in this community want, to tell people where they can and can’t live or how long their commute should or shouldn’t be,&uot; Mayor Bill White told the Houston Chronicle recently. &uot;One person’s sprawl is another person’s dream house. On the other hand, as a fiscal conservative, I’ll tell you it is much more expensive for us to provide transportation services, water and sewer services and everything else if somebody lives twice as far away.&uot;

That seems to be the Texas approach to dealing with sprawl: Label it a bad investment. Also, point to the obvious: that building new highways only invites more distant development. One anti-sprawl group looked over the new regional transportation plan and was appalled by what it found: plans for building 12,900 miles of new roads over the next 20 years.

&uot;That was not a plan, it was a continuation of what we’ve always done,&uot; the group’s president told the Chronicle. &uot;A 75 percent increase in vehicle-miles traveled is assumed. Sprawl is written into it – it’s guaranteed, when we should be trying to rein it in.&uot;

Mayor White agrees that transportation shapes the nature and location of growth, but he’s unwilling to say no to more roads. His approach: Improve neighborhoods, be quick to turn property seized for tax delinquencies into affordable housing. and work with the school district on improving the schools. Do these things, he said, and the city’s charms will bring the people back.