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Wednesday, April 26, 2006


People choose sprawl

I was browsing around the Heritage Foundation and came across this article from back in 2004 about the costs of sprawl and thought it was pertinant to what we've been talking about with regard to increased infrastructure costs. The article is a respnse to the following assertions:

1. Higher density results in lower per capita spending

2. Lower population growth results in lower per capita spending

3. Older municipalities have less spending per capita

All of these reasons are used to assert that sprawl is bad for government because of the financial burden. Something to bare in mind is that the "spending per capita" phrase causes me to throw a caution flag up since it doesn't measure the services being recieved; it only measures the costs.

The analysis showed that only the first assertion was valid. However, the lower costs per capita due to density were very low. Furthermore, the increased cost to government seemed to come more from employee benefits, not infrastructure costs. As the article states:

Typically, new housing development infrastructure (local streets, curbs, sidewalks, storm and waste sewers, and water supply lines within the development) is paid for privately by the purchasers of new houses, having been built by developers or homebuilders. These are fully private costs that are paid for by persons who voluntarily move into new houses and apartments, having determined that they can afford such a move.

This is perhaps the most important point in the article in my view. Where a person moves is determined by the person. If someone wants to pay more or less for living in high-density areas, then they will. If they like older municipalities, then they will pay more for them, and if they like newer municipalities then they will pay more for them. Similarly people will pay more for less traffic, taxes, "open space," etc. An article in the Gazette this morning mentions a lot of people complaining about traffic up on Baptist Rd. It also mentions a cyclist who enjoys passing all the cars. These are the tradeoffs people make. If people on Baptist Rd. were forced to bike instead of drive, then bike congestion would become a problem and accidents may ensue. People enjoy the safety and comfort of their cars and are willing to pay more for them in the form of gasoline, maintainance, and time. This is a choice that they make, and a part of their cost of living. Like the article at the Heritage Foundation, the Gazette was only looking at costs, not benefits. The community that lives along Baptist Rd. is very nice. It has lots of open space, the houses are beautiful, the area is quiet, etc. They wouldn't find this downtown at their jobs. People choose to live along Baptist despite the traffic situation. These are important facts that are often left out of pessimistic news articles that talk about growth. Thankfully, however, there are organizations such as the Heritage Foundation that, while not studying the benefits of people's actions, at least acknowledge that they exist.

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