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Sunday, April 30, 2006

 

Too much up, too little out

Newark, Kennedy, LaGuardia airports comprise one of the most congested airspaces in the world. Surprise enough, though, these airports are only on the periphery of my point of this post.

Last week Prof. Eubanks gave a possible definition of urban sprawl (more or less) as, ‘too much out, too little up,’ but what about the reverse? Could it be possible for a city to grow to much up, and too little out? Obviously New York City (being one of the world’s largest city) it would be hard to claim that from mere size that it isn’t wide enough. Instead, I suggest that we turn our attention to the actions of the one actor that seems to be responsible for most issues of urban sprawl: government. There might be countless ways government (city, state or federal) has distorted the market for land in New York City, but let us focus upon the subway system. You didn’t think I’d stray to far away from travel modes did you?

The New York subway system is certainly one of the (if not the most) intricate system of its kind. To be sure, this subway system could rival many countries entire transportation network. Yet if it is not provided efficiently could it be a cause of overbuilding of some land? Comparing the satellite image of greater New York City at night (above) to a diagram of the city's subway system (see link) there seems to be a correlation to subways and density. More specifically, I believe that the subway riders are not charged for the marginal cost of their trip. It is also my contention that there has been a bias toward building lines on the island of Manhattan. If I am right, both of these facts would lend to greater incentives to living further into New York City. This is just one way in which New York might be a city that has grown ‘too little out, and too much up.’


 

New Urbanism and Wal-Mart

New Urbanism seems to be getting a lot of attention and Wal-Mart is considering joining the ban wagon. This article explains how Wal-Mart is considering to rebuild their Wal-Marts that were destroyed in Mississippi and Louisiana, due to Hurricane Katrina, in a way that conforms to New Urbanistic views. The plans would call for Wal-Mart to discard their typical 'box' style buildings and move to a more modern aesthetically appealling design. Planners of this idea propose that Wal-Mart create several smaller multi-level buildings. Surrounding these 'mini' Wal-Marts would be housing mixed in with the Wal-Mart buildings. The idea is to bring the New Urbanist feel to areas where Wal-Mart locate.

This doesn't seem like a great idea. Wal-Mart seems to dominate the retail business due at least in part by economies of scale, but through this proposal, Wal-Mart would lose some of this advantage. The retailer benefits from economies of scale in many ways, from purchasing large amounts of products to selling all of these products under one roof. Selling the products all under one enormous building allows Wal-Mart to pay one set of utilities bills, one construction cost, and their customers are allowed to do one stop shopping. Wal-Mart would lose this by creating a New Urbanism community. They would likely pay higher prices for utilities since they would have multiple buildings, higher construction costs to build the various 'modern' looking buildings, and their customers would no longer have the luxury of shopping for all of their needs under one roof.

Even if Wal-Mart was willing to accept the higher costs associated with building the New Urbanistic style Wal-Marts, the problem of getting people to buy into this idea still exists. The proposal calls for housing such as condomeniums and small single family houses to be built with the Wal-Marts, creating a town center. In order for this to work, enough people must be willing to live in close proximity to the Wal-Mart. Since the success of New Urbanism is still relatively unproven, Wal-Mart would be taking a great risk assuming that people are willing to buy into this new idea. This proposal seems to go against everything that Wal-Mart thrives its success on, and as such it seems like a bad idea.

 

New Urbanism and Wal-Mart

New Urbanism seems to be getting a lot of attention and Wal-Mart is considering joining the ban wagon. This article explains how Wal-Mart is considering to rebuild their Wal-Marts that were destroyed in Mississippi and Louisiana, due to Hurricane Katrina, in a way that conforms to New Urbanistic views. The plans would call for Wal-Mart to discard their typical 'box' style buildings and move to a more modern aesthetically appealling design. Planners of this idea propose that Wal-Mart create several smaller multi-level buildings. Surrounding these 'mini' Wal-Marts would be housing mixed in with the Wal-Mart buildings. The idea is to bring the New Urbanist feel to areas where Wal-Mart locate.

This doesn't seem like a great idea. Wal-Mart seems to dominate the retail business due at least in part by economies of scale, but through this proposal, Wal-Mart would lose some of this advantage. The retailer benefits from economies of scale in many ways, from purchasing large amounts of products to selling all of these products under one roof. Selling the products all under one enormous building allows Wal-Mart to pay one set of utilities bills, one construction cost, and their customers are allowed to do one stop shopping. Wal-Mart would lose this by creating a New Urbanism community. They would likely pay higher prices for utilities since they would have multiple buildings, higher construction costs to build the various 'modern' looking buildings, and their customers would no longer have the luxury of shopping for all of their needs under one roof.

Even if Wal-Mart was willing to accept the higher costs associated with building the New Urbanistic style Wal-Marts, the problem of getting people to buy into this idea still exists. The proposal calls for housing such as condomeniums and small single family houses to be built with the Wal-Marts, creating a town center. In order for this to work, enough people must be willing to live in close proximity to the Wal-Mart. Since the success of New Urbanism is still relatively unproven, Wal-Mart would be taking a great risk assuming that people are willing to buy into this new idea. This proposal seems to go against everything that Wal-Mart thrives its success on, and as such it seems like a bad idea.

 

Urban Sprawl and Public Health

Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH, from the Department of Environmental and Ocupational Health, Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University in Atlanta Georgia, wrote an article back in May of 2002 outlining his findings about the effects of sprawl on public health titled Urban Sprawl and Public Health.
The planet is warming towards ecological disaster, yet the public seems more preocupied with the rising prices of gasoline. If the demonization of sprawl will be at all possible, the 'environmetalist' approach may not be the most effective, since twenty-first century urbanites do not seem to be loosing too much sleep about global environmental degradation.
Dr. Frumkin attempts a new avenue by actually presenting a few ways in which urban sprawl will kill you before the melting arctic has completely invaded our country (not unlike illegal immigrants).
Here are the main conclusions (sarcastically summarized) in Frumkin's article:
1. Sprawl causes reliance on automobiles and automobiles cause pollution. Pollution is terrible for your respiratory system. In Frumkin's words, "Sprawl is associated with high levels of driving, driving contributes to air pollution, and air pollution causes morbidity and mortality."
2. Sprawl increases motor vehicle crashes and pedestrian injuries: "While many factors contribute to the high toll of pedestrian fatalities, including alcohol abuse, inadequate lighting, and pedestrian behavior, the proliferation of high-speed, pedestrian-hostile roads in expanding metropolitan areas likely plays an important part."
3. Sprawl is associated with less walking and bycicling. If you dont walk or ride a bike you may become fat. Do not take this numeral lighltly for as the writer warns, "the risk associated with poor physical fitness is comparable to, and in some studies greater than, the risk associated with hypertension, high colesterol, diabetes, and even smoking."
4.Sprawl is bad for water. Warning: "Sprawl may threaten both the quantity and quality of the water supply. As forest cover is cleared and impervious surfaces built over large areas, rainfall is less effectively absorbed and returned to groundwater aquifers."
5. Urban areas create "islands of heat." The warming effect from cities is not only caused by the emission of greenhouse gases; "dark surfaces such as roadways and rooftops efficiently absorb heat from sunlight and reradiate it as thermal infrared radiation."
6."Certain aspects of sprawl, such as commuting, may exact a mental health toll." In other words, Frumkin asserts that dimishing contact with nature and increasing congestion could drive you crazy.

I do not intend to dispute any of Frumkin's findings. In fact, I believe that most of his conclusions are common sense/ common knowledge type assertions. I am not sure that the Doctor is succesful in drawing a connection to 'unplanned' sprawl per se, but I do think that the idea of life in the mountains beeing a tad healthier than urban existence is not a groundbreaking discovery.
Do people choose to live in the city because it is healthy or because it suits their economic interests?
Any effective argument against urban sprawl should target the motivations and preferences of the people that live in sprawling metropolitan areas. A person that willingly chooses to spend a significant amount of time commuting, will not be 'turned against' sprawl by telling him/her that sprawl makes you drive more!
How important is the environment and breathing clean air to an urban dweller? Important enough to move? Important enough to stand for radical urban transformation?
If not, will the environmentalist arguments against sprawl ever work to change the way urbanites think?

 

I've got more questions than when I started

National Geographic says that, "most people agree that unchecked development is a bad deal." This is the assumption that I think most people have. It's a springboard for discussing how horrible it is that people move outside of cities and all this "sprawl" happens. If people evaluated their assumptions more, there would probably be a lot more cohesive, clear arguments about policy issues than there are now.

Our discussion of sprawl has been such a whirlwind, information packed, assumption driven discussion that it's become really clear that for government (especially Portland) to make the decisions it's made something has to be seriously wrong with it's decision making process.

Why is unchecked development a bad idea? We explored it a little in class, but the option at the other end of the spectrum obviously has serious drawbacks. I'd rather have unchecked development than development based on tax advantages, political action committees, and local government. My utility function for housing has lots of things in it, and it's impossible to measure lots of the preferences I have in a way that would let people examine mine alongside theirs. So why not let people make their own decisions. It's like the government is a bad parent that refuses to let people make their own choices. We're adults right? People can handle location decisions on their own.

 

Smart Growth: enviromentalism or redistribution?

In class the other day, the question came up: what is the predominant goal of smart growth? When looking into their dogma, we find two possible answers. Much of their actual mission is aimed at providing more equitable housing for the poor. As I stated in class, this comes from the New Urbanist side of the anti-sprawl movement, which was founded in the late 1960's, and taught based on the commune style of living. In Evan's post, he mentions that often New Urbanists answer criticisms of their movement (and over planning in general) by stating that planning works, it simply has not been fully implemented. Historically, we have seen the brand of civic planning considered 'optimal' by the NU movement, within Russia.

However, while by my estimate this is clearly a movement of redistribution, with reliance on command economy, many of their justifications come in the form of environmentalism. To illustrate the point, I have provided a link to a web site I found, which analyzes the dollars a state spends on 'clean running transportation' vs highway spending. First the 'report' states that clearly, public transportation is cleaner than automobile transportation, and correlates pollution levels to asthma attacks (I guess to make the danger that much more threatening) They go on to rate states based on their spending patters, giving an A to any state with comparable dollars spent on public transportation and highways. We observe success in public transportation only within dense populations. We must of course suppose that public transportation is a question of utility and therefore, because of a certain set of experiences specific to high density living, that public transportation may not be as viable outside of that situation. If this is the case, we would expect to see the report generate a rating of A to states that have a dense city, and lower grades to states lacking such dense locations. This is exactly what the study finds, however, their conclusions are far different. They believe that public funding needs to be greater for public transportation, and over look the non-monetary disutility of the dynamic. In this case, we see a clear argument for the environmentalist agenda of New Urbanism (as well as smart growth) however, when reading between the lines, one still finds justifications reminiscent of a redistributive movement. Despite the limited focus of the report, they still claim that one of the benefits of increased public transportation is that it "provides discretionary grants to transit service providers to help low income residents get to jobs." While I am not against this in principal, I believe it clearly reveals the bias of a movement that says its aims are 'a cleaner environment'.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

 

These proposals are amazing

I was writing my Urban Econ term paper (I'm going to cross-post this on the Enviro blog btw) and I came across this. These proposals have an amazing belief that we can achieve some sort of immediate utopia. Scroll down under the title "Solutions that are feasible, healthy, and sustainable" and you'll find such "feasible" solutions as "The immediate installation of full-roof solar panels on every building in America" and "An immediate tripling of minimum vehicle miles per gallon standards for all vehicles produced in America - accomplished by a quick and complete conversion of all factories to the building of only hybrid, solar, and fully electric vehicles." Yeah, I like to dream too, but imposing dreams on someone else is insane. I had to look up moratorium - it means "to put an end to" or "suspension."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

 

Is "New Urbanism" just another fancy word for "Smarth Growt"

Has anybody noticed the reality that New Urbanism and Smarth Growth are really synonyms? I was reading an article exerpting a speech given by Dr. Steven Hayward in Jan. of 2000, when it hit me. Yes, I recognize we have been talking about this all semester, but the more research I do, the more I realize Smart Growth is just an outgrowth of the New Urbanist movement. Their goals and ideals are almost identical and radical at that. This "radicalism" is what Dr. Hayward touched upon in his speech. I would like a link to the whole text of the speech if anyone has it.

Dr. Hayward essentially contends that "better planning" is not wrong rather the immoderate applications of "better planning" that are what's wrong with the "smart growth" movement. Let me illustrate this notion for just a moment with my own experiences. It seems that in our haste to better plan we have created inefficient solutions to our problems at hand. I notice this in neighborhoods near mine that have put so many restrictions on what the neighborhood should look like, they all look the same. Is it efficient to dictate preferences? As Dr. Eubanks so aptly put it, people acting in their "self interest" are being restricted. This, I believe, will cause inefficient market outcomes in the housing arena for instance. What sorts of inefficient market outcomes you might ask?

One of the most inefficient market outcomes I can see from coming out of this is that market prices are artificially driven higher than they already should be, because preferences may well be for this type of living in the beginning, but in the long run we may well see the opposit. Secondly, if there is such a demand for smart growth preferences then why is it not the dominant development way? It seems that people have already spoken with their pocket books. Thirdly, If the smart growth people ever expect to make any significant gains their agenda don't you think that "moderation", as Dr. Hayward put it, should become the beckon call of the smart growthers?

The overriding theme I guess I see in the smart growth movement is that of overzealousness and a shove it down your throat attitude. I guess if I were to apply Dr. Eubanks idea of "own self interest" to this mix it would be that the smart growthers are probably just as profit driven as most, since it is a movement of mostly architects, hell bent, on getting the rest of the world to sign on with this movement, in the name of the environment. If it can do this then, there will be a higher demand for this type of lifestyle and more profit for them.

 

surface permiablity and flooding in urban areas

Urbanization poses a very unique problem to the inhabitants of the area. As an area becomes more urbanized it loses natural surfaces of soils and vegetation to the impermeable surfaces of cement and buildings. The problem here is that as water accumulates in the urban area it flows off the impermeable surfaces along old streambeds or into oversaturated natural ground cover.
The problem of impermeable surfaces is that water is not the only substance that is not absorbed. Other fluids, including toxins like engine oil or gasoline, also stay on the surface. In the event of precipitation, all the chemicals that were on top of the soil now flow with the water run-off into stream channels and the natural ground cover and end up in the water supply.
As urbanization spreads, surface permeability decreases. The decrease in available soils for water absorption leads to increased run-off. As the run-off increases, so to does flooding and water contamination. This also prevents water from getting into the ground to become part of the water supply as it normally would, which can decrease the amount of water available to the people of the newly urbanized areas, as well as lead to fires and other natural hazards.
As cities grow, so to do the demands for water. What is often overlooked is that the city is generating its own loss of water in more ways than one. Some cities have devised ways of containing the run-off created by urbanization, but this does not really address the problem. Also, most cities that find themselves short of water do not devise ways to ensure that they will not run out.
In Colorado Springs, we have two different ways of dealing with water supply. The county water districts allow new building permits for whole communities, gulf courses and all, whether or not there is enough water to support it. The water sanitation districts have put on watering limitations in recent years, but these will probably go away when the drought goes away. On the Air Force Academy, the water sanitation has come up with a way to reuse water. All the grass medians have signs warning you that the very funky smelling water is non-potable.
A good way for cities to deal with both the water run-off caused by urbanization and an impending shortage in the water supply, also caused by urbanization, is to learn to not just store storm run-off, but to reuse as much water as possible. Raising water rates will not curb the cities issue of new building permits. However, the issues created by increased urbanization might also hold the solutions.

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.

 

Why Do The Poor Live In Cities?

Here is the abstract for an interesting paper by Glaeser, Kahn & Rappaport:
"More than 17 percent of households in American central cities live in poverty; in American suburbs, just 7.4 percent of households live in poverty. The income elasticity of demand for land is too low for urban poverty to be the result of wealthy individuals' wanting to live where land is cheap (the traditional urban economics explanation of urban poverty). Instead, the urbanization of poverty appears to be the result of better access to public transportation in central cities, and central city governments favoring the poor (relative to suburban governments)."

 

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs has passed away at the age of 89. You might be interested in this interview. Here is a bit of the interview:
"Reason: A couple of years ago, Jesse Walker, an associate editor of REASON, wrote that your ideas are being seized by the sustainability crowd and are being abused. He wrote, 'To the extent that they have digested Jacobs, they have romanticized her vision, bastardizing her empirical observations of how cities work into a formula they want to impose not just on cities but on suburbs and small towns as well.'

Jacobs: I think there's a lot of truth to that. For example, the New Urbanists want to have lively centers in the places that they develop, where people run into each other doing errands and that sort of thing. And yet, from what I've seen of their plans and the places they have built, they don't seem to have a sense of the anatomy of these hearts, these centers. They've placed them as if they were shopping centers. They don't connect. In a real city or a real town, the lively heart always has two or more well-used pedestrian thoroughfares that meet. In traditional towns, often it's a triangular piece of land. Sometimes it's made into a park.

Reason: What kind of traditional towns?

Jacobs: You can see it in old Irish towns. You can also see it in towns in Illinois. The reason for it is that the action so often was where three well-traveled routes came together and made a Y. There are also T-intersections and also X-intersections. But they're always intersections that are well-traveled on foot. People speak about the local hangout, the corner bar. The important word there is corner.

Reason: Corner store, corner bar. They're illegal in most places today -- certainly in the suburbs.

Jacobs: Yes. The corner is important. It's of all different scales. For instance, big cities have a lot of main squares where the action is, and which will be the most valuable for stores and that kind of thing. They're often good places for a public building -- a landmark. But they're always where there's a crossing or a convergence. You can't stop a hub from developing in such a place. You can't make it develop if you don't have such a place. And I don't think the New Urbanists understand this kind of thing. They think you just put it where you want.

Reason: And that people will go there, as opposed to what's really happening -- that people are already going there? You're just giving them a place to stop and congregate?

Jacobs: That's right. It occurs naturally. Now it also has the advantage that it can expand or contract without destroying the rest of the place. Because the natural place for such a heart to expand is along those well-used thoroughfares."
"It occurs naturally." It emerges in other words. It reminds me of Hayek's spontaneous order.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

 

Guess what....Yup. Sprawl!

Sprawl, although incredibly ambiguous, can teach all of us a lot about economics. To start with, simply understanding all of the different aspects of the definition uses all kinds of economic terms, and after all, "sprawl" is actually a group of different issues, which all necessitate understanding all kinds of economic concepts. So the term might come up short, but it makes people think.

After looking at different articles on Portland, and what a mess it is, it's obvious that the smart growth initiatives Portland has adopted aren't the answer. It has, in fact, left the city with arguably more problems than before. Then there's the issue that groups of people today are not satisfied with the current structure of cities, citing inefficiency, loss of open space, and cookie cutter communities as problems. Lots of people live in cookie cutter communities, so I'm not completely sold on the idea that sprawl is bad for people.

Here's the problem. There is a difference between the characteristics of a city some people would like to see and the cities that are actually produced when people make choices and act in their own best interest. I think there is a disconnect between the "what should be" and "what is." There is a normative framework certain groups act on that does not work with the accepted economic principles we use. Portland exemplifies this.

To at least get closer to the solution, I think a few steps should be taken. Firstly, governments must stop subsidizing projects and businesses because they will be "good for growth," or because the city believes the projects will benefit the town in some other way. It seems that many people are simply not content to wait long enough for the economy to act on its own. Secondly, governments need to focus more on preventing market failures instead of trying to legislate growth in ways special interest groups think growth should happen.

It's become more and more obvious that governments and special interest groups are not good at making decisions for the people. The incentives for growth are there without smart growth, or other legislative paradigms groups can use. I'd advocate smart government more than I'd advocate smart growth.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

 

the problem with sprawl

The main problem with sprawl is summed up by the question "what does it cost, and who has to pay for it?" The fast moving outward expansion of housing, here in Colorado Springs and in the Denver metropolitan area is an extensive. What is needed to support these new subdivisions? How do they become accessible and habitable to the public? The answer is simple there must also be a corresponding expansion of the cities infrastructure. This infrastructural expansion consists of many different state and city funded projects, such a: New roads need to be built, existing sewer lines need to be expanded to support the new subdivision possibly leading to the need of new wastewater and sewage treatment facilities; new street lighting and other ‘Public goods’ will need to be put up; power lines and remote power distribution stations will have to be built; public services will need to be expanded including, police, fire department, Ambulance services; and then there are the school districts that will need to be upgraded with new buildings, teachers, staff and administrators and if that is not enough whole new districts will have to be created, all of this must be done in order to create a successful new subdivision in order to support the massive amounts of new families and their children. BUT like I asked earlier, who pays for all of this? The answer, simply put, we as taxpayers do.

The developers are building houses by the thousands and making millions of dollars from doing it. But what do they have to pay for to build, do they pay for the infrastructure that is required to support their new unique community. The answer is no, they are required to build the roads within there own subdivision, but not to link them to any other road outside of it, they run the sewer lines under the roads, but do not pay to have them connected to already existing service lines, so that helps a little, err, I guess. These developers are making, millions upon millions and they are costing the taxpayers millions of dollars annually. Furthermore, this financial burden is not left up to just the consumers of the new homes either. It is being given to the municipalities to pay for, who are funded by limited tax budgets. According to a study by the Denver Regional Council of Governments “(a) 12-square-mile expansion of the (Denver) metro area urban growth boundary would cost taxpayers an additional $293 million in infrastructure costs, and that $30 million of these costs would be borne by the region and state, rather than limited to the community where the growth is occurring.”

So my question, is should something be done about it? Should the state of Colorado use its constitutionally granted police powers to coerce the developers and consumers of sprawl to pay for these costs? If these costs burdens were given solely to those who created them, would the sprawl continue? What would be the possible economic repercussions of this? and do you think that the developers would fight any type of legislation via means of lobbying, and political contributions?


Sunday, April 02, 2006

 

Embracing Sprawl In Salt Lake City

“On the day when Salt Lake City is lauded as an anti-sprawl champion, Salt Lake County building permits figures show the cities surrounding Utah’s capital are sprawling out in record numbers.”

New data from Salt Lake County show record growth reaching to the outermost regions of the county. Estimates for housing permits show record breaking numbers for the county with a projected 6,984 housing permits issued throughout the valley this year, a nearly 5 percent increase since 2000.

New Housing Permits:

Salt Lake County 2005

Most Permits
Herriman – 788

West Jordan – 786

South Jordan – 740

Riverton – 586

Draper – 543

Salt Lake City – 489

South Salt Lake – 15
Least Permits
Source: University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research

Herriman, the furthermost spot west and south of Salt Lake City’s downtown saw the most housing growth. The sprawling community, once full of open fields and cow pastures, was followed closely by other suburban cities like West Jordan, South Jordan, Riverton and Draper. Collectively, they are five of the six Salt Lake County municipalities that are farthest from downtown.

All this sprawl can make some wonder what Salt Lake City’s anti-sprawl efforts mean in a county that seems bent on stretching its borders to the limit.
Salt Lake City’s work to curb sprawl by promoting transit and urban redevelopment is a way of handling development, by filling in existing empty spaces within the city, “provides a choice” for people in deciding where to locate, and some are making that choice.

Salt Lake City was sixth on the list for most permits with 489. Total permits for additions and renovations in the city racked up a value of over $186.1 million so far this year.

In Salt Lake County’s existing free market most people are choosing to live far away, according to the housing building permit figures. Unfortunately, in some places in the county the message has come down that you can combat sprawl by having larger lots, larger lots actually make sprawl worse by eating up open space and creating higher infrastructure costs. In some places, however, city leaders are learning that denser development can save open space, lead to cheaper infrastructure costs and therefore less expensive housing.

Most of the new homes are being built in southwestern communities like Herriman and West Jordan, two cities that topped the list of new home permits this year. Developers in Herriman gained 788 new housing permits so far this year, many of which went to a new development called Rosecrest that built roughly 320 new homes in 2005.

Those high figures for the county's southwest are far above new permits in more urban areas like South Salt Lake, with only 15 permits so far this year. South Salt Lake is really low, but the difference in South Salt Lake is that it is built out. Communities like Herriman and West Jordan have a lot of room to grow.

Developers of Rosecrest are defending new housing in the far reaches of the county. The Rosecrest development, a 2,300-acre planned subdivision, straddles the Herriman and Bluffdale border with a projected 5,000 homes. Roughly 1,800 homes are already under way. Developments spreading farther out from downtown Salt Lake City mean developers have to plan for roadways and service to the residents, but the distance to downtown has not been an obstacle for Rosecrest builders or buyers.

Planned open spaces and mixed-use commercial pockets can also help downplay the feeling of suburban sprawl as housing inches southwest.
As the county expands, city and county officials will have to work together to make sure growth does not become unmanageable sprawl.
County leaders will also be busier trying to provide services like sanitation and sheriff's patrols to the new areas. It’s always a concern about how to keep up. The county will have to be very proactive in their support, which could pay off big in the long run. A little consideration today is going to save a lot of headache in the future.


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