Tax greenfield development, subsidize infill

aerial photo of Houston sprawl

I recently ran across a terrific post on T. Caine's sustainability blog Intercon extolling climate change policy to get on the smart growth bandwagon. He says it extremely well, so I am just going to quote a few bits and give you a link for more if you want it:

"A number of government sponsored initiatives are targeting sustainable technologies that want to provide an easy fix to climate change (renewable energy, fuel cells, energy efficient home upgrades). But when it comes to sustainable progress, if we are going to delve into the policy game then we should be including measures that actually change the way we are doing things, not merely advance the technology that allows us to do things the same. As a result, I would suggest taxing the development of greenfield sites and, conversely, offering incentives to redeveloping existing buildings or property near town and city centers . . .

"Sprawling development is notoriously inefficient; each an oasis of occupancy connected by thin veins of pavement that make car travel a considerable portion of daily life . . . Greenfield development can mean funding for new power lines, new sewers and new roads for a relatively small group of new citizens. It expands the coverage areas for maintenance crews, emergency vehicles and mail delivery that can drastically offset the incremental rise in tax revenue . . . [Yet] there is no need for greenfield building. We have loads of existing space in close proximity to transportation and infrastructure . . .

"On the other side of the tax lie subsidies to shift new construction and home ownership to areas with an existing populace. New homes and offices can benefit from utilities and services that residents have already paid. In addition to possibly being cheaper than new construction, reusing existing structures drastically reduces waste from demolition and construction and negates the need for the production of new virgin materials. All of it points to lower carbon footprints and lighter lifecycle costs . . ."

For more photos and links, go here.

Photo of Houston by specialkrb/Karen, creative commons license.


taxing and subsidizing

You are correct. It's time to reverse the 60 year pattern of taxing existing urban neighborhoods to subsidize sprawl. The subsidies to sprawl(big road building, cheap sewer extensions and below market mortgages) are well disguised as "investments" while the few Fed and state programs that help cities are usually called "subsidies" or welfare.
After seeing the rotten distribution of discretionary stimulus money for state DOTs (over 90% to sprawl inducing road projects, see below) maybe we should just be happy if we can cut off the sprawl subsidies. Our Federal government, loaded down with war debt, can no longer afford funding the Happy Motoring fantasy world author Jim Kuntsler often refers to. I'd actually like us to achieve more. Is it dreaming to think that our government could invest in infrastructure that actually adds value to the economy. I hope the answer is "yes we can."

Below is LJ Auerbach's excerpt from SGA's analysis of the 120 day spending pattern of stimulus money:

From the Smart Growth America report, "The States and the Stimulus" (June

"June 29th marks the 120-day deadline for states to commit at least 50% of
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's (ARRA) $26.6 billion in
transportation funds. It is a good time to examine how states are using the

This table shows the percentage of flexible transportation funds that states
and MPOs are committing to public transportation and nonmotorized projects.

1 District of Columbia 41.5%
2 Delaware 27.9%
3 Massachusetts 19.0%
4 Oregon 16.7%
5 Iowa 16.5%
6 Colorado 11.3%
7 Hawaii 10.9%
8 Georgia 9.3%
9 Rhode Island 7.5%
10 Maryland 6.1%
11 Arizona 5.2%
12 Virginia 5.2%
13 Idaho 4.7%
14 Florida 4.4%
15 New Jersey 4.2%
16 North Carolina 4.2%
17 Washington 4.2%
18 Michigan 3.9%
19 Montana 3.9%
20 Louisiana 3.8%
21 Pennsylvania 3.7%
22 Utah 3.5%
23 Ohio 2.8%
24 South Carolina 2.8%
25 California 2.5%
26 New York 2.5%
27 Alaska 2.4%
28 New Hampshire 1.7%
29 Maine 1.4%
30 Kentucky 1.2%
31 Nebraska 1.1%
32 Kansas 1.0%
33 Wisconsin 1.0%
34 Alabama 0.7%
35 Mississippi 0.5%
36 Texas 0.5%
37 Nevada 0.2%
38 Arkansas 0.0%
39 Connecticut 0.0%
40 Illinois 0.0%
41 Indiana 0.0%
42 Minnesota 0.0%
43 Missouri 0.0%
44 New Mexico 0.0%
45 North Dakota 0.0%
46 Oklahoma 0.0%
47 South Dakota 0.0%
48 Tennessee 0.0%
49 Vermont 0.0%
50 West Virginia 0.0%
51 Wyoming 0.0%

"Nonmotorized and related" projects include all projects designed to
facilitate "active" or human-powered transportation that does not rely on
cars, buses, trains or trucks. Examples of the types of projects classified
in this category include:

* Bicycle projects
* Pedestrian projects
* Trails
* Streetscapes

"Transit and related" projects include all projects, funded under the
STP, that are designed to add capacity to, improve the safety of, preserve,
facilitate, and are otherwise related to public transportation.


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