Smarter planning and increased transit makes us “grow wealthier”January 19, 2011
By Sean Barry
Many of the arguments for smarter and more sustainable growth emphasize cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. But what if reorienting where we live and how we travel also made us wealthier, more prosperous and better prepared for a 21st century economy?
That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Center for Clean Air Policy, titled “Growing Wealthier: Smart Growth, Climate Change and Prosperity.” The findings, released this morning, point to communities that have already improved quality of life and economic growth through increased transportation options and more efficient land use strategies.
The driving force is the pent-up demand for walkable communities better served by public transportation. For decades, the bulk of new housing has sprung up in suburban and exurban cul-de-sacs, accessible only by auto and often requiring long commutes to work and daily activities. Existing zoning, tax incentives and subsidies have heavily favored status-quo development, leaving more sustainable approaches at an unfair advantage.
Building farther and farther out — with the idea of giving more Americans access to a single-family lifestyle — was supposed to make our lives richer, literally and figuratively. But CCAP’s findings indicate otherwise. In fact, the communities that have created opportunities for people to live closer to where they work and utilize new travel options have seen remarkable progress. (This amplifies the Wall Street Journal story from last week about how Generation Y is less and less concerned with big yards and cul-de-sacs far from town than their parents. Could that be driving some of this change? Read that story here.)
In Dallas, Texas, for instance, downtown retail sales rose 33 percent the year after the new light rail system began operation. Portland, Oregon attracted $3.5 billion in private investment after just $100 million in streetcar funding. In Sarasota, Florida, downtown development costs clocked in at just half the cost of new development in the suburbs and generated four times the revenue in tax receipts.
Denver, Colorado perhaps best exemplifies the market for new approaches to growth and transit. Home values for Denver residents within a half-mile radius of the Southeast light rail line increased by 18 percent just as home values in the remainder of Denver declined by 18 percent, between 2006 and 2008. Nationwide, one study found that every one-point increase in a home’s “walk score” — a measure of how accessible the area is by foot — corresponded with a $700 to $3,000 increase in property value. As the report puts it:
The preponderance of the evidence leads us to conclude that smart-growth strategies can help communities, businesses and individuals make money, save money and enhance quality of life.
The TIGER grants program, which awards transportation projects that integrate environmental and economic innovation, is cited by CCAP as a starting point for federal reform. Expanding on the popularity of this important program is a good start toward a more merit-based and comprehensive approach to spending in the next surface transportation bill.
The report was authored by CCAP Transportation Analyst Chuck Kooshian and CCAP Director of Transportation Programs Steve Winkelman.