Saturday, April 25, 2015

Planetizen: More on the Cost of Anti-Growth Policies

This article in Planetizen absolutely nails it. I think most people, to one degree or another, are troubled by the western sprawl in Palm Beach County. Communities are popping up everywhere out west and there's even talk of widening the Florida Turnpike. Why? You can sum it up to market forces, or it's an act of God and leave it at that, or even be thoughtful and consider the public's addiction to the single passenger automobile trip.

The real problem is it's too much trouble building near the coast. Too expensive and an avoidable headache, with multiple barriers including property hazard insurance, aging infrastructure (which could be financed but for the funding of new infrastructure in our western communities), etc. In face of these challenges the home builders and "evil" developers say "Westward Ho!".

Here is an excerpt from the article (not for the faint of heart):

     An upswing in the fortunes of American cities has been widely noted, along with exploding land values in economic centers. As the article notes, "In the 20th century, tumbling transport costs weakened the gravitational pull of the city; in the 21st, the digital revolution has restored it. Knowledge-intensive industries such as technology and finance thrive on the clustering of workers who share ideas and expertise."
     In spite of this, new construction is comparatively scarce. A cocktail of outdated zoning and NIMBYish objections, according to the article, is to blame for blockages in urban land maximization. While acknowledging the political difficulty involved, the article points to a two-pronged solution:
  • City planning decisions should be made at the city level, from top down, to minimize objections from specific localities.
  • Governments should levy higher land taxes, creating an incentive to put land to better (economic) use.
This is going to get some people riled up. However you can't have it both ways like I've demonstrated with Drew Martin and the Loxahatchee Sierra Club's opposition to the Alton (former Briger) Tract (to site one glaring example). The Alton Tract is east of I-95 which is where we should be encouraging people to live. Most reasonable people can agree with that.

The City of Lake Worth, for example, is perfectly poised for added housing: homes, condos, apartments, etc. There are so many buildable lots available in the downtown, and we're a fun, walkable, and bikeable City. But when something gets proposed an opposition machine ramps up which translates "urban land maximization" into acres of 10 story buildings; the unsuspecting public gets those knocks at the door with nicely dressed and pleasant people saying "They're stealing our charm" and "You won't be able to see the sun rise any more" and on and on it goes. 

Sure, you look around the City and you see construction but it is, as the article in Planetizen states, "comparatively scarce." Eight hundred people, it's estimated, are moving to Florida each and every day. And they all want a nice place to call home.

We need to direct investment towards the coast, preferably east of I-95, and alter policies to achieve this. You hear all the time about irresponsible development and developers but somehow groups like the Loxahatchee Sierra Club get a pass and they're never challenged. They should be at the table encouraging coastal development but they're not. Their answer to any development is always "No". That's irresponsible too.