Monday, August 22, 2005

"Sprawl" or "Growth" ?

There was an interesting article in today's OD about Whitestown's Growing pains.
There seems to be a tacit assumption that "growth" is "good" among our politicians.


"Growth" is good depending on where and who you are. Growth in cities or villages is usually good because those areas already have the infrastructure in place to support it. If more people move in to pay fixed costs, costs per person will go down -- making such areas attractive to even more growth. Growth is also good for developers and the landowners in the path of growth. These people will make money through construction and land sales. For other people in other areas, however, "growth" will produce more harm than good.

While it is true that "growth" from the new Judd Road will likely bring in more tax revenue to Whitestown, it also will create a demand for additional infrastructure and services -- which come with significant costs. Will there be a need to build more water and sewer lines? Will police and fire services be adequate? Can the school system handle an increased student load?

While some of these costs will be paid for by Whitestown residents, perhaps to be picked up by an "expanded tax base" others will be paid for by persons getting no benefit from the "growth." People who live further away from the population centers should be paying more for water and sewer services because of the greater distances water and sewage need to be transported. However our local service providers have not implemented this concept in their rate schedules -- meaning that the population centers (Utica and the Villages) are actually subsidizing this "growth." Additionally, greater burdens will be placed on the Sheriff's department -- and taxed to the villages and cities which get little to no service from the Sheriff. What about the cost to plow the new roads that will be needed? The list can go on and on ...

There are also environmental and "quality of life" issues to consider. Growth in the rural sections of Whitestown can be expected to downgrade wildlife habitat. Agricultural land will be lost and the productivity of what remains will be impaired. Undoubtedly, the community's character will change.

One only has to look at the congestion that has accompanied the massive growth along New Hartford's commercial corridor to know that significant changes can be attached to 'growth.' I can't say these have been positive. According to my tax bills, I can't say that the "expanded tax base" has had a significant impact on my taxes. Sitting in traffic waiting to exit Consumer Square, I can't say that my shopping experience has been enhanced. Even though it is several miles farther, I actually prefer the Wal-Mart in N Utica to the one in NH because I don't like getting stuck in traffic exiting the parking lot. While the additional shopping choices are nice, these would eventually have been located in Utica had the region not adopted policies that actually subsidize development of pristine land.

While our politicians bandy the word "growth" around easily, what is "growth" from a small local perspective is really "sprawl" from a regional perspective. For all the talk about this being a "region," the politicians who should be thinking of the "region" are taking the small local approach. In this regard, I was glad to see that Rolf Pendall's work Sprawl Without Growth: The Upstate Paradox got a mention. This is an interesting piece that should be required reading for our politicians who think they have all the answers. Pendall documents that urbanized acreage in the Central New York (Utica-Rome-Syracuse) region increased an astounding 45% between 1982 and 1997 while the population decreased .

You need no degree in urban planning to know that our "sprawl without growth" partially explains why our taxes have reached outrageous, non-competitive, job-killing levels: we simply have spread ourselves too thin to be economically efficient.

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