"Cancer ... is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth." (Wikipedia)
"Urban Cancer is sprawl development, involving unregulated regional growth." (me)"Urban cancer" immediately came to mind when I read the OD Story "Rezoning plan returns to New Hartford," where developers are asking the Town to re-designate about 250 acres to permit mixed uses including small businesses, retail, offices and restaurants. Supposedly the proposal was withdrawn and resubmitted so that it could incorporate goals from the Town's comprehensive plan. (One suspects that the recent change in the composition of the planning board might also have something to do with it.)
New Hartford Online posted on this subject as well, and listed some of the interesting/troubling comments of the focus group that contributed to the development of the Town's Comprehensive Plan Update:
- This becomes a mini-city if everything comes together . . .
- Town needs to be a leader and needs to be able to discuss issues such as the decay in the City of Utica; NH is a jewel in a rusting hulk
- NH has shown a lot of leadership in spite of itself commercially and etc. . . .
- NH competes with Utica for offices; businesses are moving out but NH isn’t prepared with a nice business park
New Hartford development in the Commercial Drive/Seneca Tpk/Route 840 area far exceeds what a town of 20,000 people needs. Rather, this vast commercial development depends upon the 60,000 people living next door in the City of Utica for its survival, for both customers and employees, and to make municipal services affordable.
This development, which is on the southwestern fringe of Greater Utica's urbanized area, would have been more sensibly placed within the City of Utica to be closer to customers/employees, and, more importantly, where the dollars it would generate could be used to maintain municipal services. Instead, the economic activity generated by a Utica-resident population benefits New Hartford, leaving fewer dollars in Utica to maintain services and crumbling infrastructure. The result is what a NH focus group calls "decay in the City of Utica" while "NH is a jewel in a rusting hulk." From a regional perspective, however, the development is more appropriately described as a cancerous tumor because it is draining the life out of its host.
One market cannot spread its population and economic activity over double the area without increasing maintenance costs. Because municipal services need to be extended to cover the newly developed area, it's not hard to see why taxes/user fees in BOTH Utica and NH must go up. This makes the entire Greater Utica area non-competitive with other areas. Like a cancer ultimately kills its host and itself, this sprawl development ultimately will kill the entire region.
How this happened is much like what happens to people when they get old, things start breaking down, and they become prone to cancer. It takes more effort to keep an older person fit and trim than a younger one. If they get the right medicine they can keep going, but the wrong medicine will either do nothing or make things worse.
Utica was a "mature" community sixty years ago when it was filled to capacity, but was showing its age. Envious of the shining new cities that arose from war's ashes in Europe, US experts of the day recommended duplicating the process by leveling whole sections of cities (with bulldozers instead of bombs) and building anew: Urban Renewal. At the same time, US experts recommended arterial highways as the antidote to traffic congestion, predicting that downtowns would continue to grow by making it easier to whisk people in an out. In hindsight, both were not only the wrong medications, they combined to make the patient very sick, not only here, but in other cities as well. Urban Renewal destroyed the "critical mass" of activity needed to attract new investors. Arterials destroyed the advantage of a central location in the city by making suburban greenfields on the urban fringe as accessible as downtown. Instead of high quality construction on expensive downtown land, we have low quality construction on the fringe, and depressed values downtown.
More bad medicine came when regionalization of water and sewer systems with uniform rates made outlying suburban locations as cheap to develop as in-city locations in spite of the greater infrastructure needed to extend the services there. Compound this with local development policies that gave PILOTs and other tax breaks for green-field developments. Development in New Hartford is probably more the product of these occurrances than anything done by the Town itself.
Something is very wrong with local development. Figuring out the answer will not be easy.