Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Buzz: In With "Density" . . .

From City Journal, please read Get Dense. The subtitle tells the story in a nutshell:

"It’s time to stop wasting land and resources in the name of environmentalism."

More than three decades ago, the British economist E. F. Schumacher stated the essence of environmental protection in three words: “Small is beautiful.” As Schumacher argued in a famous book by that title, man-made disturbances of the natural world . . . should have the smallest possible footprints.
The idea is that the environment is protected when human activities are concentrated into a smaller footprint. "Sprawl" immediately came to mind when reading this, and author Robert Bryce did not disappoint.
 Perhaps the most familiar example of environmentally friendly density, though, is the way humanity has concentrated itself by moving from the country to cities, a process that is happening especially rapidly in the developing world. The opposite process, suburbanization, requires far more land area per resident—and therefore more miles of streets, electricity cables, and sewer lines . . .
Bryce goes well beyond sprawl to address other aspects of human development.  He exposes through specific examples of food and energy production  how policies promoted as being environmentally protective can be exactly the opposite when the density of development is taken into account.  The numbers will open your eyes. He summarizes:
The greenness of density leads to two conclusions. First, those who make environmental policy should consider density a desirable goal in nearly all the issues that they confront. And second, the real environmentalists aren’t headline-seeking activists and advocacy groups; they’re farmers, urban planners, agronomists, and, yes, even natural-gas drillers and nuclear engineers.
Bryce's article is well worth reading... and we now have a new word to bring into discussions: "density."


Keith said...

There is much worth considering in that article.

Strangely, I referenced your blog in another forum when discussing a National Geographic article in a similar vein entitled The City Solution.

Anonymous said...

In the realm of home construction the greenest act is to build smaller homes on smaller lots. And to build homes that are flexible and adopt to different occupancy configurations , i.e. Single family, extended family, duplex for rental income. Such a house may not sound like the American dream and it's not: the America dream is postwar marketing scheme conjured up y the sprawl lobby. Issues associated with multiple occupants such as noise between units be solved by good design.

I'd rather see a walkable city or suburb of duplexes than a sprawling auto centric suburb like New Hartford. I live in a town of 17,000 - the housing stock is mostly single family homes - but they are, on average, 1000 sq ft homes on 2500 sq ft lots. There are some apartment buildings - the kicker is the city is about 1 mile square. It's dense but nice - in 2 minutes I can walk to get my hai cut, see a movie, eat at 5 different restaurants, catch a commuter bus to the city etc. Higher density is the way to go

Anonymous said...

Is the message we should all live the same way or the way someone else enjoys? My sense is that the relative uniqueness of America is its urban, suburban, rural mix.It's called life style choice.

Strikeslip said...

You are absolutely entitled to your lifestyle choice ... just do not expect others to pay for it. If you want to live apart from the masses, the cost of the extra water and sewer lines, roads, lengthened police and fire trips, school busing, etc. to get to you should be yours.

Anonymous said...

ok, then why does it cost so much more to live in a city, ie taxes?

Shouldn't economy of scales take hold and costs actually be lower?

My guess is that you have more miles of road in the city than you do in the suburbs. Way more. How many miles of roads are there in a ten city block radius? Same goes for water, sewer lines electric, ect. These roads are not in a straight line like in the suburbs. Add them together and you have one long road.

Then you have all the hand holding services in the city. This non profit and that non profit - all sucking revenue from the suburban tax payer.

In theory, your idea sounds correct, but in actuality, its the suburbs who are paying your way.

Strikeslip said...

Good points Anonymous.

Logically, it SHOULD be cheaper for people to reside in a city, but the fact that it is generally the opposite is a clue that there is something wrong with what government is doing.

You are correct, there ARE a lot of "hand holding" services in the city geared to the poor because they are concentrated there. These are WELFARE, not municipal services, and are neither available to nor benefit city residents in general. The costs of these services are mandated by higher levels (county and/or state) of government.

I am not sure to what extent costs for welfare still fall disproportionally on city residents but at least up until maybe 10 years ago there was a cost sharing of the "local" welfare costs between city and county. That raised taxes in the city above the suburbs which caused many to move to the suburbs.

While there may be more roads and pipes etc in a city than in its suburbs, there are less of these per person -- which means water/sewer SHOULD be cheaper for city dwellers. If city residents are paying the same for water and sewer services as suburbanites, however, that should tell you that they are subsidizing the services to the less dense suburban areas.

The subsidy for water and sewer makes it cheaper for the population to sprawl itself into an attractive suburban lifestyle.

The costs for welfare and costs to underwrite suburban water/sewer services push costs in the city higher than in the suburbs. That drives people to leave making the city LESS DENSE, which pushes costs up further.

So while it is counterintuitive that it is more expensive in the city, it has become so. Government policies have created the situation.

Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned "non profits". I believe that's it's high time that city leaders passed a law requiring these so called "non profits" to pay a user fee for the services that they recieve for free from the city. I for one am sick & tired of subsidising these outfits with my tax dollars while they get away scott free. The city of Utica is broke with a massive tax hike looming on the horizon. It's about time that city leaders took on these special interests who are milking the rest of us dry.

Anonymous said...

Several of the comments intersect. Cost is high in the cities for a number of reasons, including non profits occupying what should be taxable property. Ride up and down Genesee St. in Utica. No one disputes the concept of paying for life style. At the same time suburanites pay heavily for the life styles of the urbanites. Take our annual social service bill and track where those who collect support live. The point is that the "pay for" standard, if applied should be applied across the board if it is to hold water. There are many steps city leaders could take to increase revenue. The tax on non profits is one. Also, a commuter tax could be considered. Ideas such as tax based sharing were tossed around decades ago with no action. As we discuss all of these issues the one observation is clear that being of uninspired, mediocre, at best,politcal leadership. And, who elects them? Our politcs has long been defined as to who will game the system, live off it with minimum qualifications and effort, collect pensions and build patronage. It is a way of life here.