Admittedly it’s a working title, but as we have worked in communities all across the U.S., it’s clear that what so many places are seeking is simple economic development. And why is that – why the relentless search for more growth, more revenue, more employment?
The simple answer is – most of our places simply cannot afford to maintain the infrastructure we have built and need new revenue sources to keep up the illusion.
Over the last 30 years there have literally been countless studies showing that our typical built pattern of low-density suburban sprawl does not pay for itself. In other words, this pattern is too inefficient to generate enough revenue to cover the municipal services that people expect. And so, cities and other government agencies tend to pursue a variety of actions:
1. Zoning out lower and middle-income development in favor of high-end only (increased property taxes)
2. Reducing citizen services
3. Increasing taxes and fees
4. Chasing every new development that can generate revenue, regardless of long-term plans
All of these are earnest attempts to try and balance short-term needs with the current development pattern. The problem, though, is how destructive these approaches are to long-term sustainability. We need to change the pattern.
And so, this series will focus in 2 primary areas: how we can focus on the long-term health of our communities, and some short-term techniques we can try now to take steps in the right direction. Long-term strategic thinking and short-term actions is another way to say it.
It’s certainly our opinion that the primary way back to prosperity for many of our communities is to change the development pattern. Compact, mixed use, walkable neighborhoods are not just a lifestyle choice – they are inherently more stable over the long term, and far more efficient to serve. By no means does this imply that every neighborhood has to become high-rise. In fact, some of our best examples are the normal, “boring” neighborhoods from the late 19th century through the early 20th century. You probably know an example or two in your own community – they mix single family homes with apartments, narrow streets, neighborhood shops and community buildings.
So in the coming weeks we’ll share examples, thoughts, techniques and more to hopefully provoke some thinking. Please feel free to give us feedback on anything that is shared – we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Here’s a look at the vibrant downtown of Traverse City, Michigan.