Zoning and Sprawl – Cause and Effect?

Regular readers know by now that I am an aficionado of the Smart City radio program, and listen religiously to the podcast.

As a sidebar, the host, Carol Coletta, will be in Portland on March 15th, as the next speaker in Metro’s regional economic development series. I haven’t seen the official notice yet, but I believe it’s 7pm at the Liberty Center building in the Lloyd District.

Last week’s show has a great segment on the causes of sprawl. The guest argues that current thinking about sprawl is that the market produces it, and we need government intervention to produce alternatives. He flips this around and suggests that the market will produce lots of land use types, and sprawl actually results from some of our government decisions:

  • Zoning that forces separations between uses
  • Roads over-engineered for speeds faster that needed

The segment starts about 8 minutes into the show (MP3, 21MB). There’s also a great segment on designing ‘better’ taxes to accomplish policy goals (even in Portland, that one might not go down well, but the theory is interesting).

2 responses to “Zoning and Sprawl – Cause and Effect?”

  1. I’m glad they at least proposed both perspectives.

    It always aggravates me when someone thinks that the market is what created sprawl period – end of story.

    The fact of the matter was the whole New Urban design is basically re-engineering cities so that they are built like original market demands created them.

    The only real difference besides the car from cities now and cities of 100 years ago is Government Zoning and Regulation. Then it was done on a human scale, now it is done on an entirely “suburban” scale.

    Which would lead me to lean more toward thinking the Government created the situation in which Suburban Sprawl was allowed to get out of hand in the first place.

    It also doesn’t help that the subsidization of roadways and transportation modes between 1900-1950 went from less than 1% of the State and Federal Budgets to almost 1-3%. Doesn’t seem like much but it is. Then between 1950-2000 the Roadways/Airways/Railroads went from a small joint subsidy that was mostly directed by states only, to a huge multi-billion dollar hand out. With the vast majority going to roadway construction and interstates.

    …Between the Government making roadways “free” and the rezoning to completely segment commercial vs. residential vs. industrial it in effect killed off any reason to build a central infrastructure (aka city) or have mass transit of any type. Then the market just finished off what the Government started and ripped up the ramaining transit, tried to make it market & business case reasonable, it didn’t measure up or prove it’s worth in sprawl… and now you have…

    the current mess we’re all in. People think transit costs x much when it really doesn’t because it’s subsidized and most people think the only way to smart cities is thru Government intervention.

    From an economist’s perspective that is a dangerous suggestion to perpetuate. If we want good reasonably designed cities they dont’ need made by falsely inflated agendas by politicians… the market can create them just fine without assitance from them.

    Imagine for one minute how fast sprawl would decrease with Gas truly paying for the roadways, or a tollways being constructed to directly charge users for road usage.

    The falsely deflated charge of 33 per mile would turn into more like a dollar a mile. Surpassing the costs of any alternative mode of transit.

    Now that would lead us back in the right direction AND reduce our reliance on the upper class tax structures that generally pay for all the current infrastructure. (i.e. we could ALL get a tax break – or at least in the case of Portland, pay for our schools)

    excuse the long statement.

  2. Don’t forget that cities… are a result of economic forces: centers of trade. It’s easier & cheaper to live in town than to make everything by hand, because of close access to everything.

    Once you give all the amenities of a city to some guy living out in the boondocks (because he can drive there)… then the city loses its function as it cannot compete with the cheap land prices.

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