Thursday, September 13, 2007

Growth at the Edges

An article in the LA Times (via Atrios) hints at the connection between the subprime housing market and suburban sprawl:

Most communities are seeing price declines, and the downtrend is strongest in outlying suburban areas such as in Riverside County, where affordable homes attracted droves of first-time buyers -- many of whom could not qualify for traditional fixed-rated mortgages.
It's interesting to compare this sober post mortem with the LAT's giddy boosterism for the housing boom in Antelope Valley, which ran four pages without mentioning groundwater.

In Atlanta, meanwhile, commutes are getting longer:
"I think what it means is that Atlanta continues to grow," Pisarski said. "And it continues to grow at the edges, and I think this is kind of an indication of the way the world's going to continue to function in the future."
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

This growth "at the edges" often makes it unfeasible for children to walk or bike to school, which increases traffic congestion and pollution, while making children more prone to obesity:
"Forty years ago, half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, fewer than 15 percent travel on their own steam. One-quarter take buses, and about 60 percent are transported in private automobiles, usually driven by a parent or, sometimes, a teenager."
I can't help wondering to what extent this cheap imitation of the American Dream is fueled by subprime auto loans, as well as subprime mortgages.

On the bright side, there's plenty of room for growth in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, where parking spaces outnumber drivers 3 to 1:
"Tippecanoe County parking lots turn out about 1,000 pounds of heavy metal runoff annually, said Purdue professor Bernard Engel, who used a computer model to estimate changes in water-borne runoff caused by land-use changes.
Some people have suggested smart growth - or even no growth - as a solution to problems like these. But Wendell Cox worries that such policies constitute "land rationing":
Smart growth seeks to control suburbanization (pejoratively called "urban sprawl") and has been pursued principally by liberals committed to the current orthodoxy of urban planning. The problem with smart growth is that it takes away opportunity through land rationing and other overly restrictive strategies that increase housing prices."
Or to put it another way, the problem with restricting growth is that it restricts growth.

If only everything else were that simple.

(Photo at top by Steve Smith.)

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