Friday, September 23, 2011

The Highway Ponzi Scheme

I don't think there's any doubt. (HT: Alli)

Infrastructure is one of the most necessary functions of government, but at this point, the monolithic and homogeneous infrastructure model of "Interstates and Highways Everywhere" only contribute to our maintenance of a fundamentally unsustainable economy.

The highway along with cheap gas prices (which first socialist President Michelle Bachmann promises to set arbitrarily at $2/gallon) allowed for destinations to spread apart, often severing irrevocably the bonds of community. And that was when the cost of road construction was paid back in return thru cannibalistic development. Since building the freeways that made in-town living undesirable and out-of-town living (and commuting) viable, tax base fled to the point where we can't maintain the roads and infrastructure we built.


Emphasis added.

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5 comments:

Dante said...

Living in-town is not necessary to contributing to tax revenues there. Why are you going into the City of Dallas? For work? To shop? For a sporting event? Those businesses all pay property taxes, too. In fact, businesses typically pay a higher property tax rate than residents on similar-sized properties. The city gets more tax revenue if you leave town and they can manage to replace you with a commercial or industrial entity. I don't see what part of that is unsustainable, especially since on top of all of the businesses located there, the City of Dallas has 1.2 million residents.

I moved to this area specifically because the government here seems interested in providing things I find important. There are some nice neighborhoods in Dallas proper. Lakewood, the M-streets, and Junius Heights come to mind. If I worked downtown, I'd have given those neighborhoods serious consideration. But I love the suburb I live in and I also love that the state of Texas is content to support that instead of trying to social engineer me into a living situation I don't want.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

The city gets more tax revenue if you leave town and they can manage to replace you with a commercial or industrial entity.

Please see also: urban blight. If cities were so good at replacing residents who have left town with commercial and industrial industries, this would be less of a sustainability problem.

As far as whether Dallas has to deal with that, I don't know because I've never been to Dallas. But part of the "dead mall" situation is directly related to unsustainable economies on urban, suburban, and exurban levels.

As far as your suburb, they sound like they have effectively built their own civic infrastructure outside a traditional urban core. Good for them. Not all suburbs are created equal, and the ones that work often model themselves after small town and community functions.

They do so specifically to maintain their sustainability.

Most places I've lived and visited have not been able to sustain such an economy. Everywhere I've been, the story is the same. You have the old urban core (was blight, now often being restored), the initial suburban expansions (mostly blight), the secondary suburban expansions (re-industrial but turning to blight), and the current suburban expansions, where new developments and economic zones are being put in, usually based on the same models as the now blighted initial suburban expansions.

The only things that make this type of building style affordable is the massive subsidization of gasoline, real estate development, and road construction. If there is any artificial "social engineering" going on, it is the spending of tax dollars to build unsustainable models of suburban development.

Dante said...

"Please see also: urban blight. If cities were so good at replacing residents who have left town with commercial and industrial industries, this would be less of a sustainability problem."

Note the "if" in my original statement. Yes, cities (even Dallas) are notoriously bad at residential-to-commercial/industrial transitions. The residents don't want to give up on their residential area (and I don't blame them). Those residents can vote. Former residents leaving make the remaining residents' votes all that more powerful. A residential area usually has to fire-and-brimstone die before it can convert to another use. The only solution I've seen work in that case is to condemn and tear down blighted property as it pops up and wait for future development to catch up.

I'd love to see some sort of demolition fund on any new development so that if the development does fail in the future, the developer is the one paying for its demolition. From what I've read here and elsewhere, blighted property seems to be a major problem in New Orleans so I certainly see where you're coming from there.

"If there is any artificial "social engineering" going on, it is the spending of tax dollars to build unsustainable models of suburban development."

I agree that the government spending tax dollars on suburban infrastructure is its own form of social engineering. But I'm not so sure sprawl would be unaffordable otherwise. Suppose there is a fictional city where less than 10 miles of controlled-access highway has been built since 1986. Just to give it a name, we'll call this fictional city "Atlanta." Now if this "Atlanta" hits an economic boom, do you think they won't sprawl anyway? I personally think if there were a city foolish enough to completely ignore their road infrastructure for so long, they'd still have significant sprawl. I even think they could potentially be a poster-child for suburban sprawl.

There is a boom-bust cycle that is potentially harmful to everyone down the line. But I think that too many people tie it directly into sprawl or at least into the idea that preventing sprawl will prevent the boom-bust cycle. I don't think it's a healthy line of thought primarily because I don't think the sprawl is something that can be prevented even if we were to take the training wheels off and make everyone pay the full brunt of what they use in suburban infrastructure. I think the solution is to look at where the sprawl left behind a functional economic infrastructure and find out why those areas succeeded while others failed because in every major metropolitan area there are some parts of the urban core, initial suburbs, and secondary suburbs that never blighted or that gracefully transitioned from residential to commercial/industrial areas.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I'd love to see some sort of demolition fund on any new development so that if the development does fail in the future, the developer is the one paying for its demolition.

This must happen.

And, yes, it gets its own comment.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I think the solution is to look at where the sprawl left behind a functional economic infrastructure and find out why those areas succeeded while others failed

This is a great idea, and one that a bunch of people have already jumped on. But these studies are usually discredited or marginalized because developers don't like to take walkability or sustainability into their business models. They make more money at taxpayer cost by finding cheap land far away, bulldozing it, running a developmental highway to it, and then abandoning it later to move even further out.

They take few risks doing so because the governments will always subsidize that behavior. I have to think that ending such subsidies will force developers to chose more long-term, sustainable plans.

Speaking to the larger point, I am aware that cities are going to grow and expand, and I think that is a generally good thing when handled and planned for. I also realize that not everything can be planned for (like your hypothetical "Atlanta") where growth happens so fast, all planning is about 5 years behind.

Thing is, supporting all that expansion has a tremendous cost, and one that can't be paid for by simply moving the expansion somewhere else (hence the Ponzi scheme effect).