Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Suburban Ponzi Scheme

Yet another study that points to development patterns as a key factor that created our unsustainable economy.

In particular, we must emphasize obtaining a higher rate of financial return from existing infrastructure investments, focusing on traditional neighborhoods where large public investments in infrastructure are currently being underutilized.


That's a very long-term and financially-healty way of looking at things, even though it will doubtless be described as outside the "business friendly" model so many municipalities use to subsidize politically connected developers to encourage short term "growth." But let us not be confused - the current subsidization (Ponzi scheme or not) that makes sprawl possible is the social engineering model forcing people into an automobile-centric culture. While ending that subsidization won't bring a halt to all sprawling and suburban development everywhere (ht: Dante), what it will do is bring more realistic market forces into account when driving development.

If people who lived in the sprawling suburbs had to shoulder more of the actual costs of living where they live, they might make different choices. Right now, the cost of living outside town is artificially equalized to the costs of living inside town. While you will always have folks who want to live in a place with a big yard and commute for an hour every day, I think more people would choose to live in cities and towns if it weren't artificially cheaper to live in the suburbs. Self-interest being what it is, people will make decisions based on their personal economics, and it is only natural they would congregate where it appears they are getting the most.

Unfortunately, and here's where the Ponzi scheme analogy becomes appropriate, many of them are now unable to maintain their decisions now that the artificial economic supports are being rolled back due to budget constraints, or have moved on to other areas of artificially subsidized "growth." That is putting the big hurt on our economy right now.

This is also related to the Highway Ponzi scheme, and it is becoming obvious that both development and transportation models currently associated with "sprawl" are increasing the burden on the US taxpayer at all levels, and are not delivering the return on investment needed to maintain a dynamic econmomy over the long term.

(HT: Alli on both links.)

Truth be told, these realizations come from the reality-based fiscal conservatism I can believe in:

Marohn feels strongly about these things, but he is about as far from a radical as you can get. He is fundamentally a soft-spoken, common-sense Midwesterner’s Midwesterner, and a fiscal conservative. But it is precisely that conservatism that has driven his organization's philosophy in the direction of smart growth policies and supporting traditional towns and neighborhoods.


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