Good Read On Regional Growth

Over at Crosscut, former WA State Secretary of Transportation Douglas MacDonald discusses how since 2000, the Puget Sound Region’s urban centers have been capturing a far lower fraction of growth than the PSRC’s Vision 2040 goals. His suggested medicine for rectifying the situation is to make the big cities more attractive, e.g. with better schools, housing, amenities, and, of course, transportation.

Martin at Seattle Transit Blog has posted a spritited rejoinder, pointing out that Seattle does not have a problem with being undesirable, and that a major reason more people haven’t moved to Seattle is a lack of housing supply.

What both of them miss is that more people will move to the urban centers if and when they are faced with the prospect of paying the true costs of not doing so. For reference, see this recent New York Times piece on the negative externalities associated with driving cars. Not to forget the externalized costs associated with habitat destruction and loss of farmland.

Another factor that will likely increase growth in urban centers is the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. WA State now has a law on the books that targets a 50% reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) by 2050. State and local governments will be required to enact policy that helps achieve that goal, and there’s no question that a primary policy focus will have to be to discourage growth in low-density outlying regions, while encouraging it in the urban centers. Imagine, for example, a C02 impact fee imposed on low-density development. A fee which is then spent on, let’s say, providing affordable housing in Seattle. Now that would be some potent medicine.