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.

9 Responses to “Good Read On Regional Growth”

  1. Brian

    Although I live in the Bay Area, California, not Seattle…I want to say this is a great blog!

    One thing we cannot forget-the overwhelming cultural preference for the freestanding single family house on it’s own lot. Although the negatives associated with such a choice are becoming extreme (people drive 70 miles each way to live in the sweltering, smoggy Central Valley just so they can have that precious house) and the newer generation may be making different choices, this is a big part of the problem.

  2. Frank

    I mentioned this over in Martin’s comments section, but to echo it here, I think one big mistake Macdonald makes is that he assumes that the growth will scale linearly between now and 2040. What’s more likely to happen, and what you allude to in your post, is that the cheap exurbs will fill up first, but then as gas prices increase and the amound of land inside the UGA drops, the cities will densify.

    So it’s perfectly reasonable that we’re missing our targets in the first few years, but will make up for them in the end. It’s like a retailer waiting for the Christmas shopping season — don’t freak out if you haven’t hit your annual sales targets by June!

  3. Andrew

    Yeah a potent medicine to make sure all the development happens in phoenix arizona

  4. vanderleun

    “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.”

    If you think what drives people when it comes to living where and how they wish to is just money, you’ve got another think coming. Take it.

  5. Dan Staley

    Much better Dan’l. And,

    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.

    is the key. The key in the developed world for decades now is that we are not faced with the prospect of true costs.

    After all, how would capitalism work if forced to do so? The world will be a far different place when this comes to pass, and the social upheaval of folks no longer able to act like vanderleun implies above will be deep and long indeed. How do we deny people the things they want and have been socialized to think they need? Cost?

    Surely Michael’s child(ren) will see this come to pass. May they live in uninteresting times.

  6. John

    “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.”

    Okay, who pays for all that? who pays for all these things in the burbs for that matter? Taxpayers almost entirely. How about we try and bill developers forthe full costs of their developments?

  7. Joshua

    John – I would put the question to you: who uses those amenities? The developer? Or the taxpayers? The developer is providing a service: building the house/unit which covers your head. You then pay the developer for the service that he/she has provided you. So why would the developer then also pay for the other services you receive? Do you see how your logic at approaching this doesn’t quite work out?

  8. Joshua

    Dan – you make the point that people will move in once they realize the true costs of living in the burbs (ie, transportation). There’s one flaw in that logic. As we know, banks don’t factor in transportation costs when they look at your ability to buy a house. They look at what you can afford now, at this moment. So you could sit down and tell the bank that really the $500K house in the CD is cheaper than the $300K house in Buckley when you factor in transportation costs (and the value of your own time in a car), but your logic would fall on deaf ears. You would still be forced to find a 300K house and pay the transportation costs on a daily basis. Really, the bigger issue is with how our financial institutions value properties.

  9. danb

    Joshua @8: I guess I was making the silly assumption that people base their home buying choices on the actual cost rather than on what the bank is willing to lend them. (Note to self: consider the subprime crisis.)

    Location-based mortgages are one way to compensate for transportation costs, but they haven’t caught on, as far as I know. I suspect it’s probably too difficult to factor it in accurately.

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