As predicted, the weather is great and I'm working from home with the windows open. And I'm doing an open-ended research project that is leaving me with more questions than answers, which is always good.
I haven't spent a lot of time online today, except for the research. But I would like to point out yesterday's Strong Towns post, which hit home almost literally. In most parts of the US, the suburban city plan (aka sprawl) gets a pretty heavy subsidy from urban property-tax payers:
A couple of years ago, I conducted an infrastructure study for the Town of Nolensville, Tennessee, at the request of Mayor Derek Adams, analyzing their tax revenues in relation to their development pattern's maintenance costs. You can find that study here, but I'm sure you can guess what I found, if you're a Strong Towns reader.
I looked at five different streets, each with a slightly different development pattern. I categorized these streets based on what infrastructure they contained, their levels of density, and their historic context. The final street on the list was a townhome street (consisting of typical 24-foot lot widths, as opposed to the 69- to 114-foot-wide lots of the other suburban streets). All four of the non-townhome lot development patterns resulted in long-term deficits for the city under the existing level of taxation. What's more, I adjusted these deficits to allow for the more expensive homes to contribute more taxes (since their higher assessments would, of course, generate more money in absolute terms), and they still didn't break even. The townhomes, on the other hand, produced a budget surplus of $51.43 per lot.
In the study's conclusion, I discussed how this result may be received politically. In the past, people have moved to towns like Nolensville precisely for the suburban development pattern. Even today, when more urban and traditional forms of community are increasing in popularity, not everybody wants to live in a townhome. Am I advocating some kind of 15-minute city conspiracy to forcibly abolish side yards?!?
No—despite the proven financial and logistical problems with suburbs, I don't think we should abolish them. It could be argued that heavy-handed strategies like that don't fit with our political culture and traditions in this country. Instead, I think we should do something eminently American: we should tell the suburbs to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
That doesn't mean abandoning them. Rather, it's a call for a frank, down-to-earth conversation between the taxpayers and the suburbs; the type of conversation any responsible parent would have with a teenager who's living beyond his means.
Sure, but if you're getting subsidized million-dollar housing, why would you ever vote to pay your actual bill?
OK, lunch is over. Back to the mines...