Austin’s “Compact Living” policies are destructive to city.
COST Commentary: Austin has recently approved a “Comprehensive Plan” which is based on a foundation of “compact living” and transit use. Austin’s public policies and regulations have gradually contributed to Austin’s rising costs and having the most unaffordable housing among Texas’s major cities.
The articles below are about Canada and Britain which were early implementers of so-called “Smart Growth” policies; as quoted in the second article: “Much of the inspiration for what is today called Smart Growth—concentrating development in urban centers, urban growth boundaries, higher densities and expanded transit—originated in the U.K. long before it was embraced by many urban and transportation planners in this country. Consequently, it’s newsworthy when respected U.K. figures question some of these long-embraced policies.”
The articles discuss a growing body of evidence and knowledge regarding long term experience in numerous US and foreign cities which is confirming that urban policies which highly regulate and limit land use to achieve compact living: “are likely to increase travel times, reduce housing affordability and hamper economic growth.” Another quote, from a referenced study is: “The current planning strategies for land use and transport have virtually no impact on the major long-term increases in resource and energy consumption. They generally tend to increase costs and reduce economic competitiveness.”
Numerous US cities including Portland, Seattle and almost all major California cities, which have implemented strong growth controls and land use regulations during the past 30 years, are demonstrating the similar negative impacts described for Canada and Britain.
Austin should reconsider the foundations of its Comprehensive Plan to avoid these unintended negative consequences which will degrade overall quality of life for most citizens.
Policies to limit land use raise housing prices and reduce discretionary income that would be better spent boosting the economy
BY WENDELL COX, SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE, JUNE 1,2012
Most new residential development in Montreal is slated for high-rise, multi-unit buildings along transit corridors. But the idea that people in these buildings will use transit instead of cars is “nonsense,” Wendell Cox writes.
Photograph by: Dario Ayala, Gazette files
The prosperity and competitiveness of Canadian metropolitan areas is being undermined by bad policy in housing, land use and transit.
Canadians spend more time commuting to work than in most other world metropolitan areas, note the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Urban Transit Association and other agencies.
For example, Toronto’s one-way work trip travel time averages 33 minutes, while Montreal and Vancouver are at 31 minutes. By comparison, highly congested Los Angeles is only 27 minutes, while much more sprawling (and less transit-dependent) Dallas-Fort Worth is 26 minutes.
Long travel times are a concern since the ability to travel quickly throughout the metropolitan area contributes substantially to economic growth. However, the very policies being pursued by Canadian metropolitan areas, including the Montreal metropolitan region’s recently approved land-use plan, are likely to increase travel times, reduce housing affordability and hamper economic growth.
The destructive policies go by various names, such as “compact cities” and “growth management.” Principally, these policies seek to stop the expansion of urban areas (pejoratively called “sprawl”) with the use of green belts and urban growth boundaries, which largely prohibit new development outside the present urban footprint. The policies are described as necessary to achieve sustainability, which is untrue.
Simply put, rationing land raises housing prices. This is illustrated with a vengeance by such policies in Vancouver, which has the worst housing affordability of any major metropolitan area outside of Hong Kong in our annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. House prices there now exceed 10 times the average income. That’s more than three times the normal ratio when “compact city” policies are absent. Similar policies have driven housing prices up relative to incomes more than 50 per cent in both Toronto and Montreal.
The result is an unprecedented intergenerational transfer of wealth that threatens to relegate large numbers of younger households to permanent renter status. If Montreal’s young people are looking for a government policy worth protesting against, this would be it. The higher house prices reduce discretionary income that would otherwise be spent on other goods and services, growing the economy.
It gets worse. A more radical strain of such policy is now emerging. Most new residential development is slated for highrise, multi-unit buildings along transit corridors. An example is Montreal’s plan that requires 40 per cent of new housing to be built within one kilometre of métro or commuter-rail stations (or 500 metres from a rapid-bus station). The idea is that people in these buildings will use transit instead of cars for much of their travel.
Nonsense. Statistics Canada recently reported that the travel patterns of people who live in such buildings are little different from those of people who live in nearby, low-density housing 10 kilometres or more from downtown. This is not surprising, since the overwhelming share of work destinations are not downtown, which is the only place transit can provide service that competes with automobile travel times. Despite their dominant skylines, downtowns account for fewer than 15 per cent of jobs in major metropolitan areas. Transit is not a viable option for nearly all of the other 85 per cent of jobs.
World experience indicates that higher density is associated with more intense traffic congestion. Worse, the more intense traffic congestion brings with it health consequences because, as traffic slows down and become more congested, air pollution emissions become more intense.
“Compact cities” policies are not necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A report by the McKinsey Corporation, co-sponsored by environmental and industry groups, found that sufficient emissions reductions could be achieved without reducing driving or living in denser housing. Studies show that the potential for reducing emissions is from better automobile fuel technology and that “compact cities” policy has only a small dividend (though at huge expense).
The emphasis of urban policy has been misplaced. The issue is not sprawl, it is economic opportunity – the very reason cities exist. Making metropolitan areas more competitive requires greater mobility and it requires higher discretionary incomes. It isn’t only Canadians who live in Montreal, Toronto and other large metropolitan areas who are affected by these policies. Because of the importance of cities to the national economy, these ill-advised policies are a national issue.
Wendell Cox is the principal of Wendell Cox Consultancy/Demographia, a public policy firm based in St. Louis, Mo., that specializes in urban public policy, transport and demographics. He is the author of the study Mobility and Prosperity in the City of the Future, recently published by the Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute for policy research: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca
Surface Transportation Innovations, Issue no, 105, July 2012
By Robert Poole
Smart Growth Questioned in Britain
Much of the inspiration for what is today called Smart Growth—concentrating development in urban centers, urban growth boundaries, higher densities and expanded transit—originated in the U.K. long before it was embraced by many urban and transportation planners in this country. Consequently, it’s newsworthy when respected U.K. figures question some of these long-embraced policies.
The Spring 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association carries an analysis by four U.K. academic urban planners (Marcial Eschenique, Anthony Hargreaves, Gordon Mitchell, and Anil Namdea) titled “Growing Cities Sustainably: Does Urban Form Really Matter?” One of its principal conclusions is that “The current planning policy strategies for land use and transport have virtually no impact on the major long-term increases in resource and energy consumption. They generally tend to increase costs and reduce economic competitiveness.”
The authors created a model of land use and travel behavior, using data from three areas in England: the London metro area, the Newcastle area, and the Cambridge sub-region. For each one, they modeled the impact of three alternative land use policies: compact development, planned development, and dispersal (similar to the suburbanization common in the United States and Australia for most of the post-World War II period). Although land uses differed somewhat among the three models, outcome variables such as transportation energy use, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and houses, and air pollution showed very minor differences. Projected economic costs by 2031 were lowest for the dispersed model and highest for the compact one.
An article on the NewGeography site (June 28) provides useful extracts from the paper, two of which I found especially interesting:
“One of the main arguments for the dispersed city is that there is no longer a single center where most jobs and services occur. Urban areas, rather, exhibit a dispersed and often polycentric structure, bringing jobs and services closer to residents with a more complex movement pattern not readily served by public transport.”
“Smart growth principles should not unquestioningly promote increasing levels of compaction on the basis of reducing energy consumption without also considering its potential negative consequences. In many cases, the potential socioeconomic consequences of less housing choice, crowding, and congestion may outweigh its very modest CO2 reduction benefits.”
Shortly after reading this, I read the 16-page “Special Report: London,” included in the June 30th issue of The Economist. In the section on housing, after noting the very high cost of housing in the London metro area, the author identified the Green Belt—a donut-shaped area up to 50 miles wide intended as the world’s first urban growth boundary—as the biggest constraint on development and hence as a major contributor to high housing prices. “This has not stopped growth, but it has pushed it into the greater south-east, thus spoiling the countryside across a bigger area. It has also raised the cost of housing and forced workers to travel farther. Commuting costs in London are now higher than in any other rich-world capital.” As a remedy, the report suggests that “Taking a mile of the Green Belt all around London would release around 25,000 hectares [62,000 acres], the equivalent of a sixth of London’s area—far more than would be needed to make a huge difference to housing affordability.”