Debunking the myths about sprawl and smart growth

Doesn't everyone want a new house
with a big yard in the suburbs?

Some people do, but many home buyers are realizing they can get better housing value and quality of life in more compact communities. They are tired of long commutes and the maintenance of a big yard. And they want the amenities that traditional neighborhoods provide-parks and shops within walking distance, sociable town centers, streets that aren't dominated by high-speed traffic, and quality public spaces. As the American population ages, the market for such communities will grow. Thus, a smart growth program that reinvests in older communities makes good sense.

Won't smart growth policies interfere
with private property rights?

Whose property rights? Current policies subsidize sprawl and land speculation at the edges of metropolitan areas. Smart growth policies, on the other hand, support the property rightsand property valuesof the majority of people who own homes and property in existing communities. A study in New Jersey found that sprawl costs taxpayers over 20 times what it provides in financial gains to speculators.

Shouldn't we let the free market
determine what gets built?

What free market? Current land use patterns are the result of many market-distorting policies. Highway construction, fragmented property tax systems, favorable tax treatment of homes, etc., all help shape the "market." We need to free the market from the unintended consequences of such policies. We want to level the playing field so that older urban areas can compete fairly.

Won't smart growth policies
stop growth and progress?

No, such policies aren't about stopping or even slowing growth; they're about growing smarter. Too often what we call "growth" in Ohio is just a costly shell game that involves moving people and jobs from older communities to new communities within metropolitan areas. Smart growth policies remove the state subsidies from that game. The emphasis becomes investing in our existing cities and towns and protecting open space, and that's a good investment in the state's future. Other states with strong growth management policies, such as Oregon, have very healthy economies.

What's wrong with new development?
Nothing! We need to keep developing and improving our communities in many ways. But we need to be more thoughtful about the location of that development. A smart growth program questions the need to keep physically expanding the geographic spread of our metropolitan areas in a haphazard manner. Instead, it promotes more development and redevelopment in existing urban areas. Home builders, road builders and construction workers have nothing to fear from smart growth policies. There's enough work to keep everyone busy for a long time to come. And by growing smarter, the state's metropolitan areas will be more prosperous in the long run.

What about local control?
Home rule is an important value in Ohio, but communities should be asking just how much they currently control their own destiny. In reality, many are being buffeted by regional forces beyond their controlforces that cause rapid growth in some areas and disinvestment in others. Smart growth policies would help to stabilize local jurisdictions.

Isn't smart growth just
some form of social engineering?

Nearly all public policiesfrom tax policies to infrastructure policiescan be called "social engineering." They all influence people to act one way and not other ways. So the choice is not whether to do social engineering but what priorities to promote. Under a Smart Growth program, the state makes the perfectly legitimate choice to invest in existing urban areas. The idea isn't to force people to move back into cities, but to make cities great places in which people will want to live.

Why should Ohio copy
the land-use policies of another state?

Frankly, Ohio lags behind on land-use issues and can learn a lot from the experience of other states. A state such as Oregon has had great success in curbing sprawl with strong state land-use controls and urban growth boundaries around metropolitan areas. Such progressive policies would be very difficult to enact in Ohio. That's why we are recommending the Maryland Smart Growth model-an incentive-based program that directs state investment to existing urban areas rather than subsidizing more sprawl. This program would have a positive impact in Ohio, and it could be adapted to Ohio's political and historical situation.

Why is there any hope that this land-use reform effort will succeed when others have failed in Ohio?
Today the civic landscape is very different from the 1970s when the Ohio Land Use Review Committee failed to get its recommendations adopted. Sprawl is much more of an issue at the state and national levels. Many more constituenciesfrom farm groups to the environmental movement to inner-ring suburbsare engaged. We also have a great deal more information and research on the extent of sprawl and its impacts. So this is a new day.


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