April 13, 2004

Does Everyone Need Their Own Paved Acre?

"Does every new Hoosier, from infant to immigrant, need his own paved acre?" begins an opinion piece in the Fort Wayne, Ind. News Sentinel, Growth and Sprawl.

"Sprawl serves numerous individual interests. However, it also works against our collective interests. Rapid-fire commercial construction lines our roads with ribbons of visual tedium. Spreading out housing necessitates the construction of new sewers, new streets and new schools."

The same, of course, is true in Massachusetts.

New Urbanism proponents argue quite convincingly that sprawl happens these days because zoning laws almost require it -- demanding certain street setbacks and parking requirements that aren't always necessary. As the authors of Suburban Nation point out, under most modern local zoning, some the country's most appealing neighborhoods -- from Boston's Back Bay to Charleston, S.C. -- would be against the law.

Smart development can been GOOD for local property values. The New Urbanist, mixed-use community Seaside "is connected in no fewer than three places to preexisting Seagrove, to its east," Suburban Nation authors note. "As a result, lots in Seagrove have shared in Seaside's 25 percent average annual appreciation since 1980" (although less than Seaside itself).

However, values in The Orchards, a townhouse development adjacent to another New Urbanist community but not connected to it because of local opposition, "hardly kept pace with inflation." Kentlands, the New Urbanist town, enjoyed appreciation at 12%/year since 1991.

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