Planners Love an Urban Growth Boundary, But Does It Work?
|December 1, 2013||Posted by Staff under Environmental|
Urban density in all the wrong places — thanks to the planner’s delight, an urban growth boundary?
This 2013 of Australian Property, Nov 20, is by Leith van Onselen.
Measures aimed at excluding growth from one part of Melbourne -– as via the fixed urban growth boundary (UGB) -– will naturally generates pressure to accommodate it elsewhere, leading to intensified development either on the fringe or in exurban and underdeveloped jurisdictions well beyond the metropolitan limits.
Melbourne’s UGB will likely encourage many lower income households to ‘leapfrog’ the boundary and settle in far flung commuter towns where developable land is available and housing is more affordable. In such instances, urban sprawl will be exacerbated and reliance on cars and energy use will be increased. Since Melbourne’s UGB was first introduced in the early-2000s, we have already seen widespread development in communities well beyond the UGB.
A related unintended consequence of Plan Melbourne is that ‘densification’ will also be pushed away from the inner and middle suburbs and onto the fringe, where there is less access to employment and amenities. The price of land will be forced up so much by the growth constraints that households will be less able to afford the ‘premium’ price commanded by the inner areas, and will instead be forced to locate at ‘less unaffordable’ but also less efficient locations.
Look at Portland Oregon -– often cited as a model for “smart growth”. There, urban consolidation policies have driven increased density at the fringe of the city but not nearer to the CBD, as revealed by Alain Bertaud, senior research scholar at the NYU Stern Urbanization Project.
Market forces would normally increase population density around the CBD and decrease it progressively toward the suburbs.
Ed. Notes: The political approach of “just say no” was ridiculed by progressives when Nancy Reagan urged teens to say “no” when tempted by drugs, but the same progressives embrace it when they want to halt sprawl. It didn’t work for Nancy, and it didn’t work for planners. Yet there is a policy that does work.
To spure builders to use land efficiently, one must stop the speculators from misusing land inefficiently. Builders need land but they don’t need it beyond cities, there’s plenty of buildable land within cities. Now it lies fallow as vacant lots, parking lots, sites with abandoned buildings or short, old buildings woefully inadequate for a bustling downtown.
To spur speculators to put their land to best use, have the city recover the value of land — which is socially-generated anyway and morally should be the residents’ common wealth. When owners pay over the land rent as a land tax or Land Dues or land-use fee, then they get busy and put their locations to best use in order to afford the charge. By developing their sites, they absorb all or most of the demand for new buildings, so there’s little leftover to appear on the fringe.
It’s not necessary or even feasible to stop sprawl by drawing a line in the sand. What’s necessary and rational is to recover the socially-generated value of locations. Then you’ll have the car-freest, most livable cities in the world.