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Saturday, March 10, 2012

How Suburban Sprawl Works Like a Ponzi Scheme [The Atlantic]




How Suburban Sprawl Works Like a Ponzi Scheme
Flickr user Kaizer Rangwala, licensed under Creative Commons
It will not be news to anyone who is reading this that the United States remains in the midst of the deepest economic crisis in my lifetime. (I guess it turns out that you can’t start two major wars while cutting taxes and failing to regulate financial institutions, at least not without paying a steep price. Surprise.) Getting out of this mess and becoming more economically resilient will require a basket of solutions, including a serious look at the way we have been growing our cities and towns.
Indeed, my friend Charles Marohn and his colleagues at the Minnesota-based nonprofit Strong Towns have made a very compelling case that suburban sprawl is basically a Ponzi scheme, in which municipalities expand infrastructure hoping to attract new taxpayers that can pay off the mounting costs associated with the last infrastructure expansion, over and over. Especially as maintenance costs increase, there is never enough to pay the bill, because we are building in such expensive, inefficient ways.
This week, Strong Towns has released a substantial new report analyzing data and arguing that we must change our development approach if we wish to end the current economic crisis. In particular, we must emphasize obtaining a higher rate of financial return from existing infrastructure investments, focusing on traditional neighborhoods where large public investments in infrastructure are currently being underutilized.


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