Sprawl’s costs aren’t just in land, but economic development

“The Cost of Sprawl: More than $1 Trillion Per Year, Report Says” – Wall Street Journal

Growth is good.sprawl

Local growth is an efficient tax base generator.
If you widen a highway, it will ease congestion.

In a vacuum.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that widening a highway doesn’t ease congestion. It makes it worse.  As a state widens a highway, local development increases to take advantage of the higher volume of projected business. More housing developments sprout up around retail areas associated with the new and improved artery – increasing the volume of traffic. (Sierra Club white paper)

PLANNERS PLAYING CULTURAL CATCHUP
But there are two trends at work, here. Today, jobs downtown tend to be skilled, white-collar, and well-paid. Jobs out in the suburbs tend to be more retail, construction, and lower paid. And with the rise in more jobs in city centers, living there will become more expensive and limited to only those who can afford it. This is no more true than in places like New York.

Yet, planners are trying to resolve the issue in many cities. “People increasingly desire to live, work, shop and play in the same place, and to commute shorter distances — particularly the young and educated, who are the most coveted employees. So in many cities, both policy makers and employers have been trying to make living and working there more attractive.” (NY Times)

But the imbalance between population and infrastructure remains. Few other cultures on earth desire convenience as much as Americans do. And so drives the need for planners to provide urban dwellers them the cake and their ability to eat it too. Enter the neo-suburb and sprawl.

So, you now live in a single, interlinked strip mall urbanscape. Forget about the absence of parks or green areas, the scattered tax base from the collection of small businesses that can’t support long-term growth. It begins to decay. Your morning walk now takes you along a split six-lane thoroughfare crammed with Big Box retail shoppers and the on-the-go crew who are picking up their egg & sausage muffins at the drive-thru.

This is not just about the environmental effects. It’s about the question of where our cities will be in the future – and where the land falls into that algorithm. Just look outside our nation’s capitol. (Washington Post)

IF YOU BUILD IT, TOO MANY WILL COME
Meanwhile, local and state governments, like that in Tyson’s Corner, VA., continue to do what they feel necessary to adapt to changes in population behaviors.

(courtesy: Charleston, SC)

(Denver, CO) “State may widen I-70 to ease congestion
(Tyler, TX) “New expansion project set for West Loop 323″
(Asbury Park, NJ)  “Parkway widening to restore shoulders, lengthen overpasses”

In a paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto nail the problem. “People drive more when the stock of roads in their city increases; commercial driving and trucking increase with a city’s stock of roads; people migrate to cities which are relatively well provided with roads.” (NBER

WAITING FOR MODERNIZED INFRASTRUCTURE POLICY
There are additional examinations of the issue citing the three most congested cities in the U.S. are that way, precisely because of ‘road-based” development solutions. And it’s not limted to the U.S.: “Meanwhile, China has increased its expressway network from 16,300 km in the year 2000 to around 70,000 km in 2010. Yet the average commute time in Beijing increased by 25 minutes between 2012 and 2013 to 1 hour and 55 minutes.” (City Metric/UK)

Additional research surveys from both sides of the coin continue to flourish on the numbers and impact of population growth and lagging infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says $3.6 trillion of investment is needed by 2020 to meet the needs of growth. The National Construction Association calls for a more free market approach to the problem. Researchers there have also put together their own in-depth report. But, much like the climate change debate, how well advocacy organizations, the business sector, and policy makers agree on a long-term vision may unfortunately rest on the growing direct and existential evidence of doom.

In an earlier blog, I talked about the nation’s desperate need for a cohesive plan to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure by essentially promoting teamwork between local governments and federal officials. It’s a basic observation to be sure. But to not have a long-term vision of what we’re all about as a society is to jeopardize who we will become as a nation. In Australia, the Aborigines believe they do not own the land but are part of it. Therefore, they have the duty to respect and maintain the land. Maybe we’ll figure that out before it’s too late.

A word on trade shows

You or your company doing your thing at an industry conference or trade show can yield all sorts of content befure, during,and after the event. Call it content, call it integrated marketing. Call it whatever you want.  You can make it your show by implementing a marketing plan that makes sense for you.

GMOs: It’s about world domination, stupid

To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” – National Academies of Sciences

Whether genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption is not the issue. Instead, the real concern is who grows our food, who protects it, who gets it, and when.

When I worked as a legislative aide in the Wisconsin State Legislature in the early 1990s, saving the family farm was both a big political message and effort. Large corporations, such as Dow, Monsanto, and BASF were beginning to take a great interest in this domestic resource. Back then, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) – a genetically-enhanced chemical used to increase milk production in cows – emerged as a big issue. It was expensive and only larger farm operations could afford it. Critics said it was unsafe. Private farmers said it was destroying their livelihoods.

The debate surrounding the merit and value of GMOs should focus less on how these foods can be harmful to human health and more on how a large, publicly-traded company can essentially make decisions over who receives food and for how much it will be sold.

Today, there are companies that own both the front and backend of a supply chain, giving them a level of control that may not benefit the common good. “Farming got much more specialized, focusing on tremendous production of one commodity, rather than growing all kinds of veggies and livestock,” a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service report stated.

I watch with bated breath to see when folks let the science take a backseat for a moment and begin talking about the real why behind it all. Why are companies so interested in making food more available Well, they’re businesses.

Man-of-the-Cosmos, Neil DeGrassi Tyson recently said, “GMO producers ought to be able to make as much money as they can,“ while pointing out that we’ve been modifying food for thousands of years. His diatribe startled many of his followers. Among that group, he is an oracle and man of the people – a man to lead society to greater enlightenment.

But, Tyson is a scientist, not a businessperson. He’ll be the first to admit that, and this isn’t just about public health. Society needs to be aware of the global impact a company can have on food availability when decisions are based on the bottom line.

Take Monsanto, for example. This behemoth is a typical global corporation with its fingers in virtually every level of the supply chain of food production and distribution. It develops the seeds, grows the crop, protects them with patents and pesticides, and distributes the food. Both here and abroad, they’ve brought the supply chain full circle via a framework of farms that cultivate these seeds. It’s all protected under intellectual property law, and farms that use another variety of seed are penalized. That’s a good deal of control. In fact, some governments from around the world have been looking at it this way for years. And it has been coming to a head, recently, in countries, such as India:

courtesy: The Hindu
courtesy: The Hindu

“The ease with which a transgenic technology allows corporations to claim ownership rights over seeds makes it attractive to them to hype why the world needs GMOs and seek control over entire food chains — from production to marketing — jeopardising the livelihood security of farmers,” a farmers’ group wrote to the Indian government.

This now becomes a geopolitical issue over control of the food supply, and subsequent control over how populations view their governments and whether it has their interests at heart.

It’s here where we see the GMO food lobby, emerging markets, and rising political protests. So, the debate here is not whether GMOs are safe. They likely are. The debate is about feeding the world’s neediest, but doing it with tremendous caveats. You can’t put a label on that.

Green Planet Catering …Trickle Down Weather

A short video I did for a great Raleigh, NC-based sustainable small business. What happens when your sustainable farm/garden gets too much rain? Owner and Farm Manager Daniel Whittaker discusses the trickle down effect of 11.5″ of excess rain over the month of June in 2013. Massive challenges were overcome with proper planning and hard work. Although the company lost at least half its crops, the fall season is looking promising and the financial status of Green Planet has never been better.

Durham Mayor Bell: Same-sex marriage ban is bad for business

I tell clients Durham, North Carolina didn’t end up being one of the nation’s top 10 food destinations or become the home to the country’s 4th best-rated performing arts center by accident. It has required diverse groups to come together toward a common goal: Creating a world-class city representing equality for all. Durham Mayor William Bell says banning same-sex marriage isn’t just bad for the moral fabric of Durham, it’s bad for business. 

Durham votes Nov. 8 on Transit making an economic and cultural decision

There’s a referendum vote tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 8 in Durham, N.C. Voters go to the polls to decide whether to build a new light-rail transit system designed to increase the city’s transit service and eventually connect it to Chapel Hill and Raleigh.

The outcome could determine a great deal – how the city grows as a job center and how it and its residents grow as a culture.

Fmr. Gov. Parris Glendening

In the run-up to tomorrow’s vote, former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening spoke at a Durham Chamber event on Nov. 2 at Duke Gardens. He was there as the head of Smart Growth America, an organization pushing for nationwide smart growth. Glendening said the country is at a pivotal time.

According to the governor, if our cities don’t employ plans for how we grow, they will experience lower productivity, higher inflation, and mandatory wage increases for workers faced with long commutes due to a lack of nearby jobs.

“Rebuilding the nation’s economies must be one of the defining acts of our generation,” he said, emphasizing a new vision of the future is at hand. “It must be front and center – getting the most out of private and public investments.”

Durham Central Park

The Triangle is fortunate to be in a time of both economic and population growth, Glendening said. But that growth also presents economic challenges and forces the Triangle to determine how to present itself in the future.

A sense of “place” is a city’s greatest asset, he said. It provides a sense of community and fosters an appealing environment that is a livable, walkable place to work and raise a family.

“Today, even in a recession, 45 percent of students think about where they want to live – then they look for a job,” he said. “Cities must compete to attract and keep bright workers.”

There are also financial ramifications to forgoing a plan.

According to research, the average American makes seven trips away from home each day, Glendening said. These commutes drive the average house prices outside of urban areas dramatically higher than they are on face value, he said.

The “Affordable Housing Index,” which calculates in transportation costs, shows real estate markets outside of greater city centers are unsustainable, he said. This unsustainability will create a vacuum when gas prices likely reach $10 per gallon, and entire regions will suffer.

The governor said the market is “ripe for investment in transit.” As of 2011, he said, 87 percent of transit ballots have been approved in the United States, and demographic information only points to that figure increasing. He anticipated that by 2025, 72 percent of households will be without children, taking into account young workers and the increase in the Boomer generation population.

Supporters say as many as 6,400 jobs would be directly created by the transit program.

So, tomorrow could mean many things. But, the choice comes down to how we want to live. Let’s hope people vote tomorrow and have a voice in how all this plays out.

Designing a jobs plan around a city map

There’s a lot of talk surrounding investment in infrastructure as a means to create jobs for Americans, more than 10 million of whom are out of work. President Obama this week unveiled his jobs plan that would inject $447 billion into projects covering bridges, roads, and other public structures that are and have been in decay for years. The rationale behind the proposal is two-fold: to create jobs for unemployed Americans and to promote the transport of U.S. goods for interstate commerce and foreign export.  Awesome.

One of my paranoid projections is that we invest in the highway infrastructure around cities and continue to promote sprawl. I submit sprawl is not only an environmentally bad eyesore, but it also degrades cohesion of the workforce and scatters the unemployed population across miles of terrain. Perhaps sprawl is one reason why telecommuting has become so popular in some areas.

I haven’t seen the details of the plan, but I would hope any jobs plan would include a framework for how cities function, as they are the center of where Americans live and work. Or at least want to.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 16 percent of Americans overall live in rural areas. While there are Americans still moving outside of cities, they are predominantly older retirees.  Just look at a new trend of reporting on the best retirement cities in America, such as Durham, N.C.

But this isn’t the population Obama is addressing when he says, “You know, we’ve got a lot of folks in Congress who love to say how they’re behind America’s jobs creators…Well, if that’s the case, then you should be passing this bill. Because that’s what this bill is all about, is helping small businesses all across America.”

Durham, NC Tobacco District (photo, Derek Anderson / Indyweek)

Small businesses downtown will create jobs only if we have a plan. With outer suburban areas growing quickly, urban job centers are at risk. In many ways, we’re feeding the brain without maintaining a beating heart. America’s cities are its primary job centers – we need to figure out how to integrate them with the growing suburbs. Some call it sustainable urban development.  Some call it smart growth.

Whatever its label, a successful jobs program employs a long-term vision that promotes technological innovation, creates jobs, improves quality-of-life in our nation’s cities, and pulls us together as a culture of people, not just as a culture of the trained and employed.