Sub-Prime Crisis + Expensive Gas = End Of Sprawl?

This op-ed by Eduardo Peñalver, a Cornell professor of property and land-use law, suggests that escalating gas prices and declining home prices may drive development inward, presenting a great opportunity to end sprawl using regional planning.

Read Time: 2 minutes

January 7, 2008, 10:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid


"American sprawl was built on the twin pillars of low gas prices and a relentless demand for housing that, combined with the effects of restrictive zoning in existing suburbs, pushed new development outward toward cheap rural land. With credit tight and the demand for housing drying up (sales of new homes fell last month to the lowest level in 12 years) new construction in the exurbs is grinding to a halt."

At the same time, "persistently high gas prices may mean that the next building boom will take place not at the edges of metropolitan areas but far closer to their cores. The result is a decline in the building industry's appetite for rural land on the urban edge."

"The question now is whether that decline will last..."

"As the New Urbanist News reported this fall, during the present (housing) downturn, accompanied as it has been by high gas prices, homes close to urban centers or that have convenient access to transit seem to be holding their value better than houses in car-dependent communities at the urban edge. A recent story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune blamed flagging growth in the Twin Cities' outer suburbs on rising gas prices. If prices at the pump continue to increase, as many analysts expect, the eventual recovery of demand for new housing may not be accompanied by a resumption of America's relentless march into the cornfields."

"Accommodating a growing population in the era of high gas prices will mean increasing density and mixing land uses to enhance walkability and public transit. And this must happen not just in urban centers but in existing suburbs, where growth is stymied by parochial and exclusionary zoning laws."

"Overcoming low-density, single-use zoning mandates so as to fairly allocate the costs of increased density will require coordination at regional levels. This shift toward a more regional outlook will force broad rethinking of how we fund and deliver services provided by local governments, most obviously (and explosively) public education, and will also provide a badly needed opportunity to take stock of the car-dependent society and to begin imagining different ways of living and governing."

Thanks to Eric Bruun

Sunday, December 30, 2007 in The Washington Post

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