The Many Benefits of Traditional Development
In a recent piece on The American Conservative, Charles Marohn looks at his hometown of Brainerd, Minnesota to compare the economic benefits the city received from different styles of development along a single commercial corridor—three blocks originally built up in "the traditional style, with the single-story buildings pulled up to the street presenting a dilapidated front to the passing traffic."
A recent local government measure entirely changed a proximate block into an "auto-oriented" development, i.e., a drive through taco restaurant. In a comparison of total value though, the new taco joint totals $618,5000, while the dilapidated structures are valued at $1,104,500, providing the city 79 percent more in tax base revenues than the new drive through.
Marohn asks, "How is it that a collection of tiny shacks built nearly a century ago are worth so much more than the brand new development on the same acreage just up the street? The answer is revealed over and over and over and over and over again when one looks at the financial productivity of different land use patterns: the traditional development approach is a cash cow. On a per-foot or per-acre basis, it is vastly more productive financially than anything being built in an auto-orientation. Taxpayers get far greater returns when places are scaled to people instead of cars."
Marohn goes on to discuss some of the current limitations in building traditional commercial development in Brainerd and other cities in the United States.