Friday, July 2, 2010

Since the Crisis, the Case for Smart Growth Has Only Grown Stronger

Transportation for America has a good post up today on the connection between housing and transportation and providing Americans better choices and more convenience when it comes to where they live. Read the full post if you’re wondering why we’ve been talking about urban revival a lot recently, and if you’re interested in some of T4’s sustainable growth solutions.

As an example of the rise in demand for urban areas, the post mentions Atlanta, a city that “before the real estate-triggered financial meltdown halted all development … [had] added nearly 120,000 new residents since 2000, a population increase of 28 percent, after decades of serious population loss.” It’s true, Atlanta is an interesting case that shows many people preferring convenient, compact, walkable communities. But what’s happened since the financial disaster is just as interesting.

While Atlanta did experience one of the fastest central-city growth streaks in the last two decades or so, it also led the nation in suburban population sprawl between 2000 and 2008. But after the foreclosure crisis hit, Atlanta lit up with what William H. Lucy has called a “Ring of Death” around its metro map. In other words, the most sprawling suburbs, furthest from the city, are now the ones seeing the highest rates of foreclosure. While many people had been fleeing out to the furthest suburbs for some time, in the last few years those areas have proven to be the most unsustainable, even by the market’s standards.

Atlanta is not the only metro area facing this phenomenon. In his book, Foreclosing the Dream, Lucy makes the case that the “Ring of Death” is one of the defining realities of the foreclosure crisis nationwide. In a sense, the market has spoken: the “drive-til-you-qualify” dynamic of home choices just isn’t viable anymore.

So when we talk about smart growth, let’s keep in mind that the financial realities of the last few years only emphasize the point.

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