Kevin Buchanan wrote a thought-provoking article in the Fort Worthology blog yesterday. He includes a number of examples specific to Fort Worth, but you could substitute Austin development projects and roadways and it would be just as relevant.
Transportation, Development, Priorities
Written by Kevin Buchanan on March 24, 2011
“This transit project’s nothing but a handout to developers!”
Words similar to those are often heard in the United States when cities plan transit projects (it was certainly heard during the discussion around Fort Worth’s own streetcar project). The plan to spend ~$80 million, from the Near Southside and TRV TIFs combined with a federal grant, to build a streetcar linking the districts with Downtown, just as other TIFs spend their money on infrastructure, was seen by some as a handout to developers because one of the stated goals of the project was encouraging higher-density transit-and-pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development. “If these developers want it, they can pay for it!”
So, where are the calls for developers like Cassco or the homebuilders in Cleburne to pay for the nearly $1.5 billion Southwest Parkway, which is undeniably a benefit to projects of theirs like Edwards Ranch (there’s a Whole Foods planned there – but not until the Parkway is built)? Where are the calls for developers like Hillwood to foot the bill for the I-35 widening that will undoubtedly benefit developments like Alliance?
To call a transit project a “handout for developers” and a roadway “necessary public infrastructure” is an enormous double-standard. The reality is that every transportation project is also an economic development project – every transportation project has impacts for development.
Transportation and development/land use are deeply, deeply entwined.
This gets to one of the hearts of the sprawl vs. urbanism debate – the reality that sprawl is not the result of the free market simply choosing a totally car-dependent lifestyle. The invisible hand of government has led the way since WWII, resulting in the built environment we have, and are paying for (in more ways than one), now.
Without hugely subsidized roadways and freeways (the reality being that roads don’t even come close to paying for themselves, as even highway-crazed TxDOT has admitted), there wouldn’t be the sort of car-dependent development we have now. Those same roadways mean that when we do have moderately successful urban places, they’re little pockets surrounded by parking (as seen downtown and on 7th) or choked with excessive car trips. Or, put more simply:
You get the development you design your transportation systems for.