Monday, July 02, 2007

The Driving Force In The Region's Taxes, Quality Of Life and Sustainability - Sprawl

The following comment was posted by City Watch in response to last week's commentary, Walnut Grove Road Project: The Monument To Developer Influence In Local Government. We found the comments so compelling that we we're posting them here, too.

Dear Smart:

You talk about the “24-27 new lanes of traffic aimed directly at the 4,500 acres of Shelby Farms Park” and ”road priorities for local government set by the Major Roads Committee…with connections to the development industry….” That all started with the 1969 major road plan prepared by consultants for the Memphis MPO (the council of governments mandated by the federal government in 1962).

The 24-27 lanes for Shelby Farms were in that 1969 plan as was Route 385 and all the other roads that support sprawl today; and, it all was a result of computer assigned traffic formulas.

The 1969 computer models are still in use (they’re more powerful now). The problem is that the forecasts of population and employment distribution are based on trends, which require more roads (don’t say that light rail transit will save the day).

The Commercial Appeal recently opined that Piperton and Fayette County need a plan that goes beyond the State-mandated “urban growth (annexation) plans.” The editorial suggested that Desoto County had such a plan.

First, why are we even talking about urban growth in Fayette County given our economic and population growth rate?

And, second, why does Desoto County have plans to cover the entire county with urban development (see their sewer plan)? Answer: The major road plan’s computer projected low density trends served by major roads is the norm!

Naturally the developers, associated real estate industry and general business sector have used the major road plan to justify their projects. The elected officials who voted to accept the computer’s findings until recently had no idea that smart growth alternatives were available, and even if these alternatives were considered, the trends may have been accepted any way. (Don’t say that light rail transit will save the day).

Desoto and Fayette Counties have yet to face the fiscal problems of Shelby County, so they go merrily along with the mistaken policy that major roads, low density development and population growth equals economic development.

People wonder why their taxes (national, state and local) are so high. Why the environment is being degraded? Why health care is a problem? Why an energy crisis and global warning are such threats? The answer is that the collective cost to serve America’s sprawling cities is the problem.

In your previous post the scientist suggested that the Memphis brand could be “socially equitable capitalism” and could be “the first city in the U.S. to refuse to let the status quo be the norm.”

We don’t know if social equity should be the brand name, but we will never achieve sustainable economic equity if we continue the status quo of abandoning the older parts of the urban area with unsustainable urbanization supported by more and bigger roads.

If we truly want to compete globally, then we must act locally (and regionally) to stop sprawl and build sustainable neighborhoods. The non-profits and foundations would be able to work better with corporate partners to build a stronger work force.

Now that would be a great brand.


P.S. After 36 years of reflection and seeing what you see at Walnut Grove between I-240 and Shelby Farms Park, we conclude that with context sensitive designs and full connections between Kirby and Whitten and between Appling and Riverdale, there would be a better road system through Shelby Farms than the massive interchange at Walnut Grove/ Humphries. Three (3) narrower crossings of the Wolf River would have been better for the environment, traffic flow (including bikers) and park design. Of course, we also think a new town at Shelby Farms with a 2,500 acre park would have helped eliminate the sprawl we see today, but the developers saw one developer getting all the action.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's hard to achieve a sustainable neighborhood when developers know they can continue and will continue to exploit the cultural divide that exists here. Afterall isn't that what really fuels the great migration east?
That's easy money ! And as a bonus they get a pat on the back from the local government.