November 15, 2007
Growth and towns in a Rocky Mountain exurb …
Growth and wealth do not necessarily mean more land use laws for a jurisdiction. Douglas County, Colorado, pleasantly situated between Denver and Colorado Springs, is one of the nation’s wealthiest counties and one of the fastest growing. It is an exemplar of the continuing expansion of metro areas, turning once rural areas into exurbs. But its rapid growth didn’t prevent the state from declaring, this week, that ten “towns” in Douglas County will no longer be legal recognized as towns because they have failed to maintain governments. The story behind the story appears to be that some “town” landowners want to retain the designation because it might enable them to develop their own land use law and allow them to sell to developers for more intensive development than is generally permitted in the county. Many residents outside the towns don’t want more density, of course. Like any good wealthy exurb, in much of Douglas County only one residential lot for every 35 acres is allowed …
November 14, 2007
No Name Key considers the modern world …
Most often, land use law helps shape residential and commercial development. But other times, major decisions in development will shape what kind of land use law regime a community must consider. On “No Name Key” in the chain of islands in far southern Florida, the community is facing the prospect of joining its fellow keys on the electric power grid—something that many residents have resisted in the past. While some cherish the island’s isolation from the complications that electricity brings, other residents want power to facilitate life on the island, which is just off U.S. Highway 1, which connects the lower keys with the rest of the United States. But once electricity comes, won’t greater development, including winter homes, more asphalt—and, eventually, the need for stricter zoning and land use laws—come with it?
November 13, 2007
Where have all the city groceries gone?
The rich are different, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, but the poor are different too—especially the communities in which they live. Many young people in poor towns or city neighborhoods never visit a restaurant; a fancy meal means carry-out. This is true because there simply aren’t many true “restaurants” in poor communities. Disturbingly, a similar problem is arising with regard to big grocery stores. The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported about the supermarket “food deserts” that cover most of the South Side. For residents of these areas, groceries are typically purchased at small retailers—where prices often are higher and selection lower than at large chain stores.
Why don’t big retailers open stores in poor areas? Should government do anything about this problem? The chief reason for capitalist hesitancy apparently is the fear of special problems of working in poor communities, such as vandalism, theft, and other crime. In the face of this reticence to market to demand, one could make an argument that government incentives to encourage low-cost grocery stores might provide more economic (and health) benefits for poor people than a raft of other government programs. Another problem is an urban variant of the “Wal-Mart effect”—that certain residents oppose big box entrants because they will “push out” smaller retailers. As always, the challenge is to separate supposedly worthy reasons for protectionism (such as the promotion of entrepreneurial role models in certain communities) from less savory ones, such as the protectionism of less inefficient businesses, under various masks, with the chief effect that local food-buying residents pay more and get less for their food dollars.