Friday, October 2, 2009

Re-Thinking Impact...

A leading rationale for impact fees--that denser development causes a greater impact on soft and hard infrastructure--may need some re-evaluation according to this recent Time magazine article:

New Yorkers, take heart: your city is a den of dirt and grime and gluttony no more. According to David Owen, author of Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability, the Big Apple is actually the greenest city in America. Residents of New York City walk more, drive less and leave a significantly smaller carbon footprint than people living anywhere else in the U.S. — even Vermont.

The article goes on to make the somewhat counter-intuitive argument that denser living equates to less of an impact than lower density living.  While there are several arguments in the article that won't stand up to vigorous critique (namely, the idea that urban traffic jams are eco-friendly because they force people toward mass transit--a dubious claim that ignores the heavy eco-footprint that masses of idling 6 cyclinder engines leave), it is an argument that smart people like Andres Duany and CNU head John Norquist have also made.

In terms of the legal effect of such an argument, it begs the question:  have we accurately calibrated how we assess impact fees?  That is to say, does the equation of increased density = increased impact really hold true?

The gist of the author's argument (and one that I personally subscribe to) is that a dense urban setting can have less of an impact than a semi-dense and sprawling suburban setting. 

Is it time to re-calibrate our regulatory impact fees to take things like use of existing infrastructure and other more urban development features into consideration? 

Sounds like another law review article topic-in-waiting...

Chad Emerson

p.s. I recently received my reprints from Florida State's law review for my article that explores the legal and regulatory history of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (i.e. the home to the Walt Disney World Resort).  It was obviously a fun article research--I mean somebody had to go down there for several weeks to interview Mickey and his executives, right? 

Well, in honor of Disney World's 38th Anniversary, here's an interesting Tilt-Shift video that the company's new blog put together.  Enjoy.)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/land_use/2009/10/rethinking-impact.html

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