Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Suburban Myths...

This recent Washington Post column makes the argument that the Great American Suburb is really misunderstood (or at least mis-defined):

But today, the suburbs aren't what they used to be. Since more than 50 percent of Americans live in them, suburbs have become more like cities, while cities have become more like suburbs, complete with gated communities and big-box stores. For better or worse, the suburbs reflect America, so let's dispense with a few misunderstandings about where most of us call home.

Myth #3 is an especially accurate one:

3. Suburbs are a product of the free market.

Suburbs are a big government handout if there ever was one. Taxpayers are on the hook for the new roads, water and sewer lines, schools, parks, and police and fire services that make it possible for "self-made" suburbanites to live on the outskirts of town.

And building suburbs is expensive. A 2008 study by Arthur C. Nelson, a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, estimated that it costs as much as $13,426 per resident when a new suburban development is built. In sprawl-plagued Atlanta, property tax rates rose 22 percent from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s as suburban development boomed. But during that same period in Portland, Ore., where the state protected rural land from suburban encroachment with restrictive zoning laws in 1973, property taxes dropped 29 percent.

Suburbia's municipal fragmentation also makes government inefficient. New Jersey is rife with corruption in part because of the expense and complexity of maintaining 566 separate municipalities, each with its own city government, school districts and police force. If Gov. Chris Christie wants to cut government waste, he should lean on adjacent municipalities with duplicative services to merge.

Chad Emerson

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