Friday, October 27, 2006

Long-term land use assignment: Find room for another 100 million …

[American Resettlement –- the third in a series about how land use law responds to changing residential patterns]

  Students of mine from other countries often express their surprise at American land use; even in big metro areas, our low-density residential land use seems wasteful to them.  USA Today printed today a thoughtful piece on how the United States might cope with a population growth up to 400 million by 2040; largely because of immigration, we now have the fastest population growth rate of any affluent nation.  The article mentions sensible efforts such as infill construction, more condo and apartment buildings, and transit-oriented development.

   In addition to these “metropolitan” ideas, the nation needs to think more thoroughly about where the population pressures will be felt most acutely.  It’s one thing to encourage infill in Cleveland, but it’s another thing to get immigrants and young families to move there instead of going to Colorado (hit by a huge blizzard yesterday), California (ravaged by wildfire this autumn), Florida (thanking luck stars for a respite from hurricanes), and Nevada (wondering where Las Vegas will get water in 10 years).  I predict that by 2020 we will hear debates over rethinking our land use policies for environmental conservation, which have (in the words of pro-development advocates) “locked up” much of the western states, Florida, and many attractive coastal areas.  Nevadadesert_1For example, why does the federal government continue to own most of Nevada when new cities could be built in the desert not far from Vegas (surely we’ll get some technological fix for water supplies in the near future, yes?).   It’s true that government policy in 1976 cemented the idea of permanent federal ownership of the “public lands,” and it’s true that Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt was chastised in the ‘80s for advocating a return to a policy of disposing of federal lands to private landowners.  But I predict that within a few decades even many environmentalists may accept the idea that a new city in the desert, or in the hills of Colorado, or along the Carolina coast –- perhaps built according to new urbanist or old-European density precepts –- might be a partial solution for a nation of 400 million.    

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With the US losing 2.2 million acres ( 3100 square miles ) of farm/range/forest land every year to development ( according to the USDA ), the conflict between population growth, property owner rights, and the needs of society will only increase in the coming years. Somebody needs to start thinking about the development of an area the size of California between 1990 and 2040 and what this will do to the quality of life in the US. The coming 100,000,000 more people will put huge demands on our every decreasing resources.

Posted by: Don Perera | Oct 28, 2006 9:26:45 PM