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CPBJ Extra Blog

Are growth measures good or bad for economic, fiscal future?

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Not too long ago, I wrote a story about Charles Marohn, executive director of Minnesota-based Strong Towns, who brought to Lancaster County his ideas about how growth patterns in the United States since World War II have not unfurled in a fiscally conservative fashion.

The basis of his arguments are probably best summarized by this example: What financial sense does it make for a municipality to run services such as roads or water and sewer out to a lone house several miles out of town?

I can buy that logic. At the very least, it obviously would be more efficient if the town were running infrastructure many miles to then hook up to multiple tax or rate payers to cover what I'll call the transmission costs for those services.

And it appears even better, by this line of thought, if the municipality didn't have to bridge those sparse miles in the first place because development was more dense.

So then I saw this story the other day. A Forbes contributor took aim at the logic of those who buy into what is referred to by many as "smart" growth, and he threw some very effective monkey wrenches into the ideas.

Turns out, upward mobility — a pretty important measure of the ability of an area to foster economic success — is better in areas that aren't all that dense or aren't all that ultra urban in the New York City kind of way.

Also, once you hit that family stage, these dense communities of lore just aren't interpreted as being all that appealing in real-world practice.

And that's something I can relate to; I never lived permanently outside a borough or city until I was married and ready to start a family, and now I live in a township. I never put a stake in the ground and said I'd definitively live in one place versus the other. Life and its phases kind of made the choices for me.

So what do you think? Is changing the way we grow, good or bad, for the economy of tomorrow?

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