When the idea of innovation parks first started gaining traction, everyone in Davis ran as far and as fast from the idea of housing in the parks as possible. However, from a land use and urban design standpoint, the idea of putting mixed-use housing within the innovation park, where the people who worked at the park would be able to live and work, is attractive.
From the standpoint of climate change and reduction of VMT (vehicle miles traveled), the addition of mixed-use housing would hugely mitigate impacts that still need to be studied and disclosed in the EIR.
Now a report from Todd Litman, a scholar at the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, studied the impact of the US’s vast numbers of low-density suburban developments and what he finds is staggering. Released last week, the report finds that “urban sprawl costs the American economy more than US$1 trillion annually.”
These costs include greater spending on infrastructure, public service delivery and transportation. Moreover, the study finds that Americans living in sprawled communities directly bear an astounding $625 billion in extra costs.
In addition, all residences and businesses, regardless of where they are located, bear an extra $400 billion in external costs.
They conclude, “Correcting this problem provides an opportunity to increase economic productivity, improve public health and protect the environment.” The report identifies specific smarter growth policies that can lead to healthier, safer and wealthier communities in both developed and developing countries.
The problem is in many ways obvious. And it will likely play out in the innovation parks if we do not mitigate the impact. By building sprawl, it increases the distance between homes, businesses, services and jobs, which raises the cost of providing infrastructure and public services by at least 10 percent and up to 40 percent.
“The most sprawled American cities spend an average of $750 on infrastructure per person each year, while the least sprawled cities spend close to $500,” the report finds. While that may not seem like a huge difference, the report finds “that acting to implement smarter urban growth policies on a global scale could reduce urban infrastructure capital requirements by more than US$3 trillion over the next 15 years.”
Smart growth is defined in opposition to urban sprawl – “Compact, connected and coordinated urban development. Smart growth cities and towns have well-defined boundaries, a range of housing options, a mix of residential and commercial buildings, and accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and public transportation. By reducing per capita land consumption and infrastructure and transportation costs, smart urban growth policies can deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits.”
Mr. Litman, lead author of the report, said: “Smart growth is not anti-suburb. Instead, it ensures that diverse housing options are available and incentivizes households to choose the most resource-efficient options that meet their needs.”
“We are now seeing growth in demand by millennials and the elderly for affordable, compact housing in accessible and multimodal neighborhoods. However, current government policies tend to favor larger, less-accessible homes,” he continued.
For example, Mr. Litman said, “in most communities there are strict limits on development densities, restrictions on multifamily housing and excessive parking requirements, which drive up housing costs and encourage sprawl. Consumer preferences are changing; government regulations on housing should too.”
The report argues, “Sprawl is bad for your health. Americans who live in sprawled neighbourhoods are between two and five times more likely to be killed in car accidents and twice as likely to be overweight as those in more walkable neighbourhoods.”
“Residents of compact, connected communities in the United States save more money and have greater economic opportunity than they would in more sprawled, automobile-dependent neighbourhoods,” the report continues. “Households in accessible areas spend on average $5,000 less per year on transportation expenses, and real estate located in smart growth communities tends to retain its value better than in sprawled communities, due to greater accessibility to services. These communities are also more inclusive for people who cannot drive: they offer easier access to schools, public services and jobs, and encourage mixed-income communities. Because of these factors, research shows that lower-income children tend to be much more economically successful if they grow up in smart growth communities.”
Helen Mountford, Programme Director for the New Climate Economy, based in London, said: “Reducing urban sprawl is good for the economy and the climate. For a real-world example of sprawl versus smart growth, compare Atlanta and Barcelona. Both cities have approximately the same population and the same level of wealth per person, but Atlanta takes up over 11 times as much land and produces six times the transport-related carbon emissions per person as Barcelona.”
She added, “And congested, sprawling cities are costly to the economy; for example through all the hours that commuters or delivery trucks waste stuck in traffic jams. Cities that are compact, connected and coordinated can unleash productivity and growth opportunities, while minimizing harm to the climate.”
Mr. Litman’s report continues, “All cities can benefit from increased economic productivity, more affordable housing options, more liveable communities, infrastructure cost savings, reduced accident risk, improved public fitness and health, increased opportunity for physically and economically disadvantaged groups and improved mobility options for non-drivers. These benefits are particularly important in rapidly developing cities where resources are limited and a greater portion of households are impoverished and cannot afford automobiles.”
In many ways this smart growth description fits the definition of Davis. Davis remains a compact city, though in places the density is still not ideal. However, Davis has also taken great pains to preserve agricultural land on its periphery.
Davis in many way embodies the ideal with an interconnected series of greenbelts, bike paths and bike lanes that allow citizens to travel the city without always relying on the automobile.
The problem is that we are looking at adding innovation parks, which means adding jobs to Davis. The inclination of many has been to do so without a housing component to it. There are good reasons for that consideration, and one is the political reality that many believe introducing housing would doom a Measure R vote needed to approve the project.
Last fall, many argued that Davis suffers from a housing-jobs imbalance where each morning many people commute from the region to Davis to work at the university while many people in Davis commute to Sacramento or the Bay Area because there is a lack of non-university, highly skilled jobs. One hope is that, by developing high-tech innovation centers, we would help to reduce that jobs-housing imbalance.
At the same, producing an innovation park creates a large number of jobs. To the extent that these jobs require people to commute to Davis there will be traffic impacts on the highways and roads that are needed to accommodate those additional car trips. The EIR will help us understand the exact impact as well as estimate added VMTs.
VMTs not only impact our carbon footprint, but are also costly, as the report from Victoria Transport Policy Institute indicates. We have already implemented a CFD for Cannery, now we may be asked to do the same for the innovation parks.
Someone will have to bear those costs. By putting at least a portion of that housing onsite, we can reduce the VMTs and also the need for additional infrastructure, greatly saving costs.
One question that I think we need to ask ourselves – do people oppose housing for the sake of opposing housing, or do they oppose it because it encroaches on prime ag land and produces additional sprawl?
If it is the former, then naturally the fears of many are borne out that housing would doom the project. However, if the problem is the latter, then in this case, the impact on agricultural land would be the same, with or without the housing component.
Given this research, perhaps we ought to get a better sense for what this community wants and does not want, rather than base public policy decisions on sheer speculation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting