Sunday, December 24, 2006

Our Sprawling County

"In my country there is problem,
And that problem is transport.
It take very very long,
Because Kazakhstan is big."


In Cuyahoga County, we have problem, and that problem is called transport. Getting around the County--and the region in general--is not a particularly easy venture. Let's face it: bus transit, while comprehensive, is fairly slow. Most travel between the East and West sides necessitate transfers downtown. "Rapid" transit could hardly be described as rapid. Bus rapid transit has yet to materialize. A car is pretty much a necessity.

At the same time the county is overwhelmingly car-dependent, (sub)urban sprawl continually threatens to worsen driving conditions for everyone. (In case this "sprawl" concept is new to you, here's my one paragraph primer: (1) Cities grow; (2) cities' economies decline; (3) middle-class people flee to safe suburbs where houses are cheap because you don't have to demolish existing structures; (4) businesses crop up along interstate and arterial commuting routes, often in undeveloped rural land because, again, land is cheap and you don't have to pay for demolition; (5) population continues to spread everywhere, eventually wreaking environmental havoc, overstressing water/sewer/electrical infrastructure, and eliminating any possibility of "public" life).

The latest example of suburban sprawl is Avon's attempt to win NOACA's support for a new I-90 exit. To hear Avon tell it, it makes perfect sense to stick another exit onto I-90. Avon's argument goes like this:

(1) Avon's a great place to live!

(2) A lot more people are moving into Avon these days.

(3) Oh crap! We have to pay for our schools somehow, but all these people moving in are over-stressing those municipal services.

(4) Hmmm... Industry & business taxes would cover it normally, but Avon doesn't have enough business to cover the costs.

(5) One impediment to growing business is quick access to I-90, the major thoroughfare for shipping goods and getting commuters to work. (Both for commuter from and to Avon).

(6) Naturally, Avon needs its own entrance/exit ramp to I-90! Voila! Unassailable logic!

Maybe I'm a bit harsh on Avon planners' logic. To some extent, I understand their point of view. They, like any other suburb in the area, are in competition with other suburbs for residents. And I'm not using the word "competition" in some metaphorical sense. The real estate market is definitely a competitive one; cities can only maintain their standard of living by competing with each other for residents. So from Avon's perspective, they need to ensure that their industrial and office-based businesses have every advantage so Avon's coffers stay full.

Of course, if Avon gets its way that's one more nail in Cleveland's coffin, overall. Sprawl will continue unchecked, destroying our regional ecosystem, not to mention all the other problems of urban sprawl.

I don't have any radical new ideas to handle this problem. I will say, thankfully, that at least NOACA exists and has the power to deny Avon's request. At the very least, we have government agencies tasked with evaluating and overseeing these problems.

Is there a marker-oriented approach to solving the problem of sprawl? Instead of top-down government regulation, can we adjust the market for resident (the "relo market"?) to incentivize more densely clustered housing? How about charging builders of new homes for extending infrastructure to the newly-developed areas? That should slow things down!

Let me know what you think...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gross is the only analyst who grasps the big picture. Damn right there's a problem with transport. Especially when the suburbanite populace wants an inexpensive service industry and inner-city folks have to take long bus rides for minimum wages, meeting the needs of the Jones' family. Then said inner-city family moves to inner-ring suburb to cut the bus ride down. Yikes! That's too close for comfort for the Jones' family and they move farther outwards. But same needs and desires prevail. The result: sprawl, sprawl, sprawl... What does our insightful leadership do? Well, instead of working out, the solution for Cleveland's fat gut is to expand it's waistline. An exit at Avon: more blubber and dead weight for taxpayers. This city needs better initiatives than these tailor shop fixes . How about urban renewal -- B-17 style? Or how about race relations a la Rodney King: "can't we all get along?" Yes, I hate to say it, more than just money driving sprawl, it is the Race Race (I've copyrighted the term, by the way).

12:45 PM  

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