Smart, Sustainable Development Can Aid Economic Recovery

Whatever Wall Street does next, we’re going to have to find more efficiencies in our economy. Consumers are going to have less to spend on things like housing, utilities, and transportation; developers are going to have less to invest; local governments are going to need to cut costs on infrastructure and services because of lower tax revenues; and those lenders that are still standing are going to be much more conservative in financing anything. Smart growth helps on all counts.

In particular, for consumers, smart growth saves money. Substantial savings in transportation costs are realized in close-in, accessible neighborhoods, particularly those with good transit service. It’s all part of the “new economics of place,” in Scott Polikov’s phrase, and it is causing formerly sprawling suburbs to re-invent themselves in smarter ways to remain relevant and viable.

For developers and lenders, it has become clear that traditional sprawl just doesn’t sell like it used to. As reported recently on my blog for NRDC, some developers are even selling their speculative land back to become farms again. To be viable in the new economy, developers will increasingly turn to smart-growth models, in good locations, just about the only ones left where values have remained relatively stable.

For municipalities, compact communities in or adjacent to places where there is already infrastructure save both capital costs and operation and maintenance costs.

As a result, while sprawl as we have known it may not be dead yet, it is not well, and I am not the only one who believes “we may be seeing the beginning of its end“

For more, including a provocative article by Peter Katz, please visit my NRDC blog, here.

(“Photo by axlotl”:, creative commons license)

Kaid Benfield is director for sustainable communities and smart growth at The Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC. He has his own blog on land development and community issues and enjoys contributing here, too, since there is so much common ground.


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