Intelligent Growth

City of Ames Tax Base

Below is a slightly edited version of a letter that I just send to our Planning Commission and Town Manager.

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I spend a fair amount of time researching what I call ‘Age of Limits’ issues. One of the conclusions I have reached is that the paradigm of never-ending growth has come to an end. This does not mean that we cannot enjoy a quality standard of living, but it does mean that we do not have the resources to keep growing our material wealth indefinitely. In this context I found the following article to be of great interest: http://mapstoryblog.thenittygritty.org/costofstreets/.

Basically the author is saying that our property taxes do not come close to paying for the maintenance of the streets that we use. The only way that we have kept the financial balls in the air is by building new property. But such an approach is a form of Ponzi scheme — after all the new properties will themselves require maintenance funds. Eventually the game stops.

The author concludes that there are only three ways to end this dilemma:

  1. Increase taxes.
  2. Take funds away from other activities such as Parks and Law Enforcement.
  3. Grow intelligently.

Now none of us like the first two options, so it is the third that we should explore. And it turns out that Ashland is, to some extent, an example of how this can be done.

What it boils down to is that we should reduce the cost of maintaining streets by reducing the amount of traffic on those streets and by encouraging multi-use zones in which commercial and residential properties are not segregated from one another. I have said many times that I would like our town to have a car-free philosophy — that all our programs, whatever they are, should encourage walking, cycling and public transport, and discourage driving.

What the author of this blog is saying is that not only is this strategy a good idea, it is going to happen anyway because the “funding from the future” philosophy must eventually come to an end. There is no choice. So let’s get there intelligently.

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