Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Watch Out for Those Darned Unintended Consequences!

Not that I am necessarily opposed to things like smart growth or concurrency requirements or growth boundaries or things like that, but I do worry when ideas like this are pushed as the solution to all problems.

Take, for example, the push for smart growth and a corollary, concurrency requirements. If you really think these through, they sort of have opposite effects. This was clearly brought to mind recently when I saw a story in the Baltimore Sun last week about a research study on the effects of the Maryland smart growth laws.

Maryland, as I'm sure you're all aware, has long been touted as the prime example for "smart growth," brought to national attention by the actions of former governor Glendening. However, a recent study by researchers at the University of Maryland has shown that the pairing of the basic smart growth idea of directing new development to developed areas where infrastructure already exists, and also having a concurrency requirement -- that is, infrastructure must be in place before new growth can be permitted -- has served to actually push development out into unregulated, rural areas.

David Flanigan, president of Elm Street Development, a Virginia-based housing developer, said of the results shown in the research study, "When they shut those areas down" to new development because of concurrency requirements due to crowded roads or schools, "people get in their cars and start driving" out to where they can build. "It's dumb growth."

Now this is possible in part because smart growth requirements are implemented on a county-by-county basis in Maryland (and in most other areas that are using a similar approach), which means that unregulated areas will be more attractive to developers. This result would argue, as one official in Maryland did, "is for officials to collaborate on regional planning four housing and the needed infrastructure at the same time." Not a bad thought, but given our aversion to anything but local control of land use, is this realistic? We may never know.

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