Friday, December 31, 2004

Smart Growth and Fairfax County, VA

A recent Washington Post article details what will be a typical trend in suburban politics over the next few years as suburban municipalities deal with the consequences of decades of unmitigated low-density growth.

Fairfax County was one of the protypical "Edge Cities" memorialized in Joel Garreau's influential book on the subject. Located just outside the DC beltway, it exemplifies the low-density, auto-centric, inefficient land use patterns of contemporary suburbia.

Recently, the county's Board of Supervisors has been taking a higher density, mixed use approach towards redevelopment--specifically around transit stops.

While this policy shift is long overdue as it streamlines the urban infrastructure and expands transportation choices, there is opposition from some long term residents who are worried that this will "urbanize the county."

Opposition, however, is unlikely to gain any traction for two reasons. First, land values have skyrocketed in many "inner ring" suburbs making high-density condominium developments attractive to real estate interests who hope to profit by people's interest in living close to work and public transportation amenities. Secondly, in an era of increasing costs of maintaining municipal infrastructure, decreasing federal and state funds, and anti-tax sentiment, there are really no viable alternatives to municiplaities other than to encourage high-density growth. This type of development generates more tax revenue and costs less (comparatively) to maintain.

It is somewhat ironic that the "wave of the future" in suburban development is actually an adoption of the longstanding elements of successful urbanism.

(Linked with Outside the Beltway)