Map of the Day: Three Virginias

Source: StatChat blog
Source: StatChat blog

The statistical wonks with the StatChat blog love to depict data in interesting ways. Recently, Luke Juday divvied the Commonwealth into thirds divided by density. In the map above, the yellow mass shows the least densely populated census tracts (fewer than 736 people per square mile), accounting for 94.8% of the state’s land mass. The light green census tracts show the middle third (between 736 and 3,562 per square mile), accounting for 4% of the land mass. Dark green (more than 3,562 per square mile) accounts for 1.2% of the state’s land area. Another way of looking at it: 2/3 of the population lives in 5% of the state’s land mass.

The Belmont neighborhood of Charlottesville

“High density” by Virginia standards doesn’t look like Manhattan. Take the Belmont area in Charlottesville. As Juday observes, it’s a neighborhood of mainly single-family houses with a few apartment buildings and stores thrown in. Average density: 5,700 people per square mile.

Writes Juday: “The homes occupy smaller lots and are arranged efficiently via a street grid. The grid makes the area convenient for walking by minimizing travel distance rather than driving time. While most trips in a neighborhood like this will still involve a car, the distances traveled by the cars are shorter. Parking is shared and more dispersed, further conserving space.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Higher density in Virginia doesn’t require packing people into apartment complexes and forcing them onto mass transit. What it takes is building more walkable neighborhoods like Belmont. We could save a lot more farmland, woodland and wildlife habitat. We could reduce expenditure on infrastructure dollars (or, conversely, provide better infrastructure for the dollars we spend). We could reduce driving, energy consumption and CO2 emissions. And we don’t have to enact a slew of new laws and regulations that add more bureaucracy and constrict economic liberty. We just need to remember revive an arcane knowledge — how to build neighborhoods like Belmont — that we once knew.


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12 responses to “Map of the Day: Three Virginias”

  1. Need to get some laws and regulations of the books in many localities before a Belmont can get built.

    fyi- typo in the first paragraph… (fewer than 736 people per square mile), accounting for 94.8%

    1. Thanks to Basil and all the other readers who proof read my posts!

  2. Thanks to Jim for making explicit a point I just hinted at. Limiting sprawl doesn’t mean sticking everyone in Soviet apartment buildings or building light rail everywhere. It just means being smart about how we arrange neighborhoods.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Point well taken. But, based on my experience with most smart-growth people, they are looking for apartments, condos and a few townhouses. Single Family Homes are pure evil in the eyes of some.

      The Greater Washington Transportation Planning Board had staff model various strategies to cut greenhouse gas substantially and even extremely. (First let me make it clear that I don’t regard modeling something as advocating for it.) One assumption for a model was that all residential and job growth with the TPB’s footprint would be at activity centers. Another effort modeled the impact if all new residential and all jobs within the TPB footprint would be at activity centers in D.C. and the first ring of cities/counties surrounding it. That means no growth whatsoever in Prince William and Loudoun Counties, for example.

      Needless to say, the politicos on the TPB backed off the latter, but there is definite support among many inside and outside the TPB for the former. For a society that has become largely very tolerant of individual choice, some would restrict individual choice in selecting a residence or a site for operating one’s business.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I wonder if Cville looks like that because it’s a University town where off campus housing is in demand….???

    The parking situation in these neighborhoods doesn’t look like seniors with their well-kept Crown Vics… lots of beaters…. willy nilly…

    No – it’s not “soviet style” but I also strongly suspect that your average NoVa subdivision denizen would find some of the Cville “density” -pretty “uggy”.

    Young folks in school, and working folks are a better “fit” for the Cville style density…. I suspect.

    we just had a discussion in front of the BOS about “how” sewer “works” which has a high degree of relevance to density.

    the long and shot of it is that sewer does not flow uphill… so sewer infrastructure resembles a watershed – will all the smaller tributaries flowing into the bigger pipes… then downhill to river level thence to the treatment plant.

    how sewer “works” has a lot to do with the locale, scope and scale of dense settlement patterns.

    every one of those tightly-grouped homes – has a sewer pipe going somewhere – downhill.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    the other thing that is hard to not see – probable voting patterns…

  5. Thanks for a thoughtful and useful entry, Jim. Those of us concerned about sustaining the rural economy of Virginia, especially that close to population centers that it now serves with produce, recreation, and various rural businesses (wineries, breweries, wedding business, B&Bs, flower farms) recognize the public costs of losing this attribute to development. Fortunately so do a lot of conservative Republicans concerned with costs of schools and public services.

    But we need alternative patterns for communities and housing, which it appears Belmont, inter alia, offer. More intense development around Metro can also be useful, and desirable to lots of people, including those from the rural west. Widespread adoption of conservation easements offer critical tax and, with tax credits, income advantages to the large farms now owned by older folk that offer new options to their children. So do transfer of development rights to receiving areas where more density is desired. Neither of these options will cost local or state governments; instead, they will save them money, as it will save taxpayers.

  6. 2/3 of Virginia’s population lives on 5% of Virginia’s land mass. And that’s where the sprawl is? Why isn’t the sprawl occurring in the 95% of the land mass with 33% of the population? Meanwhile, the 5% of the land that houses 67% of the people has been getting more and more dense for years. But that’s where the sprawl problem lies. When 95% of Virginia’s population lives on 7% of the land will there still be a sprawl problem in that 7% of the land?

    What is the per capita transportation taxes paid vs road costs incurred in the 95% of Virginia that supports 33% of the population?

    I love being out in the countryside, I like small towns but let’s be honest – Virginia’s economic problem isn’t suburban sprawl it’s rural decay.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m sure ya’ll saw this:

    “Va. real estate tax pays for rural roadwork”

    A little-known law that routes a portion of real estate taxes to work along U.S. 58 would eventually be used to help build a new interstate through western Virginia under pending legislation.

    Senate Bill 197 would earmark $40 million a year from the state recordation tax on deeds and mortgages for the proposed interstate, which would run in Virginia from Martinsville to Roanoke.

    The unusual method for funding highway work dates back to 1990, when then Speaker of the House A.L Philpott wrangled a portion of the tax to pay for upgrades along U.S. 58.

    The highway runs east and west all across the state, from Norfolk through Abingdon. It is the longest highway in Virginia, and a portion of it is named after Philpott.

    State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta, wants that money to help cover I-73’s expected $4 billion price tag in the state. Under his bill, the money wouldn’t shift away from U.S. 58 until 2020 or after the full corridor development plan for U.S. 58 is complete, whichever comes first.

    Stanley’s proposal cleared the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday, and should come to the Senate floor in a few days.

    Other state and federal funding would be needed to build the interstate, Stanley said. He called the project “the most important economic project that we could possible ask for” in southwest Virginia.

    Asked why real estate taxes should fund road construction, Stanley replied, “Ask A.L Philpott.”[who passed years ago]

    The key to Va’s rural areas is a good education – that includes a 2 year stint at a community college that offers occupational certification and similar – job ready – then that kid can either find a job in RoVa or move to where such jobs are available.

    the longer we do nothing -or not what needs to be done – the longer RoVa is going to fester economically and drain money for tomfoolery from NoVa ….

    density REQUIRES water and sewer. Va state law ALLOWS private developers to do their own water/sewer systems – but most of them rely on the government – then complain that they can’t get the density they want… and get their surrogates to argue that it’s “regulations” that prevent density. yes… the regulation that says ” build your own water/sewer if you want more density”.

    1. So, why in the world should we waste tax dollars on I-73, a road that traverses a small part of the state and only serves one area of decent size. Is it really that important to the VA economy to speed along Midwestern vacationers as they head to Myrtle Beach? That money could be better used improving current corridors that actually contribute to the economy of multiple localities- good examples might be US 29, I-81, US 17/15 in the northern part of the state, etc.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    it’s based on the earlier theory about make the east-west US-58 an interstate quality road – that if that were done – ditto for I-73 – it would attract 1-wheelers and in turn companies that rely on 18-wheelers for transportation of their goods.

    AND apparently – a dedicated sources of funding – from all folks who buy real estate in Va – a little recordation fee that leaves the locality where the real estate transaction was conducted and goes to the US 58 fund.

    I think the roads are economic development idea is a hold-over from the days when farm-to-market secondary roads were considered important for rural economies and that modern 4-lane roads would attract manufacturing to an area much like the thinking behind localities benefiting from being near rail.

    The problem is – ROVA and it’s elected are living in the past – the 20th century past – and roads no longer serve as the economic lifeline for rural because we manufacturing and farming are no longer the stalwarts of rural Va and more/better roads won’t help that – but that don’t stop the ignorati in the Virginia General Assembly for continuing to pursue such misguided actions.

    the most asinine thing is that they favor these kinds of things and oppose expansion of the community college system and role….

    and really most all of us fail at how much a failure traditional our K-12 mindset is – i.e. go to college or be unemployed… thinking.

    No – a plumber or a x-ray tech will never get rich – but that job sure as hell will pay the rent, buy food, and maintain a family without needing entitlements – except for the one other thing that would make it complete – Medicaid expansion access to health care for the wage earner …. the person who is keeping that family off the welfare rolls.

    it’s almost obscene to be talking about govt “can do” for density while ignoring the RoVa budget bomb.

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