missing_metricby James A. Bacon

Here is must reading for anyone interested in the fiscal implications of Smart Growth: the August issue of Government Finance Review.

In the lead article Peter Katz (profiled here) elaborates his thoughts on fiscal analytics and growth management. He starts with the argument, which I have embraced, that the fiscal impact of development projects is better understood by comparing revenues and costs per acre. He goes on to suggest that local governments adopt what he terms “the missing metric” — the number of years it takes property taxes to pay back a a municipality’s up-front investment to accommodate a new development project — as a tool for determining the kind of growth a community wants to encourage.

Citing examples from Sarasota, Fla., Katz contends that the taxes generated by a particular mixed-use tower downtown would pay back the public investment within three years. By comparison, a two- and three-story garden apartment complex near the Interstate would take 42 years to pay back.

The payback is more rapid … because taller, more compact buildings make more efficient use of a limited footprint and typically require less of the horizontal infrastructure (roads, water and sewer lines) that local government pays for. To achieve their high value … developers must provide more of the vertical infrastructure (elevators, stair towers, conduit and structural steel). The more that government can induce private-sector players to spend on a given parcel of land, the more it stands to gain long term,  once the development is complete and the higher property taxes begin to flow in.

Fiscal impact is not the only factor municipalities consider when reviewing a development project. Elected officials also take into account the impact on traffic congestion, walkability, the environment, housing affordability, quality of place and a host of other items. But the long-term fiscal squeeze faced by local governments nationally suggests that the impact on cost and tax revenues will loom ever larger in the minds of government officials.

Katz advocates depoliticizing the development process as much as possible by basing the fiscal scoring system on objective criteria that can independently verified, “much like the indexes used to set mortgage rates when they periodically readjust.” The long-term goal would be to grow the tax base with “resource-efficient settlements that return revenue at a far greater rate than the costs they generate.”

Government Finance Review also published two reactions to Katz’s essay, one from Mark A. Calabria, a libertarian Cato Institute scholar, and another from Stephen Lawton, a commercial real estate advisor and broker with New Urbanist leanings. Both liked the idea of a fiscal impact quotient in the abstract, but both also suggested that in the real-world push-and-shove between developers, environmentalists, neighborhood residents and other impacted groups, the fiscal impact on taxpayers overall does not loom large.

Writes Calabria: “My point is not that the introduction of the fiscal impact quotient wouldn’t better inform the development process, but that the political incentives currently driving the process would likely continue to swamp whatever positive impact the fiscal impact quotient would have.”

Lawton emphasizes the highly fragmented and overlapping power over transportation and land use in the United States federal system, with federal, state and local government all having an influence, not to mention the proliferation of local authorities. Just one state, California, has 2,400 special and school districts, 58 counties, 480 cities and dozens of state regulatory agencies. “One group’s checklist,” he says, “is often irrelevant or threatening to another with overlapping power.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Calabria and Lawton both make valid observations but miss a critical point. Citizen-taxpayers also represent a powerful force in local government. There a lot of them, and they vote. Any fiscal tool that could help local governments better manage growth and re-development will help elected officials appeal to one of their largest and most vocal constituencies.

Calabria raises one other point that resonates with my libertarian sensibilities. “I do not see the goal of development as one of enhancing revenue,” he writes. “This idea assumes that the private sector exists to enable the public. Rather, I would submit the opposite: Collective endeavors exist to help facilitate our privately held objectives.”

On a philosophical level, I quite agree. However, the fact remains that comprehensive plans and rezoning votes have a fiscal impact. Private interests should not have a blank-check claim on the public purse. Local governments have finite fiscal resources to put into public investment. They should make every effort to ensure that they invest those resources wisely. Katz makes a significant contribution as to how that can be done.

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36 responses to ““The Missing Metric””

  1. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    All concerned should give this Katz article close and serious study. Given what is happening all around us now, no one can afford to do otherwise.

  2. closer… but still not quite a cigar…

    re: ” more efficient use of a limited footprint and typically require less of the horizontal infrastructure (roads, water and sewer lines) ”

    maybe roads but water/sewer, each person uses 100 gallons a day whether they are spread out or stacked.. if they are stacked, you need a bigger diameter line.

    but we still have an issue here also with who decides density.

    are we saying that govt should do away with zoning all together and let the private sector decide density – and that if they did – it would be the more efficient footprints?

    When I hear someone say “it needs to work this way” – I’m left wondering if they seek a top-down dictated type development environment or if they are saying that it WOULD work that way if govt got out of the way and let the private sector do it.

    so which is it?

    personally – I do not see the private sector doing this as long as things like water/sewer and other public infrastructure are involved but I’ll certainly admit that the private sector COULD do the whole enchilada in theory.

    and maybe they do in some places.. but most places, fire, ems, library, schools, water/sewer, etc are publicly developed and because they are – it basically gives govt a top-down imprimatur, i.e. you can’t have a centralized water/sewer system unless you have a centralized operator and designer of additional lines.

    Are there any places on the planet where the private sector does the whole deal – soups to nuts?

    1. Fairfax County is making many expensive additions to the sanitary sewer systems (plural) to accommodate growth from Tysons. Lots of sewerage will travel long distances to be treated.

      1. re: ” Lots of sewerage will travel long distances to be treated.”

        who pays? taxpayers or users?

    2. TysonsEngineer Avatar

      Thats not entirely accurate. Just because construction goes vertical doesn’t mean the pipes get bigger. You are right a household per occupant generally uses the same amount of water for sewerage (not for dom water because of irrigation for lawn) so when you have 1000 people stacked the pipes are larger on that particular parcel than if it was developed R-4 with 12 people on the acre, but thats not apples to apples.

      Those 1000 people should be viewed on HOW they are dispersed to accurately portray the public cost impact. The 1000 people are gonna happen one way or another. The 20K+ homes being built out in NOVAs suburb/exurbs are proof of that. The idea is how to best allocate for future growth. When those 1000 people move further out from existing infrastructure like WWTP and existing main lines of sewers, it means the public foots the bill to run miles and miles of sewer to serve them. That sewer for those 1000 people is the same as the size of sewer for the 1000 in the tower except in the tower they are much more likely to be in a dense area that already has sewerage, and even if upgrades were needed the LENGTH of the run would be far far less because of their geographic location.

      Your argument proves the opposite of its intent.

      1. Larry,
        I believe ratepayers and hookup fees will pay much of the costs. However, since Fairfax County lacks the internal capacity to handle all of the sewerage generated by county businesses and residents, it buys capacity from other systems and, as a result, must pay an aliquot share of the capital upgrade costs. Since some of the systems are still quite primitive (e.g., Alexandria, which dumps raw sewerage into the Potomac River on average of 40 times per year. Source: Fairfax County), those costs are substantial. Moreover, as mentioned, there will also be considerable laying of large pipes and the installation of more pumping stations to handle the Tysons and other growth – but chiefly Tysons. Source: Fairfax County.

        TE, welcome to BR. I agree with your logic, but the reality of the existing sanitary sewer systems serving Fairfax County and the huge need for treatment from a redeveloping Tysons will change the financials considerably. Moreover, absent Tysons redevelopment, it’s very unlikely an additional 83,000 residents and 100,000 more jobs would come to Fairfax County using old suburban development models. So one can reasonably argue Tysons is adding considerably to the costs for sanitary sewers. Hopefully, the hookup costs will recover much of the increased costs to jerry-rig the exiting systems to handle Tysons.

        1. TysonsEngineer Avatar

          Thanks for the warm welcome (I’ll try to be a bit more civil here than other comment threads).

          TMT you make an excellent point about start up cost and the idea of whether Fairfax should have grown at all. The problem came in terms of the infrastructure that was being demand on us by the growth continuing outward outside of our control.

          Like a downstream receiving river, we were being deluged with traffic choking and a loss of commercial business to either inner or outer locales due to it. So the do nothing was an option, but it would likely have continued a negative trend of higher annual road costs and lower commercial revenue.

          So the growth had to happen in my opinion. How it was going to happen was the question. Providing these infill concepts gained the maximum revenue return versus additional infrastructure needed. If we were to grow the same amount in our suburban areas of the county (for instance mason neck, clifton, great falls) we would still have had the need for increased sanitary/water capacity and piping, but it would have been spread out and cost far more.

          What we would have avoided in new WWTP/San piping costs, we would have easily taken on in additional annual maintenance and more importantly productivity loss on our roads by the continued “no mans land” scenario.

      2. Hey. Thanks for weighing in! You do seem to have info that could add to the discussion!

        in terms of water use – so what is the number per person for settlement patterns that do not irrigate?

        but also…

        most water/sewer that I am familiar with is paid for solely by the users, not taxpayers. Is that not true?

        It would seem – that water/sewer costs on a per person basis would be less expensive in a dense settlement pattern than a “sprawl” settlement pattern. no?

        Would very much like to hear more about these issues from your engineering perspective…!!!!

        1. TysonsEngineer Avatar

          Irrigation is a complex number to put an average on. Depends on the type of lot, size of setbacks, patio vs lawn, and of course climate.

          I can tell you in my experience in non-local development that when irrigation is separated from potable water source, that in residential terms per person use drops closer to 40-60 gallons per day (25 gallons is the typical shower, 5 to 10 gallons for toilet, and depending on how much a person cooks, washes hands, and other faucet uses anywhere from 5-15 gallons in miscellaneous use).

          The average day spray lawn irrigation system for a 1/4 lot is about 50 to 100 gallons of demand. Split in a household of 2.5, per person share is about 20 to 40 gallons.

          In planning everything has safety factors in it, which is why you end up with the general number of 100 gallons, even though in some scenarios (in fact most) the average use even with irrigation is more like 50 to 60.

          In terms of dom water yes the usage goes down because of irrigation, but as far as sanitary I think it has been shown that per person basis for sanitary is often higher. Some of this is an issue of building metering and no real financial incentives in some buildings for the user to reduce water (ie sanitary) use.

          On the topic of who pays/builds infrastructure the lines of what is public with Water Sewer Authorities is blurry. Any time there is a regional one server company that is beset to specific regulations of the jurisdiction then its really a matter semantics. Taxes vs user fees. One way or another that money is coming out of your pocket, and it has no choice but to go to the W&S Authority. Also consider the idea that new developments often are required by county approval to build the sewer/water infrastructure that supports themselves, as well as to provide proffered contributions to the authority for expanding the system.

          This happened to me a long long time ago when I worked in local development with a project in Fauquier along the New Baltimore sewershed.

          1. thanks! I’m still not totally clear on who pays. Down my way – if you hook up – you pay hook-up fees and then monthly operational fees.

            I’m not totally clear on who pays for the reservoirs and wastewater treatment… I’ll try to find out.

            the bonds are specific to the water/sewer enterprise but they do affect the county credit rating – and credit capacity to some extent, I believe.

            but we work off of a 100 gal per person or 300 gal per household figure and if there is irrigation going on – you pay extra.

      3. reed fawell III Avatar
        reed fawell III

        TE – your logic on sewer costs is compelling.

        Its truth is overwhelmingly evident by readily observation facts on the ground. What you say about the cost and operating efficiency of sewers in more vertical development applies with equal force across the board –

        Consider the immense advantages, whether cost or benefit, as concerns:

        Heating and air conditioning, parking, fire and safety, storm run off, sidewalks, all varieties of transit and public amenities whether parks, schools, libraries, cultural venues, shopping, workability …

        In addition, when one balances the cost savings of such development against the enormous additional benefits its gains for it residents and society generally, the case become ever more compelling. Of course all this is not rocket science. It is obvious as the nose on one’s face. Cities have always been the great engines of wealth and civilizations.

        This is not to suggest for a moment that alternatives to cities are all bad, or that cities are all good. That of course is absurd. The real argument should be about how we can best do all the alternatives. And not choke off, or otherwise deprive citizens of the best of all worlds of habitation.

        The particular point you raised was also discussed on Smart Growth for Everyone and numerous other articles on this website.

        1. All of these factors would seem to argue that the market would provide more towers and condos that did provide lower-cost smaller type units that the singles and entry level could afford.

          but if I already see towers …I assume the locality like Arlington does allow them and the private sector is free to propose more – especially ones that would provide more affordable units.

          I’m not understanding what prevents the private sector from building more ….. if the locality already allows them.

          1. TysonsEngineer Avatar

            Height limits for one. To tear down a 12 story building to put up a 20 story building rarely ever has the financial returns required to get a financier on board.

            Inability to expand the urban footprint. In arlington you can’t go into the suburban neighborhoods because of historic overlays, and community fervor. Which I am in favor of, growth shouldn’t mean dislocating existing neighborhoods.

            Distance to supporting infrastructure. If it aint there, then the price to build the infrastructure PLUS the cost to build the urban development are often too much to be born on one entity. Hence why the Tysons plan worked because it was really multiple entities sharing in that cost to bring the infrastructure. Agreements like that between often competing organizations is rare, ie don’t expect it to be the norm elsewhere without government mandate (you WILL pay the special tax or else!)

          2. re: restrictions – okay… the typical ones.. but no overall objection to towers and density in places not encumbered.

            I’m looking for the answer to the claim that we have sprawl because urban areas won’t allow more density and I’m not seeing that.

            Along I-495 and other locales, I’m quite sure that Arlington and Fairfax would be just fine with current “flat” footprints being re-developed into multi-story towers to increase density.

            There are many neighborhoods that are on the edge of blight that the owners would be glad to sell ….

            There’s gotta be more to the “they won’t allow more density” story here… as it’s obvious that they already do allow it… unless someone is saying they are out of acceptable sites… and that seems unlikely.

            come on.. let’s get down to the issue here…

  3. After 5 years I returned to Portland on a vacation (lots of family in the area) and the old Thomas Wolfe novel struck a chord, “You can’t go home again”. And based on what I saw, I don’t want to.

    Jim, you love this mixed use, high density stuff, you’ll absolutely LOVE what Portland has tried to do. With various degrees of sucess, they have SHOVED high density to new highs or lows. The people I saw made me … wary. Friendly enough but … just dang glad I’m not there anymore.

    There were places where I knew/remember new high density being built. In some areas it seems to have been embraced, in other areas there were lots of vacancies in both store fronts and dwelling units.

    Jim, visit Portland, you WILL think it’s right up there with sliced bread. If you LIVED there and had to put up with all the nonsense you might feel different. Too bad the open market isn’t/wasn’t allowed to work, but the government knows best, so they rigged the system so the results would be what those ‘smart’ folks in goverment KNOW is better for us little people.

    1. Accurate, Listen carefully: People should be free to live in the kinds of communities they like. Local governments should not support higher-density development that the marketplace otherwise would not deliver. What I advocate is rolling back subsidies and regulations that *prevent* people from building at higher densities. I believe in creating a level playing field so the people who want to live in places like Portland can, and people like you can live in places like Dallas (or is it San Antonio)?

      I happen to believe that the market for compact, walkable communities is under-served. But I’m not trying to impose my vision on anybody. Therefore, while I personally might like the way Portland does things, I would not advocate using Portland’s growth boundaries and other aggressive social-engineering techniques to fulfill that vision.

      1. Houston – the armpit of civilization…. compared to Portland. 😉

        I’m personally fascinated by large, largely self-contained communities (both resort types and Condos) that provide many of the services and much of the infrastructure normally provided by government that – as far as I can tell – still pay the same property tax rates as other properties.

        but I’m skeptical of the claim that localities restrict density when I see the towers in Arlington… and Tysons… and all up and down the beltways.

        there seems to be as many as the market wants….

        1. TysonsEngineer Avatar

          You see towers, I see miles and miles and miles of houses, many of which are unoccupied in some localities; in other words built speculatively.

          If you look at the demographics of the area, because of the complete lack of condos on the market there are thousands of singles, unmarrieds, young families, and young professionals who are forced to buy further out than they would want due to lack of supply in the urban housing market.

          Its basic economics, if there was an oversupply as you suggest, then the prices wouldn’t be so darn high to live closer. The fact that the housing bubble had no impact on these neighborhoods while completely devastating regions of PWC, Loudoun, and Stafford, is proof that the market is over-saturated in the SFH not condo/townhome.

          Look at the number of days on the market for a 2br condo in Arlington if you dont believe me. Its impossible to buy anything reasonably priced without being outbid, and the reason people are willing to outbid is because there are so few places with available for sale units near metro and in urban locals.

          1. reed fawell III Avatar
            reed fawell III

            This comment goes directly to the heart of our troubles. Fix this yawing and destructive gap, and most everything else should begin to fall in line to revive our current urban suburban wastelands.

            Today we have great opportunity to start fixing this. The office market slump opens up these opportunities for 1/ developers of urban residential markets, 2/ locales in growing need of revenue, and 3/ an emerging demographic of younger adults whose future is being stolen from them by current land uses, 4/ and the rest of us in this society that needs this up and coming generation to inject their energy into a society that might otherwise fade, or even fail.

            The force of this shift, and opportunities it reveals, become more apparent as the office slump continues, signaling a long term trend rooted deep in economic and cultural forces at work underneath.

          2. well I see towers COMPARED to exurbia where the settlement landscape is considerably flatter and more spread out with 3-5 stories the max you normally see.

            Many discussions here on what singles do vs families and conventional wisdom is that singles have more options and are more flexible in their living conditions – able and willing to take cheaper digs even if not ideal whereas families are not going to live where it’s not safe and schools not good, etc.

            I tend to think that most exurban commuters are family heads of households rather than singles.. Two kinds of “affordable” housing in exurbia – 1. the SFD that in the same shape and dimensions in NoVa is not at all affordable so they drive to find “affordable” and 2. – workforce “affordable” housing for local teachers, deputies, etc…

            question: multi-story condos seem inherently expensive to me.

            is it a question of not enough condos that present the lack of affordable housing for singles or are multi-story condos going to be expensive no matter what anyhow?

          3. Bringing more housing choices to the market is a good idea so long as whatever is brought to market doesn’t degrade the quality of life and raise costs for existing residents. The traditional approach taken in Virginia is to allow development without regard to the impacts on what is already there.

            With Tysons, Fairfax County has finally done it right. It put growth at the four rail stations; tied new growth to the actual availability of additional public facilities; and put much of the costs for that infrastructure on the new development. These additional condos and apartments will address market demand because the builders won’t generally construct multi-family housing until the demand is there.

            The landowners within the TOD areas (1/4 mile from each rail station) will be providing 20% workforce housing. The Georgelas Group will build workforce housing identically to market-rate housing. This is a good idea.

            But the idea Tysons will provide low-cost (or even reasonably priced) housing has been long discredited. All housing in Tysons will be very expensive. Most will be in high-rise buildings that have substantially higher construction costs than stick-built housing. And even stick-built housing will be pricey. JBG informed community leaders that it expects to charge rents in the $2400-2600 range per month for 800 sq ft units near the new Wal-Mart. In addition to high construction costs, landowners will also need to attempt to recover the costs for infrastructure and amenities in sales prices or rents. Tysons will be an expensive place to live. Hopefully, many people will still elect to live there because of the amenities and access to infrastructure.

        2. TysonsEngineer Avatar

          To LarryG

          On the inherent cost of condo buildings. Look to Charlotte downtown, Chicago Innerloop, Denver Downtown, St Louis Downtown, Houston Dowtown. Where the valves have been fully opened for high rise development you often see a deflationary movement in the psf for downtown residential.

          Early on, this is counterbalanced by the fact that you are making the area more attractive (increases psf) and that you are providing a brand new object compared to what is often 20 to 30 year old stock (increase in psf). But once the market stabilizes from that initial change, you see prices go down.

          You could say, those places I named are bad places to live compared to here, in crime, schools, other metrics. As far as the crime metric I’d point out that in 2012 the inner loop of chicago had the same number of murders as Vienna, Virginia, with a population 20 times that of Vienna. Same goes for St Louis’ downtown which is often called violent, but in fact much of that violence occurs in the suburbs and in E. St Louis (single family tract developments). The schools are truth, here we pay for a premium in our schools and job market, but a 400k premium on a 2br is quite the uptick comparing places like Charlotte or Denver or Chicago.

          1. I guess I’m still a bit of a skeptic that it is the same govt that allows towers that then ostensibly is the the blame for not additional density sufficient to provide affordable housing – not only to singles but families.

            I think the conundrum is more complex than such a simplistic perspective.

            I will say that for some odd reason, Europe seems to not have this problem and they seem to deal with it in ways other than having “towers”.

            kind of odd.

          2. TysonsEngineer Avatar

            Europe does have this problem. Economic centers (Paris, London, Barcelona) have all been exorbitantly expensive for most non-landed gentry for decades. In other words, if it isn’t being handed down to you, good luck buying here. Where hasn’t that been a problem?

            Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt… cities that don’t have the same restrictive controls on height.

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    Perhaps no development should be allowed at all in localities which cannot manage to raise sufficient taxes to pay for their school systems.

  5. in theory, density is more efficient than “sprawl” but in practice – do the folks who live dense – actually pay less for infrastructure and services than those that “sprawl”?

    the conventional wisdom is that sprawl is “subsidized” but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bill of particulars for basic things like property taxes per square foot or water/sewer usage, etc….

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Define “efficient”. Is it “efficient” to price the middle class completely out of a city? Is it “efficient” to tax people in Manhattan, NY at the same federal rates as those living in Manhattan, KS?

      Sprawl can only be subsidized when the total taxes of those living in sprawl are less than the total costs of government services to those people.

      Beyond that, why do people who live in high cost, high tax localities deduct their inefficient costs from their federal tax returns? In New York City the top marginal local and state income tax rate is 12.468%. In Tyson’s Corner, the top local and state income tax rate is 5.75%. That’s a difference of 6.78%, all of which is deductible from federal taxation. The top federal rate is 39.6%. So, 2.7% of a New York City resident’s income is shielded from federal taxes (vs a Tyson’s Corner resident) because he or she has decided to live in a hopelessly inefficient. high cost, high tax “walkable” community.

      Now, tell me again about who is subsidizing who.

      1. re: pricing the middle class out….

        fair enough.

        who is doing it? the govt or the private sector?

        re: taxes – excellent point! you CAN (so far) DEDUCT local and state taxes from your Federal income tax.

        What happens if you no longer can do that? does it change settlement pattern behaviors?

  6. […] “The Missing Metric” Bacon’s Rebellion (VA) – September 2, 2013 He goes on to suggest that local governments adopt what he terms “the missing metric” — the number of years it takes to pay back a public investment in roads, utilities and public service infrastructure — as a tool for determining the kind of growth a community wants to encourage. […]

  7. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Katz’s article rides like the tip of an iceberg. Massed experience, knowledge, issues and questions lie beneath its surface, carrying the article along.

    So it offers depths to mine. Numerous readings do not exhaust these depths. They only enhance what can be discovered, whether pro or con.

    For one of endless examples consider this observation:

    “This said, it’s important to note that one of the least intense of the mixed-used buildings shown in the profile, the two story building at 33 Palm () still outperforms the county’s strongest retail center () by a factor of 4 to 1, and it outperforms the newly constructed big box retail center () by a factor of more than 11:1. Such findings suggest …”

    See pg. 27, August 2013, Government Finance review.

  8. The problem I have with many of these is the way they are crafted to serve a particular point of view – and in the process end up with clear contradictory descriptions of current realities.

    Most cities allow multi-story buildings – both residential and commercial and mixed… but we’re still criticizing them for “not allowing” density.

    Perhaps I do not understand the nuances…. eh?

    When I hit the beltway – I see lots of towers – unlike what I see in exurban locations…

    if there are not “enough” towers, is it really because the city does not allow them?

    1. The problem isn’t that local governments “don’t allow” multi-story buildings, it’s that they don’t allow enough to meet market demand.

      1. that sounds pretty weak….. how would you know that if they obviously already allow them? Wouldn’t you have to go to their respective comp plans and see that they no longer have land designated for that purpose?

        and the claim seems to be universal – that we have sprawl everywhere because cities everywhere that have SOME towers – do not “allow enough” to meet market demand.

        How would you actually demonstrate that other than to exhaustively go to every city’s comp plan and prove that even though they allowed towers in the past – they essentially no longer allow them for lack of designated land-use?

        that seems to unravel the premise to me.

        Obviously places like NYC, Chicago, LA did not restrict them…..that much… given the propensity of them.

        but let’s just pick Alexandria or Richmond and prove that premise.

        I’m betting it’s just not the case.

        towers take a LOT of capital … and investors can be wary of whether there is a strong enough market – even apparently in a place like NYC where rents skyrocket… not gobs of new towers going up to meet demand. why?

  9. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    One of the advantages that Sarasota enjoys is that it’s a blessed town. It enjoys the demographics and the wealth that might well see and embrace the benefits of the missing metric approach, and crank it into its planning process, and go about building its wealth and health exponentially by its use.

    Other cities and towns and regions enjoy equivalent benefits. How is this approach being sold to them? Is there a Pilot Program approach?

    Long interested in the application of such principles, I have for years day dreamed, walking the dog through Tenleytown DC, putting up mixed uses.

    I put the buildings up all around as I walk – a highrise on this corner, a mid-rise between corners, an opera house over there, row of shops with offices over top … it goes on until I’ve built out the whole place in my head.

    Some might consider these subversive thoughts in Tenleytown. So my walks occur at dawn and my thoughts never stray beyond my head.

    Tenleytown is not my hometown but its close enough by. The next time I am back in Tenleytown walking the dog, I am going to rebuilt the place with the buildings Katz’s describes in Sarasota’s downtown. Already I think I know exactly where I think most should go into Tenleytown and how each of those should relate to the geography around it and play off one other.

    But building towns in your head is like buying furniture for an empty house. Often your imagination fails you. So its best to go slow, let things settle into your imagination and speak for themselves. They’ll have to shuffle and arrange themselves many times before things sort out.

    Perhaps Sarasota’s downtown can be tried out in a lot of places. It’s real. It’s throwing off real money. It’s giving real people real benefits that other people can visit and see and feel, and fall in love with or reject themselves. Maybe that way they’d be more willing take them home to where they live.

    So a pilot program could start like a board game. A board with the real grid and topography of a real place together with a collection of models of real Sarasota buildings (along with all Katz’s information on each) to move around and play with till it all fits together and makes real sense to everyone who is playing a game that no can lose but everyone benefit from.

  10. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    “But the idea Tysons will provide low-cost (or even reasonably priced) housing has been long discredited. All housing in Tysons will be very expensive.”

    This is myth. It cost no more to build multi-family in Tyson’s Corner than in any other urban locale. The only variable is land value (not cost). And if a developer can only built residential under his zoning, then his sales price will have to meet the market whatever the market dictates it will be. What the developer says this land is worth is his theory that his land should be valued as if it were ground zero in a hot office is irrelevant.

  11. The problem with the “myth” is that it seems to be that way in most cities.

    Even NYC which is obviously conducive to multi-story buildings, “reasonably priced” housing is not available even though there is a tremendous demand for it.

    Can counter examples be found? i.e. can cities be found where low cost or moderate cost housing is available in dense tower type developments?

    I think the basic premise seems to be that no city anywhere is allowing “enough” density to respond to the market demand for modestly-priced tower apartments.

    I suspect the structural requirements to include elevators in towers is not cheap. I know in a 3 story home – that a small residential grade elevator can START at 15K. A commercial grade elevator for a 30-floor tower cannot be cheap.

    Down in Fredericksburg, we’re in a bit of a apartment-building boom that is starting to include smaller, “affordable” units – that I believe are are going for about 800-1000 … actually they are working off a metric of 1/3 of the median area salary of teachers/deputies, etc.

    but they are 3 floors.. not towers. they are a half dozen or so 16/32 du rather than a couple of towers. And yes.. they are allowed … at least along I-95 because we have a plethora of Motels that are that are 6-10 floors.

    I think there is more to this issue than localities “restricting” density.

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