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TinotopiaLog → Employment practices as a cause of sprawl (10 Jan 2002)
Thursday 10 January 2002

Employment practices as a cause of sprawl

This point came up in conversation the other night. Modern employment practices — where companies shed employees as their primary cost-cutting move — are a major cause of suburban sprawl in the United States.

A large part of the problem with our communities is that everyone owns a car, and everyone drives everywhere. Wouldn’t it be better, the traditional neighborhood design people ask, if it were possible to walk to the grocery store and work? You could save your car for things like going to Home Depot and for buying big loads of groceries for Thanksgiving dinner and such.

Problem is, these days it’s not really possible to do this unless you move every few years. Companies fire their employees when it suits them, and re-hire people later, when they realize that there’s nobody left to do the work. Because of this, where you work isn’t really important when you pick a place to live. Chances are, you’ll be working somewhere else in a few years anyway.

Just another one of the hidden costs of knee-jerk management by idiots.

Posted by tino at 14:06 10.01.02
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I’m a little late on this one, and I’m branching off into a tangent, but:

Here’s what I wonder: What proportion of people would really choose a traditional neighborhood design if they could, if cost and job change were irrelevant?

I talk to people all the time (usually parents) who honestly PREFER sprawl. They don’t want to walk anywhere. They want a big isolated yard for their kid. They don’t want their neighbors too close. They want a garage that faces the street and is connected to the house. They even like the LOOK of sprawled suburbia.

The good thing, at least, is that there seems to be a good market for traditional neighborhood design. But I’m discouraged that there’s enough of a demand that we’ll ever actually start building that way as the “default”. After reading “Suburban Nation”, I almost wonder if people will start in-filling (a la Ballston and Clarendon) when we run out of land to sprawl into.

On the other hand, is it even possible to in-fill a place like Tyson’s Corner? Seems like it would take a lot of razing and re-designing.

Posted by: Evelynne at January 23, 2002 09:42 PM

Interesting that you should mention Tyson’s Corner. Last summer, Andres Duany pitched Fairfax County on an infill TND thing in Tyson’s Corner. (See the Washington Post story on page T14 on July 19, 2001 by Michael D. Shear; costs $1.50 to get from the Post’s website. There are a few related stories published around the same time, too.)

His proposal was rejected by the county because they said it was too dense. Too many people would live there, they said, and so it would generate too much traffic. It’s a fascinating story: Duany (and some others, if I remember correctly) explained at length — literally for hours — how dense multipurpose development keeps car traffic to a minimum, while the standard Tyson’s Corner procedure results in chaos.

The board then voted down his proposal, on the grounds that density creates traffic while the current model works. If I were more of a believer in conspiracy theories, I’d say they’d been paid off by General Motors.

I think that a more likely explanation is that Duany did not properly humble himself before the mighty juggernaut that is Fairfax County, and they punished him for it.

The most interesting thing to come out of Fairfax County’s decision, from a Libertarian perspective, is that if you currently own land in Tyson’s Corner and you have not yet developed it, you are out of luck. Because of the way in which neighboring landowners, in collusion with the county, have developed their land, you are prohibited from building anything on your land that will generate traffic (or, rather, anything that, in the uninformed opinion of the planning board, will generate traffic).

I can’t understand why developers put up with this. They’re commonly (and probably justly) seen as part of the problem, but they wind up paying for a lot of these mistakes; too much land winds up unrentable because it’s being used for parking lots or roads or left empty because the area is already “too dense”.

Posted by: Tino at January 23, 2002 11:54 PM