Sprawl can cost a city. Just look at infrastructure costs to sprawling communities. Consider the extent of sewer lines, the number of school busses that must go further to pick up children, the garbage trucks that have more miles to burn more fuel, and so on. The distances separating houses and businesses in urban sprawl are frequently associated with higher costs than in compactly built neighborhoods where residential, commercial, recreational areas are in close proximity to one another.
Now think about how smart growth can positively shape a community and save municipal dollars. Smart growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in compact, walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl. Smart growth principles can help direct investment in already-existing communities, develop a sense of place, provide a greater sense of community, and improve the health of the overall population.
What cities are leading the charge on smart growth principles? Madison, Wisconsin, is one such city. With a population of approximately 243,000, and expecting to add 40,000 new residents by 2040 (a conservative estimate), the city ranks number one among U.S. mid-size cities for compactness and connectedness.
Madison as a Model
In Smart Growth America's Measuring Sprawl 2014 study (linked above), researchers analyzed development patterns in 221 metropolitan areas and 994 counties in the United States as of 2010, scoring according to quality-of-life factors. As index scores improved (as areas "became less sprawling"), several quality-of-life indicators improved:
- People have greater economic opportunity in compact and connected metro areas.
- People spend less of their household income on the combined cost of housing and transportation in these areas.
- People have a greater number of transportation options available to them.
- People in compact, connected metro areas tend to be safer, healthier and live longer than their peers in more sprawling metro areas.
The City of Madison has taken the next step in smart growth to determine the degree to which the choice of development pattern impacts local government costs in terms of budget and tax revenue as well as infrastructure and services. In this hour-long webcast, city administrators and research experts analyze these impacts and present them accessibly to the average viewer.
Whatever your title—city clerk, city manager, or mayor—you can benefit from looking to Madison as a model for smart growth. And while all villages, towns, and cities are unique in multiple ways, there are still best practices that can be adopted and adapted. The city has long focused on smart growth principles, and it brings a comprehensive approach to community collaboration: working with a for-profit sector that is drawing in new employment opportunities for young workers expecting walkable, downtown communities; and even leveraging the city's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant (which builds on a HUD sustainable communities grant) that includes partnerships with planning commissions and others groups, and that seeks to improve access to opportunity by considering land use, transportation, and equity issues. Check out the last 15 minutes of the webcast in particular to see how these efforts are being coordinated.