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willrusso

What's so bad about sprawl?

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It is expected that in 25 years, the Triangle Metro will be home to over 2.3 Million people -- nearly double today's population. The News and Observer takes an interesting look at the sprawl issues the Triangle is facing. The general tone of the articles in this Sunday's "Q" section tend to side with pro-sprawl advocates. Is it possible that the Triangle will eventually strip Atlanta of its crown as the king of sprawl? A new 4000 home subdivision is in the works near the new 64 bypass and I-540. Is this the future of the Triangle?

Link to this week's "Q" section about sprawl:

http://www.newsobserver.com/news/q/

Direct link to the main article:

http://www.newsobserver.com/news/q/story/2...p-9247476c.html

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Here is the problem with sprawl...

A person moves to this area and wants a decent sized house with a two-car garage on a comfy 1/3 acre lot in a nice quiet neighborhood that is removed from "the hussle" of what is seen as the inner city--such as Walnut St in Cary near Crossroads or the mall, or Six Forks Rd in Raleigh near North Hills or Millbrook (hahahaha).

They move to this dream-like dwelling, surrounded by like-minded and predictable folks, acres of Pine trees, and partially convenient access to a new freeway.

Once normal suburban in-fill catches up, this former heavenly existance looks just like Walnut St near Crossroads or the Mall, or Six Forks Rd near North Hills or Millbrook, and the same people will complain that traffic sucks and they are scared of all the people around them... Thus, they move even farther out to a new sprawlicious development.

The problem with such people is that they lack the ability to see where this non-viable form of development is heading. I'm sure some people are genuinely shocked that their neighborhood, once on the outskirts of the big nasty city, will now be in the "shadow" of a 40+ story skyscraper (ahem, Crabtree).

Eventually you can push out so far that commuting becomes absurd and a real burden. What should we do then?

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The problem with such people is that they lack the ability to see where this non-viable form of development is heading. I'm sure some people are genuinely shocked that their neighborhood, once on the outskirts of the big nasty city, will now be in the "shadow" of a 40+ story skyscraper (ahem, Crabtree).

Eventually you can push out so far that commuting becomes absurd and a real burden. What should we do then?

Well said. The basic problem is that most development in America, and the Triangle, is just plain AWFUL. I mean, AWFUL. I've driven through the "ritzy" subdivisions out at Brier Creek. The houses look CHEAP.

So people treat all development as something to be feared. Which means the most acceptable thing to be built is what everyone already knows-sprawl. Of course, few people understand the dilemma which you have framed so well above.

If gas stays near or above $3.00/gallon, eventually we will have serious problems. At $4.00/gallon, I could see houses in Holly Springs and Fuquay begin to lose resale value rather than appreciate.

The worst part about sprawl is that you can't retrofit it well with infill- the curvilinear streets and lack of connectivity are so bad, there's just not much to do beyond bulldoze everything and start over.

The fact that a 40-story tower is on the board at Crabtree and a mixed-use 4-12 story group of buildings is not tells you we're abjectly clueless as a society on how to develop towns with any sense of coherence or usefulness.

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My biggest problem with Sprawl are the big box retailers that follow development everywhere. They have huge parking lots, and really take the character away from any landscape.

In my opinion, they should build their stores right up to the road or street, and have the parking lots in the back. That would generate some pedestrian activity, give stores better visibility to traffic, and add some limited character to an area. For Example, the architecture of the stores at Brier Creek is not totally bad, but gets lost with the shopping center layout.

And finally, after Brier Creek gets old in a few years, we'll play hopscotch and reopen everything down the road further out towards the next open land mass, leaving behind unsightly big box decay (i.e. Capital Blvd).

It's a vicious cycle to keep the American Dream alive for everyone.

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In my opinion, they should build their stores right up to the road or street, and have the parking lots in the back. That would generate some pedestrian activity, give stores better visibility to traffic, and add some limited character to an area.
Be careful with that... you might end up with something like the Great Wall of Staples in Asheville. The trick is getting the developers to address the sidewalk rather than ignore it completely. A big box store where the sidewalk recieves equal treatment to the parking lot / deck will simply not happen in this part of the country in 2005, but something like the South End Lowes in charlotte is good enough. Unfortunately, developments like that are exceptions among exceptions and traditional big box stores with surface lots between the public ROW and the store are all we're going to get.

Something that HAS to go, however, are zoning requirements that mandate parking lot sizes based on square footage. Parking should 100% market-driven: let the developers provide as much or as little parking as they need in order to make their strip malls work.

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This may not be a good idea have problems, but if I were to run for city council, I would run on the platform that no more strip centers can be built and if something like that had to be built, it would have to include housing. An example of this would be "The Alexian" at North Hills.

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Sprawl creates traffic congestion, defiles the natural scenery of a large area, and requires a disproportionate amount of utilities for the population in it because of its lack of density--and that hurts everyone. It's not efficient or sustainable growth.

There's also no aesthetic value to it. Towers are pretty. Big box stores and endless parking lots aren't. Pretty developments attract visitors. Ugly ones intimidate. Finally, concentrated retail is faster and more pleasant to shop in than spread out retail--you park at one big box on one side of 15-501, then you drive to the parking lot of another one on the opposite side. Why didn't they compact and share a lot? Meh, cheaper in the short run. But hopefully some day developers will realize that the congestion between the two stores discourages visiting them in succession: an invisible "wall" decreasing the economic benefits of sprawl in the long run.

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I miss living in Raleigh more than you can imagine. I am against sprawl and want up not out. But at the rate Raleigh is sprawling maybe one day before I die Raleigh will reach all the way to Richmond then I will be back in my beloved Town...LOL

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Sprawl happens because of our capitalist economy and laissez-faire government. The cheapest and most profitable way of doing things will always triumph, and until the cost of environmental damage or energy costs make transportation costs too high, we will continue to build new over redeveloping (Capital Blvd the great example), build single use structures (everywhere you look), and build large destination style structures (big box one stop shopping blah blah).

Some of the reasons people said they liked 'sprawl' in the article really ticked me off. To be in a safe neighborhood living close to people like themselves??? It sounds like the 1950's and 60's all over again...leave crime and segregated underprivaleged people (words similar to Ms. Bush herself) in the inner city to rot away. Development styles tend to reflect the opinions and political stances of the people that live there. I don't mean to get too political but it is hard to convince anyone to think differently concerning development when they will not think differently about their entire community and society. I am glad some people will support dense downtowns because 'it looks cool' but it goes so much deeper than that.

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You're right Jones, the easiest way will always prevail unless we elect leaders who are committed to managing growth and heading off sprawl.

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I miss living in Raleigh more than you can imagine. I am against sprawl and want up not out. But at the rate Raleigh is sprawling maybe one day before I die Raleigh will reach all the way to Richmond then I will be back in my beloved Town...LOL

I heard rumors that Raleigh was done annexing for a while. Probably wise; it basically covers the area of Atlanta now. It saves them from some bureaucracy. That won't stop developers from building outside the city limits in the bright shiny hope that maybe... just maybe they'll get city water and insurance rates. And the suburbs will gobble them up, and they won't anyway. And then we can laugh at them for not building denser development in Raleigh proper.

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I agree with Jones too. But I think that a lot of folks who "choose" sprawl are very conscious of the tradeoffs. I mean in all these new downtown developments is there really any place for the middle class? If a family wants to live in an area with new construction and a few amenities where else do they go? I bet a lot of them would live closer in if they could afford it.

The market has done a poor job of providing any affordable housing alternatives closer in. I'm not talking about destitute people. I mean your every day working family. If they're lookng to buy a home they're going to get a better deal out in the suburbs. Unless gas prices really, really get out of hand - at which point we're all screwed.

The cost of "choosing sprawl" is spread out among everyone in the community in terms of congestion, environmental degradation, etc. So, it's a rational decision on their parts. They only foot part of the real cost.

People don't generally like living near people who have less money than they do. That's true in Cary and it's true inside the beltline. Buildings can be segregated by income just as easily as a subdivision.

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There actually are plenty of housing opportunities that the average young single, couple, or family can easily afford, fairly close to the center of the city (certainly plenty within the beltline.)

The catch is, that they aren't for sale - they're for rent. In fact, rents at apartment or townhome complexes ITB and OTB are on generally quite similar. You might have to live with a place that's 20 years old rather than brand squeaking new if you rent ITB, but there are plenty of 20-year-old complexes that are clean, well kept-up, and nice.

Now they'll probably string me up for this next part because I'm going to be making burgers out of the most revered sacred cow of American life, but here goes...

Ready?

People are too eager to own their own homes.

I think some people feel that it's their right and duty as Americans to buy a home before they can even really afford it. That distorted sense of entitlement, plus the societal pressure to buy, buy, buy, plus the low interest rates, plus the fact that it's so easy to get a loan these days, all combine to leave us with fields and fields of horrendous KB Starter Homes out in the burbs. People absolutely refuse to wait even a year or two until they can make a down payment on a better home in a better location - because, of course, it's our responsibility as Americans to own by the time we're 25.

Some folks are so eager to jump straight to home ownership that they really don't pay attention to what they're buying. Interest rates are low that it's exacerbated - people almost demand poor quality. Make it look shiny and new, but build it as cheap as possible... as long as it's FOR SALE!!, we'll take it! A number of acquaintences of mine bought townhomes or cheezily built starter homes very soon out of college - way out in the middle of nowhere in a treeless suburban wasteland. If they had instead rented a one-bedroom place for $550 for a while, saved up (maybe until that first promition), THEN they could have afforded something that won't fall apart in five years. But if they wanted to move up now, they'd have to sell first - which might be hard after the vinyl siding starts to fall off of their KB Home and their subivision ceases to be "new and shiny." Not to mention the interest they paid on their mortgage, plus the property taxes, plus HOA dues, plus the real estate agent's commission, plus the hassle of selling! Wow. Maybe getting locked into that cheap little starter home so soon in the name of building equity wasn't such a great idea after all!

Anyway. It could be that I'm missing something here because I'm young and - you guessed it - I don't own a home, but that's just what it seems like to me.

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I don't own a home nor do I have any desire to at this time. I'd much rather rent a place--either an apartment or even a house. Some people tell me this is a huge waste of money but I don't think so. Whether I have a 30 year mortgage or I pay rent--I'm going to be paying for my residence for the rest of my life, so screw it--why try to rush to the end of something that I will probably never be able to conclude?

Also, renting seems like such a hassle-free way to do it... when you want to move on, you just go. It seems to me like the flexibility and freedom of renting more than makes up for the alleged "waste of money" people often cite to me. While some people are comfortable with buying a house and may intend to stay there for a very long time, many people obviously aren't that kind of homebuyer.

Perhaps someday I will end up buying property somewhere--a condo or a house. But for now and in the forseeable future, I will rent.

I agree that a lot of people who probably should just rent a place somewhere end up buying some POS starter home because they are swayed by this anti-rent propaganda, the booming suburb/exurb housing market, and the impression that interest rates are at their lowest possible point and they could hit the ceiling at any moment.

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People are too eager to own their own homes.

I'll assume that you mean that people's zeal to own their own homes like good boys and girls leads them to make shortsighted, selfish decisions. Otherwise, Mr. Marx, how is you day going? :)

The reason for sprawl was right in that N&O list. If you want to keep ignoring it, we'll keep having sprawl. It all goes back to the point I made a couple of weeks ago that got "tidied up around here": People don't want to live near crime-riddled areas and unproductive people. You fix that problem, and people won't want to live in the middle of nowhere. Attracting people to downtown is about more than just building neat buildings and entertainment possibilities.

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I don't own a home nor do I have any desire to at this time. I'd much rather rent a place--either an apartment or even a house. Some people tell me this is a huge waste of money but I don't think so. Whether I have a 30 year mortgage or I pay rent--I'm going to be paying for my residence for the rest of my life, so screw it--why try to rush to the end of something that I will probably never be able to conclude?

Also, renting seems like such a hassle-free way to do it... when you want to move on, you just go. It seems to me like the flexibility and freedom of renting more than makes up for the alleged "waste of money" people often cite to me. While some people are comfortable with buying a house and may intend to stay there for a very long time, many people obviously aren't that kind of homebuyer.

Perhaps someday I will end up buying property somewhere--a condo or a house. But for now and in the forseeable future, I will rent.

I agree that a lot of people who probably should just rent a place somewhere end up buying some POS starter home because they are swayed by this anti-rent propaganda, the booming suburb/exurb housing market, and the impression that interest rates are at their lowest possible point and they could hit the ceiling at any moment.

Norff, you make valid arguments about the benefits of renting, but probably the surest way to build some wealth for your later years is to buy real estate. It will lower your tax burden and generally real estate appreciates, often as much as 5% per year. There are some headaches with home ownership, but they will payoff in the long run.

Back to the sprawl topic, I would like to see more money pumped into inner city schools. Most suburban people I know, live there because of the schools moreso than because of the safety issue. I believe some would move back into the city if they believed the schools were as good and had the same resources. I've always believed that each school district should be funded based on the number of school aged children living in their district; not by how wealthy the district is. This would require real leadership on a statewide level, though.

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I'll assume that you mean that people's zeal to own their own homes like good boys and girls leads them to make shortsighted, selfish decisions. Otherwise, Mr. Marx, how is you day going? :)
That's exactly my point. Owning a home is something that everybody should strive for, provided that it's warranted by their situation. But in reality, it's something that way too many people rush into for whatever reason. It should be a decision made carefully, deliberately, and responsibly, not just because it's what you've heard you're supposed to do. And please... if you're going to buy, buy something that will last - not one of those popsicle-stick-and-cardboard KB Starer McMansions! Those places will probably depreciate after 10 years as the "snout-garage" look goes out of style, the shiny newness wears off, and the poor construction shows through.

Back to the sprawl topic, I would like to see more money pumped into inner city schools. Most suburban people I know, live there because of the schools moreso than because of the safety issue. I believe some would move back into the city if they believed the schools were as good and had the same resources. I've always believed that each school district should be funded based on the number of school aged children living in their district; not by how wealthy the district is. This would require real leadership on a statewide level, though.

This topic points to an article showing that this is quite far from the case in Raleigh/Wake. The idea of the traditional "school district" doesn't really exist in Wake. I did not attend school in the WCPSS but I have heard that (for example) Enloe and Broughton, the two high schools inside the beltline (Enloe being in a generally poorer part of town) are two of the best in the county. There are lots of magnet elementary and middle schools in inner Raleigh. These schools serve the local neighborhoods as well as a large number of students who are bussed in, mostly by choice, from the suburbs (ie, kids from Holly Springs going to Moore Square Museums Magnet in downtown Raleigh).

Another reason for this is that there was excess capacity in some of the inner Raleigh schools before the program was in place. By bringing kids in from the suburbs, you can offset some of the impacts of growth in the county - they can more effectively use their existing facilities, rather than ending up with overcrowding in the suburbs and empty schools downtown that get have to get closed down and consolidated.

The upshot is, that Wake County is one of the few places in the US where the statement "inner city schools are neglected" does not necessarily apply.

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Enloe and Broughton, the two high schools inside the beltline (Enloe being in a generally poorer part of town) are two of the best in the county.

FWIW, Enloe is often mentioned as one of the best in the country. :thumbsup:

Sprawl is driven by inexpensive gas, cheap plentiful developable land, and personal desire for a certain "suburban" lifestyle. If you take away the cheap gas (which will never be below $2/gal again), and limit sprawl with zoning ordinances (requiring mixed uses, limiting clear-cutting, etc.), which some communities have done fairly well, then there is hope that medium-sized sunbelt cities such as Raleigh, Charlotte, etc., can effectively limit it in the near future.

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Sprawl is driven by inexpensive gas, cheap plentiful developable land, and personal desire for a certain "suburban" lifestyle.

That is very true. Its just a matter of time until development sees a turn back to the city instead of away (unless we see gas under $2 again).

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That is very true. Its just a matter of time until development sees a turn back to the city instead of away (unless we see gas under $2 again).

I think you are right there. Across the nation one can see urban renewal and construction going on like never before. And since Raleigh is on a major growth spurt I am pretty sure it is only a matter of time until your DT areas will be sizzling hot. I would think the best is ahead for your urban areas. :)

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I think sprawl has its good points as well as its bad points. I grew up in Baltimore MD, (self proclaimed rowhouse capital of the U.S.) and upon moving here, I found it refreshing to see trees and space. However, if left unchecked, sprawl in the Raleigh area could threaten the very quality of life people here find so attractive. I am glad to see so many downtown projects taking off alongside urban infill projects. Hopefully, city planners in the future will adopt stricter "smart growth" policies for the region.

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This topic points to an article showing that this is quite far from the case in Raleigh/Wake. The idea of the traditional "school district" doesn't really exist in Wake. I did not attend school in the WCPSS but I have heard that (for example) Enloe and Broughton, the two high schools inside the beltline (Enloe being in a generally poorer part of town) are two of the best in the county. There are lots of magnet elementary and middle schools in inner Raleigh. These schools serve the local neighborhoods as well as a large number of students who are bussed in, mostly by choice, from the suburbs (ie, kids from Holly Springs going to Moore Square Museums Magnet in downtown Raleigh).

Another reason for this is that there was excess capacity in some of the inner Raleigh schools before the program was in place. By bringing kids in from the suburbs, you can offset some of the impacts of growth in the county - they can more effectively use their existing facilities, rather than ending up with overcrowding in the suburbs and empty schools downtown that get have to get closed down and consolidated.

The upshot is, that Wake County is one of the few places in the US where the statement "inner city schools are neglected" does not necessarily apply.

Wow, there's a trend that goes against the grain. Kudos to Wake County.

Concerning Waccamatt's comment: usually what hinders equalized funding for schools districts within a particular state is the political influence of the suburbs. There have been cases (like in NJ, for instance) in which a governor attempts to to do this, and what happens to his ratings? They plummet, and they make him and his congressional co-horts pay in the next election. Even if a state does manage to equalize funding for all school districts, the wealthier, suburban districts usually create private foundations which, again, unequalizes the playing field. Then you have the ambiguity of many state constitutions, which only state that each child should receive an "adequate education." And when cases like these are taken to court, it can be years before any type of ruling is implemented. It's almost like a losing battle. Perhaps WCPSS can serve as a national model of sorts in this regard, since they've seemed to address the issue in a meaningful way.

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This is an interesting debate, and one I've thought lots about. If all things were equal, it would be a toss-up for many people. But I think interest rates and the mortgage interest tax deduction tips the scale solidly in favor of home ownership. Low interest rates mean that many rentals in this market cost more per month than an home or condo of similar size. That's certainly the case for me-- I don't live in a palace or anything, but it would cost me almost double my mortgage payment to rent a place half this size.

The tax deduction means that in April, while the renter gets nada, the homeower gets to offset taxes with the interest already paid. I'm not a no-tax nut or anything, but all things considered I'd rather pay mortgage interest instead of taxes while I build equity in an asset, than pay taxes and rent while I build equity in nothing.

The flexibility factors pointed out in previous posts are well-taken, but I've sold two houses in the Triangle in the last 10 years. The first was on the market for 2 days, the second for 2 weeks.

Just my two cents

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There was an article in the Herald-Sun about Orange County hiring a consultant to help the county reduce sprawl. Its good to see my home county tackling this issue before it gets out of control or even starts. Unfortunately our Chatham County neighbors don't seem to share the same vision.

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