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Allan

Sprawl Supporters

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I found this essay online this afternoon while researching public transportation in metro Detroit. It has been driving me crazy. This man is the biggest roadblock in getting any sort of light rail in metro Detroit. He loves his county's sprawl. He calls it "liveable". Little does he realize that the sprawl is hurting the city of Detroit & the inner ring sububs found in southern Oakland county. IMO, he is just as bad, or even worse than Wendell Cox. Yet another short sighted person raving about the tremendous growth. All I can say to people like him is wait 50 years, when the infrastructure starts to fall apart. What a burden that will put on taxpayers, especially with such low density. It seems like many cities in the sunbelt are finally begining to realize the mistakes they made in letting them sprawl endlessly, yet here is this guy supporting endless sprawl. Why does he not see the mistakes other metros have made & learn from them? What does everyone think? What other metros have support for sprawl like this?

Sprawl, Schmall... Give Me More Development

If you think four-letter words are dirty and nasty, how about that six-letter word: sprawl.

To the doom and gloom crowd, "sprawl" ranks right up there with the plague, leprosy, and the French.

Well, let me state it unequivocally: I love sprawl. I need it. I promote it. Oakland County can't get enough of it. Are you getting the picture?

Sprawl is not evil. In fact, it is good. It is the inevitable result of a free people exercising their cherished, constitutionally protected rights as individuals to pursue their dreams when choosing where to live, where to work, where to educate, and where to recreate.

Let's stop the hysteria and honestly ask ourselves what is sprawl? "Sprawl" is the unfortunate pejorative title government planners give to economic development that takes place in areas they can't control. In reality, "sprawl" is new houses, new school buildings, new plants, and new office and retail facilities. "Sprawl" is new jobs, new hope and the fulfillment of lifelong dreams. It's the American Dream unfolding before your eyes.

Today, if a company pulls up stakes, abandons a suburban location and moves into the central city (often doubling or tripling the commute time for its employees), the anti-American Dream doom-and- gloomers call it "economic revitalization," and they praise it.

But if a company, a residential builder, or a family moves out into the suburbs, it's condemned by the anti-American Dreamers. "It's sprawl," they hiss, "it's bad." They demand new laws be imposed turning local control over to state government planners charged with discouraging, containing, shutting down, stopping and reversing growth outside central cities.

The anti-American Dreamers would have you believe that suburban growth is at the root of all problems that beset our cities, both in Michigan and across our country. They seem to believe that citizens left thriving cities, and that it was their departure that caused high crime, high taxes, invisible public services, and failing public school systems.

Anybody who believes that line of thinking is taking denial to a whole new level. Sprawl did not cause the decline of the cities. Cities declined because they squandered their assets. High crime rates, high taxes, failing schools, foul air and a lack of open green spaces forced people to move.

Sprawlers, like me, simply wanted a home with green grass on a safe, well maintained street, a quality neighborhood school that actually educated their children, a good job, nearby parks and recreational spaces, and a local government that actually delivers the services their taxes paid for. In other words, they wanted a place like today's Oakland County.

Some of the more disingenuous anti-Dreamers complain that we are blacktopping Oakland County. They claim that our farms and forestland is being gobbled up by developers, those nasty people who build single family homes instead of high density housing projects. They are concerned that Oakland County, and indeed all of America, will soon be one big Blockbuster parking lot. But the facts refute their hysterical myths.

First, the truth is that any responsible examination of Oakland County's robust, vital and life-sustaining development clearly shows that the sky is not falling. Oakland County's satisfied residents, responsible business leaders, and the elected and appointed officials of our 61 cities, villages and townships have done a good job as stewards of Oakland's 910 square miles.

This is demonstrated by how we have developed our land resources.

Check it out: single family homes, a primary goal for many families seeking their share of the American Dream, take up 38.5 percent of the total land in Oakland County. Vacant land is the next largest land use, at 13.6 percent. Recreation and conservation uses (permanently set aside) follow at 13.3 percent. Lakes and rivers take 5.9 percent of our land area; agriculture uses 4.2 percent, industry follows at 4.2 percent, public spaces use 3.8 percent, and commercial uses account for only 2.1 percent. (The remaining 13.4 of land use is made up of utility right-of-ways, railroads, and mobile home parks.) We have a balance of land uses that works!

Secondly, according to readily available research, Michigan today is still 91 percent rural. And at the present rate of development, Michigan has a couple of millenniums left before it would be a totally urbanized state.

What about the claim that America is being paved over? Well, the total land in the United States is 3.6 million square miles. Of that total land mass, some 126,000 square miles are considered urbanized. This means that less than 3.5 percent of America is "developed" urban area.

Are the developers really gathering up all the farm land and forest acres for their own greedy purposes? Not hardly. Today there is more forested land in Michigan than there was 100 years ago. While the amount of land being used for farming is declining, it's not primarily because of development, but rather because of improved productivity within the farming industry itself.

Today, due to technological improvements, we grow and produce more products for market on substantially less land. In fact, a substantial percentage of our farming produce is now shipped overseas. We still easily feed ourselves as a nation.

One final myth debunker: How much land do we have? Try this: if every man, woman and child in America were forced to relocate to the State of Texas, each of us would have 3/5 acre to call our own.

So the next time you hear the word sprawl, embrace it. It simply means economic development. It means jobs. It means the freedom to choose. It translates into quality of life.

And the next time somebody rubs your face in the word sprawl, take a long, hard look at that person. Too often you will see some limousine liberal who long ago fled our cities. Now, they want others to go back and take their place. They want to use the power of government to force you back into a city, or a neighborhood, or a housing type they chose not to live in themselves. They want to force you back to the city to help purge themselves of their perceived sin of abandonment.

If you remember nothing else, please remember this: it's all about the pronoun "it". "It" is the subject of intense competition. "It" is the most sought after thing in the country. "It" is called economic development. If you don't have "it," and someone does, "it" is a bad thing called "sprawl." Ask yourself, if "it" is so evil, why do they want "it" so badly that they compete for "it," they give tax breaks to attract "it," give incentives and create enterprise zones to secure "it?" You know the answer.

L. Brooks Patterson

Oakland County Executive

http://www.co.oakland.mi.us/about/develop/sprawl.html

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This guy can't even get the concept of sprawl right... How the hell does he think he can defend "it" (sprawl)? Another clueless sprawler firing blanks. What uncontrolled and irresponsible growth (sprawl is a huge part of it) has done to this country, ask the average-paid person like me, when I looked around for affordable housing with some urban, or at least semi-urban, feel. All I got was a home in .18 of an acre, and I am glad I did. The more urban areas are much more expensive, as most of them offer amenities that the sprawling areas never could. Urban sprawl has pushed the price tags higher, without offering anything in return. My next home will not be in a cul-de-sac, without even sidewalks on both sides, I know that much. Mr sprawler can take the sprawl and shove it; I'll take a house in a neighborhood where people enjoy living with other humans nearby, preferably downtown.

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38.5% of 910 acres in this county are taken up by single-family homes? That's disgusting. One problem I have with the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, is that compared to say Canada, or California even, the suburban houses are on MUCH larger lots. I'm not saying this as an absolute truth 100% of the time, but it is generally true most of the time. I lived in suburban Louisville for a couple years as a kid, and the homes there are on much larger lots than you would find in suburban Toronto or Los Angeles.

I know a lot of North Carolina people are on this forum. How large is the typical lot for a new suburban house there? How much space is there typically between the homes? 8 feet? 12 feet? 20 feet? 30 feet?

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In Cary and Raleigh, the average suburban lot size is 1/3 of an acre. Depending on how the lot is shaped, there is about 20 feet or more (guestimate) between each home.

I'm sure a lot of Charlotte is this way, but I think the zoning within the city limits has been changed so that the default lot size is smaller--more new homes per acre now.

For some reason, it seems that many of the 1/3 acre lots in Charlotte are shaped like triangles--I think this was an attempt at packing more homes into a smaller area... but identifying property lines is a beotch.

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I know a lot of North Carolina people are on this forum. How large is the typical lot for a new suburban house there? How much space is there typically between the homes? 8 feet? 12 feet? 20 feet? 30 feet?

The average right now is 3 homes per acre in Charlotte, but this is suspected to change in the future. There was recently a debate about rezoning a residential area to include 4 homes per acre but was disputed negatively by residents.

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38.5% of 910 acres in this county are taken up by single-family homes? That's disgusting.

I know, & at the rate it's going, that number will reach like 50% very quickly.

The only way to stop it is to draw an urban growth boundary around the developed areas in Oakland county, which obviously won't happen as long as Patterson is in control of things.

I live in Genesee County, one county north of Oakland County. Our lots are typically about 1/3 of an acre, but some (like mine) are a full acre. Now Oakland county's sprawl is moving north into Genesee County. It won't be long before I-75 is developed all the way from Detroit to Flint. I'd say that about 80% of the new residents in my area work in Oakland County or Livingston County, since most of the new residents are moving up from Oakland County. A few people who live in my subdivision work in downtown Detroit & commute 60 miles each day. The sprawl here is starting to go crazy, and there is no mass transit. My tiny little township has issued 6000 buildings permits in 2 years, & the infrastructure cannot support it. The roads are all 2 lanes and clogged with traffic, there is not enough sewer capacity, and the schools are very overcrowded. In 10 years we will have grown from 45,000 people to about 80,000.

I think we really need light rail along I-75, all the way to downtown Detroit. But this Brooks Patterson will keep it from ever happening. Meanwhile traffic continues to worsen with every passing day. I know his solution would be to build more freeways, but the federal government will not permit another freeway in northern Oakland county because all the lakes make it an ecologically sensitive area. That is the reason I-275 does not reconnect with I-75.

These maps are 3 years old now, so the urbanized areas are larger, but it gives you the idea. You can see how close the Flint & Detroit urbanized areas are together. By my calculations, they are approximately 8.2 miles apart.

Detroit Urbanized Area

Flint Urbanized Area

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Damn. In suburban Toronto the typical lots size for a new middle-class house is probably about 1/15th of an acre, with 1/20th acre lots not uncommon. A large percentage of new suburban housing is in townhouses on even smaller lots.

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Here's a typical lot size for a single family home here. About 20-25 feet wide, about 4-8 feet of total space between the houses, meaning each house has about 2-4 feet of sideyard on each side.

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More suburban Toronto homes I have photographed.

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Duplexes.

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Only very wealthy people here can afford a single family home on a 1/3 acre lot. Because of this, they are very, very rare.

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Yea, I've seen pics of the Toronto suburbs. Those houses are very close together & smaller than the typical 2500-3000 square foot new home here. That style of developing homes won't ever happen in southeast Michigan...there are too many anti-density people around here. A few weeks ago there were some NIMBYs complaining that 4 houses per acre was too much! They didn't vote on the issue that night, but I bet they voted in favor of a lower density at the next meeting.

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Yea, I've seen pics of the Toronto suburbs. Those houses are very close together & smaller than the typical 2500-3000 square foot new home here.

Most of these new Toronto homes are around 2500 square feet or so. They're just built tall and skinny, often 3 floors plus a basement.

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Yea, anything taller than 2 floors is illegal here. And the lot setbacks are like 40' in the front, 20' on either side, & 50' in the back. I think it's also illegal to build anything smaller than 1500 square feet. We have some insane zoning ordinances here, all of which promote sprawl & discourage liveable neighborhoods. I can only even think of one neighborhood with sidewalks :(

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The Token Canadian those house are WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY to close for me

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I like the close together houses. I'd love living there....less yard to take care of. I hate yardwork...you should see the mess 25 trees' leaves make when they all drop their leaves within a week of each other. So now I have to help clean up this 1 acre blanket of leaves that is like 4" thick :angry:. I suggested to my parents that it would be easier to let them blow into the neighbor's yard, but they didn't like that idea too well. Also, it looks more urban, & I've always prefered the look of dense neighborhoods over low density neighborhoods.

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Its simple...the better (warmer) weather in the Southern states lets people stay outiside longer. They can have large yards and have large gardens with big flowers and plants and have more room for their children to run and play outiside for most if not all of the months of the year...

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SCGuy - I understand your reasoning about people wanting to enjoy the outdoors because of the warm weather all year in the south. But why do we have such large yards in Michigan then? Metro Detroit has weather very similar to that in Toronto. We only have 3 months of nice weather each year, 4 if we're lucky. The other 8-9 months out of the year the weather is not very nice. Winter here starts in October & doesn't end until at least April. We had a light dusting of snow here on September 30 this year! So to me, the climate issue doesn't make much sense. Especially since all the southern forumers say that the average lot size is 1/3, whereas in the north average lot sizes run between 1/3 & 1/2 of an acre. So the lot size has nothing to do with climate.

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Yea, anything taller than 2 floors is illegal here. And the lot setbacks are like 40' in the front, 20' on either side, & 50' in the back. I think it's also illegal to build anything smaller than 1500 square feet. We have some insane zoning ordinances here, all of which promote sprawl & discourage liveable neighborhoods. I can only even think of one neighborhood with sidewalks

What about townhouses? Or are they illegal there too?

Personally, I see no purpose in more than 5 feet of sideyard. Whoever uses their sideyard for anything anyways? Some with frontyards really. And because most of the larger new subdivisions here have parks, there's no need for a large yard for your kids to play in. Of course, the parks do lower the overall density compared to if there were no parks, but there's still probably a net density (including parks and roads) of 6-8 homes per acre, so a 100 acre subdivision would have 600-800 homes plus parkland.

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If they built homes on 1/3 acre lots here, very few people would be able to afford them. Only rich people can afford homes on lots that large here, and the few houses that are built on such large lots are typically $1 million+ mansions.

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I do like this place everything right there you don't have to go far

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monsoon-

All north homes have basements. Because they have to dig below the 4 foot frostline to put in the foundation, the builders almost always dig down just a little bit farther & create a basement, since it isn't that much more expensive. Actually I've only seen one house around here that didn't have a basement, and that was only b/c it was in a low-lying area & a basement would've just collected water & gotten flooded all the time.

Token Canadian-

Townhouses are not illegal here, but they are very rare. Closer to Detroit they are more popular though. Maybe as land gets more scare here they'll build more townhouses.

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The advantage to single-family houses with even 6 feet between them is in terms of sound insulation. Plus, with a single-family house, it can be torn down in the future, and a new house or something else built in it's place. You can't really do that with townhomes.

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The advantage to single-family houses with even 6 feet between them is in terms of sound insulation. Plus, with a single-family house, it can be torn down in the future, and a new house or something else built in it's place. You can't really do that with townhomes.

That's a good point that I hadn't really thought about before. I do think we need more variety in housing though. Not everyone wants a single family home, & that is basically the only option here, other than living out of your car or in a cardboard box.

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Future Architect -

I'm assuming you live in the township, but in the city of Grand Blanc some developers are working on more urban projects, although NIMBYs are trying to fight them. I think G.B. (city and township) is going in the right direction - they are truly fighting sprawl. I don't think many other suburbs would go as far as halting all residential developement (A.K.A. sprawl in this case) for 18 months to stop the madness created by sprawl.

About basements -

I love basements. I had always heard it was something about the soil that prevented most southern homes from having basements. I've spent a lot of time down south in recent years, and that was one thing I did miss. As far as a house's square footage, the basement isn't even included in the calculation in Michigan as far as I know. It makes a huge difference in the size of a home. A finished basement can make a world of difference.

As far as the original topic -

I laughed when I saw the name "L. Brooks Patterson" at the end of this essay. Anybody who likes anything urban does NOT like this guy. He's too short-sighted to see where his county is headed. With 1.2 million people in the county, the largest city (Troy) has ~80,000 residents. He's just an official who supports what he thinks "his people" want to hear.

I'm not anti-suburban, but Oakland county is way out of hand and getting worse every day. I wonder how hard Patterson cried when Gov. Granholm decided to put money into fixing existing expressways instead of continuing the trend of expanding and building new freeways across the state. It has to stop somewhere. SE Michigan is the poster child for sprawl, and this [insert derogatory word here] wants to promote it.

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I'm assuming you live in the township, but in the city of Grand Blanc some developers are working on more urban projects, although NIMBYs are trying to fight them. I think G.B. (city and township) is going in the right direction - they are truly fighting sprawl. I don't think many other suburbs would go as far as halting all residential developement (A.K.A. sprawl in this case) for 18 months to stop the madness created by sprawl.

"Fighting sprawl" be halting residential development is about the worst thing they could do. Once an area is low-density sprawl, the only way to really improve it is to "fill in the gaps" with infill housing. The existing environment isn't going to get any more urban or dense by halting residential development. More residential development is necessary to "fix the damage already done", or at least fix it as much as possible.

The other problem is that new homes will just get built in unincorporated areas or other nearby towns that do allow new development. This is often called "leapfrog development", and if it isn't accompanied by retail, commercial, industrial development, etc. (ie, if it's strictly residential), people have even further to travel to do anything.

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