by Bryan Steckler
1) Money: The amount of money you spend on transportation expenses relative to income increases with the number of cars you own. This is due to acquisition costs, fuel, and maintenance. This means that the farther away from your job you live (i.e. the more you spend on fuel and the more necessary multiple cars become) the less money you have to spend on other needs or to save. Mixed use zoning, transit oriented development, and high quality public transportation can reduce these costs. In addition to this, suburban housing is subsidized to an extent by the Federal Housing Administration and the loans it provides and guarantees towards single family homes, thus the true costs of suburban housing are hidden from the homeowners. These loans cannot be used to purchase residencies in multi-unit buildings and similar incentives are not available to renters.
2) Health: The lifestyles encouraged by different development types vary wildly. Suburban development is based on the car, which means minimal walking and lots of fast food restaurants. Urban development is pedestrian friendly, encouraging walking and transit use. However, the increased consumption of fast food and decrease of physical activity due to primarily suburban development patterns have put strain on our medical system. In addition to this, the long commutes created by automobile centric development have an adverse impact on mental health, as they cause levels of stress to increase, which in turn can cause violent behavior and loss of workplace productivity.
3) Reenforcing or Breaking Stereotypes: Due to the factors that were in play before and during the beginning of suburban growth, poverty has become unfairly synonymous with race. Ethnic minorities are almost always depicted as being impoverished, while Caucasians are almost always depicted as being wealthy. This has then created another unfair relationship between ethnic minorities and predisposal to criminal behavior, causing public housing projects and mixed income projects to be opposed along racial lines, thinking that they will bring crime. These same projects, if successful, will bring their occupants out of poverty regardless of race, and can be used to break these unfair depictions of ethnic minorities.
4) Quality of One's Living Environment: In addition to the health and economic effects of automobiles, large quantities of cars can also create low quality living environments. Large roads and freeways create noise and light pollution, and parking lots use land that could be developed or used for parks. In addition to this, pollution from cars creates smog and poor air quality, leading to additional health issues.
5) Decrease in Quality of Public Services: As the density of development decreases and the amount of land consumed by it increases, applicable services such as police and fire departments, schools, and utilities become more expensive and less efficient because they have to cover more ground. Since the fiscal needs of these organizations are not adequately met, their quality becomes unevenly distributed and overall quality decreases.
6) Crime: Sound urban development and urban revitalization includes use of tools such as mixed income housing, mixed use development, and transit oriented development. These serve to bring investment and people to the areas they are built in. The high presence of people and mix of uses serves as a deterrent for crime because they provide public surveillance of the street space and property.
Bryan Steckler is the author of the Thoughts on Urban Development blog, where this article was originally published on August 3, 2011.