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Thread: City "Rot" -- Economic Impact of Environmental Problems

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    City "Rot" -- Economic Impact of Environmental Problems

    When I was still living in Fairfield, California, one day my sons and I drove around and talked about our observations concerning air quality and economic success of various shopping areas. For example, we noted that at Travis Blvd, on the "upwind" side of the 8 lanes of interstate, the mall was doing fairly well, as were other shopping centers behind the mall on Gateway Blvd.
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    On the same road but on the "downwind" side of the interstate, there were shopping centers which were doing very poorly. On that side, there is an exit from the interstate where there is absolutely no protection from the exhaust on the interstate. It is a straight line of sight to the interstate, with no bushes or other barriers, and no change in elevations. The trees lining Oliver Dr. are dying. The "cup"-shaped shopping center facing Oliver seems to catch all the exhaust fumes coming off the interstate (note the red arrows I added). The anchor store (red X) had recently closed on the day we took our drive. Other shopping centers on that side of the interstate seem to have never been full up or otherwise seem to be doing rather poorly.

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    Given our respiratory problems, we were acutely aware of the desire to flee that area as quickly as possible. We figure other people may not be as aware of their reasons but will also be disinclined to linger in a shopping center with serious air-quality or other environmental problems, even if they don't really know why. So we felt that the connection between the toxic environment and the failing economic health of the area was pretty obvious. It is something I have noted in other places as well. In the city where I currently reside, I tend to drive a fair distance to newer shopping areas in large part because I can breathe there. This city seems to be experiencing a kind of pattern of "rotting", where development is moving inexorably away from areas with poorer environmental quality and towards cleaner areas of town.

    Since that day when my sons and I drove around Fairfield to many different places noting this correlation (including Costco, Highway 12, and other areas), I have wondered if anyone else had particularly noted this trend and if there were any studies on the relationship between environmental health and economic health. I know it is a well-established fact that socio-economically disadvantaged areas tend to get NIMBY projects dumped on them which are bad for the physical health of nearby residents. This is an issue that gets discussed under the umbrella of "social justice" at times. But I cannot recall hearing any explicit relationship cited running in the other direction: that poor environmental health can cause economic failure.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Wasn't I-80 there before most or all of that surrounding development?

    There may be other factors at work here too, not really related to being upwind vs downwind from the higwhay. For example, the land parcels east of the highway are much larger than those to its west, meaning that commerical developers can do much more on that side. The highway forms a significant marketing barrier between the two sides and shoppers may not be willing to fight the traffic on the main streets to get from one to the other. The smaller parcels to the west may also not have that great of visibility from the bigger mall area, too. There is a strong 'bandwagon' effect for these types of regional commercial areas.

    I see similar things happening even here in the Appleton area, where the larger commercial area on one side of a super-major street is thriving while the smaller commercial area with the slightly poorer access and visibility across that street is moribund.

    Mike

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    Wasn't I-80 there before most or all of that surrounding development?
    I honestly do not know. Perhaps BKM will be so kind as to enlighten us.
    There may be other factors at work here too, not really related to being upwind vs downwind from the higwhay.
    Of course there are other factors at work. I don't generally believe in "monolithic" explanations for things. Obviously, if this one factor were some kind of be-all and end-all deterministic thing, then you would only have stores open at all in areas with cleaner air. But that isn't the case. Nor do I expect it to be the case. It was an interesting correlation that I and my sons noticed one day and continue to notice in other places besides Fairfield. I have meant to share it on cyburbia for some time and just didn't around to it earlier. I am curious if anyone else has ever noticed anything similar and/or knows of any studies or other data on the phenomenon. Also, even if no one had previously noted a connection, I would be curious to hear feedback "after the fact".

    I really don't feel like doing more maps right now, so hopefully you can refer back to the original photos and kind of follow my descriptions:
    Attachment 3664
    On Holiday Lane, between I-80 and the big green patch (which I think is a ball field or some such), the air is better than further southwest of there. I think they don't get as much fumes from the interstate to begin with and I think the big green patch also helps mitigate the problem. Those stores seemed to be generally doing better than other strip malls on the same side of the interstate.
    Attachment 3663
    There are two buildings just across from the X-ed out building, directly facing down Travis. They are "pretty" (stlyish) and new-ish but seem to have never been filled to capacity. (I strongly suspect the owners are both baffled and upset by this.) On the day we drove around, they had a huge sign in a second or third floor window advertising that they had space available. (What is apalling to me is that it had medical offices in it and there are a number of dentists in the strip mall next to it which faces Oliver Dr. -- including a dentist I used to go to.)

    In other parts of town, which I haven't posted maps of, there is a U or "cup" shaped shopping center on Highway 12 which also is positioned so as to "catch" the exhaust fumes of the traffic on that road and it is also doing quite poorly. Highway 12 is a pretty dismal road (at least the stretch of it between Fairfield and Suisun City, where this shopping center is) and has way to little in the way of greenery along it. I think it would benefit enormously from having some shrugs between the east and west facing lanes, a la Air Base Parkway (which is a wonderful road in Fairfield). Further down Highway 12, on the opposite side (thus "upwind" with the prevailing winds), there are shopping centers which are doing nicely by all appearances, including new construction which was in progress at the time I did this informal survey. (Technically, these shopping centers on Highway 12 are in Suisun City, not Fairfield.)

    Another "cup" shaped shopping center at a different exit off I-80 seems to be doing well. It is on the edge of town, Southwest of the college, and has the benefit of more greenery around it than most other shopping centers in and aroudn Fairfield(both landscaping and farms, open fields, etc) It also has its "back" to the interstate. So rather than catching and collecting a pool of toxic fumes, it is somewhat sheltered. Next door to this is Costco, which seems to be doing well in spite of having an excellent view of the open interstate directly in front of it. However, Costco is a warehouse store, has lots of trees in the parking lot, and seems to be sited such that a lot of the exhaust simply blows by on either side. There seems to be no "pooling" effect, in spite of a lack of barriers between Costco and the interstate.

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