By Judy Corbett, Robert Thayer, Stephen Wheeler and James Zanetto
The Feb. 5 Davis Enterprise article stating that the City Council will examine ways of pre-approving housing developments on sites at the periphery of Davis in order to meet the city’s long-term “regional housing needs” allocation runs counter to the entire momentum of urban development economics and city finance.
It is well known that by building dense, vital downtowns, with multi-story housing and walkable amenities, cities may not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but actually build more positive property tax flows. Building at the periphery does the exact opposite by reducing income per acre from property taxes while increasing infrastructure maintenance including roads, water, sewers, flood control, street trees, police, fire and garbage collection.
Jeff Speck, author of “Walkable City Rules,” (Island Press, 2018) states that “communities that fund infrastructure with an eye to long-term return will invest in compact, mixed-use development — especially in historic districts — and not in sprawl.”
Beginning with the 1974 “Costs of Sprawl,” considerable research studies have shown that dense urban areas return far more revenue per acre than peripheral, auto-oriented development; the former actually subsidize the latter. (See the case studies website of Urban3: https://www.urbanthree.com/case-study/ )
Since the new Davis Downtown Plan addresses this, at least in the short term we need to avoid peripheral development that does not pay for its own ultimate financial impact on a wide range of city services. Portland, Ore., and the smaller California cities of Pasadena, Petaluma, Hercules and Lodi are examples of communities where the advantages of building strong downtowns can be observed today.