Mixed-Use Development Delivers Huge Public Returns Compared to Sprawl

Graphic: ##http://www.planetizen.com/node/53922&rf=wff##Planetizen##

Walkable development pays — that’s the conclusion of a study recently outlined in Planetizen. For cities and towns facing tight budgets — just about everywhere in the United States right now — the smart way to boost tax revenue is to encourage mixed-use, walkable development, as the above graphic amply illustrates.

The for-profit development company Public Interest Projects (PIP) reports that urbanism produces much more tax revenue for localities than sprawl. Analyzing tax data around Asheville, North Carolina, the research team found that downtowns — places with the most places to shop per acre — often subsidize the more suburban parts of the community. In places like Asheville, mixed-use developments offered up to eight times (or more) the tax revenue per acre of a Super Walmart.

Former PIP employee Joseph Minicozzi, now a principal with for-profit development firm Urban3, tells Planetizen readers that many cities are approaching development from the wrong frame of mind (emphasis added):

Our mistake has been looking at the overall value of a development project rather than its per unit productivity. Especially relevant in these times of limited public means, every city should be thinking long and hard about encouraging, and not accidentally discouraging, the property tax bonus that comes with mixed-use urbanism. Put simply, density gets far more bang for its buck.

He concludes that public policies that encourage low-density development urgently need to be reformed:

Communities across the United States are going broke, and we can rightly look to our municipal finance systems and our failure to fully appreciate the payoff for density as a big part of the cause. Let’s all do the math so we can make some positive changes in the system because, in the end, downtown pays.

Image: Planetizen
  • Bolwerk

    It’s pretty amusing how the supposedly fiscally responsible “conservatives” are always the ones pushing for anti-revenue sprawl.

  • mikesonn

    When every person comes complete with a car, then sprawl wins every time.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I am all for denser development, but I am not impressed by the lead graphic. 

    It is easy to prove that denser development is better if you list the benefits on a per-acre basis. 

    I am sure I can also prove that dense, walkable development has a higher death rate per acre and a higher crime rate per acre than sprawl.  Of course, it is a misleading measurement, because everyone cares about these rates per person, not per acre.

  • Anonymous

    I get and like what this story is saying, but I wish the terms used in the article were more specific.   Terms like ‘mixed use’, ‘downtown’ and ‘density’ are constantly being misused by developers.  It is the new “greenwashing.” 

    The developers say, “We’ve got big box stores AND apartments.  We’re doing ‘smart growth’ and ‘mixed-use’ and aren’t we awesome!  We’re creating a new and better ‘downtown’ because nobody will let us build in the old, historic downtown next to the train station!  Your town government has to approved our project!”

  • Joe

    Hello all:
    This is the author of the report and the research.  And my comment is for Charles.  Charles, if you have that data that shows that, please send it over.  What we’ve found is reports that actually show that the cost of services goes down with density (this will be a future article – this piece was primarily on the revenue side).  There are numerous cost studies with that data.  As for the reasoning behind an “acre” vs. a “person” on the unit of calculation, its simple.  Cities and Counties are nothing more than corporate areas.  In fact, they are even “incorporated” under the same rules that I would set up a sports club or a non-profit.  The ‘widget’ of that municipal corporation is the land within its boundary, and the people are the folks that elect the Board of Directors.  The land is the system to be managed.  I hate to sound so sanitary about it, but that’s a simple thesis behind the study.
    Thanks all for your interest and comments.
    Joe Minicozzi, AICP

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