The “Backward Incentives” That Subsidize Job Sprawl

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at Seattle Transit Blog over the region’s policies toward suburban job growth.

A "regional growth center" in Silverdale, Washington. Image: Seattle Transit Blog
A “regional growth center” in Silverdale, Washington. Image: Seattle Transit Blog

Currently, Seattle region planners designate “regional growth centers,” with special rules designed to concentrate new jobs and housing in these areas. Regional growth centers also have an easier time capturing government infrastructure funds.

Seattle Transit Blog’s Matthew Johnson pointed out last week that the vast majority of them are in the suburbs — not the city of Seattle. And Matt Gangemi weighed in this week about public policy that promotes dispersed employment growth:

I argue that this is a backward incentive. Job growth outside of the core is fundamentally poorly served by transit in our hub-and-spoke system (just try to get to Ballard from the East side, or the islands, or even from some places north on transit). But what’s worse is that job growth outside the core helps build sprawl. People choose housing based on a combination of lifestyle, cost, and transportation ease. Make it easier and cheaper to live further from the city, and builders will build further from the city. Every job added to a suburb, even a Regional Growth Center style suburb, potentially adds a home further out into sprawl.

King County should remove this job-based requirement, and let growth centers be centers of residential growth.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Mobilizing the Region offers some striking examples of the absurd lengths our car addiction has taken us to. In honor of Earth Day, Darin Givens at ATL Urbanist explains why being an environmentalist, to him, means living in the city. And Strong Towns says that at the end of the day, planners and advocates should be guided by a conscious effort to create “lovable” places.

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