In the name of stopping “urban sprawl,” environmentalists have promoted the concept of “infill,” where new construction is largely confined to within the borders of existing cities. In some cases, especially in the urban core of cities, infill makes good sense. But in outlying suburbs, infill is an abomination, taking beautiful low density neighborhoods and destroying them.
|Here’s what your $500K will buy,
thanks to open space fanatics.
In the name of stopping urban sprawl, our cities have been cordoned off with “green belts” that prevent development from spreading naturally outwards. Clearly some attempts to preserve agricultural land and wildlife habitat are justifiable. But these environmentalists don’t have reasonable goals; they want to stop all development, everywhere. And they are succeeding.
Because “infill” is the only acceptable form of development, California’s cities are turning into walled-off compounds, where homes are crammed onto every scrap of open land, every vacant lot. In suburbs where there used to be one or two homes per acre, you often now see ten new homes per acre on adjacent lots. This not only ruins the character of these neighborhoods forever, but it clogs existing roads and boulevards with many times the number of vehicles they were meant to carry.
When new subdivisions are approved, something that happens all too rarely, in order to pass environmentalist muster they have to incorporate an astonishingly high population density. There are areas of new housing in Sacramento, California, where on a typical square mile of mostly single family homes along with some apartments, well over 10,000 people are living. To illustrate how extreme this is – and this is becoming the norm – the population density of Singapore is only 16,000 people per square mile. Ditto for Hong Kong. Even San Francisco, one of the most densely populated cities on the west coast, only has a population density of 15,000 per square mile.
It is simply not necessary to cram people into areas this small. These new, environmentally-correct “suburban” developments are more densely populated than most cities, with none of the cultural amenities of cities. At 10,000 people per square mile, you could fit a million people into an area only ten miles square. Even if California’s population increases at a rate of a half-million people per year, are we really saying that we can’t develop more than 50 square miles per year? California is 139,000 square miles in size!
The solution to this problem is to stand up to the environmentalists. The infill policies they advocate have become sacred in public policy circles. These well-financed and outspoken activists pack every public forum, and public officials dare not challenge them. But these environmentalist activists are the reason new homes are usually built on lots so small you can’t fit a swing set in the back yard, and yet they sell for $500,000 or more. This is not only ridiculous; it is a crime against ordinary families who want to own their own homes.
The doctrine of suburban infill must be overcome if we are to save our existing neighborhoods. And in order to bring the price of housing back down to earth, we need to lift restrictions on development on open land. There is plenty of land. If land development was not restricted outside these artificial boundaries, it would take pressure off developers to pursue destructive infill construction, and it would also result in lower density, lower cost new housing.
There are inspiring examples of infill developments that make sense, but they belong in the urban core, or directly adjacent to commercial centers on major thoroughfares. High density infill should not threaten our low-density, semi-rural suburbs, nor should extreme high density be a requirement for every new suburb.