Urban Planning

CCAP's Kooshian says 'smart growth' can boost the economy

Can states improve their economies by encouraging Americans to walk more? During today's OnPoint, Chuck Kooshian, a transportation analyst at the Center for Clean Air Policy, discusses a new report focused on ways to efficiently develop urban areas and grow the economy. He explains the economic benefits of making cities walkable and says a reduction in transportation use will boost the bottom line.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Chuck Kooshian, the transportation analyst at the Center for Clean Air Policy. Chuck, thanks for coming on the show.

Chuck Kooshian: I'm very pleased to be here, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Chuck, CCAP just released a report focusing on ways to efficiently plan and develop urban areas and also help grow the economy. What are the biggest mistakes we're making here in the U.S. when it comes to urban planning?

Chuck Kooshian: Well, for the past 40 years or 50 years, we've been investing in what a lot of people called drivable suburban communities. We spent so much money on highways and on making a good and easy to drive, but what we found in our report is that although the amount of driving has gone up and up constantly, since 1967 it's gone up about 60 percent, but median incomes, so the average person's income has only risen about 25 percent. We think that this means that we're driving empty miles. That they're miles that are not contributing to the economy, that actually may be a drag on the economy and are certainly a drag on the household and the finances of small towns and municipal governments.

Monica Trauzzi: They're a drag on the economy I understand in some ways, but they are also putting money back into the economy. People are purchasing gas. They're purchasing vehicles. So did you account for that as well?

Chuck Kooshian: Well, clearly the economy is made up of many different sectors and lots of driving is certainly important for the movement of goods and services, for getting people to their jobs and so on. But what we see is that if you look at it on a statewide level, for example, states that have a higher per capita GDP actually have a lower amount of driving measured in vehicle miles traveled. So the relationship between the amount of driving and the well-being of the people who live somewhere is certainly not a linear thing. That there are ways that we can remove these empty miles from what we do every day and we can all think of examples, you know, driving your kids trick-or-treating, driving to a park to walk the dog, there are all sorts of things, 5 miles to get some groceries. If those inefficiencies are taken away, we can still have the travel that we need for a productive economy, but we can have more time to do the things that are what we really want to do.

Monica Trauzzi: So, we're talking about, in many respects, just making cities more walkable. How do we do that? How do we pay for that? And then what's the trickle-down effect then when it comes to the economy?

Chuck Kooshian: There's a pent-up demand for walkable communities. We've seen this. There was a study released by the Wall Street Journal recently that showed the Gen Y-ers, which are actually a larger population group than the Baby Boomers, 88 percent of them want to live in urban areas and one third of them said they would pay extra to live in a walkable community. So the market is there. What we need to do is to allow the market to respond to this demand. We know that right now there's not much demand left for single-family dwellings, that there's going to be a glut on the market as soon as the foreclosures start picking up again. But in community after community that has done this, we've seen economic benefits and in other communities it's still illegal to do smart growth. So if we can make it more flexible, if we direct and reorient our federal and state and local investments around smart growth, it's going to help save money, it's going to help make money, it's going to improve quality of life and it's going to do it for the households, businesses, and government.

Monica Trauzzi: So, specifically then, what types of policies do we need to see from the federal government and then how much should be left to the states and local municipalities when it comes to smart growth?

Chuck Kooshian: Well, Monica, it's going to have to come from the bottom up. All the federal government can do is to set the stage and we think the best way to do that is an incentive-based policy. We call it do, measure, learn. We have action and then monitoring and research. So if we empower and equip communities, the state and federal governments empower and equip communities to do the things that will help them and know how to do them and have maybe a little bit of help doing them, then it will come from the bottom up. The market and the local entities will be able to respond.

Monica Trauzzi: What are some examples of cities that have implemented these smart growth techniques successfully?

Chuck Kooshian: Well, we have in our report, Growing Wealthier, a lot of examples ranging from Dallas, Texas where is the retail downtown went up 33 percent in the first year after the light rail was opened down there. In Denver, around the light rail stations, the houses within a half-mile of transit, they grew in value 17 percent I think it is between 2006 and 2008. Whereas the rest of Denver, the property values dropped 7 percent on average. And aside from light rail, you can also look at just the benefits to local governments of more compact growth. Sacramento, California, they did a blueprint plan. They predicted that they could save about $18,000 per household over the next 15 years if they had a more compact growth scenario. So, you know, you can save money at the government level, you can save at the household level, you can make money. Your property values will increase, your income can increase because you're not traveling so far or your total value of your wealth can increase. So, we think that there are examples all over.

Monica Trauzzi: When you go to certain cities in Europe it seems like they have already implemented these types of strategies and policies. Why has the U.S. worked at a much slower pace than some of our international friends?

Chuck Kooshian: Well, we've been blessed with cheap oil and cheap land. And for the past 50 years the market the public has seen, the suburban lifestyle is the American dream, starting from Leave It to Beaver and all the way through, but that's trying to shift. People now people are watching Seinfeld and Friends and people are saying that they would rather live in an urban area. So we say that it's time to forget about the Jetsons and think about Back to the Future, maybe a high-tech walkable community, where you can take advantage of the pleasures of small town or city living and actually walk where you want to go and enjoy what you're doing.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Chuck Kooshian: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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