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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Tax greenfield development, subsidize infill

Kaid Benfield

Posted June 30, 2009

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  sprawl outside Houston (by: specialkrb/Karen, creative commons license) 

Tyler Caine has a terrific post on his sustainability blog Intercon extolling climate change policy to get on the smart growth bandwagon.  He says it extremely well, so I am just going to quote a few bits and send you to his site if you want more:

"A number of government sponsored initiatives are targeting sustainable technologies that want to provide an easy fix to climate change (renewable energy, fuel cells, energy efficient home upgrades). But when it comes to sustainable progress, if we are going to delve into the policy game then we should be including measures that actually change the way we are doing things, not merely advance the technology that allows us to do things the same. affordable infill housing in Chicago's Kenwood (courtesy of EPA Smart Growth)As a result, I would suggest taxing the development of greenfield sites and, conversely, offering incentives to redeveloping existing buildings or property near town and city centers . . .

"Undoubtedly, building on the edges is building cheaper. The land often goes for a song. Labor is less expensive. Access to sites is easier and building codes are less stringent. But the cheaper choice for builders can be more expensive for municipalities (and we know where their budgets comes from.) Sprawling development is notoriously inefficient; each an oasis of occupancy connected by thin veins of pavement that make car travel a considerable portion of daily life . . . Greenfield development can mean funding for new power lines, new sewers and new roads for a relatively small group of new citizens. It expands the coverage areas for maintenance crews, emergency vehicles and mail delivery that can drastically offset the incremental rise in tax revenue . . . Taxing this kind of sprawling development may help curb its growth in the country.

now housing fits seamlessly into an older Chicago neighborhood (by: Eric Allix Rogers, creative commons license)"Most importantly of all, there is no need for greenfield building. We have loads of existing space in close proximity to transportation and infrastructure . . .

"On the other side of the tax lie subsidies to shift new construction and home ownership to areas with an existing populace. New homes and offices can benefit from utilities and services that residents have already paid. In addition to possibly being cheaper than new construction, reusing existing structures drastically reduces waste from demolition and construction and negates the need for the production of new virgin materials. All of it points to lower carbon footprints and lighter lifecycle costs . . . Remember, the goal is not for less development, merely shifting it for a smarter solution. Reinforcing our town and urban centers would support a critical mass of residents that breeds efficiency where fewer services could reach more instead of wasting more taxpayer dollars on diluted redundancy . . ."

I love it.  Go here for the full post, which I originally found via the Sustainable Cities Collective.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 


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Kai HagenJun 30 2009 10:47 AM

Interesting subject, Kaid.


Arthur LordJun 30 2009 12:46 PM

The phrase "Undoubtedly, building on the edges is building cheaper" brings to mind one of the key underlying difficulties that the sustainability movement faces. The public conversation about dealing with our (re)current economic crises all too frequently ends up revolving around economic growth and expansion as the panacea for our national economic distress. This analytical framework is, of course, enabled by the specious ideology that the "wisdom" of the free market is the ideal organizing principle of a society.

Much work remains to be done promote public understanding of the essential truth that the mercantilist free market is a headless, devouring monster serving only the short term interests of the greed-driven large commercial players. Sustainability is the opposite of what most Americans, in particular, are indoctrinated to accept as normal.

Let us hope that the national dialogue around the issues of resource consumption and renewability can be changed before the environmental effects of rapacious capitalism destroy us all.

InfraJun 30 2009 02:27 PM

Why is smart growth so important for your community? What are the benefits and downsides of this kind of development? Join the discussion today at, where you can share your unique perspective with concerned citizens, policy makers, and professionals throughout the country.

Tyler CaineJul 2 2009 05:02 PM


Thanks for passing on the post. Anything to further the conversation more is excellent.

I think that government intervention in prescribing methods, even with the best of intentions like a more sustainable country, can admittedly reduce the freedom of choice and thus, instigate debate. It's a tricky balance, and one we will only continue to encounter--whether or not you preserve people's right to make harmful decisions.

But I also think that sometimes smart choices have to be made quickly and if the public needs a push in the right direction of education and example, so be it. I find there are a number of opportunities like this surrounding sustainability. Hopefully, we will take advantage of them.

Kaid @ NRDCJul 2 2009 05:15 PM

Thanks so much for stopping by, TC. While I of course agree that we must be careful with government intervention, in this case we've already had government intervention for decades - on the side of UNsustainability! I really appreciate your sparking the conversation.

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