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The Cost of Sprawl #3: The Personal Toll

So far in this series of stories (see #1B, see #2) I’ve focused on inequitable distribution of the negative social and economic impacts of sprawl on our country.  There is also another cost borne by the  people who support and feed sprawl with their lifestyle choices.  It is a cost they overlook.  It is a cost which is stealthy… a cost which many take for granted as if it is a given fact of life.  It is the very high cost of personal transportation made necessary by sprawl.  Many sprawlites strap themselves to this major lifetime expense without realizing the true impact it has on their lives and finances.

I stumbled upon this PBS video, which follows a family as they navigate the new recession based economy in the suburban sprawl-scape of the remote fringes of Phoenix Arizona.  This particular family did what many describe as “drive until you qualify”.  The processes of sprawl development particularly common in high cost, high growth metros is for builders to develop the cheap open rural land at the very edge of the population. They get the land cheaply and in turn sell the houses they build on the land cheaply.  Each succession of new building pushes further and further into the hinterland.  In overheated, high growth markets many people followed these cheap houses as they push further from the center until they qualified for a mortgage.  Many of these new fringe subdivisions have become ground zero for the recent mortgages crisis and it is no coincidence that these places also have the highest transportation costs.

Sprawl-Map.jpg

So, a happy motoring suburban family qualifies for their mortgage and they buy the house.  But the cost of the house is only part of the calculation and the bank does not care about the rest.  Beyond how much you owe on your car(s) loan the banks don’t care what your transportation costs are.  Beyond the loan an individual pays gas, insurance and maintenance that few take into consideration when determining the affordability of a house.  Transportation in far fringe sprawl areas can be a major part of a family budget.  The American family on average spends 52% of their income on housing and transportation together.  An ex-urban family such as the Grasso family depicted in the video likely spend much more than the average.  They bought into the American suburban dream but failed to take into account the true cost of the lifestyle they chose.  When their second car had transmission trouble they were suddenly jolted into the reality of their choice.  Due to the economy both had recently taken pay cuts and being in Phoenix they most  likely have negative equity in the house.  They could not afford to move and they could not afford to repair the car.  With no other transportation available they now drive together in one car to remote job locations and child care.  The 2-hour daily round trip adds up to 120 miles a day!  They live day to day in fear of the remaining car having trouble. Tony Grasso described the car as their lifeline.

The massive 2000 square mile Phoenix metro also is the poster child of extreme sprawl. Its over 2 million people rely almost entirely on car transportation. The scenario depicted in the video is less likely to be a problem in the Buffalo area where overall housing prices are relatively reasonable and stable and people have more choice available to them.  But, like all American cities, public transit in Buffalo is a distant priority to the accommodation of cars.  That means that a high percentage of people in metro Buffalo live in places where cars are the only reasonable alternative to getting around.   Interestingly the Phoenix area has recently begun to play with light rail.  Their brand new $1.4B system is 20 miles long but serving a very small portion of the population.  60% of the line was paid for with a 1/2% local sales tax increase.  The feds picked up the rest.  The new line caries about 43,000 people per day or about  2100/mile served.  By comparison Buffalo’s 6.4 mile system caries about 23,000 per day or about 3600/mile served.   It is clear that mass transit alone will not be able to tame a sprawl monster like Phoenix.  Perhaps instead the mortgage crash and the troubles experienced by families like the Grassos are signs that our American sprawl utopia is imploding in on itself.

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Written by STEEL

STEEL

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( www.blurb.com ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

518 posts
  • Jesse

    Light rail will never be sustainable, the economics just don’t work no matter how hard you guys wish it would. Ridership just isn’t high enough.
    Also, I’m waiting for your expose on the reasons for high housing prices in near suburbs that ‘force’ single-family homes to spread like a disease.
    Most people on the planet do not want to live on top of one another, regardless of what you city-loving guys believe. Given the chance, every society has ‘sprawl’. I wonder why that is?

  • Sally

    What a fresh topic to explore. Very new and enlightening opinion piece. Not at all a rehash…really… no really this is a fresh topic.

  • SenecaFire

    While I agree that different people have different values and some of those people don’t want to live on top of each other. I disagree on Light Rail, I’m originally from Portland Oregon and miss having an extensive network of light rail that it has. Buffalo and Western NY has never taken it seriously which is why it is a failure here. It should be either extended or shut down.

  • The Kettle

    Jesse>” Most people on the planet do not want to live on top of one another, regardless of what you city-loving guys believe.”
    I believe it. I also believe most people would prefer to drive a top of the line Mercedes Benz over their current car. But is the “preference” of “most people” enough to justify government subsidies to make high end automobiles more affordable?

  • Greg

    Both good points Jesse.
    Light Rail isn’t sustainable, but there are other modes of transport like BRT and Streetcars that cost much less in some cases and actually work to get people off cars. Both of the mentioned system take up road space, which removes the priority of cars on roads with these systems.
    As for sprawl, I’ve been thinking about reasons why society desires it.
    I think sprawl is so popular because people desire green space. Cities have accessible park systems because many homes lack an immense amount of green space in urban areas. Most homes along Nottingham Terrace do not have a lot of private green space, but right across the street is Delaware Park.
    When the city needed more homes, they built homes. There was less and less thought given to parks and accessibility. The Olmsted parks system worked, but we outgrew the system by the time we built out to the city limits here in Buffalo.
    When cities became congested and dirty with the growth of populations, people desired more green space (sports and recreation). Cities couldn’t bulldoze homes for the sake of greenery (they were worth too much), so people left.
    If there is more accessibility to green space, there would be a feeling of less congestion and pollution, and there would be less need for private green space.

  • KangDangaLang

    Tell me about it, I wonder if STEEL has ever heard of beating a dead horse? Next segment will be The Cost of Sprawl #4: The Unrealized cost of cost of clean Suburban Air. I was actually thinking about this the other night. My GF and I are thinking about buying a new house. Something in the 200-250k range. I started thinking about the options that I have in the City.
    Positive
    1. The energy of the city
    2. Lower property taxes
    3. Older more charming neighborhoods.
    4. More locally owned businesses
    Negatives
    1. Crime
    2. Poor Schools
    3. Poorly maintained roads
    4. The cost of housing in my price range in a nice safe neighborhood is N/A.
    5. Lack of any yard (front or back)
    …..I’ve been looking at houses for a long time and all the ones I come across are 8 feet away from your neighbors house with no back yard, and you would need a ton of money sunk into them to modernize and make them energy efficient. As far as the suburbs I came to this realization…
    Positive
    1. Well maintained roads
    2. Cheaper more up to date housing
    3. More energy efficient homes
    4. Larger yards
    5. Better schools
    6. Safer neigborhoods
    Negative
    1. Less character
    2. Higher property taxes
    3. Longer communte to job
    ……in the end the next house I get will def be in the suburbs. The cost of having a car comes no where near the cost of sending kids to private high school, because the city can not offer my children any better options than, City Honors, Hutch Tech, and a couple of Charter Schools.

  • STEEL

    What are you basing your statement about Light rail on? I would like to see that research.

  • Jesse

    Listen, I LIKE rail. I lived in the UK for 6 months and used public transportation of all sorts almost every day.
    But the economics of rail just don’t add up. Even in Portland, OR. It’s simply too costly.
    My only issue with local bus service is the fact that the NFTA doesn’t appear to understand that there are such things as small buses, they even have a name: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midibus

  • JSmith

    A failure? The Metro Rail, as limited as it may be, carries about 20% of the ridership of the entire NFTA system! It has the 4th highest ridership (passenger boardings per mile) of any light rail system in the United States.
    What would you need to consider it a success!?? The only failure is that we haven’t capitalized on it and expanded it further.

  • Jesse

    Hey, come to East Aurora, you can get the positives of most of your list, with few of the negatives other than the property tax. 😉

  • JSmith

    Sally and BurchJP, why don’t you guys take up Steel’s invitation to write an article for Buffalo Rising in defense of sprawl and automobile-exclusive development? That would be a fresh topic, since no one ever takes him up on the offer.

  • Jesse

    Give me a break STEELie old boy:
    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=light+rail+economics
    You are so subjective on this, it’s hard for you to believe anything other than the myths. I imagine you with a striped suit and top hat, leading your flock with chants of “monorail, monorail, MONORAIL!”

  • KangDangaLang

    There has been tons on comments in recent weeks about the price of light rail per mile. Its a general conscientious that it is to expensive. Read the comments on the Larkin Expansion, that will give you all the information you need.

  • Jesse

    We don’t have to defend suburban life. The entire American population’s preference for it pretty well demonstrates it.
    If it fails once gas prices go too high, then so be it. We (well, not me, I’m a happy village dweller) will move back in.
    You guys and trying to turn the tide of public opinion, not us. The onus is on you.

  • jag

    Nice piece. I just take one issue with it and that’s “But, like all American cities, public transit in Buffalo is a distant priority to the accommodation of cars.”
    I can’t speak for many cities, but Washington D.C. very much prioritizes public transit. 56% of the metro region uses public transportation, bikes, or walks to and from work every day and that number is only growing (and quickly). This is in large part because of the focus on expansion of bus lines and subway lines (the new “Silver” line is currently being built in Northern VA and the “Purple” line is currently gathering funding in MD).
    In addition to bus and Metro expansion, the city is aggressively adding multiple trolley lines to add new public transit arteries to previously depopulated sections of the city, which has already brought about the revitalization of a number of those areas (see “H Street”).
    Additionally, the city is currently doing a number of traffic impact studies where they want to drastically alter a number of busy (read: traffic congested) streets to make “bus only” lanes to make sure those taking public transit don’t get stuck in all the crap cars make for themselves.
    So while I’d agree that much of the US is far too weak when it comes to encouraging public transit, I wouldn’t say it’s a distant priority in every American city.

  • STEEL

    The first link proves that the way we currently do light rail is uneconomical. Of course the current underfunded half assed rail system in the US does not make sense. We do everything in our power to make that the case. That however, does not prove that rail is not economically viable. The rest of the links you sent actually make a case for rail.

  • KangDangaLang

    …..because its pretty much common sense. In the 50’s the majority of the “have’s” left the “have not’s” in the city to deal with the crime, dirty conditions, and older decaying houses. While they moved to the newer cleaner suburbs. So to feel any guilt about that is rediculous. Chris Collins said it best, Erie County Suburbs pay 2/3 of the taxes, and receive 1/3 the services. While the city pays 1/3 the taxes and receives 2/3 the services. Cost of Sprawl (?) is a dead argument.

  • N. Page

    If you couldn’t find a house in the city for 250 that met point number 4 you either did not look or never wanted to live within its limits in the first place. I could point out over 20 houses that met your criteria and to boot would have lower taxes

  • N. Page

    I mean over 20 for sale right now

  • STEEL

    Can I see the research on those figures. Are you including spending on individuals such as medicaid and medicare in those services. Are you including jails and courts and hospitals in those services? The figures I have seen show that the suburban governments account for far more spender per person that city. I like to see the actual figures then I can respond better.

  • buffalofalling

    So its sprawl’s fault that this family chose to live where it did, overspend on its housing and leave itself with unreliable transportation. The American Dream isn’t an entitlement and because someone will give you a loan doesn’t mean its a good idea and you shouldn’t analyze your finances and situation, as shown by the horrible predicament we’re in right now because of these bad decisions. Again, another pathetic “macro” view of sprawl that fails to account for “micro” and regionally contextual aspects of WNY. I can cherry pick stories and data to support any argument on any subject.
    And as for light rail, it generally doesn’t support itself, even in Portland. Any argument to contrary is myopic. However, road construction and maintenance isn’t supprting itself either. Instead of arguing on some sort of ethical or equity foundation, you can make the argument, more intelligently, one that supports policy that re-allocates money away from road construction and into mass transit.
    Those NFTA stats are funny. If 20% of all riders of the NFTA are taking the Metro, which is basically a ghost train, that tells you how little ridership overall there is. Therefore, that stat is meaningless. Tell me the overall percent of people within the entire system ride. That’s ridership. And if you did that, you’d find that a minimal number of residents in NFTA’s service area ride.
    So the issue in WNY is one of equity because the vast majority of people do drive. So how do you tell them “Hey, sorry, we’re not maintaining your roads anymore, you have to start taking the bus because that’s what we’re going to spend out money on”?

  • KangDangaLang

    Copy a hyperlink then, plus try to meets that option. Also it must not need 50k in renovations either.

  • jag

    The irony of point to high gas prices as a reason why sprawl might not be a “preference” is pretty funny, considering artificially low gas prices is one (of many) ways the government has manipulated market conditions to encourage sprawl. Also, to claim it’s the “entire American population’s preference” to live in the suburbs is flat wrong. It might be the baby-boom preference, but the vast majority of Gen X and Gen Yers are aggressively undoing the damage done by the old “American Dream” (aka white flight) and living lives where “density,” “walkability,” “transit option,” and “sustainability” take precedence over lot size and number of half-baths.

  • JSmith

    Average weekday ridership for the Metro Rail is about 20,000 passengers per day. Total weekday ridership for NFTA is about 100,000 per day.
    My experience as an occasional rider of the Metro Rail and buses is that they are typically quite full (some bus lines are experiencing overcrowded and they have had to add extra buses recently). Certainly a far sight from a “ghost train” (or bus).

  • N. Page
  • OutsidetheBox

    Living in the suburbs and buying vehicles to get around is a personal choice. While I would certainly agree that taking mass transit is much cheaper vs owning and maintaining a vehicle, I don’t mind having and using a car (in fact, I actually have two Gasp!). I would rather pay more any day of the week to have Point A to Point B direct travel than have to deal with mass transit which may get me close to my workplace, but not at the front step, and I’ll also have to double the amount of time it takes me to go anywhere. I understand the costs involved with personal transportation but I’m more than willing to pay for that.

  • STEEL

    So you don’t even consider people who prefer the city to be Americans? Wow.

  • KangDangaLang

    I forgot only the Suburbs have jails, medicare, medicaid, jails, courts, and hospitals. That post was a real laugher!

  • KangDangaLang

    That is the last gasp of a desperate man, when someone has nothing left to argue they say, “let me see the stats that back that up”. Call Chris Collins im sure he has them.

  • davvid

    I’m always surprised that my parents/aunts & uncles cannot foresee the community(city or suburb) changing as much in next fifty years as it has in last fifty years. Its as though their generation were the first and last people on the planet.

  • STEEL

    I think it is reasonable to ask for backup when someone throws out figures like that. That is not desperation. I simply would like to see how the information was generated. can you help me find the study that you cite?

  • KangDangaLang

    I think its safe to say that you and I have a different appreciation of what “nice” houses are. Those houses were okay, but every single one was elbow to a$$hole close its neighbor. Thats just not what im looking for. Plus im not a huge fan of the Starin Hertel area either. There are way to many renters in that region. I want to be surrounded by homeowners. Plus most houses were ugly and every single one would need to be painted and each kitchen besides one would need a heavy update. Thanks for the links though (ps one house was also 269k).

  • 16thStreet

    Give me a break. 250k and you can’t find a decent house in Blo? Broaden your searches off Lincoln or Chapen and you should have a nice selection.
    Crime? Please. My friends in the burbs have had their tires slashed, neighbors houses broken into, their cars broken into.
    Schools? City Honors, Nardin, and Hutch Tech are some of the best schools in the country.
    If you want land, you can buy a city block on the East Side with your budget! Put up your little white picket fence, done!

  • STEEL

    I think you have hit on a very important aspect of our societal psychology.

  • KangDangaLang

    Read any article on “white flight” or 50’s suburban movement they will clearly state that those means (wealthy) left the urban city core and those without means (less wealthy) stayed. Of course this is not 100 percent of the wealthy/middle class but it does represent the majority.

  • STEEL

    Then why are you the first to jump on here each time to do just that? By the way we are not talking about suburban life. We are talking about sprawl. There is plenty of sprawl in the city and it is just as insidious there.

  • Dan

    There’s a huge difference between the Phoenix and Buffalo housing markets.
    Because the Phoenix area is growing, theoretically there’s a shortage of housing to accommodate the newcomers. Thus, new houses for middle- and moderate-income homebuyers are built on the urban fringe, as housing closer to employment centers becomes more expensive.
    In Buffalo, the population is declining. The housing needs for middle- and moderate-income families are met through the existing housing stock. Anthony Downs calls this the “trickling down effect”, where housing built for upper income groups is passed down to lower income groups through time. Evidence of this is everywhere in the Buffalo area; witness Eggertsville and Cleveland Hill today.
    Unlike Phoenix, most new housing in the Buffalo area is built for the upper end of the market. There’s very little new middle-end or starter housing being built in the Buffalo area, except patio homes (marketed towards senior citizens more so than families), subsidized houses in the inner city, and some “bang for the buck” houses in Wheatfield; large homes at a low cost in an unattractive suburb with few amenities.
    In Phoenix, it’s the middle- and working-class that face the burden of “drive until you qualify”, while the affluent live closer to employment centers. In Buffalo, it’s the opposite; the affluent increasingly live in the outer suburbs, and theoretically face longer commutes than lower income groups. In Phoenix, the cheaper housing is on the region’s far edges; in Buffalo, it’s where the most expensive housing is found. In Phoenix, they’re building new Tonawandas. In Buffalo, it’s mostly new Scottsdales.

  • reflip

    @ BurchJP:
    “the city can not offer my children any better options than, City Honors, Hutch Tech, and a couple of Charter Schools.”
    City Honors is ranked as the best public high school in Erie County. So, if you want something comparable in a public school, you’ll have to move to Pittsford (a suburb of Rochester). Whatever suburban HS in Erie County that you settle on won’t be as good. But if you’re happy with settling when it comes to your child’s education so that you can have a “nice” house, then by all means – flaunt it.

  • Mark_P

    Great series Steel.
    I regret buying my first house in Amherst. I came across a deal I couldn’t pass up, complete with a unique garage that happened to fit my automotive/machining hobby. But I’m so sick of ugly box-store buildings I have to drive to, and being 45 minutes away from work downtown whenever it so much as rains. Cars are my passion, but commuting isnt driving, its just a waste of time and money.
    After my 3 years are up, if I can find a nice house between downtown and delaware park that fits my needs, Id make the jump in a second. Then I’d buy a bike and pedal to work, saving the car for fun drives to the track and cruises.

  • JSmith

    But in either model (“drive until you qualify” or “build as far out as you can afford”) there is no necessary reason for development to be automobile-exclusive. It seems especially absurd to build lower-income housing developments in such a way to virtually require the financial burden of a personal vehicle for each resident.
    Even if a low-income family in the Phoenix metro area has to live 30 miles from downtown, life would be a lot easier and more manageable for them if they lived in a mixed-use neighborhood that allowed them to walk or bicycle to jobs, stores, schools, parks, etc. But I suspect they don’t have those options, because that’s not how we build neighborhoods in the US anymore (in large part because most zoning codes make those neighborhoods illegal).

  • Dan

    16thStreet> Give me a break. 250k and you can’t find a decent house in Blo? Broaden your searches off Lincoln or Chapen and you should have a nice selection.
    I can believe it. People in Buffalo just don’t update their houses, at least compared to other cities where I’ve lived. Sure, you’ll find large houses on nice streets for $250K, but they’re likely going to be time capsules, with 1950s-era kitchens and bathrooms, “fancy” accouterments like mirrored walls and gaudy chandeliers, and the like. A $250K house, even on a street like Fordham or Crescent, may need $50K to $100K of additional work to bring it up to date.
    When I lived in Cleveland, there was no shortage of small houses with modern kitchens and bathrooms on the market; not necessarily with HGTV-style “OMG granite countertops and stainless appliances!”, but they were still contemporary. In Buffalo, whenever I’ve been to an open house or estate sale, it’s quite the opposite.

  • KangDangaLang

    I could find a decent house for 80k. Its not a matter of decent, its a matter of finding one that I like. Houses in my price rang do not have the features that my demographic is looking for. I have a house that I have renovated the whole downstairs of, and Im kind of sick of it. So the next house I buy I want to be move in ready, and like I said before, the city does not provide what im looking for in my price range. I have had four different friends who located to the suburbs because of the same issue I face. One being no yards, two being bad schools, three being crime. So its not a matter or decent, its a matter of finding whats right for me.

  • STEEL

    Wasn’t Cleveland mortgage crash central. Maybe they were spending too much on their fancy kitchens.
    250K in Chicago does not get you a cool modern kitchen, a swank neighborhood or very much space. It might get you vinyl siding rather than asphalt but that would be quite a find.

  • KangDangaLang

    Thank You! Most city houses that are in my price range need at least 30k in updates. Thats not including painting and taking down all the flower patterned wall paper.

  • 16thStreet

    It’s about 50/50. I’ve seen many time capsules but when you really look at it, it’s nothing a few bucks can’t fix.
    I’ve seen many, like mine, that have been updated in the 90’s. After a few gallons of paint, new lights, appliances, and faucets, the place looks pretty up to date, minus the granite…

  • KangDangaLang

    The comment was meant to read that City Honors Hutch Tech and a few Charter Schools were the only good options.

  • reflip

    How many good options do you need?

  • Daniel Sack

    Suburbanites will always point out the subsidies required for light rail but never think about the subsidies for all their roads and parking. And never even know about the subsidies to their low density developments.
    Yes – go to East Aurora on the subsidized I-190, I-90 and Rt. 400, subsidized for you by the rest of us. Your welcome!
    Rt. 219 extension: $30 million/mile + maintenance + snow plowing + land that is no longer taxable + loss to businesses along the road it bypasses. Anyone who thinks this highway (or possible extensions) will revitalize the Southern Tier is just plain stupid. Sorry – I couldn’t think of a nicer way to say it.

  • KangDangaLang

    More than 4 or 5 out of 15-20.

  • reflip

    Why?

  • jag

    Coincidentally, a real estate blog I follow has a short article today on Gen Yers and how different they are in that GenY is “motivated by experiences” and don’t care nearly as much about home size as they do location and how driving isn’t part of the new American Dream – being connected is.
    Makes sense. This generation has grown up with things being at their finger tips – they don’t want to have to get in a car and drive to work, drive home from work, drive to the grocery store, drive to go out to eat, etc., they want to live in a vibrant, walkable community and the status symbols of how many cars one owns or how well manicured someones lawn is doesn’t even register as something that one would be proud of to this generation. E.g. my friends and I all poke fun at our one buddy who moved to the suburbs for the sake of having a townhome instead of a condo.
    VERY big mindset change (couple years removed from McMansions and SUVs) in a very short span.
    http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/generation_y_wants_the_dream_neighborhood_not_the_dream_home/2739

  • KangDangaLang

    I love how the word “subsidies” is tossed around like a dime store hooker. This same phrase makes my skin crawl everytime I hear it. Its just like the words “socialism” and “entitlements”. Most people who use them often use them incorrectly or toss them around like a fear gernade waiting to explode. The truth is that anything type of money given from the government to offset the cost of development is a subsidy. Shoot farmers get subsidies to burn crops for crying out loud. And dont think for one second that roads and buildings in the core of the city do not get subsidies. What do you think the historic tax credit is for revamping all the old DT buildings? Here is a link so people out their can get up to speed on how many projects out there receive subsidies, and the different types of subsidies. PS leave the who “we” argument out of it, because like I said before the Suburbs pay more taxes to the county than the city does and receives fewer of the benefits. So save the crying baby speech.

  • Sweet Lincolns Mullet

    Funny how Steel never mentions that the NFTA is subsidized by the tax payers regardless if they use the service. Imagine the price of ridership if it was only supported by those who use the service. Dont complain about the few who dont use the roads when the many are paying for the NFTA. Also if those roads werent maintained all those NFTA buses wouldnt be able to get down their routes.

  • KangDangaLang

    …..because there is no guarantee that any child could get into City Honors or Hutch Tech. And leaving your childs education up to chance is not something im comfortable with when you can move to the suburbs IE Williamsville Clarence Hamburg OP Lancaster etc and have a good school to go to.

  • Sally

    15 years ago it was 28,000 per day on the metro rail and the original projection was daily ridership of 44,000 metro rail riders per day for the 6.4 mile train.

  • JSmith

    Ah yes, a good school like “Heroin High” in Lancaster, where only 5% of the student body has a serious drug addiction.
    http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/buffalo-news/mi_8030/is_20100122/17-dead-heroin/ai_n48736355/

  • grad94

    which is why buffalo has such a stunning supply of victorians with intact stained glass, mantelpieces, paneling, pocket doors, pantries, etc. lots of people did not “update” these things into oblivion.

  • STEEL

    But drivers do benefit from mass transit. Imagine the traffic jams if there was no mass transit. On the contrary mass transit users are hurt by spending on roads because the easier it is to use a car the less easy and less economically feasible it becomes to use a bus or train. Public policy has rarely worked in favor of mass transit in America which has, for the most part, resulted in inconvenient and expensive service.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    I have payed County Taxes for over 30 years and reside in the City of Buffalo. Please explain what I receive in return from Erie County. They do not provide Sheriff patrols as they do for the struggling towns of Clarence and Grand Island. They do not plow our roads but in fact turn around at the city line. They weaseled out of maintaining the regions parks that happen to be in Buffalo and Collins has attempted to starve what is left of our library system.
    I have not used the jail, or social services, or medicaid, all the supposed “city” things that in fact benefit the entire County. All County services other than the above almost exclusively benefit the suburbs. It is time for City taxpayers to demand more from a County government that seems to only advocate for those outside of Buffalo.

  • Sweet Lincolns Mullet

    Without roads buses would be of no use. So the people using the buses are benefitted by the roads just as much as those who drive their own vehicles. Just because some people opt to use or not use a mode of transportation does not make it a wrong choice. Much of it comes down to the individuals economic standing and convienence. I for one would rather have the convienence of my own car than have to rely on transferring from bus to bus. But I can easily afford to do so. Do I look down upon those who dont, NO. Maybe your jealous that you cant afford to live like that in Chicago. But that really isnt my problem.
    Your example of the family in Pheonix, obviously they made some very poor financial decisions. How is that sprawls fault. Nobody forced them to buy a house, nobody put a gun to their heads demanding such. They exercised their freedoms and made poor choices financially. Its all of those people that did the same that helped ruin our economy.

  • Billo

    BurchJP – your feined interest in city living is laughable. Let me paraphrase your desire “Find me a suburban style neighborhood with newly built / modern houses in a great location with no renters and I’ll think about staying in the city.” Nothing wrong with wanting to live in the suburbs, but don’t bother listing out the pros and cons of the city and suburbs when you have a clear preference for the latter.
    I love how parents are so high on life they think they need to have a so called “good school district” to send their kids to. If only that made geniuses out of everyone…
    If you want to have your sterile life with your sterile car and your “move-in ready” home, freshly paved streets, and a huge yard with your riding mower, more power to you. Just don’t waste our time by implying you have any interest in urban living because your comments tell a different story.

  • Sweet Lincolns Mullet

    Are you kidding me. You really belive that the City of Buffalo can support all its expenses solely from the tax revenue it collects from the city residents. We all share in money from all levels of government regardless of where you live.

  • Billo

    The entire American population? I guess someone forgot to tell me and the other 8 million New Yorkers about that. If suburbs are so much better then why is housing more costly in the city then over in Jersey or Long Island? If no one wanted to live here, surely the prices would go down. Anyway, enjoy the Village of East Aurora Jesse, I hear there are plenty of open memberships at the Country Club (lol)! Buffalo’s got nothing on NYC but it sure has a lot more to offer than the erie county suburbs – Oh wait, there’s a Buffalo Wild Wings on NF Boulevard? SCORE!!!

  • grad94

    hear, hear.
    as jsmith says, if the case for continuing to build automobile-exclusive, single use developments in greenfields is that easy to make, you should be able to write it in your sleep. let’s hear it.
    oh, and “everybody likes it” is a weak argument, because the millions of people who prefer cities do not like it. even if 100% of americans love chocolate, that doesn’t make it the ideal basis for all meals.

  • Black Rock Lifer

    We as taxpayers living in Buffalo receive little if anything from County government. Those receiving social services are a regional responsibility, the majority are by design concentrated in the City of Buffalo. That does not mean we should count County tax dollars spent on social services as a benefit to the city. In fact we are more than willing to share those social services dollars and the recipients with any and all of our suburban neighbors.

  • C.K. Dexter Haven

    I was living in the king city of sprawl, Los Angeles, during the 80’s. It seemed like the continued sprawl out into the desert was endless as were their commutes. I wondered what would happened when gas got expensive (though still cheaper than bottled water)? How would they manage? How long could they commute 2-3 hours a day? It seemed much more logical to build up than out. Pasadena is a good example of how to do things right or at least better.
    LA used to have an amazing network of trolleys, the old red cars, and are paying dearly for a new subway/train system.
    davvid and jag were spot on with their comments. Younger generations have different desires for living and are more welcoming to diveristy found in cities.

  • 300miles

    Dan: “…the Phoenix area is growing…”
    That may no longer be true. The 2010 census will say for sure. But there are indications that their stunning growth rate came to a screeching halt during the later half of this decade.
    If that is true, they could be facing the same rude awakening Buffalo had during the 1960’s when our plans for growth and revenue no longer matched reality.

  • STEEL

    Without so many cars roads would be fewer and narrower and there would be no highways

  • reflip

    Of course Lancaster is a good school district! It does have a 97% white student population, after all! And that’s about as deep as anyone cares to dig around here. Accordingly, nobody sees a problem, nobody asks any questions. No one to witness and adjust, no one to drive the car.

  • Pegger

    I agree with BurchJP’s analysis especially when it comes to the school concerns. Buffalo IMHO is not a place for families who cannot afford a private education. The suburban schools are excellent. It is the major factor in selecting a place to raise kids.
    Buffalo is very fortunate in that the sprawl isn’t as bad as it could be and is in other metro areas. But that, in part, is due to the depopulation in recent decades.

  • Max

    Phoenix is a poster child for the hangover the nation’s facing from its infatuation with sprawl. Phoenix witnessed a 50+ non-stop building frenzy, fueled by the post war affluence and relatively cheap supplies of energy, water and capital. That’s all coming to a rather abrupt end and the segments of the economy which depended on that are left withering in the desert wind. Phoenix has to decide how it will adapt to those new realities. The Light Rail was a huge step but there’s a larger question of scale of the place and how it will sustain.

  • OutsidetheBox

    Lancaster is ranked better than the vast majority of high schools in Buffalo. It’s not in the top ten but it’s certainly not at the bottom of the list.
    Besides, name me a high school that doesn’t have a small percentage of the students taking drugs.

  • cottagedistrict

    Thank you Steel!! What a great series of posts from you. We need people like you in Buffalo and running for public office. I know that a position on the city council couldn’t possibly match what you get paid as one of Chicago’s top architects, put it would do wonders for Buffalo. Do you have any political aspirations? Mayor in 2020???

  • Sally

    But we don’t have him in Buffalo he posts from afar because he could not make a go of it here.

  • cottagedistrict

    We need to get him back home!

  • Travelrrr

    You have an inherent ability to support your arguments Sally, so you need to resort to personal attacks? What a douche bag you are.
    Thank you for helping to raise the bar on our collective consciousness Steel-it is a tough subject (Americans do NOT like to be told what to do), but sprawl is wreaking havoc on our communities and there is no longer reason for Buffalo to participate with it (particularly with a shrinking population).

  • Travelrrr

    inability not “ability”

  • urbanboarder

    Crime in the city is almost 100% drug related. Is it just me, or has there been a rash of recent violent crimes in the suburbs? The young girl who was found dead in her bed in Amherst, the woman that was murdered in a Tonawanda motel and now a woman beaten to death by her husband in Cheektowaga. Just saying. Crime is not restricted to the City of Buffalo. Most established and vibrant neighborhoods are very safe. See: http://spotcrime.com/ny/buffalo

  • slowrollin99

    I agree with you that green spaces are something that is attractive to most every human. Fresh air vs. smog, open roads vs. congestion, etc.. I feel that your viewpoints reflect those of Georg Simmel and that by over stressing the sensory stimulation of the human being by means of sound pollution, air pollution coupled with a need for introversion by means of staying focused on what fuels your own personal need to survive may make suburban life more appealing than city life to some.
    However, I feel strongly that the way that Buffalo became to be a decentralized city has much more to do with the decisions of Mayor Sedita and Governor Rockefeller during the Detroit era coupled with a now defunct visualization of the American dream. That era saw growth in industrial sectors along with the a realization of the automobile as a primary means of transport for the country. People made money working in industry then took their money and built new homes (in the burbs) bought new cars and choose to commute greater distances to work daily in light of our luxuries. Maybe because they wanted a green space, maybe because they wanted a new Fleetwood Brougham, maybe because of busing programs in public schools designed for integration. Maybe.
    While the reasons for sprawl are many the future holds a much different American Dream. With competition for resources mounting from BRIC ( Brazil, Russia, India and China) the cost of sprawl will greatly outweigh the cost of sustainable mass transit over the next 50 years. Our current infrastructure is obsolete and a great amount of investment is needed (Investment that should create jobs and a new economic growth within our country). Not only to save the environment, create density in the city of Buffalo or prevent further sprawl but also to usher in a new era. The new American dream should not be to bend over for the Saudis or other petro dictatorships so that we can fulfill our hegemonic ideals of masculinity or patriotism. I am a Man because I ride my bike to work and not a Cheap imitation Hum-V on a Chevy Frame or a gaudy Cadillac Escalade that screams vanity and shouts I spent more on my car so I am better more patriotic. FALSE. Those ideas of the past are no longer patriotic but fueling Americas collapse and dependency on foreign oil. Macro sociopolitical realities aside the goal is to make Buffalo a great city once again and we must realize that new ways of approaching an old problem are needed and must be implemented.

  • bhorvath

    I’m witholding all commentary until “The Cost of Sprawl #26b – Ultra Trace Contaminants of Bisphenols in Water Puddles Created by New Roads Built for New Houses for Stupid Humans”, the eagerly anticipated follow up to “The Cost of Sprawl #26a – Higher Incidence of Mental Retardation in The Vinyl Sided Subdivisions of WNY: A Cause and Effect Relationship For Sprawl”

  • KangDangaLang

    That article will be right behind the article titled, United Coalition of Preservationists for a More Historical and Accurate Buffalo.Whos motto is that no project can go forward until it looks like it was designed in the early 1900’s. It must also have small lots 5 feet away from your neighbor, ample greenspace included in the design, room for light rail expansion, bike paths on both sides of the street, along with a walking path that leads to someplace that no one cares about.

  • KangDangaLang

    ………and must be privately funded with no tax credits, no tax rebates, no historic tax credits, no government subsidies, and Tim Tielman must be placed on the board of directors, and if a board is not already present, one is created. On top of that only people who can make design suggestions are ones that pay BRO a one time fee for an Urban Development Degree made from crayon, hopes and dreams from the dead Canalside project and Peace Bridge expansions, and a frame made form 100 percent recycled Erie Canal Barges.

  • jhorn

    bhorvath- “higher incidence of mental retardation in the vinyl sided…” careful what you wish for, even facetiously. see the movie “blue vinyl”

  • The Kettle

    Strange comment. You start off by badmouthing people throwing the “subsidy grenade” but you end by doing a little subsidy mongering yourself. I guess this is okay for you but not for others.