September 23, 2011

Sprawl means debt

posted by Diana Gibson

Edmonton's figures show that new neighbourhoods in the outskirts are going to cost the City money - a lot of money.  More than they bring in - by billions of dollars.

Why not simply say no to such developments?  In the past, pro-sprawl developers and politicians have dangled the promise of higher tax revenues. Edmonton was pitted into competition for those tax revenues with neighbouring jurisdictions such as Sherwood Park or Strathcona County.

Now it appears that all Edmonton has been competing for is more debt.

Citizens in Edmonton's older neighbourhoods are subsidizing sprawl over the long term with their taxes. And that is just the real dollar tax costs of the developments, not including the other costs to the citizens such as increased emissions and loss of services such as schools in existing neighbourhoods.

In an era where climate change is a reality, gas prices are high and obesity is epidemic, one might wonder why we are subsidizing sprawl at the cost of neighbourhoods closer to the city centre. Those who buy homes in the outskirts do not want to spend hours a day driving instead of engaging in activities with their families, but those homes appear cheaper. Should we not be offering them affordable home owner options in the city centre instead and letting the real costs of those sprawl homes show up in the home price?

In fact, rather then subsidizing new neighbourhood on the outskirts, should the City not be charging a development levy for the real and hidden costs of sprawl? Or saying no to them all together?

As long as sprawl is subsidized and the City allows older neighbourhood to get neglected, we will not see the kind of densification we need to be a City of the future: transit will falter over low ridership and large areas to cover, schools will be closed, and crime rates will deter renewal.

If Edmontonians want service levels improved and a revitalized downtown, the City will have to stop approving and subsidizing costly sprawling developments.

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