Smart growth benefits municipal budgets by reducing the cost of infrastructure like roadways and water systems; smart growth reduces maintenance costs; and smart growth reduces the costs associated with urban decline, including the reuse of vacant properties and brownfields.
Smart growth costs less to build and maintain.
By emphasizing dense development, smart growth puts existing capacity to work, lowers infrastructure costs per capita, and helps ensure infrastructure is maintained before repairs get expensive.
Shifting roughly 25% of projected low-density growth to more compact development would result in a national savings of $4.2 billion, or 3.7%, for roads, water and sewer operations, and maintenance over a 25 year period.
Smart growth helps municipalities provide public services at a lower cost.
Low-density development requires more fire and police stations – as well as more vehicles and safety equipment – per capita to adequately respond to emergencies. Similarly schools, libraries, parks and hospitals also require upfront infrastructure expenditures that are significantly less expensive in compact communities. Smart growth helps eliminate funding for redundant capacity and makes the most of existing services.
In Maine, between 1970 and 1995, the number of school children declined statewide by 27,000. Yet during that time the state government alone invested $338 million in new school construction to accommodate population shifts from older communities to fast growing regions. The cost of busing students to these new schools increased from $8.7 million to over $54 million during those years.
Smart growth maximizes return on public investment.
Compact development requires less public funds to build, maintain and operate than sprawl, but smart growth also generates more public revenue.
Prince William County, Virginia, found that providing municipal services to a house on a large lot far from existing infrastructure costs the county $1,600 more than is returned in taxes and other revenues.
Dispersed rural development in Colorado costs county governments and schools $1.65 for every $1.00 of tax revenue generated, while farms and forestland cost only 38 cents per $1.00 generated.
Repairing existing infrastructure saves money and resources.
Keeping our existing roads and highways in good repair, rather than building new roads and attending to our current ones later, saves more money than one might think. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent in keeping a good road good precludes spending $6-$14 to rebuild one that has deteriorated.
The same goes for water systems. Aging pipes means losing between 6% and 25% of drinking water to leaks and breaks. In 1995, an estimated 25.4 billion gallons of water leaked out of aging pipes across the every day.
Smart growth helps eliminate the high cost of urban decline.
When urban areas lose population to sprawl development, properties are abandoned, the tax base declines, and infrastructure falls into disrepair. This in turn leads to the deterioration of public services and deferral of capital improvements, raising the cost of doing business and living in the city and spurs further outmigration. The long-term consequence is damage to the regional economy.
Investing in vacant and abandoned properties can revitalize a neighborhood and an economy. By encouraging investment in existing, underused properties municipalities can spur economic growth, increase neighboring property values and reduce crime simultaneously. Learn more about vacant property revitalization here.
Smart growth reduces public health care costs.
Sprawl means more time in cars and less time walking or biking. This in turn means less physical activity, greater emissions rates and more traffic-related injuries and fatalities. Areas of sprawl development are more likely to have higher rates of obesity and hypertension, regardless of gender, age, education levels, smoking and eating habits. Children in neighborhoods lacking access to sidewalks or walking paths, parks or playgrounds, or recreation or community centers had 20-45% higher odds of becoming obese or overweight compared to children who had access to these amenities.
The cost of these statistics to society is staggering. Obesity-related health problems like heart disease and diabetes account for 9% of total U.S. health care spending, amounting to $395 per year per person. Asthma costs over $30 billion each year, and traffic crashes cost an estimated $180 billion. Smart growth development can reduce those trends. Increasing walkability and giving people alternatives to driving can increase physical activity, decrease traffic injuries and reduce health care costs across the board.