High Density Planning & Living

Jim Johnson, Director of Downtown Development for Fort Worth Inc., recently visited Santa Fé Station to give a rundown of what all affected the policy decisions of development within a community. He explained that enforcing sustainability through public policy initiatives involves many components and that every decision made comes with a widespread effect. Johnson is Director of Development for a TIF district in downtown Fort Worth and that left me wondering what exactly a TIF is?

TIF stands for Tax Increment Financing; a way of developing or redeveloping areas by way of using future tax gains to start current projects that will increase the overall value of the surrounding area. This subsidy has taken off in many cities around the country and has been successful here in Fort Worth, according to Johnson. The goals of implementing sustainable policy in TIF districts are to increase surrounding property values, tax revenues, local investment and community involvement & wellness. On paper this policy looks great, but the possibility of gentrification (rich moving in, poor moving out) still exists. TIFs are from the mind-set of  “spending money to make money” or spending future revenues now to make greater revenues later and they come with pros and cons; but the more financial avenues for redevelopment that local communities have, leaves more options for positive/lasting outcomes, especially when sustainable solutions are factored into the planning and policy process.

“High Density” living and development, Johnson’s reoccurring theme,  reminded me of a recent article I had read in GOOD Magazine. Now in Texas where land is abundant, we have embraced spreading out, rather than building up and high density development is seen as uncomfortable and living on top of each other, but there are actually many benefits to high density living. The recent article “Why New York’s Life Expectancy is the Highest in the Nation” by Nona Willis, can attest to the benefits of a high density life. After announcing the new famed life expectancy of New York City, Mayor Bloomberg explained that “anti-smoking and anti-obesity campaigns, higher taxes on cigarettes, and calorie-count requirements for fast food restaurants. The city has also expanded testing and treatment of people with HIV and upped the quality of obstetric and pediatric care. (GOOD)” Many other benefits have been attributed to high density living, such as high pedestrian rates, shorter distances to business and services, neighborhood engagement, cultural attractions and decreases in social isolation. Gentrification is still a problem in areas of New York, but it appears that more people thrive as they interact with each other, instead of being locked in their homes and cars.

Unfortunately Downtown Fort Worth, Inc. has set its sights on increasing free/available parking to downtown visitors. This strategy will stimulate business growth in the area, which will in turn encourage investment and community involvement, but is there a better way to encourage community affiliation? Is it sustainable to encourage automobile accommodation when other cities (New York) are thriving due to the lack of access to private transportation?

References: http://www.dfwi.org/http://www.good.is/post/the-good-city-life-why-new-york-s-life-expectancy-is-the-highest-in-the-nation/http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/new-yorkers-life-expectancy-reaches-80-6-years-higher-than-national-rate/ http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Tax_increment_financinghttp://www.in.gov/indot/div/projects/i69planningtoolbox/_pdf/Tax%20Increment%20Financing.pdfhttp://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/ss/sstif.pdf

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