One week ago, the Spokane County commissioners opted to gobble up another 6,000 acres of surrounding countryside to build more cookie-cutter homes and strip malls. Their expansion of the urban growth area (UGA) could end up costing taxpayers an additional $64 million. Developers and big-box stores are the ones who most stand to benefit.
In his recent column titled “Growth vote unsupported by the math,” the Spokesman-Review‘s Shawn Vestal outlines some of the opposition to the UGA vote as well as the commissioners’ less-than-forthright approach to its actual costs:
The question of whether to expand the county’s growth boundary — whether to sprawl expensively or grow in a more concentrated, smarter fashion — has been an interesting case. Against the objections of everyone from Spokane Mayor David Condon to state growth officials to activist groups, county commissioners Al French, Todd Mielke and Shelly O’Quinn [have] voted unanimously to sprawl.
He references a less euphemistic blog post by Daniel Walters at the Inlander, “Spokane County really screwed up its Urban Growth Area math,” which in turn references a Spokesman news article on the subject.
This decision is something that will affect us at both the city and neighborhood levels.
Sprawl makes us more reliant on cars (thereby increasing traffic and pollution), creates more vacant retail stores and homes near the city center (a surefire way to speed neighborhood collapse), and costs more in taxpayer money in the long run (the additional infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain, and big-box stores draw more money away from the community than they put in). The arguments in favor of sprawl are hard to find — we’d welcome any in the comments.
One of the reasons people proudly cite for living in Spokane is its easy access to green spaces: “Just a 30-minute drive and you’re in the forest!” Urban sprawl beats nature further back, which means that 30-minute drive will eventually become an hour. With the commissioners’ approach to the UGA, over time that clever “Near Nature, Near Perfect” tourist slogan will simply become: “Near Wal-Mart.”