City & Local Reform
It turns out that you can fight town hall. Here’s how we’re standing up for local citizens and winning.
In 1989, public transit advocates argued that Valtrans was the only system that could prevent the Valley of the Sun from turning into a traffic-choked, smog-shrouded "Carmageddon."
Put together after two years, 200 public meetings, and the expenditure of $7 million, Valtrans was an ambitious plan. A 30-year, half-cent increase in the sales tax would raise $8.4 billion to pay for 103 miles of rail transit, 1,500 new buses, a commuter rail line between Chandler and Phoenix, more freeways, and various other projects.
Residents and public officials in urban areas around the world are concerned about traffic congestion and air pollution. Of the two problems, traffic congestion is the more intractable, because improved vehicle technologies are already having a dramatic effect on improving air quality.
The National Park Service (NPS) has spent years designing and redesigning transportation plans for Grand Canyon National Park. The current state of these plans calls for a light rail system to be used to shuttle visitors into and out of the park. The stated goal of the transit system is "to provide more convenient access to the park than is now experienced." The premise is that the quality of the visitors' experience is currently being degraded not only by increasing congestion, but by the mere presence of the internal combustion engine.
Steve McQueen, the actor, once said that he would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth. This is a typically American attitude toward cities. This distaste of the city environment, the cramped spaces, the crowds, the pollution and the noise goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson who dreamt of a nation founded on yeomen farmers. Although there aren't many farmers today, the dream lives on in many families who wish to live in their own, single, detached home.
Over the past twenty years, governments all over the world have transferred the responsibility for providing services out of their hands and into the private sector. One of the pioneers in this movement has been the city of Phoenix, Arizona. However, instead of dismantling the public agency providing the service and hiring a private contractor, the city allows the public agency to bid for the contract as well. Phoenix estimates the competitive process has saved it over $30 million since 1979.
The modern metropolis, as critics see it, sends irregular tentacles of low density development snaking through pristine areas, leaving behind large amounts of unused land and under-used infrastructure. To many, the Phoenix metropolitan area epitomizes the problem. Policies to encourage more infill-that is, to locate more development within the urbanized area rather than on its fringes-are advocated as a route to more efficient use of land and existing infrastructure, preservation of open-space, decreased cost of public services, and improved economic and social conditions, as well as to alleviate the general atmosphere of disorder.
As the Phoenix area continues to grow and add new residents, problems of air pollution, traffic congestion, finance, and transit will continue to receive attention from citizens, media, and policymakers. Since the Phoenix area is a good example of the suburb-focused, low-density format of growth and development, many calls for change have laid the blame for our woes at sprawl's doorstep. This study discusses the sources of sprawl, compares measures of sprawl across metropolitan areas, and prescribes market-based incentives to minimize its impact on residents.