For a state to successfully manage growth it must work to make city centers and
existing communities safe, lively and healthy places to live. Some of the states we
studied are taking strides in that direction.
To tame sprawl, states must invest in their downtowns and inner suburbs. Some state
decision-makers are starting to understand that this is part of the equation.
Revitalizing older neighborhoods is the perfect antidote to sprawl. In many cases,
older neighborhoods were designed for pedestrian safety and have a scale and style that
allows people to meet their everyday needs by walking. States that cherish the resources
they have also value the historic properties that give their neighborhoods character, and
often invest in historic preservation.
States that are doing the best job at revitalizing communities are working to keep
financial resources in their city centers. They know that sprawling suburbs siphon taxes
to build new water and sewer lines, new schools and roads, and expanded police and fire
protection. These costs are not fully paid by the taxes of new residents. Instead, sprawl
forces existing residents -- some of them cash-strapped seniors or low-income taxpayers --
to pay higher taxes. Savvy state policy-makers know that when families flee to the
countryside, it drives up costs and erodes the city's tax base, forcing cities to raise
taxes on remaining taxpayers to pay for city services.
The best states work to keep businesses in population centers, rather than promote
sprawling new developments that gobble up open space and encourage flight from our cities.
This downward spiral eventually destroys existing communities -- shoppers are pulled from
once-thriving locally owned stores and restaurants to large regional malls. Soon,
unemployment, lowered property values and fewer investment opportunities add up to a city
that has lost its livability.
The states that rate low in this category are failing to invest in their existing
communities. Most often, they rely on the standard style cookie-cutter suburban
development. Residents must depend on cars for all their trips. Traffic congestion is the
norm. Sadly, a sense of community is often lacking.
To rate the states on how they're doing on community revitalization, we used four
measurements: (1) the health of the urban communities in the state; (2) the state's
efforts to provide and preserve adequate housing for its citizens; (3) how well the state
is preserving historic places; and (4) how well the states are cleaning up brownfields.
Vermont is well-known for its vibrant towns and charming atmosphere. What's not as well
known is the role the state has played in keeping these communities, like Middlebury
(above), healthy.Vermont's land-use law regulating large projects -- Act 250 -- has given
the state the clout needed to fight the giant chain stores. In some cases, citizen outrage
has kept the stores away entirely. In other cases, stores have tailored their plans to fit
Vermont -- building on a smaller scale, or building in redeveloped downtown areas rather
than sprawling into open space.
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
- New Jersey
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- New York
- North Dakota
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