I was dumbfounded while listening o WXXI’s 1370 Connection on Thursday. Guest Joseph Minicozzi of North Carolina’s Urban3 design consultants noted Rochester and Toronto’s downtowns are roughly the same size. Indeed, plotted on Google earth, they are each about 4 square miles around.
Minicozzi was pointing out Toronto had dense development, while Rochester has…a lot of parking lots. Cities can get much more bang for the buck per acre when there are buildings instead of wasted land.
We’ll use the city of Asheville as an example. Asheville realizes an astounding +800 percent greater return on downtown mixed-use development projects on a per acre basis compared to when ground is broken near the city limits for a large single-use development like a Super Walmart. A typical acre of mixed-use downtown Asheville yields $360,000 more in tax revenue to city government than an acre of strip malls or big box stores.
It’s easy to see how you might now be scratching your head. How can you compare a mall with a building? Is that really comparing apples to apples? The point is that we have been perpetuating an error when it comes to how we think about real estate. Our mistake has been looking at the overall value of a development project rather than its per unit productivity. Especially relevant in these times of limited public means, every city should be thinking long and hard about encouraging, and not accidentally discouraging, the property tax bonus that comes with mixed-use urbanism. Put simply, density gets far more bang for its buck.
Perhaps comparing Rochester and with the mega-city of Toronto is not entirely fair. But they do have one thing in common: the geographic size of their downtowns. The similarities end there, much to Toronto’s benefit.
Links of the Day:
– Some Seattle teachers are refusing to give district exams to students.
– The $7 billion deal between the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable will mean higher rates for subscribes.
– When families visit prisons, they take pictures in front of sad photo backdrops.