Tuesday, October 31, 2006

It's all your fault...

The blame for growth and all its attendant problems is shared among many: developers, politicians, too trusting homeowners association representatives, and, now, George Bush.

Yes, that’s right, something else is Bush’s fault.

As they battle sprawl, Washington area leaders say they face a stubborn foe, and it's not greedy developers or the tyranny of the automobile or the desire for big houses. It is the United States government.

In scattering employees to the region's outer edges, local officials and planners say, the federal government has undermined efforts to concentrate growth near public transit and the area's urban core -- the strategy local officials see as key to reducing traffic and conserving resources in a booming region.
“But, wait,” heartened Bush supporters will say, “it’s probably the ‘federal bureaucracy’s’ fault that federal offices are contributing to sprawl, over-development and loss of natural areas.”

Which may be true, but as I was reminded recently, the buck has to stop somewhere, and in government, it’s at the top. 

The move is reminiscent of another, far bigger dispersal: the Pentagon's transfer of 30,000 military and civilian employees from Arlington County, the District and other close-in locations to installations farther out, mostly to Fort Belvoir in southern Fairfax. Rather than being near Metro, the jobs, which will be followed by thousands of related contractors, will be in an area with crowded roads and little transit. Also getting thousands more workers are two other posts on the region's fringe, Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Quantico Marine Base in Prince William.

…Other regions also must contend with the consequences of military relocations and other federal actions, but the dominance of the federal government in Washington makes the area uniquely dependent on it. Ideally, officials say, this could be a plus, if the government used its sway to drive unified planning across a region divided among three jurisdictions.

That happened to some extent in the 1990s, planners and officials say, when President Bill Clinton issued an executive order that federal agencies try to locate within downtowns. By dispersing agencies outward, critics say, the federal government is effectively undermining its $10 billion investment in Metro.

"Six or eight years ago, [the federal government] was moving in the right direction . . . but now you have a couple major decisions that undo" past successes, Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette (D) said.
So, under Clinton (a.k.a., the good old days) the federal government endorsed a smart growth approach for the siting of its facilities, while now, under Bush, the policy is one that exacerbates sprawl.

Now, I’m of course being a little silly with this (and both Democrats and Republicans are my intended targets). But the relevant point, that federal government has significant impacts on our settlement and growth patterns (especially in Maryland), is important and underappreciated. I’ve talked a lot in the past about “external” growth pressures that we have almost no control over, and this is one of them. Although few votes for President will ever be decided because of a candidate’s position on federal agency relocations, we should not discount the profound effects of federal priorities on local matters.

Thanks to my pops -- who works in a suburban federal building (that he walks to!) -- for sending along the article.

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