Is growth good? At first blush, most home buyers, and certainly community activists, would respond—probably not. But according to a fresh perspective NAHB staff vice president David Crowe brings to some independent metrics, growth may offer solid benefits that could get people to re-think their gut responses.
In an effort to help association members obtain a fair hearing when they appear before local zoning boards and planning commissions, Crowe, who works in the NAHB's Advocacy Group, started looking at a variety or research and decided to cross-pollinate findings. Through his efforts, Crowe found a positive relationship between additional houses and the livability of the area where those houses are being built.
Of course, that's a conclusion that naysayers might say they would expect from a builder-sponsored study. But Crowe swears he has no axe to grind. “When builders try to make their cases at the local level, they are immediately confronted with trying to refute a negative because people's perception of growth is almost always negative,” he explains. “All we are trying to do is raise the dialog to a level playing field.”
To come to his conclusions, NAHB didn't drum up any of the data, or manipulate it in any way. Rather, Crowe simply charted two independent sources of information—housing starts per capita in 260 metropolitan statistical areas as collected by the Census Bureau, and Bert Sperling's ranking of the Nation's Best Places.
The government data speaks for itself. But in case you don't recognize the name, Sperling—the “Best Places” guy—developed the very first “Money Magazine Best Places to Live” ranking in 1986. And, he's been compiling lists of bests ever since. Among his credits are the Best Places To Raise A Family ranking, the Best Places For Retirement list, the Most Stressful Cities In Which To Live rankings, in addition to the Best Cities For Seniors, and the Worst Cities For Respiratory Infections.
Last year, Sperling and co-author Peter Sander published “Cities Ranked and Rated,” a tabulation of more than 400 metropolitan areas based on 10 key categories—population, economy and jobs, cost of living, climate, education, health and health care, crime, transportation, leisure, and arts and culture. While the categories are extremely broad, under each heading is a variety of key subsets. Under economy and jobs, for example, the authors looked at per capita income, household income, the employment rate, and recent and projected job growth, among other things. And under education, they considered academic achievement, expenditures per pupil and student/teacher ratios in the public school system, and the number of colleges and universities.
“It sounds simplistic, but no one had ever done this before,” Crowe says. “So we sat down and looked for a correlation, one way or the other, and we now have an economic case to dispel the common perception that growth will kill a community.” Crowe admits that his findings don't show that growth doesn't bring the kind of overcrowding people dread. There's just no getting around it: More people mean more cars on the roads and more kids in schools.
But what his research does show is that growth also means more (and perhaps even better) jobs. And with that come a larger tax base to pay for a wider variety of services, better roads, public transportation, more libraries, better schools, more recreational activities, better cultural pursuits, and all the other things that Bert Sperling rates as part and parcel to a higher quality of life.