We've written four times this year about the City of Rogers, Minnesota, one of the poster-communities for both bad development and (not coincidently) the current housing crisis.
- On January 20 we wrote Doing More of the Same about how the City of Rogers was asking for federal money for a $34 million interchange. We pointed out that the people of Rogers would be unwilling to pay for this improvement themselves, innately understanding that the "growth" induced by this investment would never justify the expenditure. Our conclusion was that we should stop subsidizing Roger-style of development but seek instead public investments with a higher return-on-investment.
- On March 1 we wrote Doing More of the Same, Update where we took issue with the assertions of Rogers' lobbyist who indicated that failure to give Rogers a $34 million interchange would cause "sprawl" and that building the interchange would create a "concentration of densities". We analyzed the recently-adopted Rogers Comprehensive Plan and showed that it called for a continuation of the Rogers-style development, also called "sprawl".
- On March 3 we offered A Simple Solution for Rogers, pointing out how the Rogers development code mandated an inefficient, large-lot development pattern. We also explained how they could accommodate all of their growth projections without the need to invest a dime in additional infrastructure simply by allowing a small change in their zoning code that would allow duplexes by right.
- On March 4 we explained why Rogers would not choose the simple solution offered the prior day in The Simple Answer. That answer: they like their inefficient development pattern and, so long as someone else is paying the cost of it, why change?
This past weekend I happened to be in Rogers and noticed an article on the front page of the local paper with this opening sentence.
Rogers city officials made their fifth exodus to Washington, D.C. March 14–17 to seek $500,000 in federal funding for a $1.5 million road construction project.
You have got to be kidding me?
First of all, FIVE trips to Washington D.C. FIVE!
Second, this trip is to ask for a half million dollars? This is a city that wants to be taken seriously, expects $34 million to be given to it for an interchange and they are going to Washington to beg for another half a million for a road project?
What are they going to want next?
The City of Rogers is like a drug addict. They have become intoxicated by the notion that they are the next new thing. All they need is a few hits of federal money and their dreams will be a reality. An overpass here. A local road there. A new traffic signal. It is their turn, and it feels good.
But it is a false high. And when they wake up a generation from now with a tax base too sparse, too inefficient and too stagnant to maintain this largess they once begged for, they will experience the ultimate hangover.
We're not picking on Rogers here as much as we are making a larger point about the way America has chosen to grow and develop towns. Rogers is just repeating the pattern they have seen every other "growing" town follow over the past decades. Build new infrastructure with federal and state subsidies. Give tax subsidies and other incentives to lure businesses away from other towns. When growth occurs, lobby for transportation improvements and more infrastructure. Give more subsidy.
None of the development pays for itself. None of the gains are real.
This was a ridiculous way to develop when we thought we were a rich country. Now that we are growing to understand we are not as rich as we thought we were, continuing this approach is completely irrational. Instead of adding to our national crisis of unfunded infrastructure maintenance liabilities, we need to focus our investments on strengthening existing towns and neighborhoods - obtaining a higher return on investments we have already made. In other words, we need to create Strong Towns.