Between 1982 and 1997, Pennsylvania’s population grew by 2.5% while its urbanized footprint grew by 47%. Sprawl causes the state’s cities, towns, and older suburbs to decline as the locus of the state’s growth shifts toward outlying newer communities. Sprawl burdens taxpayers because providing infrastructure is more expensive for sprawling communities and urban decay depresses property values, it undercuts the state’s economic competitiveness and it creates economic isolation for minorities and low-income residents.
The state is squandering a key source of competitive advantage: its superb natural assets.
Between 1982 and 1997, Pennsylvania’s population grew by 2.5%, while its urbanized footprint grew by 47%.
Between 1990 and 2000, Pennsylvania ranked 48th among the states for population growth but 6th for acres of land urbanized.
Pennsylvania’s cities, towns, and older suburbs decline as the locus of the state’s growth shifts toward outlying newer communities.
During the 1990s, 538,000 people, many of them from within state, moved to Pennsylvania’s outer townships. As the populations of these outer townships grew by nearly 12%, the populations of the state’s cities, boroughs, and more established suburbs collectively declined by nearly 2%.
Ninety percent of the state’s household growth and 72% of its new-housing production occurred around the state’s outer townships. Job creation has also shifted outward.
This unbalanced growth impacts the health and real estate markets of the state’s original neighborhoods of choice. Vacancy is on the rise in older municipalities. The worst impacted areas face cycles of social distress, deterioration, and abandonment that destroy neighborhood appeal.
Sprawl and urban decline burden taxpayers.
Providing infrastructure to sprawling communities, where long distances separate houses and businesses, frequently costs more than in more compactly built neighborhoods, resulting in higher tax bills.
Urban decay depresses property values and therefore tax revenues.
Between 1993 and 2000, real property values in Pennsylvania’s cities, boroughs, and older townships, did not, as a group, appreciate. At the same time, outer townships gained more than 17% in inflation-adjusted market value.
The subsequent need for older communities to have higher property tax rates than outer townships further weakens their ability to compete for new residents and investments.
Current demographic and development trends are undercutting the state’s economic competitiveness.
Young and mobile educated workers are attracted to vibrant downtowns, healthy urban neighborhoods, pristine scenery and close-in job markets. Sprawl and urban decline hurt Pennsylvania’s ability to retain highly educated young workers, including the top students from its colleges and universities, which undermines efforts to build and maintain the skilled and educated workforce necessary to encourage the creation of high-paying knowledge jobs and cultivate entrepreneurialism. Instead of creating the environment to attract these young workers, Pennsylvania is experiencing an aging population coupled with the losses of young adults.
Sprawl creates economic isolation for minorities and low-income residents.
When jobs and middle-class families move into sprawling outer townships, low-income and minority workers in the older neighborhoods become spatially separated from economic opportunities. Compounded by serious skills shortfalls among urban workers, this creates a significant drag on the state’s productivity and social health.