With housing prices beyond the reach of many of Connecticut's working
families, state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier's proposal to create
a $100 million fund to help thousands of residents buy homes or
rent apartments is more than welcome.
High housing costs strain family budgets and make it hard for
businesses to attract workers. Lack of affordable housing is
driving people to live far from where they work, adding to highway
congestion and its attendant ills. The fund proposed by the treasurer
would be financed by bonds backed by millions of dollars from
unclaimed bank accounts and other assets held by the state. It
would help nonprofit agencies build subsidized homes and apartments.
This is a good idea, considering the need. But it could be a
great idea with one refinement: Require that the new housing
be built around stops on transit lines. In other words, make
it a fund for transit-oriented development.
The post-World War II era has been the age of automobile-induced
sprawl in Connecticut and the rest of the country. But as someone
said of progress, it was fine for a time and then it went too
far. The relentless march of highways, subdivisions and strip
malls chews up land, increases fuel consumption, damages air
quality, makes it more difficult and expensive to deliver services
and disfigures the landscape that's defined the state for centuries.
One response to this set of ills has been to concentrate new
development around transit hubs. From Washington, D.C., to San
Diego, communities have built high-density, multi-use projects
around bus and train stations. In addition to providing housing
and access to transit, most of these projects are pedestrian-oriented,
lively and safe.
For years, the knock on better public transit in Connecticut
was that the state didn't have the density to support it. Transit-oriented
development would help rectify that situation. It would help
revive cities in transportation corridors and take development
pressure off the remaining open space.
Transit-oriented development isn't a foreign concept; it's included
in many regional plans around the state and is highlighted in
Connecticut's Plan of Conservation and Development. Some communities
will have to make zoning changes to implement it, but that's
hardly insurmountable. Bloomfield, for example, prepared an excellent
transit development plan for the proposed Griffin Line project,
which the state declined to support.
If Connecticut is to balance growth with preservation of the
countryside, it should take a page from the old urbanism and
build around fixed-path transportation -- a 19th-century concept
with a 21st-century application. Ms. Nappier can lead the way.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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