Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What is our optimal regional population?

At the August 6, 2007 city council meeting, council passed a resolution providing $11,000 to ASAP (Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population) to support a first
phase of research by ASAP to define an optimal sustainable population size (or range) for the Albemarle-Charlottesville Community. I believe this is $11,000 well spent by the city. Given our limited natural resources, and city infrastructure currently pushed ever closer to their current capacity, it is essential that both Charlottesville and Albemarle County planners understand the implications of growing in population on the quality of life in our region, and on the ability of community to meet the water, sanitary sewer, education, and all other demands that grow with population. I encourage you to read the letter from Jack Marshall, ASAP president, to city council requesting this funding. It is available on the city at August 6, 2007 council agenda (with background material).

Charlottesville has gotten a variety of high rankings on a variety of lists relating to tourism, retirement places, and quality of life. But, the best list I can think on which we should strive to be number one is a list of sustainable cities. well managed growth is clearly a major element in becoming a sustainable urban area. It appears that Charlottesville-Albemarle may be the first urbanized area to carry out an investigation of this type to determine both a research methodology, and a determination of an optimal population range consistent with becoming a truly sustainable and desirable community.

If this research is successful, I believe that both Charlottesville and Albemarle County can do significantly better planning for our future, and be much more efficient at providing and maintaining basic infrastructure consistent with serving a sustainable population.

I look forward to following the progress on this effort and applaud the efforts of Jack Marshall and others associated with bringing this proposal forward.

I can't recall the exact agency that did a ranking of sustainable urban areas about one year ago (I think it was within the United Nations), but I do recall that no North American urban areas were on the listed rankings. Perhaps Charlottesville-Albemarle can take a major step toward being recognized as a sustainable urban area through this exciting work.


Watts said...

Once an "optimal sustainable population size (or range) for the Albemarle-Charlottesville Community" is defined, how will you use that number in city planning?

In response to your comment, "Given our limited natural resources, and city infrastructure currently pushed ever closer to their current capacity...", do you believe that we are already close to some maximum population number that can be sustained by our limited resources? Do you ever envision the need to bring in resources from outside our region to sustain our population?

If it is found that there is indeed an optimum sustainable population size, would you be in favor of immigration limits being set for the City of Charlottesville and/or Albemarle County and if so, how do you plan to enforce the border?


Peter T. Kleeman said...

With today's Jeremy Borden article in the Daily Progress entitled "Drought warning urged" clearly indicates that our current water demand exceeds anticipated supply. If in fact water demand is allowed to grow without a mechanism for increasing our water supply to meet increasing demand, the quality of life for all our regions residents will be deminished. This is clearly a simple, but current indication that current growth in our watershed may not be sustainable. In fact, the idea of bringing water from outside our watershed was recently considered to meet growing water demand. Increased traffic demand due to very large residential development above available traffic flow capacity is another issue currently being discussed in our region.

I believe the study proposed by ASAP will provide some clear indications of how growth (both commercial and residential) and additional resource demand from that growth compares with available supply. Adding new capacity is ever more expensive per unit so ultimately the cost of providing resources will limit growth if development has to pay the actual cost of increasing supply to meet the increased demand.

For the economics to work, however, and not need to consider 'regulation' of growth, the actual costs of adding demand needs to be part of the cost of the developments.

Watts said...

>>so ultimately the cost of providing resources will limit growth if development has to pay the actual cost of increasing supply to meet the increased demand<<

Are you stating that you are in favor of developers providing added infrastructure and resources, if needed, rather than increase taxes for local governments to provide it/them?

If so, how do you view the balance between privitization of utilities vs. governmental responsibility and regulation?

Peter T. Kleeman said...

Commenter Watts posed the question "Are you stating that you are in favor of developers providing added infrastructure and resources, if needed, rather than increase taxes for local governments to provide it/them?"

In depth discussion of this topic could be worthy of an academic thesis, for sure, but in general I do believe that developers should be responsible for investing in infrastructure necessary for that development to ensure it is a positive addition to the community. Many infrastructure investment mechanisms could be considered beyond simply requiring developers to construct infrastructure including establishment of an infrastructure fund where developers provide money to cover immediate or future capital costs.

A cash proffer by a developer is one example of this mechanism. Funds from more than one development are bundled to provide efficiently the added infrastructure necessary to meet the additional collective demand. Providing infrastructure as a proffer is another way that developers currently invest in infrastructure needed to accommodate a development.

Paying for infrastructure is likely best done as a public-private partnership. Governments have the ability to acquire right-of-way for utilities, roads, transit lines, etc. and are significant users of this infrastructure. Also, governments can provide infrastructure to promote development consistent with the community's vision of the future. Developers can provide infrastructure to support their development that would otherwise not be provided by government. Building trolley system in Charlottesville, for example, would promote regional development different from that anticipated by providing a collection of connector roads. Infrastructure choices will certainly influence development choices no matter who pays for the infrastructure.

Who should pay for the infrastructure necessary to support the Biscuit Run development? The developer? The public? Both? This is the very issue being discussed by the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and the Biscuit Run developers. If the developer pays a fair share of the true infrastructure costs associated with this project, I believe the scale of this development would be quite different from the current proposal. Perhaps there will be changes in the design as this infrastructure discussion moves forward. I for one am interested to see how this is resolved and how the infrastructure costs of Biscuit Run are ultimately shared between the public and private stakeholders.

This is a challenging issue and I hope that Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and the major developers in our region work together to find equitable and sustainable solutions to growth pressures in the entire region.

Anonymous said...

That's the thing, we're not asking to wait and see what gets decided at Biscuit Run. We're asking what you think should be done or how you would handle it.

>current water demand exceeds anticipated supply<

Could this possibly be because we are in a drought and not that we are exceeding supply in most years with typical rainfall?


Peter T. Kleeman said...

The rapid increase in water demand due to residential and commercial growth, and the decrease in water storage capacity due to siltation in our reservoirs both put pressure on our water supply system. If I had a say in approval of major new developments I would want to see clear evidence that this additional water demand can be met within the safe yield of our water system. I don't believe it is good public policy to permit 'overbooking' of our water resources. These new developments would have to be considered in conjunction with water resource development planning.