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Taking a Closer Look

Barriers to Better Development

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There seems to be a growing consensus -– at least in the planning community –- that there are alternatives to sprawl that are more attractive, more efficient, more profitable, and more environmentally sensitive than conventional suburban-style development. So why is the development paradigm so hard to change? Let me discuss what I see as seven key barriers to better development -– and then invite your feedback:

1. Inflexible Local Regulations Local regulations are often an impediment to smart growth. Most local zoning and subdivision regulations make it easier and faster to build conventional, single-use, suburban-type development. Local officials should make zoning and subdivision regulations more flexible so as to encourage cluster development, mixed uses, narrower streets, and other better development concepts.

Time is money in the development business. Yet innovative developers who would protect the environment or provide walkable mixed-use developments are often stymied by inflexible regulations. When the cost and delay are too great, the “by-the-book” approach will prevail over innovation, even if it hurts the environment.

End of excerpt

Article continues with discussion of the following six “barriers”:

2. Outdated Market Perceptions
3. High Development and Process Costs
4. Financing by Formula
5. Proposing High Density Without Amenity
6. Public Infrastructure Subsidies
7. Low Expectations

photo of Ed McMahonEd McMahon is one of the country’s most incisive analysts of planning and land use issues and trends. He holds the Charles Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC. McMahon is a frequent speaker at conferences on planning and land development.

Over the past 21 years, we’ve been pleased to have published more than two dozen articles by McMahon in the Planning Commissioners Journal, and now on

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