Part deuce. Even more sickening:
Tuesday, December 09, 2003
(Second of two parts)
Pennsylvania experienced minimal population growth in recent decades, just a 2.5 percent increase between 1982 and 1997. In that same period, however, the consumption of land by development increased by a whopping 47 percent.
Among the states only Wyoming consumed more open space per additional resident than Pennsylvania.
That house with an acre of lawn to mow may be what people want these days, but according to the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, "the state is squandering a key source of competitive advantage: Its superb natural assets."
Such growth is routinely assumed to "increase the local tax base." But as Brookings notes in its new report, "Back to Pros perity: A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania," research has "repeatedly documented that highly dispersed growth increases taxpayers in frastructure and service costs."
And the report argues that haphazard, uncoordinated state investment policies are facilitating sprawl. This manifests itself in a number of different ways, but one of the more telling is the estimated $360 million in state business assistance programs that supported development in outlying areas. This apparently included loans to distribution centers (trucking terminals) in Cumberland and Dauphin counties, where the public is practically up in arms against the deluge of trucking in the region.
"Planning" has been something of a dirty word in Pennsylvania virtually since the inception of the concept. The state and its localities have thus found it easier to go through the motions of planning without actually making it count for anything.
That needs to change. Brookings recommends an end to the kind of situation that exists in Cumberland County, where six rural townships refuse to plan or zone.
It recommends that state law mandate that county planning agencies plan for localities that don't plan for themselves. It also calls for requiring, rather than merely suggesting, that local comprehensive plans conform to the county plan and that local zoning conform to the comprehensive plan.
And it calls for an upgrade in state planning, which has been essentially non-existent for the last decade. It also proposes an increase in the quality of planning, which is largely left in the hands of amateurs in this state.
As we noted yesterday, central to the Brookings strategy to revive Pennsylvania's economic fortunes is turning the state's focus toward reviving the commonwealth's rich array of cities, rural town centers and older suburbs. It suggests that the state give priority in its investments to "infill" projects, such as brownfields, where it proposes a number of ways to make them more attractive for development. These include creation of a special authority to facilitate the development of brownfields, special loans and tax-incentives. It calls for an inventory of vacant and abandoned buildings and a revision of foreclosure laws to assist localities in acquiring, assembling and redeveloping blocks of properties.
Two of Pennsylvania's major strengths are higher education and medical facilities. Despite their considerable local presence, Brookings contends that they are often overlooked and that efforts should be made "to find ways they can be fully leveraged to create jobs, income, and wealth in the state's older areas."
Indeed, for all of the state's considerable economic development initiatives, employment and wage statistics suggest that Pennsylvania is evolving into a low-wage state. Instead of putting out a helping hand for every company that asks for it, Brookings makes the sensible recommendation that the state pick its spots by focusing on a few key industries. It suggests the appointment of a task force "to identify potential industry clusters and niches the state should cultivate."
In fact, leading industries, unions and universities in Pittsburgh have done just that by seeking to position the city as the center for a future industry based on magnetic levitation, a technology that -- as the Japanese recently demonstrated -- can move trains at speeds that have reached 361 miles per hour. But the Pennsylvania Maglev project has been hampered by inconsistent federal, state and even local support.
We've been down this way before with reports on how Pennsylvania needs to plan better and to more aggressively address economic and revitalization issues. Many of the reports predicted the worsening problems confronting the state today, but they were ignored.
It's likely that will happen again. But it shouldn't. Every legislator, every state, county and local official in a position to have some impact on where this state is headed, needs to read this report for its value as an overview of just how precarious Pennsylvania's position has become in the broader scheme of things.
In the end, it comes down to leadership. These are tough issues that require taking on some entrenched ideas and bailiwicks, and few in positions of power have wanted to take those risks. That lack of attention has hurt this state more than most people realize.
Brookings has reminded us that there is much work to be done to achieve a prosperous Pennsylvania. We should not, as we have so often in the past, squander this new opportunity to move the state forward.
"Back to Prosperity: A Competitive Agenda for Renewing Pennsylvania," is available at www.brookings.edu/Pennsylvania.