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Can Smart Urban Growth Be America's Next Economic Engine?

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Here's some weekend reading for you: an essay in the Washington Monthly that offers the best approach for getting the U.S. (and California) out of the economic doldrums.

That strategy: a focus on smart growth in the older, centers of cities -- to create walkable neighborhoods that appeal to the two largest American generations: the baby boomers, who are retiring and don't want to be isolated in suburbs; and the Gen Y crowd of under 30 types.

Reorienting government incentives away from promoting sprawl and towards the development of walkable neighborhoods would cost far less than the economic stimulus promoted by the left or the cuts promoted by the right, argue the essay's authors, Patrick Doherty and Christopher Leinberger. (Full disclosure: Doherty is affiliated with the same think tank that I'm affilaited with, the New America Foundation, though I don't know him).

They write:

"The potential for just such an economic renaissance is a lot more plausible than many would imagine. At the heart of this opportunity are the underappreciated implications of a massive demographic convergence. In short, the two largest demographic groups in the country, the baby boomers and their children—together comprising half the population—want homes and commercial space in neighborhoods that do not exist in anywhere near sufficient quantity. Fixing this market failure, unleashing this latent demand, and using it to put America back to work could be accomplished without resorting to debt-building stimulus or layoff-inducing austerity. At least for the moment, Washington has an opportunity to speed up private investment for public good and launch what could be a period of long-lasting prosperity. It is a market-driven way to make the economic recovery sustainable while addressing many of the most serious problems of our time: the health care crisis, climate change, over-reliance on oil from countries with terrorist ties, and an overextended military."

You can read the whole thing here.

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