Our Urban Challenge: The Good Life

Missouri Population Density Map
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One of the participants at the last transportation committee meeting tried to patiently explain to me that the reason people want to move to southwest Missouri is to have that house-on-three-acres lifestyle. This is part of what explains why Christian County is growing so fast. The towns of Nixa and Ozark offer exactly this suburban dream.

I was saying that we need to increase the density of Springfield’s urban core.

I assured her that I fully understood that many people move here for the suburban/rural lifestyle. But I said: “At some point it should no longer be acceptable to want that lifestyle.”

I said so because the 3-acre suburban lifestyle costs the rest of us a lot of money.

Take a look at this presentation from the meeting (created by OTO). Pay particular attention to the demographic information beginning on page 17 — the growth of jobs and housing units. Then jump to the section on streets and highways beginning on page 43. You’ll begin to see the problem.

Campbell is the main north-south route from Nixa to Springfield. In 2000, the travel time along a 6.3-mile stretch between Route 14 and the James River Freeway was 16 minutes. And that only takes you to the southern suburbs of Springfield. That same 6.3 miles will take 56 minutes to travel by the year 2030.

Widening Campbell will help only temporarily. Build a bigger road, and more people will use it. And it will encourage more people to live in Nixa and work in Springfield.

Also be sure to check out the roadway capacity maps on pages 52 and 53. Notice that the lack of capacity occurs because more people are expected to live farther and farther from Springfield.

How does living in Nixa and working in Springfield cost the rest of us money? For starters: Expanding and maintaining Campbell for heavy commuter traffic will be a very costly job. The same goes for other routes from the other growing towns in the metropolitan area — most of which will double in population by 2035.

At what point will we be willing to say to people who want a house on three acres in the Ozarks: “Fine, as long as you cover the real cost of your commute.”

I found it encouraging that, despite the population growth trending away from the urban core, many people at the meeting echoed what I wrote at the beginning of this series: We have to find a way to encourage density in Springfield’s urban core in order to create a city environment that offers real transportation choices.

We need the people who move here to work in Springfield to live in Springfield. The same goes for Nixa and Ozark. We need them to want to live in Springfield in denser communities.

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