Smart Growth America / Transportation For America Communications Director David Goldberg was interviewed for the current issue of Mother Jones Magazine. In the wide-ranging interview, he discusses some of the history of SGA — but also discusses the prevalent economic and market forces that are reshaping consumer preference and affecting our growth patterns.
MJ: What do you think is going to happen to all those homes that are out there—we see a lot of them in the Bay Area—of people who live far out and want to commute in? With the mortgage crisis, do you have any research on what is going to happen to those homes? Are they eventually going to be bought up or turned into something else?
DG: That’s a really good question. I think in the near term a lot of people are going to be stuck in a place that they don’t necessarily want to be stuck, and they’re going to find that it may take awhile for the housing values to recover in those areas, and they may not. I think the whole calculus has shifted. We did a poll on some transportation issues earlier this year, and in response to the question “Do you agree or disagree with this statement: Gas prices are only likely to get higher in the future?” 92 percent agreed. And similar numbers for how concerned people were about it and for how concerned they were for the nation that we were so oil dependent. I think that people’s perceptions are that that is a dangerous place to go. That might change, or we might miraculously see a couple of years of cheap gas again, and people’s memories may fail them, but I don’t think so.
MJ: Have private developers been getting on board with smart growth projects increasingly? Are they actually seeing this as something that can help their bottom line?
DG: Absolutely. The difficulty is that it is more complex to do these projects. It still takes multiple variances in the zoning codes. You often have to put together two or three different developers to do the different components: One is better versed in multifamily, the other one is single family, another one might do retail, although more and more developers are starting to get all those components in house. They’re starting to get better at it. Whey they succeed, they are more profitable. They hold their value better. And they offer a hedge against trouble in a particular market segment—you’re more diverse, so if people aren’t buying condos, they may rent your apartments. So that diversity helps. But the thing is, first of all, you need the expertise and you need a little bit of staying power, because the up-front costs can be more in terms of the planning and the approvals and in some cases installing the infrastructure.