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Mon, 01 Dec 2008
In a recent opinion piece, architect Jack Diamond argues that now is the time to invest in building transit and similar infrastructure.
Governments have to understand the importance of being countercyclical - it's precisely at the low end of the business cycle that they should invest. This is when the best prices are available for construction and other services. As the private sector sheds employees, so the public sector should create them, by investing in future sustainability. Too often, governments do their procurement at the high end of the business cycle, overheating an already hot economy.
It's an interesting argument. Construction costs are lower at the bottom of the business cycle as are interest rates, and most municipalities have reserve funds for capital projects, which are better spent when the work can be done cheaper. They don't have to raise taxes to do it. And this type of investment, which reduces future costs for people and businesses, allows the economy to return to good health sooner.
It's probably not a good idea to increase densities quite so high as he proposes, it's possible to be transit-supporting at lower densities, but the small-scale neighbourhood commercial uses that he proposes may require some long-overdue changes in zoning to allow those uses. This is also a good time for municipalities to reduce the startup and operating cost of small-scale retail, by revising commercial licence requirements and by creating a separate class for walkable neighbourhood businesses that can have lower costs and less regulation than larger-scale auto-oriented commercial businesses.