What is Infill Development?
Infill development is the process of developing vacant or under-used parcels within existing urban areas that are already largely developed. Most communities have significant vacant land within city limits, which, for various reasons, has been passed over in the normal course of urbanization. A successful infill development program focuses on the completion of the existing community fabric. It should focus on filling gaps in the neighborhood. Following are 5 reasons why this form of development is needed now.
1. Infill development contributes to a more compact form of development which is less consumptive of land and resources
Many developers are bypassing vacant urban area land for less expensive land beyond our cities edges. Our current patterns of sprawling, low-density development at the urban fringe are consuming land (including farmlands, wetlands, and other resource lands) at a much faster rate than population growth.
2. Infill development offers increased mobility for those who can’t or prefer not to drive. It is also an important part of the equation for minimizing traffic congestion.
In-city living offers other transportation choices in addition to the automobile. Filling in the gaps creates higher average densities, which in turn support more frequent transit service. Residents who live near where they work, shop, or pursue other activities often can choose to walk, and carpools may be easier to arrange. Such choice is particularly important for those who can’t drive including elderly, youth, or low income residents who lack a car. Communities are learning that they cannot build their way out of traffic congestion. New highways or lane additions typically fill up as fast as they are built as a result of the extended commutes and more frequent vehicle trips required by spread-out development.
3. Fully utilizing existing facilities and services before considering costly service extensions to outlying areas offers savings for local government budgets.
Building expensive new facilities while existing facilities have existing capacity is wasteful duplication in an era of belt tightening. Many local jurisdictions traditionally have averaged the costs of services across all users rather than charging the full cost of serving more distant development. This has made outlying development relatively less expensive for the developer, while straining local government budgets. In addition, we are racing to construct expensive, new schools in outlying areas at the same time that we agonize over closing and finding new uses for inner city schools. Growth at the cities’ edges has come at the expense of central cities. Older buildings in core areas have been abandoned, existing utilities are underutilized and, in general, new investment has been redirected to the outlying areas. Infill development also bolsters local government budgets by putting under- utilized vacant land back on the tax roles.
4. Renewed infill and investment in our central cities is crucial to the overall economic health of the surrounding region
Infill development brings increased numbers of residents to support in-city city commercial centers. A more efficient business climate can result from employment centers located in close proximity rather than in scattered sites. The health of central city downtowns is intertwined with that of the region as a whole. For a region to be well-positioned to compete in a global economy, it must have at its vortex a thriving central city which can provide the vitality and draw to fuel the region’s economy.
5. Infill development can bring new opportunity and improved qualify of life for in-city residents
The migration of higher-income residents, together with the best jobs, educational opportunities and services from many central cities, has left low-income residents isolated. It can be very difficult for them to learn about and travel to distant jobs, especially if dependent on transit that requires multiple bus transfers, or carpooling to scattered job sites. Reduced population and average income in cities also produces fewer tax dollars to support public services, and local businesses. Fewer opportunities and positive role models, can contribute to loss of hope, increased anti-social behavior and crime. These trends further fuel middle-class migration from cities. In contrast, in-city neighborhoods offer living opportunities in neighborhoods with distinctive character and more opportunity for social interaction than sprawl development typically provides. Infill development can return jobs, purchasing power and new amenities to an urban neighborhood.
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