The Citistates Group presents

Thank you for reading This website is no longer being updated, as of October 2013. We invite you to visit our new site at

Archive: William Fulton

Sprawl’s Hidden Problem: Wasting Public Money

William Fulton / May 31 2013

For Release Friday, May 31, 2013

William FultonIt’s no secret that mayors and other local leaders around the country are searching for ways to balance municipal and state finances.

Last month, the Government Accountability Office found a widening gap between projected revenues and expenses in the years ahead. While it’s tempting to point fingers at pensions or other easy targets of so-called “wasteful spending” as the only reason for this fiscal problem, city leaders should carefully consider the role that different development strategies play in their budgets and how they can help cure – or ruin – them.

Too often we see cities and towns chasing short-term revenue, mistakenly arguing that sprawling new development on the edge of town represents true economic growth. Yes, new buildings and wide new roads provide a quick hit of cash to a city budget and offer a compelling illusion of prosperity and growth. But over time, the cost of serving such developments often costs more than the tax revenue those developments generate.

Last week, a report I co-authored with Smart Growth America illustrates how walkable, smart growth infill development results in significantly better returns for municipalities compared to car-centric, traditional suburban development. Building Better Budgets: A National Examination of the Fiscal Benefits of Smart Growth Development surveys 17 studies from around the country that compare different development scenarios, including a new study of Nashville-Davidson County, Tenn., commissioned specifically for this report.
Read More »

In an Austere Era, Sprawl is Simply Too Costly

William Fulton / Oct 19 2012

For Release Friday, October 19, 2012

William FultonNo matter how the November election turns out, it’s clear America’s communities are in for a time of austerity. Federal and state cutbacks are likely to have a big impact on local governments. And many locals will be squeezed by pension obligations at a time when tax revenues are flat.

All of which means that from now on, taxpayers must get more for their money. That means we’re going to have to build our communities differently.

As I have said before, it is easy to mistake shiny new subdivisions for prosperity. New suburban buildings and new wide roads look great when first built. But over time, the strain of that type of development creates a significant burden on a city or county treasury.

Communities create value because people, organizations, and goods and services are in close proximity to one another and can interact efficiently. In the same way, compact communities – built on what are often called “smart growth” principles – represent a good financial deal for taxpayers. Because things are closer together, the need to build costly, upfront infrastructure is minimized. Taxpayers save money over time as well, because all those public servants we rely on – police officers, firefighters, paramedics, school bus drivers, snowplow drivers – don’t have to drive as far.
Read More »

City and State Smokestack Chasing Blows Mostly Smoke

William Fulton / Nov 12 2010

For Release Sunday, November 14, 2010

William FultonTwenty-five years ago, when I first started writing about economic development, the governors of seven states went on The Phil Donahue Show — the premiere daytime talk show of its time — begging General Motors to build the assembly plant for its brand-new Saturn brand in their state.

It was, to put it bluntly, a pretty pathetic excuse for an economic development campaign. Even though auto assembly plants don’t literally have smokestacks, this was a pretty stark example of politicians trying to find a short-cut to economic success through the standard technique of “romancing the smokestack” — wooing some out-of-town business in hopes that they will come to town. I always counted the Donahue show as the lowest point in the history of American economic development — especially since none of the seven states got the plant.
Read More »

Community Colleges: Are New Cutting Edge

William Fulton / Jan 09 2010

For Release Saturday, January 9, 2010

William Fulton For half a century, Americans have been pounded with the message: “To get a good job, get a good education.” For people like me, who came of age in the Rust Belt in the ’70s, this meant only one thing: Go to a four-year college, get a white-collar job, and get out of the factories. This was a big change from the world of our parents. For them, economic security meant unionized semi-skilled factory jobs. For us, economic security meant bailing from the factory before it shut down and joining the white-collar workforce.

But now it’s 2010, and white-collar jobs aren’t the ticket any more. Every day, more and more college-educated workers in America lose their job to “outsourcing” –especially to India, Ireland, and Eastern Europe, all of which have an abundance of highly educated English speakers capable of doing white-collar work. Read More »

What We Can Really Learn from Portland

William Fulton / Sep 18 2009

For Release Friday, September 18, 2009

William Fulton

Portland is often held up as such an outstanding model of urban planning–and one that is so difficult to replicate–that you might think it’s somehow different from other cities. But let’s face it: Portland is like any other U.S. city. There are freeways and subdivisions and confusing arterials and big malls and stupid little strip centers.

But there is also a remarkable downtown, a fabulous set of close-in neighborhoods, a remarkably large and diverse transit system for a city Portland’s size, and an emerging ethic that is comfortable with being an urban place.

Rather than simply thinking there’s no way to copy Portland–or that all cities must slavishly follow the Portland model–it’s worth thinking about Portland’s DNA. Why does Portland do things–and do them successfully–that a lot of other cities can’t seem to do? Read More »

Smart Growth-Climate Tie: California May Lead Again

William Fulton / Aug 22 2008

For Release Sunday, August 24, 2008

William Fulton In the age of climate change, California is once again on the cutting edge of environmental policy, busy figuring out how to implement its nationally-hailed new greenhouse-gas emissions reduction law. A big new question: how can “smart growth” be part of the answer?

There’s little question that California’s growth and development patterns will have to change significantly if the state’s greenhouse ambitious gas reduction goals are to be met. Technological fixes will only take the state so far, and even Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s own experts agree that “smart growth” must be part of the answer. But state officials are reluctant to dictate development patterns from Sacramento, so they’re trying to figure out whether incentives alone will do the trick. As Schwarzenegger’s chief planning deputy, Cynthia Bryant, puts it: “We need a carrot so big it’s a stick.”

The “carrot stick” is likely to be a requirement for a smart growth regional plan in every metropolis in the state, with the flow of transportation funding officially tied to implementing the local plans. This could be a national model of how to promote smart growth — if it passes the legislature without being watered down too much. Read More »