My hope in writing these blogs has been to engage in conversations on topics that I think are most crucial to making Fargo the greatest place on earth to live. Sometimes these topics can be controversial, which is why I like to approach them from the perspective of curiosity and questioning. This way, together, we can seek solutions.
Speaking of controversial topics, today’s is one that can be quite loaded (forgive the pun) because today I’d like to talk about density.
When speaking with community members, I’ll often hear them say something to the effect of, “I’m tired of this whole density conversation.” To me, however, I believe it’s a conversation whose dialogues are integral to the ongoing success of our city.
Why does density matter?
Density is often treated like a four-letter word, which is why I think it’s important to understand that when I use the word density I’m not implying Manhattan’s degree of density or even Downtown Fargo’s density. When I talk about density, I am truly interested in the economics of a city.
Economics of a city:
Whatever lifestyle you want to lead in the city, it needs to be economically sustainable for all of us, the taxpayers. Simply put, we need a tax base that can finance our city’s growth without digging itself a hole that it could fall into down the road.
Right now, Fargo is riding an economic high tide, which means that we’re able to build and finance new, and often expanding, infrastructure. But, if this growth were to falter (creating an ebb to our flow), we need to make sure that we can afford to maintain the infrastructure we’ve already built.
We need to be growing in a way that is economically sustainable for the future. Within city limits, we have under-used infrastructure that we continue to pay for, regardless of outward growth. When creating new neighborhoods, it is important that we create density that allows for long-term financial stability. A block or road costs the same to build and service whether there are five property owners or 10.
Fargo needs to grow in such a way that its tax base is able to pay for its infrastructure and services.
Grow the tax base within the existing infrastructure:
If more people are sharing the cost of the city’s services, then taxes can be lower for everyone. We can use planning and incentives for infill to return Fargo to its historic density of 11 units per acre in the 1950s from our current rate of 4 units per acre. (For contextual reference, 10 units per acre is a level of density similar to that of the Hawthorne neighborhood where I live.)
Here are some examples within a three block radius of our home to help you picture what density might look like:
When most envision the Hawthorne neighborhood, they think of large historic houses with porches and it's true. There are many large homes with spacious front and backyards, just like these on 7th Avenue.
However, we reach a higher level of density because small scale apartments are mixed in, like these just across the street from the homes in the previous photo. These fit in because they match the scale and character of the neighborhood while maintaining 12 units each.
Like many homes in the neighborhood, my house was once converted into a triplex because the needs for housing in our community shifted over time. It has since been converted back, however retains a basement unit adding to the potential for density. Lots of our neighbors have similar auxiliary flats, like this one on 8th Street with an attic apartment.
Across the street from our home, there are two duplexes where several families and couples live, both are even owner occupied. They also match the scale of neighboring homes and contribute to our units per acre.
Demystifying the term:
It’s understandable that people might become defensive when they hear others upholding a lifestyle that runs contrary to their own (like how drivers of larger vehicles may feel scolded by environmentalists). But, when it comes to density, it’s not a matter of “right” and “wrong” ways of living, but rather of planning in a way that humbly considers how citizen’s preferences might change with the advancements of the world around them and, most importantly, how our city’s financial situation can change significantly over time.
If you’ve read through to the end of this blog, then I suppose this topic might mean something to you. Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts.