The Sprawling Costs of Urban Containment

by Wallace Smith



In the special language of real estate that which a builder does to land is called an improvement. The tax assessor thinks so, the U.S. Internal Revenue Services wants to call what one does a capital asset and generally speaking banks will be favorably impressed with the mark one has left on the soil. Customer may be subtly turned on by the word improvement, carefully employed and it can do something for ones own self-esteem. This word usage apparently dates way back. In recent times a semantic counterattack on the developer and his work has been launched. The process of land development is put down as trafficking in a resource as though it were merely a commodity. Resources, as one knows, are to be preserved, not ripped off. The aroused environmentalists are skillful and effective with words they've chosen, because land that used to bear crop after crop of improvements now yields a hardy legal thicket that resists the developer's every step. In ten years the physical act of joining usable structures to suitably located land has been transformed into noisy contemplation about what is good for humanity. And contrary to the old saying, talk-to build or not to build is anything but cheap. The talk is mainly about the side effects of particular developments, when they are in process and when they are in use.

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