Urban planners can often find it difficult to assess the impact of sprawl in their municipalities. Calculating future infrastructure needs and the various fiscal impacts of different land use decisions can be challenging and time consuming. Enter New Hampshire’s new Cost of Sprawl tool (www.costofsprawl.org). The New Hampshire Cost of Sprawl (NHCOS) is an internet-based model to examine the impact of land uses and sprawl on municipalities in New Hampshire and allows planners to get a sense of the fiscal impact of certain land use patterns on municipalities. Created under the auspices of the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning (NHOEP) and developed by RKG Associates, Placeways, and Urban Interactive Studio, this tool is geared toward town planners in New Hampshire.
Model creation involved two major and interrelated challenges. The first was compilation of a statewide database that contained an array of demographic, infrastructure, and financial attributes that had to be drawn from a variety of sources and normalized for use in the model. The second was determining which variables could be used to measure “sprawl-related” impacts, as opposed to, just the land use and fiscal impacts associated with any new development in a community.
The tool begins with users selecting one of the 239 municipalities that comprise New Hampshire. Once a municipality is selected, the user can choose a certain site within the particular municipality to explore in detail, which ranges from a parcel as small as 40 acres to an an entire community build out. Flexible site selection and comparative analysis makes this tool even more powerful, for it allows planners to see the impacts of both small-scale and large scale development.
The user can then choose the units and acreage for different types of development (residential, commercial, and industrial) and then see the land use outcome in terms of the population and housing impact, municipal fiscal cost, the percentages of land developed, and the infrastructure needed for that particular scenario. The tool makes it easy for planners to experiment with the fiscal impacts of various land use patterns. Instead of having to perform calculations to determine floor area ratios, the additional miles of road that would need to be built, population growth and infrastructure, as well as other time-consuming models, the Cost of Sprawl tool performs complex calculations instantaneously, therefore allowing planners to spend less time analyzing one particular scenario and more time understanding the impacts of a variety of scenarios.
While this tool cannot assess potential social, cultural, or general administrative costs, it is a concrete decision support tool that measures many of the other costs that constitute residential, commercial, and industrial development. It can greatly aid in the early stages of development planning. We hope to see the Cost of Sprawl model be adapted to other municipalities to help aid planning decisions.