October 26, 2014

Fighting the encouragement of sprawl

A former Milwaukee mayor is trying to do away with what he considers favoritism in federal home loan disbursement. John Norquist now heads the Congress for New Urbanism, a group pushing for mixed-use projects in walkable, environmentally sustainable communities.

During a speech Wednesday at the Upper Midwest Planning Conference in Madison, John Norquist told attendees the suburbanization of American is a result of incentives in housing policies which started in the early 20th century. Since the days of Herbert Hoover as commerce secretary, separate-use zoning has been favored over properties that mix retail with work and residential. Norquist said there was a “racial” or “anti-immigrant” tint to these early policies which prompted sprawling development.

The former mayor cited Brady Street in Milwaukee and Wicker Park in Chicago as thriving examples that run counter to the “war against congestion” still permeating road building and urban planning today.

The Federal Housing Administration issue won’t grant loans to properties that are more than 20 percent non-residential, but Norquist said the agency recently announced it was lifting that cap to 35 percent. He would like to see the restriction abolished completely.

The two-day urban planning conference wraps up today.