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Posted by on Apr 7, 2014 in Blog | 1 comment

What if Streets had “Nutrition Labels”?

Last week an image hit social media showing a speed limit sign with four numbers instead of just the familiar speed limit (hat tip Charles Marohn).  The intent is to show drivers’ relationship with streets goes beyond one number.  If we really want people to understand infrastructure, we need something better than signs with a simple number – we need something like nutrition labels.

Imagine what would happen if cities, counties and states had to publish information like this one (yes – it’s a  pretend street):

 nutrition label streets

Nutrition labels are incredibly popular with consumers who now know a lot more about the complicated science of how the body and food works.  Communities need the same thing for infrastructure.  A couple of thoughts:

  1. It’s important to communicate plans, not just zoning.  While zoning is legal, plans are really important because so many dumb roads either happen without planning, or get shoehorned into an otherwise smart plan.  If zoning is like an everyday bank account, long range plans are the 401(k)s of a community.  It’s time taxpayers thought about both as equals.
  2. I put something in there called a Fiscal Impact Quotient promoted by Peter Katz.  This quotient, intended to inform land use decisions, basically lists the payback time for infrastructure.  A bunch of sprawl houses, for example, don’t pay back on the infrastructure installed for a really long time. There are likely other metrics, but the idea is to show the financial efficiency of the land uses served by infrastructure.
  3. The beauty of this whole thing is that states, counties and cities would actually have to collect performance data in a way that matters.
  4. For sprawl, people need to see the bad investment instead of the street a developer generously “donated” back to the community. This matters right now as communities are approving development that is bad for the long term in the name of juicing the economy with “jobs, jobs, jobs” right now.
  5. Our son Nate pointed out that this would be amazing on Zillow so people could see what is happening in the space outside the front door.

Of course these labels would not stop dumb growth any more than nutrition labels halted obesity. But it’s better than what we have now. What else would you add?

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