Some folks seem to think density automatically means skyscrapers. It’s just not so. Density is just one way to measure land use.
For perspective, in 1960 Fargo’s population was 47,000 in less than 8 sections of land. Now with 115,000 people we have 50 sections of land. 2.4 times the number of people, over 6 times the amount of land. Poor land use makes flood protection, transportation, and efficient deliveries of city services more expensive and difficult.
Fargo’s in a fantastic situation, and we’ve been growing for years thanks to a lot of good work by many. In the past 15 years, we’ve seen a bit over 1 percent population growth a year, but recently Fargo’s population is accelerating three times that. How and where we grow matters.
It’s difficult to change the decades-old ingrained philosophy that leapfrog development works and that quality land use doesn’t matter, but the math shows we have to do better with planning and land use if we’re going to reach Fargo’s great potential.
A Forum editorial (Oct. 27) said dividing the 50 sections of land (32,000 acres) by our population is not an honest way to determine density and that there is no cost to the city or taxpayers for skipped-over undeveloped or underdeveloped land where there is little or no infrastructure. The editorial incorrectly stated the number of people per acre in 1950 was 50. The correct number is 10.7.
Where is market?
The editorial didn’t raise any objection to encouraging development farther into new greenfields that would not likely be protected with certified flood protection until the diversion is finished. They cite this is the development the market wants. This “market” is skewed by our current growth policies that subsidize premature expansion into the flood plain.
Where is the market in Fargo? Realtors nationwide cite Fargo’s 58103 as a top ten housing market
in the entire country. That’s the older traditional neighborhood design area from Main Avenue to 32nd Avenue South.
The current footprint of land in Fargo’s annexed area is just over 50 square miles with a population of about 115,000. Fifty square miles = 32,000 acres divided into 115,000 population = 3.6 people per acre.
A recent Forum article correctly says that in 1950 Fargo had 10.7 people per acre. This is common in walkable traditional neighborhood design. For perspective, San Francisco has a smaller footprint than Fargo with more than 1 million people = 33 people per acre.
In Fargo’s comprehensive plan, there is a goal of nine people per acre – this is similar to the density we currently have in our popular mature existing neighborhoods like Hawthorne, Clara Barton, Horace Mann and others.
Projected growth in Fargo by 2040 is 154,170 and metro’s projected population growth by 2040 is 259,950 people.
When we do the math, we find we currently have enough land to accommodate our population estimate and more if we achieve our nine people per acre density goal – 32,000 acres X 9 people per acre = 288,000 population just in Fargo’s current footprint. Even if we only add two people per acre in the next 25 years, it would be 64,000 more people added to our current 115,000 = 179,000 people, far more than the 154,170 that is projected for Fargo.
Conversely, if we continue to grow at 3.6 people per acre, we would need to more than double our current footprint of 50 sections – 259,950 population estimate by 2040 divided by 3.6 people per acre = 72,208 acres needed.
Thirty-two thousand acres to 72,208 acres or 112 sections compared to our current 50 sections.
Floods and FEMA
The vast majority if not all new development areas south of 52nd Avenue are lower than the new FEMA 100-year flood levels. While we’re working diligently to build the diversion, even if we started today, it wouldn’t be complete for 8-10 years. Even with the diversion, we need in-town protection to accommodate flows through town during a 500-year event.
We’re working to protect Fargo with dikes and floodwalls to a level of 42 feet 5 inches to avoid higher cost of flood insurance. We can complete this sooner if we don’t expand our boundaries into low-lying land south of 70th Avenue.
How do we accomplish this? First we have to acknowledge that we have to improve our land use and work to meet our goals for density. It would be helpful to follow the key priorities set out with more than 8,000 people engaged. Prioritize and develop a work plan with measures to implement the goals of Fargo GO2030.
The top 5 are:
1) Flood protection; 2) infill/strong neighborhoods; 3) arts and culture; 4) bike and pedestrian facilities; 5) quality design standards.
What are some ideas on ways to achieve these? Here are a few of mine:
- Leave agricultural zoning in place on perimeter until it fits to reach our density goals.
- Be more selective on where to apply incentives and planning focus. Target new home tax incentives and city financing of infrastructure for new development to closer-in areas and infill areas that have existing infrastructure and are already covered by city services.
- Target incentives on mixed-use and affordable housing infill and redevelopment projects in underused areas with existing infrastructure and services.
- Continue to improve areas to encourage walking, biking, and transit and reduce need to drive. Our residents on average spend 27 percent of income on transportation, higher than 24 percent for housing. If a family has two cars instead of three by living in a area where the need for driving is reduced, they save about $9,000 annually.
Fargo’s a wonderful community. We do our best when we work and grow well together. Let’s make sure Fargo is growing well.