Equestrians and the Cascadia Corridor (Part II)

By: Martha Wehling

[In Part I of this three-part series, published on November 19th, Master of Natural Resources (MNR) student Martha Wehling discusses the urbanization in the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia corridor and its impacts on both cities and rural areas, with a specific focus on equestrian recreational facilities. In this episode, Martha introduces the methods used to incentivize dense growth in Cascadia’s megacities, in part, to maintain surrounding rural areas.]

To ensure the Cascadia megacity continues to provide its residents with healthy, wealthy, productive lives, it will need to provide the necessary amenities.  Principles for building a successful city include compact growth, infill development, preservation of the natural environment, maintenance of critical agricultural areas, mixed-use development, and transportation options to maintain connectivity and density.13 These principles require either local or regional public policies, incentives to increase density, and preservation of the open space, natural areas, and agricultural areas.

Incentivizing Dense Growth in Megacities

Nationwide, sprawl from urban areas is resulting in the decline of farmland; from 1982 to 2012, 24,498,500 acres was converted from farmland to development.15  Although urban residents value the services provided by the rural areas, the  local governments generally cannot adequately respond to the pressures and lack capacity to respond before irreversible development takes place.9

While it is generally agreed that increased density is required to maintain standards of living in urban corridors, attempts to increase density are often faced with opposition by current residents.  For example, the owner of Seattle’s “Showbox,” a downtown music venue, recently proposed to convert the building (after 79 years) to a 442-unit apartment tower with ground-level retail.14 Residential units are sorely needed in downtown Seattle, yet the overwhelming public response to the announcement was an outcry over the possible loss of the venue.  The natural opposition to change by the current residents is why equestrian and agricultural areas need to be acquired and preserved in the short-term through a variety of approaches (incentives, acquisition, and regulation), to successfully achieve a long-term goal of providing greenspace, water treatment, recreation areas, and carbon sequestration on the peri-urban fringe.

By viewing the Cascadia corridor as an urban ecosystem, the feedback components can be studied to create better design policy, plans, restoration, and transformation.16,17 A public policy in favor of dense urban growth and maintenance of the nearby open space and infrastructure services can help incentivize the growth and allow the rural areas to remain productive.  These services are not economically inconsequential; the estimated value of the horse industry nationwide is $112 billion, and for every 1% increase in the agricultural land base, revenue for the local community increases by $250 to $500,000.18  In Lexington, Kentucky, the thoroughbred industry has a $2.4 billion impact to the surrounding Fayette County.19

To avoid the “tyranny of small decisions,” the management practices and public policies need to be planned and managed for at least a city-wide scale, if not a regional scale.20  Peri-urban Areas adjacent to urban areas face economic pressures to convert to sprawl or development, and as property taxes increase, it can be challenging to maintain the property in productive status rather than convert. There are two primary methods to promote a policy favoring productive lands, which can be provided either by regional or local non-profits, local governments, or state agencies.  Both of these methods attempt to safeguard open space through the creation of “land reserves.”21

The first method is the transfer or purchase of development rights.  Under this system, a program, generally with government backing, identifies the desirable qualities for eligible properties and then purchases the development rights for those properties.  These programs provide long-term conservation of the open space and ecological services while providing economic returns to the property owner.  When combined with tax incentives for the open space, it can provide a reasonable return to properties on the peri-urban fringe that are highly valued by the urban residents, but under economic pressure to transition to development.  Well-designed programs generally provide direct financial incentives in exchange for conservation plans for the property.15,19  The development rights that are purchased can be used for more intensive development in an urban area, or “banked” for future use.22

The second method is conservation easements.  A conservation easement is a legal agreement that limits the use of a property to protect conservation value.  Local and national land trusts generally work with property owners to identify valuable properties that provide sensitive habitat or other resources.  The land trust uses donor funds, as well as government funds, to compensate the property owner for maintaining the land in conservation status for a specified period of time, or, possibly, in perpetuity.  The landowner receives compensation for the land, and the public gets the ecological benefits of the open space.

In some cases, land dedicated to agricultural or open space uses is also eligible for tax incentives, further reducing the burden on the property owner for choosing a property use that creates less economic returns.  Conservation easements that require a property to maintain an equestrian use are available, and can ensure the longevity of facilities, economic returns for the property owner, natural resource benefits to the community, and proximity of ecological resources to urban residents.

In some cases, land dedicated to agricultural or open space uses is also eligible for tax incentives, further reducing the burden on the property owner for choosing a property use that creates less economic returns.  Conservation easements that require a property to maintain an equestrian use are available and can ensure the longevity of facilities, economic returns for the property owner, natural resource benefits to the community, and proximity of ecological resources to urban residents.

In addition, the use of carbon taxes, land-value assessments, and ecological-use fees can be employed to drive decision-making in favor of a public policy of conservation, maintenance, and restoration of open space.6  The existing use of “sin” taxes on alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, soda, and candy, could be broadened — although likely with heavy public opposition — to include meat.23 The use of agricultural areas to provide food crops for animals, rather than for humans, is a source of inefficiency in the food supply chain.24,25

[In Part III of this three-part series, available on December 3rd, Master of Natural Resources (MNR) student Martha Wehling will discuss the ways in which agriculture or equine overlays can help to maintain urban sustainability in the Cascadia corridor.]

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Martha Wehling is a graduate student in the MNR program who enjoys riding her off-the-track thoroughbred, Duke. 

The Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability thanks the following photographers for sharing their work through the Creative Commons License: Tom Brandt, Stuart Chalmers, King County Parks Your Big Backyard, and You As A Machine.

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