Real estate developers have long been criticized as a threat to the environment and, many times, for good reasons. Suburban sprawl has certainly destroyed many open, green spaces and natural habitats. Forests have been cut down in exchange for big box retail and rows of overpriced McMansions. But, when it comes to urban development, there are examples where saving green space can do more harm then good.
Recently, the City of Philadelphia has begun to auction off many of their surplus properties. The economic picture for the City of Brotherly Love looks dim, much like the balance sheet of every major city in the country. Budgets are in the red, and promises made to pensions, medical care, and bloated payrolls will keep cities losing money for many years. So, it seems natural for Philadelphia to begin a process of selling real estate. However, many times, vacant lots owned by the City have been used by neighborhoods as parks where children play and events are hosted. For this reason, many residents are upset, and rightfully so, that developers may get there hands on these properties and quickly destroy green spaces.
Although one can certainly understand neighbors fighting against further development and preserving open green spaces, there are several larger issues to point out both environmental and economic. For example, it is important to keep in mind that urban development is a greener option in and of itself. The more density there is in urban areas, the less suburban sprawl. That means more public transportation and less gas consumption. Smaller townhomes often use far less resources than larger suburban developments. In other words, keeping urban spaces open and green pushes development further outward into the suburbs where resources are utilized less efficiently.
Philadelphia is one of the most spread out cities and one of the biggest reasons is that for so long no one was able to build higher than William Penn's hat on the top of City Hall. This caused less density in the City, less population, less businesses, and less tax revenue. Although this law was finally repealed, the City is still trying to catch up and bring businesses back into Center City. Less density and development has hurt Philadelphia economically and made it tougher for the City to compete for jobs.
All economic decisions have tradeoffs and keeping these spaces open is really just causing another space somewhere else to get developed and suburban sprawl to continue. We should be embracing housing demand in urban areas because, in the larger picture, it is more sensible for cities economically and better for the environment.