The Urbanist does a lot of work with the data of cities. From tunnel budgets to climate impacts to new developments, there’s numbers all over Seattle. Unfortunately, we rarely get to calculate the productivity of a piece of land, figuring how much the development of a parcel brings in through taxes compared to how much it requires in city expenditures. In this video, Strong Towns offers some thoughts on why that may be the most important number of all.

For those who follow Strong Towns, this video is a very good primer on something the group has been pushing for quite a while. Cities do a poor job calculating the real economic impact of development, overestimating the benefits of growth machine subdivisions and underestimating the contribution of infill development within already urbanized areas.

The Michael Kovacs article discussed, the one comparing measuring land productivity to analytic driven Moneyball, makes a very interesting point. Cities occasionally calculate the impact of expanding infrastructure and charge the new developments appropriately. Very rarely do they calculate replacement of that new infrastructure, measured against the new development’s contribution to the community in taxes. “Failure to maintain is the first ‘soft bankruptcy,’” Kovacs points out. “If you can’t fix your roof, you won’t be in your house long.” In very plain terms, mostly around the city of Asheville, North Carolina, the video shows what getting those numbers correct actually looks like.

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Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.