Let’s say you’re the governor of a fairly typical American state. Your state has a number of issues facing it. You have one major metropolitan area with a booming economy, but it also has high and increasing housing prices, sprawling exurbs that are chewing up pristine land and causing massive congestion difficulties, and an unruly population that resents the use of so much of the city’s tax revenue on other areas of the state. Those other areas have quite different problems. They’re economically stagnant with quaint but dying small towns full of shuttered properties. Young people in those towns leave if they’re able to, and the rest of the residents are constantly pressuring you to spend millions on infrastructure improvements and business incentives to try and boost their flagging economies.
On top of all this, you see that your citizens are concerned about things like carbon emissions, high oil prices, and general quality of life issues. How do you face all of these problems?
I have to tell you, if I were the governor of such a state (and I can think of plenty that match that general description), I’d at least think about sounding out the voters on a plan to build a regional, high-speed rail network. You could create what you might call a distributed metropolis. Those seeking refuge from hellish commutes and high home prices in metropolitan exurbs could live in walkable small towns with fast, easy access to their jobs in the big city. A new residential base would help shore up the economies of the small towns. Exisiting small town housing stock is given new value and the lovely countryside is protected. You insulate your residents from congestion and oil prices and you save millions on the money you’d be throwing at call centers to pay them to employ people. Plus, when folks who enjoy their life in the big city want to spend a weekend at a slower pace, they don’t have to spend four hours sitting still on choked freeways. What’s not to like?