The Environmental Cost of Housing Crisis

While most of the commentary, including mine, about the collapse of Big Shitpile (aka the housing crisis) has focused on the financial and economic effects, building more housing than we needed--and couldn't afford--also had environmental effects. Take, for instance, Prince William County, VA:

Stewart and other Prince William officials hope a new developer will soon be found to construct Harbor Station, the nearly 2,000-acre parcel near Dumfries with the glittering golf course.

McLean developer Robert C. Kettler and partners had planned on building 4,000 houses, a town center with luxury shopping and a Virginia Railway Express station on the site. Kettler, who had invested more than $200 million in the project, lost his equity when his partner defaulted on a $100 million loan last year.

The bank maintains the golf course greens, but an imposing rock wall that was built to showcase the entrance of the development is crumbling like in a scene from "Life After People" on the History Channel.

The situation pains environmentalists, who had fought the project from its inception and had hoped to preserve what was then one of Northern Virginia's last privately owned waterfront forests. It is still home to abundant wildlife and a bald eagle habitat.

"The most environmentally sensitive piece of property in Prince William County has been destroyed and for what? Nothing right now," said Kim Hosen, executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance.

The environment is one thing no government bailout will ever bring back. If it does bounce back, we will all be dead and buried before it does.

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But it isn't only the politicians in the Washington suburbs that will, in one breath, talk about growing the economy and, in the next, talk about things like saving the Chesapeake, as if there is nothing conflicting about the two goals. As long as our economists continue to see growth as being essential for a healthy economy, continued environmental degradation will be a necessary part of American life.

By Bob Carlson (not verified) on 16 Oct 2010 #permalink

As long as our economists continue to see growth as being essential for a healthy economy, continued environmental degradation will be a necessary part of American life

This is utter nonsense. You as might as well say that outlawing slavery, or requiring overtime, or whatever, prevents economic growth. Such things clearly haven't.

There is less growth possible whenever potential economic activities disappear, but that is not the same as saying growth must then be zero or negative.

This is all true even if you are thoughtless enough to consider environment degradation as a non-cost. Perhaps you want to explain to everyone how there actually weren't any negative economic impacts from the Gulf Oil summer this past summer? You are, in other words, calling things growth when they are growth for some people, but they happen to be a loss for people you can't bother to think about.

By william e emba (not verified) on 16 Oct 2010 #permalink

I do not understand the headline. If the housing crisis prevented overdevelopment, isn't that a plus for the environment? From the story in the article, it sounds like it would have been better if the crisis had come earlier.

The only thing true environmentalists can do is buy some organic rope and hang themselves over their compost pile.

As to the permanent destruction of the environment see life after people for details. Mother nature would take it back if abandoned. In the east 100 years should suffice to make the land back to nearly primordial wilderness and in 200 it should be like it was in 1600. Virginia is wet enough that processes happen fast. I suspect a house built in Va would be a pile of rubble in 60 years (depending upon the type of roof as the roof goes first). Once can see this by going to the land between the lakes in KY and looking past the mowed are to the trees which after 50 years are very thick.
So it is just an issue of time constants involved. Yes we may not live to see it, but mother nature is far more resilient than we give her credit for it just may take a while.