When does population growth pay off? A case study of suburban land consumption to assess the Lower Austrian infrastructural cost calculator

J Hous Built Environ. 2019;34(1):331-344. doi: 10.1007/s10901-018-09639-7. Epub 2018 Dec 28.


'To increase the number of inhabitants' is a commonly stated top objective in municipal strategies across European countries. Not differently in Austria, local policy follows a logic of growth as financial tax and redistribution systems reward according to population figures; but is demographic growth necessarily financially beneficial for a municipality, irrespective of the type of land use changes, and potentially urban sprawl, that it triggers? The Federal State of Lower Austria offers to its municipalities a strategic online planning tool to pre-assess eventual municipal infrastructural costs and tax revenues that would come with certain population increase. This study tests the Lower Austrian infrastructural cost calculator and, in so doing, seeks to add a spatial perspective to an otherwise oversimplified financial calculation of planning for growth. The case study municipality of Michelhausen formulated an ambitious objective of 25% population growth (+ 700 inhabitants) within a few years in its local development strategy, to be realised by enlarging a rural settlement area. The study will assess five possible alternatives of settlement enlargement with varying housing types for their municipal financial consequences. In conducting this case study, the infrastructural cost calculator, a strategic planning tool offered by the federal planning authority of Lower Austria to their municipalities, will be assessed for its current potential as well as possible enhancement as strategic planning instrument to support municipalities in financial questions when developing building land. Normative lessons drawn from the whole exercise directly address actors and decision-makers in local and regional planning context in Lower Austria. The study ends with a short outlook of possible learnings and transfer into other national and international planning practice contexts.

Keywords: Density; Infrastructure; Land use; Local; Municipality; Public finance; Residential area; Settlement development; Spatial planning instrument.