by Ryan Avent

Yesterday's New York Times featured a look at the wave of American cities considering investments in streetcars. Once upon a time, streetcars rambled along the avenues of many American cities, but most systems were dismantled as planners did their best to accommodate the automobile during the 1950s and 60s. Too late did they realize that making it difficult to get around within town and easy to get into town from the suburbs would encourage everyone who could afford a car and a home to leave.

These days, buoyed by urban renewal, cities are increasingly seeing the value in working to serve and attract central city residents, rather than catering to suburban commuters and hoping employers stay put. This policy has paid marvelous dividends in some cases. In Washington, rezoning for dense, transit-oriented development around Metro stations has led to tens of thousands of new residents and billions of dollars of new property on tax rolls. In Portland, one of the capitals of modern streetcar use, the situation has been similarly lucrative:

Streetcar advocates point to Portland, Ore., which built the first major modern streetcar system in the United States, in 2001, and has since added new lines interlaced with a growing light rail system. Since Portland announced plans for the system, more than 10,000 residential units have been built and $3.5 billion has been invested in property within two blocks of the line, according to Portland Streetcar Inc., which operates the system.

Quite the investment.