Land Use and “The Cobra Effect” — Strong Towns


Land Use and “The Cobra Effect” — Strong Towns

Land Use and “The Cobra Effect”

Image of a king cobra via Flickr user  Benjamin Michael Marshall .
Image of a king cobra via Flickr user Benjamin Michael Marshall.

Let’s start with a story. In rural India, there are cobras…

For many years, India was under British colonial rule. One day, a British fellow thought of an idea for reducing the number of cobras. He created a bounty system whereby folks were paid for each dead cobra they brought in. This worked for a while, but eventually people figured out that it was much easier (and more profitable) to bring in dead cobras they had bred and raised rather than trying to find them in the wild (and who wants to do that—it’s dangerous!).  The British authorities caught on and ended the bounty program; this was not what they intended. So what did the cobra breeders do with the leftover cobras? They let them loose in the wild of course, which led to there being more cobras than when the bounty system had begun.

Thus was born the phrase “The Cobra Effect,” or the law of unintended consequences: an attempt to solve a problem that in the process actually makes it worse.

There can be unintended consequences that result from our land use and infrastructure decisions. These decisions are generally intended to make our communities better, but they can actually make our communities worse off if we haven’t considered the longterm impacts.

Developers may pay to install public infrastructure, but local governments inherit the maintenance of it. Think about all of the pavement, sidewalks, water lines, sewer lines, parks…the list goes on. 

The same goes for projects funded by the federal government: the federal government…

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Land Use and “The Cobra Effect” — Strong Towns