If You Zone It, They Still Won't Come

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Money grafs from a Washington Post article on Maryland's years-old "Smart Growth" initiative, which sought to force development into state-approved plots of land:

A review of key state and local planning records, however, shows no significant shifts in Maryland's development patterns since the passage of Glendening's smart-growth package. Growth still takes place where there was nothing, rather than where it has gone before.

Leading up to 1997, when the program began, about 75 percent of the land consumed by home building in Maryland was cut from pastures, woods and other parcels outside of the smart-growth areas. In 2001, the last year for which statewide data are available, the percentage was almost exactly the same, according to Maryland Department of Planning records.

Whole thing here.

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  1. joe, the only zoning that knocks neighborhood stores out is that which requires x number of parking spaces because the residents don’t want people parking on the street by their homes. The only solution to that is municipal or “pay” parking lots which either requires the community to buy up enough space for the lots (meaning an increase in taxes) or competition with Wal-Mart’s “free” lots. If dense housing could be built to support enough customers to walk to those stores, it would work, but that assumes more people want to live in dense housing than is already available on the market. Dense housing equals more noise and different inconveniences and there’s no escaping those facts. There are a large number of buyers who are willing to drive 50-miles one way to work and put up with road congestion just to avoid residential congestion. Each person makes his own value decision and zoning can’t escape the fact that it is intended precisely to protect those value decisions.

  2. ‘”Smart Growth” is about hubris. It starts with the idea that something as complex, organic and continually evolving as a city can be understood by some set of experts who can then derive a plan which will cause the city to evolve in a specific direction and form.’ Actually, it starts out with the idea that rules based on that line of thinking are already in place (zoning and subdivision control date back to the 20s), and they aren’t working out so well.

    As for being able to guide the direction and form, the key word here is “specific.” The growth of a city can be guided, but only to a certain level of specificity. It is when the regulators try to get too specific that the outcomes diverge greatly from the plan, and/or the regulation becomes unduly burdensome. We planners have a much more humble opinion about the degree of control that can and should be exercised than was the case in the 50s-70s.

    One of the most common housing regulations in existence is the single family-only, large lot zoning district. Areas zoned for this, and only this, use occupy maybe 3/4 of the land area of most suburbs. Smart growth encourages the deregulation of this land to allow builders and homeowners to choose smaller lots, or to convert to (gasp, faint) rental housing or condominiums. The biggest opponents of this reform are conservatives, who predicted that, through regulation, they could create a neighborhood in which working people couldn’t live. And they were right.

    Plans get “mutated” by the political and social systems when the planners write the plan themselves, then try to sell it to the public. This is bad planning practice. What we try to do instead in involve the relevant stakeholders from the beginning, so that the plan that gets presented is THEIR plan, one they buy into, that reflects their interests, and that they have a personal stake in getting implemented.

  3. First of all, Russ, there is also zoning that forbids retail and business uses in neighborhoods outright. THAT puts a stop to corner stores real fast.

    Now, “dense housing” is a mighty amorphous term. It takes roughly 1000 residential units to support 10,000 square feet of retail – say, one small grocery and one corener restaurant w/bar. Let’s assume that people will walk up to 1/8 mile (a ten minute walk). Within that radius is 251 acres. Meaning, if you build at a gross density of 4 units/acre, your neighborhood can support those businesses. Subtract 20% for roads, and you’ve still got lots nobody in their right mind would consider urban.

    Obviously, it’s more complicated than that. But basically, you can have single family homes with yards, swing sets, and enough room for four-year-olds to play tag, and still be at an adequate density to support the little business district.

    Anyway, I suspect our fellow posters would take exception to your (and my) belief that property rights can be curtailed in order to protect “value decisions.”

  4. Patrick,

    Make the chemical plant reponsible for all harm it does to its neighbors, and that’s not necessarily such a big concern anymore.

    Joe,

    If “Smart Growth” is about deregulation but for some reason scares off people who are otherwise in favor of deregulation, maybe you should call it something else! The name sure conjures up images of central planning! And in case you’ll accuse me again of getting all my info about it from Reason, I’ve previously gotten most of my info about it from my lefty friends. As I’ve said before, you’re the first one I’ve known to associate it with deregulation, but hell, if deregulation is what you’re agitating for, by all means go for it!

  5. Joe,

    “Plans get “mutated” by the political and social systems when the planners write the plan themselves, then try to sell it to the public”

    No, plans get mutated because that is what the political process does to all decision making. The “Stakeholders” whose input you so value will always be some sort of minuscle minorty of all the people affected by your decisions. They will mostly likely be developers and professional political activist. They will distort the process to fit their narrow agendas.

    For new construction, the people most directly affected like individual families and business, won’t have any input because they don’t have a stake yet as nothing exist for them to buy. Yet they will have to live with the consequences of the decisions that the minority made years before.

    Neither can you expect to correct the errors of the past. It’s as if having failed to nail jello to the wall and ended up with a wall full of nails, you conclude that solution is bigger nails and more nuanced hammering.

    In fact, you have the wrong tools for the job.

  6. fyodor, “If “Smart Growth” is about deregulation but for some reason scares off people who are otherwise in favor of deregulation, maybe you should call it something else!”

    Perhaps I haven’t been clear, then. Smart Growth is neither “about regulation” nor “about deregulation.” It’s about better ways for places to be built, and to function. In its policy recommendations, it includes some additional regulation, and some deregulation; some increased fees, and some lower fees. My point was not to sell Smart Growth as a libertoid hobby horse, but to refute the assertion, above, that it is about feeding the leviathan. It is neither.

    Shannon, you’re making assumptions. Let me be clear – I’m including the political powers that be, neighbors, and all those who will be affected by a plan in my definition of “appropriate stakeholders,” not just the miniscule minority you mention. Now, achieving the perfect 100% representation is an elusive goal, but like everything else in life, we try our best and make do with a good-enough group of voices with which to work. We also break the planning process down into manageable parts, so that we can “narrowcast” those elements of the process for which a particular subset of the public needs to be heard.

    BTW, for someone willing to consider the control of decisions by the wealthy to be a good enough stand in for Adam Smith’s hand, and who argues from the position that there can never be better outcomes than those determined by the market, uninfluenced by morality or democracy, you’re awfully quick to dismiss Community Paticipation and city planning in general for failing to achieve perfection.

  7. Transportation and other infrastructure cost are socialized so people who live at the end of long roads do not pay any more for those roads than people who live in compact areas.

    Shannon-

    Not entirely true. Although it isn’t a perfect system, and I’m not here to defend it from any and all reforms, gasoline taxes can be considered crude user fees for roads. Yes, yes, I know, it isn’t perfect, I know. My only point is that those who drive more on public roads do pay more in taxes via gasoline taxes.

    Of course, gasoline taxes are more or less linearly proportional to miles traveled and the weight of the car (heavier cars need more gasoline to travel the same distance). In the past it has been argued by some posters on this forum that the cost of road repairs is a highly non-linear function of weight, and so in an ideal system (be it public or private) trucks would pay much higher fees for roads (be it via taxes or private usage fees).

    Anyway, I guess my point is that it might make a lot of sense to require that gasoline taxes be spent entirely on roads and nothing else. This would essentially put gasoline taxes off-limits from other uses and hence reduce the incentives to increase them (yay!) and at least make a step in the direction of tying a tax to services consumed (yah!). Yes, I know, it isn’t perfect, and in the Purist Property Republic of Libertopia all roads would be private. I still think that, in the present situation, this would be a step forward.

  8. “the position that there can never be better outcomes than those determined by the market”

    Setting aside all the other issues at hand for a moment, I would like to address Joe’s implication that libertarianism is informed by a free-market utopianism. (Joe hasn’t used the word “utopianism” on this thread, but he has accused libertarians of being utopian on previous threads, and he seems to be vamping on the same theme here.)

    Not to necessarily speak for everyone else who considers his or her political philosophy represented by the term libertarianism, I recognize that centrally planned solutions can occasionally be more efficient and utilitarian than market based solutions. However, this outcome is unlikely, and so I may speak of it in terms that seem to imply I consider it not possible for the same reason I would not seriously entertain the possibility of throwing heads ten times in a row even though I know such an outcome is possible. In other words, it’s only natural to speak of a much more likely outcome as if it were the only possible outcome even though it’s not technically or literally the case. Market based solution are generally preferable to centrally planned ones, and so I bet on them every time. I may lose occasionally, but less so than if I were to bet on centrally planned solutions.

    Joe, to those who consider zoning inherently coercive and corrupt, your advocating “smart growth” sounds like someone who advocates more enlightened forms of censorship or racial discrimination would sound to you.

  9. I have to wonder about the trend line – was that 75% up from 65% a decade earlier, and 60% a decade before that? Arresting a growth trend can be a significant change.

  10. This is, of course, a reason for more restrictive and draconian legislation. The serfs must be beaten until they realize what is best for them!

  11. As is all “Tragedy of the Commons” situation, RC, the problem is not that people don’t know what is in their interests, but that the efforts by each individual to maximize his own outcomes contributes to a situation in which the returns for everyone are continually degraded.

    FamilyA lives 1 mile from downtown. Family Adislikes the polluted air. Family A moves 10 miles from downtown, drives 10x as far to work, creates 10x as much air pollution. Family B, living 3 miles from downtown, now has greater air pollution. Family B moves 15 miles from downtown, drives 5x as far to work. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Similary dynamics with capital flight, retail vacancy, many other factors.

  12. Perhaps it has changed some trends, but I still view the Smart Growth initiative in Maryland as mostly a sham on the part of Parris Glendening to help his political buddies (some developers and areas), punish his political opponents, and suck up to ‘Green’ squeaky wheels. I don’t really get into the residential development parts of it, since they don’t really interest me, but the infrastructure planning that went along with SG was, at least to my eyes, rather arbitrary and capricious.

  13. That sounds chicken-egg to my, Highway. If Glendenning’s “friends” are those who are doing neotrad and redevelopment projects, and his programs are favoring projects that meet certain smart growth criteria, then of course his programs are going to fund projects done by those who are his “friends.”

    If a missile-defense true believer from Raytheon became a Congressman, and put forward bills to support missile-defense, those bills could just as fairly be described as “a sham to help his buddies,” when in fact it would be a strategy to achieve a reasonable (though debatable) set of goals, and the personal relationships involved would not explain what was happening.

  14. The irony here is that factors that drive people out to the burbs are largely the result of centralized planning and socialized cost in the first place.

    Transportation and other infrastructure cost are socialized so people who live at the end of long roads do not pay any more for those roads than people who live in compact areas. Creating a property tax system where the tax on the property reflected the cost of providing services would slow a lot of sprawl instantly.

    The government school system drives people out because physically relocating one’s residence is the only way to choose a school for one’s children. A choice base system in education would let people change schools without moving their households.

    Instead of treating people like idiots and criminals for trying to best by their families we should remove the perverse incentives that drive and pull them out into the sprawl in the first place.

  15. To add to Shannon’s comment, most of these stories concern residential density but they never touch upon retail/industrial density. It doesn’t matter how dense the housing is if the residents still have to drive 10 miles to the gigantic office center or the quarter-mile long Wal-Mart. It’s rare to find these commerical developments on recently-built commercial roads, this development all takes place on county, state, and federal roads all laid out decades ago (for convenient access). As you get farther from the urban core, these roads get farther apart from each other, instead of commercial strips every half-mile, they become 4 miles apart. The residences fill in around them. You can make the residences as dense as you want, but there will still be 4 solid miles of homes between commercial strips.

    Until you start seeing newly-plotted commercial roads, the “smart-growth” is going to continue to focus on the symptom rather than the cause.

  16. Shannon, there’s a term for the changes you describe – “Smart Growth.”

    In addition to fixing the property tax system, similar changes could be made in utility pricing. Currently, residents of developed areas subsidize greenfield projects.

    Why do you suppose school systems vary so dramatically in quality, to the point that people go through the cost of relocating to get into another public school?

    BTW, nobody’s treating families like idiots and criminals for responding rationally (on the micro level) to the system of incentives that exists. Smart Growth is about changing the incentives.

  17. Russ, another strategy would be to allow neighborhood stores, so that people can make only half as many trips to Wal Mart.

  18. I’m a member of the Small Area Planning Committee for Anne Arundel County, Maryland. One of the latest innovations in zoning is “Mixed Use.” After I stopped laughing, I asked the guy promoting this, “Wasn’t that what we had before we had zoning?”

    There was a long pause as the wattage slowly increased in the lightbulb over his head.

  19. “Smart growth” is about restricting property rights. Nothing else. Telling people what they can sell their land for.

    It is championed by those who already have their piece of the pie (those with .75 acre, 2400 sq-ft houses in the burbs) who do not want anyone else to get what they already have. They have a home that was once built on open pasture, yet they wish to deny that privilige to others, so as not to spoil their “view”.

    Shades of NIMBY and BANANA, really.

  20. Yep. The original “Mixed Use” was a natural result of the limitation of not being able to drive out to the burbs to get away from everyone else. Zoning was originally intended to keep dirty industries away from houses, then it was discovered that you could keep out other noxious things such as shopping, schools, and people you don’t like. Joe Miller, if you think getting rid of zoning will lead to anything like the traditional towns that have mostly been zoned out of existence for the convenience of automobiles, don’t be surprised when a chemical plant opens up in the vacant lot behind you….

  21. Joe, not matter how you justify it, you have no right to tell people where to live.

  22. “”Smart growth” is about restricting property rights. Nothing else. Telling people what they can sell their land for.”

    Chef, you obviously don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Smart Growthers recommend considerable amounts of deregulation, reduction in government spending, and streamlining of the permitting process. And most support for smart growth comes from the cities, not suburbanites.

    Perhaps you could do some reading on the subject from writers whose primary purpose isn’t to sell you one side of the issue? But then, once you learn enough about an issue that you don’t make clownish statements that advertise your ignorance, you tend to be less sure about making chest thumping cries-de-coeur like your last post.

  23. joe,

    “Smart Growth is about changing the incentives.”

    I disagree, unless you call do-it-or-I’ll-hit-you an incentive. Every “Smart Growth” plan I have seen relies on explicit coercion by making it illegal to build outside the dictates of the plan. They may offer this or that carrot but the main method of control is threats of lawsuits, fines and imprisonment for people who build outside the plan. I am unaware of any plan that seeks to undo the fundamental incentives of socialized cost. If anything, they seek to socialize even more cost and politicize even more housing decisions.

    “Smart Growth” is about hubris. It starts with the idea that something as complex, organic and continually evolving as a city can be understood by some set of experts who can then derive a plan which will cause the city to evolve in a specific direction and form. This level of real world understanding does not exist.

    Even if experts could create such a plan “Smart Growth” advocates then believe they could successfully push the plan through a highly charged political system without it getting completely mutated into uselessness. That presumption is the truly arrogantly stupid part.

  24. “Market based solution are generally preferable to centrally planned ones, and so I bet on them every time. I may lose occasionally, but less so than if I were to bet on centrally planned solutions.”

    This may well be the case. However, we do not have to decide, for all time, which side to come down on for everty possible issue. It is possible that Issue A would be best addressed via a purely market solution, Issue B via government control, and Issues C – ZZB by different combinations of the two. It is best to take problems as they come and come to the most plausible position on that particular issue.

  25. Joe has done great service justifying his job and has shown all his mastery of Planner’s Cant. The vaguely academic and soothing tones are learned from years of talking with other “wiser-than-thou” types and presenting to the ragtag collection of nutjobs (stakeholders) who appear at community meetings.

    A claim to “not feed Leviathian” while in public service, crafting the dictation of the regime of choices available to citizens, is absurd. He is part of the beast and so cannot see it completely.

    The market is not a prescriptive force. It does not cause or dictate anything. It is not the alternative to planning. An alternative to planning is freedom. “Market” is the word describing the mechanism by which individuals attempt to negotiate happiness. Planning distorts the mechanism, and usually leads to unintended consequences. Which require more planning. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  26. We planners have a much more humble opinion about the degree of control that can and should be exercised than was the case in the 50s-70s.

    “Sure, now we only want to tell you where to live, how much room you will need, and where you will shop- we will also control all your transportation and education choices- and we will tax your ass hard enough so that we make at least three times as much as any of you peons are.”

    “But, we’ll be humble

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