Lord, Mr. Ford, I Just Wish That You Could See What Your Simple Horseless Carriage Has Become

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Writing in The New York Times Magazine, John Tierney describes the ongoing public-policy debate over cars, roads, and sprawl. It's a well-written introduction to the discussion, whether or not you agree with everything it says. And it should be a bracing tonic for anyone who's only heard one side of the argument.

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  1. 2 ‘words’: ’05 Stang

  2. The sound you hear is Joe bursting into flames.

  3. The arguments Tierny refutes are, from the point of view of actual planning professionals, strawmen.

    He buys the silly framing of the issue as “cars vs. no cars,” when no serious thinker believes there is any future than doesn’t include mass automobile ownership. Driving the minivan one day out of the week with Bruce Springsteen playing, with other options available and used at other times, is exactly what smart growth advocates are trying to achieve. Admittedly, much of the blame for this misconception lies with environmentalists, who seized on the iconic stature of the car to give their own arguments some oomph, but a car is ultimately just a tool, and appliance, and the real issue is that usage of that tool.

    The choice between the city home and the suburban home is similarly phony, because it pretends that the conditions that lead to the lop-sided perferences for sprawl are mainly about the housing styles themselves. Of course people choose to live where they perceive the schools to be better and the streets to be safer! But while there is a strong correlation between these factors and the urbanity today, in this country, this correlation is not predestined. Where cities (or urban/traditional-style new towns) offer good schools and public safety, real estate agents have no trouble at all commanding top dollar, while auto-oriented suburbs that have poor schools and high crime (Watts, for example) have very low demand, despite their big lots and single family homes. When actual photos of different types of neighborhoods are shown (visual preference surveys), traditional neighborhoods hold their own against sprawly subdivisions.

  4. This article is near and dear to Reason’s historical heart.

    So can anyone here ever address my long-held contention that traffic signals were a bad idea from the start and should all be removed and melted for scrap.

  5. Jerry Reed is cool.

  6. Ulimately, the “autonomy” argument boils down to the premise that people can have access to more stuff with a car than without. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. If the city is built so that only people with cars can have decent access to a decent number of destinations, than those with cars have an advantage. OTOH, consider a resident of Boston’s neighborhoods. He can walk out his front door and have access to thousands of different destinations without ever getting in a car. If he were to get into a car, the number of places he has decent access to actually decreases, because now he’s fighting for parking, stuck in traffic, and paying a fortune to put his car in a garage.

    The catch is, if you build cities so as to increase the access of pedestrians and transit riders to destinations, you restrict the access of drivers. And if you build cities to increase the access of drivers, you reduce the access of pedestrians and transit drivers.

    Since the vast majority of the country’s metropolitan areas have been built to provide access for drivers, it’s no surprise that driving offers better access than transit or walking. Sadly, when people point this out to Tierny, his response is to call them names.

  7. I’ll repost, from a thread below:

    “I’ve had it with the traffic signal bashing, Ruthless.

    “Traffic signals ENHANCE the efficiency of intersections that have moderate to high volume, compared to stop signs. Haven’t you ever noticed the people sitting at a four way stop, staring at each other? Then, finally, one car goes. Then the all stare at each other again. Then another car goes. Traffic signals eliminate this wasted time. If you look at an intersection with a traffic signal, you will notice there is very little time during which no one is making a movement, while at an intersection with enough traffic volume to warrant a light (but that is regulated with stop signs), there is a great deal of time spent with no one going through the intersection.

    “Now, traffic circles can be even more efficient, because no one has to stop, ever, unless there is a car in their way. If the way is clear, you just enter the rotary. With both lights and stop signs, there are constantly cars waiting for the light to change, or stopping at the sign when there are no cars coming. This, btw, means that the people behind them now DO have cars in their way. The only problems with traffic circles is that they 1) take up a lot more space, 2) are tough on pedestrians, because they have to walk around a semi-circle rather than just go straight, 3) there is no “safe” period as you cross any of the streets, when cars are compelled to stop, because everything is a yield, and 4) when a traffic circle gets too much volume, it locks up.

    “Of course you, wretched anarchist, probably don’t even want drivers approaching the circle to have to yield to circulating cars. Bah!”

  8. “but the worst traffic tends to be in densely populated urban areas that haven’t been building new roads, like New York and Chicago — the kind of places hailed by smart-growth planners but now avoided by companies looking for convenient offices.”

    First of all, New York, Chicago, and Boston are being shunned by the office crowd? Bullshit!!!

    Second, virtually all of this extra traffic is creted by the growth of the suburbs, compelling people to drive into the city for their jobs. Someone please explain to me how building yet another suburban highway that links into the city’s road system is supposed to reduce the volume of traffic on that city’s road system.

  9. “Suburban car culture traps women. Critics complain that mothers in the suburbs are sentenced to long hours chauffeuring children to malls and soccer games and piano lessons, which are tasks that do indeed require a car. But so do most of their jobs. In his book ”Edge City,” the writer Joel Garreau traces the golden age of sprawl to the surge in women entering the work force in the 70’s and 80’s, when the number of cars in America doubled as developers rushed to build office parks and malls for women who didn’t have time to take the bus downtown. The only way to juggle all their responsibilities was to buy a car and find a job close to the stores and schools and day-care centers near their homes.”

    So the fact that they have to drive a lot to get to their jobs is supposed to make it better that they have to drive a lot to do other things? In fact, the imposition of having to drive everywhere is made worse when it’s on top of having to drive to and from work every day.

  10. I thought this was a bit creepy.

    “If a driver slows down anywhere along it, sensors in the pavement instantly alert engineers in a control room, and video cameras along the road swivel to give them a view of the car. When there’s a problem, the road’s managers guarantee help will arrive within five minutes.”

  11. Thanks joe, I needed that.
    I’d also melt down all stop signs.
    I just didn’t want to spring EVERYTHING all at once on my pals here.

  12. “You may not like the new homes being built for them at the edge of your town, but if preserving large ecosystems and wildlife habitat is your priority, better to concentrate people in the suburbs and exurbs rather than scatter them in the remote countryside.”

    Concentrating people, rather than scattering them all over the countryside, is the environmentalist/smart growth position. The sprawlist position is to scatter them across the countryside. As an urbanist, I make this argument all the time to people who think having a narrow band of trees between each home counts as “green development.”

    Lumping nimbyism in with environmentalism and smart growth theory is a common mistake, but one that someone setting out to shed light on the debate should be refuting, not making himself.

  13. Well I can vouch for Joe’s example of Boston. Since moving here 14 years ago, there really hasn’t been a need to drive anywhere. As a matter of fact, I don’t drive anywhere unless I know there is a parking lot available close by in advance, and that there isn’t a Sox game going on. When going out for a night on the town, you don’t exactly want to drive if you wanna get smashing drunk and mind altered; forgetting where you parked is the least of your worries – and that’s what the plentiful cabs are for.

  14. I actually agree with a couple of things Joe is saying — notably the comment that “cars vs. no cars” is a bad way to frame the debate. But for someone who’s accusing Tierney for dueling with strawmen, Joe, you’re doing quite a bit of that yourself. The point of the “convenient offices” comment, for example, was not to claim that no one puts offices in cities; it was to note the fact that work has been following people to the suburbs, and that this has been putting a brake on commute times.

    Also, traffic circles are vile.

    Bandit: He sure is.

  15. Okay, joe, expound on this:
    Has the mortgage interest expense deduction been a factor causing sprawl?

  16. “Commuter trains and subways make sense in New York, Chicago and a few other cities, and there are other forms of transit, like express buses, that can make a difference elsewhere. (Vans offering door-to-door service are a boon to the elderly and people without cars.) But for most Americans, mass transit is impractical and irrelevant.”

    You know, New York and Chicago aren’t mystical places people with magical people. People in their suburbs and neighborhoods choose transit because the layout of the region makes transit make the most sense. And the reason transit makes sense in those areas is because the layout of those communities is centered around transit, not highway interchanges.

    Of course, when people like Peter Calthorpe pointed this out to Tieney, he started babbling about aristocrats.

  17. have you experienced the traffic circle’s irish cousin, the turnabout?

    interesting. and not nearly as sucky as they appear at first.

  18. Do planners honestly expect us to have any confidence whatsoever in the ability of metropolitan government to plan neighborhoods?

    Here’s the deal I’ll make for urban governments (I live in St. Louis, so the deal applies where I am): Run a decent fucking school system for a decade. Then we’ll let them plan neighborhoods. Of course if they could do a decent job of running the schools, there wouldn’t be such a sprawl problem, would there?

  19. Great article, thanks to Jesse for the link. The environment in the US has improved by leaps and bounds during the last 50-years. Anyone who lived in LA in the 50’s and 60’s can attest (you don’t need a environmentalist to tell how much less the smog chokes).

    Can we do better, you bet. The watermelon enviros would rather burn the suburbs to save the suburbanites. Their strategy is to limit public utilities (water, power, roads) up to the maximum carrying capacity in a failed attempt to limit growth. The only thing that will limit growth is to restrict the borders. That’s not gonna happen, even after 911.

    The result of trash it and “they” will go away actually increases environmental impact. When water is short for people, fisheries suffer, traffic snarls increases fuel and brake useage, and the restriction on power plant development promotes continued use of older, grandfathered plants.

    Keep on truckin (we miss you Jerry!)

  20. Son! I ain’t dead yet!

  21. That was MY song, Jerry – and I AM dead.

  22. Can somebody tell me what the attraction of roundabouts is? I find them terrifying to drive in.

  23. Traffic circles are fine. It’s the drivers that are the problem. Everyone complains about them, but I never have any problem at all getting through the circles. Oh, and as joe said, the worst thing you can do to them is put traffic signals and stop signs up on them. I wouldn’t replace every stop sign or signal with a roundabout, but I would prefer them at a lot of the signalized intersections. My wife would definitely disagree.

    The biggest thing to remember at circles is: GO!!!

  24. No city has ever been built that provides pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users as much mobility and accessibility as automobilists have in the nation’s worst congested urban areas. Probably the most accessible non-auto cities in the world were U.S. cities of about 1920. At that time, the average American traveled well under 2,000 miles a year by all forms of motorized transport. Today, the average American travels 15,000 miles a year by car alone — and probably spends no more time doing it and almost certainly spends no more money as a share of personal incomes.

    That suggests to me that the automobile has increased our mobility by seven times. We can argue about whether accessibility has increased seven times, but it is clearly far greater today than in 1920. In 1920, few people engaged in backpacking or other summer sports, skiing or other winter sports. In 1920, the average grocery store had just 800 items on its shelves compared with 20,000 to 100,000 today. In 1920, incomes were far lower than today in part because people couldn’t live within easy transport distance to good jobs.

  25. Whatever happened to the fundamentals? (i.e. people can live where they want, drive what they want and…wait, that’s it, individual rights!)

    Furthermore, I thinl I slightly agree with Ruthless (sadly) that there should be LESS traffic lights. I personally think that a traffic light is an arbitrary impediment to the driver and insults his intelligence. Why do we need the state to tell the driver when he can cross an intersection?

  26. “Traffic signals ENHANCE the efficiency of intersections that have moderate to high volume, compared to stop signs.”

    And they could often be made more efficient if they acted as alternating stop signs. That is, if drivers faced with a red light could move on after seeing that no traffic is coming from the road with a green light.

    This may not be practical for some larger intersections, or intersections situated in places where it’s hard to see who’s coming from your left or right, but it would make sense for many other locations where traffic lights currently exist.

  27. I can’t believe that we now have 2 people arguing against traffic lights.

    Then again, something tells me that they aren’t being serious, they’re just saying it to get joe upset.

    Looks like it’s working.

  28. “Can somebody tell me what the attraction of roundabouts is?”

    The evocation of a very cool Yes song from the early 70’s. For the same reason I like to ride on Siberian Khatrus, but they’re exceptionally hard to find.

  29. Ruthless:

    I don’t know that the mortgage interest deduction tends to encourage urban sprawl, but REC subsidies probably do, along with state and federal funding for rural highways.

    I dislike driving in rush hour, and I deliberately bought a house near enough to work that I could walk. It was real important to me. It also had a good Mexican restaurant nearby, which was an added bonus. The nearest real grocery store (aside from a convenience store) is about a mile away, which is walking distance when the weather is good, and there’s a large home supply store next to it.

    The downside is that there are no nearby entertainment venues aside from bars. There are no decent retail shopping outlets for several miles in all directions. In all, I consider myself lucky. Modern urban planning seems to revolve around separating human beings from human necessities. I can actually live here without driving for days on end, which makes it rather unique.

    What bothers me most, as a Libertarian, is that we don’t really have much choice. For all that we are told that people “choose” cars over other forms of transportation, the alternative choices are somewhat limited. We drive cars because the government has built roads everywhere. Everytime someone suggests alternatives might be built, they’re accused of “social engineering.” But the decision to build all these roads was made before I was born and I don’t see why I should be bound by it.

    Contrary to popular belief, the roads are not all built by the gas tax. The street is front of my house was built on a combination of property taxes and special assessments, “street repairs,” as they’re known in Monopoly. When I was a child, the city widened the narrow street in front of my parents’ house and made it into a truck route, connecting two highways, and then stuck the dismayed residents with the bill for it. These are the “feeder” routes that justify the highways that are built with fuel taxes.

    Defenders of the current system eventually get down to that old standby, “the common good.” “We need roads,” the argument goes, “and everyone benefits from them, even if they don’t drive on them.” But you can use that argument to support mass transit, bike paths, whatever. Let the roads be supported entirely by gas taxes and licensing fees and I would shrug it off. We would probably have fewer of them, and fewer drivers. But as long as those that use the roads can displace part of the cost onto property owners, there is little incentive for them to think very hard about transportation issues.

  30. I like traffic lights,
    I like traffic lights,
    I like traffic lights,
    but only when they’re red.

  31. I personally think that a traffic light is an arbitrary impediment to the driver and insults his intelligence.

    You must not ever have attempted to be a pedestrian in Queens, NY — something I suffer through every day. (Notice I did NOT say Manhattan. For some reason the drivers there mostly know how to avoid hitting pedestrians.)

    For all that we are told that people “choose” cars over other forms of transportation, the alternative choices are somewhat limited.

    So true! I myself dislike suburbs for all the usual reasons, and I dislike what’s left of most American cities. So I wound up in New York, one of the few traditionally “urban” American cities left. Some days I get sick of New York, and would like to live somewhere smaller and/or less annoying, but I enjoy the freedom of *not* having a car too much to do that.

  32. I agree with James, there ain’t much choice. I moved from the outskirts to the center of my city (Phoenix) because I got sick of spending 30 minutes in the car every time I wanted to go somewhere. Where I am now is far from pedestrian friendly, but there are some places I can walk (a grocery store is opening in walking distance), other places I can get in 5 minutes. But I’m also in a position to afford the higher home prices where I am now. Now most new home buyers have no choice but to live way out on the fringe.

  33. Ruthless: How about signals as a guide for courtesy and for adjudicating lawsuits only? Take away the law that says you must stop on red, making it voluntary. At red you know cross traffic has the “etiquette of way” and if you pull forward you might be labeled a jerk and will be responsible for damage resulting from your ill-mannered but not illegal decision.

    Anybody: I was looking the other week for info on vehicle and fuel tax revenue vs. highway expense. Cost per passenger mile looks good for roads because everybody drives and having to drive more to get somewhere only helps that particular statistic. The best info I found suggested there’s a huge quiet subsidy to road building. City streets get maintained out of property taxes, surplus to those “user taxes”. Highway departments are supplemented from general revenue as roads are considered a public good.

    The walkers are funding the drivers who bitch about transit subsidies. Nobody rides for free.

  34. thoreau,

    We have only a few roundabouts here in the Las Vegas Metro area. They’re pretty much all placed in the area where retirees live. The roundabouts themselves were not scary, and actually pretty fun. The scary part was the drivers. They were first introduced about ten years ago, and MANY people don’t know how to use them, yet. I’ve even seen people going the wrong way in them (turning left because they want to make a U-turn, right in front of the one-way sign.) Because of the lack of knowledge, they tend to see more than their share of accidents, and riding a bicycle through them is a great adrenaline rush, kind of like the riding the road down from the Mount Charleston Lodge on a Friday night before DUI laws got tough.

  35. The Place de la Concorde in Paris has got to be the World’s Scariest Roundabout. I spent a weekend in Paris while I was an exchange student in Germany, with visions in my head of the placid Tuileries (sp?) Gardens in front of the Louvre and of the civilized cafes lining the Champs Elysees. Imagine my surprise when I found out that to get from one to the other, you have to dodge about twelve lanes of traffic speeding around this monstrous oval in the heart of the city. Oh, and you have to do it *again* to visit the Arc de Triomphe. Merde!

  36. “Can somebody tell me what the attraction of roundabouts is? I find them terrifying to drive in.”
    thoreau, you answered your own question.

    Scatalogicus asked: “How about signals as a guide for courtesy and for adjudicating lawsuits only? Take away the law that says you must stop on red, making it voluntary. ”

    I would have only Yield signs. They would be for people new to the intersection to advise them which of the intersecting streets usually has the greater traffic.

    With regard to sprawl and traffic in general, I’m sure it will surprise nobody to hear me say the problems we are having are the results from previous and ongoing government subsidies. The way I understand the history of the railroads, for example, is similar to the history of nuclear power: First the government subsidized RR’s, then turned against them in favor of highways.

    I realize this is unrealistic, but government should immediately stop subsidizing anything–including home ownership by means of the mortgage interest expense deduction.

  37. There was an article in the Chicago Tribune last year stating that nearly all of the suburban growth in the Chicagoland area was due to immigration.

    Apparently, according to the watermelon environmentalists, immigrants aren’t making the ‘right’ choices.

    I believe the fertility rate of the average American woman is barely above the replacement rate. Like someone else said, close the borders, or at least severely limit immigration, and you don’t have to worry so much about ‘smart’ growth.

  38. Patrick,

    I love doing that actually. 🙂 It also makes for a nice night-time picture.

  39. Jesse Walker,

    For pedantry sake, Mr. Ford didn’t invent the horseless carraige (as one might infer from the title of your write-up).

    Like most historical questions, the answer is somewhat messier than we think:

    http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/auto.html

  40. More information on the history of the car:

    Homer in the Iliad describes self-propelled vehicles created by Haephestus.

    Roger Bacon (English Philosopher-Scientist-Theologian) stated that “…cars can be made so that without animals they will move with unbelievable rapidity.”

    15th century Italian Francesco Martini coined the term “automobile” to describe a self-propelled carraige that he designed.

    People were dreaming of cars long before they came to fruition. Should give people pause when they suggest getting rid of them.

  41. Really interesting article Jesse. Thanks. From that article:

    More than 90 percent of the continental United States is still open space and farmland. The major change in land use in recent decades has been the gain of 70 million acres of wilderness …The reason for Los Angeles’s traffic morass is that it didn’t build enough freeways, incredible as that sounds….By this definition, Los Angeles is the most densely populated city in America, with 7,068 persons per square mile of urbanized area. Its traffic is terrible because it built only about half the freeways originally planned, so that it now has fewer miles of freeway per capita than any other major city.

    So, in LA and communities like it; in response to both the public’s preference for the freedom that their cars afford them, and to the preference for suburban living that is reflected in the poll cited in the article, governments should take the money that is slated to be used for MT and build more roads. Also, What about reducing the taxes and costs of regulation on developers and letting them pay for the roads?

    Metro sprawl can a good thing because it puts more stuff that one might like to do in proximity.

    Ruthless,

    What’s statist about traffic lights is not their essence but rather, that they’re (most of the time) owned by the government. In metro anarchatopia, I’m pretty sure that you and I will be stopping for traffic lights.

  42. Let’s take Atlanta, for example:

    1. Decide that all of God’s children should hold hands and sing “”My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” Then, start busing students all around town to force them to love one another.

    2. Cater to the lowest and most vile segment of the population. (It is easy to buy votes this way.)

    3. Raise taxes through the nose on the more productive segment of your population. (Then call them racists for leaving.)

    4. Build big fat highways leading out of town. While you’re at it, build an inflexible heavy rail system that goes nowhere useful. (Again, call people racists for not riding.)

    That’s the kind of place I’d like to start a family! Get my windows bashed in on my car from the homeless shelter patrons down the road, pass on my way to work by a bunch of men sitting on a wall drinking malt liquor (who then smash the bottles on the sidewalk when they’re done), deal with homeless people begging me for some change for some coffee (yeah, right), and constantly get stopped on my way to work by some guy who claims that his car won’t start and could use $10 so that he can attend his daughter’s recital.

    Not only that, every freaking day in Atlanta is black history day. I have no problem with celebrating African-American culture and history, but to have it smeared in your face every freaking day gets OLD!! ( If you want diversity, move to the suburbs. That’s where the Mexicans, Brazilians, Koreans, and Venezuelans are choosing to live.)

    Besides, it rains a lot in Atlanta.

    Screw that. I’m staying in my car. Living AND working in the suburbs. I guess that makes me a racist.

  43. I haven’t read the article so I won’t comment on anything anyone else has posted here, but Jesus I have seen a busy downtown without traffic signals, and it was an interesting experience. Naples, Italy, 1978, to be exact. There is an intersection downtown there with something like 3 or 4 major streets, but no traffic lights. The general technique as near as I could figure during rush hour was to just point your car in the general direction of where you were headed, and then drive with as much balls as you could muster, screaming and gesturing wildly when necessary.

    Great food in Italy but offhand I wouldn’t recommend importing their traffic control methods, at least not the ones I saw in Naples. Also, if you’re ever there, the best way to be a pedestrian and live that I could figure was to get behind an old lady — I actually saw cars stop for them, and I know they would have run down my Anglo ass with no hestitation.

  44. Rick Barton,
    Traffic signals are like the signs of the cross during The Inquisition.
    You must honor them or be punished.
    Give me Naples! …thanks Doug Fletcher.

  45. “I would have only Yield signs. They would be for people new to the intersection to advise them which of the intersecting streets usually has the greater traffic.”

    Yield signs are typically used when the driver only has to scan traffic in one direction, that direction being the same one in which he’s going. If you’re trying to cross a busy intersection where the cars that have the right-of-way are going 45-50 mph, some kind of stop sign becomes necessary.

    “Naples, Italy, 1978, to be exact. There is an intersection downtown there with something like 3 or 4 major streets, but no traffic lights.”

    Kind of reminds me of Vaddodara, India. A city of more than a million people with plenty of cars, rickshaws, and scooters sharing the streets with pedestrians, cyclists, and cows, but almost no traffic lights to be found. Needless to say, horns are employed quite frequently. I kind of liked the anarchy of it all while I was there, but it made it hard, if not impossible, to drive more than 25-30 mph just about anywhere within the city limits during daytime, even on the main roads.

  46. Cars vs. no cars is silly framing, but “Driving the minivan one day out of the week… with other options available and used at other times” is framing it as cars vs. 85% fewer cars which is almost the same thing.

  47. OK, some definitions. There are two kinds of traffic circles, rotaries and roundabouts. Rotaries are designed to allow drivers, absent other cars, to move through the intersection with little of no deceleration. Their purpose is to move cars efficiently. The approaches are designed like off-ramps, with a gradual curve. They are most appropriate on highways or major arterial roads, and they are huge, and often scary.

    Roundabouts are small, and are designed for neighborhoods and downtowns. They are meant to slow traffic and enhance pedestrian and vehicle safety, while still processing traffic more efficiently than stop signs. Their approaches are designed like T intersections, so you have to come nearly to a stop and make a sharp right turn to enter them. The smallest are located in Seattle, where ordinary four way intersections have had circles put in the center, while the curbline has been left in place. Not scary at all.

  48. Ruthless, the home mortgage deduction, combined with the redlining collusion between government and the banking industry and snob zoning, served to drive sprawl. This didn’t need to be, however; without this redlining, older rental neighborhoods could have been redeveloped into owner-occupancy neighborhoods (single family homes on small lots, condos, row houses).

    Also, growth is not sprawl. American cities grew for centuries without sprawling; they just turned from traditional villages to traditional small towns to traditional small cities to traditional big cities. It has only been in the past 60 years that the growth patterns of metropolitan areas have been sprawly.

    alkurta, many of the most sprawly metro regions have stagnant population growth, and their developed areas are growing much faster than they were during their periods of population growth.

    Sprawl is not growth, and growth is not sprawl.

  49. “No city has ever been built that provides pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users as much mobility and accessibility as automobilists have in the nation’s worst congested urban areas.”

    Really? You think a resident of Manhattan has greater access when he’s in his car than when he’s on foot with a pocket full of subway tokens?

    I beg to differ.

  50. Todd, in your case, you’re seeing both sprawl and growth. I say you Phoenixianites start a second city out in the edge of the sprawl, one with a real downtown, and plan walkable neighborhoods. That would be a good way to do the infill around your new transit line. It’s sure as hell not going to be economical if its stations are surrounded by low density suburbia!

  51. The way ILAH LITTLE conflates traffic congestion, crime, poverty, bad schools, density, and his problems with black people into one overriding problem with “the city” is what I was talking about at the beginning of the thread, when I was discussing the author’s statements about people preferring the suburbs.

    No one wants to live in places with crime and high poverty rates. But a lack of critical thinking, and a willingness to conflact correlation with causality, leads people to make the silly assumption that the presence of transportation options and corner stores is somehow the cause of poverty, crime, and bad schools.

  52. For pedantry sake, Mr. Ford didn’t invent the horseless carraige (as one might infer from the title of your write-up).

    No such inference was intended. The title comes from this song.

    That said, I had no idea the roots of the car went back as far as that Library of Congress site says. Thanks for the history lesson.

  53. Also, the statement about the amount of open space is misleading. The fact that farmland in the Northeast and Midwest has reverted back to woodland and grassland doesn’t do a damn thing to help the wetland-dependent species in California, who have seen their habitat shrink by 90% in the past century. Habitat and open space issues need to be looked at on the contential, national, regional, watershed, metropolitan, county, municipal, and neighborhood level. Pointing out that things are ok on one level does not mean that there are no problems at another level.

  54. “With regard to sprawl and traffic in general, I’m sure it will surprise nobody to hear me say the problems we are having are the results from previous and ongoing government subsidies. The way I understand the history of the railroads, for example, is similar to the history of nuclear power: First the government subsidized RR’s, then turned against them in favor of highways.”

    Don’t just blame the government, Ruthless. During the middle part of the 20th Century, General Motors bought up and shut down many busy, profitable, privately owned transit systems, for the express purpose of taking away the transportation options on which the residents depended, and forcing them to buy cars.

  55. As an oxymoronic libertarian traffic engineer, let me also vouch for the efficacy of “roundabouts”: they have less delay to all users than signals in most locations, cost less to maintain and rely on a very basic ‘rule’: yield to traffic on the left. Most people with a negative opinion of roundabouts are influenced by either a badly designed “traffic circle”: high-speed, lots of merging and weaving or a “mini-circle” that is designed to calm traffic rather than facilitate its flow.

    See here for a better explanation.

    BTW: Posted speed limits are evil.

  56. Anytime I read one of these pro-suburbia articles and come across the sentence “Los Angeles is the most densely populated city in America”, I know the writer doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about. I have come across this meaningless statistic in several places over the last few years, and it only proves the notion that you can use statistics to twist the facts any way you wish. That said, he is correct that Los Angeles probably built too few freeways. The city is not dense enough anywhere to support mass transit, and therefore the car is the only option, and freeways are the only rapid transit option.

  57. “The city is not dense enough anywhere to support mass transit”

    While you’re doing counter-factual musings, Patrick, why not consider the reasons for this impediment? LA used to have the best public transit system in the world, and it was very popular, because it neighborhoods could take advantage of it. It took a lot of colluding between the government and big business to destroy that.

  58. LA used to have the best public transit system in the world

    That was true, if ever, only until about 1930, and only in a world without universal auto ownership. It’s hard to believe it would have survived to today even without GM’s “help”.

  59. While I don’t want to get sucked into a debate with Joe about this stuff — too many issues, too little time — I’m flabbergasted that he’s repeating that old conspiracy theory blaming GM for the destruction of the streetcar industry. A lot of what’s been claimed about GM simply isn’t true. And even if it were true, it wouldn’t prove much: The streetcars declined almost everywhere, whether or not GM was buying up the local transit systems. Obviously there was more at work than the machinations of one company.

  60. joe,

    To your 10:10 post, I’d add that the creation of new suburbs does not necessarily lead to sprawl. Government policies help make it that way, though. If it weren’t for suburban design plats that prohibited mixed-use development like neighborhood stores, and required setbacks that created the equivalent of a 9-hole golf course in every front yard, suburbs might be much closer to separate communities in their own right. That’s what the old railroad suburbs were before the automobile became dominant–they were essentially new towns with their own centers, rather than bedroom communities for other cities.

  61. I never claimed that the machinations of GM was the ONLY factor, Jesse. Nice fallacy, plucking one link of a chain out of context and showing that that one variable, alone, could not have resulted in the outcome. But hey, you said “conspiracy theory,” so I guess we don’t actually have to think. Look everybody! joe has a tinfoil hat!

    But yes, demand for street car usage declined as government policies favored the development of communities based on patterns that made rail transit uneconomical. Transitioning to busses from rail was one way of trying to keep up with this market distortion, because it’s cheaper to run busses over a large area of land than rail – and the government’s policy was all about spreading the population out over a larger area. That the transition to busses corresponded to the government’s efforts to hollow out the cities doesn’t refute my point; it backs it up.

  62. the government’s policy was all about spreading the population out over a larger area.

    You lost me here. I know the development pattern of Chicago pretty well and I know of no federal policy that had anything to do with “hollowing out” cities unless you want to talk about the interstates and urban renewal, which happened after streetcars transitioned to buses.

  63. Anyone looking for information about planning, transportation, etc., who isn’t willing to trust the innumerate handwaving of some nut whose political leanings are so intense that they qualify as a personality disorder, can start here: http://www.rppi.org

    joe,

    Why *don’t* you ever use numbers in your diatribes?

  64. Ah yes, if you want info about planning that isn’t biased by a political agenda, you should go to the Reason Institute. You know, where the ideas are untainted by political leanings.

    chuckle.

    Seriously, they are a good resource, and raise a lot of good ideas, but you should understand where they’re coming from and what they’re trying to achieve. Like most ideological radicals, much better at diagnosing problems than prescribing cures.

  65. Joe: Your claims of being misquoted would be more credible if you didn’t turn around and misrepresent what I wrote. I did — accurately — describe your claim as a conspiracy theory. (It’s a theory positing a conspiracy, isn’t it?) If I had stopped there, as though the phrase “conspiracy theory” were a magic word warding off unwelcome arguments, you’d have a point. Instead I linked to a site that explains why the theory is inaccurate, and I pointed out that even if it were accurate it wouldn’t have much explanatory power.

    This isn’t an ideological question, Joe. It’s a matter of historical accuracy. GM didn’t do what it’s accused of doing, and even if it did, it wouldn’t have made a big difference nationwide.

  66. Jane Galt has some interesting comments, too:

    http://www.janegalt.net/blog/archives/004920.html

    Exerpt:
    “Smart growth, in other words, is wonderful for those with the werewithal to smooth over its little rough spots. But ask the priced out secretaries commuting 2 hours a day from Yonkers how “liveable” New York is.”

  67. I suppose that depends on “what it’s accused of doing” means. They absolutely did what I accused them of – bought popular and profitable streetcar lines, and shut them down in order to sell more of their own products, and promote lifestyles more conducive to the use of their products. The site you linked to doesn’t disprove this. There are certainly more extreme versions of this argument, some of which may well qualify as “conspiracy theories,” but as no one has actually raised them here, it does look a bit odd that you’d act as though disproving an argument I didn’t make is somehow a refutation of my ideas.

  68. “Like most ideological radicals, much better at diagnosing problems than prescribing cures.”

    Problem is, there is no more motivated ideological radical than a government seeking to secure its position or a government employee seeking to protect his job. We just have to accept at some point that the inspiring ideology doesn’t matter as much as the outcomes. Unless the outcomes are the same, of course.

  69. My first statement on the subject:

    “Don’t just blame the government…”

    OK, class, what does the word “just” mean in this sentence?

    Jason,

    So because the suburbs refuse to allow naturally-affordable housing to expand out of the central city, it is smart growth’s fault that there are not affordable options close in?

    Had New York’s suburbs adopted smart growth programs in earnest, there would be a much larger stock of affordable housing close in to the city. The problem you refer to is not smart growth policies, but dumb growth snob zoning, exaclty the opposite philosophy.

  70. Russ D, urban renewal and the interstate system were of a piece with financial redlining (which denied mortgages, insurance, and other services to neighborhoods that were old, dense, or had too many minorities), the mortgage deduction, and other New Deal policies that began in the 30s. They represented a later, more extreme incarnation of the same anti-urbanist drive that guided much of FDR’s community planning initiatives.

    It’s funny, there have been a couple of posts lately about how New Deal programs harmed minorities, but the aspect of Roosevelt’s policies that did the most damage – the deliberate busting of urban neighborhoods in the name of a sentimental suburban ideal – are brushed right out of the picture. Sadly typical.

  71. “but you should understand where they’re coming from and what they’re trying to achieve”

    Which is my point about you. What percentage of urban planners are Democrats/Greens?

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to ask for numbers again.

    Also, exactly what direction do you think RPPI leans in? Free market? Personal choice and autonomy? That’s good, at least for most of folks reading this board. Most of them probably consider that a non-politcal leaning, at least not in the sense they would consider a Christian fundamentalist public policy site, or ummm, you to have policical leanings.

    I’ll repeat this once more: why don’t you put together a more rational argument, with some numbers while you are expounding on the stupidity of every approach to policy but your own. Surely, they taught you how to do that while you were getting your advanced degree in Urban Planning.

  72. joe:

    I think the point of the link (not just the exerpt) is that the lifestyle afforded by the suburbs contrasts with that afforded by high density living along several vectors. Smart growth means high density incented growth, and all of the problems Jane alludes to are characteristics of high density living.

    Tyler Cowen mentions that even the population of Paris is in decline as people opt for suburban lifestyles, and the same is true of Osaka, where I lived for a while. It is hard to argue about what smart growth looks like with no examples, I admit.

  73. Joe: You really have a knack for attacking strawmen. The issue isn’t whether GM’s purchases were the only factor responsible for the death of the streetcar. It’s whether they were responsible to any substantial extent. You say they were. I say they weren’t.

    Having made my point, and not wanting to get drawn into the other discussions going on here, I’m bowing out.

  74. from the janegalt link: Smart growth is great if you are savvy enough to manipulate an urban school system into keeping your children away from the poor kids

    And the smart growth people are snobs?!

    And anyway, what does NYC have to do with “smart growth”?? Nothing, actually. Nothing about smart growth says you have to follow the principles of 19th century megalopolises — merely that there are principles that we threw out circa 1950 that can be applied, such as places to walk to.

  75. “It is hard to argue about what smart growth looks like with no examples, I admit.”

    You can look at Portland and to a lesser extent – Seattle. Anyone want to guess what position the Pacific Northwest holds in terms of affordable housing?

    Anyone want to guess why exurbs are being built across the King County (Seattle’s county) border? Why the same thing is happening to Portland, in spite of its shiny new trains?

  76. “Also, exactly what direction do you think RPPI leans in? Free market? Personal choice and autonomy? That’s good, at least for most of folks reading this board.”

    I have this wild, wacky theory that knowing the biases of a writer, and understanding how their work may be prejudiced by those biases, is useful, even when you like the direction in which the work is biased. Forgive me; it’s a liberal thing. Oh, and I’d say I’m pretty forthcoming about where I come from politically. Is there anyone out there who is unclear about my leanings?

    When numbers are relevant to the discussion, I use numbers, as when I analyzed what the “most restrictive land use regulations in the country” were (as they were called in a post a few months ago), and demonstrated through various site layouts that they were exactly in line with traditional suburban zoning. In this case, the conversation is not about numbers, but ideas, and quantitative analysis hasn’t really been relevant.

    If you’re uncomfortable discussing ideas, you should just say so, or maybe ask questions instead of snarking.

  77. The sound you hear is Joe bursting into flames… over and over and over.

    In a broad sense, Joe is arguing that land use is a matter better left to “actual planning professionals” than the marketplace. Joe knows better than you what kind of house and neighborhood you really desire. Are you going to trust Joe or your lying eyes?

    I will be the first to agree that government policies have distorted the housing market… but have these policies so distorted the market as to change the fundamental preferences of citizens? “I’d love to live in the city, but this damn mortgage interest tax deduction and cheap car forced me to buy this four-bedroom colonial on a one-third acre lot… with a pool no less!”

    While it may offend the sensibilities of the modern urban planner, more people seem to prefer a suburban house with a yard to a city apartment. More people seem to prefer driving a car to riding a bus.

    To borrow a quote from James Dilorenzo,

    “Smart growth is the environmental movement’s chosen euphemism for centralized governmental planning. The essential idea is that the free choices and careful lifestyle planning done by individual families in cooperation with the housing industry and local public officials are inherently “stupid” and socially destructive, whereas the coercive planning schemes favored by environmentalists and urban planners are “smart” and socially enlightened.”

    Oh, and I agree the crime and lousy schools have influenced flight from American cities. Now, if one could only find an American city with good schools and low crime….

  78. BTW, I’ve never met a planner who was a Green. Maybe a planning student here or there, but by the time they get through school, they’re a lot more hard headed.

  79. Not to interject data in the discussion, but I enjoyed the Cato article on urban sprawl:

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa365.pdf

    And I agree, Joe, urban planners are quite hard headed… it is the only way to survive when one is beating one’s head against a wall. 🙂

  80. “I think the point of the link (not just the exerpt) is that the lifestyle afforded by the suburbs contrasts with that afforded by high density living along several vectors. Smart growth means high density incented growth, and all of the problems Jane alludes to are characteristics of high density living.”

    And therein lies the problem – the options provided are Osaka high density vs. one acre suburbia. Both are the antithesis of traditional neighborhood design, which has gotten squeezed out.

    I had a kid, and living in a converted mill building with no yard, and parking in a parking structure, weren’t cutting it anymore. So now, I live in a house on a street from the 1920s, which consists of single family homes on 4500 square foot lots. And I’ve got enough of a yard for the kid to run around in, a street safe enough for her to play in, neighbors who I actually know, off street parking for 2 big cars, and a playground a block away. I’m in exactly the paradise that people who rhaposize about the suburbs they’re going to move to (and who complain about the subdivisions they live in once they move there) dream about.

    10 units/acre – plenty to support the little commercial cluster at the corner of the through streets. Turn 1/5 of the houses into two families, and we’d be at 12 unit/acre. No skin off my nose.

    Now, the issues of crime and schools are real ones. But it wasn’t the design of our neighborhoods that made the schools bad and crime high in certain areas, but the economic collapse of the central city economy over the middle decades of the 20th century, caused by dislocation. Similarly, the economic boom that certain places (like the sunbelt) saw over the same period had nothing to do with the design of their neighborhoods – Phoenix would have boomed even if it had provided dignified places for its populace to live.

  81. “If you’re uncomfortable discussing ideas, you should just say so, or maybe ask questions instead of snarking.”

    I’ve asked several. You choose to ignore them, because the answers hurt your position.

    Also, you chose to cut in half a quote from me, and miss my point completely.

  82. The problem with living in a walkable neighborhood isn’t the walking or inconvenience of parking, it’s the fact that you have more asshole neighbors. Find me a walkable neighborhood without population density and I’m so there!

  83. Modern subdivisiona are built to comply with modern regulations (and, of course, to meet market demand). If find it ironic that your charming 1920s neighborhood with its lasting appeal was built in an era with far fewer land use regulations.

    Current zoning regulations including lot size and setbacks may actually prohibit a builder from getting approval to build a modern version of your neighborhood. Perhaps the way to build better neighborhoods is to reduce the amount of regulations and planners.

  84. Funny you should say that, Jose – I’ve been working to do exactly that for the past year. You have no idea how hard it is to get regulations changed to allow the construction of quality traditional neighborhoods, even in a city where people appreciate quality traditional neighborhoods. As many of these comments demonstrate, the sprawl mentality is so ingrained in our consciousness that people just accept its tenets as natural. But it looks like the zoning amendment is going to pass.

    So, uh, how many of you planner haters have ever gotten any regulations loosened? Show of hands?

    Jose, you mentioned 1/3 acre lots in the suburbs. Do you think the builder of that project, if he had been allowed to, would have turned his nose up at putting three houses on that lot?

  85. To be serious, jc, there are design solutions to the problems of privacy raised by greater density. My house is way off to one side of the lot, so that the remaining space is contiguous and thus more usable. This puts my house very close to the next house on one side.

    So the house was designed with the stairway and closets on that side. With modern home design eliminating windows on the side anyway, concentrating them on the front and rear, it is quite easy to provide a sense of privacy and quiet without throwing land (money) at the problem.

  86. The problem with joe’s position is that Smart Growth always includes strict limitations on land use, as well as changing regulations in other areas. Portland, which is generally recognized as the poster city for Smart Growth, tried to accomplish this by instating an Urban Growth Boundary, a regional area of tightly controlled land use which greatly restricts the amount of land available to build on. Does anyone know what happens to the price of something when it’s supply is restricted?

    In practice, Smart Growth regions like Portland and Seattle have to pass laws mandating minimum density housing, and property tax policies that further limit the amount of land available to developers.

    How many of us “planner haters” oppose allowing dense housing to be developed? I’m guessing none.

    How many planners oppose allowing non-dense housing to be developed? I bet I’d see one hand up.

  87. There’s a place for low density housing, JDM. Massachuetts, which is often cited as a place that is progressive on smart growth, has no minimum density regs that I know of.

    For those of you who believe smart growth and traditional neighborhood design requires a net increase in regulations, I have a real, live, quantitative test for your to try.

    Go to a rapidly developing community, and ask someone in the zoning office to show you a zoning map. Ask her to point out which parts of the town a developer can put in single family homes on acre lots. Then ask her which parts of town a developer can build an apartment building. Then ask where you can put building with a storefront on the ground floor and apartments on the upper stories.

    As a special bonus, if you can find any developing areas that allow multifamily housing, find out how many projects have been built there in the past five years, and how many were exclusively or predominantly single family.

    Smart growth policy is primarily about

    1) reducing the regulations that mandate low density development in rapidly developing areas

    2) reducing the regulations that segregate residential and commercial uses in rapidly developing areas

    3) reducing the regulations that mandate large parking lots

    4)revising transportation budgets to shift more funding towards transit, and away from highways, so that those dollars incent development that takes advantage of transit access, rather than taking advantage of highway access

    5) revising the overall budget to spend less $ on public works projects that incent construction on unbuilt land, and reprogram the $ to protect important open spaces

    6) regulating land to discourage construction in areas that the community wants to keep as open space.

    Three of these are reductions in regulations (pro-liberty). Two are revenue neutral shifts in budget dollars (neutral). One is an increase in regulations (anti-liberty). Looks like +2 to me, even if you’re only judging from a small government p.o.v.

  88. BTW, JDM, I think Portland blew it when they rejected the initiative to expand the Urban Growth Boundary. The affordability problems you mention are only partly the result of the enhanced quality of life the city has experienced since the UGB’s adoption. There does seem to be a real housing sqeeze developing. They should have either started the planning for New Portland a few miles away, or at least added a couple new neighborhoods.

    Smart Growth is, first and foremost, about accommodating growth. Driving people who want to live in green Portland into other regions, ones that aren’t as responsible in their growth management, is a net loss. Better for them to have the choice of living in compact transit-oriented neighborhoods in Portland, even if they’re built on greenfields, than to limit their choices entirely to sprawly communities, which will also be built on greenfields, but in a less responsible manner.

    Maybe places with fairly stable populations, like Detroit or Albany, can get away with a growth management plan that stipulates no new growth, but for a booming metropolis like Portland, such an approach is irresponsible, and ultimately counterproductive.

  89. “I have a real, live, quantitative test for your to try.”

    “Looks like +2 to me, even if you’re only judging from a small government p.o.v.”

    I believe the internet expression is “lol.”

    I take back my earlier tweaking of you for not using numbers in your arguments. You should stay as far away from numbers as you possibly can.

    At any rate, try your bulletproof quantitative test within Portland’s UGB, and you’ll find that there is nowhere available for large lot development.

    In Seattle’s King county, the answer is a little more complicated. The politcally connected developers who are allowed to put in a development, often have only to meet minimum density requirements for the whole development, so many choose to build a few million dollar houses on a half acre or so, a few half million dollars on postage stamp lots, and a bunch of condos.

    If these cities, which have implemented smart growth policies as much as anywhere else had created the mix of housing that people want, there wouldn’t be a 35% vacancy in apartments in Seattle’s trendy Belltown neighborhood, at the same time large lot developments are going in on the other side of the Cascade mountians, from which people are going to be commuting 1.5 hours to the Seattle suburbs to work.

  90. “The politcally connected developers who are allowed to put in a development, often have only to meet minimum density requirements for the whole development, so many choose to build a few million dollar houses on a half acre or so, a few half million dollars on postage stamp lots, and a bunch of condos.”

    That, actually, is the traditional way to build neighborhoods. I bet all three varieties of housing are selling quite well.

    Counting acreage doesn’t qualify as quantitative? Man, stop moving the goal post!
    Just so you’re up to speed, the zoning test I described demonstrates that the sprawling model you claim is the result of The Market is, in fact, an artifact of regulation.

  91. http://www.smartgrowth.org/pdf/gettosg.pdf

    Anyone who wants can read some smart growth literature, and see how much it looks like free market reform, and how much it looks like more planning and regulation.

    Once these ideas are put into practice, you can look at the areas which use them and see what the effects are. Seattle and Portland are the 1st and 4th least affordable housing markets in the country, according to Forbes.

    “That, actually, is the traditional way to build neighborhoods. I bet all three varieties of housing are selling quite well.”

    Nonetheless, coupled with a law requiring minimum density, it drives the price of the most desirable housing way up. Your assertions that there aren’t a lot of people who want to live on a large lot, is belied by the fact that there are people willing to pay astronomical prices for large lots in terms of money or obscene commute times. If large lot housing weren’t more desirable, people wouldn’t be so willing to pay in terms of time or money to acquire it, and the cost of small lot housing would be closer to the large lot houses.

    “the sprawling model you claim is the result of The Market”

    That’s not my claim. My claim is that the Smart Growth model is not what a free market would look like. Things have changed since 1920.
    Smart Growth is just another stupid idea that leads to astronomical housing prices, traffic congestion, and lots of wasted money on boondoggle rail projects.

  92. Jesse Walker,

    Humans have been dreaming about creating a self-propelled vehicle since the time of Homer (as I detail above); now many dream of killing it (indeed, have dreamed of killing it since automobiles became something more than a dream). We humans are fickle creatures. 🙂

  93. JDM, your argument that some smart growth policies increase housing costs by limiting supply makes sense, as I said earlier, and is too often ignored. I often take shit from environmentalists for being too “pro-development” for advocating for more housing construction than they’d like.

    But you’re barking up the wrong tree to say that minimum housing densities do so. How does compelling developers to increase the number of units they’re supplying restrict the supply? If they were losing money on the units and construction was slowing down, maybe, but as you say, they’re commanding top dollar for those units, and building like crazy.

    BTW, from personal experience, I can tell you that developers do not always have a perfect understanding of the market, and often prefer to make less of a profit on a conventional design because they see alternate designs as too risky. I have seen a number of cases where the design changes the city has mandated have ended up increasing the profitability of projects. One thing about developers – you only have to teach them that lesson once.

  94. Ah, Joe, nice dance on the definition of “smart growth.”

    “Smart growth” tries to prohibit lower density development outside core urban areas through zoning and other land use regulations… even though people still want to purchase 1+ acre lots and build large homes. I hardly call this liberating.

    “Smart growth” usually comes with government mandated design guidelines for “revitalization” of areas. This is the “vision” of the new “streetscape.” These are guidlines for our “transit nodes” and “bicycle/pedestrian” connections. This is our “town center” were we are allowing mixed uses… as long as they look exactly like our renderings. I’m giddy with the freedom.

    Reducing the amount of parking is nothing more than saying urban planners overestimated the need for parking on some commercial land uses for years. Eliminating parking requirements is reducing regulation. Changing the number is nothing more than amending regulations.

    Insofar as funding tranist, I will direct you to another Cato article:

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-162.html

    Per the article, public transit is an urban planning pipe dream. Throwing billions of dollars at a system where “he average public transit vehicle … operates with more than 80 percent of its seats empty” is bad public policy.

    I laughed out loud when you said “regulating land to discourage construction in areas that the community wants to keep as open space.” First, open space requirements are simply denying a property owner the right to develop a certain parcel of land. Nine times out of ten, open space is “junk” land that only the urban planners care about preserving. After the subdivision is approved, the homeowner’s association often neglects the property, i.e., the tragedy of the commons revisited. The planners never have to deal with the headaches ten or twenty years after the subdivision is built, the homeowner’s association is defunct and the coveted “open space” becomes no man’s land.

    In a “traditional” neighborhood, the city owns a park or a private person owns vacant land. Open space is a planners idea completely out of touch with the reality of a traditional neighborhood.

    Here’s a test for you, Joe. Take any community that has implemented “Smart Growth.” Count the number of pages of zoning and land use regulations before “Smart Growth” was adopted… and then count them again today. I will wager that every “enlightened” town has more regulations as a result of “Smart Growth.”

    By your own admission, many of the current problems were creating by poorly conceived regulations. Why should anyone have confidence that this generation of planners is smarter than the one before… and more importantly, smarter than the marketplace?

  95. “But you’re barking up the wrong tree to say that minimum housing densities do so. How does compelling developers to increase the number of units they’re supplying restrict the supply?”

    It restricts the supply of large lot housing. If for every large lot house you have to build 10 condos (or whatever) by law, you can’t build as many large lot houses as you could without that restriction, whatever the market wanted.

    People who want a large lot house will balance the costs of their options, and move into a condo if the price is too high, or drive over the rockies to get to work, if that doesn’t seem too bad to them.

  96. Again, as I said not 60+ posts ago, joe, how come people can’t just build what they want, where they want and buy what they want? And do you admit that the main objection is just highway funding? And if so, the utilitarian (shudder) argument is that more people use highways, so more money should go to highways. period.

    So, Joe, once again, why not just let people buy, live and build what they want, when they want, however they want?

  97. It seems to me that what everyone wants is the biggest affordable house on the biggest piece of land as far away from every other person as possible. Cheap oil has made that dream a reality for many Americans. I’m willing to concede that point, based on personal observation, even as I personally bemoan the devastation of our cities and find the suburbs to be dreary and choose not to live there. My question is: what if the peak-oil “nuts” are right? How does the dream stay alive if the price of gas is suddenly doubled next year, or in five years? And where is the new hydrogen economy that’s supposed to save us?

  98. “How does the dream stay alive if the price of gas is suddenly doubled next year, or in five years?”

    That’s a big if, but the answer is, if moving into cities saves oil vs. living outside of cities (which is not necessarily a given) then more people will move into cities, those who don’t will find ways to live outside of cities and use less oil – telecommute, tele-educate themselves and their kids, etc.

    “Hydrogen economy” is really a codeword for “nuclear power.” There is adequate presently known uranium ore for every person on earth to use US levels of power (not just electricity) for billions and billions of years.

  99. Man, I’m used to taking on five or six of you at a time, but there isn’t usually so much substantive content to digest! Where to start?

    OK, JDM, you’ve proven that restricting the supply of large lot homes reduces…the supply of large lot homes. But your claim earlier, that minimum densities contribute to the affordability problem, is still unsupported. We’re still talking about more homes being built, and in addition, about many of those homes hitting a lower price point than would be the case otherwise. I don’t think Seattle and Portland have affordability problems because of short supply, so much as skyrocketting demand. Plenty of other places, like San Diego and LA counties, have similar housing shortages, even as sprawl roars on unabated.

  100. Props to joe, he carries a lot of the load here.

  101. OK, how’s this: many of the attributes people associate with suburban sprawl are things that people find desireable – low crime, good schools, large yards, lots of mobility. Let’s call this cluster of features “A.” But there are also features of traditional neighborhoods that people find desireable – lower housing costs, walkable neighborhoods, sense of community, knowing your neighbors, transit options, better access to urban amenities. Let’s call these “B.”

    Tierney admits that people want A, but also admits that people want B. His solution, therefore, is to adopt policies that maximize A at the expense of B, because people like A. Wouldn’t it make more sense to advocate for policies that allow people to maximize both A and B? Or to choose among them as their own tastes dictate?

  102. “Hydrogen economy” is really a codeword for “nuclear power.”

    Is it? Well, the Bush administration that is researching this has said it’ll be 15 to 20 years before it can replace oil. Maybe they ought to step on it, just in case.

    I’ve heard too many arguments on both sides of the issue to know for certain, but the principle of economies of scale intuitively tells me that city-living is less costly than sprawl, if only because I do a lot more walking than most suburb dwellers. I guess the only way to know for certain is to eliminate all subsidies, which ain’t gonna happen in our lifetimes.

  103. JDM, the lower energy consumption of city dwellers vs. suburbanites is well established. They drive fewer miles, live in buildings that can take advantage of economies of scale in heating and AC, and don’t have to take care of lawns – you’d be amazed how many btus go into mowing and fertilizer production. Other environmental measurements, from pollution produced to amount of impervious surface needed per person, also give the edge to the city.

  104. “But your claim earlier, that minimum densities contribute to the affordability problem, is still unsupported. ”

    It forces people who value a large lot to pay more for it, making their home less affordable.

    If you mandated that all new housing consist of 10’x 10′ cinderblock cells, would you call the affordability problem solved? The price of existing homes would skyrocket, but anyone who wanted could still afford a home. People want certain qualities in their home, and are willing to pay a huge chunk of their lifetime earnings to get it.

    “Wouldn’t it make more sense to advocate for policies that allow people to maximize both A and B? Or to choose among them as their own tastes dictate?”

    Yes, but Smart Growth amounts to a thumb on the scale for set B.

  105. Joe

    Again, I say: End the regulations. Let the market work it out.

  106. Today, the average American travels 15,000 miles a year by car alone

    No way. I think this is true among Americans who drive — in fact Geico chimed in with this exact figure when estimating my annual mileage — but how can this take into account the millions who don’t have a car or take public transport? I live in New York, have an embarrasing number of cars (for fun), yet take the subway every day. I’m lucky to travel 1,000 miles by car in a given year.

  107. “how can this take into account the millions who don’t have a car or take public transport?”

    Divide passenger vehicle miles travelled by number of people and voila.

    I’m not sure what the actual number is, but it wouldn’t be hard for someone to come up with…

    “JDM, the lower energy consumption of city dwellers vs. suburbanites is well established.”

    I’m not saying it isn’t, just that things can be surprising when total energy cost is actually calculated. For example, one factor that makes fuel cells unworkable currently is the energy it takes to process the platinum they use as a catalyst.

    Given the higher cost of infrastructure in a dense enough city, it’s not cut and dried that the obvious ongoing savings make up for the increased cost.

    I’ll take another shot at this one too:

    “Wouldn’t it make more sense to advocate for policies that allow people to maximize both A and B? Or to choose among them as their own tastes dictate?”

    That sounds a lot like a free market. Interesting that every free market think tank in the country refutes Smart Growth, some have moved past refutation to mockery.

  108. “Again, as I said not 60+ posts ago, joe, how come people can’t just build what they want, where they want and buy what they want?”

    Short answer, Ayn: “Yeah, man…”

    Long answer: I’m not going to give you the long answer. There’s too much going on.

    JDM, “Given the higher cost of infrastructure in a dense enough city, it’s not cut and dried that the obvious ongoing savings make up for the increased cost.” The infrastructure costs are higher in absolute terms in a city vs. suburb, but on a per capita or per household basis, they are much lower. In environmentalist terms, urban development is “hard environmentalism,” while green suburbs are “soft environmentalism.”

    Or course, who gets “charged” for the environmental and economic costs of Boston’s Central Artery? It’s in Boston, but the vast majority of its use is by suburbanites coming into or through the city.

  109. “Hydrogen economy” is really a codeword for “nuclear power.”

    I?m directly involved in this under a DOD grant. Trust me, the hydrogen economy is only about hydrogen. For all of you greens, this isn?t going to solve pollution problems. It takes energy to produce hydrogen. The most promising thing I have seen to date uses methanol, however they byproducts are water and CO2. If you buy into the greenhouse gas = climate change business (I am not yet convinced) this isn?t good news

  110. “Interesting that every free market think tank in the country refutes Smart Growth, some have moved past refutation to mockery.”

    With Smart Growth being defined, by the left and right, as roughly equivalent to the Grenn Party’s platform, it is no wonder. But that is a PR problem, not an rigorous analysis of the movement’s underlying goals and real world applications.

    The founder of the Congress for New Urbanism has called for an alliance with libertarians, because he sees much of smart growth as a movement towards deregulation and the elimination of subsidies (or at least, the better balancing of subsidies, so as to eliminate the over the top market distortions that exist in the development sector).

    “Yes, but Smart Growth amounts to a thumb on the scale for set B.” There is currently a huge thumb on the scale for A. Is it really any wonder that those who benefit from the situation would deem any effort to balance things out, whether by putting down another thumb or removing the one already tipping things, as unfair?

    Here’s the deal – the biggest factors contributing to dumb growth are regulatory and subsidy regimes, not market conditions. So far, the discourse about smart growth has to a large extent been controlled by the environmentalist left, but the localist libertarians and real small government conservatives should have an interest in this fight, too.

    Unfortunately, the old “the hippies like it, so I have to hate it” dynamic is in play, and a lot of libertarians choose to see smart growth according to the self-serving rhetoric the establishment puts out for the purpose of dividing their enemies. This leads to the discourse being controlled even more by the left, so when a smart growth proposal appears on the ballot, it is inevitably a left-smart growth proposal, thus heightening the antipathy towards the movement among libertoids and small government conservatives.

    JDM wrote “How many of us “planner haters” oppose allowing dense housing to be developed? I’m guessing none.” Well, you people never do anything about this principle you allegedly hold so dear, just because you’re afraid you might have to rub shoulders with a longhair at a neighborhood meeting. That’s a lousy way to do your politics.

  111. joe,

    Among other problems with your A/B grouping, the biggest one is putting “lower housing costs” in group B!

    I won’t argue against people preferring walkability, close-neighbors, transit options, etc. But it’s the up-front costs (and higher taxes, insurance, etc.) that drive people to the sprawl. The amenities don’t mean jack if a nice house costs you 400K. If you can only afford 200K you have to go where the costs are cheaper, which means farther away from the core. That leads to sprawl and if that’s all someone can afford then they’ll do it and put up with the extra transit expense; if the only affordable options in the denser neighborhoods are condos, lots of people are going to opt for the house in the sprawl if they have kids. The people who opt for the condo (like you and me) are in the minority and there’s nothing to be gained from trying to convince other people that your choice is somehow better than theirs.

    People eventually find that sprawl doesn’t stop them from walking to their neighbor’s house, it doesn’t stop them from going to church, it doesn’t stop them from bumping into people at the store or at their kids’ events. Maybe it keeps them from a leisurely stroll to the bakery or the corner bar, but apparently people are willing to give up a couple little niceties to have a house in a nice neighborhood they can afford. The only comparable affordable housing in central cities is in really bad neighborhoods and it takes those rare breeds willing to assume the risk to move there in the hopes of some type of gentrification. If you are one of the rare breed, congrats. But you should know by now that your utopia isn’t any better than Mr. and Mrs. Sprawl’s utopia.

  112. That’s just it, Russ. The options don’t have to be limited to sprawly suburbs or condos in highrises. Look at the designs of traditional neighborhoods at http://www.cnu.org – lots of single family homes, lots of houses with yards. But because of the more efficient use of land (which lowers land costs per unit) and reduced transportation costs (fewer cars needed per family, fewer miles per car), it is cheaper to buy and live in one of those houses.

    But it is exactly these options that are squeezed out by dumb growth planning and zoning. You can build highrises downtown, or you can sprawl. But because the places where there is still room to grow won’t allow these types of neighborhoods to be built (snob zoning is about deliberately raising housing costs), and because cities naturally intensify their land use over time, the supply of these types of homes is dwindling relative to the demand. Thus, the artificially high prices for single family homes in some cities. Traditional neighborhood design is not just an alternative to sprawl, but also to radiant city-style urbanism, which is undesireable for most people, especially for those with kids.

    BTW, the cost of my house and taxes are much lower than a comparable home would have cost in the surrounding suburbs, because of lower real estate values, and a dual tax rate (residential property taxed lower than commercial and industrial property).

  113. Thank for ignoring my points, Joe. I will wait patientily for the mythical city that imposed “smart growth” with a net reduction in regulations, ordinances, rules, etc.

    The simple fact, Joe, is that most libertarians do not see a role for “urban planners.” Libertarians want deregulation of land use and the elimination of planning departments. Libertarians also favor the end to subsidies… like those transit must have to survive.

    You can tart up government control in pretty language, Joe, but “smart growth” is just the latest idea of planners trying to outsmart the market… and it will end just like every other planning trend during the past half century.

  114. “The way ILAH LITTLE conflates traffic congestion, crime, poverty, bad schools, density, and his problems with black people into one overriding”

    Actually, Joe, I think that I was suggesting that the problem was intervention. High taxes, bad government run schools that got even worse with busing, and big fat interstates that, as an unintended consequence, gave people an escape from the city.

    Don’t misunderstand my statements about black people. Middle and upper income black people in Atlanta fled to the suburbs too for the same reasons. My problem with Atlanta in regards to race is that once people fled the city, it was taken over politically by the race baiters and race warlords.

    I always thought that I would live in the city. But then reality hit in Atlanta. Housing, taxes, and crime were too high.

    Fortunately, like many cities, people are moving back in to Atlanta. This should change the choices as well as the politics. Not too many middle income families are moving in, though, since the public schools are awful and it still might not be a good place for kids to play.

    IDL

  115. joe

    I like how you had no answer to me. Good job looking foolish.

  116. Thus, the artificially high prices for single family homes in some cities. Traditional neighborhood design is not just an alternative to sprawl, but also to radiant city-style urbanism, which is undesireable for most people, especially for those with kids. BTW, the cost of my house and taxes are much lower than a comparable home would have cost in the surrounding suburbs, because of lower real estate values, and a dual tax rate

    You mean people are willing to pay high prices for sprawl they don’t want?

    joe, you make it sound as if the large market of individual buyers doesn’t want sprawl, yet the example of your own home purchase seems to be indicative of the opposite. Isn’t your case a function of actual demand? Or are you implying that most buyers are stupid?

  117. Ol’ joe can’t accept the failings of government when he’s a part of it. It is only “those others” that made mistakes.

    How can we trust our planned future to such people so unwilling to change their minds? joe already has decided what is “best”, and indidual desires must be subordinate to his vision. He’ll go to meetings and listen to the longhairs, knowing that he can outlast them, as they are truly concerned citizen volunteers while he is paid to wait them out and enact the established plan.

    Remember, planners draft ordinances, not strike them down.

  118. Just curious if anyone here recognised David Brooks’s “Paradise Drive” in this thread: crunchy postwar suburbs, immigrant ring suburbs, big box exurbs, etc. As a libertarian cheapskate who loves city life but who also wants kids, I cringe equally at the thought of living in the three-hours-of-my-life-wasted-each-day whitebread enclaves, the must-pay-for-private-school-and-bunkbeds city, and the no-starbucks-here “streetcar suburbs” where “money doesn’t matter” (according to Brooks). This last locale is where I’m most comfortable, and fortunately I live in NYC, where the hippies are a bit more um, ambitious. But am I destined to swap Dia:Chelsea for Dia:Beacon, or the cutesy Hudson River Valley? God help me.

    I’m glad that joe realises New Urbanism has libertarian appeal (dump auto and sprawl subsidies), but as someone else pointed out the CNU high prophets are unapolegetically lefty by the time their issues make the ballot. My own opinion is that sprawl results from the disconnect of state and federally subsidised highways versus more local issues such as traffic, high cost of housing, etc. What gov’t official can turn away from the spigot of free dollars, esp. if they don’t require raising tolls?

    Like many of us libertoids I face the paradox of hating the anti-growth crowd, while guiltily preferring their parts of the country (Boston, New York, Boulder).

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