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Tear Down This Sprawl! (Not!)

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Writing in The American Enterprise, architectural historian Robert Bruegmann dopes out "How Sprawl Got a Bad Name" in an interesting and provocative essay adapted from his recent (and most excellent) Sprawl: A Compact History:

What explains the power of today's anti-sprawl crusade? How is it possible that a prominent lawyer could open a recent book with the unqualified assertion that "sprawl is America's most lethal disease"? Worse than drug use, crime, unemployment, and poverty? Why has a campaign against sprawl expanded into a major political force across America and much of the economically advanced world?

I would argue that worries about sprawl have become so vivid not because conditions are really as bad as the critics suggest, but precisely because conditions are so good. … A fast-rising economy often produces a revolution of expectations. I believe these soaring expectations are responsible for many contemporary panics….

Class-based aesthetic objections to sprawl have always been the most important force motivating critics. It seems that as society becomes richer and the resources devoted to securing basics like food and shelter diminish, aesthetic issues loom larger. Certainly the number of people complaining about the visual impact of sprawl, and the vehemence of their rhetoric, have increased with each successive campaign against it.

Whole thing here.

Over the past decade and more, Reason has been all over the sprawl issue like, well, a Wal-Mart on a big chunk of land located just outside a traditional downtown shopping area. Some past highlights that anticipate Bruegmann's notions:

Horizontal Cities: Suburbia is finally getting its due from social critics

Commuter Virus: Is American literature too soft on the suburbs?

One-Shop Stopping: Do Wal-Mart and Home Deport spell the end of "community"? A report on the superstore wars

NEXT: Paranoia on Main Street

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  1. “Class-based aesthetic objections to sprawl have always been the most important force motivating critics.”

    Yes, the lack of economic diversity in sprawling areas, the way snob zoning is put into place to maintain that lack of diversity, and the impact those policies (and the development patterns that result) on those who lack means, is a very important motivating force for anti-sprawlers.

    And Lord knows you never hear aesthetic justifications by the snobs and sprawlers. You certainly never hear them comment on the visual appeal of multifamily housing, for example.

  2. Come to think of it, not a single one of the class-based objections to sprawl I just listed has anything at all to do with aesthetics.

    It’s as if this writer is constructing a fake person out of some sort of animal feed for the purpose of arguing with him.

  3. Not that I would expect anyone here to address this point, but sprawl is inefficient as fuck. Sorry, but those who celebrate zoning trends that have led to all of our pedestrian/bicycle-hostile, oversized-car-friendly suburbs and exurbs is willfully ignoring this elephant in the room. While sprawl might not be the end of the world, it’s hardly worth celebrating.

  4. Do Wal-Mart and Home Deport spell the end of “community”?

    Deporting homes or the people in them wrecks communities and hurts many harmless individuals. Really, Mr. Gillespie, as a libertarian you should know that.

  5. The only people bitching about “sprawl” (I HATE that word) are the city dwellers and the mutant intelligensia that populate the cities.

    We’ve got them surrounded in the ‘burbs, so why should we give a flying fuck what they think? I LIKE my front yard.

    Flank ’em, close the trap and crush the enemy upon itself in the center. That’s the way to settle this debate.

  6. Come to think of it, not a single one of the class-based objections to sprawl I just listed has anything at all to do with aesthetics.

    Come again? The anti-sprawl people are all about aesthetics, and class envy.

  7. Those damn snobs, living in cities with poor people, and eschewing suburbs that lack low-cost housing – they just hate the poor. That’s their motivation.

  8. Clean Hands, would you care to back up that bare assertion by either 1. submitting anything that approaches evidence, or 2. pointing out a flaw in my argument?

  9. Could the city dwelling anti-sprawl people quit over building their lots? I’d take their arguments much more seriously if most of them weren’t installing vaulted ceilings and building over the last bit of lawn on their tenth-acre lots.

  10. “The only people bitching about “sprawl” (I HATE that word) are the city dwellers and the mutant intelligensia that populate the cities.”

    “The anti-sprawl people are all about aesthetics, and class envy.”

    Not even Nick’s pro-sprawl partisans are buying the argument that opposition to sprawl is based on hositlity to the poor, or on a desire by suburban snobs to pull up the ladder behind them.

    Quick, which side would like to see a train/bus station built in a suburban town, and a few hundred low-cost apartment units built within wallking distance for those who can’t afford cars – pro-sprawlers or anti-sprawlers?

  11. Sandy,

    Why is it hyprocritical for someone who argues in favor of higher densities to put a large building on a small lot?

  12. Clean hands,

    I don’t ever agree with you that much, but you have this one nailed. It is all about class distinction and snobbery. The article makes a great point that all of the old brownstone neighborhoods so adored by people like Joe were once looked down upon by the elite as ugly, and inefficient just like the suburbs are now.

    The bottom-line is that you either believe in the market and people’s freedom of choice or you don’t. The fact is that most people want a little land, a nice house and a yard. That may not be your ideal living, but that is what people want. The suburbs wouldn’t be building if they didn’t supply what people want. To stop that is to be anti freedom.

    In addition, whatever the ill effects of sprawl, they pale in comparison to the horrible injustices and damage done by urban planning and urban renewal. The same urban planners who gave us public housing, monstrosities like the central artery in Boston and the whole sale destruction of poorer neighborhoods in the name of renewal now want to be turned loose on the suburbs. No thank you.

  13. Anti-sprawl people like to caterwaul about “snout houses,” as an example, joe.

    This is just one example; anti-sprawlers are always whining about the loss of open spaces, green grass and so on. I’m really at a loss to understand how you can see anti-sprawl arguments as anything but aesthetic.

    As for the class envy portion of it, it’s self-evident that complaining about the selfish nature of those who want large yards and spacious houses (instead of the anti-sprawlers’ utopian ideal of tiny apartments and shit-strewn parks) is all about envy of the financial success that a large home represents.

  14. I guess that it depends upon whether your goal is “efficiency” or freedom.

    In the final analysis, life is inefficient.

  15. You mean aside from destroying greenspace, increasing energy inefficiency, and other things valued by anti-sprawl types beside the Banlieur-style of high density? Can’t think of one.

  16. Sorry joe, but I’m no fan of soylant growth.

    I just wish the central meddlers would find real jobs and stop toying with working people’s lives. These politically-driven zoning laws are adversely affecting property values and reducing traffic to a crawl. I would argue that it also was an influencing effect on bringing Kelo to the forefront.

    You may call it “smart” but to me it’s the Collectivism Action Pack. You get social engineering and gerrymandering all in one shot.

    It’s no coincidence that the major political proponents tend to be democrats and I don’t think we need to point out how cities tend to vote politically.

    You may like living cheek-to-jowl with your fellow kind, but I like a little space.

  17. “You mean aside from destroying greenspace”

    Sandy, doesn’t someone own that greenspace and isn’t it their right to do with it what they wish? If I own a field outside of a city and have a chance to sell it for an enormous sum to a developer, who are you to tell me I can’t? Really what you are saying is that I should be impoverished so that you and people like you can enjoy your “greenspace”. That sounds like the definition of an anti-freedom elitist argument.

    “increasing energy inefficiency” If I have the money to pay for the energy I use, who are you or anyone else to tell me that I cannot do that. If it is my desire to live in a larger house and take a longer comute, asuming I have the resources to support this lifestyle choice, what gives you the right to tell me that I cannot live as I choose and can afford in the name of “energy efficiency”?

    To be anti-sprawl is to be elitist, anti-market and authoritarian.

  18. And hey, the wonderful thing about the untrammeled capitalist system is that you have the option to live stacked on top of your fellow utopians — and I have the option to live on my extra-large lot, in my oversized home.

  19. This is just one example; anti-sprawlers are always whining about the loss of open spaces, green grass and so on. I’m really at a loss to understand how you can see anti-sprawl arguments as anything but aesthetic.

    Actually CleanHands, that’s all I see the soylant growthers doing here in the ‘burbs of DC. If there are 3 square inches of green space left on the side of the road anywhere you can bet you last dollar that there’ll be 6 townhouses on it inside of 6 weeks.

    All we get is a sea of concrete and asphalt. Not to mention brake lights.

  20. Interesting how few people comment on the ills that seem to be inherent to urban living-over crowding,paved-over landscapes, the inability to find someplace more than 10 feet from another human being come right to mind.
    I also wonder who is expected to appreciate all the countryside and green space some anti-sprawl folks favor. Certainly, it isn’t the poor. Perhaps the anti-sprawl folks want to ensure that they have a place to, well, you know…get away from the city.

  21. When the wise plans of the planners come to fruition and all is made efficient, we will be assigned housing and housemates. When we are no longer of value to society, we will be recycled. Efficiency is our duty.

    But shouldn’t that picture in the prayer booth be of George Lucas? He is my Prophet.

  22. Number 6, I think you hit the bullseye there.

    The other thing that I just love is asking an anti-sprawler about their home.

    “People should live in apartments, in the city, where they can take mass transit, or walk to work and shopping.”
    “Just one question… do you have a yard?”
    “Er, yes.”
    “Shut the fuck up.”

  23. (BTW, that last was a real conversation I had a number of years ago… and no, I know I wasn’t polite about it. He pissed me off.)

  24. I don’t know any suburbs that fit joe’s bizarre description. I live in a neighborhood of million dollar homes on full acre zoning in an “ex-urban area”, and I see tons of minorities all the time. There’s the Mexicans who cut my lawn, the Koreans who clean my house, the Armenians who fixed my garage floor, and the Chinese who painted my garage.

    And guess what – none of these people commute back into the city at night. They all live out here in the suburbs with me – on their own half to full acre lots. And if joe told them that they really need to pay for a ridiculous train and all move into apartments in the central city, I doubt that they would hesitate to tell him to go fuck himself.

  25. Cleanhands,

    The idea that someone thinks that “people should live this or that way” is repugnant enough. I don’t care if the guy did live in an apartment. What is wrong with saying “As long as they pay for it themselves, I think people should live wherever and however they want”?

  26. [who] would like to see a train/bus station built in a suburban town, and a few hundred low-cost apartment units built within wallking distance for those who can’t afford cars…?

    Seems like a lot of the utopians like for people to be poor enough that they “can’t afford cars.” After all, cars belch icky pollution, and require (horrors!) roads to carry them. Trouble is, it seems that cars are great for reducing poverty.

    So, unless you’re actually pro-poverty, you ought to be pro-automobile, which pretty well implies being pro-growth, as automobiles are notoriously difficult to park in inner cities.

  27. Shit. Here’s the link I tried and failed to include in that last post: Cars for prosperity.

  28. Here’s a nightmare situation:
    I live in Missoula, Montana, hippie elitist town where the anti-sprawlers are louder than urban traffic. So to deal with it, the city temporarily lifted city zoning laws and allowed “in-fill” development and subdivisions on existing lots in the city. Same fucking people bitching about sprawl started shitting themselves, decrying the “loss of character” of those neighborhoods.
    I have a question for the anti-sprawlers: Where the fuck do you elitist assholes expect people to live? Put down your fucking New Yorker for a minute and plant yourselves in the shoes of people who work for a living.

  29. Well, here you have it “The Great Leap Forward” is now a metaphor for smart growth.

    Will China avoid the pitfalls of Western cities? Can Chinese cities continue to grow in a more sustainable way? I believe the answer largely depends on China’s commitment to transit and to transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly development. The model, says Weiming Lu, is the traditional Chinese city, “which seeks to express the harmony between man and nature.”

    There are promising signs. The 11th Five-Year Plan emphasizes the need to create a harmonious society (between man and nature and between the rural poor and the urban rich). The plan recognizes the automobile as a major energy user and proposes a fuel tax to restrain car usage.

    Former Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of the country’s shift to a market economy, said in the 1980s, “No matter whether it’s a black cat or a white cat, as long as it catches the mouse, it is a good cat.” In other words, as long as the market economy works for China, it does not matter if it is also practiced in the West.

    Recently, a leading theoretician from the China Academy of Science modified Deng’s quote slightly: “If the black cat can become a green cat,” he said, “China will reshape the world profoundly.” Hu was referring to the fact that between 1994 and 2004, China was responsible for 30 percent of the growth in the world’s energy consumption. If China can address the energy issue ? become a green cat ? it will help to stabilize global economic growth, security, and environmental degradation.

    Given the daunting numbers at hand, the black cat can, and must, make a great leap forward and be transformed into a green cat. It will take good planning for this to happen.

    http://www.planning.org/planning/member/2006may/china.htm

    Fellow travellers indeed…

  30. “The bottom-line is that you either believe in the market and people’s freedom of choice or you don’t.”

    Hear hear! Now John, for your homework, go down to the country zoning office, and ask where you’d be allowed to built a six story, 36 unit building, with a couple of storefronts in it. Then ask where you’d be allowed to build that glorious single family home on two acres. Then get back to me about sprawl and the free market.

    Clean Hands, if you don’t understand the non-aesthetic criticisms of sprawl, then you need to stop getting all your information from the people being paid to promote sprawl. For example, you might want to read some of the critiques of zoning by the anti-sprawlers, before you go making yourself look like an idiot a la John.

    Oops, too late, I just read your assertion that anti-sprawlers object to private yards. I love the 1500 square feet of grass on my 4500 square foot lot. We’ve got blocks and blocks of that in my neighborhood, including some two- and three-families. So, uh, how many of you freedom-loving pro-sprawlers would care to see your neighbors plop a similar house down in each of their side yards. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

    You too, Number 6, why don’t you actually, you know, read something about the subject that isn’t written by somebody you already agree with? Peter Calthorpe’s “The Next American Metropolis,” for example, can provide a very good answer to your question about access to green space in an urban environment.

    Lemur, would you care to point out where I described suburbs as not having ethnic minorities?

    All in all, a pretty weak showing. You people have gotten fat and lazy having arguments spoon fed to you to defeat what Nick Gillespie thinks are the arguments of anti-sprawlers. But when faced with actual arguments by an actual anti-sprawler, you whiff.

  31. Nothing welcomes diversity like housing costs in urban areas. Boston, San Fran, Manhattan…

    *chuckle*

  32. Jamie,

    The anti-growth people tend to cause more spawl because they stop people from building in the towns they control and force people to go outside the city limits to live. This is what happened in Austin Texas. The aging, hippie, elitist bastards that run the town did everything they could to stop growth and to stop road building. As a result, people built in towns like Pflugerville and Round Rock around the City. The Austin metropolitian area now spreads damn near from San Antonio to Dallas and has traffic like you wouldn’t believe. The irony is that if the people in Austin hadn’t been so anti-growth and built some decent roads, the market would have redeveloped neighborhoods inside of Austin and Austin wouldn’t have spread out so much. In their ferver to stop growth, they created the very thing they claim to hate.

  33. joe,

    I think that your pespective, as a city planner, represents the minority of the motivations of the anti-sprawl movement. I agree that snob zoning is an issue. I disagree that it should be solved by zoning that encourages high density. Zoning should simply be eliminated. Of course, that’s where you and I part ways. But I still think that you’d be hard pressed to find evidence that the majority of the anti-sprawl crowd finds its roots in high density planning.

  34. So basically, Clean Hands can’t refute my argument that the pro-sprawl snobs would shut down the apartments in a heartbeat, and that the anti-sprawl activists would support it, if not live there…

    so he tries to change the subject.

    (Just a reminder, since I suspect a lot of people are going to try to change the subject – the subject of this thread is the role class prejudice plays in opinions about sprawl vs. traditional neighborhood development.)

  35. wellfellow,

    Interesting you should mention housing costs. A conservative think tank in Massachusetts, the Pioneer Institute, did a study, and concluded that the high housing costs in eastern Massachusetts are the result of suburban communities using regulations to require larger, more expensive homes. Not even all the housing being created by the pro-growth policies of the region’s cities can keep up with this restriction on demand.

    http://www.pioneer.org

  36. joe:
    Perhaps you’d care to make any — and I mean ANY — sort of anti-sprawl argument yourself. I haven’t seen one come from your small-cap head, and you running off at the mouth about our arguments doesn’t constitute one of your own.
    Go ahead. No really. Shoot. We’re waiting.
    *Muzak playing*

  37. You know, I agree with joe, but, quite frankly, don’t think he goes far enough.

    I mean, disallowing the suburbs is one thing, but it only gets you partway there.

    What about all those rural motherbitches? Wasting all of that land with their lakes and fields and concepts of “No Trespassing” so they can go gallavanting about on ATV’s and dirtbikes! It’s unseemly!

    Plus, they have to drive much farther to get to a store or shopping mall than any of those suburban jackholes.

    I say we go round up all the rubes that live in the rural areas and force them to reside in efficient concrete apartment complexes in the city.

    Who’s with me?

  38. John:
    Maybe Missoula and Austin should become sister cities.

  39. I’d love to shut down the apartments that surround my nighborhood. They are the source of *all* of the crime in the vicinity, down to the police helicopters that hover over my house in the middle of the night looking for another of the hoodlums that fled into our single-family neighboorhood.

    They are also the source of the poor-performing children that satuarte my kid’s school, which has led to the introduction of soviet-style teaching: everyone gets the same poor level of scholarship now; no more “catering to the overachievers.”

    If they flattened these shit-boxes tomorrow, I wouldn’t shed a tear.

  40. “Hear hear! Now John, for your homework, go down to the country zoning office, and ask where you’d be allowed to built a six story, 36 unit building, with a couple of storefronts in it. Then ask where you’d be allowed to build that glorious single family home on two acres. Then get back to me about sprawl and the free market.”

    Well Joe, wouldn’t you support the very rules that would prevent me from building that six story building or that family home? Aren’t you the one who supports restrictive zoneing?

    Further, your point is pure sophestry. Just because I think there should be some zoning, does not mean that you should use zoning to coercively force people to live in high density areas or favor one level of density over another. If most people want a home and a yard, then zoning should reflect that and ensure that the market can supply those people with such. The anti-sprawl folks seem to be saying that zoning should instead be used to deprive people who want homes and yards in the suburbs from that choice. I assume you are one of them. Maybe not since I am not really sure what your point is.

  41. MP, I think you’re confusing anti-sprawl beliefs with simple NIMBYism. I’ve seen NIMBYs use wetlands protection as a cudgel, too – that doesn’t mean the recognition of the drawbacks to filling in wetlands is based on elitism.

    If you actually talk to most NIMBYs, you’ll find that they’re pretty much in agreement with John about how communities should be built.

  42. “Nothing welcomes diversity like housing costs in urban areas. Boston, San Fran, Manhattan.”:

    Supply and demand raised those prices. I thought you folks loved the free market. Furthermore, the last time I checked, those places were still pretty diverse.

  43. Joe, it’s like you’re speaking another fucking language — I can barely even understand what the fuck you’re talking about.

    As an advocate of freedom, I could give a flying fuck if my neighbor wants to drop another house onto his property — it’s his fucking property. And if he wants to drop a six-story apartment building there, it’s still his fucking property, to do with as he pleases.

    The fact is that an apartment building makes economic sense in some places, not in others, and the property owner will find that out (before building it, if he’s smart; afterwards, if he’s dumb).

    I love how use use language, by the way. “Traditional neighborhood development.” *Snort*

  44. mediageek,
    Wouldn’t rounding up the ruralites requires SUVs? I say we get some razor-wired biodiesel buses first.

  45. Some points joe has made on this issue that strike me as true:

    1) What complicates the whole issue is public infratructure funding. Who is paying for the roads to the burbs? Are suburbs subsidized?

    2) Which is the cart and which is the horse when you look at the prevalence of single family dwellings with yards? Why are zoning regs needed to prevent lower cost housing from being constructed?

    These chicken and egg questions are impossbile to answer. We don’t know what people’s neutral preferences really are because we’ve never had an unsubsidized and unregulated growth pattern to look at.

    That said, I am a skeptic that in our hypothetical neutral regulatory environment, we wouldn’t have suburbs anyway. I note the following from having grown up in KY where there are no trains and having lived in the train governed uber city of Osaka.

    People drive when given the opportunity to do so. The ability to go on your own schedule and go to specific places (MY sushiya rather than A sushiya) is a potent combination. People move to train cultures only once the streets are filled to capacity with cars.

    Some people can’t deal with dense urban living as something long term. Two years was too much for me.

    Many people live in cities because there is greater economic activity there. Suburban living allows people access to jobs while still having a non urban style of life after hours and on the weekends.

  46. “Well Joe, wouldn’t you support the very rules that would prevent me from building that six story building or that family home?” No.

    “Aren’t you the one who supports restrictive zoneing?” No.

    It is interesting that you made those assumptions, though. Like I said, fat and lazy, spoonfed arguments…

  47. eeek,

    Supply and demand did not raise those prices. What raised those prices to rediclous highs was anti-growth policies and rent control that artificially restricted supply.

  48. Some points joe has made on this issue that strike me as true:

    1) What complicates the whole issue is public infratructure funding. Who is paying for the roads to the burbs? Are suburbs subsidized?

    2) Which is the cart and which is the horse when you look at the prevalence of single family dwellings with yards? Why are zoning regs needed to prevent lower cost housing from being constructed?

    These chicken and egg questions are impossbile to answer. We don’t know what people’s neutral preferences really are because we’ve never had an unsubsidized and unregulated growth pattern to look at.

    That said, I am a skeptic that in our hypothetical neutral regulatory environment, we wouldn’t have suburbs anyway. I note the following from having grown up in KY where there are no trains and having lived in the train governed uber city of Osaka.

    People drive when given the opportunity to do so. The ability to go on your own schedule and go to specific places (MY sushiya rather than A sushiya) is a potent combination. People move to train cultures only once the streets are filled to capacity with cars.

    Some people can’t deal with dense urban living as something long term. Two years was too much for me.

    Many people live in cities because there is greater economic activity there. Suburban living allows people access to jobs while still having a non urban style of life after hours and on the weekends.

  49. Joe:

    “Yes, the lack of economic diversity in sprawling areas, the way snob zoning is put into place to maintain that lack of diversity, and the impact those policies (and the development patterns that result) on those who lack means, is a very important motivating force for anti-sprawlers.”

    Not everyone is a Central Urban Planner, Joe. Most objections to sprawl that I hear are precisely, specifically aesthetic. Because your particular argument differs does not really invalidate the argument above. Not to mention the fact that your argument against sprawl is directed at the policymakers, the zoning administrators, rather than the sprawlers themselves.

  50. Joe- Breathe into a paper bag for a bit. Wait for the dark spots to go ahead and the swimmy feeling to leave your head. Better? Good.
    Now, lets chat like non-hysterics. You’re right that I havn’t read a great deal about urban planning. I do base my comment on experience. I’ve lived in the inner city, on a farm, in the suburbs, and currently occupy a large apartment in a small town. So, when I criticize urban areas, I know what of I speak. Shared green space is a nice concept, but a park is not a yard. It is not private, and must always be shared. People seem to prefer access to both shared space and to their own yards. Some peopole obvious don’t like the density of the city. Some people can’t stand the conformity and blandness of the suburbs. Some look for something in between.
    My position is simple-those people should be left free to live wherever they choose.

  51. Suburban living allows people access to jobs while still having a non urban style of life after hours and on the weekends.

    That’s the heart of it. Elitist snobs can’t stand the fact that there are so many “selfish” people out there living their dream. Why that’s — that’s — so fucking capitalistic.

  52. eeek,

    You missed my point. Supply and demand is great. Housing prices in desirable areas go up, and that’s fine. My point was merely that it’s not only the suburbs that make diversity difficult. Yes, those areas are diverse, however, take San Fran for example, many new immigrants are moving to Oakland, not San Fran proper. Similar with Boston.

    Now, diversity is not a goal of mine, so I don’t care, I was pointing out that Urban areas aren’t as welcoming as some of the surrounding areas.

    Eeeek, indeed.

    Joe,

    That may be the case. That’s why I don’t support zoning.

  53. “Hear hear! Now John, for your homework, go down to the country zoning office, and ask where you’d be allowed to built a six story, 36 unit building, with a couple of storefronts in it. Then ask where you’d be allowed to build that glorious single family home on two acres. Then get back to me about sprawl and the free market.”

    Gotta agree with you here. It’s truly amazing how much politicians seek to control zoning and building. Here in Charlottesville, VA, we have a huge influx of people, y’know, due to all those “best small town in America” trophies. Anyway, the jagoff “progressive” democrats that populate the City Council are staunchly anti-growth. Not really anti-sprawl, but they just think that they can freeze the world where it is right now, viz zoning laws, taxes, etc.

    As a result, it’s gotten absurdly expensive to build or buy housing within the city, pushing people where? Sprawling into Albemarle County.

    The worst part is that the very same idiot councilmembers constantly bemoan the plight of the poor, and whine about the need for “affordable housing”…without even a hint of irony.

    Joe, would you then support relaxing urban zoning laws?

  54. Evan,

    I spent a year living right by the downtown mall in C’ville. There is a bumber sticker in one of the office windows in the city building next to the police station on Market Street. It says “World Peace Through Zoning.” I always thought it was a joke until I complimented the person who had put it up on how surreal and funny it was. They didn’t think it was funny at all. It was a serious sign. Somehow I am not surprised that C’Ville has rediculous zoning rules.

  55. Hold it Joe, if you don’t support restrictive zoning, what do you support? How can you be anti-sprawl and anti-zoning all at once? How do you plan to stop sprawl if not through zoning? I am sorry if I sound like a smartass, but I really don’t understand what the hell you are saying.

  56. Maybe my take on this whole subject is just too principled for me to really make sense of the control freaks on the other side of this argument.

    Look, I buy a piece of property. It’s mine; I’ve exchanged money I’ve earned in exchange for some portion of my life, and I can do with it as I please. (This is where I part ways with the urban planners and their ilk, I know.)

    If the gov’t wants to place restrictions over my use of my property, they should offer to purchase from me the fair market value of the uses they propose to prevent. If I agree to the purchase, that agreement can become part of the property (and reduces the resale value of the property, as well).

    But having the gov’t come stomping in and decree that I shall do this and I shall not do that, with my property, that represents some portion of my life… well, let’s just say that I have a deep philosphical disagreement with that.

  57. Evan,

    I can very easily relate to your experience. I grew up in a suburb of Boston that I would estimate is something like 85% Democratic/Progressive.

    People would constantly talk about the need for diversity and sensitivity and helping the poor etc… But when a proposal came along to build a low-income housing unit the suggestion was violently dismissed.

  58. Evan,

    I spent a year living right by the downtown mall in C’ville. There is a bumber sticker in one of the office windows in the city building next to the police station on Market Street. It says “World Peace Through Zoning.” I always thought it was a joke until I complimented the person who had put it up on how surreal and funny it was. They didn’t think it was funny at all. It was a serious sign. Somehow I am not surprised that C’Ville has rediculous zoning rules.

  59. Hold it Joe, if you don’t support restrictive zoning, what do you support? How can you be anti-sprawl and anti-zoning all at once? How do you plan to stop sprawl if not through zoning? I am sorry if I sound like a smartass, but I really don’t understand what the hell you are saying.

  60. The tone of my last post was unduly snide. Sorry about that. When I looked it over, I was glad the server squirrels had apparently decided to eat it. Turns out they actually decided to double-post it.

  61. If the federal governments payments to communities were to end tomorrow (yea, I know, ain’t gonna happen, but if…)

    20 years into the future you would have cities, small towns, and rural areas. Without massive welfare payments the “sub-urbs” as we know them, would disappear. “Sprawl” can only exist as long as the feds prop it up.

    A few years ago I worked out the difference in fed payments for two people. My father who lived in a “bedroom” communtiy, and a cousin of a friend of mine who lived in a public housing complex in Chicago, 30 miles away from my pop.

    Counting roads, schools, grants, police…etc, I kept coming out that the fed outlay to support someone in the suburb was nearly 2 to 3 times that of the urban welfare recipient.

    “Sprawl” is the exclusive result of massive middle class welfare.

    At least that’s my beef with it.

  62. “Counting roads, schools, grants, police…etc, I kept coming out that the fed outlay to support someone in the suburb was nearly 2 to 3 times that of the urban welfare recipient.”

    So Johnny, your dad didn’t pay any local property taxes and sales taxes to support those things? It was all paid for by the federal government? What tax free paradise is he living in and how can I move there?

    Further, did you count all of the grants and federal funds that go to Chicago or did you just count the rent subsidy your friend recieved? Where is the evidence that suburbs get anymore federal money than cities do?

  63. If the federal governments payments to communities were to end tomorrow

    What? My community has been getting fed guvmint checks? Where’s my cut?

    What you describe are not payments but are the result of usage fees, also known as taxes. I pay plenty of them, don’t you worry; no welfare is coming to me.

    Now, pissed about your cut? Move to Alaska, where you get *real* direct payments from the state, or write your congressman.

  64. Quick, which side would like to see a train/bus station built in a suburban town, and a few hundred low-cost apartment units built within wallking distance for those who can’t afford cars – pro-sprawlers or anti-sprawlers?

    From my experience, the gentrifying yuppies living a mile from the housing projects are filled with anti-sprawlers campaigning that the suburbs should have more low-cost housing. Anything that reduces the number of poor people in their yuppie neighborhood is fine by them. Calling it “anti-sprawl” has always been a bullshit excuse for it. Same as “I’m not against immigrants, just illegal immigrants.”

    In Chicago, the yuppies speculating on real estate couldn’t wait for Cabrini Green to shut down. (I know, I used to live near there.) These people like to say they’re OK living near poor people – as long as there’s not too many of them. Not a damn one of them would consider living near the Robert Tayor Homes which was about 20 times the size of Cabrini Green.

  65. Johnny, are you suggesting that somehow communities can exist without roads and police?

    At least then I could look out for the FedEx helicopters.

  66. You know…

    Since the fertility rate in America is barely above replacement levels, if we really clamped down on immigration, there would be very little sprawl.

  67. How can you be anti-sprawl and anti-zoning all at once? How do you plan to stop sprawl if not through zoning?

    John,

    Sprawl is partially a function of snob zoning. I just bought a house in Hampton Falls, NH. Town zoning mandates that any new single family houses must be on a minimum 2 acre lot. This is not a remote area of NH either. That is a zoning policy that clearly contributes to sprawl.

    I won’t speak for joe, but some planners believe that zoning can be done it a way that encourages, but does not force, high density housing. In addition, 2 acre lot rules clearly discourage high density housing. In a truly free market, with no zoning, there would likely be less sprawl than today. Even given individual preferences for single family homes, developers have a preference for high density housing (more bang for their land buck), and the efficiency of such housing (and thus their affordability) would surely move the market to be denser than it is today.

  68. Anyway, the jagoff “progressive” democrats that populate the City Council are staunchly anti-growth. Not really anti-sprawl, but they just think that they can freeze the world where it is right now, viz zoning laws, taxes, etc.

    The beach towns near Tampa are like that. They say they want to preserve the “character” of their towns. Apparently, tiny, rotting old ’50s beach shacks built within a few feet of each other are what constitute character. God forbid that you’d rather an area of multi-million dollar real estate not look like a slum.

  69. Anyway, the jagoff “progressive” democrats that populate the City Council are staunchly anti-growth. Not really anti-sprawl, but they just think that they can freeze the world where it is right now, viz zoning laws, taxes, etc.

    The beach towns near Tampa are like that. They say they want to preserve the “character” of their towns. Apparently, tiny, rotting old ’50s beach shacks built within a few feet of each other are what constitute character. God forbid that you’d rather an area of multi-million dollar real estate not look like a slum.

  70. Y’know… there’s very little sprawl in North Korea. Sounds like an Central Urban Planner’s utopia on Earth.

  71. Russ,

    That is why they have always called urban renewal “Negro Removal”. When I was in college I lived in downtown DC near where the MCI Center is now. When I lived there in 1995-1996, it was a truly diverse neighborhood full of Latin American immigrants, blacks, and a few whites and of course the 14th and Mass Ave prostitutes. It was on the whole for a guy anyway a pretty safe and affordable neighborhood. Since they built the MCI Center and gentrified the area, you don’t see anything but white people unless it is a homeless black panhandler. Not that that in and of itself is so bad. It is a free country; people can live where they want. What is bad is that many of the white people who live there now are good liberals who would preach to the rest of us about the need for diverse communities.

  72. MP

    Those are good points and I think that is what has happened in a lot of places. As I explained above, restrictive zoning certainly contributed to the sprawl in Austin.

  73. Bob, that’s Pinellas County. Tampa is the opposite–build up the suburbs until they consume the entire state. joe would die of apoplexy if he moved down here. We sneer at mass transit, too.

    Interestingly, the one anti-sprawl concern that I do agree with is the whole let’s-subsidize-these-developers-so-that-we-on-the-
    city/county-commission-can-get-richer-at-tax-payer-expense scam. It’s real, and it’s bad. We’re blowing up down here, and a lot of it is due to developers getting insane sweetheart deals. That’s government regulation run amok, not unrestrained capitalism.

  74. Russ2000,

    I don’t think the yuppies living near Cabrini-Green were the only people who couldn’t wait to see it shut down. Plenty of people, even those who like the concept of gov’t housing, agree that the housing projects of that era were piss-poor planning. The yuppies seem less upset about the mixed income housing that has been built to replace (some) of the high rise projects.

  75. Evan,

    I can very easily relate to your experience. I grew up in a suburb of Boston that I would estimate is something like 85% Democratic/Progressive.

    People would constantly talk about the need for diversity and sensitivity and helping the poor etc… But when a proposal came along to build a low-income housing unit the suggestion was violently dismissed.

  76. Hold it Joe, if you don’t support restrictive zoning, what do you support? How can you be anti-sprawl and anti-zoning all at once? How do you plan to stop sprawl if not through zoning? I am sorry if I sound like a smartass, but I really don’t understand what the hell you are saying.

    Can’t speak for Joe, but there’d be a lot less sprawl if zoning laws didn’t actively encourage it. In several past discussions, Joe’s talked about how current zoning and other laws discourage or prohibit high-density land use; I’ve always been annoyed by that myself, since those regulations 1) subsidize a lifestyle 2)which I find extremely unpleasant. I’d like to kill most of the snob zoning rules and the rules that limit development density; that wouldn’t prevent sprawl, but it would stop encouraging it and make it more affordable to conduct high-density development in cities.

    And as someone who, as a matter of aesthetics, would like to see midtown Manhattan finally stop wasting so much space and get itself up to a reasonable density, I’d be thrilled. I don’t especially like green space, and I loathe cars and want to be able to walk to where I’m going, or take a subway or something, so I don’t need a car to buy my goddamned groceries.

  77. Jadagul,

    If you got rid of all the snob zoning in the world, the suburbs would not look much different than they do today. Most people do not want to live in high density areas, they want to live in lower density areas. While building the apartments would be good for people who can’t afford houses, it would not change the fact that most of the people who can afford houses will buy them and want them with some land. True at the margins, zoning creates some sprawl, but ultimately consumer choice and the market drives the vast majority of it.

  78. Jadagul,

    I am sympathetic to your tastes, I don’t like suburbs either, although I don’t get your objection to green space. Who doens’t love a park? The fact is that you are in the minority. Most people don’t want to live in high density areas and high density developments generally flop.

  79. I like the neighborhood I live in now which 80 years ago was considered sprawl but is now considered “new urban”. Whatever stupid term one wants to use doesn’t really matter. The statistics show that suburban lot sizes maxed out in the late 80’s and have gotten a bit smaller since. Obviously there are a few select towns where the zoning is snobbish as far a gigantic minimum sizes are concerned, but these are the exceptions. Personal transport hasn’t gotten any faster since the 70’s basically, and development patterns haven’t changed much since. If anything, the size of “Zoned areas” (subdivisions, retail areas, industrial parks, etc.) has grown, but this has more to do with the fact that the major throughfares in newly developed areas are the old state and US roads, which are spaced farther apart. This would be rectified if new 4- and 6-lane roads were built, but they rarely are; at best an existing 2-lane state route is expanded.

    The only suburban development I wish would be allowed (and which may be for all I know, but I never seem them built) is the 3-flat. The only apartment buildings going up in the far-flung suburbs are all 100-unit complexes. Same with new condo developments. Even the townhouses are built in giant clusters.

    It’s ironic in a way that the mega housing projects in the cities caused a lot of white flight, and the flight went to areas where most of the new multi-family housing is built in giant clusters. And it’s these giant clusters in the suburbs that always have the highest crime incidents, which one could have expected from seeing the same thing happen in the cities.

    I dunno, maybe there’s no money to be made in 3- or 6-flats anymore.

    I’ve got nothing against sprawl per se, it’s just that the class separation gets more and more obvious. And I don’t even have a problem with that, people seem to want it. It may even be better that way. But it sure is odd the euphemisms and justifications people come up with to call it anything BUT class separation.

  80. Bob, that’s Pinellas County. Tampa is the opposite–build up the suburbs until they consume the entire state. joe would die of apoplexy if he moved down here. We sneer at mass transit, too.

    You’re right, I misspoke. I still think the Pinellas beach towns are a good example of what anti-development forces cause. In an area as large as Tampa/St Pete, I’d sneer at mass transit, too. I dare you to go from East Tampa to Clearwater by bus.

    Interestingly, the one anti-sprawl concern that I do agree with is the whole let’s-subsidize-these-developers-so-that-we-on-the-city/county-commission-can-get-richer-at-tax-payer-expense scam. It’s real, and it’s bad. We’re blowing up down here, and a lot of it is due to developers getting insane sweetheart deals.

    Define “sweetheart deal”. I’ve seen lots of developers in Tampa wanting to build high-rises get their plans shot down by NIMBYs, and if they do get approval it’s usually for 10-20 stories less than they wanted. If sprawl is something you don’t want, it seems to me that you should allow high-rises to be as tall as the developers want.

    I’ve never understood why anti-sprawl zealots claim sprawl is all the developer’s fault, when every developer I’ve met wants to build as dense as possible because there’s more money in it. It isn’t developers agitating for 2-acre zoning; it’s existing homeowners wanting to keep the poor and middle-class out of their town.

    San Francisco is an interesting example. Most of the city is under a 3-story maximum height restriction. It’s also incredibly dense, and has little buildable land because it’s surrounded on 3 sides by the bay and mountains. The downtown is already a highrise district. You’d think, then, that more highrise development would be a very desirable thing. It would increase supply, moderate housing costs, and make room for new residents.

  81. highnumber,

    I don’t disagree.

    But let’s not fool ourselves – the residents weren’t resettled into Schaumburg and Palatine; they were resettled into suburbs like Calumet City, Riverdale, Dolton, etc. There’s a certain “Hooray! The poor blacks are even farther away!” mentality going on. It’s as if people are supposed to forget that those suburbs were economically depressed before the projects came down and have only gotten worse. But certainly a lot of former city machine politicians like the Shaw brothers and Jesse Jackson Jr. enjoy having a new power base without as much competition.

  82. Since transit infrastructure is in a constant state of the ‘tragedy of the commons,’ and we have already ceded our control of transit infrastructure to the government, it naturally follows that we must endure draconic zoning laws. In the area of Chicago I live (not to far from Cabrina-Green), if the zoning law that restricts building height were lifted, both mass transit and roadways would become even more packed (and if you know Chicago, this would render transit useless). Even if the city had the money (which it doesn’t), there really isn’t any room to build more roads or more transit, so zoning must be lower density.

  83. Comments from earlier in the thread referred to anti-sprawl people as being jealous of the wealthy suburbanites. I don’t think so: have you ever met people who complain about suburbs and how tacky they are? Those are wealthy people who are the snobs. Poor people in the city don’t talk about tacky suburbs. If you complain about the vinyl siding, low craftsmanship and poor architectural styling of suburban development mcmansions, then you almost certainly have a 6+ figure income.

  84. Joe wrote: It’s as if this writer is constructing a fake person out of some sort of animal feed for the purpose of arguing with him.

    The old hay man fallacy? Hay is feed and straw is bedding, city boy.

  85. And as someone who, as a matter of aesthetics, would like to see midtown Manhattan finally stop wasting so much space and get itself up to a reasonable density,

    As I look out my window, I admit that I have no idea what you’re talking about.

    Do you want to level the 20-something story buildings? Why not develop more in Chelsea and the UWS? Midtown’s plenty built-up.

  86. If you got rid of all the snob zoning in the world, the suburbs would not look much different than they do today. Most people do not want to live in high density areas, they want to live in lower density areas.

    That’s a classic statist argument: “Sure the laws force people to do this, but under the free market they’d do exactly the same thing!”

    If you really believe it, join “the anti-sprawl crowd” in eliminating those laws.

  87. No digamma, that’s not what he was saying. If it were a free market then the people who want to live in high density areas could do so and those who prefer low density areas could also do so without being unjustly penalized by the zoning overlords. The market could then reflect that demand with the correct supply.

    Not any longer. If you want low density, then you better have the cash (and car) to do it, as much of the zoning now mandates very low density with only one house per 2+ acres. That’s a lot more for the developer to recoup per house than something a bit more realistic and affordable, say 2 houses to an acre or even in my 1960’s neighborhood of 3-4 houses per acre. I’m perfectly happy with that as a balance.

    If you don’t have the cash, well there are the “modern” housing developments, where green space is no longer private and you get to know a bit too much about your neighbors. Trees? There’s a little one in front of your house. Don’t let it die; it’s the only one you get.

    The New Urbanists think they can ape housing and retail patterns that historically developed naturally, more or less, with a cookie-cutter approach and cram everyone into mixed use developments that strike me a bit too Disneyland-like with it’s artificial Main Street focus. Thanks, but no thanks.

    It all comes down to choice. Whose do *you* want?

    Welcome to the Soylant future.

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