"Smart Growth" Is Neither !
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Here is the Reality of Open Space in California:
of the more insidious movements
afoot in America is known as "smart
growth." As implemented, it isn't
smart, and it isn't growth. Instead, it
is a socialist scheme for central
planning and control of people's lives
by elitists who think they know what's
best for everyone else.
ACCT has attended several local
"smart growth" events. They were
highly orchestrated so as to arrive at
pre-conceived conclusions about how
best to manage people's lives.
Read ACCT member Scott Wilson's account of one such meeting.
See an interesting
pictorial comparison of "Smart
Growth" and the "Ideal Communist City."
See comprehensive additional discussions and summaries by the Thoreau Institute
See the Grand
Jury's report on inappropriate use of Redevelopment Agency funds by
Smart Growth Dream Will Give You Nightmares (Again, click "BACK" button to return.)
"Smart" Growth Can Spark Dumb Tax Policies -- John Wolfe ("BACK" button to return)
El Sobrante site provides interesting and useful collection on
"Smart Growth," "Redevelopment"
senior economist at Oregon's Thoreau
Institute, has shown that central planning
As in the
totalitarian central-planning economies of the Twentieth Century, what
O'Toole calls a
further: "The idea that we could ride fast, convenient trains instead of sitting in traffic
could have added highly paid "smart-growth" consultants to the
Portland has begun to dictate even the style of new homes, outlawing
The Proposed Contra Costa "Smart Growth" Compact
Contra Costa County, California: The lead consultant for "Shaping
Our Future" is Portland's
"...continued enhancement of
additional open-space needs through entitlement or purchase"
"The County and local
municipalities will assist in developing a 'one-stop shop' (e.g.
"The County and local municipalities agree in principle to
coordinate housing elements using
"The County and local municipalities agree in principle to the
importance of reinvestment
"SOCIAL EQUITY -- The County and local municipalities agree in
principle to develop
"Additionally, the County and local municipalities agree to
cooperate in creating a housing
Costa "smart growth" consultant is "Strategic
Economics," a Berkeley company.
Mr. Bernstein is
correct: Dena Belzer is in fact an advocate. Her slide
show on "Challenges to
Having attended the "Shaping Our Future" workshop, I can tell you that it was as slick
The first envelope represented a "Walking Community" and held
approximately 20 high density Chips. The second represented a "Auto Community" and contained approx. 40 lower density Chips. The last was a Mixed Community containing 30 Chips. The group could only
choose one envelope but had to put all the Chips in it on the big map where there was white space (indicating undeveloped) or over what we
considered underdeveloped (read your house). It became instantly clear that even in the "Walking Community" envelope there were more Chips
than white space on the map.
After they were all down and we made a few group changes, we were told to draw in where we want more roads and transit. Among other
improvements, our group sent Bart from Bay Point to Stockton. How long has Antioch been paying the
BART tax without having service? Who are we kidding?
Smart Growth Lessons from Portland http://www.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/enviro/portland.html
February 18, 2000
"A 100-year-old United Methodist Church in Portland, Ore., has been ordered by a city official to limit attendance at its worship services and to shut down a meals program for the homeless and working poor it has been running for the past 16 years.
The Brawl Over Sprawl
By Steven Hayward
Cover story in March 22nd, 2003 National Review
Vice President Al Gore thinks he's found his Big Issue for the 2000 campaign: suburban sprawl. Sprawl, the Vice President thinks, is a "threat" to our well being; we have to stop sprawl, he told the Brookings Institution in September, so that "our kids will see horses, cows and farms outside books and movies."
Gore is proposing that the Environmental Protection Agency promote "smart growth" by doling out billions to local communities that use planning to preserve open space and avoid the evils of traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, and functional but inelegant development forms such as strip malls. And the EPA has said it intends to use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to strongarm local governments into fighting sprawl. Beyond these seemingly modest first steps lies a grab bag of visionary planning ideas that has attracted a diverse coalition of environmentalists, urban planners, and good government reformers. The four hallmarks of smart growth are the setting of "urban growth boundaries" to constrain the amount of land available for development, higher density residential development, more mass transit (particularly rail transit), and much more aggressive long range urban planning.
Among the chattering classes it has become axiomatic that future development should be heavily regulated by enlightened planners. The usual gaggle of left-wing foundations, including Turner, MacArthur, Joyce, and Charles Stewart Mott, have formed the Funders Network on Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Livable Communities, and have already shoveled millions to smart growth advocacy groups. Beyond the argument that we have to stop sprawl to preserve farmland and open space lies the revival of central city urban renewal. People fleeing the city for the suburbs in search of better schools, lower crime, and quieter neighborhoods are blamed for sucking the life out of downtowns. Smart growth advocates say stopping the suburban exodus is key to saving central cities, which ignores the lessons of busing in the 1970s and the lessons of big cities recently turning themselves around by cutting crime and cleaning up.
If sprawl strikes you as the sort of issue that could worry only a fat and happy land, you're right. Gore is calculating that at a time of peace and prosperity, spending too much time in traffic is the sort of thing that still bugs voters. In fact, the politics of sprawl follows the economic cycle, rising to a crescendo when housing starts reach their peak late in booms and then disappearing during recessions. The last big controversy over urban growth started to peak at the end of the '80s boom, when states like California, Florida, and Washington adopted growth-control measures. The economy slid into recession shortly thereafter, and issue largely went away. What's new today is that the controversy over the proliferation of suburbs has spread beyond the fast-growing regions of the west and east coasts to the heartland. Crusades against sprawl are in full swing in St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and other older metropolitan areas that 20 years ago went begging for growth of any kind. The November '98 election saw over 200 growth control measures sponsored mostly by environmentalists and planners on the ballot in 31 states. Voters approved three-quarters of them.
But the threat of sprawl is vastly overblown. Indeed, there is an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to the whole campaign-literally. From chapter seven of Lewis Carroll's book: "The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it. 'No room! No room!' they cried out, when they saw Alice coming. 'There's plenty of room!' said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large armchair at one end of the table." The anti-sprawl crusaders, too, are myopically focusing on small corners of the country.
There's plenty of room left. You'd never know it from listening to the planners, but developed land accounts for less than 5 percent of the total land area in the continental United States. The amount of land developed each year, according to U.S. Geological Survey figures, is 0.0006 percent. Since World War II, the amount of land set aside for wildlife, wilderness conservation, and national parks has grown twice as fast as urban areas. The amount of land set aside for these purposes is now three times as large as urbanized areas. And for all the rhetoric about "vanishing farmland," the amount of farmland isn't declining in any significant way. The amount of suburban development and farmland loss (which is driven more by falling farm commodity prices than development pressures) is actually lower than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.
Yet these facts have little to do with the politics of the issue. No one in a fast growing area is likely to be moved by aggregate land use statistics. If some of that .0006 percent of land development is taking place in your community, it's a big deal. A Republican trying to counteract Gore's appeal to the suburbs can't very well stand for "dumb growth" and unconstrained sprawl. Alas, the favorite solutions of free market policy wonks, such as peak hour road pricing, privatization of infrastructure, and zoning that respects property rights, are also unlikely to appeal to most voters. Between a candidate appealing to "livability" and your "quality of life" and a candidate talking about road pricing, who do you think will win the debate? In this respect Gore's anti-sprawl crusade can be seen as adapting a kind of conservative nostalgia to advance liberal ends.
Indeed, a number of Republicans, and even some conservatives, have embraced much of this agenda. New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman tried to raise gas taxes to purchase open spaces and, when that failed, successfully sponsored a bond issue for the purpose. Utah governor Mike Leavitt is a believer in smart growth, and Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge two years ago appointed a "21st Century Environment Commission" that has obsessed about sprawl.
The real problem for conservatives is that, like a medieval heresy, there is just enough truth in the "smart growth" critique of contemporary urban life to make a direct attack on the Gore agenda difficult. Many American cities and suburbs are a mess. This was foreshadowed in Jane Jacobs's 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, an attack on the "urban renewal" being led by the planners of the day. (William F. Buckley, Jr., excerpted a chapter from Jacobs' book in the 1970 edition of American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century, though Jacobs is not a conservative.) Urban renewal in those days consisted of bulldozing entire neighborhoods so that they could be replaced with strictly separate land uses that were thought to be more "rational." The bigger the area "renewed," the bigger the disaster, the apotheosis being Brazilia in South America, which sprang full-blown from the mid of the best planners of the day, and which resulted in perhaps the most ugly and dysfunctional city in the world.
Jacobs' point was that truly livable cities evolve spontaneously, and that prescriptive planning stifles this process and upsets the urban order. She was especially critical of the proscriptions against mixed-use and high-density development that formed part of the conventional wisdom among planners at the time. Today's smart growth advocates hold Jacobs up as their guru because of her praise of density and mixed-use development, but totally miss her main point about the limitations of planning and the spontaneous nature of city life. Here we have the beginnings of a possibly effective counterattack on "smart growth": Why should we let the government and the planners that failed so badly at urban renewal try their hand at suburban renewal?
The Quest for the Holy Rail
And the new plans work just as poorly as the old. People keep failing to fit the planners' mold. Light rail, which together with high density development is supposed to reduce congestion, has been a flop. In his Brookings speech in September, Gore incredibly claimed that the light rail system in Portland, Oregon (the Potemkin Village of the smart growth movement) was attracting 40 percent of daily commuters. The actual number is less than 4 percent on a good day; that Gore was completely credulous about this fantastic figure, and that no one caught this blooper, is telling. There is no rational reason why we should be looking to a 19th century technology for 21st century mobility needs. Future historians may well write off this mania as "the quest for the holy rail."
Nor does high-density development reduce congestion. The superficially appealing idea is that if we all live closer to where we work and shop, shorter car trips and mass transit will replace all those long car rides. But the real world doesn't work that way. Try this thought experiment. What happens at a cocktail party when a new wave of people shows up and the population density of the living room doubles? It is harder or easier to get to the bar and the cheese tray? Is it easier or harder to carry on conversation and move around the room? As urban population density rises, auto traffic congestion gets worse, not better, and commute times get longer, not shorter.
If density and proximity to transit cured congestion, then walkable, transit-rich New York City would have the best mobility and least congestion of any American city. In fact, while the average home-to-work commute in American cities is about 22 minutes, the average home-to-work commute for New Yorkers is 36 minutes, according to U.S. Census data, one-third longer than the average. No other city, not even Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, or Philadelphia, comes close. "Sprawling" low density cities like Phoenix and Albuquerque, meanwhile, have commute times below the national average. So why would anyone want to embrace a "solution" that will make the problem of congestion worse?
The answer is simple: To get us out of our cars. It is no exaggeration to say that for most smart growth advocates, the car is a rolling cigarette, General Motors is the moral equivalent of Philip Morris, and American Graffiti is a pornographic movie. In Earth in the Balance, Gore wrote that the internal combustion engine "is posing a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever likely to confront again." It is this animus toward the car that explains why the smart growth crowd is fixated with high density development. The planners want to increase congestion deliberately, to force us out of our cars and onto light rail. National Public Radio gave up the game when it noted in a report that "Portland's planners are embracing congestion; they want to create more of it." Portland's 40-year plan restricts road-building and envisions congestion tripling. The smart-growth coalition in Utah has produced a 25-year plan that predicts a 10 percent increase in congestion over what would otherwise be expected.
Here is where the planners' elitism and condescension is revealed. For behind their contempt for the car is contempt for the communities and ways of life it enables. Elite contempt for suburban life is an old liberal theme. Herbert Gans wrote his famous book The Levittowners 30 years ago to defend suburbanites from the charge that they were "an uneducated, gullible, petty 'mass' which rejects the culture that would make it fully human, the 'good government' that would create the better community, and the proper planning that would do away with the landscape-despoiling little 'boxes' in which they live."
Those attitudes persist to this day. They are present in a recent report of the Pennsylvania commission appointed by Gov. Ridge. Identifying urban sprawl as the single most important environmental problem for the Keystone state, the report declared, "We must find ways to prompt individual Pennsylvanians to explore their personal lifestyle choices-where they choose to live and work, how and how much they travel each day, how much energy they consume or save, and consider changes in those patterns that will not only improve the long-term quality of their lives but also contribute to a better quality of life for all citizens of the Commonwealth."
There you have it: commuting suburbanites are unreflective sheep, making unenlightened lifestyle choices because they lack the expert supervision that only their betters in government can provide. Gans couldn't have characterized the full repulsiveness of the elite condescension to the suburbs any better. And this gem came from a Republican administration.
Gore can be expected to be a lot more careful with his rhetoric about suburban life, and his remedies will be described in the most benign way. He knows that a direct attack on cars won't work, and that the imposition of urban growth boundaries and massive new government planning power can only proceed by stealth. (Watch for the new land conservation program to establish de facto urban growth boundaries by targeting key parcels of land on the urban periphery, and for the EPA to start looking over the shoulder of your local zoning board.) That's why smoking him out will require equal skill and finesse. But the openings are clearly there. Conservatives need to revive the populist language about centralized government and liberal elitism that worked well in the past. The same government that brought you urban renewal, conservatives should say, is likely to make an even worse mess of suburban renewal.
Steven Hayward is senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco.
"Urban Limit Line" Limbo
|ACCT Chairman Ken Hambrick's commentary in the Contra Costa Times, April 10, 2005|
Sierra Club's Mike Daley claims (Times, March 14) the
"Public wants urban limit lines to stay." And how does he know
this? He doesn't; he's just spouting the party line.
As Richard Hartmann (Times, March 20) aptly put it, Sierra Club represents a limited constituency, not the public in general. The truth: Most members of the public don't understand what an urban limit line is.
Housing costs are outrageous. More property taken out of the developable land inventory contributes heavily to increasing prices. The ULL does that, preventing cities from expanding and property owners outside the ULL from utilizing their land for its highest and best use.
Any ULL is unnecessary. Growth will come. The ULL can't stop it. What we need is intelligent management of that growth. Neither the so-called Smart Growth concept (pack people into rabbit warrens and increase congestion) nor a ULL is the way to do it.
Land-use planning under local control is the only intelligent way, without arbitrarily dictated rules and boundaries.
I'm sure Daley and his constituents have already gotten theirs, probably a single-family home. These so-called environmentalist want to keep our children and grandchildren from having the same thing. Shame on them.
Kenneth E. Hambrick
Thoughts on the ULL Scam