While I sympathize with the theme and agree with regards to roadway spending and “conservative” hypocrisy, a recent article in the progressive The American Prospect takes a narrow-minded view of politics and urbanism, while throwing around broad generalizations about evolution and global warming to support their assertions:
In fact, one doesn’t have to be concerned about climate change at all in order to support such policies; values of fiscal conservatism and localism, both key to Republican ideology, can be better realized through population-dense development than through sprawl.
Tom Darden, a developer of urban and close-in suburban properties, said Wednesday, “I’m a Republican and have been my whole life. I consider myself a very conservative person. But it never made sense to me why we would tax ordinary people in order to subsidize this form of development, sprawl.” Darden told the story of a road-paving project approved by North Carolina when he served on the state’s transportation board. A dirt road that handled just five trips per day was paved at taxpayer expense, with money that could have gone toward mass transit benefiting millions of people.
“Those were driveways, in my view, not roads,” Darden said.
I agree with Darden. However, so-called “progressives” fall into the same narrow minded trap when they support public transportation as a solution to global warming that “conservatives” fall into when they try to protect their auto-centric lifestyle. Many are really calling for more of the same top-down overspending on transportation infrastructure that will require a taxpayer bail out at some time in the distant future. Where is the rational voice trying to slow down overspending on all energy-reliant, sprawl-creating, redistribution of productive resources? While existing transit may be less bad environmentally in comparison to highways when looked at from a narrow point of view, it is a common mistake to assume that more spending on new infrastructure of any form will create denser living patterns. Yet we hear the top-down paternalistic rhetoric over and over:
“People don’t want to live 40 miles away from their workplaces,” Coleman said. “But we have to offer them options. If we can build a light rail line into the city of St. Paul and build the density of business around it that we are planning, we will be able to significantly alter people’s lifestyles.”
But in order to build public support for such policies, conservatives must join progressives in rethinking the United States’ geography. Density is cost effective, it fosters small business development at the local level, and it strengthens ties within communities. None of that should be anathema to either national party — unless they continue to put the interests of construction behemoths and automakers above the interests of ordinary Americans.
I would argue that “progressives” who wave the banner of environmentalism, while well-intentioned, are no friends to urbanism. I plan to dispel the myth that more spending on public transit will lead to denser living patterns in a future Urbanism Legends post. If these “progressives” really want denser living and a more environmentally friendly transportation network, they should rethink their love affair with top-down planning and spending, including on new transit. Afterall, progressivism brought us Euclidean Zoning in the first place.
rationalitate hits the nail one the head in response to the American Prospect article, and hits on some other points I didn’t get into:
But what it doesn’t mention is that the sort of sprawl that dots America’s (mostly suburban) landscape is enabled by zoning and minimum parking regulations, and that the suburbs might be a lot denser if people were allowed more complete property rights. I don’t know if it’s because the Republican party has strayed so far away from its limited government roots that this no longer qualifies as a “conservative” issue, or if the author mistakenly equates municipal government with individual choice, or if the author is just plain ignorant as to the root causes of sprawl. But in any case, she took what could have been an insightful topic, stripped away any persuasive arguments, and left readers with the impression that urbanism simply isn’t compatible with American conservatism. And that’s a shame.
I’ll go with: “the author is just plain ignorant as to the root causes of sprawl.”
[HT: The Bellows]