Sunday, May 23, 2010

Suburbs & Cities

The war against the suburbs by the environmentalists, via the troubling narrative that the best way to live is in a high-density city (maybe for singles but not families) where you don’t have good schools, a yard, or need a car, is being amplified in this plan being promoted by the government, as New Geography reports.

An excerpt.

“Fostering livable a transformative policy shift for U.S. DOT,” announced grandiloquently in the Draft U.S. DOT Strategic Plan released for public comment on April 15, 2010. But what exactly does the Administration mean by “livability” and how does it intend to translate this vague rhetorical abstraction into a practical reality?

“To get an understanding of the Administration’s intentions one must delve into the stilted language and bureaucratic jargon of its policy pronouncements, notably the “HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities” and the above-mentioned Draft Strategic Plan. “Livable Communities,” says the latter, are “places where transportation, housing and commercial development investments have been coordinated so that people have access to adequate, affordable and environmentally sustainable travel options.” The Interagency Partnership Agreement speaks in similar vague generalities. It defines livability principles as including “more transportation choices,” “equitable, affordable housing” and “reliable access to employment centers, educational opportunities and services.” Give credit to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to reduce these abstract concepts to plain language. “Livability,” he said, “ means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car." In other words, “livability” in the Secretary’s mind means living in a dense urban environment where walking, biking and transit are realistic alternatives to using the car.

“But this definition is too narrow for most Americans whose notion of “livability” may include living in suburban communities and enjoy such obvious amenities as a safe neighborhood, access to good schools, the privacy of one’s own backyard and the freedom, comfort, convenience and flexibility of personal transportation. If “livability” becomes a euphemism for a federal policy of favoring high density, transit-dependent living, then we are moving closely to “newspeak” when words mean whatever Big Brother intends them to mean.

“How does the Administration intend to promote its vision of “livable communities?” Again, we must turn to the dense prose of its official policy statements. “To achieve our Livable Communities agenda,” states the Draft DOT Strategic Plan, “DOT will (1) Establish an promote coordination and sustainability in Federal infrastructure policy; (2) Give communities the tools and technical assistance they need so that they can develop the capacity to assess their transportation systems...; (3) Work through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities to develop broad, universal performance measures that can be used to track livability across the Nation...; and (4) Advocate for more robust state and local planning efforts and create incentives for investments that demonstrate the greatest enhancement of community livability...”