Wednesday, August 18, 2010

War on the Dream, Part Two

Wendell Cox’s book—War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life—is a must read for the arguments opposing the type of urban planning that wants to get us all into small apartments/condos and mass transit.

Here is the Afterward of the seminal book:

“The Universal Dream, in its American, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, European and other forms around the world has been associated with an unprecedented improvement in the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people.

“Yet, there is a “War on the Dream, the result of policies that seek to control urban sprawl or suburbanization. The campaign operates under various names, such as “smart growth” or “urban consolidation.” The proponents and governments that implement anti-suburban policies do so with little debate. Ideological dogma provides the foundation of much of the foundation of these initiatives, rather than rational, objective analysis. There is rarely any serious analysis of consequences. However, anti-suburban policies do have consequences, what are called “negative externalities” in economics. The most important consequences are:

Substantially higher housing costs relative to incomes. Anti-suburban policies outlaw development on large swaths of land, creating scarcity and increasing housing prices. This must inevitably reduce home ownership and thereby the creation of wealth among millions of middle-and lower-income households.

Less productive urban areas. Anti-suburban policies seek to force people to use mass-transit services that simply do not go where they are going, by failing to provide the roadway capacity necessary to accommodate rising demand. This increases the intensity of both traffic congestion and air pollution. Beyond the health and quality of life consequences, greater traffic congestion leads to lower levels of economic growth in urban areas.

Higher consumer prices. Anti-suburban policies seek to limit or ban expansion of the big-box retail stores. This will lead to more strained budgets, with the greatest negative effects on low-income households.

“All of this may sound somewhat abstract. However, it is very serious. Urban planning has already destroyed housing affordability in many urban areas and the intense traffic congestion it generates is driving businesses and economic growth away. Less economic growth means fewer jobs. Less productive urban areas are likely to lead to lower wages and more unemployment. All of this, when combined with higher product prices means that many households are likely to be less well off in the future. In short, the anti-suburban agenda aims economies toward fewer middle-income households and greater concentrations of wealth. The pity is that the Dream is being threatened for virtually no reason. Virtually all of the justifications for anti-suburban policies are without foundation.

“The supreme accomplishment of the high-income economies has been the democratization of prosperity that has occurred since World War II. With most of the world still living in comparative poverty, it is clear that neither economic growth nor wealth creation can be taken for granted. Moreover, economic growth is not a luxury; it is, as Benjamin Freidman has shown, crucial for social cohesion.

“Thus, the imperative is to:

• Restore good planning that facilitates the preferences of people, rather than attempting to command and control them.

• Reject anti-suburban policies where they have not been implemented.

• Repeal anti-suburban policies where they have been enacted.

“Only by such actions will economies and their urban areas be positioned to ensure that future generations live better than ours.” (pp. 203-204)