Don't Ask Poor to Bear Cost of Smart Growth Goals

The U.S. settlement system has created a powerful link between access and opportunity: research demonstrates that commuting by car significantly increases the employment and earnings of working families. The suburbanization of employment, the presence of

"There is reason to believe that not having a car isn't just a consequence of povertyâ€"it's a barrier to escaping it. A significant body of research shows that low-income people with cars work at higher rates, and earn more, than those without."

"The lack of a car limits opportunities for America's poor in other ways too. It's never easy to be a working single parent, but it's infinitely harder without a car. When you spend three hours a day commuting to work by bus and train, then have to buy groceries and pick up your kids, there isn't much time for anything elseâ€"like helping with homework or after-school activities, taking yourself or your family to the doctor when necessary, or even finding a partner to help share the load. And lack of access to a car limits your housing options, making it even harder to move into safer neighborhoods, or ones with better schools."

"The idea that driving a car is a lifestyle decision has long since become outmoded. To be a fully functioning citizen in this country today, a car is a virtual necessity, and any American willing to work ought to be able to afford one. We use the tax code to subsidize most other work expenses. It's time we did the same for the most common and unavoidable of them all."

Thanks to Mark Alan Hughes

Full Story: Automobility: Subsidizing America's Commute



Cars, Jobs and Land Use

While it is true that a car is very necessary given our current land use patterns, this misses the concept of changing the way we plan our land use. Ideally, we should be putting our homes and our businesses near each other, and near transit.

Ken Firestone

I guess I am not a fully functioning citizen

"To be a fully functioning citizen in this country today, a car is a virtual necessity." I guess I am not a fully functioning citizen, since I don't own a car. Somehow I have managed to commute to work, to raise a family, and to participate in local government without a car -- and I did this in California. Nevertheless, I must be a second class citizen.

The author proposes subsidizing automobile commuting for everyone in order to benefit the small percentage of the population that does not now have automobiles. Of course, this proposal would encourage automobile use by everyone -- not just by the poor -- and would make it more difficult to change the current land-use patterns that make most Americans automobile dependent. Yet we need to change these patterns to deal with global warming and looming energy shortages.

Charles Siegel

Did this article even mention Smart Growth?

The headline on Planetizen "Don't Ask Poor to Bear Cost of Smart Growth Goals" at first made me think this was just another pro-sprawl propaganda piece written by an "American Dreamer". The reality of course is that it's an article from Washington Monthly, which is moderate, center-left publication. The article in question had nothing whatsoever to do with Smart Growth, but instead the reality that car ownership is pretty much a prerequisite for citizenship in this country.

That the current "free market" drive-in utopia is increasingly becoming unaffordable raises serious questions about the long-term sustainability of our current settlement pattern. Subsidizing driving for poor and middle income workers is a short-term fix that presumes that our current energy woes are only a temporary setback.

Of course such market distortions are perfecty acceptable, dare I even say desireable, to the pro-sprawl, libertarian crowd who never met automobile subsidy they didn't like. In their eyes any policy solutions that attempt to provide meaningful alternative, ala Smart Growth, are "social engineering", while policies directed at subsidizing sprawl and further increasing automobile dependency are paraded forth as "individual choice" and the "free market" at work.

The lesson to be learned? If you ever hear a libertarian whining about affordability, check your wallet.


Surely Matt Lyons when he said; "increasingly becoming unaffordable" meant "more expensive" as contrary to his assertion, home ownership is at all time highs. Affordability indices are not good measures of home ownership. Indeed the places with the lowest affordability are among those with the highest ownership rates. Blaming these results on the double super secret automobile subsidies conspiracy is at best a compliment.

Of particular amusement is the assertion that "libertarians" support "subsidies" of the automotive kind. A self-cancelling assertion if ever there were one.

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