Don't Regulate the Suburbs

The Heritage Foundation decries Obama's anti-sprawl policies, claiming that smart growth strategies have only managed to raise housing prices around the country.

"In a mid-February speech in Florida to sell his stimulus plan to Americans, President Obama used the forum as an opportunity to express his support for more public transit (trolleys and buses) and linked this preference to a need to deter Americans' number one housing preference: living in the suburbs. The President argued that:

I would like for us to invest in mass transit because potentially that's energy efficient. And I think people are a lot more open now to thinking regionally, in terms of how we plan our transportation infrastructure. The days where we're just building sprawl forever, those days are over. I think that Republicans, Democrats, everybody recognizes that that's not a smart way to design communities.

The "smart way," as the President suggests, is supposedly through the policies of "smart growth" and "new urbanism," which many communities in America have adopted in recent years to limit growth and upgrade their demographics by making housing less affordable. Under the guise of deterring sprawl-i.e., preventing additional neighbors- many suburban communities have adopted exclusionary zoning, impact fees, involuntary proffers, mandatory amenities, growth boundaries, service districts, infrastructure concurrency, and large-lot zoning to discourage new construction. Inevitably, these strategies raise housing prices.

As the record reveals, states and communities that have implemented the land-use regulations common to "smart growth" strategies are the same states and communities that have seen their housing prices soar over the past decade and have experienced the most severe delinquency and foreclosure rates, as well as the sharpest declines in house values in the past year. In sum, these "smart growth" strategies are an important contributing factor in the housing finance mess and severe recession that now confront the United States and several other countries that have implemented the same abusive land-use regulations."

Full Story: Don't Regulate the Suburbs

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"Under the guise of

"Under the guise of deterring sprawl—i.e., preventing additional neighbors— many suburban communities have adopted exclusionary zoning, impact fees, involuntary proffers, mandatory amenities, growth boundaries, service districts, infrastructure concurrency, and large-lot zoning to discourage new construction."

Wendell Cox is so vitriolic in his attacks. Oooo "under the guise" makes it sound so nefarious. Forget the real objectives of smart growth like preserving open space, or reducing pollution, or just providing more human scale environment. Nope, smart growth is only about prohibiting other people to move to where you are. Straw man maybe? Well "under the guise" of improving mobility, sprawl defenders, like Cox, enjoy raping the environment, choking small children and pets with exhaust fumes, and enabling a generational epidemic of obesity! How about that!

Secondly, growth boundaries, service districts, and infrastructure concurrency, are the only strategies in that list that are even remotely connected to new urbanism. Who in their right mind considers large-lot zoning to be a smart growth, much less new-urbanist strategy. As usual Cox is expert at refuting an argument that he himself frames!

Dont regulate the suburbs

Sadly - what President Obama is saying in reality, is that America needs to do more to set itself up for even more housing bubbles in the future. He is obviously of the view that California is a model the rest of America needs to emulate.

Never mind that California blew its housing out to about 9 times household incomes - triggering the current Global Financial Crisis (likely a 10 year exercise) - while Texas and most of the rest of middle North America (including Canada) stayed at 2.5 times incomes.

We would not have the current Global Financial Crisis if other jurisdictions had the same high governance standards as Texas.

It is pleasing to see that just below the Planetizen article is Builder magazines recent survey of the healthiest housing markets in the United States - led by Houston.

If the United States was currently permitting as many residential units as California - it would be permitting just 250,000 residential units annually - but in the range of 1,7 to 2.0 million if it was permitting at the current Houston rate.

It is beyond comprehension why the President is in effect suggesting that wiping the construction of apprximately 1,5 residential units annually out of the economy is in the wider public interest.

In contrast - the State of Victoria in Australia last year provided land sufficient for 250,000 lots (approx 650,000 people) and the New Zealand Government is very clear that its focus is "land supply" ( refer my website www.PerformanceUrbanPlanning.org ) - and even the British Government is taking steps to open up land supply.

Hugh Pavletich
www.PerformanceUrbanPlanning.org
Christchurch
New Zealand

We would not have the

We would not have the current Global Financial Crisis if other jurisdictions had the same high governance standards as Texas.

You do realize, Hugh, that Texas was the epicenter of the U.S. Savings & Loan Scandal?

Mr. Cox's Dumb Growth

Wendell Cox's astonishing ignorance of "Smart Growth," "Sprawl," "New Urbanism," and apparently most of the terminology of these and other developmental and regulatory concepts is interesting and entertaining, but goes a long way toward disqualifying him from serious consideration by anyone who wants to understand the various debates surrounding these and other topics. Most of the policy choices he lists (i.e., exclusionary zoning, mandatory amenities, large-lot zoning) have absolutely nothing to do with deterring sprawl. They are, in fact, part and parcel of what makes sprawl such a pervasive and difficult issue with which to deal from a planning and local government standpoint.

When 95 percent of a community's developable land is zoned for singe-use, large-lot, single-family detached residential development, we're looking at the antithesis of "smart growth" and "new urbanism." Instead, that community has not only condemned itself to decades of sprawl, it is also practicing economic bigotry with a vengeance, since those of median income and below are unlikely to ever be able to afford the McMansion on a half-acre lot that those zoning regulations require. Mr. Cox's inability to tell the difference says quite a bit about his ideological blinders, not to mention his inability to write sensibly about public policy.

Don't Regulate the Suburbs???

J. David Stein
The wonderful thing about this argument is that like most of its kind, it entirely avoids the issues of both externalities and of systems effects. Yes, the costs of houses go up in denser formulations, but the overall costs for the same level of services stay the same or fall as synergies apply. For instance, transit is ultimately a better user of expensive land used for roads, not to mention avoiding the expense of land set aside for parking.
Some day, those who decry the tragedy of the commons will finally realize the power of Hardin's ultimate conclusion: mutual coercion, mutually enforced: i.e. a decent legal system, honestly enforced.

Don't Regulate the Suburbs???

J. David Stein
The wonderful thing about this argument is that like most of its kind, it entirely avoids the issues of both externalities and of systems effects. Yes, the costs of houses go up in denser formulations, but the overall costs for the same level of services stay the same or fall as synergies apply. For instance, transit is ultimately a better user of expensive land used for roads, not to mention avoiding the expense of land set aside for parking.
Some day, those who decry the tragedy of the commons will finally realize the power of Hardin's ultimate conclusion: mutual coercion, mutually enforced: i.e. a decent legal system, honestly enforced.

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