Smart Growth Winners (Rich People) and Losers (Other People)

The Sustainable Northampton Plan presents Smart Growth (compact, transit-oriented development) as if it’s good for everyone. The problem is, different environments suit different living situations. In addition, mass transit has a troubled record outside of a handful of large, older dense cities. Let’s hear from the blog Asymmetrical Information (9/27/04):

Smart growth is great if you are an upscale professional, preferably without children, who can score a relatively large apartment fairly close to work. It’s a lot less fun for the majority trying to cram your family into four or five rooms… Smart growth is great if you can afford to have everything you buy delivered, or are in excellent physical condition with a physically undemanding job; it is not so great if you have to come home from your shift at the nursing home to lug groceries a quarter-mile down the street, and then up three flights of stairs. Smart growth is great if you can afford to eat in the plethora of restaurants; it is not so enjoyable if you have to scrape up an extra 20% for the ingredients in tuna casserole. Smart growth is great if you have a nanny to take the kids to the park during the day; it is not so terrific if you have to choose between wasting several precious hours standing around the playground, or letting your kids languish inside. Smart growth is great if you can afford taxis when you need them; it is not so good if you are forced to take three busses to get somewhere you really need to be. Smart growth is great if your family members are all affluent enough to take care of themselves; it is not so fulfilling when you have to shove your ailing mother into the kids room when her resources fail.

Smart growth, in other words, is wonderful for those with the [wherewithal] to smooth over its little rough spots. But ask the priced out secretaries commuting 2 hours a day from Yonkers how “liveable” New York is…

The fact is, public transportation is an absolute failure everywhere it has been tried except for cities which grew up around a public transportation network in the pre-automobile era. Public transportation–and I am second to none in my love for public transportation, and have a fabulous commute besides–is more expensive, both in money and environmental costs, than automobiles outside of New York, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago. That’s right, I said it’s more environmentally costly than giving every person on the train a car, because a train running empty consumes an enormous amount of energy.

In order to persuade people to live in a public transit zone, rather than an auto zone, the trains have to run frequently enough, and for a long enough period, for people to be able to base their lives around them. Those five cities (and I’m not sure about Philly) produce net energy gains only because they shift an enormous number of people during rush hour; enough to offset the inevitable losses during off peak periods…

See also:

USA Today: “Anti-sprawl fervor meets backlash” (8/25/02)
“There’s no question that growth controls increase housing prices somewhere between a little and a lot,” says William Fulton of the Solimar Research Group, a land-use think tank in Ventura, Calif…

“Smart growth” promotes the protection of open space by concentrating development close to jobs and services and connecting it with mass transit. The problem, experts say, is that communities adopt only the smart-growth principles they like.

“Ask the typical suburbanite if they want to save open space, and the answer is always ‘yes,’ ” says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. “Then ask them, as a trade-off for that open space, are they willing to have dense multifamily housing built nearby, and the answer is almost always ‘no.’ The result is lots of open space preserved and very little affordable housing.”

Teachers John Petrosky, 41, and his wife, Vicki, 42, joined Loudoun County schools two years ago because the salaries were good — more than $45,000 for eight to 10 years’ experience. They could have afforded a small house in Loudoun [which has Smart Growth policies] but chose instead to live more than a half-hour west in Berryville. There, they found a 2,600-square-foot house on a half-acre for $280,000. The same house in Loudoun? “Another hundred grand on top,” Vicki Petrosky says.

New York Times: “Vibrant Cities Find One Thing Missing: Children” (3/24/05)
After interviewing 300 parents who had left the city, researchers at Portland State found that high housing costs and a desire for space were the top reasons…

Randal O’Toole: “The Folly of ‘Smart Growth'”
Open space in valuable locations such as people’s backyards, urban parks, and golf courses will be transferred to less valuable locations such as private rural farms that are unavailable for recreation…

Bozeman Daily Chronicle: “Bozeman’s Growing Pains” (9/7/05)
Open space for recreation [in Portland] is at risk after 10,000 acres of parks, fields, and golf courses were rezoned for infill development.

Suburban ‘Raise the Drawbridge’ Sentiment Motivates Some Smart Growth Policies
Most appalling in Bozeman: The newcomers who sold their houses in the Silicon Valley and Seattle have plenty of money to buy the fancy log houses on 20 acres with views of the mountain ranges. Now that they are here they are doing everything they can to a) stop newcomers from coming; b) force anyone without their income levels to live in drab high-density housing. They get their piece of the Montana Dream, and everyone else can take a hike…

Bozeman’s anti-growth fixation is bizarre to me. Here we have a vast valley with only a handful of people and those here believe it is being ruined by sprawl.

NY Times Magazine: “The Autonomist Manifesto (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road)”
…the average commute by public transportation takes twice as long as the average commute by car…

Smart Growth: When Polls and Reality Diverge
…In Oregon, a bastion of smart growth planning, durable consumer demand for conventional homes with yards is evident, despite planners’ best efforts to encourage high-density development near mass transit and within Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary. The unfortunate result of these mismatched desires has been increased suburbanization, as families seek affordable homes in areas outside Metro Portland’s authority. Traffic congestion has surged as Metro Portland emphasized investment in mass transit over road-building, even as cars remained a popular mode of travel. Despite the establishment of a light rail line, the 2000 Census shows that transit’s work trip market share remains 20 percent below the 1980 Census rate.

“Sprawl and Smart Growth” (PDF) by Jane S. Shaw
Senior Associate, Political Economy Research Center, Bozeman, MT
Randal O’Toole, head of the Thoreau Institute, points out that according to Census Bureau surveys, 90 percent of commuters typically drive to work. Only when densities reach 5,000 per square mile (in cities such as Seattle, Chicago, and Boston) does the percentage of drivers start to go down from this high level…