Suburbia, the preferred way of life across the advanced capitalist world, is under an unprecedented attack -- one that seeks to replace single-family residences and shopping centers with an "anti-sprawl" model beloved of planners and environmental activists.
This kind of imposed "vision" is proliferating in major metropolitan regions around the world.
All this reflects a widespread prejudice endemic at planning departments in universities, within city bureaucracies, and in much of the media. Across a broad spectrum of planning schools and practitioners, suburbs and single-family neighborhoods are linked to everything from obesity, rampant consumerism, environmental degradation, the current energy crisis -- and even the predominance of conservative political tendencies.
Planners in Albuquerque have suggested banning backyards -- despised as wasteful and "anti-social" by new urbanists and environmentalists, although it is near-impossible to find a family that doesn't want one.
Experts differ on the impact of these regulations, but it certainly has not created the new urbanist nirvana widely promoted by Portland's boosters.
This experience may soon be repeated elsewhere as planners and self-proclaimed visionaries run up against people's aspirations for a single-family home and low-to-moderate-density environment. Such desires may constitute, as late Robert Moses once noted, "details too intimate" to merit the attention of the university-trained.
But nowhere is this commitment to low-density living greater than in the U.S. Roughly 51% of Americans, according to recent polls, prefer to live in the suburbs, while only 13% opt for life in a dense urban place. A third would go for an even more low-density existence in the countryside.
It is time politicians recognized how their constituents actually want to live. If not, they will only hurt their communities, and force aspiring middle-class families to migrate ever further out to the periphery for the privacy, personal space and ownership that constitutes the basis of their common dreams.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
When someone seems unable to resist the urge to dictate how everyone else should live, I like to say that they are intouch with their inner tyrant. This article by Joel Kotkin reminds me how pervasive this sentiment can be. By allowing people the freedom to live as they prefer we hold tyranny at bay. Most problems real or imagined arising from these choices can be adjusted to or overcome with new knowledge and technology. Here are some excerpts: