Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is sprawl a product of bureaucratic inertia?

Today I read an article on The Boston Globe by Paul McMorrow that attacks some zoning pitfalls (Click on the title to read it). On this opinion piece, he goes on to make some controversial statements that I thought were worth addressing (or not...). The subtitle of the paper reads: “Sprawl isn’t so much a deliberate choice as it is a product of bureaucratic inertia.” It seems to me that McMorrow is arguing for more bureaucracy in the system, which implies tighter government regulations on matters such as zoning. Now, wouldn’t a bigger government mean less control for the population? The fact that people are sprawling as a product of not having enough bureaucracy appears to be a very deliberate choice rather than what the author presents.

Secondly, he argues that “land is finite and exhaustible, so sprawl is a waste of land.” In economic terms, a distribution is efficient when it goes to the most highly possible valued use. Now, it seems to me that a waste of land as a marketable good would be to prohibit it from being used in a more valuable way. Studies have shown that a very low percentage of the land available in the United States has been developed, which leads me to conclude that there is still plenty of room for growth without seriously affecting any of the natural resources around us.

Lastly, he reasons that “smart growth creates the type of vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods that Jane Jacobs celebrated a half century ago, but there’s no policy imperative in urban romanticism.” This last statement shows, to say the least, a distorted view of Jane Jacobs’ ideas. To be clear, the “vibrant communities” acclaimed by Jacobs weren’t created by any development system arbitrarily set in place, but rather by people and their spontaneous interactions with one another. The best possible way to try to foster these communities into existence is to protect them from government intervention and let people live for themselves. Maybe then we will have communities that resemble such romantic times, but even if not, at least we will know that the power to make deliberate choices will have been honored in the Land of the Free.

No comments: