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Thread: Right to life vs. property rights

  1. #1

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    Right to life vs. property rights

    The current controversy over sprawl development raises a question that all the participants seem eager to ignore: Is sprawl development in violation of anyone’s fundamental constitutional rights?

    Critics of sprawl constantly remind us that it is “auto-oriented” and that “smart growth” is pedestrian- and/or transit-oriented. As a result, we’ve been attempting to encourage “smart growth” with incentives. Is this an appropriate remedial action for a flawed planning process that has ignored the needs of those who cannot, should not or choose not to drive and forced them and countless others to depend on automobiles?

    Many of us readily acknowledge that we’re forced to drive because the alterna-tives are inadequate. But the analysis always stops there. No one bothers to identify those guilty of the coercion. Once past that barrier it should be easy to identify the culprits. They’re local and county planners and elected officials who make the zoning and development decisions. They’ve put a disproportionate amount of our new urban and suburban growth in places that are accessible and functional for motorists only.

    For over half a century urban and suburban planning efforts have been attempt-ing to accommodate every auto the manufacturers can sell. And in that time no one has ever acknowledged whether the rights of those who’re forced to drive, or who are disenfranchised for lack of a car, might be more important than the property rights of developers and land speculators. When considering our constitutional right to life, liberty and property we should remember that life comes first, liberty second, property third — and cars kill.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We should prohibit any new development that is not at least as accessible and functional for non-motorists as it is for those who drive. In a nation that’s mandated to protect our lives and freedom, local, county and regional land use decisions should not force us to depend on modes of transportation so dangerous that they require seat belts, air bags, crash helmets and personal liability insurance. Everyone is entitled to a safer alternative. If funds for public transit are in short supply we should remember that walking is still not considered to be a health hazard.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Great first post. I agree alternatives are needed. But I am wary of those leading this fight. Outright Auto-Hositility-Syndrome seems to be aflicting most of the smart growthers. They want to save America from itself. Just like Carry Nation's temperance fight methods and tactics these Smart Growth attacks on the populace by planners are doomed in the long run. There is no quick fix. We need to offer a starter kit of smart growth and then bring the populace along willingly over time. Re-engineer, re-invest, re-educate in existing communities. So when someone moves out of a aftermarket-smart community they are aware that alternatives to suburbia exist. My 2 Centavos.

  3. #3
    I think you raise some valid points, but I think that any attempt to demonize the automobile as a way to encourage smart growth and pedestrian-friendly development is going to fail. You also seem to use the rationale that cars are unsafe to back up your points, but that is the same rationale that people use when they try and blame guns for high murder rates.

    You also make an interesting point when you say “They’re local and county planners and elected officials who make the zoning and development decisions. They’ve put a disproportionate amount of our new urban and suburban growth in places that are accessible and functional for motorists only.” The problem with that statement is that the decisions made by planners and elected officials are always market-driven. People like to live in areas where you can only access it by automobile. If this were not the case, we would have no sprawl. The thing about living in America is that you can choose to live on a 5-acre lot miles from any businesses, if that is what you prefer. I don’t think that it is the Planners job to try and shame people into living in conditions that they do not like. Also, in no way should property rights be trampled because some people won’t have cars to get to and from a development.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Jfortin has made the same point I would make. It is the market, more than planning/zoning, that dictates the location of different activities. High land costs, a shift to single-floor manufacturing plants, and a variety of other factors make industrial expansion very difficult within cities. Pressure is then put on land owners, realtors, elected officials, and planners to provide a solution. The best one is to create a new planned industrial park with the right size lots, infrastructure, transportation, pollution controls, etc. Is this sprawl? Perhaps. Is it better for the jobs to be located in the suburbs, or for the business to go away?

    The same is true of housing. People left the cities because of cramped homes, little or no yards, safety concerns and other issues. The suburbs met their needs. Now, some people are feeling that they lost something in the exchange. New Urbanism and the movement back to cities are signs of this. In their assessment, some people will find themselves better off in an urban environment, while others will never give up their vinyl snout house.

    So if the market dictates things, we are pretty much stuck with what we've got, right? Well, the truth is, of course, that we are not in a free market. Our private transportation system is heavily subsidized. The interstate highway system was only completed in my lifetime. We did not build our local and collector roads to the same standards as today. If it snowed, we did not expect the roads to be shoveled by the time we left for work. The government spends a hellovalotta money to make it easy for people to use their cars.

    In a free market, I wonder if Smart Growth might have a better chance.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I would turn the question back the other way:

    If "sprawl development" (check these pages to see a whole bunch of what I have found to be very smart and engaged people debate that definition) is a violation of our constitutional rights, why not the obvious converse?

    It would seem to me that additional controls on property rights gets closer to infringing the rights bestowed by the founding fathers, than sprawl development.

    I think you hit on a notion that merits some debate, but blaming the car and planners for sprawl falls on a deaf ear.

    Yes, new develop should have options for both pedestrian and auto orientation. That is a great place to start the debate.

    Don't demonize the developer who is taking risk, perhaps creating jobs and acting on an opportunity presented by a property owner, yes a citizen who has a specific Constitutional right.

    Oh, and remember, democracy works. It is the citizens who vote for the elected offical who approves the plan. All in all it works.

    Finally, my reading of the Constituiton suggests that the order you suggest, Life, Liberty, Property, is in ebery way an individual decision of the American Citizen.

    Oh and Jfortin, Puck is starting to scare me.

    I would add that there is no life, without liberty.

  6. #6
    Originally posted by gkmo62u
    Oh and Jfortin, Puck is starting to scare me.
    You are the second person to say that.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Market Driven

    El Guapo, I know you're waiting for this.

    What does everyone mean by "market driven". One of the largest determinates of land value is public subsidized highway access. Public expenditures are in part a matter of planning or lack thereof at all levels of government. State DOT's are notorious for ignoring local planning.

    The development industry is not "buyer driven" it's "seller driven" and developers and lenders will continue to with business as usual in order to stay within their long established equation of project viability. Lending practices do not like complex mixed use development patterns, because they are more complex to evaluate. This is not to say that profits are not good. They are. Unfortunately minimizing risk has led to a one size fits all development mentality being thrust upon prospective homeowners.

    Once and for all, there is no "free market" !!!!!!!! I suppose tax breaks for businesses who by SUV's is the "market at work".

  8. #8
    I think you'd get more constitutional traction on an equal protection argument - theoretically, every citizen to entitled to equal treatment under the law.

    However, in many cities, as has been pointed out, new auto-dependent development is subsidized, while older neighborhoods are burdened by regulations which were written with suburbia in mind. In one of the older neighborhoods in my city, our zoning code made every single lot non-conforming - the area had been developed with 35 x 120 lots, and the smallest lot size the code allowed by 50 x 100. It was that way for over 30 years. Meanwhile, the state DOT is busy building more highways to open up more land for development.

    If state and local governments are subsidizing development out in the 'burbs, shouldn't they be spending an equal amount intown so as not to warp the market? Given that they're not, does this raise an issue of fairness?

    In most towns in the country, there is essentially a cost of $5,000 - $6,000 to participate in society - the cost of owning, operating and insuring a car. How does that stack up to the poll tax?

    All that said, what lincoln is talking about is still primarily a political matter; it deals with the distribution of goods in society. The track record for using the courts to address major political issues is not particularly encouraging...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    A Wisconsin Perspective

    Bear with me through the statutory references, but Wisconsin adopted "Smart Growth" legislation a few years back. It was developed without aid from professional planners (At least none that take credit now!), and was not debated, but tacked on as a rider to the state's biennial budget. We're now stuck with HORRIBLE smart growth laws that actually PROMOTE SPRAWL. So don't blame the local planner and local elected official, we had no say in the process.

    Here's the *draft* position statement being proposed by our local municipal executives:

    D R A F T
    Feb. 17, 2003

    THE IMPACT OF "SMART GROWTH" LEGISLATION ON THE PHYSICAL AND FISCAL CHARACTER OF CITIES, VILLAGES AND TOWNS IN WAUKESHA COUNTY AND THE STATE


    Introduction

    By passage of sections 1606 and 1606m of 1999 Assembly Bill 133 and its approval by Governor Thompson, the State Legislature created what amounts to far reaching and potentially very costly changes in Wisconsin planning enabling legislation. The result of the legislatures and governor's actions in this regard became Section 66.1001, Comprehensive Planning, of Wisconsin statutes as well as modifications to the original Wisconsin planning law (Sec. 62.23). The major modifications to Sec. 62.23, which, incidentally, has long been recognized by planning professionals throughout the country as one of the best state planning laws in the land, was accomplished without widespread knowledge of and input from the very people/entities that bear the brunt of the impact of the modification, ie; the municipal, county and regional planners throughout the state and their bosses. If someone wants to avoid debate on proposed legislation, the traditional course of action is to attach it to the state biennial budget bill. In 1999, that was Assembly Bill 133.

    The question could be asked, and would have been if an opportunity had been given; what purpose or value to local government throughout the state does the new law, Sec. 66.1001, serve? Perhaps more importantly, what does this new legislation accomplish that could not be accomplished at less cost under Sec. 62.23 of Wis. statutes, with, perhaps, slight modification?

    Specific Concerns

    Purportedly, one of the primary reasons the 'smart growth' legislation was drafted was to thwart 'urban sprawl'. It will accomplish just the opposite. The new law ensures that urban sprawl will still occur and will even be more easily accomplished because Sec. 66.1001 requires that all land must be zoned for its future, planned use. That is not the way to manage land use development and virtually ties the hands of a municipality in trying to do so. Zoning land for uses that are not planned to be in place for five, ten or 20 years encourages "leap-frogging" of current development to gain cheaper land or more advantageous (for the developer) circumstances and causes utilities to be extended into non-urban areas. That's urban sprawl!

    If the smart growth legislation was drafted to mandate that every municipality create a 'comprehensive plan', the new legislation was not needed because that was already mandated under Sec. 62.23 (and still is) but never enforced by the state.

    If the smart growth legislation was drafted to ease the process by which land developers must develop land, that has been accomplished at the possible expense of good community growth/development management. (See above).

    If the smart growth legislation was drafted to place municipalities in the business of actually providing housing, it accomplishes that by mandate.

    If smart growth legislation was designed to interject local government into heretofore private enterprises such as health care and child care, it will accomplish that by mandate.

    If the smart growth legislation was drafted to create work for planning consultants, it will do that. Each of the 1,850 units of local government plus the 72 counties in Wisconsin are mandated by this legislation to create a 'comprehensive plan' by January 1, 2010 or have no legal basis for any local land use related action such as: zoning/rezoning, land division, zoning appeals, redevelopment, street and highway expansion, park development, and, possibly utility extension/expansion. There are probably not enough qualified urban/rural planners in Wisconsin to accomplish the preparation of a truly comprehensive plan for each of the units of government by the statutory deadline. The average cost per county for the municipalities to produce comprehensive plans that will meet the requirements of Sec. 66.1001 has been estimated to be $500,000. That converts to at least a $37 million expenditure statewide. One local, primarily rural, town in Waukesha County is already spending over $100,000 to create such a plan for the town. Some counties have budgeted $1 million.


    Why Should Section 66.1001 Be A Concern To Municipalities?

    'Planning', as referred to in both Sec. 62.23 and Sec. 66.1001 of Wis. Statutes, means the preparation of a plan or plans for a governmental unit or geographic area such as; a city, village, town, county, multi-county/multi-community region, watershed, basin or utility service area. It can also mean the preparation of a plan or plans for individual elements/uses within such geographic/governmental areas, such as; park/recreation areas/uses, commercial or industrial areas/uses, 'downtowns', residential areas, institutional uses, and so on. The reference to 'plans' also implies that such plans will be made for, at least, a long-range period of time (20+ years) as mandated by the legislation. The reference to 'a master plan' (Sec. 62.23) or 'comprehensive plan' (Sec. 66.1001) means the preparation of a governmental/geographic area plan encompassing all elements of physical development (Sec. 62.23) or a specific list of such elements (Sec. 66.1001).

    Importantly, it should be noted that planning as referred to is, first and foremost, a process by which a plan is first conceived, is outlined, discussed by those preparing the plan, authorized, prepared in whole, in phases, stages or elements, is discussed in a public forum, revised, reviewed, adopted, and ultimately implemented. Moreover, the plan prepared as a part of the planning process is really only the beginning. The full implementation of the plan, over a period of many years, is the end product. Because of the complex nature of a comprehensive or master plan and the traditional staff and funding limitations of government entities, the "process" of preparing and implementing such a plan is never ending --- assuming the state, regional, county, and local units and agencies of government involved are serious about plan implementation. During the process the plan may be changed. Section 62.23, as originally created by the legislature in the early 1950s, very wisely allows and, indeed, presumes that a master (comprehensive) plan will be prepared or constructed in major elements or phases in a rational sequence over time and each element or phase adopted and implementation begun as it is completed. New Sec. 66.1001, on the other hand, requires that all of the nine (9) specific complex elements of the mandated comprehensive plan must be adopted by the municipalities governing body before any planning related actions can be accomplished by the municipality or county involved after December 31, 2009. If all elements aren't so encompassed and adopted to the satisfaction of the WIS-Department of Administration (DOA), that municipality will, presumably, have to shutdown its land use planning/development/implementation (zoning/platting) operations. The legislation (Sec. 66.1001) is not clear as to what happens when the mandate is not met. Again, presumably, the municipality that does not complete the mandate by December 31, 2009 will no longer be able to zone/rezone land or approve certified survey maps and preliminary/final plats or extend utilities or issue permits for the construction of buildings and land development.

    The Bottom Line

    The mandates and structure of the new "smart growth" legislation (Sec. 66.1001) creates undue hardship on every local, county and regional unit of government in the state in regard to both long-range and day-to-day planning/operations as well as the funding of these activities. More importantly, strict adherence to Sec. 66.1001 will effectively place municipal officials in the state in a minority position as relates to growth management, land development, rezoning of land, land division, extension of utilities and, importantly, change in tax base/rate. Instead of having control over the growth and development of their community, local government officials will only be able to react to the wishes of private landowners and prospective landowners who may not have the best interest of the entire community at heart. The resulting development and the accommodation of its infrastructure could be a financial burden to the community.

    The Municipal Executives of Waukesha County request that Sec. 66.1001 be repealed and the wording deleted from Sec. 62.23 in 1999 be reinstated; or, in the alternative, an ad hoc committee comprised of representative municipal, county and regional planners from throughout the state be formed by the governor to convene for no more than a one year period to draft legislation to replace or modify current Sec. 66.1001.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I think the point is being missed on this free market thing. Obviously nothing takes place without some sort of government influence--roads, tax policy, transit, incentives to business for employee generation....

    We are making the debate more complex than it needs to be, especially when we talk about housing choice.

    no, i don't have the energy to do this again.

  11. #11
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    market, shmarket

    So, it is a social and political market system, after all. And folks living in it have a wide range of preferences and amounts of political and economic power to obtain them.

    that said, there is something powerful about creating tangible alternatives to the most standard types of development. You aren't going to get socialism (or heaven, take your pick) in one subdivision or strip mall, but specific steps to help pedestrians, build green, promote aesthetics, etc. can be attract attention and create constituencies for broader changes.

    - decay b

    ps - I couldn't bear the statuatory critique - give us a break and summarize if you want folks to read it and refer folks to other sites to get more info.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Can we just summarize that most planners don't support the garbage passing as development? and we cringe as much as anyone else at what's being built these days? Market doesn't mean anything; it's a buzzword for profit!

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Budgie's avatar
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    Planner's Don't Agree

    If you've frequented this site, you know that planners don't agree. The freemarket planners say, "but that's what they want so they buy it". The communist pig planners say, "the market isn't creating choices that enable freedom of choice".

    I recently read in an Los Angeles County report that only 1% of new development can be described as having a "Traditional Neighborhood" or "New Urbanist" development patterns, while market research suggests that nearly 30% of the population have a propensity to want pedestrian friendly neighborhoods. Clearly the "developer driven" market is not providing for the "buyer driven" demand. This does not mean that auto-designed development should stop, but there are some open-minded developers that are making profits on TND and NU developments. The significant demand and miniscule supply make these neighborhoods expensive to live in.

    The key thought to the beginning of this thread was a question of equal protection whereby my right to not use an automobile is given equal creedence to those who want to use their automobiles. When transportation dollars are being spent they should provide adequate public facilities for varying modes of transporation, instead of being grossly allocated to one mode, the automobile. From a micro-scale, theorectically the amount of my taxes going to roads, sidewalks and trails should be relative to my demand for those facilities (pure democracy). However, from a practical standpoint, those with the money make the rules. Herein lies the failings of a representative republic. This is why we have courts.

    Newly Built Trash
    I will never understand why buildings have a "design life". Do architects really like putting their training and skill to work on reconfiguring sheet metal boxes that will be demolished in 30 years? What a testament to their skill. We used to invest in our buildings and society so they would last. Now we are occupied with size and cheapness.

    "Would you like to SUPER SIZE that?"

    If planners really do detest what they see being built, why don't they speak up as the professional staff their supposed to be. Instead a good number of us are to busy collecting a pay check to look around and see what's going on.

    Take your commissioners to a planning conference. Give them a quarterly copy of the Planning Commissioners Journal. Give them articles and other materials. Discuss them at the end of your meetings. Suggested proactive changes to the communities development regulations. Take them on walking tours of different types of neighborhoods (good and bad). Have them walk to their nearest elementary school. Do something !!!!

    As a whole, does the planning profession have a high burn-out rate?

  14. #14
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    Right to life vs. property rights

    [QUOTE=Budgie
    [b]Newly Built Trash[/b]
    I will never understand why buildings have a "design life". Do architects really like putting their training and skill to work on reconfiguring sheet metal boxes that will be demolished in 30 years? What a testament to their skill. We used to invest in our buildings and society so they would last. Now we are occupied with size and cheapness.

    Maybe this question should be a new thread-- apologies-- I've not been here long. Budgie, could you point me to a reference for "design life" of big boxes? Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Supercenter, Target, Lowes, etc.? Our neighborhood already has a Home Depot and Wal-Mart, and we are being targeted for a Lowes and possibly a Wal-Mart Supercenter; I'd like to get info about the design-life of these buildings to provide local elected officials who will face great pressure to approve the developments. Also, "design life" for "affordable" senior housing developments-- we've got some of those coming, and they are to be built by some outfit from Las Vegas, Nevada; they look like cracker box apartments; is there an industry standard "design life" for such things?

    Thanks,

    Quijote

  15. #15
         
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    if part of the american ideal is the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness then sprawl does infringe on that pursuit in some instances for that sector of the population that does not have the means to pick and choose whether they want a five acre lot in the exurbs or a city center apartment near bus lines. here in detroit, public transportation options are limited at best and most of the jobs are out in the suburbs. many of the people in the city are poor and cannot afford residency in the suburbs, where most of the opportunity is. for these people, sprawl does "infringe" on their basic rights of pursuit of happiness because it takes the opportunity away from the city center and moves it away to a place in which they cannot access. however, i would be hard-pressed to say that this is guaranteed under the constitution but it is certainly part of the american ideal.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    I second el Guapo's comment that yours is a great first post. (El Guapo and I in agreement, could be a first. )

    My contribution to this discussion is unfortunately limited. I am a planner in the largely rural West. Cars are practically a necessity. There is no viable mass transit system. Recently bus service was cut to several cities in Montana. If you do not have a car in Montana, you had best live in Missoula or Billings, both of which have mass transit.

    I do not see cars are the great Satan. I wish I could drive less, but it is not practical. When I lived in Missoula, I enjoyed using the bus system. Given our sometimes brutal winter weather, bikes as a commuting tool is for the rugged! I must admit that I like the mobility and opportunities private transportation offers.

    As Montana's demographics change, perhaps we can utilize more mass transit. Until then, we will have to drive our cars to and from our widely-scattered urban and recreational destinations.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Living in Michigan, we don’t even have decent public transportation in the cities, but I agree that it is needed, and maybe sprawl could be thought of like that. But one thing that I realized that I think that many people for get is that driving is not a right, it is a “privilege” and with that so are any aspects related with driving, such as parking. The government can take away a person’s driver’s license permanently, and not be required to provide them with alternative transportation. So why do we worry about roads and parking so much? I agree with many of you that it is Market Driven. In many places, if a business does not have parking, you do not have customers. The only exception to this rule is in cases where they are located next to alternative transportation such as light rail or bus, or they are located in an area that has a high enough density of people to provide access by foot traffic.

    I have mentioned it once or twice before but there is a documentary that shows how GM just about eliminated public transportation in the United States. They did this by buying as many trolley and bus companies as they could, and running them into the ground. They even thought of the trolleys as such a threat that most of them where piled up into fields, had gas poured inside of them, and lit on fife.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  18. #18

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    Quote Originally posted by Budgie
    El Guapo, I know you're waiting for this.

    What does everyone mean by "market driven". One of the largest determinates of land value is public subsidized highway access. Public expenditures are in part a matter of planning or lack thereof at all levels of government. State DOT's are notorious for ignoring local planning.

    The development industry is not "buyer driven" it's "seller driven" and developers and lenders will continue to with business as usual in order to stay within their long established equation of project viability. Lending practices do not like complex mixed use development patterns, because they are more complex to evaluate. This is not to say that profits are not good. They are. Unfortunately minimizing risk has led to a one size fits all development mentality being thrust upon prospective homeowners.

    Once and for all, there is no "free market" !!!!!!!! I suppose tax breaks for businesses who by SUV's is the "market at work".
    Interesting points, all. I agree with you regarding subsidies and lowest common denominator/easist path development. Especially as development has become turned into a national or regional formula generating Generica for large consolidated corporations building the same product from coast-to-coast (or beyond. There are American-style subdivisions for the Nouveau Riches in China!)

    But, read any real estate section. "Three Car Garage" "Cul-de-Sac location" "Exclusive community" I disagree that it is purely seller-driven. One of my neighbors is mortgaging himself to the hilt and beyond so he can move from his townhouse to a rancher with a yard. Close friends-even with their planning background, dream enthusiastically about buying a "house in the country" (even after I remind him that similar choices have raised the traffic levels of local roads to the point that bicycling is hazardous).

    By the way, lincoln: Great first post-and its good to see another Northern Californian! (Solano County). Maybe we can take over from those darn midwesterners! (Although I'm actually an ex-Hoosier!)

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I have only kind of skimmed the thread (I am not real into politics or law) but some of my research contradicts the idea that some great conspiracy is at work, fueling sprawl. I have heard that car companies bought up and shut down commuter rail lines. As I understand it, this was true in the L.A. area. But the commuter rail lines were dying already. Additionally, folks blame the "car cult" for how L.A. sprawls. But it was spread out like that when it was dependent upon commuter rail. The real reason it sprawls is because it is a desert development. Developers had to develop very large tracts to justify the cost of infrastructure because water has to be pumped in from...well, the Colorado River, for one.

    I believe this: America promotes the myth of "rugged individualism". It isn't an accurate self-image for this nation but it has enormous appeal for Americans. The car makes one independent and in control of one's Destination in much the same way that Americans seek to be independent and in control of their Destiny -- and that is something public transit can never do. That psychology has rewards that you cannot get any other way. It is a psychology I, personally, value even while NOT wanting a house in the 'burbs. I think it has merit and the world would be a better place if more people took more responsibility for their lives and "destiny".

    I do not believe in "fate" in the traditional sense of "something one cannot escape". I believe that "destiny" is the destination your path will take you to IF you do not change your way (path). I took my fate in my hands as a teenager and I get a lot of flack for being unwilling to "go along with the party line" and things like that. It seems particularly offensive when a woman has a "cowboy" attitude on life. But I figured out a long time ago that when the sh*t hits the fan, most folks will abandon you to your fate. I concluded that if I have to live with the consequences, for good or for ill, then I am going to make my own decisions. Allowing "society" or family or friends or whomever to tell you how to run your life rarely gets you the kind of security, acceptance, and so on that most folks are seeking when they bend to those influences. And, unless you are truly heinous, it turns out that family and real friends and "society" will stand by you after you have bitchily made up your own mind. Furthermore, people will respect you for doing what you believe in when push comes to shove.

    I believe that we DO need to improve public transit in order to begin empowering the large segment of Americans who cannot drive, for whatever reason (elderly, poor, underaged, medical problems, etc). And that is why I am trying to get the word out in my county about my research on a better alternative for the plans to add commuter rail stops to an existing commuter rail line. But I can't really find it in my heart to be "anti-sprawl". To my way of thinking, that would be like being "anti-American". That would be like starving a child who is destined to be 7 feet tall in hopes of stunting their growth and making them more like "normal" people of average height.

    No, I think the answer is to return to the policy that if you live in the middle of nowhere, the "city" does not extend power lines and water lines out to you. You have to arrange such things some other way. We have the emerging technologies for that -- photovoltaics, Earth Ships, and so on. It is more possible than ever to have an alternate lifestyle -- to be a rugged individualist, determining your own fate. Now, we just need to get cracking on them thar Solar Hover Cars, so you can get to your ranch without a road, by god!
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 07 Jul 2004 at 7:26 PM.

  20. #20
    Member simulcra's avatar
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    I've only been skimming this thread, but let me just add my naive 2 cents.

    Individualism is all well and good. In fact, its one of the reasons why I like the US alot... despite what temporary setbacks there are, the country actively seeks to promote full-fledge individualism. However, there does need to be some limit to this individualism, because, let's face it, people are not necessarily very responsible with their actions. It's not that any one person might actively go out to try and undermine a society, it might be other far more practical reasons. Even though a group of people might shudder at the practices and the community-destroying nature of Wal-Mart, there's a reason why they have such powerful "community-destroying" effects in the first place: people shop there. Even if you told them all the reasons why you think Wal-Mart is a bad idea, they might have some other pressing need, like affordability, that keeps them going there. Now, I don't mean this to become discourse on the nature of Wal-Mart in any way (it just kinda popped in my head as an example), but the point at which I'm trying to get is that what's good for the individual is not necessarily good for society as a whole. Even Ayn Rand, who believed in selfish individualism as the extreme virtue in a human being, still believed in an "enlightened" selfishness that represented a consciousness of the responsibility of the individual.

    I feel that there are several problems in the face of sprawl related to this. First, maybe sprawl is a problem of the market, an unintentional effect of the American trying to satisfy his own individual needs and desires... every American should have the ability to own a 4,000 square foot McMansion on a huge lot with massive setbacks if they so choose. But it feels wrong if this home is a more affordable option than an infill development of 1,000 square feet in a developing area of the city. You can argue that well, in the latter case, the extra costs translate into the benefit of having nearby amenities like museums or a strong transit network (note: I'm not referring to a place in like, say, SoHo, but just like an average small condo in an average area of a city). But even then, you can't convince the head of a family of 4 to end his or her promotion of sprawl by living in the newest subdivision if that same head is having difficulty getting financing to pay for that place or to make mortgage payments and still afford college for his or her kids. Even if he or she really wants desperately to live in the city or in the newest ToD, it doesn't mean anything if the prices are too upper-end for them. So what if a small rowhome costing 500k buys you the most incredible quality of life if all you (and let's say many other Americans) can afford is a 150k McMansion? Maybe it's an issue of messed up supply/demand curves. Maybe far less Americans really want to live in sprawl than the evidence shows. Maybe there are far too few developers working on building the urbane that prices simply skyrocket and become attainable only for the affluent and not for the majority of Americans. Perhaps too few developers are willing to break out from the Levittown mindset and by a simple imbalance in supply/demand, sprawl continues to generate?

    Second, if everyone in America wants a 4,000 square foot McMansion, it's not necessarily their right as a citizen to get one. All these individual desires have to compromised on some level with the greater needs of society as a whole. What good is it if everyone is sitting in their personal fortresses if people have to take two hours to commute to work, if people have to live in an increasingly smog-infested city, all the while the people who can't afford a/car(s) simply starve out with limited job potential and the inability for mass transit to connect them? Maybe this means that more people will have to settle for 2,000 square foot homes if it means better transit-connectivity.

    My computer is overheating, so I'll have to just post what I have. Uh, I haven't had a chance to read over this, so it might be completely incoherent ramblings.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Solipsa, I have the impression that your meanderings are at least partly a rebuttal of my comments. Let me make this perfectly clear:

    I believe that what we need to stop doing is subsidizing McMansions. We do so in numerous ways, including extending water lines, police coverage, fire coverage, etc out to the latest, greatest 'burb full of McMansions. If you want to live in the middle of freakin' nowhere and drive an hour, have at it! But do so on your own dime. If you want to get the "community" to subsidize the infrastructure of your life, then go move to that community: be a city dweller. If you want to be anti-social, then don't go whining and crying about what the governmetn OWES you.

    I removed my "suburbs are for wimps" comment because I felt it was inflammatory. But, really, if we want rugged individualism then ...well, you better be a rugged individual and not someone who thinks that our welfare state is supposed to hand you some watered down version of rugged individualism on a silver platter. Get some callouses and scars and build your own damn rugged individualist dream.

    A great quote that I love: we have the constitutional right to PURSUE happiness. We have no guarantees of catching it.

    I DO believe that part of the answer to sprawl and the gasoline crisis is that we need new technology -- such as a solar powered hover car :-P -- and I do believe that there are enough stubborn, pig-headed, defiant Americans left that we have a good shot at getting stuff like that in place of ONLY mass transit. We ALSO need to work on our mass transit so that folks who cannot drive can have more independent and full lives than they are able to achieve now. I am one tough lady and very determined, but I do have physical limitations that sometimes prevent me from driving. Being a Ruggedette does not mean that I can do everything "all on my own". Most folks who THINK they did it "all on their own" didn't. They just take credit for it and ignore the fact that folks supported them.

  22. #22

    Registered
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Solipsa, I have the impression that your meanderings are at least partly a rebuttal of my comments. Let me make this perfectly clear:

    I believe that what we need to stop doing is subsidizing McMansions. We do so in numerous ways, including extending water lines, police coverage, fire coverage, etc out to the latest, greatest 'burb full of McMansions.
    I'm not sure I agree that people moving to the country should be beyond the pale of basic public safety (I still believe that my friend on a country estate should be able to call the sheriff-or even CDF (my opinion of people forcing firemen to risk their lives to protect their forest mountainside homes is another post entirely)

    But, I agree with your basic theme.

    One could argue that California is moving more and more towards a "pay-your-won-way" approach to all new development, with planning and building fees exceeding $100,000 per house in some East Bay cities. Do these fees fully capture the costs of services? Maybe, maybe not. But, few cities and counties can afford to provide these "subsidies" any more in California. Of course, paying the true costs of new housing services exacerbates the state's affordability problem, but...

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    BKM: the big problem I have is that if you can afford to buy a nice house, the government lumps you in with corporations as "deserving" of "welfare". But most of the increase in cost of homeownership is due to increases in cost of materials, safety standards, etc. Yet those things the government will not subsidize.

    When I owned a little house in Kansas, I was able to afford it because interest rates were low, it was a starter home with 3 bedrooms and 1 bath and a fixer-upper. I NEVER got ANY tax benefit out of owning that home. The mortgage tax break encourages McMansions: the bigger you buy, the more you save. It is ridiculous. But if you are not making enough to be tempted to buy a McMansion because of the tax breaks involved, you probably aren't making enough to buy a house at all. What is wrong with this picture??? Why can't we subsidize the fundamentals that are pricing out entry level buyers in such a way that it covers everyone, without discrimination?

    When I come up with my Brilliant Plan on how to do that, I will let you know. Sigh. What we do now is the easy answer -- and it is totalled messed up. (how do you make a frownie face???)

  24. #24
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    I'm really having trouble understanding what your definition of "rugged individualist" is. And I'm having trouble with your belief that suburbia and driving somehow promotes it.

    When I get on public transportation, I choose my own "Destination" and use the system to get me there, much like you do when you get into a car and use the road system. The fact that someone else is piloting the vehicle is really a minor point imho. Even when you're driving your own car, you're relying on other people who paved the roads, drilled and refined the gasoline, and built the car. Plus you're relying for your continued existence on the competency and dilligence of all the other people on the road with you.

    As far as sprawl goes... How does having a ten-foot-wide yard between you and your nearest neigbhor make you any more individualistic than being above your nearest neighbor in the same building? I've seen more individualism in even the most provincial and homogenous city neighborhoods than in the "detached and sub-divided mass-production zone."

    The car is a symbol of independence and individualism in this country, I believe, because of the massive amount of advertisment used to promote them. I've read that Detroit spends as much money to promote a car as it does to build it. That's a massive amount of money being spent to enforce the fantasies that we have about car ownership.

    And I don't even want to get into Fannie Mae's (et. all) fantasies about "the American Dream." Funny isn't it how the American Dream is to be individualistic in such a conformist way?

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I basically agree with you Jordon. America values the myth of rugged individualism. But I repeat: most folks who think they did it "all on their own" didn't -- as with your point that if you drive a car, you are dependent upon the existence of roads, etc, and you aren't as independent as you might think. But I do not think mass transit is ever going to be as popular in America as it is in a lot of other countries because of this fantasy of making our own way.

    Let me try this: I think 'Outlawing Sprawl' would be a mistake similar to the way welfare tried to "eliminate poverty" by "helping poor, single moms" and actually grew the numbers of poor, single moms by changing the social contract. Americans are generally pretty ornery when folks start trying to tell them how to run their lives. Many folks will shoot themselves in the foot merely to be contrary. You have to understand that aspect of American psychology when trying to design policies that are actually effective.

    Does that make more sense to you?

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