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.