Friday, September 1, 2006

Paying a tribute to urban planning

Zoning and heritage laws, official development plans, ownership of infrastructure, "smart growth" and urban sprawl containment policies, density requirements, greenbelts, building permits, application approvals, property taxes, etc.… the tools of local government regulatory control over urban development often contradict the intentions of the others, but they are absolute. At the very least, nothing can be done without either bureaucratic or political approval; more generally, regulatory regimes directly shape and control the composition of housing and commercial and industrial development. One would suppose that the whole apparatus is working out quite splendidly, thank you, give or take a few human snafus, quite understandable that of course. Politically motivated and bureaucratically administered supplanting of people's locational and lifestyle choices ought not to create any difficulties, should it? After all, most of the candidates in the next election think it's a good thing to strengthen city hall's control over development.

It seems to be quite unaccountable, then, that the artificial market in housing is so unaffordable to many that the same local governments are repeatedly called upon themselves to build "affordable" housing and supply housing subsidies. Strange, that… must be a quirk of that not-quite-containable capitalism that unfortunately still ekes through the pores of regulation. Taxes to manage the market, taxes to manage the market-disadvantaged… win, win. I expect that subsidies will be made available shortly to those families struggling to put roofs over other people's families.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is the position of "capitalists" that property use within urban boundaries should not be regulated?

Anonymous said...

Let me put it another way:

You buy a nice, new, house in the shiny, cloned subdivision of Richmond Hill (not in Toronto) just north of Fanshawe. You are busy at the Home Depot and Home Outfitters purchasing the latest from Beijing when I buy the house right next door. I convert the house into a casino and all night headbanger club which caters mostly to people not unfamiliar with the interiors of Canada's prison system. They park on the lawn, pea in the street, and consumer lots of alcoholic beverages while selling the charms of women of questionable morality at the curb.

As "capitalists" who agree I have the right to do what I want with my property, you support my venture, correct?

MapMaster said...

You add the supposition that laws against property crimes should also be abolished. In reality, the scenario you present is more than unlikely — a prospective casino and club developer would find far more advantage building alongside major arteries and other commercial developments, such as hotels and other bars, etc, conducive to the patronage of his establishment. In fact, such a scenario would be slightly more likely to occur in a heavily regulated environment where opportunities are limited and determined as much or more by capricious political motivations and bureaucratic dispositions. We can see for ourselves how many conflicts are resolved to no one's particular satisfaction already, and how developers are vilified for influencing political decisions when the decisions are put up for sale by the politicians themselves in the first place. Certainly hidden subsidies, property taxes, infrastructure controls, and zoning laws incent the sprawling and "cloned" pattern of development that you and many others express a distaste for. Heritage laws discourage maintenance or enhancement of some properties; building permits and burdensome application obstacles have the same effect and impose unnecessary time and financial costs not only on developers but average homeowners; property taxes, density requirements and greenbelts spur exurban development; etc. Regulations for the most part benefit the bureaucrats and politicians much more than they benefit anyone else. Highly relaxed regulatory regimes, such as in some southwestern United States cities, have worked out quite well for urban development with no more conflict than we have here but with lower costs and thriving local economic productivity… and without the cost of subsidizing a small industry of bureaucrats.

Suppose, however, that one could be as much of a jackass as you describe and still remain in business using such practices. With or without government control over development, conflicts between neighbouring property use will always arise. Is it worth it, then, to avoid exceedingly unlikely scenarios such as yours to sacrifice property rights entirely? What does one gain by our regulatory regime (assuming you are not a city hall bureaucrat yourself)?

For the record, though, I would say that heritage laws, greenbelts, building permits for minor additions or improvements, green space and/or parking requirements, and property taxes are immediately and uncompromisingly authoritarian and counter-productive and should easily be abolished with absolutely no negative side-effects to anyone or any neighbourhood. Infrastructure costs and planning could be contained within a regime in which the people who benefit directly from them should pay for them themselves. Zoning laws and density requirements should be relaxed until such time as they become meaningless, in the same manner that static minimum wages become irrelevant.

Lisa said...

Anon;

So you have learned to type with socks on your hands. Congratulations.

The problems that you suggest in your example presuppose the existence of property rights in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Well thank you for mostly avoiding the question.

Lisa, dear, try to say something intelligent for once.

Mappy, old buddy, clearly you appreciate that modern zoning, and it is definitely not perfect, is evoloved from common law. Already society has gone through the process of dealing with every sort of property complaint and arriving at settlements. Zoning laws is the practice of standardization for effenciency -- something corporate asskissers generally rave about.

And if you think that without zoning laws all would be hunk-dory, you really ought to get out of your parents house in Oakridges and visit the real world. Property disputes are the donuts of our much maligned and financially coddled police forces. Domestic disputes being the bread and butter.

The reason why we have so many zoning rules and so many by-laws is because neighbours will keep chickens, goats, turn their yards into auto wreckers, toxic waste dumps, crack houses, whore houses, grow-ops, autobody shops, just garbage dumps or allow weeds to grow beyond the height of the house.

You see, as a society we have been there and done that. And if you think it is not possible or practical for people to turn their properties in quiet residential neighbourhoods into bawdy houses, I would suggest you, again, if not get out more, read something other than capitalist magazine because it has happened.

Fuuny that Capitalist Magazine would point to Houston, Texas as having lower property values as being preferable to another city with higher property values as being proof of something being better. If you build something at a substantially higher price and you can still sell it, doesn't that suggest market success? Does the fact only rich people drive Mercedes Benz prove the car maker is a failure to Capitalist Magazine? Has it never occured to the "capitalists" that the reason property is more affordable in Houston is because people don't want to live there?

Zoning is necessary because people can be unreasonable. As surely you must know.

But then there is the question of planning and greenbelts, etc ... That raises the question of what role do cities have in human development and who should plan cities.

Should developers plan cities in the interests of short term gains or should elected representatives plan cities in the interests of long term viability and prosperity? Do developers have a role to play in cities or do cities exist so developers can earn profits?

I am assuming you are all in favour of the current council's approach to allowing unrestricted development because destroying our natural heritage is every property owner's right, right?

The curious part is you consider yourselves capitalists but you buy into authoratarian schemes.

A person is only truly free when they can sustain themselves without reliance on the state. A person can only do that when they own enough land to raise food, hunt, collect drinking water, and heat their home. Such a person would be a complete idiot to destroy their own land through contamination or over harvesting. Anyone who preached such a practice as being a right, would be a bigger loser or the promoter of an agenda.

Most of the so-called property rights activitsts south of the border recieve public monies in the form of subsidies. They destroy their own land base and drain their own aquifiers in the interests of mono-culture. They claim "property rights" when seeking to divert or damn rivers for irrigation irrespective of the rights of proeprty owners downstream.

The same is largely true in Canada.

Property rights are a convenient hook when you need to hang the hat of an ulterior motive or another agenda. And property rights are most often argued when someone wants to destroy the land rather than to protect their own property.

And in fact, the state and corporate interests will usually line up against property owners when property rights are raised while protecting land from expropriation for corporate and/or government development.

"A Wisconsin utility company is suing more than 70 Marathon County landowners to force them to allow the company onto their property to do survey work prior to installing a highly disputed power line.

Wisconsin Public Service Corp. plans to build a 345,000-volt transmission line from Minnesota Power Co.'s Arrowhead Substation near Duluth to WPS' Weston Substation in Rothschild.

'My biggest concern, if I look at the whole picture, is the amount of prime land they will destroy with the power line,' said town of Mosinee resident Ernie Walters, 74, who was unaware of the complaint filed against him until notified Thursday by the Wausau Daily Herald.
"'hey want to put in a line that would cut diagonally across three 40-acre sections of my land,' Walters said. 'I asked them not to go across the land and stay along the property lines, but they didn't want to do that. If they would have considered my request, I would have been willing to let them on my land.'
Walters and his wife, Evelyn, refused in January to let WPS on their 240-acre farm for land surveys, as did other property owners who have complaints filed against them."

http://www.wsn.org/energy/utilitysues.html

That is a real property rights issue. Not penny-ante zoning rules.

gm said...

Houston voters have rejected zoning in 1948, 1962 and 1993. I would guess that Houston continues to be the largest city in the U.S. with no zoning because no one wants to live there.

"The curious part is you consider yourselves capitalists but you buy into authoratarian schemes."

Curious indeed when you consider that zoning is the ability to authorize police action against property owners.

"Should developers plan cities in the interests of short term gains or should elected representatives plan cities in the interests of long term viability and prosperity? Do developers have a role to play in cities or do cities exist so developers can earn profits?


Elected representatives plan long term viability? Perhaps once in a blue moon but central planning has a rather unpleasent history.

"Property rights are a convenient hook when you need to hang the hat of an ulterior motive or another agenda. And property rights are most often argued when someone wants to destroy the land rather than to protect their own property."

More logical fallacies can we have more...


"And in fact, the state and corporate interests will usually line up against property owners when property rights are raised while protecting land from expropriation for corporate and/or government development."


What a surprise! You do not recognize property rights so you should be on side with the state and corporate interests, after all they don't need a convenient hook, just the power of the state.

MapMaster said...

Anonymous, your rude familiarity would be amusing if we were on friendly terms, but your disposition to us is hardly as such and therefore is hardly inviting to thoughtful discussion. I suppose it was the way I was raised. But for the time being, I'll pass over it.

The antecedents of zoning law are hardly important. What is significant is what they have become — that is, an all-encompassing apparatus for authoritarian dispensation of occasional property privileges according to political and/or bureaucratic preferences which are sometimes more and sometimes less capricious. You mention that disputes among neighbours are the reason we have zoning laws. Agreed, but as I mentioned before, these conflicts still occur despite the plethora of restrictions to which people are supposed to abide — and rather more so, for a couple of reasons. First, because neighbourhood or zoning standards are compiled and enforced by a distant political process whose empathy with existing neighbourhood standards is more or less accidental according to the good humour of the bureaucrats and politicians. Second, precisely because the common law method of dealing with these problems is superceded and almost entirely prevented by the heavy-handed zoning law approach — conflicts are reconciled instead by appeals to politicians whose interests may be compromised by more well-endowed parties or end up being arbitrated by altogether unelected OMB officials. We can see for ourselves how satisfactory this has been. Instead, simple laws governing the infraction of enjoyment of property could and should easily be adjudicated by traditional methods of jurisprudence; ie., trial by peers of the accused, which means by his neighbours. Enforcement of the jurists' penalties or prohibitions could then be handled by a resulting much more impartial municipal government. Neighbourhoods would then benefit or suffer precisely according to the tolerance of their own standards. Too cumbersome? Less cumbersome than the current apparatus, I should think, and much less costly. Certainly much fairer and less subject to caprice, and ensuring property rights at the same time. You appeal to common law for defending zoning law — do away directly with zoning law and appeal only to common law. I ask again, what have we gained from zoning laws? Consider at the same time what we have lost in the process, which I have tried to demonstrate above.

I am assuming you are all in favour of the current council's approach to allowing unrestricted development because destroying our natural heritage is every property owner's right, right?

Do you actually read our blog? I think you mean, "allowing and encouraging (see previous comments) restricted development," because that is precisely what they do. Direct your complaints to city hall's absolute control over development. But your appropriation of "natural heritage" with the casual and facile use of the word "our" betrays the nature of your complaint — you only prefer that your own political preferences have absolute control over development rather than someone else's. Should I trust your pals instead of, say, Tom Gosnell and his, simply because you can throw around a friendly-sounding buzzword like "natural heritage?" You still think of it as yours although you do not own it any more than they do. I am in favour of nobody having control over someone else's property, whether they are pseudo-communist or pseudo-capitalist. Your agenda amounts to the same, the only difference being the names of the apparatchiks.

The curious part is you consider yourselves capitalists but you buy into authoratarian schemes.

I beg your pardon? You attribute the authoritarian schemes of others who might happen to call themselves capitalists or property rights activists to us, without providing an example of when or where we have supported these ourselves. This is not the first time you tried this kind of misdirection, and I ask you again whether you actually read our blog?

Rather, we have properly decried any form of subsidy or appropriation of private property. You are quite correct that "state and corporate interests will usually line up against property owners when property rights are raised while protecting land from expropriation for corporate and/or government development," of which the eminent domain example you provide is an egregious demonstration. Yet this happens precisely because authority over private property has been ceded almost entirely to political interests — of which zoning laws are only a part. How, then, do you defend this absolute authority when it leads — almost necessarily, I would argue, but I have addressed that in other posts — to such abuses? Give them no such authority and no such abuses can occur, as long as property rights are themselves defended simply and impartially by common law methods. Do you suggest that sometimes authority over private property is good and sometimes bad? How are you going to ensure just the "good" when the decision as to what is "good" or "bad" is left in corruptible political hands?

This is what Lisa meant when she said that you presuppose the existence of property rights to cite infringements on them in order to claim support for other infringements. Property rights, yes or no? You seem to wish to have it both ways, with no recourse to any non-arbitrary method of dealing with the problems — except, given your support of Imagine London, you seem to think that by installing a different bunch of autocrats is going to magically usher in a new era of peace, goodwill toward man, and enthusiastic compliance.

A person is only truly free when they can sustain themselves without reliance on the state.

Agreed. But…

A person can only do that when they own enough land to raise food, hunt, collect drinking water, and heat their home.

Wrong! I can obtain those things through voluntary transactions with others without the state's intermediation, and better and more cheaply typically. I wholeheartedly support, and in some ways envy, your completely self-reliant approach, but it is not necessary for freedom from the state or its caprices. Zoning laws may occasionally ameliorate the contamination of property, but at a terrible expense of infantilizing and restricting individuals. For a better method, see above. Expensive lawyers don't even matter if the suit is brought up in a trial by peers — and, given the results of government control over development, it could hardly be any less satisfactory. Historically, the more absolute the government's control over property has been, the more polluted and contaminated land has been. You suppose that everyone else has nefarious and injurious intentions — some do, granted, which is why there needs to be some sort of judicial appeal, but generally speaking private property owners have a vested interest in the continued viability of their property. Completely abridging private property rights seems hardly the way to go about correcting occasional abuses.

Finally, I do not quite understand what you mean in your calumny about Houston. High property values are indeed a sign of prosperity and enviable economic situation than low ones, in the absence of artificial manipulation of the market. However, the relative high property values in most large cities in Canada and the US is the result of artificial restrictions on property (and, yes, Houston and other Texas cities have some too, just less than others). In the absence of these government mechanisms, some property will always be affordable and others will be highly desireable and thus more valuable — which was the point of my post, that with all the restrictions upon property development, many people cannot afford to live in cities without subsidies themselves. Houston will be much more able to weather the collapse of the real estate bubble than most other cities.

MapMaster said...

In short, I am utterly confused by your rationalizations. They appear to argue for nothing and everything all at once.