Friday, December 22, 2006

Quick links

Alarmist scenarios of "peak oil" and long-term energy shortages have excited the hopes of many academics and civic activists for the mass urban densification and attrition of sprawl of which they have long dreamed. If or when the prospects for high energy prices do come to pass, they will have been more the product of political intervention in a massively government-overseen and -directed commodity than of any physical necessity — the same sort of wished-for control of housing that has eluded the academics and activists so far. But, according to Joel Kotkin, the long-held hopes for a wholesale retreat of suburbanites burdened by high gas and electricity prices into the teeming densities of activist imaginations isn't very likely at all. Kotkin argues that a much more likely outcome is that the development market will respond to resources to build better, more economically diverse suburbs — at least until people's desires for home ownership, detached dwellings and space of their own are regulated out of existence, which will have to remain the holy grail of activism. I would add to Kotkin's analysis that employers will also likely continue to respond to expansive development the way that they have already been doing, by moving jobs out to the suburbs.

On the subject of sprawl, Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine interviews economist William T. Bogart, author of Don't Call It Sprawl: Metropolitan Structure in the Twenty-First Century on "dynamic cities and unaccountable planners." Some highlights:

[A] simple test to apply to any purported definition of sprawl: Apply it to Central Park in Manhattan. In most cases, you will find that it implies that Central Park should be developed. For fun, you can point this out to the definer, who will quickly assure you that he or she didn't mean it that way.

… Zoning is a trade regulation. If you do not allow a certain type of activity to occur within your municipality, you have automatically determined that you will not be exporting it. It can also affect trade indirectly, in that if you allow a particular type of land use but either restrict the way it is engaged in or restrict the total amount of it, you can change the pattern of imports and exports relative to what it otherwise would have been. If a Wal-Mart or some kind of a superstore wants to locate in your town, and you don't allow retail with a large enough footprint or with the type of traffic that a superstore needs, you haven't gotten rid of Wal-Mart. You have made sure that the residents of your town will be importing the services of Wal-Mart from someplace else.

… [I]f you read a lot of planners' critiques of what they refer to as urban sprawl, they're completely focused on the present. You would think a profession called planning would be concerned with the evolution and transition of areas. But they aren't. They'll look at a situation where a few houses have been built, and they'll say that's sprawl. Well, perhaps. Or perhaps over the next 10 or 20 years there's going to be further infill development there — if it's allowed by the local land-use controls — and in fact what they're seeing is a city in construction. As a country, we're growing in population. Those people have to go someplace. And they're not all going to go there at once.

… A lot of the forests that people are bemoaning the loss of, for example, only became forests relatively recently. Before that they were cornfields. But they were inefficient cornfields. Forests were a good way to hold them until they could actually be redeveloped.
Read the rest here…

1 Comment:

Mitch said...

You're seeing a lot of it in my industry of public accounting - a lot of firms have done away with offices and have their employees either telecommute from home or on location. No office means no commuting, which means less influence of city planners in micromanaging lives.