If you read EcoWorld at all, you’ll know where we stand. Today we continued to post on the listserve of www.treelink.org, an excellent resource for urban foresters to exchange tactical information on how to plant and maintain healthy urban treescapes. When their dialogue moves from tactics to strategy and theory, a few realities emerge. First of all, most of these urban foresters work for government agencies, and secondly, nearly all of them subscribe to “smart growth” principles. And over the past few days we’ve indulged in a flurry of posts on that listserve to hopefully convince some of them to think twice about all the conventional “smart growth” wisdom that has become almost impossible to challenge.
Eight fundamental criticisms of smart growth constitute our premise, expressed in some detail in our post “Letter from Wingnuttia.” Here are our criticisms of smart growth principles in brief:
1 – It creates “urban service boundaries” that artificially inflate the price of land.
2 – It emphasizes public space over private ownership.
3 – It declares war on the car, the most liberating device ever invented.
4 – It promotes high-density infill even if that destroys semi-rural suburbs.
5 – It embraces a double standard, fighting new suburbs, but embracing (for example) biofuel farms.
6 – It presumes that mandated, subsidized, mixed housing will alleviate social problems.
7 – It falsely claims there is a shortage of open space and farmland.
8 – It arrogantly maintains these principles are well settled and beyond debate.
While we’d like to thank the many people who have anonymously emailed and thanked us for taking on the smart growth crowd, the fact is most public bureaucrats, even those who have given their careers over the noble goal of planting trees, believe in all these principles. So we are attempting to enlighten them. Here is the latest salvo, on the topic of sprawl and climate change.
TO THE URBAN FORESTERS OF THE WORLD:
It is absolutely unproven that CO2 causes climate change. In fact, if you look at the last 10-15 years of temperature data, the average temperature in the troposphere has been going down, which completely belies conventional wisdom regarding global warming. There are virtually no powerful vested interests challenging global warming alarm – the “alarm industry” is the reality, not the opposite. Doesn’t that make any of you suspicious?
This is pertinent, because CO2 alarmism is the trump card the smart growth proponants use to end all discussion regarding density, and no matter how you slice it, the greater the density, the fewer trees.
Once you take away the CO2 argument, there is a strong case to be made that low urban densities are actually less likely than high density to cause global warming and climate change. Even if CO2 were pollution, and it is not, the electric car uses energy far more efficiently than gasoline powered cars, and they are just around the corner.
The notion that “markets” are actually trying to create high density is also easily challenged. Markets go where the regulatory reality forces them to go. If you force people to do infill projects with ultra high density, through mandates, tax incentives and subsidies, then of course that’s what they will do. If you artificially force the price of development entitled land to prices upwards of $300K per acre (when land across the street, non-entitled, is only worth $3,000 per acre – no perversion of the market there!), of course a developer will want to put more homes on that acre. Especially when not only do they get to make more money this way, but they also get to claim they are doing it “for the earth.” Markets don’t need any help to create high density where there’s a genuine market for it, such as in the urban core of large cities. Nor should markets be restricted from delivering affordable low density housing solutions where there’s a market for that, on the quiet outskirts of metropolitan areas. Zoning laws should protect low density neighborhoods, not destroy them.
Everyone reading this should ask themselves – how would all this “smart growth” feel if they had to wonder when a subsidized multi-family dwelling was going to get constructed next to their home on a traditional sized lot (with all the trees on the adjacent lot being cut down)? Who are these social engineers, using questionable scientific justifications, to ruin neighborhoods, arbitrarily, via abrupt high-density infill where people have invested their life savings? But this is not viscerally relevant to public sector employees – because their lavish, taxpayer funded retirement pensions depend on artificially increasing property values to raise property taxes in order to keep public entities solvent. Did it ever occur to anyone working in the public sector that if they got social security and medicare like the rest of us, maybe we’d finally reform and bolster those programs? Isn’t that the ideal we share as citizens and taxpayers of the same country?
Social engineers, spouting questionable science, in the name of “smart growth,” are refusing to let the market drive development; smart growth is more likely to do more harm than good. The only trees that will exist in this urban model advocated by the smart growth crowd will be trees on public land maintained by public employees. People will be made to feel guilty and will have to pay punitive taxes and “global warming mitigation fees” if they have a big yard with trees, or use a lot of water or energy, or a host of other activities associated with living normal lives. And returning to the point, everyone in low density neighborhoods will be at risk of seeing a high-density low-income subsidized infill project ruin their neighborhood.
To you foresters of the trees of the cities, do you love trees, or do you love trees when they create public sector jobs? That is a pertinent question. Do you believe CO2 is going to destroy the earth, and that ultra high density smart growth is going to save it, or are these convenient ways to increase taxes and fees to keep public pension pensions solvent and fund your public sector tree plantings, while trees on private land are exterminated via infill? That is also a pertinent question.
Unions Aren’t Green
Trees vs. Solar Access
Suburban Sprawl & CO2
California’s Land Use Choices
California’s Water System