Definition: “New Urbanism – the revival of our lost art of place-making, and promotes the creation and restoration of compact, walkable, mixed-use cities.”
It is completely impractical to make everything “walking distance” from everything else. People like cars. The car is the most liberating personal appliance ever invented. The new urbanist war on the car is based on a communalist ideology that completely fails in the real world. From an environmentalist perspective, the war on the car is already obsolete given the car is on the verge of becoming cradle to cradle green.
The utopian notions of the “smart growth” lobby are the reason homes are way too expensive for the average person. The massive expenditures in public amenities necessary to facilitate “smart growth” have created building fees that are now as high as $100K per home. This, combined with the complete (and artificial) lack of available land for building entitlements have restricted the supply of homes and driven prices into the stratosphere.
Understandably, public sector workers have a difficult conflict of interests here – higher property tax revenue means their pensions may remain solvent. But the rest of us pay higher taxes and can’t even afford annual property taxes when we’re old; forget about servicing a mortgage on social security. And we all get crammed into cluster homes, where people are piled on top of one another. There is plenty of land in the US, and open space should not be sacred. When you block suburban growth, you simply stimulate exurban growth.
There is an intrinsic conflict between advocating liberal immigration policies which cause rapid population growth and trying to protect open space. The new urbanist solution is to cram us all into ultra high density urban areas – this approach should be rejected. Either we stablize population via sensible immigration policies, or we allow market driven development onto open space.
There is nothing wrong with high density in the urban core, as long as it is car friendly. What is deplorable is high density on the urban fringe, or in neighborhoods that are preexisting and primarily low density. But the market should be allowed to sort this out, not new urbanist social engineers. Of course people want to live in cool high rises or condominiums or mixed use housing in the urban core. And if people want these types of developments, they should be built. But nobody should have to live in a neighborhood 20 miles from the city center in cluster homes where 20,000 people are packed into each square mile, when half that density would still ensure that very small percentages of open space are urbanized. The higher the density, the more likely there will be no canopy whatsoever among residential structures. They become imperious tree wastelands and heat islands. There is nothing smart about this. The only reason people buy single family dwellings with nonexistant yards is because it’s all they can afford and they want the mortgage interest deduction.
And private property is not a “mantra,” if that implies it has no moral basis and is simply something people repeat mindlessly to themselves without critically examining what they think. Wrong. Private property is a value that, when respected, creates the incentives that make people work hard and accomplish goals in life for themselves and their families. Take that away and you have the Soviet Union. Be careful when you dismiss the value of private property as nothing more than a “mantra.” Be careful what you wish for.
Thanks to new urbanism, restrictive zoning has made all housing less affordable. If someone wants to live in the city, great. But if someone actually likes to live on a nice big lot, they should be able to pay a reasonable price, not some over-inflated price that is only the result of artificially restricted supply. In the Sacramento region of Northern California, an acre of land within the “urban service boundary” may cost some $300K, while land barely across the street outside this arbitrary boundary can cost 1/10th that amount. This is a perversion of the market, that only inflates the price of housing, pricing ordinary people out of home ownership.