Thursday, February 09, 2006

Growth Politics Comes of Age

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's election to Governor of Virginia is attracting attention as far away as Michigan. Keith Schneider, with the Michigan Land Use Institute, has written an article for local consumption about the political signficance of Kaine's victory. In "Could Smart Growth Tip the Next Presidential Election?" Schneider argues that growth issues in America's fast-growing suburbs are changing the dynamics of U.S. politics.

Gasoline prices are rising fast. Roads are jammed. Construction costs are out of sight. Incomes of working people have fallen for five straight years. Government deficits drain public spending on infrastructure. America’s population is climbing at the fastest rate in our history, and so are obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other indicators of our behind-the-wheel way of life.

The old foundations of the economic development strategy that produced thriving suburban communities and successful American lives are crumbling. The fortunate circumstance of cheap energy, inexpensive land, rising incomes, moderate population increases, and massive government spending for roads and water systems yielded a prosperous way of life in the 20th century. But in the 21st every one of these trends has been transformed.

Schneider argues that Kaine's winning margin came from appealing to sprawl-related quality-of-life issues "in the fast-growing, conservative counties of northern Virginia, particularly Loudon County." (Nobody outside Virginia ever spells "Loudoun" correctly.)

I think that Schneider exaggerates the extent to which "sprawl" was a central issue in Virginia's 2005 gubernatorial campaign, but find his perspective to be intriguing nontheless. Especially cogent are his thoughts on rethinking the meaning of "economic development":
Conventional views about the benefits of a business-at-any-cost economic strategy are colliding with the reality of ugly sprawl, congestion, cracked roads, obsolete schools, fiscal deficits, escalating energy prices, and rising civic discontent about how communities grow. Advocates now have the best opportunity in a generation to make the case that Smart Growth’s proven economic principles and popular cultural values represent a national economic development strategy that has real merit.


At 3:16 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Smart Growth's economic theories are not yet proven principles.

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How could it be any worse then the current economic underpinings that faciliate our current growth patterns? God forbid we should try to encourage any sort of growth other then more of what we already have!

At 12:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you suppose that growth that is not needed happens?

Excess land use maybe, excess growth, no.

At 5:12 AM, Blogger Larry Gross said...

I find the term "Smart Growth" to be little more than a troublesome vehicle for those off all stripes who like to "cherry pick" their own preferred planning methodology - on all sides.

For instance, New Urbanisim...
those on one side - see it as
a way to redevelop and use in-fill to provide more dense, more efficient use of land but then the developers will propose Greenfield New Urbanism 50 or more miles from employment centers - where - guess what - people have to drive 100 miles or more to get to their jobs on roads that are perceived to be "free" with a perception that capacity is a given and congestion an unpleasant and undeserved suprise.

I love the folks who drive to rural areas on weekends... find a place.. and calculate the commute time to be the time it took for them to get there - on a weekend.

These are obstenibly intelligent folks who hold jobs that require good judgement to perform.

but I also find the comment "growth that is not needed" interesting.

does that imply that "growth is needed".

methinks growth merely describes a demand. There is a heck of a demand for "porn". Does that mean it truly is a "need" just because there is a demand?

If energy costs go up and the result is demand and "growth" in wood stoves with high levels of pollution- is that a good thing?

Is the idea that anything that has "demand" is legitimate and therefore let the "free market" satisfy it?

No - demand - in and of itself - is not necessarily something that deserves unfettered free markets much less taxpayer subsidies.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Larry: I don't understand your point. I don't think very many people plunk down a few hundred grand for a home they don't need (vacation homes aside, then again don't people need vacations?).

"No - demand - in and of itself - is not necessarily something that deserves unfettered free markets much less taxpayer subsidies."

If you believe some people, virtually every home does not pay its own way in taxes, and is therefore subsidized. Are you proposing that your taxes be raised enough to cancel out that subsidy?

If somebody wants something, and is willing to pay for it, usually someone will appear with that product for sale. Are you saying that if the demand is for something some people disapprove of, then the market should be fettered?

Some things, like porn and abortion are pretty generally disapproved of, yet the market still exists, and if it is killed it will probably go underground rather than go away. But those things are a lot different from housing. We seem to be entering an era in which it is fashionable to disapprove of new housing. That market and need is likely to exist and unlikely to go underground.

You don't think it should be subsidised. Are you saying that your subsidy is OK and the next guy's is not?


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