Monday, September 10

Against Smart Growth

I'm seeing the name Wendell Cox of the organization Demographia pop up here and there as an ardent opponent to "smart growth" and public transportation. He lays out a few of his arguments in a recent op-ed piece in the Toronto Star. I'm not yet persuaded by them, but I've always found well-focused antagonism to be more helpful than nice platitudes when it comes to forming an opinion about something.

Here are two of his points ...

1. "Smart growth" is driven by elitist ideology and enforced by government regulations, which stifle the free market. Regular people should get to choose where they want to live.

A blogger at 295Bus writes in response:

"While [Cox] may portray himself as a type of less-government/less-spending conservative, like many conservatives, he's pretty selective in what spending and what regulation he criticizes. He apparently sees no contradiction between opposing subsidies for transit while lobbying for handouts for highways. And whatever merits there may be to his criticisms of growth limits in this article, he is most vocal, in fact relentless, in attacking "smart growh" regulations such as Portland's--rather than the zoning that actually produces scarcity of housing, that which enforces low-density sprawl, and prohibits the kind of efficient land use that can boost the supply of housing units."

So, both sides use government regulations and need government funding. Sprawling suburbs are not necessarily the "choice" of the invisible hand of the market. In fact, this blogger goes on to speculate that perhaps if all regulations were actually abolished (roads became toll roads, for example) public transportation may actually flourish, and with that smart growth would follow. That's an interesting thought experiment.

2. Condensed urban neighborhoods may produce an even higher level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita than lower-density suburbs do.

This assertion is based on a study from the University of Sydney (presented in this web page). However, Brenden of the blog Where casts some doubt about whether this data can be used to support Cox's thesis.

"If this seems counterintuitive, that's probably because the findings are slanted. It is true that Inner Sydney has the highest per capita output of GHG, but there is no mention of the fact that a huge chunk of this area is taken up by office towers, which consume massive amounts of energy for heating and cooling, thousands of acres of fluorescent lighting, and other energy-consuming systems that often continue running long after employees have left for the night. Being the central business district, Inner Sydney is also the destination of much of the auto traffic that originates in the surrounding sprawl. Outside the CBD, other neighborhoods include other offices and large tracts of industrial land (and factories are often very large producers of GHGs) that are much less likely to take up space in more far-flung areas."

The Toronto Star also printed a counter-point position from Mark Winfield, a professor at York University.

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