by James A. Bacon
“Smart growth kills children!” quipped email correspondent Ron Utt yesterday. He proffered the sly comment in passing along a blog post describing how 169 children in Sydney, Australia, plunged from high-rise windows or balustrades to serious injury or death between 1998 and 2008.
In the New Geography blog post that Ron cited, Tony Recsei writes:
Apartments are especially unsuitable for bringing up very young children. … Crawling and walking is stymied due to space problems with children having little access to areas for meaningful activity. There is a lack of safe active play space outside the home. Parks and other public open space offer poor security due to the use of these areas by local youth gangs and the socially dysfunctional.
Over the past decade, the goal of the New South Wales Government has been that more than half of the population of NSW be squeezed into apartments by the year 2030. These high-density policies have placed a restrictive growth boundary around Sydney, and have been enforced by stripping away the planning powers of those local authorities that dared to offer any resistance.
The government solution to the tumbling tots? Mandate window safety locks.
This is what happens when progressives hijack the smart growth movement. Leftists are constitutionally inclined to impose their vision of the public good on others. If smart growth is beneficial, impose it through top-down government policy. Consumer preferences can be safely ignored — the people don’t know what’s good for them.
No wonder conservatives are so allergic to smart growth!
While the story of the nose-diving nippers may discredit “smart growth” in the eyes of some, to me it reinforces why conservatives need to re-define the term in their own idiom. Smart growth = more efficient human settlement patterns. There is nothing intrinsically liberal or conservative about the idea of efficient human settlement patterns, only how you achieve them. There are few real leftists here in Virginia. The smart growth advocates of my acquaintance do not advocate urban growth boundaries or herding the reluctant masses into high-rises — what they advocate is allowing people who want to live in high-rises to do so, which means rolling back outdated density restrictions. Smart growth is a much more mainstream movement in the Old Dominion, and we are unlikely to see the Sydney experience replicated here.
Update: For what it’s worth, Sydney, Australia, is not the only place where children fall out of windows. Window falls injure about 5,100 children on average each year in the United States, according to WebMD Health News.
Let’s do the numbers. The population of Sydney is 4.6 million, or about 1.5% of the total U.S. population. The number of plunging papooses averages 17 per year, about 0.3% of the U.S number…. or about one-fifth what we would expect if munchkins fell from windows at a random rate. Hmmm…. There may be even less to this story than meets the eye!