Conservatives, it’s time to see the light!

Smart growth is too important to leave to liberals. Conservatives must articulate their own vision for creating prosperous, livable and fiscally sustainable communities.

by James A. Bacon

Few aspects of government policy touch peoples’ lives as profoundly as transportation and land use. The built environment exerts a tremendous influence upon the cost of transportation, housing, utilities and government services as well as quality of life and the environment. The “smart growth” movement has gained momentum in recent years as Americans sought solutions to the problems arising from the dysfunctional land use patterns commonly referred to as suburban sprawl.

Liberals have spear-headed the critique of sprawl, to their credit, and they have largely defined Smart Growth. As is their wont, however, they frequently call for top-down solutions. There’s no social problem that a good strong dose of government intervention won’t fix! Allergic to calls for bigger, stronger, more coercive government — herding people onto mass transit and into multi-family housing are the exaggerated images they react to — conservatives have thrown out the smart-growth baby with the liberal bathwater.

Big mistake. There is nothing intrinsically liberal or conservative about the idea of creating more efficient human settlement patterns that expand the range of housing and transportation options while reducing the cost of government. Rather than getting stuck defending an indefensible status quo, conservatives need to articulate their own vision in a manner consistent with conservative principles.

So, what conservative values are we talking about? Conservatism is a diverse movement, encompassing secular libertarians, religious evangelicals and Main Street business, but I think it’s fair to say that most conservatives are dedicated to the following:

Small government. Government should focus on a few core responsibilities and do them well. Government that governs the least governs the best.

Low taxes. Some taxes are necessary to fund core government responsibilities but they pose a burden on citizens and, if too high, undermine economic growth.

Reasonable regulation. Some regulation is necessary for the protection of the public health and safety. But regulations have unintended consequences and regulators tend to get captured or gamed by special interests. Generally speaking, regulations need to be rolled back.

■ Strong property rights. A man’s home is his castle. A property owner should be allowed to do what he/she wants with her property as long as it causes no harm to others. Property owners should be properly compensated for the loss of property rights.

Distrust of elites. Most conservatives are of the live-and-let-live, don’t-tread-on-me variety (some social issues excepted) and they distrust the social-engineering schemes of liberals intent upon “making the world a better place.”

Global warming. Society needs to make reasonable investments in clean water, clean air and habitat protection. But conservatives are highly skeptical about the proposed antidotes to Global Warming, a controversy they believe is ginned up by liberals looking for an excuse to re-order the world in their image.

Now, let’s look at the public policies that have shaped land use since World War II and view them through the prism of conservative principles.

Land use codes. The underlying premise of zoning codes is that different land uses — residential, retail and commercial — should be rigidly segregated. Of course it makes sense to separate some land uses, in particular industrial activities that are excessively toxic, noisy, dusty or otherwise unpleasant. But for the most part, there is no rational reason for the codes. Most problems that stem from houses and businesses existing side by side can be resolved with nuisance codes.

Zoning codes breed regulations and require a government planning apparatus to enforce them. They usurp the right of property owners to do what they want with their land, telling people what they can build and where. And they deprive consumers of choice. It’s one thing to allow people to live in cul de sac subdivisions, work in office parks and shop in malls surrounded by vast parking lots. It’s quite a different thing to require them to do so as a matter of code. The suburban status quo effectively bans the building of compact, walkable mixed use communities except when developers engage in a lengthy, expensive and risky process of petitioning for special permits. There is no basis in conservative thought for discriminating against neighborhoods where people can walk to the corner store, take the bus or live in an apartment above the shop or studio where they work.

Low densities. Many counties have imposed density limitations on new growth with the thought that they would limit the impact of development on roads and schools. But smearing 1,000 people over 1,000 acres of land is impossible to provide with roads, utilities and services as efficiently as if they were concentrated in 100 acres, or even 10 acres, of land. Fiscal conservatives should object to such inefficiency. And property rights advocates should object to the restrictions placed on what property owners can build on their land.

There is one caveat here that is important for subsidy-loathing conservatives to bear in mind. While people should be free to build wherever they want, they have no claim to the full panoply of government services — roads, water, sewer, schools, public safety, etc. — in remote, inefficiently served locations at the same prices as those services are available to others. Property owners should bear the full location-variable costs of where they build. Continue reading.

This essay has been adapted from a speech delivered at the 2012 Congress for the New Urbanism.

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  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Overall, a well-reasoned set of arguments. However:

    Why do you have to distinguish yourself as a “conservative” in this case, other than to set up “liberal” straw men that you can knock down if you choose to? If you are pro Smart Growth, why not just say so and go from there?

    There is a huge contradiction in what seems to be your argument against zoning and Smart Growth. How can you enforce any better living patterns without some kind of regulation? What are “nuisance” codes? I can see where business and residence may not mix well in some cases — depends on the types if business. If you want to go back to the 19th century, small town, multiuse grid system which has worked very well, how are you going to push development that way without some kind of rules?

    The boilerplate against global warming is unnecessary. Science provides ample evidence that humankind is making the climate warming with shifts in weather. Instead of addressing this, you stick your head in the sand and proclaim it some kind of “liberal” plot. For what, you don’t say.

    Otherwise, good points.

    1. “How can you enforce any better living patterns without some kind of regulation?”

      This is a weird way of looking at it. Why do they need to be “enforced”? In the absence of counterproductive subsidies and incentives, people will figure out for themselves what the better living patterns are.

      What are “nuisance” codes?

      Noise ordinances, for example. In an urban area where bars exist in close proximity to homes, the police can and do shut down the bars if the patrons are too boisterous. In other words, the laws regulate the actual problematic behavior rather than outright forbidding a certain type of business.

    2. reed fawell Avatar
      reed fawell

      James Bacon is quite right. Conservatives should not cede the Smart Growth field to Liberal activists. Smart Growth is far too a powerful a conservative tool to abdicate. It’s also dangerous to do so since Smart Growth can serves difference aims, depending upon the philosophy of those who wield it. Liberal activists far too often use Smart Growth as a weapon to regulate and limit the behavior of those with whom they disagree. Driven by liberal orthodoxy, their means will typically rely on the exercise of top down government power. Conservatives, on the other hand, use Smart Growth as a tool to liberate. Their goal is to create models of highly efficient and practical land use and development that fuels market driven solutions to urban problems or opportunities. To achieve these ends, they endeavor to fuse livability, sustainability, and business efficiencies that generate, rather than limit, wealth and opportunity and spread both among many. To do this the Conservative must organize local skills into local action using Smart Growth principles to generate local benefits. Unlike the Liberal activist, the Conservative has no interest in (or need for) stepping outside the local community to mass and motivate the political power of alien interests to regulate that local community to achieve someone else’s ideology.

      Since Liberals’ primary goal is to use law to limit the land use of others, particularly business and commercial interests, so as to force their version of Utopia on others, they typically lack the practical skill to build self-sustaining wealth creating Smart Growth Communities. In essence theirs is a Zero Sum Game. So, instead of building a viable future, they threaten otherwise workable solutions, as they twist Smart Growth into a Weapon used against others, rather than a productive engine of Opportunity for all.

      Conversely, those skilled in wealth creation are the best innovators and drivers of Smart Growth. They own the tools, the skills, mindset, and capital to make Smart Growth work. This has been proven again and again. That Smart Growth is best driven by local businesses and entrepreneurs working with local pro-business governments to build dynamic new communities or transform blighted older ones. One of the most vibrant Smart Growth urban communities in America shows this clearly, Arlington’s downtown.

      Arlington County, Va., began to transform into one of the nation’s first suburbs at the turn into the 20th century. The reason: geography. Its direct access into downtown DC over the Potomac at Key Bridge, and its “outer beltway” of Glebe Road that linked it to DC via Chain Bridge on the north, and Alexandria’s port on the south, fueled this early growth. After expanding for decades, its suburbs exploded during and after WWII.

      But debilitating change arrived in the 1960s. Unexpectedly, DC’s new outer beltway eroded Arlington’s commercial core while siphoning off its growth, carrying both to Fairfax County’s suddenly accessible outer farmlands. As Tyson’s Corner grew into Northern Virginia’s new downtown, Arlington’s downtown withered. The opening of Dulles Airport & later its Toll Road and I-66 compounded the distress. New downtowns sprung up seemingly overnight and effortlessly, fed by newly convenient commercial corridors that engulfed small towns to Dulles and then beyond, to Leesburg. Meanwhile Arlington’s downtown choked on its clutter. It’s once vibrant urban core became a brown field of obsolete buildings, shuttered businesses, vacant lots, and hodgepodge of tawdry and tacky uses. Arlington County’s government and small business fought back. But its Not in My Backyard Crowd kept doubling down, thwarting solutions. A decade of small fixes and false starts failed to slow the tide, much less reverse it. So what to do?

      How do you tear down an obsolete city and build a viable new one in its place when confronted with opposition to remedies found across every neighborhood fence, and competition down the road sprouting from cornfields amid sudden immense advantages?

      Fortunately, Arlington County still had its affluent residential neighborhoods, the skills its citizens honed during its commercial success, and its location, so had lost only the means to leverage its advantages against powerful new competitors. This helped its local government and business community marshal the will to effectively make and implement hard decisions. The first would jumpstart the County’s long-term future. Instead of locating a new regional subway in the Interstate 66 right of way that split their county, they dug it two and a half miles underground through their blighted commercial corridor. Then they compounded that advantage by designing a Smart Growth plan that built their own future. Founded on the livability of its citizens, and sustained by an internal engine of mixed business and residential uses, this plan fueled dynamic new businesses while attracting an influx of energetic citizens to drive those businesses and enliven Arlington. This potent mix sustained the quality of life of its citizens, turbocharged their affluence, insured local business success, and built a strong tax base for excellent public services and amenities. In short, the model itself, properly deployed, jumpstarted then drove its own success, transforming desolation into opportunity that, once properly primed and fueled, then outperformed the very competition that earlier had nearly destroyed it.

      So Smart Growth was the engine, the subway its jumpstart, the driver private enterprise. Despite what some say, only enlightened business interests working hand in glove with highly competent pro-business local government did this, got that kind of Smart Growth engine up and running. Private enterprise build it, financed it and keeps it running, spinning off jobs, homes, amenities, taxes, and affluence for the citizens of Arlington.

      That’s what happened in Arlington County. It was not easy. It was terrifically hard. The success of the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s was built on the back of costly earlier mistakes. Success was achieved despite virulent local opposition, fierce regional competition, and the devastation of several national recessions. Many individual and corporate fortunes were lost along the way, yet insured ultimate success, and all monies and much labor was invested at great risk. Private enterprise, driven by a few individuals, did most of the heavy lifting, and suffered the vast majority of heavy losses. Local government, driven by a few remarkable individuals, did most all of the rest. Today’s liberal Smart Growth advocates who now claim most all the credit are due little, if any, of it. So read their modern histories, and their nostrums for “our’ future, with a jaundiced eye. It’s misleading on facts, long on theory, short on practical experience or record of real results. Indeed, it is a Trojan Horse that carries within it an unworkable and contrary agenda. Only inspired local government and private enterprise can successfully ride the Smart Growth Horse. Both need only to gather the vision and the will to take the reins.

  2. Peter, You raise reasonable questions regarding the rhetorical strategy I adopted for this essay. Why the emphasis on distancing myself from “liberal” Smart Growth positions? Two reasons. First and foremost, I’m pitching conservatives who distrust Smart Growth. The only way to sway them is to emphasize that they aren’t selling out to their moral ideological foes by embracing Smart Growth, and that means distinguishing between “liberal” and “conservative” varieties of Smart Growth.

    Secondly, there are some issues where I part ways with liberal Smart Growthers, particularly the notion that Virginia ought to be investing more in mass transit… regardless of the economics of the projects being subsidized. Liberal Smart Growthers want to shift transportation funding from roads to transit. Period. End of story. I say that roads and transit ought to be put on a level playing field — no subsidies — and that each mode should support itself. May the best mode win!

    Also, there are some extreme varieties of liberal Smart Growth in places like California, where the idea is to use zoning to discriminate against Single Family Dwellings. I think people should be able to live where they want — as long as they pay the associated location-variable costs. As you can see, there are important distinctions between the liberal and conservative flavors of Smart Growth.

  3. mbaker Avatar

    Perhaps you would be interested in the perspective I offer.

    Your article begins to answer the question I raise.
    How do we protect our liberty within the framework of sustainability so that future generations are prosperous and free and not oppressed by another socialist experiment?

    1. You and I are asking the many of the same questions. And we aren’t the only ones. Our number is few…. but growing.

      My philosophy is that people should be free to live where they want, and that includes exurbia. There are many reasons to prefer the exurban lifestyle, as you allude to in your writings. However, exurbanites do not have the right to expect their local government to provide an urban level of services at the same level of taxes as citizens who choose to settle in more efficient settlement patterns closer to the urban core. I hope you appreciate the trade-off you are making.

      1. mbaker Avatar

        The exurban town where I live is incorporated as a full-service, general law City, which operates under the Council/Manager form of government. We elect a mayor and all of our services and infrastructure is paid for by our town’s taxpayers. We contribute $$ to the county for water, sewer, county sheriff, etc…
        The people who live here are quite self-sufficient and yes…appreciate the opportunity they have to live in this environment and do not view it as a trade-off. We do our part and we pay our share.

        1. ocschwar Avatar

          You might think you’re self sufficient, but it’s very easy to procrastinate on infrastructure maintenance. (And unwise. A stitch in time saves nine, and all that.) You and your neighbors may be in for a very rude awakening.

  4. […] Bacon's Rebellion Reinventing Virginia for the 21st Century Skip to content HomeAboutThe BlogJames A. BaconPeter GaluszkaGrovetonArticlesSponsorshipsResourcesThe Wonk Salon ← Smart Growth for Conservatives […]

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    How to profit from Baconomics …

    1. Find a nice suburban cul de sac in some suburban county – let’s use Henrico as an example. You’ll want to see 20 – 30 homes on the cul de sac at an average value of $400,000. Let’s say there are 22 homes.

    2. Buy two homes after the Baconomics “no zoning” law is passed. One home should be close to the entrance while the other should be about 2/3rds the way down the cul de sac. Cost = $800,000.

    3. Turn the home closest to the entrance into a dive bar. Bulldoze the grass into a parking lot, sell beer at cost, give away hot dogs, pour sawdust on the floors, put in pool tables and play loud rock music every minute that you are allowed to do so. Advertise in Bikers’ World Magazine.

    4. Turn the home down the cul de sac into a Brew Thru. Again, sell beer at cost and play loud music as long as allowed. Make sure the beer is really cold and wrap it in excess packaging – boxes, paper bags, etc. Advertise in Mixed Martial Arts Weekly.

    5. Operate the two businesses at a loss for about 6 months. Cost – $200,000.

    6. Wait for the first house on the cul de sac to go up for sale. Hire people to lounge in front of the dive bar and glare at any cars going down the street. Make sure the people have visible weapons of some kind – nunchucks, knives, guns (since they won’t really be drinking).

    7. Use a shell corporation to offer cash with no contingencies for the first house that goes on the market. Make the offer low. Cost: $250,000.

    8. Now that the comps are wreaked for the street, make offers on the next ten homes that go up for sale. Cost: $2M.

    9. Hire a fake family to live in one of your houses. Have the family go around the neighborhood talking to the people living in the houses you didn’t buy. Tell them that the dive bar and the Brew Thru are unconscionable and that “something will be done” if all the people on the street sign a highly restrictive voluntary home owners’ agreement. Make sure the newspapers cover the situation.

    10. Close the dive bar and Brew Thru. renovate the two homes back to their original state. Cost: $300,000.

    Sell the 12 homes on the street that you own at tip top prices based on the iron clad homeowners’ agreement. That’s 13*$450,000 = $5,850,000.

    11. Decide what to do with the $2,600,000 you made on the deal.

    1. I take your point, and it’s a valid one. If people have purchased a house in a cul de sac subdivision on the expectation that it would remain a purely residential neighborhood, they’re going to be upset if Rippert comes along and executes his Brew Thru scheme. So, any re-working of the zoning code should provide some level of protection for them. Once the omelet is broken, it’s not easy to un-break it.

      At the same time, what if someone buys up every house in the subdivision? No one gets inconvenienced if he converts the tract to mixed use. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to do that?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Your point about zoning is very valid. Change not only needs to occur but it would make everybody happier and wealthier.

        I have been chasing around NoVa looking for office space to lease. The more mixed the area, the higher the price per sq ft it commands.

        In the Reston Town Center: $45 – $50 sq ft

        On the Rosslyn – Ballston corridor: $35 – $40 sq ft

        Isolated office building where you have to drive everywhere: $25 – $35 sq ft

        So, why do companies keep constructing isolated office buildings when it is observably true that office buildings in mixed use areas (at least office & retail) are more valuable?

        Is it zoning? If so, that’s a real shame since it seems like everybody loses.

    2. I find this scenario highly unlikely. In San Francisco, at least, there is no shortage of bars, including dive bars, sitting cheek-by-jowl with homes. Outdoor areas are usually shut down at a certain hour, and the proprietors are keen to enforce this, because they know that the nuisance laws mean that if they make too much noise the police will show up and order them to close up shop. Bar owners generally go out of their way to avoid attracting police attention– it’s just not good for business.

      No, their immediate neighbors probably don’t benefit property-values-wise, though I doubt the effect extends more than a few doors. In the end, though, it works out. Given the property prices in SF (including those neighbors of dive bars) they must be doing something right.

  6. larryg Avatar

    zoning does not prevent development. Any developer is free to propose any use and request a zoning change to support it.

    Where things get dicey is “by right” uses or to put it more succinctly – do you really want any property owner to have the “by right” to change the use?

    You mentioned buying up all the homes in an existing subdivision. What about the adjacent subdivisions? What if one guy does not want to sell and the rest do?

    the interesting thing is that jurisdictions will change the underlying use all th time and worse than that – they increase the taxes on it because the new use is considered more valuable.

    So you have a residential on a major arterial and the locality changes the zoning to commercial and then the taxes on it triple… so the owner has to sell. This scenario is often part and parcel of extending water/sewer to here-to-fore unserved areas….

    but the 64 dollar question here is what should the “by-right” use be for property rights?

  7. larryg Avatar

    and for exurban communities the big horse in the barn is commuting infrastructure.

    who should pay for commuting infrastructure?

    you can that the developer will not pay for it and in my view calling an exurban location that has a ton of commuters – “Smart Growth” is an oxymoron.

    Smart Growth says that you live, WORK, play and shop in close proximity in theory because it cuts down on auto trips which, in turn, require expensive infrastructure, especially at rush hour.

    “Smart Growth” in an exurban community is only “Smart” if the people who live in the Smart Growth development …work locally… and can walk, bike, ride transit or take a short auto trip.

  8. HardHatMommy Avatar

    Today’s “Smart Growth” concepts need to spend a little time studying what work looks like in the near future – say 2020. There will be 5 generations in the workforce and that could muddy what I see in my crystal ball because the old guys don’t typically like change … but they can’t hold back the wave of change that is coming for long.

    White collar jobs have the tools at their disposal to work anywhere: Starbucks, the horse barn, the front porch. And the younger generation doesn’t just say they want work/life balance, they live that philosophy by using technology. They are wearing off on the Gen X crowd who are starting to crave more flexibility.

    If I want to volunteer at one of my kids’ field day events at school, I do it. And then afterwards, I pop into the Starbucks near the school and work the rest of the day from that location. At night after the kids are in bed, I tie up loose ends. I still did my job and in fact I did it really well – but I wasn’t in an office and that’s going to become the norm. It has to. Why have this technology if we aren’t going to use it to make our lives better? Why sit in traffic or on a train when we can accomplish just as much, if not more, from wherever we happen to be.

    As we change the way we work, one day we won’t have the “rush hour” we have today. Flexibility is the key. I think we’re going to have an app of some sort that human resources folks give us when we are hired that has our personal HR plan. Maybe I am inspired by a different set of benefits than my co-worker. Maybe I opt for more flexibility and a little less pay. Maybe I don’t want a company car but instead want some new technology that will help me get more done from any given location. I think we will be able to negotiate whatever package that fits our needs and provides value to our employer. And that will affect our transportation network in a really positive way. You get on the road to go to a face to face meeting; otherwise you stay put. That’s the way I see the future. These younger superstars have the right plan and before long, they’ll be in charge and we’ll see some really cool changes that help us balance our lives with work and keep us off the roads and trains.

    A good book that isn’t related to smart growth or transportation but may open minds to the changes that technology and the way we communicate are bringing to the workplace: The 2020 Workplace:

    1. Carrying your logic one step further: Changes in the way work is organized and performed will change the need for commercial real estate. Many offices sit 50% empty. That’s because so many people are doing work like you are, working anywhere anytime. The concept of office “hoteling” continues to gain ground as corporations find they can cut their real estate overhead by 30-40%. What will that mean for future commercial real estate development? It looks to me like there will be a lot less of it in the future, and what development we do see will be re-development.

  9. bosun Avatar

    Kudos. Pretty good read & thought provoking. As you and others point, it will be very hard to change bad land use and transportation policies that have been going on since the 1950s [or, in the case of zoning, the 1930s]. Comparable to turning an aircraft carrier around; it takes a lot of time and uses up a lot of ocean. Bosun

  10. […] Smart Growth for Conservatives, by a Conservative for Smart Growth (Bacon’s Rebellion) […]

  11. HardHatMommy Avatar

    Commercial real estate will shrink in every way. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t think base building contractors have a chance of survival in the future. We just aren’t going to need a bunch of new space. But we will need renovations of existing space to make it fit changing needs. And we will need to renovate for energy performance and water performance. It’s going to be an exciting time. I think the future looks pretty sweet.

  12. ocschwar Avatar

    It is true that advocates of smart growth policies tend to be liberal, but that does not mean that they advocated top down solutions. I could name names, and I’ll start with one: James Howard Kunstler. He’s a New York Jewish leftist of the old school, who’s been at this for decades now, and yet, the entire time he has been careful to set his own politics aside advocate for policies that do not go against conservative tenets. No need to mandate smart growth when you can just legalize it by loosening zoning codes.

    The fight against smart growth started because of conservatives reflexively reacting to policies being advocated by liberals. I do recall in the early 1990’s, when Kunstler’s book The Geography of Nowhere got particularly unfair treatment in the American Spectator.

    And it really is a pity. These are not political issues. They are engineering issues: roads are expensive. Plumbing is expensive. Power and data lines are expensive. Expensive to build and expensive to maintain. Sprawling makes them more expensive and more prone to breakdown. Smart growth addresses that. And it gets worse. Sprawling makes flooding far worse, by quickly running rainwater off and downhill. And it makes droughts far worse, by quickly running rainwater off and downhill, which is part of why Texas gets the “joy” of experiencing both deluge and drought year after year. Even Georgia and Florida have the same problem. If you said 50 years ago that GA and FL would one day bicker over water rights, you’d be thought insane. Today, that’s exactly what’s happening. Because of too many parking lots in both states. And notice nothing in this paragraph has anything to do with being liberal or conservative.

    When you let political concerns try to trump physical reality, it’s called Lysenkoism. It’s amazing to see conservatives fall into that trap, but that is what’s happening in America today. Not only over smart growth, but also about such issues as the world’s oil supply petering out, and yes, global warming.

    I hope I don’t sound too aggressive in saying this. I care about these issues a lot more than anything else liberals and conservatives lock horns over, and these are issues that call for putting partisan politics aside.

    1. I figure there’s about an 80% overlap between liberals and conservatives on Smart Growth. There should be no reason that both sides couldn’t agree on a deregulatory agenda that would eliminate the worst policies. They would argue over the other 20%, but much of the problem would be solved. Unfortunately, neither side trusts the other. Here in Virginia, there is remarkably little dialogue between both sides of the partisan aisle, and remarkably little dialogue between Smart Growthers and the development community. I talk to both sides and I see the areas of common agreement. It would be nice if we could get that dialogue going.

  13. Storm water management. The Tysons Task Force was going to fix the huge storm water management problem in Tysons. Clearly with all of the hard surfaces in Tysons today, storm water runoff is a big problem. But, in exchange for uber density, the landowners were going to have the strictest storm water holding requirements in the nation. But then they looked at the costs and lobbied for weaker standards. The County finally adopted a policy to require the holding and gradual release of the first inch of precipitation. Now the landowners are struggling to address the weakened obligation.
    Does it cost a great amount of money to extend utilities in suburban and exurban areas? Of course. But creating utility duct space and undergrounding utilities in urban areas is also very expensive. Real estate development creates a large burden on infrastructure irrespective of whether the development is urban or suburban. Individual costs may vary and density can provide economies of scale, but construction costs in urban areas tend to be much higher in total. And, best of all, sprawl moves many of these costs outside Fairfax County.

  14. larryg Avatar

    TMT is dead on. What happens in 2, 3, 4 inch events? pet feces, fluids from leaking radiators, transmissions, crankcases, pesticide, fertilizers, etc all go straight into the Potomac River and thence downstream to work its’ “magic” on the Chesapeake Bay.

    The problem with the “let’s be efficient” folks is they refuse to deal with the realities like storm water (and transportation) and either punt on doing it right or say that it’s someone elses’ responsibility.

    The irony is that the urban development costs actually end up driving those on the lower end to commute…. and those folks expect someone else to pay for their commuting structure also.

  15. Polis Avatar

    I agree with the concepts being championed by Mr. Bacon; however some of the underlying assumptions I disagree with.

    While not specifically spelled out, there is a mindset among conservatives that the Public will “figure it out” as far as how to live. Unfortunately the housing market is, or was, heavily controlled by the industry rather than the customers. A change in zoning and other land use related ordinances won’t drastically change the way housing stock is offered, which, arguably, is heavily driven by the supply side rather than demand.

    Take a typical suburb, the newer housing stock is usually not highly varied and determined by the developers, but the amenities, particularly school, are too enticing to ignore. If someone prefers a denser, more walkable neighborhood their options are usually limited to older housing stock or an apartment complex.

    In addition, it is at the benefit of all developers working in the same area to limit their housing stock as to keep prices up.

    I do think that the demand side of the equation is having a big more influence now. During the major housing boom and flight to the suburbs demand was nearly inexhaustible, now not so much, giving the buyer more power; however if developers are not building then supply is limited again.

    Historically, outside of suburbs with small, historical “downtowns”, the push for denser development came from the government or developers looking to build something different (PUDs for example).

    I’m not convinced that, somehow, moving towards the mentality of being able to do anyting on your property as long as it is not a nuisance, is going to wind up with communities formed by what the “People” want but rather what the developers want to build.

    Now I understand that charging the true costs to communities based upon how they live is a strong incentive to move to denser communities but this won’t address what is already built. “Smart Growth” is just that, growth, but the issues cropping up now are about what is already built.

    What can be done about the current communities?

    To follow up with the freedom to use your land as you see fit, is the section “Restore Homeowner Property Rights” supposed to present the general idea that there should be stronger rights of the owner? Or is this the complete thought? I ask because property uses are limited for more reasons than simply the government wanting it to be that way.

    For instance this question posed:
    “Why shouldn’t they have the freedom to make ends meet by taking in a roommate or converting the basement into an apartment? ”

    There are numerous reasons why this COULD be disallowed, such as fire safety, sanitation overload, etc… However, I agree that these should be the exceptions rather than the hard rule.

    I do support your idea of laxer parking requirements; however instead of removing requirements I support severe reductions in requirements. While the assumption that businesses do know how much parking they need is sound, it is also in the financial interest of a business to have as little parking as possible to force as much parking to the public domain. Obviously, convenience, accessibility and availability of public parking would have to be weighed in but a business would seek to minimize costs for the greatest gain.

    Additionally, many major corporations that have typical store models have their own parking requirements, some of which are just as expansive as public requirements.

    My last disagreement is that mass transit in most parts of the U.S. cannot exist in the private realm and still serve the functions of mass transit. Explaining the tangled mess of transit would take pages, but it is not a profitable endeavor. Certain aspects of transit may be able to go to the private realm, but, in general, low-income transit dependent riders cannot afford alternatives. Select services in select cities may be able to turn a profit, but the typical transit line is so heavily subsidized it’s out of control costly.

    On the flip side, the way systems are ran are old and inefficient like claimed. While it is a “monopoly”, innovation is still occurring within the industry, particularly with a focus on improving productivity by lowering costs or attracting more riders; however major innovations are few and far between. From my view point, within the transit industry, the incentive to be highly innovative with service delivery, whether through an alternate, cheaper mode or through an entirely different funding schema, perhaps a transit agency doesn’t directly provide service but is the funding mechanism for private providors.

    Using ROI for funding transportation is a great concept as well, one that has been around but rarely is strongly incorporated into funding legislation. It’s a sticky subject but, from my limited experience in transportation funding, allocating federal funding at the regional level is moving towards this direction. Where I live, the representative bodies that make the decisions of project funding are requesting more information about cost-benefits.

    I would like to reiterate that, again, overall I support the more conservative concepts of Smart Growth presented in this article. Less restrictive land use controls as well as a structure of paying for the true cost of public goods and services would be better for all. I’m not advocating a blanket approach to everyone, subsidies may be necessary in certain cases such as low-income and rural communities, but in general I support the idea.

    1. Polis Avatar

      This paragraph:

      “On the flip side, the way systems are ran are old and inefficient like claimed. While it is a “monopoly”, innovation is still occurring within the industry, particularly with a focus on improving productivity by lowering costs or attracting more riders; however major innovations are few and far between. From my view point, within the transit industry, the incentive to be highly innovative with service delivery, whether through an alternate, cheaper mode or through an entirely different funding schema, perhaps a transit agency doesn’t directly provide service but is the funding mechanism for private providors.”

      Should have ended with the statement that incentives do not exist from regulatory agencies or through funding mechanisms to promote innovation within transit agencies.

  16. larryg Avatar

    in terms of density – more people like renting bedrooms… will require more infrastructure, water, sewer, roads, even electricity.

    water planning, for instance, is based on a typical use of 300 gallons a day per house that is based on a typical occupancy of about 3 ( averaging out to 100 gallons per person per day).
    If you change existing regs – your existing water/sewer may prove insufficient when actual starts to exceed planned.

    and if you are going to explicitly plan for new development to be more dense, then the initial hook up fees are going to be pro-rated higher to pay for the bigger pipes to accommodate more people.

    People think that zoning can be changed and more density allowed …without ever really thinking about the infrastructure that has to be there to support the development – and that infrastructure is premised originally on what kind of density will be occurring.

    this is one reason why water/sewer is designated for certain areas as opposed to it being made available anywhere it is requested.

    finally – think about how this would be done by a non-govt entity. We already have this in certain resort-type communities where the water/sewer systems are private and in general the rates are higher -and the use allocation – restricted so that the system capacity is managed so that it performs as expected for the customers.

    Perhaps this is the problem. Perhaps, private companies should be handling water/sewer on a market basis and let that be the de-facto zoning paradigm.

    yes? no?

  17. […] important to let it become a partisan political issue. Read this blog from Bacon’s Rebellion: Smart Growth for Conservatives.  James Bacon makes some very convincing arguments that the things that smart growth is all about, […]

  18. larryg Avatar

    re: “Smart Growth” is a terribly co-opted phrase by green weenies, developers, and other zealots trying to cloak their cause in a good sound phrase.

    I note that it is now – the Coalition for SmartER Growth.

    A small but important distinction and an honest one that tells you up front, that it’s their view of what is smarter – not some totally distorted phrase that has lost all real meaning.

    I think we need to go back and re-examine what the goal of “smart(er) growth is” in a way that we can find agreement or at the very least know the parts where we seriously disagree.

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