(April 1, 2013) – Traditional "Large Lot Zoning" is "Greener" than "Smart Growth" within Urban Growth Boundaries . . . Copyright 2009 – 2013 . . . Tom Lane . . . Photographing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington
Above: So called “sprawl” in north Reno on barren sagebrush, adjacent to US-395.
(Nov. 29, 2010) (Under Construction.) This web site highlights the aesthetic ugliness of smart growth architecture and concomitant urban planning, and demonstrates the economic consequences of urban growth boundaries. However, I have not adequately addressed the public’s motivations for controlling growth, and have offered very few alternative solutions to sprwal or smart growth.
Clearly, both sprwal and smart growth are aesthetically undesirable and unsustainable, with negative externalities. Theoretically, the population of humans, animals, or plants – if left unchecked – can eventually consume all resources. There is no such thing as “sustainable” growth, since every town has a finite quantity of natural resource, and growth cannot occur indefinitely. Whether growth is “smart” or not, all resources are eventually consumed.
There is a limit to the population size of every town in the US. To be specific, Las Vegas, NV cannot expand from 2 million to 5 million, without consuming all the water in Lake Meade. There is a limit to groundwater supplies in Arizona, and the Rio Grande only brings so much water to Albuquerque. Water depletion will occur whether growth is uncontrolled as sprawl, or controlled within high density smart growth dwellings within urban growth boundaries.
One could pipe water to these towns from Northern Nevada and South Central Colorado. However, such an endeavor would be quite costly, and with global warming and diminished tax receipts from the foreclosure crisis, such a project is unlikely in the near future. Therefore, Matthew Kahn of UCLA offers an alternative outlook in his book “Climatopolis,” suggesting that we’ll move north from the deserts, to economically struggling Detroit, as the weather warms.
Therefore, if these places run out of water, why does it matter if Vegas, Phoenix, and Albuquerque ever decide to grow with controls or not? (Note: Albuquerque now has growth management.) All three cities large yards and wide streets within gated communities (i.e. urban villages). This will probably occur indefinitely due to local political and planning paradigms.
From the west side of Albuquerque, this is looking east to the Sandia Mountains in the evening (turning pink at sunset, hence the name “Sandia” Mountains). The green horizontal strip in the center of the photo is the Rio Grande Valley, and also the older eastern areas of Albuquerque, with mature deciduous trees:
Here’s another look at Albuquerque from undeveloped land (as of 2007), looking southeast from the westside from the City of Rio Rancho, down into the Rio Grande Valley (Corrales in the foreground), with the Sandia Mountains to the left:
The Rio Grande begins in south central Colorado, and thewatershed includes the magnificent agricultural San Luis Valley at 7500,’ with the growth managed very small towns of Baca Grande and Crestone, noted for alternative religions such as Buddhism:
Las Vegas, Nevada receives water from Lake Mead, formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. Here’s a photo of the lake from a hike on Fortification Hill (in Lake Mead National Recreation Area). Beyond the lake are the River Mountains, followed by the Las Vegas valley in the far distance, and the Spring Mountains in the far distance. The second photos shows a falling water line along the shores of Lake Mead:
The sprawling Las Vegas Valley can’t be shown by one photograph from any of its interstates. From Henderson and , this view looks northwest to the “skyline,” along with nearby Henderson residential areas:
Nevertheless, property owners and renters alike, including in these desert cities, wish to maintain the “green” aspects of their community. Excess growth is viewed as not green. Clearly, sprwal is a major motivating factor for cities to adopt growth controls, especially urban growth boundaries. However, since urban growth boundaries increase land and housing prices, resulting in housing crashes and unemployment, then they are not the best answer to the “green problem.” See Dr. Jerry Anthony’s review, “State Growth Management and Housing Prices.“
The most recent version of an ongoing study, Soul of the Community, (November 2010) from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, showed that Americans in 26 cities studied by Gallup, highly value parks, playgrounds, and trails.
In reviewing the study, it’s clear that this isn’t related to whether or not the surveyed City (or, its respective State) has growth management policies or not. People always want parks, but most Americans if surveyed would likely not want more impact fees and urban growth boundaries. The study was discussed by syndicated columnist Neal Pearce today, see this link in the Denver Post (Nov. 28, 2010).
Furthermore, Dr. Gerald Carlino and Dr. Albert Saiz found that cities who invested in natural and other amenities had faster rate of growth. Therefore, providing green infrastructure with public policy is economically healthy. However, this development does not have to take the form of “smart growth” or urban growth boundaries. That is where I differ from many like minded environmentalists who favor these “traditional” methods of growth controls.
For example, although smart growth started in the 1960′s, many traditional “non-smart growth” downtown have existed for years, connecting people for community events such as concerts and farmers’ markets. For example, here is the Plaza in Santa Fe, and the Cathedral near the Plaza in Albuquerque. They have both served as public gathering places since the 1600′s. “Smart growth” had nothing to do with their implementation:
By “traditional,” I mean methods developed by the generation before me, the baby boomers. I hope that is not meant as an insult! However, the Democrats were just thrown out of Congress, as the boomers themselves now see that we have too many regulations (including on growth). And, in the right sidebar of this blog, I have listed about a dozen Professors who recognize economic and social problems with urban growth boundaries and other regulations.
Growth controls are nearly 50 years old. Boulder, Colorado established an urban growth boundary around the entire city in the late 1960′s. By the early 1970′s, the State of Oregon passed a statewide system requiring urban growth boundaries for every city. This was replicated by other states, including Florida and Washington by the early 1990′s.
Many cities in California elected to establish UGB’s, and Matthew Kahn suggests that liberal cities are more inclined to adopt growth controls. The controversial practice of smart growth has become very popular in the last decade, and is the latest trend in the long history of architectural design and urban planning.
Nevertheless, most states do not have statewide growth control. Texas governor Rick Perry (R) vetoed the State legislature’s statewide plan in June, 2009. Overall, states without statewide controls have healthier economies with lower unemployment and less foreclosures (i.e. Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico). On the Texanomics blog, for the last five years, Conservative Texas has produced 75% of the nation’s new jobs, with Utah in 2nd place at 5%, and North Dakota at 4%.
Even Left leaning Austin has added 14,000 jobs in the past year! -
There is no question that Left leaning states are “just not doing well,” two years after the stock market crash. Oregon, with its strict urban growth boundary requirements and restrictions on timber and natural gas, only grew at approx. 0.7% from 2008-2009, the lowest annualized rate since 1986. See the study results from Portland State University.
Right leaning Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Utah are doing much better, and all states are fiscally conservative. In addition, they also have conservative Protestant religions, and Utah has conservative Mormons. Perhaps conservative religious groups are also fiscally conservative, and that may discourage growth management laws?
In addition, all these states have high extrovert and agreeableness character scores, demonstrating that residents get along well with their neighbors and colleagues, and are interested in family life and friendships. Perhaps this contributes to a pro-business, pro-growth environment? Perhaps City Councils who are extroverted would be less likely to pass impact fees and growth regulations on their neighbors, due to a stronger sense of community?
Here is one series of interactive maps on US religion:
Here is another map of dominant religion in every US County from, CLICK to enlarge:
It’s possible that a sense of community keeps economics afloat. Indeed, even far-left Boulder with its urban growth boundary, only has 6% unemployment. That figure has remained unchanged since the stock market crash in Nov. 2008. Why? That’s a striking anomaly. Yet Boulder is far left, so the conservative religion theory would not apply. However, perhaps Boulder has a sense of community due to its Socialistic polices and inclusiveness of diversity, much like San Francisco and Seattle?
Indeed, there are “liberal communities” that are exclusive of flag waving conservatives. My conservative readers despise these places: Santa Cruz, San Francisco, West L.A., Palm Springs, Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Ashland (OR), etc. As an independent, I’m also not a big fan of their high taxes and regulations. Except for the flag waving conservatives (who reside outside of the UGB, anyway!), these communities tolerate ethnic minorities, gays, Jews, Muslims, Asians, Native Americans, Fundamentalists, Mormons, Scientoligists, and so on.
There is, in a sense, a secular religion of “tolerance” present in these places, that creates a sense of community predicated on open mindedness. The aforementioned Soul of the Community surveys finds that Boulder scores high on openness.
Indeed, with the exception of Wallmart and car dealers, the planning commissions in liberal cities are indifferent to either the type of business, or, the type of applicant. Many red states have a long way to go in terms of welcoming ethnic minorities and gays as small businesses. That’s why they move to large left leaning cities.
On the other hand, left leaning cities can be bad for big businesses. For example, if a car dealer or Wallmart wants to build on a wetland in a large left city, they may have to buy their way in with huge campaign contributions to Republicans, who can negotiate a way around the restrictions.
Taken together, it’s clear that our red and blue cities do not like each others’ politics.
Nevertheless, truth be told, people choose cities based on socioeconomic, lifestyle, and religious factors. The founding fathers intended for our nation to be religiously and ethically diverse, and that clearly is demonstrated as you travel across the red and blue landscape, and the counties on the religion map above. Unfortunately, discrimination against certain individuals from all directions still exists, and whether it will ever end remains to be seen.
I show photos of Albuquerque and Santa Fe here, since compared to many other relatively conservative cities, Albuquerque and Santa Fe both value environmental quality, organic farms, and alternative transportation, especially cycling. Albuquerque was ranked as the 5th fittest city by Men’s Fitness magazine.
However, there are many white liberal environmentalists who believe they are superior to other ethnicities. Recently, Christian Lander wrote two racist books profiling “rich liberal white hipsters” - “Stuff White People Like,” and “Whiter Shades of Pale.”
These ridiculous books glorify white liberal environmentalists as mountain bike riding, latte drinking vegetarians who drive Priuses, wear fleece, and eat organic free range chickens. Mr. Lander defines what Joel Kotkin describes as “The Secular Left,” represented by environmental left wing radicals, who share little in common with traditional working class Democrats. In fact, Democrats in Albuquerque represent the base of the Democratic party to a much greater extent than those in San Francisco or Seattle. Kotkin’s article on this group, entitled “The Next Culture War,” is why this blog will never receive funding or contributions from the far left’s special interest groups.
Lander’s books are an absolute slap in the face of any person of color who is an environmentalist, i.e. in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Former Albuquerque Hispanic Mayor Martin J. Chavez was internationally recognized in establishing his City as a leader in sustainable practices. The City has a great bike trail network and several independently owned food co-ops. The entire North Valley of Albuquerque is owned by Hispanics, who have run family farms since the City’s founding in the 1600′s. Many of these farms are organic. I attended the Lavender Festival in July 2007:
Note the Marin brand bike, after Marin County in the mostly white, upscale San Francisco area. Racist Mr. Lander fails to understand . Mr. Lander fails to recognize that we no longer point out our differences. Yes, there are “rich white liberals” who exhibit certain characteristics and live “smart growth lifestyles” in Boulder, Seattle, and San Francisco. However, as a nation, we no longer point out our differences. His books are a disgrace, an outrage!
Smart growth and urban growth boundaries raise housing prices, and drive people of color out of town, who cannot survive rising rents, and are not employed in the same ratios as whites are, at companies such as Microsoft, Intel, Weyerhauser, and Boeing (i.e. the Superstar City concept, ref. below).
“Q: (Columnist) How did you pick the locales for “Whiter Shades of Pale”?
A: (Christian Lander) I traveled around on a lot of book tours and did a lot of college lectures. I thought about places I would live. And any place where property values have outstripped the means of people of average income.”
True liberals (in the classic sense of the word) should be against smart growth, since they (we) are inclusive of diversity (references below).
I have personally seen smart growth (i.e. urban renewal districts) cause separation of whites, in their own brand new expensive lofts/condos in smart growth neighborhoods, in San Francisco, Seattle, and the Boulder-Denver metro.
Univerisity of Washington Professor of Economics Dr. Theo Eicher found that impact fees and permit delays added $200,000 to the cost of a home in Seattle. This is unacceptable and immoral.
Joel Kotkin points out in the Wall Street Journal that New York, L.A., and Chicago show a decline in middle class jobs and neighborhoods, with a “growing bifurcation between the affluent and the poor.” Increasing rents drive out the middle class, who move to what he calls “efficient cities,” such as Raliegh-Durham, North Carolina, the fastest growing metro area.
Indeed, true liberals in the Adam Smith Laissez Faire capitalistic sense are represented by tea partiers, who favor lower taxes, and equal opportunities for everyone. In fact, the Albuquerque tea party was sponsored by the non-partisan Rio Grande Foundation, and broadcast on politically independent radio station KIVA-AM (1550), owned by Don Davis. I have been a listener to the station, and I know that Mr. Davis accepted no political advertising in the fall of 2008.
True liberals are not the Obama far left, who continues to sponsor foreign wars and expensive mass transit and smart growth, while failing to foster entrepreneurism with lower taxes.
True liberals also are live and let live, favoring both gun rights and gay rights, and favor generic Medicare For All, versus more laws restricting health insurance care (i.e. Obama care).
True liberals also want to decrease unemployment, by increasing dometic energy use. Therefore, we favor increased domestic coal, both coastal and terrestrial drilling, clean coal, and natural gas.
Note that new Colorado Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper also favors this list, which is opposed by rich white elitists.
Mr. Lander’s book divides the gap between so called “rednecks” and city dwellers, who are also seperated by the Urban Growth Boundary.
Overall, the Obama-hijacked Socialist Democrat party and folks such as Mr. Lander do not wish to help the middle class find housing in expensive cities! Again, we need another Martin Luther King. In 2012, I will vote again for pro-blue collar jobs Liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich for President (vs. Socialist Democrat Obama).
Finally, sadly, I anticipate that – as a white person – for the rest of my life, I will encounter less non-white people in white urban environments as time goes on, due to smart growth policies. This is sad, since our Cities are strong because of their diversity.
Due to expensive smart growth and urban growth boundaries driving the poor and ethnic minorities out of cities, I see racial tensions increasing in my lifetime.
My parents’ home in a suburb 20 miles outside of a Superstar city is now over 50% non-white, due to strong smart growth policies in the central city. When I was born, my parents’ area was 95% white, and minorities could afford to live in the central city.
Finally, check out my other posts on smart growth driving the poor out of cities such as: http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/democrats-opposed-to-smart-growth-as-smart-growth-drives-minorities-and-the-poor-out-of-seattle-and-superstar-cities/
Superstar Cities, by Dr. Joe Gyuourko of the Wharton School of Real Estate, where I summarized the article summarized for the public (w/ statistics removed): http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/2010/06/15/why-are-some-towns-so-expensive/
And, check out the Seattle Displacement Coaltion speaking against smart growth, since the condos displace Affordable Housing. Do you know of any similar advocacy organizations? – http://www.zipcon.net/~jvf4119/
Entering New Mexico south on US-285 from Colorado; ancient volcano in the distance:
Smart growth proponents correctly show that Cities have lost their sense of community. They attempt to re-connect people with small lots facing the street, street cafes with independent businesses, and “mixed-use” areas with shopping, condos, and dog parks.
The question remains – is there demand for this development? It clearly depends on the market. When I was in college, I hated living in dorms, with a roomate in a 10′ by 10′ room. Neighbors on my floor didn’t like each other, I changed residence halls only to find something worse, and it felt like living in jail.
However, I would have preferred a smart growth condo on the campus with a loft, and a place to cook my own food (instead of eating the MSG contaminated dorm food). So yes, there is a market for smart growth in isolated scenarios, such as college towns.
I’ve previously mentioned a possible demand in the college / retirement town of Ashland, Oregon, although, that’s only from the perspective of an outside observer. Another possibility is ski towns, where geographic constraints (Saiz ref) may limit available land to development, yet surging demand for seasonal housing (ski in winter, mountain bike in summer), Furthermore, the year round residents frequently love trees and dislike sprwal. For example, the Sierra ski town of Mammoth Lakes, CA has an urban growth boundary, and Lake Tahoe has TRPA (the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority).
Yet in large metros closer to sea level, young professionals eventually get married, and want to live in a house with a backyard for their kids. Yet modern smart growth offers garage alleys instead of backyards. This is an unusual trend worthy of architectural debate. And, urban growth boundaries limit supply and drive up housing costs. They may also have an amenity affect and actually increase demand, by increasing requirements for greenbelts and open space.
Therefore, the American dream of home ownership with private backyards isn’t met by smart growth, since lots are too small and it’s too expensive. Furthermore, when density is so high, there isn’t much privacy between units:
Small businesses are suddenly in trouble with UGB’s and smart growth. Impact fees and wetland protections are two significant issues. Business owners may end up paying City Councils and state legislatures huge amounts of campaign donations, in return for favors. I don’t blame business owners for doing this. Politicians have gone too far with their regulations. This is all very unfortunate, and has clearly contributed to the campaign finance debate.
Indeed, Conservative Supreme Court justices in January, 2010 struck down laws that prohibited corporations from giving money to political candidates. It is unfortunate that this would even come before the Supreme Court, and reflects how much corporate influence exists in American politics. Tonight on 60 minutes, retired Justice John Paul Stevens explained to CBS reporter Scott Pelley why he was opposed to the decision.
Matthew Kahn demonstrates in Climatopolis how water supply could ultimately stop growth in the desert, and people will migrate to Detroit. Smart growth proponents also complain of diminishing forests and farmland near urban areas.
While this is true, Fischel discusses that this is a misperception, as we tend to generalize local congestion as what’s going on everywhere. Most counties consist of significant amounts of farms and forest. Fischel calculates that 97% of the US would still be open space, even if every family of four owned an acre. Ref: See pages one and two of a Google preview of his book “Economics of Zoning Laws: A Property Rights Approach to American Land Use Controls.” http://books.google.com/books/jhu?id=wlKAfvuP59EC&pg=PA1&dq=one+acre+per+house&cd=1#v=onepage&q=one%20acre%20per%20house&f=false
Therefore, we would not run out of farmland if we integrated housing units within agricultural land, as I discuss at this post on farmland preservation.
Here’s a nice neighborhood in Bellevue, Washington with large homes on large lots and native trees. Certainly, this is much greener than the crowded smart growth neighborhood of Talus in Issaquah shown above. The two neighborhoods are just 12 minutes apart.
Smart growth proponents like urban growth boundaries, since they “stop” growth. However, they really don’t, because these boundaries are expanded every few years as populations expand. In the State of Oregon, they are revised every 20 years. The Portland metro has continued to grow, and the UGB has not kept sprwal under control.
Due to human biology, the only thing that “stops” human population growth is a lack of resources. Therefore, sprwal is inevitable whether urban growth boundaries are imposed or not. It follows that urban growth boundaries are not managing growth. Instead, they stall growth in increments, until they are expanded 20 years later.
And, the smart growth proponents discuss peak oil, and the need to live closer to “urban centers.” However, this argument fails to recognize that lettuce and beef are trucked thousands of miles, wasting gasoline. And, Grist members (I appreciate your readership here), realize this, and advocate for intercity urban farming, even in downtown New York City.
Grist author Kerry Trueman writes that large (smart growth) condos are built over vegetable gardens in major cities. This tragedy demonstrates the viability of mixing land uses together, instead of one line separating farmland, from homes and condos with no gardening space.
Smart growth proponents also complain of greenhouse gases, and how mass transit, walking, and bicycling will reduce this. However, with high density – a requirement of smart growth and some growth control laws – traffic and air pollution deter bicyclists and pedestrians. One has to look at cities without high density to find higher percentages of cyclists and pedestrians (i.e. 20% walk or bike to work in Ashland, Oregon; 50% in Ithaca, NY).
Well, I’m not a socialist so that wouldn’t be me! However, I do have an environmental ethic, and choose to live in low density cities with lots of open space. I do think that under 80,000 is best, but that’s just my view.
Many suburbs in cities of several million have bike paths, Arboretums, local environmental groups, and community gardens. However, these cities have huge air pollution problems, heavy traffic, high density, high crime, and other externalities of sprwal.
If more people had an environmental ethic, they would leave and live off the grid on permaculture gardens. Yet smart growth proponents cannot force this behaviour, either in small cities or large cities. These are personal choices. Furthermore, people move to sprawling cities to meet people as discussed by Edward Glaeser and Joshua Gottlieb in their Harvard article Urban Resurgence and the Consumer City. Companionship and love are fundamental human needs, and small growth controlled suburbs, or remote towns with UGB’s and state imposed growth restrictions (i.e. Bend, Oregon) may or may not provide them.
However, people aren’t going to learn about nature packed in smart growth condos. I grew up on one acre in a semi-rural area 20 miles from the downtown area. I believe that all future generations should have this same opportunity. Remember, Dr. William Fischel says there’s plenty of land for this in the lower 48.
Bellevue, Washington (next to Seattle, pop. 130,000) features large lots, and a spacious downtown with wide streets that are bike and pedestrian friendly, providing a City meeting what are essentially smart growth principles. And, people can find other people, as Glaeser and Gottlieb discuss. Here’s a bike rack on Kemper Freeman’s Bellevue Square, with the skybridge leading to Lincoln Square:
This question does not have a yes or no answer. Let’s start with the question of energy. First, because of peak oil, national security, and greenhouse gases, we need to increase gas mileage.
Courtesy of my local Ford dealer, I learned from a fancy brochure that the new 2010 Ford Ranger now gets 27 mpg. That’s terrific. My old now deceased truck only got 18 mpg. Now, we need hybrid Ford Ranger trucks. We also need natural gas rangers.
However, the last several Presidents, including Obama, have failed in many ways to get us off foreign oil. For example, we could start converting the vehicle fleet to natural gas. Newly elected Colorado Governor and Exploratory Geologist John Hickenlooper proposes that one out of every four large trucks run on natural gas. Bob Brinker and Dr. Bill Wattenburg propose that Obama order all new federal vehicles to run on natural gas – in order to stimulate the American automakers to do this for the public.
Yet there are many public officials who do not share these environmental goals. In Oregon, DLCD Director Richard Whitman and DSL Director Louise Solliday refused to allow a new LNG (liquified natural gas pipeline) and were sued by the gas company Pacific Connector LP.
Back to the question of lot sizes, one must recognize that most people work in the suburbs. Light rail that radiates to downtown areas may not work for cities who are not located along linear geographic features.
Furthermore, with lower density, people traveling from their suburb of residence, to their suburb of employment, travel faster on peripheral 4 lane boulevards, with increased gas mileage. Compare that to getting stuck in traffic in high density smart growth Boulder, Colorado, or Eugene, Oregon, where my sinusitis flared up after just a few days of visiting due to the pollution.
Well, of course, the energy suggestions as above. And, also require that all new government buildings be required to have passive solar design, in order to stimulate this in the private sector. And, increase lot sizes to decrease density and to allow space for urban gardening to prevent importing lettuce and tomatoes by way of fossil fuels from California.
I’m a free market guy, but when it comes to national security and energy independence, we need better foreign leadership. I supported Dennis Kunicich twice when he ran for President. He is also against free trade agreements that have increased global CO2 emissions and fossil fuel use, by consuming huge amounts of oil to import goods from overseas.
If we have more hybrid cars, electric cars, and vehicles on natural gas, then we don’t have to worry about peak oil, national security, and CO2. Let’s worry about that first before density restrictions and mass transit corridors.
And, return the urban planning profession back to its original roots – beautification. Instead of worrying about density restrictions, concentrate on increasing amenities, in an effort to drive community entrepreneurism, as the previously studies from Soul of the Community, Carlino and Saiz all suggest.
And, of course, don’t use impact fees to pay for public facilities, since that hurts small businesses, and they won’t come to your town in the first place. Intead, bring new businesses into town, and use sales taxes and property taxes. In addition, mobilize volunteer and philanthrophic groups hungry for work, such as Arboretum foundations, Native Plant societies, and the International Mountain Bike Association (as I discuss in this post).
Mix farmland with housing, so that farms can become an amenity, with farmers providing farmers markets just a few hundred yards from their farms. Relegating farmland beyond urban growth boundaries eliminates the interactions between farmers and urban dwellers, that would otherwise economically benefit both sides, while eliminating imports of lettuce and tomatoes from California.
I think that most blue collar Republican small business owners, who are tired of high impact fees from growth management, would agree with these viewpoints. And, I think that despite Christian Lander’s racist book, that most white collar “rich liberals” would also agree, since they’re on the global warming train, eat organic lettuce, and drive Priuses.
As the “Voice of Independence” on smart growth, I hope everyone can agree, but somebody won’t, so please post below.
Santa Fe, New Mexico countryside w/ large lot sizes and traditional fence: