Here are my initial responses to the 13 myths. Keep in mind, I'm a guy who doesn't believe all suburban growth is bad or that all urban growth is good. I'm a big fan of letting cities grow organically in a fiscally sustainable manner. That means you don't invest in heavy rail in settings that maybe more suitable for a streetcar or bus. By the same token, you also don't build expressways for the purpose of generating unsustainable low density sprawl.
Myth #1: Smart Growth Does Not Reduce Housing Affordability.
Rationing raises prices. Smart growth measures ration land by forcing higher densities through urban growth boundaries, excessive impact fees, down-zoning and other restrictions on development. This drives prices higher, making housing less affordable.
According to wikipedia, Smart growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in compact walkable urban centers to avoid sprawl. It also advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, complete streets, and mixed-use development with a range of housing choices. To be honest, what Cox describes can happen in both an urban and suburban environment. You don't "have to" ration prices in either development form. By the same token, encouraging the reuse of abandoned structures in blighted urban neighborhoods doesn't necessarily mean those neighborhoods end up being unaffordable.
Myth #2: Higher Densities Mean Less Traffic Congestion.
National and international evidence clearly shows higher densities increase traffic congestion. Per-capita travel by automobile may decline a bit as densities rise, but not enough to keep traffic from getting a lot worse. Adding more of anything to a constricted space--putting more people into smaller urban areas--increases crowding.
I'm of the belief that you can't significantly reduce traffic congestion unless people desert or a public entity limits the amount of growth that can take place along strained corridors. However, what you can do with increased density is actually give your population a realistic possibility of taking advantage of various mobility options to access everyday needs. The value in eliminating a percentage of these trips by automobile means there's less of a need to spend hundreds of millions widening and constructing new roads.
Myth #3. Lower Densities Mean Higher Costs of Government.
The smart-growth folks say we can â€œno longer affordâ€ our low-density life style, claiming higher taxes and fees are caused by lower densities. But the data show lower-density cities have lower expenditure levels than higher- density cities. Moreover, cities with newer housing stock (second- and third-ring suburbs) have lower public expenditures than central cities and first-ring suburbs.
I'd have to see what type of data he's analyzing but common sense says government has a higher cost if it has to invest in a $2 billion Outer Beltway to encourage growth instead of feeding that growth to corridors where we've already invested in the infrastructure.
Myth #4: Higher Densities Mean Less Air Pollution.
EPA research concludes air pollution emissions are higher where traffic speeds are slower, and emissions are higher where there is more stop-and-go traffic. Higher densities mean more traffic congestion, which in turn means slower traffic speeds and more stop-and-go travel. More tail pipes do not emit less pollution.
The point with higher densities in a walkable setting is that a larger percentage of your population would walk, bike, or use mass transit instead of only relying on a car to get around. If that's the case, you actually end up with less tail pipes. Neverhtheless, Cox seems to focus primarily on the automobile. I don't know what his infatuation is with Henry Ford's legacy but there are several other factors out their in reducing air pollution as well.
Myth #5: Central Cities Are the Victims of Suburban Growth.
Americaâ€™s central cities have lost population, while suburbs have gained. It does not, however, follow that city losses occurred because of suburban growth.
Over the past half-century, America has become increasingly urban, as rural residents have moved to urban areas, where they have accounted for much of suburban growth. And cities have driven away many who would have stayed. â€œCitiesâ€ are hardly the victims here. City residents are: residents who felt they had no choice but to leave, and even more so those who have no choice but to stay, captive to governments qualifying as third world by their performance.
Yes, I do believe that suburban growth has negatively impacted the health of central cities in general. The major reason is because we've subsidized infrastructure by utilizing money generated in the central cities to fuel greenfield development. At the same time, we've invested in new facilities in expanding areas and forgotten about preserving and maintaining those in older areas. In short, we've created an uneven market rate playing field. Strip the subsidies a way and I believe we'd see more even growth and development.
Myth #6: Rail Transit Reduces Traffic Congestion.
There is no evidence--none--that new rail transit has materially reduced traffic congestion in any urban area. Building rail is justified principally by an irresistible urge to spend taxpayersâ€™ money. The higher the cost, railvangelists claim, the greater the benefit. Of course, the historic rail systems serving the pre-automobile cores of New York, Chicago, Paris, London, Tokyo, or Hong Kong are essential. But Sioux City, Iowa is not Hong Kong. Neither, for that matter, is Portland.
I agree with Cox that rail transit doesn't reduce automobile traffic congestion. Rail transit simply provides a different mobility choice that is cheaper for public government to construct and maintain. It also spurs pedestrian scale development while roads spur autocentric development. With that said, I do believe that most rail systems could be constructed for significantly less than they actually end up being. In most cases, you'll see streets are completely rebuilt, transit systems designed to move more people that the environment they serve can generate, and expensive landscaping costs added to the capital construction costs of rail. It doesn't have to be that way. If you're interested in reducing traffic congestion, you'll have to modify land use policy to limit growth along new road corridors.
Myth #7: Rail Transit Is Needed for â€œTransportation Choice.â€
From Cincinnati to Austin, transit spending advocates quickly abandon their baseless traffic congestion claims when challenged. They shift to what they call â€œtransportation choiceâ€--the idea that building rail transit provides choices for people. But choices for whom? At most, rail transit serves the small percentage of people who work downtown--the only destination to which transit provides what can be considered automobile-competitive service. To provide genuine transit choice for all would require annual expenditures that rival the gross income of any urban area.
Rail transit is highly desirable if you want to encourage transit oriented development in a compact pedestrian scale setting. However, at the end of the day, all you need in a truly walkable urban environment is your two feet.
Myth #8: We Canâ€™t Built Our Way Out of Congestion.
This proceeds from the belief that new roadway capacity creates new traffic (the â€œinduced trafficâ€ effect)--suggesting a corollary that building more maternity wards would increase the birth rate. This leads to a further conclusion that, given enough road capacity, Americans will eventually spend 36 to 72 hours per day behind the wheel.
More rational minds at the Federal Highway Administration found little induced traffic effect, and even that withers away when travel time (rather than distance) is considered.
Yes, we can't build our way out of congestion without limiting the amount of growth that results in additional capacity being sucked away by car trips generated by that growth.
Myth #9: The Jobs-Housing Balance.
â€œPlanners,â€ the smart growth movement claim, should design transportation and land use so as to minimize the distance between work and home. This may be the most bankrupt, and surely the most arrogant, of the smart growth myths. Herding cats would have at least as high a probability of success.
According to Census data, barely 20 percent of households consider proximity to work as the principal reason for selecting their home neighborhood. A jobs-housing balance requires other balances as well--jobs-housing-education, jobs-housing-leisure, etc. Are â€œplannersâ€ really in the best position to decide?
The opposite of herding cats is complete chaos, which is what Cox wants. The end result of chaos that doesn't pay for itself is public bankruptcy. The true answer is somewhere in between. Cities should be allowed to develop a little more organically at the market rate level. If that happens, you'll see an environment that falls somewhere between what Cox and die hard Smart Growth advocates desire.
Myth #10: Higher Densities Mean A Lower Cost of Living.
Periodically, smart-growth studies emerge claiming household transportation expenditures are higher where densities are lower. But there is more to life than transportation. Housing and food expenditures are so much lower where densities are lower, that any transportation cost advantage for higher density areas is more than erased.
Cost of living ultimately depends on what an individual household is willing to do to save money. However, you're off to a great start in saving money whenever you can significantly reduce your transportation costs. This seems more like this guy is throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks to sink the image of the Smart Growth theory.
Myth #11: Europe Doesnâ€™t Sprawl.
American urban planners by the thousands have made overseas pilgrimages, frequenting sidewalk cafes across the street from the Louvre in Paris, wondering why Phoenix or Boston looks so different. What they fail to realize is that not even Paris is like Paris.
The few square miles of central Paris in which the myopic rail-bound pilgrims sit is in the middle of 1,000 square miles of urban sprawl. The situation is similar throughout Western Europe, where virtually all growth in urban areas has been suburban growth, and where virtually all major cities have experienced population losses. Urban population densities have fallen faster in Europe and Canada than in the United States.
Yes, there's sprawl in Europe. So what? In regards to urban densities falling, what time period is he using? If he's going back to the industrial revolution when people were stuffed into unsanitary spaces like rats, his whole argument is shaky.
Myth #12: Urbanization is Consuming Agricultural Land.
Until the Clinton Agriculture Department set them straight, this was one of the principal tenets of the smart-growth movement. In fact, some 400 years after Jamestown, as The Heritage Foundationâ€™s Ron Utt always reminds us, only 3 percent of the nation is urbanized: 97 percent of it is rural.
There is less agricultural land in the United States than there used to be, but not because it has been consumed by urbanization. Agriculture has become more productive. Since 1950, agricultural production has doubled, and more farmland than the area of Texas and Oklahoma combined has been returned to emptiness: open space.
Myth #13: Things are Going Our Way.
Anti-sprawl types often project their personal experiences into universal truths.
Transit ridership increases on a minuscule base are reported as if they represented a major switch in travel behavior; going from 10 riders to 20 represents a touted â€œ100 percent increase.â€ Friends move into chic new urban developments, leading some to claim people â€œare forsaking suburbsâ€ for the city.
Someone should teach these people to use simple reference books, like The World Almanac, which can be easily obtained at the nearest big box store.