My friend Scott Greider left some well-written commentary on The Good City’s post about our recent reboot that focuses on market-driven urbanism. I encourage you to read his entire comment here, but below is the paragraph I’d like to interact with:
All things being equal, yes, the market tends to work best. But all things are NOT equal. It’s far easier, cheaper, and more profitable to develop/live/worship/do business in Sprawlville than it is in the City. So while I’m committed to “market-driven” approaches (indeed, I live/work/play/worship downtown), they just won’t work here apart from massive government involvement.
Well… I’d say I’m suspicious of “massive government involvement,” and I think it’s for good reason. It’s massive government involvement in two specific ways that actually helped create and support the American suburbs:
- The federal government’s post-war spending on highways, which artificially lowered the cost of driving your own car.
- The federal government’s post-war subsidizing of mortgages for single-family homes,which didn’t cover existing housing or apartments and which encouraged residence-only subdivisions along all those new highways.
Of course, the suburbs would have certainly existed to some extent without government involvement, but federal spending was a huge impetus for the incredible spread of suburbia. And the current spending on highways and other infrastructure continues the trend. This is why I’d say that, in general, limiting government spending and expanding private property rights is the true solution to bringing some balance to the growth of a city.
But that’s the ideal. What do we do now that the Interstate and the suburbs exist? Are there places the city should spend to restore some urban/suburban balance? Perhaps. Are there some zoning ordinances and regulations the city should relax? Likely. But it’s all in the particulars, which is what this blog will explore for what I hope is a long time to come. And I certainly hope Scott and others keep contributing to the conversation!
— Photo from Flickr by Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership