In late February, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council issued its draft Thrive 2040 plan for public review. No one will be surprised to learn it is a standard smart-growth plan with lots of emphasis on transit, high-density housing in transit corridors, and reducing driving. Of course, this isn’t always obvious, as the plan uses euphemisms such as “affordable housing” when it means high-density housing and “orderly and efficient land use” when it means restricting development in rural areas.
Click image to download the 3.7-MB plan.
The Met Council calls it the Thrive plan because it wants to give the impression that, without government planning, the region will wither away and die. Of course, the Antiplanner believes the opposite is true, and that it would be more accurate to call it a poverty plan, since it will likely make housing unaffordable and require higher taxes, both of which will slow economic growth.
Why is it that cities that consider themselves most progressive also tend to have the most segregated schools and the greatest income inequality? UCLA economist Matthew Kahn offers one possible answer: “Educated liberals are tolerant people who are willing to live in racially integrated areas even if the minority neighbors are poor,” suggests Kahn. “Such liberals are more willing to vote for redistributionist policies and this may attract poor people to collect such transfers.”
This off-the-cuff answer sounds unlikely. The Antiplanner has a different suggestion. Progressives are more likely to give government power to try to control people’s lives. The planners who get that power are all middle-class people who use their power to try to design cities for middle-class people like them. This prices low-income people out of the market, putting them in inferior housing and neighborhoods with poorer schools.
Kahn’s own research finds that blacks are more likely to own their own homes in lower density urban areas (“sprawl”). Regions that try to control sprawl end up making housing unaffordable. In most of these regions, the liberals already own their own homes and don’t mind policies that keep others out of the housing market.
Those crazy planners at Smart Growth America are at it again: issuing another report all about how urban sprawl is bad and people are better off living in compact communities. Most news reports take it for granted that sprawl is evil and something ought to be done about it. But the report does devote all of three out of 51 pages to repeating claims about how sprawl makes housing unaffordable, transportation expensive, people fat, and lives shorter.
Almost all of these claims cite another report written back in 2010. Most of the claims are readily dismissed for several reasons.
First, some of the claims are based on models the planners made of cities and how they affect people, not on real life. For example, claims that transportation is less expensive in compact areas are based on models, not actual measurements. (They also fail to account for the huge differences in subsidies between transit and driving.)
When Oregon land-use laws and rules were written back in the 1970s, timber companies cut down trees, hauled them to the mill, cut them into boards, and sold them to homebuilders. Now, some homebuilders go into the forest, cut down trees, piece together a home on site, then carefully dismantle it to take to the homebuyer’s lot for final assembly.
The problem is that piecing together the home is considered secondary forest processing, which is illegal under Oregon land-use rules for land zoned “timber resource.” As a result, some log homebuilders are being regulated out of business.
The reasons for these rules are nonsensical. Oregon is not going to run out of forest land. According to the Department of Agriculture’s 2007 National Resources Inventory, all of the developed land in Oregon, including both urban and rural developments, amounts to just 2.2 percent of the state. The density of Oregon urban areas is only about 20 percent greater than the national average, so if those rules didn’t exist, the amount of developed land would probably only be about 2.6 percent of the state. Half the land is federal and most of it is never going to be developed.
What should be done about the nation’s rustbelt cities–or, as they are being repackaged by marketers, “Legacy Cities“? The populations of at least a dozen major cities declined by more than 10 percent between 2000 and 2010, including Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and of course Detroit and New Orleans (whose population decline has little to do with the rest of them). In many cases, such as Pittsburgh and St. Louis (which declined between 8 and 9 percent in the 2000s), recent declines are merely a continuation of trends since 1950.
Click image to download the report (7.6 MB).
A new report from the Lincoln Land Institute offers a set of prescriptions for these cities. While they may sound good at first glance, close scrutiny reveals that they are the same tired policies that have been trotted out by urban planners for decades.
Washington state property rights advocates have taken inspiration from Florida’s repeal of its 1985 growth-management mandate (counties in Florida are now allowed but not required to practice growth management). Since Washington’s 1991 law was modeled on the Florida law, it is possible that the Northwest state could follow Florida’s example.
The Senate Governmental Operations Committee is holding a work session on this question, and my written testimony emphasizes that the costs of the greatly exceed its benefits, especially since most of the benefits are imaginary. On Monday, Dan said it might be more useful if I were to talk about the tunnel under Seattle, but that’s not the subject of the hearing.
That tunnel is expected to cost $4.25 billion, and it may be a boondoggle, but this is actually peanuts compared with the cost growth management has imposed on housing. In 2012, about 8,000 new homes were built in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Those homes probably cost at least $200,000 more apiece than they would have without growth management, a total cost of about $1.6 billion. Of course, even more homes were being built each year before 2008, so the total cost over several years could quickly reach $10 billion.
The Antiplanner has been asked to talk about “Utah’s Unified Transportation Plan: 2011-2040,” prepared by the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah Transit Authority, and metropolitan planning organizations for Logan, Orem, Salt Lake-Ogden, and St. George. While that’s an impressive title and seemingly an impressive line-up of planning organizations, this is not a plan at all. Instead, it is just a wish-list of projects that the agencies would like taxpayers to fund.
Rational planners are supposed to set goals, identify a broad range of alternative ways of meeting those goals, estimate the benefits and costs of each alternative, use that information to develop an alternative that provides the most cost-effective approach, and then monitor to make sure the plan is really working as expected. This so-called unified plan, however, has no alternatives, no estimates of benefits, no cost-effectiveness analysis, no monitoring of past plans, and no evidence that any of this sort of information was used in coming up with the list of projects that dominates the document.
On top of that, trying to write a unified plan for all state transportation facilities, regional transit systems, and metropolitan areas makes the task all the more difficult. Of course, each agency that contributed to this unified plan has written its own plan and this wish-list is merely a summation of those plans. But I strongly suspect the plans written by the agencies are just as bad.
The Antiplanner is flying to Salt Lake City today to speak at a legislative forum tomorrow sponsored by the Sutherland Institute. The topic will be Utah’s 30-year transportation plan. Since the Antiplanner is skeptical about our ability to know things even five years in advance, you can imagine what I’ll be saying about a 30-year plan.
Thursday, I’ll be in Olympia, Washington to speak at a Senate Governmental Operations Committee work session about growth-management planning. My main message will be that growth-management created many more problems than it solved. Most important, according to Coldwell Banker, the price of a 2,200-square-foot house in Seattle is more than three times the price of a similarly sized house in Houston.
Friday I’ll be in Lake Oswego, Oregon, talking about a proposed “high-capacity transit” line to Tigard, Oregon. The term high-capacity transit is a joke, as Portland’s light-rail system can’t run more than two cars in a train (due to the city’s short blocks) and no more than 20 trains an hour. At 150 people per car, that’s 6,000 people per hour. A good busway could move nearly ten times that many people.
In any case, if I get a chance, I’ll try to post some updates over the next few days.
When the Antiplanner read the headline–”Suburban sprawl cancels carbon-footprint savings of dense urban cores”–I thought this was going to be just another smart-growth study. But the study by University of California (Berkeley) researchers actually makes some good points.
People living in dense centers of large urban areas tend to have low carbon footprints. But those dense centers are invariably surrounded by low-density suburbs, as if dense areas cannot exist in isolation from low-density areas. (The reverse isn’t true: some low-density areas, such as Phoenix and San Jose, have no dense centers.)
So is the solution to increase suburban densities, as smart-growth advocates claim? Nope. “Increasing population density in suburbs is even more problematic,” says one of the researchers. “Surprisingly, population dense suburbs have significantly higher carbon footprints than less dense suburbs, due largely to higher incomes and resulting consumption.” I was wondering when someone else would notice that: density increases land prices which makes housing less affordable for low-income people. Moreover, those dense suburbs themselves are surrounded by lower-density suburbs of their own.
California’s S.B. 375 mandates that cities increase the population densities of targeted neighborhoods because everyone knows that people drive less and higher densities and transit-oriented developments relieve congestion. One problem, however, is that transportation models reveal that increased densities actually increase congestion, as measured by “level of service,” which measures traffic as a percent of a roadway’s capacity and which in turn can be used to estimate the hours of delay people suffer.
The California legislature has come up with a solution: S.B. 743 exempts cities from having to calculate and disclose levels of service in their environmental impact reports for densification projects. Instead, the law requires planners to come up with alternative measures of the impacts of densification.
On Monday, December 30, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research released a “preliminary evaluation of alternative methods of transportation analysis. The document notes that one problem with trying to measure levels of service is that it is “difficult and expensive to calculate.” Well, boo hoo. Life is complicated, and if you want to centrally plan society, if you don’t deal with difficult and expensive measurement problems, you are going to botch things up even worse than if you do deal with those problems.