Declares or Declared?

“California Declares War on the Suburbs,” reports Wendell Cox’s op ed in the Wall Street Journal (or at least the headline so reports). This has led to all sort of supporting commentary in the conservative blogosphere, along with articles from the left that claims Cox is full of it.

All the Antiplanner wants to know is why anyone thinks this war on the suburbs is anything new? Cox’s article referred to a proposal “to require more than one-half of the new housing in Los Angeles County and five other Southern California counties to be concentrated in dense, so-called transit villages.” But this is really nothing new.

California’s war on single-family homes and suburbs began more than 30 years ago. As a result of that war, 95 percent of California residents are concentrated in a little more than 5 percent or the state’s land area. Oregon’s war on the suburbs, which began about the same time, means that 80 percent of Oregon residents are confined to less than 1-1/2 percent of the state.

California urbanized areas are 84 percent denser, on average, than urbanized areas in the rest of the United States. Oregon urbanized areas are also considerably denser than average. Hawaii’s war on sprawl began even earlier than California’s, and densities there are 80 percent greater than average. By comparison, population densities in Texas–which has the least intrusive land-use policies–are almost identical for the average of the nation as a whole. (For really low density urban areas, you have to go to New Hampshire and South Carolina.)

Contrary to claims, the war on suburbs is no hoax, nor has it just been declared. It is a serious, on-going issue that won’t go away without a major overhaul of state and local planning philosophies.

Update: The California Republican Caucus offers its analysis of the issue.


21 thoughts on “Declares or Declared?

  1. LazyReader

    Everytime we declare war on something it meets with failure largely because we go far beyond what we originally intended. We tried to stop that whole drug problem; we ended up turning Columbia into a warzone, Mexico into a practically 51st state and turned small rural villagers into the most well armed and powerful militias in the Western World.

    The hatred of suburban housing goes as far back as the previous century. It was first an attempt by upper middle class residents to keep the working class “rifraff” out. Early since inauguration, the Obama Administration has embarked upon a campaign against suburban development, seeking to force most future urban development into far more dense areas. Obama said it himself, he finds the suburbs boring. Nearly since the pace of suburbanization increased, after World War II critics were foretelling the demise of the suburbs. During the 50s and 60s, some planning “visionaries” such as Peter Blake were predicting widespread municipal bankruptcies in the suburbs and for residents. This was occurring even as other urban planners were tearing up cities with urban renewal projects and freeways, setting the stage for “block-busting” and an ever-widening racial divide. But the real decline has always been in cities that are too big and taxpayer subsidies are arranged to keep them that way, central cities that would have or went bankrupt, not the suburbs. Examples include New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and that jewel of municipal consolidation, Indianapolis, rescued in 2008 by $1 billion in state taxpayer funds. New York is always on the verge of some impending fiscal crisis. You want to live in the city fine, do what Sandy Springs did. While others cities large and small are hiking taxes, creating new taxes or cutting back on services.

    During the Clinton years, Al Gore visited all the meetings hosted by the Congress of New Urbanism and wrote detailed notes on how they plan towns and cities. Surprisingly he never once mentioned any transformations or attempts to introduce said policies during his candidacy which comes to no surprise to me; of course not, he didn’t want to dis the tens of millions of suburban “potential voters” he had come to call friends by telling them that their days in the suburbs are numbered. He certainly cant give us tips on how to save energy from his 10,000 square foot mansion. Cities are always on the verge of some sort of fiscal calamity.

  2. Andrew

    No point building housing for places that will be inaccessible due to ever shrinking fuel supplies.

    Latest 52 week moving average of oil products supplied in US = 18,741,000 barrels per day = level of product supplied in August of 1998. Latest 13 week moving average = 18,264,000 barrels per day in April of 2012 = level of product supplied in April of 1996. All 13 week periods since July of 1997 have seen more fuel supplied. This present fuel supply level includes 800,000 barrels per day of much maligned ethanol, which was next to non-existant as part of the supply in the mid-1990’s. Discounting the addition of ethanol to the supply, we are at supply levels seen in Spring 1992.

    Price was $23 per barrel in 1996 and $107 per barrel in 2012. Both prices equalled 17 ounces of fine gold. Price in 1992 was $20 per barrel, which also equalled 17 ounces of fine gold.

    Call it the internal combustion engine fuel availability death watch.

    You may now firmly reinsert your head into the sand and continue bleating for more auto-only suburban development.

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    The world has been running out of oil since the first oil well was drilled. Nothing remarkable about that. Things have value and a price precisely because they are finite.

    Oil supplied is not the same as available production capacity. Production capacity is a great deal more than that. There is actually a great deal of capacity idled or sitting in storage. But, the supply numbers mate with something that is altogether unprecedented in US history. Total US domestic demand for gasoline has been falling for three years straight. This is unprecedented even in the midst of a recession. What it represents is the choice of US consumers to seek and utilize alternatives.

    Andrew Reply:

    Everyone is so confused about this. It is not an issue of running out of oil. It is an issue of

    1) the rate of extraction being flat and no longer growing due to field decline vs. new resources able to come on line
    2) the price of extraction of marginal barrels moving inexoribly higher in dollars
    3) the ever higher price shifting the demand curve to destroy marginal demand, which happens to be in the US (demand down 3.25 million barrels per day in 5 years, even more considering the export of refined products to prop up the gas market)
    4) available exports shrinking from oil exporters consuming more of their own product at home

    We’ve done everything we can to prop up gasoline and thus the suburbs and car commuting. We’ve fought wars for oil, we’ve increased the refining fraction from 42% to 48%, we’ve exported diesel and bunker fuel to obtain foreign refined gasoline, we’ve poured in almost 1 million barrels per day of ethanol. Its all been for nought. Gasoline is in terminal decline, refineries are being closed, and vehicle miles travelled are collapsing.

    The train is waiting at the station for Mr. O’Toole to wake up.

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    More likely the bus. The existing roadway infrastructure is perfect for buses. No capital improvements required. The more you remove cars from the road, the better the buses get.

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    I have no quibble the peak oil claptrap. It is merely a restatement of my statement that the world has been running out of oil since the first well was drilled. My response to peak oil enthusiasts is “Yes, you are right. Furthermore, the price of gas will rise and rise and rise and the consuming public will make substitutions”. I don’t claim to know what those substitutions will be but I don’t think many will substitute trains for their cars.

    Andrew Reply:

    Again, the oil problem is not an issue of “running out of oil”, which you are correct we have been doing since the 1850’s. Its an issue of new field production not being able to continue to exceed existing field decline on a year over year basis. The US hit this point as a country in 1970, resulting in oil imports skyrocketing from 3 million to 8 million barrels per day in 8 years. The world as a whole, of course, cannot import oil to make up for field decline.

    Without new fields being brought on line at ever higher levels of production compared to the decline of existing fields, the rate at which oil is produced for consumption stagnates and declines.

    Right now, crude production is stuck at 75 million barrels per day and has been for 8 years, with no sign of budging despite all manner of frenetic activity such as the Bakken boom, Alberta tar sands, and Saudi Arabia reopening closed in sour heavy crude fields. This is why the price is so high. Wise people are encouraged to consider the symptoms and act accordingly. Continuing to build out the suburbs and buy SUV’s at 13 mpg and build out oil refineries to refine oil that will never be pumped at the rates needed to run the refinery looks especially foolish, not wise. This would thus account for the collapse of the housing, auto, and refining business over the past 5 years.

    If you look at where people with really big money are putting their money – i.e. auto companies and oil companies – they are putting it into electric/hybrid cars, natural gas, and renewables, not crude oil production and refining, and not the production of low mileage vehicles. And this certainly is not for a lack of money to be made pumping crude. It doesn’t matter how much money there is to be made if you don’t have anything to pump.

  3. Dan

    I think the suburbs declared war on themselves. Developers slapped up ticky-tack to maximize profit within favorable zoning, and then walked away. Now in California, the far-flung suburbs are increasingly weed-choked ghost towns because the houses are under water and the jobs are a two-hour commute away.

    I’d argue common sense and reality are “waging a war” on suburbs.

    The Merkin Dream is what people want. It is not necessarily a cookie-cuttered box slapped up in an auto-dependent zoned zone.


    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    But there are an annoyingly large number of people that want to live in places with:

    . Access to employment opportunities;
    . Good public schools;
    . Low crime rates; and
    . Good public services in general.

    They don’t usually want:

    . High crime rates;
    . Loud neighbors (especially a problem in the apartment buildings that the Smart Growth industry promotes as “compact” development);
    . Disfunctional or corrupt (or both) local government;
    . The inconvenience of having to park far from the front door (and having to contend with aggressive parking enforcement);
    . Militant public employee unions; and
    . Traffic congestion that impacts them (note that if someone lives near a transit stop that meets many of their transportation needs, then highway traffic congestion is less of a problem).

    Like it or not, more than a few American residents have moved from closer-in places to further-out places. It’s called rational decision making.

    Dan Reply:

    We’ve been over several of your myths, CPZ, many times here. You can continue to believe them all you want.

    The reality is that the bullets in your top section are not automagically solved by moving to farther out places. The other reality is that – as we’ve been over many times here – that a whole buncha folks are tired of the boring ticky-tack single-use zoning and want a choice of something else.

    Merica – finally giving folks a housing choice. To the dismay of some, but them’s the breaks.


    C. P. Zilliacus Reply:

    We’ve been over several of your myths, CPZ, many times here. You can continue to believe them all you want.

    We? Seriously, are you a candidate for the presidency?

    Regarding myths, it’s revealed behavior, not the choices made by planners and the elected officials that oversee them.

    The reality is that the bullets in your top section are not automagically solved by moving to farther out places.

    Guess what? I agree with your statement above.

    But like it or not, that is what a lot of middle-class families (including my own) have been doing – for decades.

    And a lot of employers have long preferred greenfield sites far from downtowns for various reasons. A relatively early example being IBM, which moved to Armonk, N.Y. in the early 1960’s.

    The other reality is that – as we’ve been over many times here – that a whole buncha folks are tired of the boring ticky-tack single-use zoning and want a choice of something else.

    With a tip of the hat to a 1960’s alien in Star Trek, do you really need to refer to yourself in the third person?

    Single-family detached does not need to be boring (and I find it very amusing that Maryland’s Levittown (never called that, even though it was developed by Levitt & Sons, located within the Prince George’s County municipality of Bowie and called Belair at Bowie to distinguish it from the Harford County municipality called Bel Air) has aged into an attractive, mature community that has weathered the recession better than many other subdivisions in the same county.

    Andrew Reply:

    The suburban office campus is the vision of human development patterns foisted upon society by the French Communist Le Corbusier, who thought work for all could be created by wasting resources driving around in cars between leafy suburban homes and offices.

    Its also clearly part of the Marxist platform of forcibly equalizing population between city and countryside.

    For the life of me, I cannot fathom the “conservative” support for this type of Communist development.

    bennett Reply:

    False equivalency??? Here in Austin the high crime rates, crappy schools, lack of parks, and long travel times are at the edge of the city limits (not urbanized area). The suburbs preform well in schools and parks but not travel times. Fact is, those in the ghettos (which are not in the city center) can’t afford to live in the higher density areas.

    Dan Reply:

    do you really need to refer to yourself in the third person?

    Calm down. Your fear of The Other in Dense Places has clouded your judgement. And yes, several of us here have – several times – pointed out several times the flaws in your argument several times, including the ‘revealed preferences’ mantra.

    The revealed preferences mantra is one of the reasons why I suspect a few members of the ideology don’t want relaxation of zoning rules. This will reveal that the revealed preferences mantra was wrong, and those who chained some of their self-identity to it will be sad.

    Choices. Merkins want more choices. This is Merka. We give Merkins more choices, right?


    the highwayman Reply:

    Suburbs aren’t bad, but there are bad suburbs.

  4. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    (For really low density urban areas, you have to go to New Hampshire and South Carolina.)

    Though there’s plenty of Smart Growth (at least in terms of driving up housing costs) in Charleston County, S.C., and you might recall the presentation some years ago at one of the P-A-D conferences which described the abusive land use and planning policies in lower Richland County (which includes Columbia, the state capitol of South Carolina).

  5. Sandy Teal

    This is all about the role of government. Some people think the role of government is to divine the future and then force the people towards what is considered an advantageous infrastructure. This approach has failed miserably and I dare anybody to point us toward a successful government effort.

    There are terribly tragic examples of government plans to anticipate the future that have killed over a billion people — Pol Pot, Lenin, China, Cuba, etc.

    Capitalism has thousands of people trying to predict the future. But those who are wrong pay the consequences.

    Andrew Reply:

    Capitalism has thousands of people trying to predict the future. But those who are wrong pay the consequences.

    You mean like all those Wall Street bankers and AIG insurance executives “paid the consequences” of their behavior with our money?

    Remind me how did they “pay the consequences” again?

    All economies are planned. Its just a matter of who we want doing the planning – ourselves through our deomcratic institutions preferrably on as small and local a level as possible, or unelected dictators, aristocrats, elites, and bankers? I know what my choice would be.

    the highwayman Reply:

    Though there are things like roads that are not subjected to profit or loss.

    So why are you complaining, big government is your best friend.

  6. msetty

    Sandy Teal spake thus:
    There are terribly tragic examples of government plans to anticipate the future that have killed over a billion people — Pol Pot, Lenin, China, Cuba, etc.

    Just WHAT does this have to do with efforts to loosen zoning restrictions to allow “the market” to meet whatever demand there is for more walkable, denser development? Or efforts to “internalize the externalities” of driving?

    False equivilancy logic fallacy on steroids, methinks.

    Sandy Teal Reply:

    msetty – I love the “spake thus”. Kudos for making it fun.

    I think I agree with you. I have no problems with loosening zoning to allow whatever people want to purchase. I just think it is foolish to decide what the future must look like, and what people must purchase to make that future come true. It is a recipe for tyranny, it is almost always based on a bad prediction, and it just doesn’t work. But it sounds like you agree with me.

    msetty spake thus the truth, sayest Sir Teal.

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