Smart Growth for Conservatives

April 18, 2014 by
Filed under: Car Stop 

Smart Growth for Conservatives, a new initiative undertaken by James A. Bacon, distinguished conservative author and publisher of the popular Bacon’s Rebellion (http://www.baconsrebellion.com/), is something we welcome. For conservatives, smart growth means recapturing good things from the past that our country has partially lost, namely traditional towns and neighborhoods as alternatives to sprawl suburbs.

There are three main reasons why we favor bringing back those older ways of living. First, as conservatives, we know old ways, ways that evolved over many generations of man’s experience, generally work better than new ways. Conservatives are not ideologues. Rather we favor what has grown bottom-up, over time, and is embodied in customs, traditions, and habits. Until the post-war building codes were enacted, people were not so rigidly segregated where they lived from where they shopped or from where they worked, by distances too great to walk. It was a mistake to do so, as most departures from long-standing practices are mistakes.

Second, as conservatives, we prefer what is beautiful to what is ugly. Much sprawl development is ugly, especially automobile-driven “strip” development. When we compare what our country looks like today with what it looked like a hundred years ago, when the neo-classical City Beautiful was in full swing, it is obvious we have taken the wrong road instead of the right streetcar.

Third, conservatives place a high value on community, and traditional towns and neighborhoods foster community better than does suburban sprawl. Why do we desire community? Because traditional morals are better enforced by community pressure than by the clumsy and intrusive instrument of the law. But community pressure only works where there is community. If you do not know your neighbors, what do you care what they think? We want people to care what their neighbors think.

Smart growth for conservatives ties in closely with what this website advocates, namely better public transportation in the form of streetcars, interurbans (light rail) and passenger trains. Like towns and livable cities, these are good things from the past whose loss we lament. We want to bring them back.

How does conservative smart growth differ from liberal smart growth? It differs in two major ways. First, conservatives reject the Left’s love of “diversity,” mixing races, ethnic groups, income levels, and cultures in ways where everyone must live cheek-by-jowl. Why do we reject it? Because diversity undermines community. Communities form more easily where people are most similar. Community, for us, is far more important than any putative benefits from “diversity,” benefits that seem entirely ideological in nature.

Second, while liberals strive for smart growth through more and more detailed government regulation (think Portland), conservatives want a free market on a level playing field.

The present near-universal sprawl codes radically tilt the playing field, because anyone who wants to build according to traditional neighborhood designs (TND), which we see as central to smart growth, must get a slew of variances to do so. One developer told me that to build one small TND project he had to obtain 150 variances. Each cost him time and money. This is not a free market situation.

The solution is simple: dual codes. A developer should be free to choose to what code he wishes to follow, a sprawl code or a TND code. He will decide on the basis of his estimation of the market. We are confident that many will choose the TND code, yielding smart growth. Why? Because most TND housing projects sell at a substantial premium over the same floor space in nearby sprawl developments. People like the old ways, and when they see them in the form of towns and neighborhoods, they want to be a part of them. They want to live there.

A few years ago, Paul Weyrich, Andres Duany (founder of the New Urbanism) and I co-authored a study titled, “Conservatives and the New Urbanism: Do We Have Some Things in Common?” Our answer was yes. I have been involved with New Urbanism from CNU III, because its essence is conservative: bringing back old ways. New Urbanism, in turn, is central to smart growth, which without New Urbanist influence can produce some ugly stuff. We don’t want any “Khrushchyovkys” [Soviet-style, five-story apartment blocks], thank you.

Our study was published by Free Congress Foundation which may still have copies available, as may CNU. Meanwhile, here at The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, we will return to the theme of conservative smart growth from time to time. The physical setting in which we live is a factor in influencing our culture, values and morals. We wish our friends at Smart Growth for Conservatives
(http://www.smartgrowthforconservatives.com) well as they make their mark in this fertile area.

William S. Lind serves as Director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation

Comments

4 Responses to “Smart Growth for Conservatives”

  1. tz says:

    Nonstarter, unfortunately. It will have to comply with the equal/fair/whatever housing statutes, and barring defunding HUD (which republicans will do after the DoEs – education and energy, which is to say never, even if the country is bankrupt), they will insist on “diversity”. Also the ADA, so they will have to be all ground level, barrier free, braille, closed-captioned, allergen and gluten free biopods.

    And the Federal Reserve slush fund funneled via Fannie and Freddie and Veterans and whatever other program will refuse mortgages or mortgage guarantees for anyone who wants to move in. Cash, up front, only. No FDIC or even wall street hedge fund can finance such purchases.

    And with gas, electricity, and water subsidized and controlled by the Feds (and probably internet access by the time one is constructed), these edifices will be off-the-grid.

    I know, build them on the indian reservations next to the Casinos (and I expect in 5 years, brothels).

    When can I get on the list to buy one?

  2. [...] As I have endeavored to develop a conservative vision for Smart Growth, I have relied primarily upon conservative principles with a libertarian slant — limited government, fiscal conservatism, free markets and the like. But there is a vast realm of conservative thinking that I have neglected, which William S. Lind, director of the Arlington-based American Ideas Institute, has reminded me of in today’s post on the Center for Public Transportation blog. [...]

  3. Aaron Brand says:

    As I read this article, I was beginning to think that maybe I am a conservative after all. I prefer time-tested ways of living, beautiful land and buildings, and the benefit of community and knowing my neighbors. But when the author rails against “race mixing,” I remembered why I am not. Diversity is not only the reality in this country, it is one of the reasons that America is such a great nation. You are wrong when you imply that we cannot have diverse communities in which we know our neighbors and enforce our moral expectations as a community. And you are wrong when you write that the benefits of diversity “seem entirely ideological in nature.” A diverse community is better able to draw from a wide variety of life experiences and area of expertise when dealing with problems. While I understand that the context of the article is predominantly land use issues, I think that your handling of the issue of diversity is cursory and is meant to garner an emotional response from people who will agree with you presented as support for your argument. Is there a good, “conservative” analysis of the detrimental effects of diversity on community? I don’t think it exists, but I would love to read and analyze it does.

  4. [...] As I have endeavored to develop a conservative vision for Smart Growth, I have relied primarily upon conservative principles with a libertarian slant — limited government, fiscal conservatism, free markets and the like. But there is a vast realm of conservative thinking that I have neglected, which William S. Lind, director of the Arlington-based American Ideas Institute, has reminded me of in today’s post on the Center for Public Transportation blog. [...]

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