Urbanism For Capitalists / Capitalism For Urbanists

 

shutterstock_133976573About twice a year, I decry how conservatives are conceding an important and powerful demographic and cultural change to liberals. It’s sometimes called the New Urbanism. To conservatives, though, its just the Evil City all over again. And anything good that may be happening is “yuppification,” “gentrification,” or — even worse — “hiptserfication.” I don’t see the problem: all three words mean revitalization, which means the creation of fine, safe, productive, and interesting places for people to live and work. In other words, it means bringing back downtown and main street which, once upon a time, were natural homes for conservatives. But, as I’m wont to say, conservatives are used to what they are used to and skeptical of all else. Many modern conservatives are simply not used to downtown and main street.

But that’s not totally true. My last foray into this arena was a fourpart history of transportation in America. The responses to that thread made it clear that there is a solid core of potential, budding, and already-arrived conservative urbanists. Today, I’m here with some good news for conservative urbanists and to announce a fine discovery in the form of a blog: Market Urbanism, whose motto is “Urbanism for Capitalists / Capitalism for Urbanists.”

Hayek and Bastiat (and of course, Jane Jacobs, she of Spontaneous Order) are displayed prominently in their bookstore. A few quotes I’ve so far gleaned from a brief perusal of some of the site. About the website’s founder, Adam Hengels:

Growing up in suburban Chicago, Adam suspected there was something inefficient about the land patterns and transportation of the suburbs. When introduced to urbanist ideas in freshman architecture/planning coursework, the concepts made sense, despite the paternalistic bent of the professors who presented them. Thus, he became conflicted between the urbanist instinct and the free market instinct. Through study and practice of building design, infrastructure design, construction, economics, planning, development, and urban economics, Adam concluded that our problems with sprawl, congestion, and automobile dependency were largely the result of socialistic oversupply of transportation systems and top-down regimentation of land use, not due to market failures, as many urbanists proclaim.

From an article:

So why don’t conservatives and libertarians have more compunction about sprawl? I believe the problem is more the messengers than the message. Despite the free market aspects of modern-day urbanism, smart growth and new urbanism are not libertarian movements. Urban planning is dominated by liberals, and it shows – few even seem aware of the capitalist roots of their plans. The private corporations that built America’s great cities and mass transit systems are all but forgotten by modern-day progressives and planners, who view the private sector as a junior partner at best. Yonah Freemark views Chicago’s meek and tentative steps towards transit re-privatization as a “commodification of the formerly public realm” that’s “scarring” American cities – his version of history apparently starts in 1947.  The Infrastructurist must have been reading from the same textbook, because Melissa Lafsky calls libertarianism her “enemy” and apparently believes that America reached its free market transportation peak around the 1950s. And Matt Yglesias, a rare liberal who understands the economic arguments in favor of allowing density, is routinely rebuffed by his commenters, who I doubt would be so offended if he were arguing for urbanism for environmental and social engineering reasons, as so many progressives and planners do today.

And while we’re on the topic, let’s not forget another wonderful discovery introduced to us by our own Chris Williamson: Charles Marohn, a “Republican Urban Planner,” whose lecture you can download here.

Published in Culture, Domestic Policy
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  1. Matty Van Inactive
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    http://www.marketurbanism.com

    http://www.strongtowns.org

    http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2014/05/charles_marohn.html

    • #1
  2. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    I visit my hipster land for probably 50% of my errands, but I would never want to live there.  I like living 20 min from these areas.  I even take a toll road to get there.

    No amount of their small business is going to convince me to move to these areas, and making my day harder will just push me back into the even more local mass market chains and brands.

    I don’t consider sprawl, congestion, and automobile dependency to be a problem in need of a planned response.

    Is there someone disallowing density or is there just not that much interest in it?  All I see is a bunch of people trying to coerce me into a dense lifestyle that is, in every possible way, terrible.

    • #2
  3. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Here’s my take: I’m all for fixing up downtown. Go for it. Just don’t come tell me I HAVE to live there. It ain’t my bag. I need elbow room. I’m a country girl. Grew up on the farm. Living in a subdivision with 2 acres of land was an adjustment for me. As Guru said, I’ll go there to visit, but I don’t want to live there. Now if you want to, do right ahead. I’m not stopping you. Just don’t tell me I have to. And I’m all in favor of toll roads, BTW. If you use it, you pay for it.

    • #3
  4. Matty Van Inactive
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    G and B,

    I hear ya. You’re used to the teachy preachy nags of the welfare state telling you what to do, and you automatically think that any discussion of urbanism is more of the same. But it’s not, at least for “marketurbanism” or “strongtowns.” For conservatives and libertarians with knowledge of the history (rare though they are), urbanism is about free markets and expanding choices. You can live any way you want so long as you pay for it yourself and do not expect the state to subsidize it.

    If you read those two long quotes from marketurbanism, you’ll get a couple of hints that our modern world of cars and sprawl has little to do with free markets and expanding choices. As marketurbanism points out, the historical truth is that “…our problems with sprawl, congestion, and automobile dependency were largely the result of socialistic oversupply of transportation systems and top-down regimentation of land use…”

    • #4
  5. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    …our problems with sprawl, congestion, and automobile dependency were largely the result of socialistic oversupply of transportation systems and top-down regimentation of land use…”

    No. It was largely a demand by people for more than an 800SF apartment. And the highways followed the people not the other way around.

    • #5
  6. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    I am a transplanted city boy. I grew up in concrete. Now I own 2-1/2 acres that my dog loves to run on and own. I have no sidewalks or street lamps. Took me the longest time to get accustomed to sleeping without the city noise.

    Still, I like where I am. And while I have access, such as it is, to one of the great metropolises of the nation, Chicago, I really have no desire to live there. My children both moved to “the City” when they moved out of the house; it was where things were “happening”. At my age, I am not so much into “happenings”.

    But there are other reasons not to live in the city. Most of them are related to the fact that Chicago has been a democrat-run city since the 30’s – maybe earlier if I looked more closely at its history.

    So the city has lousey streets, poor parking facilities, extremely high taxes, a marginal transportation system which is perenially short of cash, and not so good availability of basic goods (like grocery stores) while large on things like restaurants, theatres, and bars. Gasoline for cars is very expensive. Crime is high, even in the “better” neighborhoods, while “permission” to carry weapons via CCW is limited (like you can’t carry on the CTA or in the parks – just where you would most WANT to carry).

    • #6
  7. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    (cont’d)

    So the allure of the city is limited – at least to me. I can catch the train in, grab a taxi, and go to any of the restaurants. The cost will be about $40–50 total, about what it would cost me for gas and parking, and no hassle nor the usual 1.5 hours driving in (for a 40 minute ride in uncongested times).

    I could be enticed to return. But it would take a radical change in how things are in the city. I would have to have access to a nice sized apartment, and space for the dog, and safe streets, and the ability to CCW, and low taxes. None of that is likely to happen.

    Just like returning to a constitutional republic is unlikely.

    • #7
  8. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Yes, most planners are leftists.   They managed to convince the planning commissions in the big blue city I live near to adopt new zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations that allow, but do not require, new-urbanist style development.   They got similar ordinances adopted in the purple suburbs and in the red suburbs.

    All this happened just as the economic slump began eight years ago.   So, we don’t have much to show for it.   Maybe if ever the economy recovers there will be some new urbanism around these parts.

    I am doubtful.   The only building that is going on is in the big blue city, where, although the city is broke, it has poured a few million into a couple of harebrained development schemes, which are just barely dense enough to permit them to slap the label “new-urbanist” on them.   I am sure they will win awards.   I am less sure that they will provide any new return on the City’s investment.

    • #8
  9. Guruforhire Inactive
    Guruforhire
    @Guruforhire

    Matty Van:G and B,

    I hear ya. You’re used to the teachy preachy nags of the welfare state telling you what to do, and you automatically think that any discussion of urbanism is more of the same. But it’s not, at least for “marketurbanism” or “strongtowns.” For conservatives and libertarians with knowledge of the history (rare though they are), urbanism is about free markets and expanding choices. You can live any way you want so long as you pay for it yourself and do not expect the state to subsidize it.

    If you read those two long quotes from marketurbanism, you’ll get a couple of hints that our modern world of cars and sprawl has little to do with free markets and expanding choices. As marketurbanism points out, the historical truth is that “…our problems with sprawl, congestion, and automobile dependency were largely the result of socialistic oversupply of transportation systems and top-down regimentation of land use…”

    Except I don’t believe that it is true, nor do I accept that my lifestyle is largely subsidized.  I find all the of arguments incredibly unpersuasive.

    This could be the case in SOME areas, like DC, where mass centralization is still the norm.

    • #9
  10. Matty Van Inactive
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    “The highways followed the people, not the other way around.”

    “Except I don’t believe that it is true, nor do I accept that my lifestyle is laregly subsidized.”

    There’s every reason to believe this since, for their own reasons, neither conservatives nor liberals spend much time on the history of transportation. If you’re interested (as there’s no way I’m going to do all this again right here!) check out the following four-part history.

    http://ricochet.com/archives/cities-mass-transit-bicycle-trails-walk-communities/

    http://ricochet.com/archives/cities-mass-transit-etc-part-two/

    http://ricochet.com/archives/cities-mass-transit-etc-part-three/
    http://ricochet.com/archives/cars-mass-transit-etc-part-four/

    • #10
  11. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Except read them 1, 3, 2, 4.  IIRC, Matty, you mentioned you probably wrote them in the wrong order and that this would work. Since it is being broached for the first time, it might be easier to read them as noted.

    • #11
  12. user_48342 Member
    user_48342
    @JosephEagar

    I don’t quite understand.  This sounds like pandering to the upper middle class, or am I misunderstanding you?  Also, why is this an “important demographic”?  Most of the people who are New Urbanists seem to dislike conservatism for other reasons, too.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I’ve never heard any conservative complain about gentrification.

    • #13
  14. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Misthiocracy:I’ve never heard any conservative complain about gentrification.

    I have.

    It depends on how the gentrification is done. (And always, also – even for conservatives – on whose ox gets gored.)

    The Kelo decision applied to gentrification, if I recall correctly. And is rightly reviled by people on the right and left alike.

    • #14
  15. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Guruforhire:

    Except I don’t believe that it is true, nor do I accept that my lifestyle is largely subsidized.

    Really?

    • #15
  16. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Casey:

    Guruforhire:

    Except I don’t believe that it is true, nor do I accept that my lifestyle is largely subsidized.

    Really?

    No conservative wants to accept that his lifestyle is largely subsidized.

    The misfortune is that government involvement is already so pervasive that it’s easy to argue that pretty much anything is subsidized by something else somewhere. That’s how progressives argue that food and housing assistance is secretly corporate welfare to companies too cheap to support raising the minimum wage. And that way madness lies.

    Let’s be honest: figuring out which “your lifestyle is subsidized!!!” arguments pass the smell test and which don’t isn’t always trivial.

    • #16
  17. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Urban renewal, without government subsidy, is free market. The end users of the result (occupants) are usually socialist/progressive types, who miss claim that it’s Liberalism that caused the renewal. All though in a way, they may be right–Liberals most likely stepped out of the way of renewal (progress) in exchange for getting credit. Like Detroit today.

    The sad part is that Liberals and their actions do everything to slow a downturn–the equivalent of taking a band-aid off really, really slow. Obama’s “recovery” is another fine example of socialists slowing recessions and delaying recovery, we should be where we are today 4 or 5 years ago.

    Urbanism is sign of a free market. Just don’t tell the Liberals.

    • #17
  18. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    It does not matter one whit if Matty is right or not on the subsidy for suburban lifestyles. As I have said before, if the government support it, it is because that is what the voters want.

    You can argue markets, libertarianism, libertineism, etc. all you want but the facts remain that people at a local level want to live the way they do. They have voted for it, with their feet, their dollars, and their actual votes for people that enact the policies they want.

    All the arguments linked too amount to the same thing:

    I want things to be different, therefore, we should change the current set up to make things more like how I want.

    Those of us who live in suburbia, don’t want those changes, and even if Matty is right on the subsidy (which I don’t agree on), then we still don’t want the change. I can be both for free markets and for community restrictions on free markets and live with that just fine. Congestion is a price I am willing to pay.

    • #18
  19. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    I can actually cite a real example of suburban development being implicitly subsidized.  In my suburb a developer buys 100 acres of farmland on the outskirts of town.  The developer gets a deal to have it annexed.  This developer then puts 400-500 houses on this land.  The developer does pay for the connection to city water, as well as the other utility connections.

    However, this is where the subsidies kick in:

    1. The development is on a rural road.  The developer may pay for the access road to be widened, but does not pay for any upgrades to all of the other surrounding roads, who will all see their traffic go up by well over 500%.  The city or the county will eventually have to pay for the required road upgrades and sundry other improvements as choke points form.  This will be paid for by a new tax levy.
    2. The developer will certainly not pay anything either for the other infrastructure upgrades needed to service this subdivision, including EMS services.  As with #1, eventually there will be a series of tax increases to pay for new facilities and their staff, as the revenues generated by the income and property taxes of the subdivision will be insufficient.
    3. The developer may buy a new school building for the city, but will not pay to have it staffed or serviced.  More often than not, however, the school kids are simply foisted onto existing public school infrastructure, so more tax levies.
    • #19
  20. skipsul Inactive
    skipsul
    @skipsul

    (cont from 19)

    The pattern I constantly see repeating here in central Ohio is that these suburbs eagerly court developers with promises of annexation, city services, etc., all in exchange for promises of eventual tax windfalls.  The tax revenues always fall short of calculations, and the loads on the roads, schools, EMS, and city services always cost more than estimated.  Thus taxes go up on pre-existing residents to pay for services to new residents – this is clearly a subsidizing of suburban development.

    • #20
  21. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    Bryan G. Stephens:Congestion is a price I am willing to pay.

    But this really isn’t the point.  It isn’t about what you want.  Or what one wants.

    Some are willing to pay and some aren’t.  The latter category is growing.  Liberals diagnose the trend and move in.  Conservatives deny the trend or at least deny that it requires action.  Then we end up with liberal policies and liberal cities and liberal everything.

    If conservatives remain primarily the supporters of cars and malls and burbs while voters are trending toward dense, walkable, open-air spaces then we might be in trouble.  Certainly worth thinking about how we ought to handle that.

    • #21
  22. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Skip,

    I just don’t see that as a subsidy. This is growth. There is a demand for people to move into an area, someone meets that demand, people move in, and the local city or town expands.

    I also do not take you at just your word that expansion always raises taxes. Maybe in Ohio, but my experience with the expansion of the City of Marietta is that my property taxes have not gone up with the city expanding. Of course, unlike yankee-land, we don’t have something as stupid as city income taxes. What happens is, property that used to have a lower value (and thus lower tax), and with homes, the value goes up, as does the income in taxes. Using a property tax model, what we have seen is that development = increase tax revenue, either for the city, or for the county if it is outside a city.

    But again, this is what the citizens want. People want to move to an area, the area wants to grow, the city council wants the city to grow, etc. It is a republic in action. As long as it is not all Kelo-style land grabs, I just don’t understand that the big deal is other than “I don’t like sprawl”.

    • #22
  23. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    “Gentrification” has a bad reputation to some on the right as well as the left because the people usually doing the gentrifying at are the Stuff While People Like crowd… the kind of people that make a big show of craft beers, kale from Whole Foods, and Obama stickers on their hybrid (If you come across a Prius with an Apple decal on the window, and a Whole Foods bag inside the car, stand back: a pretentiousness singularity could form and swallow the whole street).

    Matty, I understand the appeal of the city, but I think you’re tilting at windmills here. In modern western society, cities are always going to attract far more liberals than conservatives, and thus, they will rule the cities. Its their natural habitat. God bless and good luck to you, but I think you’re wasting your time. Worse, it seems that city living often rubs off on conservatives in all the wrong ways, and it starts showing in their politics.

    • #23
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Casey:

    Bryan G. Stephens:Congestion is a price I am willing to pay.

    But this really isn’t the point. It isn’t about what you want. Or what one wants.

    Some are willing to pay and some aren’t. The latter category is growing. Liberals diagnose the trend and move in. Conservatives deny the trend or at least deny that it requires action. Then we end up with liberal policies and liberal cities and liberal everything.

    If conservatives remain primarily the supporters of cars and malls and burbs while voters are trending toward dense, walkable, open-air spaces then we might be in trouble. Certainly worth thinking about how we ought to handle that.

    Also always worth thinking about how we bid for what we want – the tension between the “rights” voters can vote themselves and property rights.

    I believe property rights are the more fundamental, but no matter whether you prefer voted rights or property rights, what cannot be denied is that the two are not identical.

    Even those of us who culturally prefer suburban living and believe in strong property rights ought to recognize that the cultural preference is not identical with the legal preference.

    There’s a small but nonzero risk that robust defense of property rights would result in more people living like metrosexual, wussified hipsters. I could live with that. If you couldn’t, then you have chosen your lifestyle over others rights. Fine, I guess, as long as you’re honest about it…

    • #24
  25. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Casey:

    Bryan G. Stephens:Congestion is a price I am willing to pay.

    But this really isn’t the point. It isn’t about what you want. Or what one wants.

    Some are willing to pay and some aren’t. The latter category is growing. Liberals diagnose the trend and move in. Conservatives deny the trend or at least deny that it requires action. Then we end up with liberal policies and liberal cities and liberal everything.

    If conservatives remain primarily the supporters of cars and malls and burbs while voters are trending toward dense, walkable, open-air spaces then we might be in trouble. Certainly worth thinking about how we ought to handle that.

    It is more than what I want, it is what a lot of people want.

    For all the talk about libertariansim, urban planning is a liberal/leftist agenda. Planning “smart growth” mean a handful of planners do it.

    If voters are really trending towards dense cities like you say, why does the Obama administration feel the need to force it on us?

    • #25
  26. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    There’s a small but nonzero risk that robust defense of property rights would result in more people living like metrosexual, wussified hipsters. I could live with that. If you couldn’t, then you have chosen your lifestyle over others rights. Fine, I guess, as long as you’re honest about it…

    Please find me the city where property rights are stronger than they are in rural Alaska.

    Cities = Decrease in Property Rights.

    • #26
  27. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Casey:

    If conservatives remain primarily the supporters of cars and malls and burbs while voters are trending toward dense, walkable, open-air spaces then we might be in trouble. Certainly worth thinking about how we ought to handle that.

    Where I live, people are trying to get out of the city as fast as they can. One of the social frictions in my burb are the teens that have moved in. Their parents, desperate to get their kids away from the city, moved to the suburbs. But I guess that by the time they had the money to do so, their kids are teenagers, and it’s too late for some. The city thug culture (gangs, drugs, crime) has already set in with many, and these teens have brought their habits with them to the suburbs. And prior residents aren’t happy about it. Crime rates are going up, and police have visibly increased their presence on the streets to try to compensate. Several neighbors  have complained, and some are even talking of moving themselves, to more rural areas.

    The “back to the city” trend, seems to me, is mainly a young white Millenial thing. And they’re not exactly concerned with families, looking at the reproductive stats. When, or if, they do become concerned with such things, most are likely to move right back out of the cities.

    • #27
  28. Casey Inactive
    Casey
    @Casey

    If liberals and leftists are using urban planning, I don’t see how sitting out is a strong counter punch. Conservatives urging other conservatives to get in there and punch seems like a healthy reaction politically.

    • #28
  29. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    Cities = Decrease in Property Rights.

    Cities are all about the Collective. No way to get around this.

    • #29
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    There’s a small but nonzero risk that robust defense of property rights would result in more people living like metrosexual, wussified hipsters. I could live with that. If you couldn’t, then you have chosen your lifestyle over others rights. Fine, I guess, as long as you’re honest about it…

    Please find me the city where property rights are stronger than they are in rural Alaska.

    Ninety percent of Alaska is in public ownership. I hate my city council, too, but as much as my city’s overregulation interferes with private ownership, it hasn’t managed to do away with 90% of it!

    Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 12.40.23 PM

    • #30
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