Building blocks

"Building blocks" Continued...

Issue: "Hurtling toward havoc," Aug. 1, 2009

What should conservatives make of all this? Some libertarians and conservatives attack the new urbanism. Randal O'Toole, an economist associated with the libertarian Cato Institute, argues that development strategies favoring denser land use and light rail ignore consumer desires for big backyards and end up wasting taxpayer dollars. But Paul Weyrich, the longtime head of the Free Congress Foundation who died last December, coauthored with William Lind The Next Conservatism (St. Augustine's Press, 2009), which praises New Urbanists and argues that conservatives should support them in opposition to government-imposed building codes that require single-use development. The Next Conservatism advocates cities and towns that are compact (for walking), connected (by a variety of transport, especially rail), complete (with a variety of housing types), and convivial (aiding in the creation of community).

Conservative New Urbanists argue that the development of car-dependent suburbs was not the result of free markets: Governmental policies-freeway construction, zoning regulations, income tax deductions for mortgage interest, a lack of school choice-boosted suburbs and hurt cities. They note that progressive era planners, modernists who pushed unadorned "workers' housing," and top-down designers who liked big plazas have all scorned the messy but stimulating cities generated by the bottom-up pressures of markets and tastes.

CNU head Norquist and his size 14D shoes leave a large footprint at CNU, but when 14-year Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory, a Republican, told a ballroom full of planners, "Don't criticize the people who make money. Making money and creating jobs is very important," he received only scattered applause. When he added, "I'm not talking about jobs in the public sector, I'm talking about the private sector," it was almost possible to hear the sound of one hand clapping. When he described his support for mass transit but emphasized a policy that "once ridership fell under a certain number, that route was canceled," shocked awe set in.

Norquist sees government regulators and not private developers as responsible for suburban design that forces many residents to get into their cars for travel to schools, youth baseball games, and even the purchase of a quart of milk: He rails against "bad zoning" that separated housing from stores and offices. He's not against discount stores: "We're not snobs." He calls his CNU "the free market arm of the environmental movement" and touts his "strong appreciation for markets. . . . We want to reform development, not stop it."

New Urbanist buzz words

Charette: An intense, often multi-day meeting of municipal officials, residents, developers, and New Urbanists to plan community design

Transect: A simple chart that shows the varieties of land use from urban core to urban center, general urban, suburban, rural, and natural

TND (Traditional Neighborhood Design): Mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments similar to those common before World War II

TOD (Transit Oriented Development, or Design): The creation of compact, walkable neighborhoods centered on light rail

Two new urbanist views of school choice/vouchers

Congress of the New Urbanism president John Norquist:

The current system of real estate-based choice keeps dollars flowing exclusively to government-owned schools, but its legacy of segregation and sprawl is bad for the poor kids left behind and even kids from affluent families who spend hours per day being shuttled across the scattered landscape of suburbia. . . .

You contemplate the Detroit Public Schools and you notice your kid would be just about the only kid who isn't poor. You get scared, you move to upscale Bloomfield Hills. . . . If Detroit had a voucher program, you might still live there, with your kid attending a private or parochial school. You might even have your child in the Detroit public system that was forced by competition to make its schools more attractive to parents. In Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River, you have a choice to send your child to public or religious school-both paid by the Province of Ontario. Japan, Holland, and France all have school choice, too. Even Socialist Sweden has school vouchers allowing parents to pay for private and religious schools with public money.

In the U.S. we protect ourselves from public-financed private education except, of course, in higher education where GI and Pell vouchers help students attend great universities-public or private-most of which are in big cities. Yet every day, fear of poor K-12 schools pushes parents with means to avoid the places where poor people are allowed to live. . . . The current system of real-estate-based school choice increases residential segregation in metropolitan America by driving the poor and affluent farther apart. 

Duke University economist Thomas Nechyba:

Private school markets (and other forms of school choice that allow families to unbundle their housing decision from their school choices) introduce a desegregating force. A recognition of these forces then provides an opportunity for cities that choose to implement greater school choice: Families that are not averse to living within cities but are currently stretching financially to live in overpriced housing outside cities to gain access to good public schools will choose to come back to cities under increased school choice within cities. Increased school choice (outside the traditional residence-based choice) is therefore predicted to result in dramatic reductions in economic segregation across cities and suburbs, large increases in property values in cities and greater economic activity in disadvantaged areas.

-from CNU Report, Schools/2007

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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