Friday, September 3, 2010

New Urbanism coming to Mobile? Over my dead body

At yesterday’s annual Downtown Mobile Alliance annual meeting, an advocate for government control over where you choose to live, how you choose to build and how you choose to work stood before a crowded ballroom and… received applause.

MOBILE, Ala. -- Renowned city planner Andres Duany stood Thursday in front of a ballroom filled with some of the most powerful people in Mobile and told them that 70 to 80 percent of the city’s development is not only bad, it’s a threat to the area’s economic viability.
“Twenty or 30 years from now, Mobile won’t have a future,” he said, unless the city drastically rethinks its growth patterns.
Duany’s speech, peppered with humor and hard truths, was the keynote address at the annual meeting of the Downtown Mobile Alliance.
The group sought out Duany in the hopes of sparking renewed interest in New Urbanism-type city planning, which seeks to boost land values while creating walkable, eye-catching communities that meld retail space, offices and dwellings.
Duany helped pioneer New Urbanism in the 1980s.

Instead of being applauded, this man should have been laughed out of town.  In fact, I am appalled that he was even invited to speak, and I wonder what’s happened to the sensibilities of Mobile property owners.
“New Urbanism” is an innocuous term describing a movement that can only succeed through more statist control over private property. It is a fad among the progressive elite that demands mixed-use development, high-density housing and pedestrian-friendly design. In other words, it’s all about cramming as many people and businesses into the smallest space possible.
The Press-Register article on yesterday’s speech summarizes Duaney’s argument for having statist planners take over how development occurs at the most intimate level—local government:

  • Demographics: Subdivisions isolated from all else except by car will become like prisons, Duany said, as baby boomers grow older and have harder times driving. Many young people have no interest in buying the suburban homes that they grew up in. Their parents might have liked a big yard and a two-car garage, but the next generation doesn’t, he said. “The suburbs hold no magic for them.”
  • Gas prices: The world’s supply of easily extractable oil is dwindling. As energy companies spend more money getting oil out of the ground, customers will have to spend more money getting gas out of the pump. Long commutes will become more and more expensive, he said.
  • The financial crises: Governments are strapped for cash. The age of massive spending on interstates so commuters can have “superhighways to Starbucks” is gone, Duany said. Likewise, the expense of maintaining a car for everyone in the household over the age of 16 will become unaffordable.

These ideas seem to make sense, until you really think about what’s being said here.  He’s trying to make the case that local communities shouldn’t allow people to move out into the suburbs and build big, roomy houses on big, sprawling lots because their offspring “have no interest” in buying these estates after you retire. Gas prices will get so high that long commutes will get too expensive, so government shouldn’t allow people to move out to the ‘burbs.  Governments are “strapped for cash” and won’t spend more money on better transportation infrastructure, so they’ll have to keep people from moving too far out; from sprawling.
There’s only one way to achieve the New Urbanist Utopia, and that is through government coercion. You see, you silly un-nuanced peasant, you aren’t making “smart growth” decisions on your own.  You need to be told how to grow, how to build, and how to live your life. It’s all statist nonsense and it needs to be recognized for what it is.  It has no place in a free society, and it certainly has no place on the Alabama Gulf Coast.
One of the great things about living in the State of Alabama is that aside from the basic,  necessary zoning and building codes needed to keep people from building unsafely, state and local governments here pretty much leave you alone.  If you want to buy a couple of acres in western or northern Mobile County and build a 3,500 square-foot comfort castle for your growing family, you’re pretty much free to do so.  You can have a pool.  A large garden.  Maybe even a small putting green to help your handicap. If you want it and you can afford it, you can have it. Freedom-loving Americans like their elbow room.  But if the New Urbanists have their way, you’ll have to do without it.  You’ll have to settle for a 1,200 square-foot “energy efficient” cottage on a lot the size of a postage stamp and if you want a cup of coffee, a six-pack of beer or a loaf of bread, you’re gonna have to walk to the store to get it.
Governments will be “strapped for cash” because they will be forced to pay for crushing entitlement programs like government-mandated healthcare, maintaining payrolls for employees administering ever-more bloated programs and paying for unmanageable pensions.  It’s not because they’re building too many roads that Duaney cutely calls “superhighways to Starbucks.” If we want to address an infrastructure problem, let’s start with making infrastructure the priority, rather than buying votes through direct transfers.
Mobile County has an excellent and successful Pay-as-You-Go road construction program that has built good quality roads throughout the jurisdiction, and the state Department of Transportation has been a very good non-federal cost sharing partner with US DOT in improving the area’s federal and Interstate highway system.  Rush hour traffic in Mobile along I-10, I-65 and I-110 is a virtual breeze compared to heavily planned and heavily regulated areas like Atlanta and Birmingham.  We don’t have a traffic problem here, because years ago, a bunch of stupid, redneck hicks on the County Commission decided to make infrastructure a priority.
If this New Urbanism  foolishness even looks like it’s gaining a foothold in my hometown, I will mobilize and organize a property-owners revolt against it.  I will organize and raise money for a local political organization that only supports candidates who believe in personal freedom and property rights.  That organization will make local politicians take a stand, one way or the other, on whether Mobilians should have the right to build whereever and however they want to. 
This town is not Portland, Oregon, and it will move in that direction over my dead body.
Gimme some feedback in the comments.

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