Preserving the American Dream Conference a 'great success' says O'Toole
Portland, Oregon - If you were unable to attend the Preserving the
American Dream conference last weekend, you missed a great show. Here
is a summary
On Friday, about 70 conference participants toured Portland and visited
nine different high-density housing sites. These ranged from a small
group of "skinny houses" -- fifteen-foot-wide, single-family
homes on 25x100-foot lots (see
In many cases, these transit-oriented developments could more realistically be called transit-oriented disasters. Tour leaders John Charles and Michael Barton, of the Cascade Policy Institute, showed that one development, Beaverton Creek, was supposed to have ground-floor shops with three stories of apartments above. But with limited parking for shoppers, only three of the shops were ever rented. Two since went out of business or moved, leaving just one hair solon surrounded by dozens of vacant shops.
Another, Beaverton Round, was left vacant for years after the original developer went bankrupt because no one would risk money financing a development with inadequate parking. The development is now open, but only after a new developer convinced the city to allow it to include hundreds of additional parking spaces.
At many stops, Portland activist Jim Karlock (http://saveportland.org) produced city records showing the tax abatements received by various properties. "This townhome recently sold for more than $1.5 million," he said of a downtown property, "and the owner pays only $150 a year in taxes." Karlock has documented more than $80 million of tax exemptions and other subsidies in Portland alone, and this doesn't count many improvements made by the city to support development.
"Many people told me how beautiful Portland was," said Owen McShane, who came to the conference from New Zealand, "and I wondered if smart growth had anything to do with that. Now I see that these smart-growth developments are often ugly and shoddy, not to mention dysfunctional."
Friday evening some 100 people heard a set of alternative visions provided by U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, no-growth advocate Andy Kerr, and free-market advocate John Charles. Representative Blumenauer argued that we subsidized the auto industry, so we needed to also subsidize transit. However, he seemed to believe that gas taxes paid by highway users were subsidies when spent on roads. If true, then transit fares paid by transit users are also subsidies to transit.
Andy Kerr argued that such subsidies promoted growth, and he believed that such growth is bad for Oregon and elsewhere. While he was not willing to support all free-market ideas, he could agree with John Charles that we should eliminate such subsidies.
The real highlight of the conference came with three presentations Saturday morning. First, South Carolina Representative Joe Neal updated the conference on how smart-growth advocates are regulating rural black landowners and taking away much of the value of their land.
Second, Kansas City Councilwoman Saundra McFadden-Weaver told the audience that light rail was "ice cream and cake," and that cities should concentrate on providing meat and potatoes before worrying about dessert. Neal is a Baptist minister and McFadden-Weaver is a pastor in her church, so both were excellent speakers.
Third, Steven Town, a policeman and architectural liaison in the West Yorkshire Police Department, showed how New Urban design contributes to crime. New Urbanist demands for mixed uses, maximizing common areas and minimizing private space, and grid street patterns (as opposed to cul de sacs) led to burglary and other crime rates that were three to seven times the national average in Britain. Town added that burglaries virtually ended when common areas were made private and other corrections were made.
More than thirty other presentations followed on Saturday and Sunday, providing much more information about the failings of smart growth and alternative solutions to urban problems. Here are just a few:
* Tom Rubin showed how rail advocates sometimes distort the numbers
to make them seem favorable to rail transit. For example, they focus
on "people past a point" when comparing rail to highway
numbers, when in reality the highways usually do far more work because
they are faster.
* Robert Behnke described a low-capacity transit system that could
take people nearly door to door at much faster speeds than large buses
or rail. This system allowed people to call for a transit vehicle
and get a response within four minutes. Behnke said the system was
tried in San Jose several years ago, but abandoned after six months
because it had more riders than planners had anticipated!
* Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (http://cei.org)
played a series of television commercials to show how efforts that
focused on the benefits of autos, homeownership, and other aspects
of the American dream are more persuasive than efforts that were defensive
about the potential costs of those activities.
* Peter Samuel of http://tollroadsnews.com showed that, when roads become congested, traffic slows down and road capacities actually decline. The congestion won't end until traffic volumes decline below the new, lower capacity, so it can take hours for congestion to go away. The solution, he said, is to charge tolls that vary by the amount of traffic so that traffic volumes never exceed capacity.
Sunday afternoon we held the first annual meeting of the American Dream Coalition. The group elected a new executive committee for 2004-2005, including Wendell Cox, Craig Flynn, Lowell Grattan, Catherine Heath, Tom Rubin, Jim Skaggs, and David Strom. The executive committee then asked members what they would like the American Dream Coalition to do in the coming year. They agreed that the Coalition should act as a clearinghouse for new publications, reports, and other information, and that the group's web site should provide people with access to all of this information.
The group also suggested that we produce a CD providing easy access to much of the research reported on at the conference. I will keep you informed about these projects. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions.
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