"How Smart Is It? "

Smart Growth: Tight state budgets may reduce funding for anti-sprawl efforts, and that has some fretting. Not us.

from Defenders of Property Rights

At risk is money for governments to buy open space (in some parts, that might be called a land grab). So are incentive dollars for local governments that draw the right development plans. The potential loss of funds is in the billions. Who knew that smart growth needed so much of the taxpayers' money?

The green lobby plainly sees a disaster looming.

"Given the success of these programs, such cuts would be, as the saying goes, penny wise and pound foolish," said the Natural Resources Defense Council report. "Gutting these programs or killing them outright may help balance today's budget, but it will present a much bigger bill later by threatening the local economy, the environment and public health."

Just how killing these programs will be a "threat" is unclear. The report says with proper guidance - theirs, of course - communities can save millions in more efficient building of infrastructure. But it's been our experience that efficiency is more often found in the private sector than in government planning.

That's contrary to the goals of mandated smart growth, which requires casting aside property rights in favor of the decrees of central planning. By controlling land and land use, the green lobby hopes to control urban sprawl. But what is controlled is individual choice - the liberty to choose where and how we live.

To be sure, local communities should have the right to determine their fates. But consider the darling of the smart-growth field: urban growth boundaries. Inside its ring land use, home design and traffic are tightly controlled by the planners. Land beyond the ring is reserved only for farms, flora and fauna. Developers and investors who have property outside the ring with plans to build homes - or, worse, commercial structures - can find themselves with worthless, yet still taxable, land. And those who want to locate inside the ring are faced with higher housing prices and tougher rules on starting a business.

Never able to admit that property rights and markets tend to satisfy all participants, the green lobby repeatedly refers to the public support for smart growth. It points to the fact that nearly three-fourths of the open-space protection initiatives on last fall's ballots passed.

We suppose that the green lobby would also support suspending the Constitution if such an act were approved by the majority of voters. But beyond the potential tyranny of the majority, we see another flaw in the public support argument: Voters who back anti-sprawl programs just might not fully see where the green agenda will take them.

Environmentalists use deceptive marketing to advance the smart-growth agenda. Idyllic parks. Green spaces. Visions of walking to work, riding the light-rail train to the market, biking everywhere. Cars are rarely driven. It's all so . livable.

But how are those noble goals achieved? Smart growth advocates are anti-road, anti-suburb, anti-property rights. They seek complete control over what have been traditionally individual choices about housing and transportation. Want a house? They offer an apartment. Need to drive? Expect traffic headaches. Hoping for a big yard for the dogs and kids? Sorry, that'll contribute to urban sprawl.

The truth needs a lot of sugar coating, so the planners talk a lot about affordable housing. Yet smart growth makes housing more costly. Homes are cheaper where land is cheaper - in the suburbs outside the cities. Packing everyone into a small space makes real estate a commodity in short supply. This isn't theory. It's confirmed fact.

"The urban growth boundary is causing Portland housing prices to shoot up," said Randal O'Toole, who studies such things at the Thoreau Institute. It's turned "Portland from one of the most affordable cities in the country to one of the least affordable."

Of course, if communities want to gate themselves off and people are willing to pay for such privacy, that's fine. But smart-growth advocates want to impose their vision on everyone - from the well-off to those trying to climb the ladder. And individual choice is dismissed.

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