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Sunday, April 09, 2006

 

Guess what....Yup. Sprawl!

Sprawl, although incredibly ambiguous, can teach all of us a lot about economics. To start with, simply understanding all of the different aspects of the definition uses all kinds of economic terms, and after all, "sprawl" is actually a group of different issues, which all necessitate understanding all kinds of economic concepts. So the term might come up short, but it makes people think.

After looking at different articles on Portland, and what a mess it is, it's obvious that the smart growth initiatives Portland has adopted aren't the answer. It has, in fact, left the city with arguably more problems than before. Then there's the issue that groups of people today are not satisfied with the current structure of cities, citing inefficiency, loss of open space, and cookie cutter communities as problems. Lots of people live in cookie cutter communities, so I'm not completely sold on the idea that sprawl is bad for people.

Here's the problem. There is a difference between the characteristics of a city some people would like to see and the cities that are actually produced when people make choices and act in their own best interest. I think there is a disconnect between the "what should be" and "what is." There is a normative framework certain groups act on that does not work with the accepted economic principles we use. Portland exemplifies this.

To at least get closer to the solution, I think a few steps should be taken. Firstly, governments must stop subsidizing projects and businesses because they will be "good for growth," or because the city believes the projects will benefit the town in some other way. It seems that many people are simply not content to wait long enough for the economy to act on its own. Secondly, governments need to focus more on preventing market failures instead of trying to legislate growth in ways special interest groups think growth should happen.

It's become more and more obvious that governments and special interest groups are not good at making decisions for the people. The incentives for growth are there without smart growth, or other legislative paradigms groups can use. I'd advocate smart government more than I'd advocate smart growth.

Comments:
Will,

"Smart Government" as you call it is just as much of a paradox as "smart growth"......Nice try.

Evan
 
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