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Sunday, April 30, 2006


Smart Growth: enviromentalism or redistribution?

In class the other day, the question came up: what is the predominant goal of smart growth? When looking into their dogma, we find two possible answers. Much of their actual mission is aimed at providing more equitable housing for the poor. As I stated in class, this comes from the New Urbanist side of the anti-sprawl movement, which was founded in the late 1960's, and taught based on the commune style of living. In Evan's post, he mentions that often New Urbanists answer criticisms of their movement (and over planning in general) by stating that planning works, it simply has not been fully implemented. Historically, we have seen the brand of civic planning considered 'optimal' by the NU movement, within Russia.

However, while by my estimate this is clearly a movement of redistribution, with reliance on command economy, many of their justifications come in the form of environmentalism. To illustrate the point, I have provided a link to a web site I found, which analyzes the dollars a state spends on 'clean running transportation' vs highway spending. First the 'report' states that clearly, public transportation is cleaner than automobile transportation, and correlates pollution levels to asthma attacks (I guess to make the danger that much more threatening) They go on to rate states based on their spending patters, giving an A to any state with comparable dollars spent on public transportation and highways. We observe success in public transportation only within dense populations. We must of course suppose that public transportation is a question of utility and therefore, because of a certain set of experiences specific to high density living, that public transportation may not be as viable outside of that situation. If this is the case, we would expect to see the report generate a rating of A to states that have a dense city, and lower grades to states lacking such dense locations. This is exactly what the study finds, however, their conclusions are far different. They believe that public funding needs to be greater for public transportation, and over look the non-monetary disutility of the dynamic. In this case, we see a clear argument for the environmentalist agenda of New Urbanism (as well as smart growth) however, when reading between the lines, one still finds justifications reminiscent of a redistributive movement. Despite the limited focus of the report, they still claim that one of the benefits of increased public transportation is that it "provides discretionary grants to transit service providers to help low income residents get to jobs." While I am not against this in principal, I believe it clearly reveals the bias of a movement that says its aims are 'a cleaner environment'.


My sense is that smart growth is not a political agenda that is primarily about redistribution. My sense is that it began as the political agenda of environmental interest groups, and that after some time those interest groups incorporated the redistribution agenda in order to attempt to broaden the political coalition in order to gain greater political support.
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