Ray LaHood, Transportation Secretary for the new Obama administration, has recently been quoted as wanting to “coerce people out of their cars.”
Good news? Bad news?
For many of the readers of this blog, this change in federal attitude towards how people live and get around is a welcome breath of fresh air. I personally agree that the United States has long needed a shift in priorities in terms of our lifestyle, ditching the car for most of our transportation needs. There seems to be, however, a qualm amongst many (and not only conservatives) with the federal government forcing it’s hand into how our communities are built and connected (see CNSNews article link below). I can personally understand this stance as well, seeing how the policies that will push zoning laws to create denser neighborhoods DOES infringe on our original founding beliefs of property rights.
What I believe the disconnect in the arguments to be though, is that many have forgotten that these rights have been infringed on for the entirety of the lives of anybody reading this, and the uphill zoning law battles of many pushing for greater densification in the recent past serves as evidence of this. The 180 that the federal government is trying to currently pull, is of it’s very own previous stances, both times forced with disregard to property rights. Post World War II decentralization was subsidized through tax breaks for industries leaving the city, insured mortgages on suburban homes, a transportation infrastructure focus on highways, and President Eisenhower essentially telling the nation that decentralization was proper damage control against a potential nuclear attack.
Okay, so why do I bring all of this up?
What we’re currently looking at in our nation, is a virtual culture war in terms of development policy. We fail to see that many of the denser “colonial-era” cities in America were built in an organic manner, often times with very little oversight from the local or (especially) federal government. Dense development was built solely based on the premise that it made sense to build in an efficient manner, in an age when oil-based transportation was neither viable nor affordable. It seems that we may once again be approaching a similar scenario.
The era of oil is quickly drawing to a close. The incentive of supporting an auto industry that is less and less an American industry, no longer has the justification of ensuring American jobs (there’s also the fact that a car-oriented lifestyle has proven to be physically, psychologically, and fiscally unhealthy). So it seems to me that if left to it’s own devices, free-market capitalism would once again reinstate the priorities that were originally responsible for dense development and infrastructure focused on mass-transit. We have already seen in younger generations a reversal of the perspective on cities. We are seeing a slight gain in the ratio of city-dwellers to suburban-dwellers.
So although I fully support the focus of this new administration on putting more money into mass-transit and things of the such that support our ideals, I’m wondering if we may be soon approaching the day where we can undo the practice of managing development altogether and reinstate a fundamental principle of our nation, the original intention of property rights. Or perhaps we need to be having the discussion on the very nature of what property rights actually are.
Read the CNSNews article here.