Planning curbs interest-dominated society

I’m writing in response to Tyler Richter’s column (“Do-gooders imperil American individualism,” April 25). The phenomenon he refers to as urban sprawl is not simply a case of the “free market” at work. Rather, it is a case of markets failing and being warped by outside forces (read: politics) that sometimes reward the wrong types of behavior.

Suburbs do not develop the way they do without market intervention by local governments that often zone residential land to lower the cost of public services and keep housing safely out of reach of poor or minority residents.

This is part of the reason crime and public schools are more of a problem in central city areas than say, Lakeville. Likewise, roads are congested because the price set for their use does not reflect the costs imposed by drivers, particularly during rush hours (I’m sure there are plenty of civil engineers and economists who would agree with me here).

Further, I would argue that “urban sprawl,” in its more deliberate forms, is a problem. That is, unless you completely discount the effects of increased energy consumption, pollution, paving over environmentally sensitive areas, lack of affordable housing opportunities, isolation of the poor from job opportunities in developing suburbs and concentrated poverty.

As for “New Urbanism” being a corruption of American values or a loss of liberty, why is it people readily buy homes in these types of developments when they are made available on the market? The Metropolitan Council does not have the authority to forcibly tell people where to live – which immediately
distinguishes it from Eastern European “socialist” planning.

In fact, demographic changes in our society have forced a re-examination in recent years on the part of the development community about what types of housing to build. With an aging baby-boom population and more young, professional singles and couples, there are more and more townhomes, apartments and condos going up every year.

Look at the facts: Minneapolis and St. Paul both gained population in the past 10 years. Richter shouldn’t feel bad though; he’s not the first person to brand urban planning “creeping socialism.” In fact, it’s a favored label of ultra-conservatives.

However, if he’s really worried about how his tax money is being spent (and I’m sure we all are), bear in mind that the state is poised to spend $1 billion on roads and bridges this year. I would wager one won’t see any noticeable relief from our traffic congestion problems. Since this figure is likely to increase in the future, I don’t think it’s such a bad idea to start examining all the alternatives. When no long-term solutions are forthcoming from our state Legislature, it won’t be my problem.

However, I feel it’s irresponsible to assume the “do-gooders” at the Metropolitan Council deserve all the blame. After all, they didn’t create our problems, many “individual interests” did. No amount of misinformed (or maybe uninformed) political rhetoric can change that.


Michael Iacono is in the College of Liberal Arts. Send comments to [email protected]