Do-gooders imperil American individualism

The American dream. What does it symbolize today? To a still overwhelming majority of Americans, it means working hard in the name of individualism and self-sufficiency to earn a comfortable wage.

It means owning a home with a picket fence around the front yard and a tire swing dangling from the oak tree in the back. It means owning a car or truck and driving it wherever one wants, whenever one wants to. It means raising your children in a neighborhood free from violence and crime, with good schools and clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

This American dream is epitomized by modern suburbia. However, the New Urbanist crowd has labeled this American dream a nightmare.

New Urbanists, the stock of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council and the San Francisco-based Congress for the New Urbanism (I assume they added “Congress” to their name to feign some sort of legitimacy, as they are hardly a legislative entity), believe the traditional American dream is harmful to economies and environments.

They cite “urban sprawl” as destructive and wasteful. But it’s not destructive: Families construct homes; businesses construct office buildings and stores. Nor is it wasteful: Kids play in yards, and workers and consumers park in parking lots and contribute to the economy.

So let’s at least call it what it is. “Urban sprawl” is just growth that is faster and farther than any guilty-conscience league of socialists would permit.

A recent Star Tribune editorial decried this “urban sprawl” yet admitted in the same paragraph that surveys show 75 percent of Americans see it as the ideal lifestyle! What kind of logic must these New Urbanists employ to scrape so roughly against the grain of society?

According to the Congress for the New Urbanism, “careful planning ensures that everyone in (a) neighborhood has easy access to the necessities of life.”

Apparently, CNU’ ultimate goal is to have a proletarian utopia within a quarter-mile of any residence. It states, “Many daily needs should be supplied within this quarter-mile: workplaces, stores, schools and houses of worship.” And let’s not forget health and medical facilities.

I suppose it would be rather nice to get off of work at the craft boutique (I don’t think 3M would spring for branch offices every quarter mile), walk across the street to buy groceries and scooter parts, walk across the next street to pick the kids up from Learning Outlet 47H, and walk across yet the next street to my church to pray for a lobotomy, as I would not want to retain any notions of my being an absolute tool of the state. The lobotomy could be performed at the hospital next to my church, of course.

The CNU continues, “In New Urbanism, streets are comfortable, interesting places for people to walk and meet.” Funny, I always thought streets were for cars and trucks to drive on. Imagine that! Now I’m not surprised that such loony notions could come from San Francisco, where the CNU is based, but our hometown New Urbanists, the Metropolitan Council, see things just as awkwardly.

We all know Minnesotans’ tax dollars are being used to subsidize a $800 million light-rail system even its proponents admit will never operate self-sufficiently without tax subsidies. I am convinced the Metropolitan Council, which introduced and is overseeing the project, spends its entire $294 million operating budget on colorful pushpins, which they giddily stick in maps, labeling metro-area cities and neighborhoods such feel-good terms as “communities of opportunity” and “smart growth scenarios.” The light rail situation is just too ridiculous to suggest they spend money on anything related to civil engineering or basic economics.

Sadly, we live in a time and in a state where that can happen. But would you believe Minnesotans’ tax dollars are being used to plan New Urbanist developments in Wisconsin? They are. The Metropolitan Council claims that Twin Citians can think and act in the best interest of the entire region.

Whatever happened to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”? The notion that the sum of the free pursuits of individual interests make for the best common good? As Smith said, “It is not the altruism of the butcher nor baker to whom we owe our meat and bread. It is to their own self interests.”

“The economic vitality of the (Twin Cities) is no accident,” according to the Metropolitan Council. Certainly I agree. I think the true sources of such vitality are enterprising individuals. But only after paying brief lip service to notions of individualism does the Metropolitan Council go on to say “planning makes it happen.”

Oh, indeed it does. Just as the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba and Vietnam can thank such planning for their famous “economic vitality.” It gets worse. In their own literature they say, in reference to population growth, “The question is not ‘Where will these people live?’ but ‘Where should they live?'”

I am frightened by the worldview of New Urbanists, such as those on the Metropolitan Council, in their quest to abolish the undeniable individualism and liberties that made Minnesota, and the United States, what it is.

In their defense, they say they don’t want to leave the future of the Twin Cities “to chance.” Well, based on their definition of chance, I certainly do. I want to leave it to hard-working Minnesotans, each left free to live out his or her individual American dream, however he wishes, wherever she wants. That is a chance I’m willing to take.


Tyler Richter is a student in the College of Liberal Arts. Send comments to [email protected]