Critics of “smart growth” issue manifesto

Published March 1, 2001

WASHINGTON, DEC. 21, 2000– Two high-profile, “anti-sprawl” ballot initiatives in Arizona and Colorado were defeated November 7, but the debate over how–and even whether–to limit suburban growth continues. Enter a new manifesto on the topic: the Lone Mountain Compact.

Signed by more than 100 academics, scholars, and public policy officials, the statement says it is possible to improve the way communities develop without driving housing costs through the roof, but only if governments eschew centralized, one-size-fits-all plans that give local residents little say in the development of their neighborhoods.

Communities should instead use market-based solutions to ease traffic congestion and preserve open space, the group says. These are much different from so-called “smart growth” plans, which call for high-density development in some areas and severe restrictions on development in other areas. Such policies simply lead to more traffic congestion and fewer opportunities to enjoy open space.

“Smart growth” is also a bad deal for taxpayers, since the inefficient, expensive transit systems that anti-sprawl officials enthusiastically tout go unused by a vast majority of commuters.

“Call it the downside to prosperity, if you will,” said Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Ronald Utt, one of the signatories. “But a healthy economy brings growth, and growth brings bigger houses and more homeowners. And as technology progresses, it becomes easier for people to live and work outside of traditional urban centers.”

The compact proposes that the guiding principle behind any anti-sprawl agenda be that people generally should be allowed to live and work where and how they like. “There’s nothing wrong with efforts to reshape development patterns, as long as communities are not being forced to accept top-down, centralized plans hatched at the state or federal level,” Utt said. “Decisions about neighborhood development are best left to local residents.”