Thursday, 8 February 2007

More sprawling arguments

Tom Beard has responded with panache to my arguments the other day on why envy is making houses unaffordable. As I summarised in a comment the other day, when it comes to sprawl, to housing and to regulations on housing, I'm Pro-Choice.

What that means, in short, is this:
  • Let people live where they will.
  • Restricting where and how people live is wrong, and reflects the use of force to impose the regulators' values on people who don't agree with those values.
  • The result of this imposition has been to make houses in the most regulated cities mostly unaffordable, and those in the least regulated cities most affordable.
Tom disagrees with all of this. Read why at his Well Urban blog. I'll respond more substantially at some stage (and feel free to jump in yourself), but in the meantime here's part of what he says with which I do agree:
Of course, choice is always going to play a vital role in where people live, but as I've said, the factors behind any individual's choice are varied and complex. That's part of the reason that WellUrban is what it is: by celebrating the richness of urban life, I hope to go some small way towards countering any anti-urban prejudices that linger on from the days when cities were rife with crime, cholera and pollution. By pointing out good examples of high-density housing, I try to counter the perception that the only alternative to suburbia is ugly concrete boxes. I don't (usually) rant on about the evils of suburbia, or tell people that they should live more closely just because it's good for their health or the environment: I want to show that compact cities are great places to live.
Yes, they can be, as many of his examples demonstrate beautifully. (But the "ugly concrete boxes of suburbia" are themselves the creation of planners, aren't they?)

In celebrating the richness of urban life and countering anti-urban prejudice I applaud Mr Beard. At that, he does a fine job, which is one reason I read him (another is his fabulous Martini posts). But my point here is that not everyone wants to live that way, and forcing people who would rather live otherwise into the planners' favourite cookie-cutter solutions removes any possibility of their planning their own future the way that they would like to; it removes their ability to make their own decisions based upon long-term considerations; and it's causing something no-one could really celebrate. And that's really the whole point, isn't it?

When it comes to housing, let's all be Pro-Choice.

UPDATE: In celebrating the richness of urban life as it could be and should be, let's not forget to also celebrate 'sprawl' as it could be and should be. The planners' favourite cookie-cutter solutions are not what low density has to look like -- as always, Frank Lloyd Wright had a much better notion. See Frank Lloyd Wright: Broadacre City.

LINKS: A sprawling argument - Tom Beard, Well Urban
Envy is making housing unaffordable - (Peter Cresswell) Not PC
Sustainable cities are unaffordable cities - (Peter Cresswell) Not PC

Urban Design, Politics-NZ, Housing

1 comment:

  1. Unbelieveably discussion on BBC1 this morning encouraging young people to become planners and suggesting that planners are more important than architects! Apparently there is a shortage of planners in Britain, meaning planning decisions have to get rushed through. I'd say there is no shortage of planners, only way too much planning law.


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