Tuesday, 13 February 2007

The sprawling argument continues.

'Smart Growth' fan Tom Beard challenged my encomia to sprawl the other day. As I summarised at the end of last week, my argument was essentially that in lifestyles and the places where we live, we should be Pro-Choice:
  • 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 disagreed. I still intend to reply to his arguments, but I happily concede to Liberty Scott who makes several points today in response to both of us. Tom makes several claims about the effects of sprawl on transport and infrastructure; Scott, whose specialist area is transport and infrastructure, dismisses them.
  • Tom says, “More homes further away means more cars coming into the city, which means more space taken up by motorways, "bypasses" and carparks, thus impacting on the quality of life of those who've chosen to live close to the city.”
    Scott replies:
    Well hold on. If highways were privatised, these motorways wouldn’t be collectively funded by all motorists, but paid for by those using them.
  • Tom objected to the claim that ""the key factor that affects driving habits isn't population density, public transit availability, gasoline taxes or even different attitudes. It's wealth." In response, he claimed: "In Wellington, the well off use public transport as much as or more than those on lower incomes."
    Scott replies:
    He is correct and there is a very good reason for that. The higher income jobs are concentrated in downtown Wellington and the public transport system was designed so that state servants and council employees could easily get to work. Lower income jobs are in the Hutt, Porirua and the suburbs. It is far more difficult to get to these jobs by public transport, so public transport subsidies in Wellington are about subsidising the middle class and high income earners to get to work in downtown Wellington from their homes in Karori, Khandallah and Kapiti. [And I note that in Auckland, decentralisation of employment means that the final destination for the vast majority of commutes is not the central city, even though roads and public transport require most commuters to go through the city.]
Scott gives a number of examples of how "changing the pricing of transport would, in my view, make an enormous difference to how cities function and grow," and concludes, "Tom is right to suggest that there is plenty of potential for different forms of housing, including higher density to be attractive." Here we all agree. "The fundamental point is whether the market should be skewed by planning restrictions to coerce development to being in that direction... Some people want to live downtown in apartments - good for them - but if you want a house on a quarter-acre section, why is it anyone else's business as long as you pay for it, and for the associated infrastructure?"

That's it in a nutshell: Internalise costs, and let Pro-Choice principles rule.

You can read Scott's substantial response here. I highly recommend you do.

LINKS: Sorting out sprawl - Liberty Scott
A sprawling argument - Tom Beard, Well Urban
More sprawling arguments - Peter Cresswell, Not PC
Envy is making housing unaffordable - Peter Cresswell, Not PC
Sustainable cities are unaffordable cities - Peter Cresswell, Not PC

RELATED: Sprawl,
Urban Design, Politics-NZ, Housing


  1. Here's how they do it in Western Australia.
    booming economy coupled with low state release for building causes land and hence house prices to rise to affordable levels.
    Thus, the Labor state government comes up with a solution costing the state taxpayer $300 million.
    What stupidity! The mind boggles.

  2. There was a time not so long ago when Perth had the cheapest quality housing in Australasia. Not any more:
    "Today, in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane, the median house price is more than six times the median income and in Sydney and Perth more than eight times...[Source, Demographia, '3rd Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey (2006)']

    Well done those smart Perth planners. It's not like there's much desert in WA to go around, is it.


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