Jewish World ReviewJune 29, 1999 /15 Tamuz, 5759
"Urban sprawl" and liberal
THE LATEST SCARE PHRASE that is
supposed to set off a political stampede is "urban
sprawl." But, before we go thundering off in all
directions, just what is this urban sprawl? How
can you tell whether there is urban sprawl where
you live? If someone says there is and someone
else says there isn't, what can you look for to tell
you who is right?
Those who want to lead a
government-sponsored crusade against urban
sprawl have no time for such questions. Just as
some restaurants have a soup du jour, politicians
who want to "do something" and "make a
difference" must have a crisis du jour. Urban
sprawl is today's contrived crisis.
In so far as there is any coherent meaning to the
term, urban sprawl is a name given to the fact
that metropolitan areas are spreading out, with
people living in lower densities in the suburbs
than in the central cities. What is so terrible about
The real objection may be that all this is going on
without the guiding hand of Big Brother. But the
alarm that is being sounded is that farmland is
disappearing under concrete as suburbanization
spreads. Images are conjured up of a growing
population needing more food while the land
available on which to grow it is getting smaller
Another way of saying the same thing is that
agricultural advances over the past century have
drastically reduced both the amount of land and
the number of farmers needed to grow food, even in places where the
population is several times as large as before. Far from being something
to be alarmed about, this is one of the key factors in rising standards of
living around the world.
Where have all the people come from who produce all the abundance of
goods and services that make our standard of living so much higher than
that of people living just a couple of generations ago? Those people have
come largely from the farms where they were no longer needed. Neither
is so much land needed. That is why farmers are selling it to those who
build homes and communities that relieve urban crowding.
This is not rocket science. It is basic economics. Resources tend to move
from where they are valued less to where they are valued more, because
those who value these resources more will make their current owners an
offer they can't refuse.
Objections to this common process come largely from people who either
have no conception of economics or who imagine that their own superior
wisdom and virtue can determine what is "really" more valuable,
regardless of what other people want. It is no coincidence that shrill cries
about urban sprawl are coming from people with a long history of big
government politics on all sorts of other issues.
The most prominent of these critics of urban sprawl is Vice President Al
Gore. When he was a Senator, Al Gore twice beat out Ted Kennedy for
the title of the biggest spender in Congress. His book "Earth in the
Balance" is a classic of hysterical environmental extremism. The
Unabomber had a copy in his cabin.
The head of the Sierra Club is also frothing at the mouth against urban
sprawl because more space for people means less space for animals.
Using land for what the Sierra Clubbers like is called "saving" it, while
using it for what other people like is called "spoiling" it. Demanding that
the government prevent other citizens from doing what they want, in
order that the environmentalists can do what they want, is depicted as
something noble, instead of something selfish beyond words.
Portland, Oregon, is held up by the Sierra Club as a good example of a
place with restrictions on growth that have "helped make Portland one of
the world's most livable cities." There is not the slightest sign of
embarrassment at the incredible ego of determining for other people what
is a "livable" city.
Obviously millions of other people prefer to live in Los Angeles, the very
epitome of urban sprawl.
At the heart of the liberal-left vision is the idea that the self-anointed
saviors should be telling the rest of us, through the power of government,
what we ought to do, what we can do and what we cannot do. They will
define for us what is good and what is bad, remaking us in their image.
Urban sprawl is only the latest battleground in that crusade. This is a
culture war -- and the only thing worse than being in a war is being in a
war and not knowing it, while the other side is carrying on a
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©1999, Creators Syndicate