Out of Control Policy Blog

Conservative New Urbanism

Paul Weyrich has a great piece via the American Conservative Union Foundation making the case for a "conservative new urbanism":

    Over the past several decades, a movement has arisen to restore our cities and even to build new urban communities, towns, as an alternative to suburbs. It is called "new urbanism." As a conservative, I think new urbanism needs to be part of the next conservatism. But I also think we need a conservative new urbanism, which differs from much of what now goes under the new urbanist label.

    . . .

    Let me say that I am not necessarily against sprawl. Suburbs are great places for families to raise kids. What we need is suburbs, farms and living, thriving cities, not one or the other. Here is where conservative new urbanism comes in. Conservative new urbanism should be built on property rights. Its basis would be dual codes. At present, virtually every building code in the country mandates sprawl. One developer told me that in order to build a traditional town (something most conservatives like), he had to get 150 variances at immense expense and delay.

    The next conservatism should call for dual codes all over the nation. Under one code, a developer would be perfectly free to build a sprawling suburb. But he could also choose to build under a new urbanist code, which would be consistent with the way towns and cities were traditionally designed and built. Obviously, developers would make their choice based on demand in a free market. They would build suburbs where the market wanted suburbs, and towns or even small cities (or redevelopment in existing cities) where the market wanted that.

    Good new urbanism should welcome a dual-code approach. Why? Because good new urbanism sells. Sometime when you are in Washington, go look at the architect Andres Duany's Kentlands development in Montgomery County, Maryland. It is a beautiful traditional town. And houses there are selling for tens of thousands of dollars more than houses with the same floor space in surrounding suburbs.

    Here as so often elsewhere, the problem is government interference in the marketplace. The next conservatism should end the monopoly government building codes give to suburban sprawl and allow the free market to restore our cities. That is conservative new urbanism, and I think it needs to be part of the next conservative agenda.

Read the whole piece here. His proposed dual-code system jives well with the market-oriented approach we advocate at Reason, as it provides a mechanism for injecting a greater degree of choice into the urban development process. He correctly points out that the main area of common ground between free marketers and new urbanists is the notion that local codes should not make innovative development styles -- including neotraditional development -- illegal, particularly when significant consumer demand is present.

"Conservative new urbanism" may be no more palatable of a marketing slogan than "compassionate conservatism," but the underlying idea is solid and has the potential to unite disparate ideological factions under one banner. Nice to see this coming from a prominent conservative thinker.

(hat tip: Peter Gordon)

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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