Out of Control Policy Blog

Fight Sprawl For the Kids!

Forget "livable communities," "sustainability," and "quality of life"...it's only a matter of time before the time-tested "let's do it for the kids" argument comes full force to the land use planning realm. According to some Australian activists, modern development patterns are bad for the kids, and even though they don't explicity say so, it doesn't take a rocket scientists to conclude that the activists see sprawl as the problem and would like to see "smart growth" as a remedy:

Fast-forward to today, where the notion of city children playing unsupervised in an untamed public space, or even wandering up to the local shops, is often too frightening for parents to contemplate. Not that there is the available public land to run around in, given skyrocketing property values.

Just how much the urban planning decisions we are now taking will affect children is yet to be fully understood, but depression, criminal behaviour and even obesity were some of the possibilities canvassed yesterday at a Sydney conference on creating more child-friendly cities.

"Too often, the built environment works against healthy child development in terms of the design and positioning of housing, parkland and transport systems," child welfare advocate Fiona Stanley said.

"We need to put children at the centre of the (planning) process if we want to make an impact in reducing problems such as behavioural issues, rising rates of juvenile crime, domestic violence, child abuse and even the obesity epidemic."

So one might say that the activists didn't mention sprawl or smart growth, so why are my feathers ruffled? My response is that it's a simple leap of logic. Notice this comment:

She said money had to be urgently spent on recreating the child-friendly communities of the past.

I interpret this as a call for "neo-traditional development," a concept routinely promoted within the smart growth movement. Since "smart growth" is the political response to "urban sprawl," then you're left with sprawl=bad for kids/smart growth=good for kids.

Since we've already seen the bogus "sprawl causes obesity" claim go down in flames, the smart growth movement is probably just waiting for the next marketing gimmick, and here it is. As we all know from Politics 101, "let's do it for the kids" provides a great marketing scheme to inoculate yourself from the inevitable criticisms that will follow questionable policy ideas. I hope that I'm wrong, but I'd imagine we'll start seeing a flow of "research" in the future claiming that the problems ailing modern children are directly linked to the built environment, rather than the more logical sources--parenting, changing family structures, etc. We'll see...

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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