Out of Control Policy Blog

Legos for Smart Growth

The D.C. area is projected to gain 2 million new residents, 1.6 million new jobs, and 833,000 new homes over the next 25 years. Anyone following the trends in the area naturally wonder, where are these people and homes going to go?

Well, straight from the playbook of 'smart growth' utopianism, we now have a way to figure this out: get a bunch of major players in a room and play a visioning game with Legos:

    "The challenge of Washington's daunting population growth has been turned into a board game that might be called Everybody Squeeze!, and yesterday 300 government, business and civic leaders gathered to play.

    With 2 million more residents anticipated in Washington and its suburbs over the next 25 years, the crowd of players...gathered around table-size maps of the region and tried, using yellow Lego blocks to represent dwellings, to locate homes for the coming throngs.

    All around the game room at the Ronald Reagan Building, there were signs of conflict and cajoling: Some environmentalists drew bold lines around lands they consider ecologically sacred. Politicians and county planners hemmed and hawed, trying to think regionally but keeping an eye on their own dominions. And some developers looked askance at proposals to build homes closer to or even on top of one another.

    'Not all the 2 million people are going to want to live like they do in Manhattan -- we're not an urban community, we're a suburban community,' one Charles County developer, Gary Kret, warned his neighbors. "

Here's the link. Predictably, the "solutions" participants arrived at were smart growth outcomes, with populations being kept in developed areas near transit stations and out of the undeveloped fringe. I'm sure that they weren't led this way by facilitators (cough, cough, wink...).

But there did appear to be some signs of common sense:

    "Yet even among some of the most enthusiastic participants, there was ample skepticism about whether the growth visions espoused yesterday can ever come to fruition.

    'This event is called 'Reality Check,' but I think we checked reality at the door,' [Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E.] Connolly said.

    For one thing, the high-density development prescribed by many tables is difficult to achieve over the opposition of neighborhood groups. And pushing development into underused areas of eastern Washington and Prince George's County will require drumming up more market demand for offices and homes than has existed there in recent decades.

    'The market tells me the demand isn't there,' said Gary Garczynski, a Prince William County developer and former president of the National Association of Home Builders. 'Can it be created there? I don't know.'"

Good observation. And what also should have been mentioned was the effect of the strong smart growth policies already in effect in places like Montgomery County, MD and Loudoun County, VA, which effectively keep large areas off-limits (or severely downzoned) and contribute to skyrocketing housing prices that send prospective residents further and further out to find remotely affordable homes.

Oh well, who needs reality when you can just slide Legos around on a map and come up with an "ideal" solution?

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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