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Sprawl vs. Smart Growth in Atlanta

Leonard Gilroy
December 4, 2005, 12:54pm

Atlanta Journal-Constitution deputy editorial page editor Jay Bookman opines on sprawl vs. smart growth in the Atlanta area: I'd have to generally agree with the above point. The cental part of Houston is a great example of a city with minimal regulatory restrictions on development currently experiencing a densification as the result of market forces. While it may be a conservative's dream to get rid of segregated use zoning and let the market work, I'd have to disagree with the idea that smart growth alternatives - at least as currently put into practice - impose fewer restrictions and infringe less on property rights. Just take a look at smart growth Mecca Portland, OR or any number of other areas for counterexamples. This appears to be conflating "sprawl" with NIMBYism, which is unfair in my book. NIMBYism is homeowners' self-interest run amok, not an embrace of a sprawling development pattern. And to the extent that smart growth proposals tend to include calls for greater public participation in the development process, one might expect NIMBYs to gain even louder voices under such a scenario. The last bit may be somewhat true; there's certainly an increasing demand for new urbanist-style developments, and they target a growing market niche. But the statement that preceeds it seems a stretch given the push by smart-growth advocates elsewhere. Just look at Loudoun County, VA, where smart growth advocates pushed through severe large lot zoning restrictions that effectively preclude all but the most minimal development in the western third of the county. One other thing to note: Bookman doesn't touch on one of the biggest drivers of what is termed "sprawl": overwhelming consumer preferences for low-density residential living. While I would certainly agree with him that there should be no regulatory obstacles to smart growth developments, we'll have to agree to disagree on the point that smart growthers feel the same way about low-density suburban development. From what I've seen, a majority of smart growthers would love to see low-density development legislated out of existence, at least as far as future development goes.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform

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