Holding Hands with New Urbanists

Congress of New Urbanism President John Norquist (the former Milwaukee mayor) takes Steven Greenhut to task for his scathing slam on new urbanists last week. According to Norquist:

Smart growth has been government-initiated and policy-driven, while the New Urbanism has historically been developer-initiated and market-driven. When properly understood, the New Urbanism is not at all incompatible with Greenhut’s libertarian concerns – in fact, it may indeed be a more pure expression of them. The New Urbanists do not demand the elimination of suburbia – only that we be allowed to build compact, walkable and mixed-use communities. Current zoning codes in most areas allow only the development of single-use, auto-dependent housing subdivisions, shopping centers and office parks. New Urbanists have found that there is a strong market demand for traditional towns, and that towns should not face regulatory obstacles greater than conventional suburbia. The New Urbanists think that it is fiscally prudent that new development should, when it requires the extension of infrastructure and services, pay its own way. Currently, subsidies for extending urban services effectively rob taxpayers in existing communities that have long since paid for their infrastructure. . . . . Greenhut says he’s for freedom and, if he is, he should join us in seeking to ease restrictions that block traditional urban development. . . . . Greenhut could join us in seeking to broaden current state and federal rules and practices that force developers to obtain variances to build smaller less expensive streets. He could also support restricting the government’s power of eminent domain as I did recently as an individual, submitting an amicus brief supporting the rights of property owners in Kelo vs. New London. Or he could join the many members of the Congress for the New Urbanism who support school-choice vouchers because we believe the government monopoly of K-12 funding is bad for kids and the cities they live in.

If Norquist and the Congress for New Urbanism folks are serious about their commitment to opening the door for new urbanism in the marketplace while distancing themselves from the statist, regulatory hammer approach of the Smart Growthers, then we can indeed find a lot of common ground in our mutual pursuit towards removing regulatory obstacles to development innovation and allowing the housing market to respond to the wide range of consumer preferences. With all due respect to Greenhut (whose opinions I often share), I’d have to agree that his piece was a bit off-the-mark. It’s easy to lump in the new urbanists with the smart growth movement since they often agree on desired outcomes in terms of urban form, but to claim equivalence between the two movements is simplistic and counterproductive. For more on the common ground between New Urbanists and libertarians, see this post.