Former Portland METRO director and current Clark County, WA Community Development Dept. Director Richard Carson — a self-described “contrarian planner” (we need more of those) — has an article in Architecture magazine this month that assails the urbanist mentality:
I recently attended a public meeting where an elected official asked a group of planners the rhetorical question, “What is sprawl?” One planner’s response was that sprawl occurred when the rural area was divided into large-acreage lots in order to build “McMansions.” The official’s response was, “Would you be happier if people located low-income trailers there instead?” This dialogue troubled me. For the advocates of recent planning trendsÃ¢â?¬â??such as smart growth and New UrbanismÃ¢â?¬â??to attract financial supporters and sympathetic voters, they use pejorative labels like sprawl, big-box, and McMansion. In order to demonize sprawl you need a demon. Rural farmers and foresters can’t be vilified because planners are supposedly conserving resource lands for their use. And it’s politically incorrect to malign lower-income families living in trailers. So who do special-interest groups scapegoat? Rich people and McDonald’s are easy targetsÃ¢â?¬â??thus: Rich people + McDonald’s = McMansion. This Orwellian doublespeak has been used by proponents to subliminally sell a political agenda that attacks a longstanding American institution: the land-settlement patterns of a culture dominated by automobiles and low-cost postwar subdivision housing. Their social agenda exploits fear and classism to advance their causeÃ¢â?¬â??at the expense of someone else’s socioeconomic beliefs and well-being.
The whole article is well worth a read.