Are Planners Socialists for Trying to Encourage "Livability"?


Ray LaHood's vision of how we will get to work

That is the title at Planetizen that Tim Halbur writes, that sums up a discussion about whether initiatives to get people out of their cars and to create more walkable cities are socialist plots. George Will recently called Ray LaHood "Secretary of Behavior Modification." Will writes in Newsweek:


A liberal planner's dream community
For many generations--before automobiles were common, but trolleys ran to the edges of towns--Americans by the scores of millions have been happily trading distance for space, living farther from their jobs in order to enjoy ample backyards and other aspects of low-density living. And long before climate change became another excuse for disparaging America's "automobile culture," many liberal intellectuals were bothered by the automobile. It subverted their agenda of expanding government--meaning their--supervision of other people's lives. Drivers moving around where and when they please? Without government supervision? Depriving themselves and others of communitarian moments on mass transit? No good could come of this.


Fortunately, Neal Peirce and others are around to call him out. He writes a great article "Livability" -- Wimpy Term But Big Stakes For Us All. He notes that Will is not alone, writing:

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) worried publicly about "federal decision-makers in Washington (telling) communities how they should grow."

And transportation analyst Ken Orski recently concluded that "the administration's desire to impose its own vision of how Americans should live and travel represents a misguided and in the end futile gesture."

My personal favourite is a bit older, Joe Mysak in Bloomberg, who wrote about environmentalists looking at cities vs suburbs:

The notion appeals especially to people who like to think they'll be in charge after the revolution. They would apparently love nothing more than for the population to be confined to Soviet-style concrete-block high-rises and be forced to take state-run streetcars to their little jobs at the mill.

Peirce thinks the prudent and conservative approach is to be prepared.

If you like weak and ineffectual governance from Washington, just apply the operating rules of the U.S. Minerals Management Service that failed to avert the truly appalling Gulf of Mexico crisis, or the financial regulators who failed to protect us against the excesses that triggered the Great Recession.

A federal finger on the scale in favor of compact, economical, resource-conserving development doesn't need to be as heavy as safety regulation. Key words in the administration's initiative are affordability, access, choices, connection, character of place, collaboration -- hardly some kind of ruthless dictation. But we do need federal leadership -- no apologies -- in the tradition of the bold nation-building initiatives of our history, from the canals and first railways to today's interstate system.
And if this means a reprise of the more compact, "know your neighbor" town and city patterns that served America so well up to World War II, we'll be well served.

More at CityWire.

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