Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sprawl and "privatization"

Congrats to Eduardo on the publication of his excellent opinion piece, in The Washington Post, on sprawl, gas prices, etc.  I've been droning on for years now, on this blog, about urbanism (new and the original), and so I'm entirely on board with most of what Eduardo has to say. 

That said, one minor quibble.  Eduardo writes:

Although the end of sprawl will require painful changes, it will also provide a badly needed opportunity to take stock of the car-dependent, privatized society that has evolved over the past 60 years and to begin imagining different ways of living and governing. We may discover that it's not so bad living closer to work, in transit- and pedestrian-friendly, diverse neighborhoods where we run into friends and neighbors as we walk to the store, school or the office. We may even find that we don't miss our cars and commutes, and the culture they created, nearly as much as we feared we would.

In my view, it might be a mistake -- or, at least, it is too quick -- to connect too closely the land-use patterns and transportation we call "sprawl" with our "privatized" society.  Sure, there's something to the idea -- again, I'm sure I've endorsed it on this blog -- that urbanism is more authentically human, civic, public, and political than much of what goes on in "sprawl."  That said, "sprawl" can also be blamed, it seems to me, on the failure of our land-use policy to respect "private" ordering enough.  The zoning rules, which facilitate -- indeed, require -- the dysfunctional patterns Eduardo and I criticize are, after all, often government-imposed.  They interfere with -- indeed, they often prohibit -- land-uses and developments that Eduardo and I would like, and that private parties would be willing to construct, invest in, live in, etc. 

We might also wonder whether a greater reliance by cities on "privatized" service-delivery might have slowed the flight to suburban gated communities.  After all, it seems that at least part of the sprawl story is the entirely reasonable frustration of many people with the inability of many cities to do their basic civic, service-delivery jobs.

And finally, as Eduardo notes, there's education . . . .  Until we tame the education blob, and break the teacher-unions' lock on education-policy, and allow for genuine, religious-freedom-friendly choice in education, we will not get the "urban thing" right.  (I can live "in town", and feel smug about my front porch, sidewalks, walkable neighborhood, minimal commute, etc., but only because my neighborhood parish has a wonderful school.)

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Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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