Keep Your Laws Off Their Suburbs

by Conor Friedersdorf

Matt Yglesias writes:

A few years ago, Virginia Republicans passed a developer friendly bill mandating that each locality designate an “urban development area” in which medium-density construction would be permitted. It doesn’t require that higher density structures actually be built, but it does require that they be permitted. Similarly, it doesn’t require that mixed-use development be built, but it does require that it be permitted. Naturally, a conservative Virginia state legislator has teamed up with a local Tea Party group is looking to overturn this and has founded an outfit called the Campaign for Liberty in defense of stringent development restrictions.

Stephen Smith, who has a good post on this, seems surprised. But there’s really nothing surprising about it. Freedom-talk is an important influence in American rhetoric, but itand especially its self-consciously antiquarian cousin liberty-talkhas nothing to do with any analytically respectable conception of freedom.

It would be more accurate to say that freedom and liberty talk don't necessarily have anything to do with an analytically respectable conception of freedom, and I certainly think Yglesias is right to call out opposition to more freedom in land use decisions. Nor does the story he flags surprise me. Growing up in Orange County, California, one learns rather quickly that cities dominated by Republicans regularly impose unnecessary restrictions on land use, pass petty laws about the hours one is permitted to walk on the beach, and generally engages in what can only be called a central planning model of economic growth.

The average suburban homeowner is a vocal proponent of property rights until the day when a nearby landowner wants to build an apartment complex on his property. Then the right not to live near renters is treated as sacrosanct.