Hate Suburban Sprawl? Blame the State

Quite counterintuitive--to John Stossel, at least

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Sure, we all hate suburban sprawl, right? "Wrong." So says libertarian John Stossel as he attempts to debunk the sprawl-is-bad argument in his Myths, Lies and Nasty Behavior series on ABC. "Should everyone have to live the way I do?" he asks. He likes his apartment, but it's not for everyone. He also says the idea that open space is disappearing in America is "a total myth," and reproaches anti-sprawl "busybodies" for dictating how and where people should live.

Liberals are predictably debunking his debunking. More surprising is Austin Bramwell of the American Conservative, who offered one of the first and most thorough rebuttals.

  • This Has Been Debunked 'about 100 Times' "If Stossel wants to to expand Americans' lifestyle choices, he should attack the very thing he was defending," says Austin Bramwell: "For the 101st time: sprawl--an umbrella term for the pattern of development seen virtually everywhere in the United States--is not caused by the free market." Instead, government regulations, zoning laws, building codes, and street design regulations actually "mandate" it. Bramwell is perplexed: "You would think that libertarians would instinctively grasp the deeply statist nature of suburban development."
  • Agreed: 'Walkable Urbanism Is Illegal in Most of the Country' Matthew Yglesias takes as his text the zoning regulations of a Phoenix suburb:
If you want to build a mult-family structure in those places, you can't. If you find yourself an R2 zone you can, but it can only be a two family structure. Also your building can't be taller than 40 feet, "There shall be a front yard having a depth of not less than 20 feet," the year yard needs to be 25 feet, and the side yard needs to be at least 5 feet. On average, buildings can only occupy at most 50 percent of the lot. And there have to be two parking spaces per dwelling unit. And you can go so on and so forth throughout the whole thing. The point, however, is that walkable urbanism is illegal in most of the county.
  • This Isn't Really a Libertarian Objection "John Stossel, like a lot of self-described libertarians, isn't so much 'libertarian' as he is an anti-liberal," theorizes blogger Jamelle at United States of Jamerica. Across the blogosphere at Unqualified Offerings, Jim Henley agrees, though phrases it differently: "anti-anti-sprawl libertarianism will exist so long as there are libertarians who hate hippies more than they hate central planning--which is to say, it will exist for a long time."
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