Sandy Ikeda’s latest article at FEE’s “The Freeman” is a great summary of the libertarian sprawl debate.
There has been a lot of Internet chatter lately about what libertarians ought to think about urban sprawl and its causes, including pieces by Kevin Carson, Austin Bramwell, Randal O’Toole, and Matthew Yglesias. The title of Ben Adler’s post basically sums it up: “If You Love the Free Market, You Should Hate Mandated Suburban Sprawl.”
Sandy includes a mention of the ongoing minimum parking debate. Sandy concludes that the more the government subsidizes items related to low-density development, the more low-density development we’ll get.
But the bottom line is that the law of demand still holds – other things equal, the cheaper you make something the more of it people will want to buy, and that includes low-density development. You’ll get more of that, too, if those direct and indirect subsidies make it cheaper for people to get it. Government intervention has done just that, and it’s hard to understand how you can argue, whether you’re a proponent or (especially) an opponent of Smart Growth, that the free market alone is responsible for the amount of sprawl that we actually have.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that Smart Growth regulations are the place to begin. Instead, if you think sprawl is a bad thing, it would seem logical to first remove the vast array of interventions that over the decades have pushed it along.
On this, I would have thought all market urbanists could agree.