At Volokh, Ilya Somin discusses a recent piece in the American Prospect (also linked from here) that favors “New Urbanism” to prevent “unwalkable” sprawl. Somin favors “voting with your feet” as the preferred method of satisfying location preferences. Unfortunately, voting options have been whittled down through government interventions:
To the extent that we do need to enable more people to live in densely populated urban areas, it’s far from clear that government planning is the best way to achieve that goal. We can better achieve the same objective by cutting back on planning rather than increasing it. In many large cities, the cost of housing is artificially inflated by restrictive zoning laws, which tends to price out the poor and some middle class people. In the suburbs, as Adler points out, zoning policies sometimes artificially decrease density, for example by forbidding "mixed use" neighborhoods where commercial and residential uses are in close proximity to each other.
The ultimate question is whether we should trust deeper interventions into land use to fix the complete failure of past interventions. Long before “New Urbanism” was the progressive utopian ideal, sprawling, auto-friendly and trolley-free, single-family suburbs was their “American Dream”. But, progressives quickly forget their history when it turns out their past visions created something they are now supposed to hate:
Like previous generations of planners, the new urbanists often ignore the diversity of human preferences. Some people do indeed like high-density "walkable" environments. Others prefer to have more space and more peace and quiet. Neither preference is inherently superior to the other. To paraphrase a popular liberal slogan, we should celebrate diversity, not seek to use urban planning to force everyone to live the same lifestyle whether they want to or not.
The post evokes the typical variety of comments ranging from standard defense of suburbs as a rational choice to the favored Market Urbanist arguments. (Happily, market urbanist ideas seem to be gaining popularity.) As guest Market Urbanism writer, Stephen Smith correctly pointed out to the commenters:
It’s so sad when supposed libertarians defend the current transportation/land use situation, because in my opinion it’s one of the most profoundly damaging interventions in the American economy today.