I apologize for the extended delay between posts. Personal (newborn) and professional priorities have prevented me from having the free time I once had. Unfortunately posts will probably continue to be sporadic until things settle down a little.
We are now at Part 4 in the multi-part series delving into the urbanist-friendly ideas in Murray Rothbard’s classic For a New Liberty. (available free from Mises.org as pdf, web page, and audio book) In case you missed them, here are the first three parts:
Rothbard the Urbanist Part 1: Public Education’s Role in Sprawl and Exclusion
Rothbard the Urbanist Part 2: Safe Streets
Rothbard the Urbanist Part 3: Prevention of Blockades
As we continue through Chapter 11 of For A New Liberty, Rothbard continues to make valid points regarding safety and policing in a fully private-landowner system. This passage is notably interesting in its discussion of the successes of private railroads. Whether competition in the private street market would create a vibrant marketplace similar to the early days of the railroad is an interesting topic for discussion. I’d tend to agree with Rothbard, but of course some imagination is required to envision such a radically different society:
There is of course nothing new or startling in the principle of this envisioned libertarian society. We are already familiar with the energizing effects of inter-location and inter-transportation competition. For example, when the private railroads were being built throughout the nation in the nineteenth century, the railroads and their competition provided a remarkable energizing force for developing their respective areas. Each railroad tried its best to induce immigration and economic development in its area in order to increase its profits, land values, and value of its capital; and each hastened to do so, lest people and markets leave their area and move to the ports, cities, and lands served by competing railroads. The same principle would be at work if all streets and roads were private as well. Similarly, we are already familiar with police protection provided by private merchants and organizations. Within their property, stores provide guards and watchmen; banks provide guards; factories employ watchmen; shopping centers retain guards, etc. The libertarian society would simply extend this healthy and functioning system to the streets as well. It is scarcely accidental that there are far more assaults and muggings on the streets outside stores than in the stores themselves; this is because the stores are supplied with watchful private guards while on the streets we must all rely on the “anarchy” of government police protection. Indeed, in various blocks of New York City there has already arisen in recent years, in response to the galloping crime problem, the hiring of private guards to patrol the blocks by voluntary contributions of the landlords and homeowners on that block. Crime on these blocks has already been substantially reduced. The problem is that these efforts have been halting and inefficient because those streets are not owned by the residents, and hence there is no effective mechanism for gathering the capital to provide efficient protection on a permanent basis. Furthermore, the patrolling street guards cannot legally be armed because they are not on their owners’ property, and they cannot, as store or other property owners can, challenge anyone acting in a suspicious but not yet criminal manner. They cannot, in short, do the things, financially or administratively, that owners can do with their property.
Furthermore, police paid for by the landowners and residents of a [p. 205] block or neighborhood would not only end police brutality against customers; this system would end the current spectacle of police being considered by many communities as alien “imperial” colonizers, there not to serve but to oppress the community. In America today, for example, we have the general rule in our cities of black areas patrolled by police hired by central urban governments, governments that are perceived to be alien to the black communities. Police supplied, controlled, and paid for by the residents and landowners of the communities themselves would be a completely different story; they would be supplying, and perceived to be supplying, services to their customers rather than coercing them on behalf of an alien authority.
A dramatic contrast of the merits of public vs. private protection is provided by one block in Harlem. On West 135th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues is the station house of the 82nd Precinct of the New York City Police Department. Yet the august presence of the station house did not prevent a rash of night robberies of various stores on the block. Finally, in the winter of 1966, fifteen merchants on the block banded together to hire a guard to walk the block all night; the guard was hired from the Leroy V. George protection company to provide the police protection not forthcoming from their property taxes.1
The most successful and best organized private police forces in American history have been the railway police, maintained by many railroads to prevent injury or theft to passengers or freight. The modern railway police were founded at the end of World War I by the Protection Section of the American Railway Association. So well did they function that by 1929 freight claim payments for robberies had declined by 93%. Arrests by the railway police, who at the time of the major study of their activities in the early 1930s totaled 10,000 men, resulted in a far higher percentage of convictions than earned by police departments, ranging from 83% to 97%. Railway police were armed, could make normal arrests, and were portrayed by an unsympathetic criminologist as having a widespread reputation for good character and ability.2 [p. 206]
Of course, those who embrace a government monopoly on policing would proclaim privatization would result in some kind of privately-run police-state, but let’s examine a few examples in today’s society. In the comments of a recent post, Benjamin Hemric and I discussed some examples of privately-run pedestrian environments. Here’s what we came up with:
- shopping malls
- outdoor lifestyle centers
- theme parks
- sidewalks in gated communities
- pedestrian bridges between buildings (such as Minneapolis’ Skybridge System)
- pedestrian tunnels (such as Chicago’s Pedway)
- accessible building lobbies that act as pedestrian thoroughfares (example: AT&T Corporate Center / USG Building in Chicago, and Helmsley Building in Midtown Manhattan)
- college campuses
- private streets and alleys such as Washington Mews in Greenwich Village and Shubert Alley in New York’s theater district
- master-planned developments such as Rockefeller Plaza (the street, not the sunken plaza)
So, private streets wouldn’t result in tolls of valuable sidewalk space every 10 feet? No, I think that’s an Urban[ism] Legend just waiting to be debunked.
You may have noticed that while some of these are examples of environments where exclusivity is maintained by the owner, most are examples of privately secured pedestrian environments that are accessible to anyone, without charge. Private operators are keenly interested in maintaining the safety of the streets for their customers or tenants. No mall owner would stay in business too long if its mall earned a reputation of muggings. Had Rothbard written a later edition, he may had mentioned shopping malls. As I mentioned in a previous post, it seems clear that dense, vibrant, mixed-use places are very well equipped to police themselves at little cost to the residents and business owners. Thus, wouldn’t a private society tend towards vibrant urbanity?
I think it would be interesting to discuss other examples of privately policed environments. What examples can you think of?
At the same time, it seems that the most unsafe places I can think of are publicly maintained. Am I missing something, or does it seem obvious once we take the time to think it over?
1. See William C Wooldridge, Uncle Sam the Monopoly Man (New Rochelle, N Y Arlington House, 1970), pp 111ff.
2. See Wooldridge, op. cit., pp 115-17. The criminological study was made by Jeremiah P Shalloo, Private Police (Philadelphia Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1933). Wooldridge comments that Shalloo’s reference to the good reputation of the railway police “contrasts with the present status of many big-city public forces, sanctions against misconduct are so ineffective or roundabout that they may as well not exist, however rhetorically comforting the forces’ status as servants of the people may be.” Wooldridge, op. cit., p 117.
MarketUrbanism saysAugust 4, 2009 at 1:59 pm
Benjamin Hemric saysAugust 4, 2009 at 10:36 pm
Adam [webmaster of Market Urbanism], good to see you back — although it's certainly understandable that you've been busy!
Although, I'm actually inclined to disagree with the idea that cities should have create networks of private streets INSTEAD OF networks of public ones (see further below), I realized the other day (when posting at Austin Contrarian about “tipping points”), that I forgot to mention to you an example of private streets that you might enjoy hearing about. Plus I'd also like to add an example to the categories already mentioned.
POSSIBLE NEW CATEGORY:
The private streets of St. Louis (which seem to be somewhat different from the private streets of today's gated communities).
In the 1970s (?), Oscar Newman (an architect / planner famous for his book “Defensible Space”) came out with a second book called “Communities of Interest.” His first book had focused mostly on public safety (e.g., discussing exactly why public housing projects were so unsafe and how their vulnerabilities could be reduced); his second book, though, focused on both public safety and its implications for racial integration and highlighted, in this regard, the private streets of St. Louis (which seem to me to be slightly different from the private streets of gated communities). Oscar Newman found that the privately owned streets in the area he studied (not all the streets in the area were privately owned) were not only safer but more likely to stay racially integrated. If you Google words like “private” “streets” “St. Louis” on the internet, there are some websites that give some general information about them. If I remember correctly, however, Newman's book (now out of print, I assume) had more information, though.
By the way, despite some similarities to Jane Jacobs (e.g., in a way, “Defensible Space” seems to be a scientifically done study that backs up Jacobs writings about street safety), Oscar Newman (who died a few years ago) seems to actually have been an “old time” leftist who's work is somewhat in opposition to Jacobs' thinking about cities.
ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES AND REFINEMENTS TO EXISTING CATEGORIES:
I would put “Rockefeller Plaza (the street)” in the same category as Shubert Alley and Washington Mews, but keep Rockefeller Center's network of underground passageways in the category of master-planned developments.
Forgot if I mentioned it already, but the original World Trade Center/World Financial Center set-up is also an example of a master-planned development with an extensive network of private pedestrian streets — although in this case it's a little complicated. Some parts of the network were originally owned by two different public authorities, (the Port Authority and the MTA), portions of the complex were later privatized by one of them (by the Port Authority), and one portion of the complex was owned from the beginning, I believe, by a private development company (Olympia & York?), who was nevertheless leasing the land from a third public authority (the Battery Park City Authority).
WHY I'M SKEPTICAL ABOUT THE IDEA OF CITIES SUBSTITUTING PRIVATE STREETS FOR PUBLIC ONES
Aside from being skeptical because of the blockades problem, it seems to me that a shift from public streets to private streets for TRUE cities would be enormously complex and, as far as I know, no true city has ever had such a street system, even at a small scale. So the idea seems very theoretical and impractical.
Plus, it seems to me that all the benefits, without the negatives, are already available through other means (e,g., block associations, business improvement districts [BIDs], etc.). So, for true cities at least, it kind of seems like a Rube Goldberg contraption, an unnecessarily complex way to accomplish something that can actually be done very simply.
Benjamin Hemric saysAugust 5, 2009 at 12:41 am
PRIVATE STREETS THAT I THINK COULD BE A GOOD IDEA FOR TRUE CITIES
Adam [webmaster of Market Urbanism], although this might not address your interest in private streets (as a way of fostering what I would call “radical” market urbanism), here's a brief outline of the kind of private streets that I think could be a good idea for cities (and would be, in my opinion, a way of fostering what I see as a more moderate market urbanism). (It's an idea that is inspired by, and which would seem to me to be more compatible with, the writings of Jane Jacobs.)
I think private streets that would be a boon to a cities, like New York, would be those like Rockefeller Plaza (the street not the plaza) and Shubert Alley — that is streets that are a SUPPLEMENT to a city-owned network of public streets and ones that help transform overly long blocks (like those in NYC between Fifth Avenue and Tenth (?) Avenue) into short ones. Such streets would create a number of benefits for both private landowners and the general public (in addition to the ones, liked better maintenance and safety, that you've already mentioned) and would also be relatively easy to create and administer (as the mechanism already pretty much exist — at least in NYC). While Jacobs has already explictly pointed out most of the benefits, I believe there are one or two that, as far as I know, she hasn't explicitly pointed out. Here's a list of all the possible benefits that occur to me at the moment.
THE GENERAL IDEA (I'll use NYC as an example, but the same idea could be applied to other cities with overlong blocks.)
Stop allowing buildings to get zoning bonuses (more FAR or more residential units) for “dead-end,” anti-city “parks” and “plazas” (i.e., urban cul de sacs) and allow bonuses ONLY for mid-block (or close to mid-block) “through plazas” (of a certain width). Such private “streets” could be for vehicles (including trucks) and pedestrians, or for pedestrians only. They could be conventional streets, entrances to underground parking garages (for tenants only), or essentially landscaped parks or plazas. What is important is that they be of a certain width (similar to the width of conventional city streets), easily transversed by pedestrians (e.g., NOT have steps, etc.), and open to at least pedestrians for most of the day / night. (They could be gated at night, say between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.)
Here's a rundown of the benefits (and I'll use New York's overlong east-west blocks to describe them — although they could apply to any cities elsewhere that might have overly long blocks):
1) Decreased isolation of overly long blocks east-west blocks. (This is one of Jacobs' main points.)
This would also provide great benefits for the private landowners who create the private street too, as he / she would be transforming his /her “dead” center block properties into more highly valued corner properties. So, not only would the property owner be creating additional streets, he / she would also be creating his / her own additional, and more desirable and lucrative “corner” properties out of less “dead” and less lucrative mid-block properties (“turning lemons into lemonade”).
2) Decreased congestion (especially pedestrian congestion) on north-south avenues. This would be expecially true if a network of private streets went on for a number of blocks. The longer the chain of private streets, the more likely it would be that they would be used by large numbers of pedestrians going north south.
3) More aesthetically pleasing open spaces. (Today's current zoning bonuses encourage ugly mid-block “plazas” with exposed raw sidewalls.)
4) More functional opens spaces (unlike the mono-dimensional open spaces of today's bonused “plazas”), as the open spaces would both “open up” the city (create beauty) AND create other additional urban benefits too (increase functionality). (See more about this above and below).
While I don't mind such private streets being similiar to conventional city streets, the general public seems to have an obsession with parks and plazas. So, it should be noted that these new private streets could also be essentially landscaped parks or plazas — which is what Rockefeller Plaza [the street] has essentially become, although it was originally nearly identical to a regualr NYC street — as long as such private streets also allow for convenient pedestrian thu traffic.
5) More prestigous frontages for properties, both commercial and residential. Instead of having a building with a “nothing” frontage in the middle of a drab overly long block, a developer could create a very impressive mid-block auto drop-off for his property. (This is the original use of Rockefeller Plaza [the street], and I think Rockefeller Center changed this original use because of the Center's high profile and fear of post-9/11 terrorism and also for the needs of the “Today” show — which wouldn't be applicable to other properties.)
6) More high quality street-level commercial space for the properties' owners. (That is formerly “mid-block” retail space would become higher quality retail space with the creation of a private street.)
7) For the public at large, the increased supply of high quality retail space would also mean more competition in an area and lower rents overall. This could translate into more “affordable” retail space, especially for those businesses that don't really need high traffic “avenue” locations (e.g., laundromats, dry cleaners, day care centers, antique shops, etc.). (Even if zoning allowed it, it would be unlikely that such businesses would locate in the center of long, isolated blocks.)
So, for instance, had developers of high rises been induced (through FAR bonsues) to create a private street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West on Manhattan's Upper West Side, as Jane Jacobs seems to suggest in “Death and Life,” such a street could have increased the amount of “practical” retail space on the Upper West Side and would thus have created more “affordable” alternative spaces for laundromats, dry cleaners, day care centers, etc. (i.e., the kind of businesses that in boom timess have been priced out out of Columbus Avenue and Broadway, the Upper West Side's only two commerciall thoroughfares).
Bascially the city would be creating, through market mechanisms (instead of through eminent domain), MORE city thoroughfares (i.e., urbane “capillaries”) to “digest” additional congestion (to mix metaphors) — instead of just adding additional congestion to the city's existing arteries, as it now does today with its bonused “plazas.”
Colin saysAugust 8, 2009 at 11:59 am
How would these private streets allow for behaviour that is desirable at the level of society, but may not be desirable from the perspective of individual property owners?
Behaviour which is overtly political (such as protests) or purely recreational (such as skateboarding) is often banned from privately owned places such as shopping malls. The landowning class is unlikely to provide for such essentially uncommercial, yet socially beneficial activities.
MarketUrbanism saysAugust 8, 2009 at 10:28 pm
Thanks for the St. Louis information. That sounds like a great topic for future posts!
No doubt, such an exercise would be complex and probably extremely corrupt. I think of all the corruption that happened when the Soviet Union collapsed and those in power looted the public property. For it to work, it would have to be a pure public auction or something like that. If politicians were to run the liquidation, it would probably end up worse than what we have now. Thus, it's a pretty utopian view. But, it's interesting to imagine how the urban landscape would be had neighborhoods been left to private sector development.
I also think imagining a world without public land is valuable as a thought experiment. Taking the concept to its logical extreme helps me validate or invalidate an ideology. Being comfortable with how I imagine a purely private society, I've come to the conclusion that it's wise to move in the direction towards privatization, even if at a slow pace.
MarketUrbanism saysAugust 11, 2009 at 4:26 am
Thanks for the question/comment. I especially appreciate it in a philosophical level.
I should first point out that there is no such thing as “behavior that is desirable at the level of society.” Society is a concept, and thus cannot have desires; whereas individuals do have desires. Most behaviors are unlikely to be desired by all members of a society in all situations. However, a free market provides the options and diversity necessary for individuals to assess tradeoffs among various behaviors permitted within various locations.
I don't see why all private landowners would inherently forbid protesting. Private Universities certainly allow protesting. But, if people's desire to protest was hampered by certain property owners' restrictions, those who find it necessary to protest would certainly seek to do business with landowners that would permit protest on their property.
The private sector is already great at providing recreation. For example, I belong to a private gym and have been a member of a private pool. I often go to a privately-owned movie theaters and sporting venues. A friend of mine plays hockey at a privately owned skating facility. I have been to concerts at privately owned music halls. I have played golf at privately owned golf courses. etc… I could go on for paragraphs…
While skateboarding is banned at shopping malls, there are privately owned skate facilities. And I would think the government should have the same concern for its property, and desire to protect its property from being damaged by skateboarders just like a private mall owner.
I find it interesting that you chose to associate land ownership as a class, because I am not familiar with such a class. Are you inferring that such a class exists today? Because, if it exists today, we can clearly see that this supposed class does, in fact, provide recreation as I mentioned above. Or are you inferring that a class system would emerge that would eradicate political and recreational activities? If so, please explain more – I'd like to understand better.