Opinion: Daily Journal

Smart Growth & Redlining

RALEIGH — If that unwieldy mix of utopian socialism and environmental kookery some call “Smart Growth” had been around 50 years ago, it would have been a good fit with Jim Crow segregation.

Like the exclusionary regulations and state-ordered separation of the races in public services typical of that period, Smart Growth restricts the freedom of individuals to make their own decisions and pursue their own dreams, wreaking a disproportionate amount of harm on the lowest-income segments of society.

Those under the misapprehension that Smart Growth is a rational, fact-based approach will object to my equating their pet notion with racist ideas of the past. But the fact is, Smart Growth is nothing more than the latest attempt to use government power to exclude lower-income people from achieving the American Dream. It reflects the limousine-liberal mentality common in places like Chapel Hill, where everyone cares about the poor as long as the poor live somewhere else — say, Durham.

It’s a modern-day form of redlining.

A recent study by Sam Staley and Leonard Gilroy for the Reason Public Policy Institute serves to illustrate how growth controls impair upward mobility in a community. Staley and Gilroy looked at three states that have implemented statewide Smart Growth policies since the early 1990s: Florida, Washington, and Oregon. They found that in all three places, housing affordability suffered dramatic declines compared with the rest of the country. Home prices increased 44 percent faster than median income in Washington and more than twice as fast as income in Oregon. A different measure of affordability fell 9 percent in Florida, 7 percent in Washington, and a staggering 50 percent in Oregon, the poster-child for Smart Growth, while affordability improved for the nation as a whole.

“By effectively limiting housing choices, and thus neighborhood choices, the [growth controls] have reduced the opportunity for residents, particularly low-income groups, to choose for themselves where they will live and work and educate their children,” Staley and Gilroy argue. Because homeownership is also a primary means of family savings, Smart Growth acts as a wealth-inhibitor, too, preventing families from become self-sufficient in retirement or using increases in housing value to finance things like college educations or business start-ups.

The next time some bearded twerp in open-toe sandals wags his finger at you, complaining about urban sprawl and asserting his right to regulate growth, call him a racist. And enjoy the show.