Austin Bramwell cannot figure out why libertarians and conservatives like suburban sprawl. Excerpt:
It’s odd that self-described libertarians such as Stossel are so slow to grasp that government planning makes sprawl ubiquitous. You would think that libertarians would instinctively grasp the deeply statist nature of suburban development. First of all, with a depressingly few exceptions, virtually every town in America looks the same. That is, it has the same landscape of arterial roads, strip malls, and residential subdivisions, accessibly only by car. Surely, given America’s celebrated diversity, you would also see a diversity of places. As it turns out, all but a few people live the same suburban lifestyle. Government, as libertarian assumptions would predict, is the culprit.
Bramwell goes on to point out that it’s a fallacy to say that Americans prefer to live in Sprawlsville over more traditionally designed spaces. They don’t have a realistic choice. Zoning regulations in most places forbid non-sprawl construction, and the traditional places — you know, the walkable, human-scaled landscapes — are too expensive for ordinary people to afford.
Erik Kain, meanwhile, argues that sprawl is what’s wrong with conservatism. Excerpt:
Perhaps this is the mission conservatives should set for themselves. To return politics to the realm of the political. To work, instead, against these subtle enemies – sprawl, materialism – and to quit fighting this endless, empty political shouting match. End the culture war and its subversion of culture to the whim of the political.
Sprawl is a result of massive statist interventions into our culture and society, and its symptoms are equally enormous. Everything that conservatism has historically stood for is undermined by sprawl. It is not only the physical manifestation of our decline, it is a poison which continues to contribute to that decline. Its repercussions can be felt in our discourse, in our speech, in our way of thinking. This is not merely a matter of aesthetically pleasing communities, but of communities which allow individuals to be a part of the whole. I doubt this is sustainable, this suburban maze – in any way: fiscally, socially, spiritually. It is, as James Howard Kunstler called it, “a peculiar blip in human experience.”
I see his point and agree, mostly. But isn’t sprawl just another manifestation of the hypermobility that contemporary Americans see as a fundamental right? I might well dislike urban sprawl, but given that I haven’t shown any sense of being loyal to a place, I’m as implicated in the general rootlessness that Erik decries as any denizen of sprawlsville. Still, I am increasingly convinced that Erik is right about the need to pioneer a kind of anti-political politics to change the culture.