Tag Archives: Conservatives

Free Parking Versus the Free Market

In this article, Eric de Place calls on conservative think-tanks to address an issue that they rarely have: public parking.  This issue is rarely fought by conservatives, but in reality, it embodies many of the things that make their collective skins crawl: distortion of the free market; government intervention through minimum parking requirements; and an economic burden, especially on those who are taxed for parking but don’t use it, and on those who are required to build parking when they could make more money by developing the property in another way.  He suggests that all curbside parking be metered or that this extra space be put to better use, such as HOV lanes or wider sidewalks.  He also suggests dynamic parking prices that shifts in proportion to the demand.  He cites the few articles he could find on the subject, which are paltry.  He insinuates that conservatives may not be wanting to address this issue because it is generally unpopular and because conservatives generally are partakers of the car-dependent lifestyle.

I’ll be straightforward; I wouldn’t call myself a free market capitalist, because that economic theory is based on the assumption that markets are flawless and that people always make rational decisions, neither of which is true.  That being said, I’m something of a Keynesian.  Keynesian economic theory, though it does allow for government oversight and the action of a “spender of last resort,” still beleives that the free market should be the dominant force in economies, with the government stepping in when things get out of hand (Keynesianism isn’t socialism.  Look it up.).  I believe that parking is a situation that the government does not need to and, indeed, shouldn’t control, and that it should be turned over to the market.  If people actually had to pay what parking was worth (as well as what gasoline was worth), I think that more people would choose to drive less, and we would have better cities.

Stewart Schwartz: “Smart growth” saves taxpayer money

Stewart Schwartz brings us this article in which he argues that smart growth and New Urbanism are inherently conservative.  Traditional sprawl has created massive infrastructure costs, and the remedy proposed by Republicans was to create areas of concentrated development similar to pre-WWII towns and suburbs.  These areas should have more walkable, safer streets with more accessible services.  Family budgets have been hurt by the extra funds needed to live a car-dependent lifestyle.  “After housing, transportation is the second highest cost in family budgets — $9,369 per year to own a car driven 15,000 miles per year according to AAA,” says Schwartz.  The free market is turning away from the suburban model and back to cities, towns, and even inner-ring suburbs.  He says that, in addition to wasteful infrastructure spending, we are wasting money on energy.  “Because we have grown so inefficiently, our 5 percent share of the world’s population consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil with 70 percent going to transportation. Over 60 percent is imported.  We have some oil here at home, but it is a limited and long-term strategic resource. Smart growth policies would allow us to use less oil, and instead of sending our dollars overseas, we would save more, invest more, and be more competitive.”  New Urbanism is an issue that should be important to both sides of the aisle, and conservatives need to realize that this change would support their policies more than the status quo.

Architecture, the Public Realm, and Small-Town America

I found this through Post Right, a blog through the American Conservative (not that I subscribe, it just came through my news feed).  This was posted on Nathancontramundi, a blog by “an educated Midwestern hick tilting at windmills.”  This particular post mentions how wonderful he finds it to live in a walkable community, but at the same time, how terrible it is that beautiful buildings from before WWII are being modified or replaced with Modern monstrosities.  He gives multiple insights, including pictures and vivid descriptions of the changes.  He also argues that money isn’t really the issue, because our forefathers built better buildings with even less money.  He concludes that “the problem is more a symptom of cultural enervation, of the death of the public realm and community spirit, than it is of perpetual residence in or near the red.”  He finishes with a call to action — that “We need to demand more of our civil servants, of our entrepreneurs, and of our civic organizations.  We need to demand more of ourselves, because we owe it to ourselves, to our forebears, and to our children.”

New urbanism and churches

This article was written by Randy Bright, who has written similar articles in the Tulsa Beacon in the past.  The long story short of this article is that he advises Tulsa against New Urbanist development.  He says that cities want to build according to the New Urbanist model because it lowers infrastructure costs, which is true, but that they dress it up as a place with improved quality of life.  The number of articles confirming that New Urbanism actually does improve quality of life, as opposed to being some sort of sales pitch, speaks for itself.

He also claims that New Urbanism is some sort of big government liberal conspiracy.  How does a return to traditional building forms derive from liberalism?  William S. Lind, of the American Conservative, argues quite the opposite in this article.  According to him, there are only two out of the 27 principles of New Urbanism that conservatives would take issue with (one of which is regional government, but as we can see from the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, similar goals can be achieved without government, or regional government can replace outdated models such as county governments).  In addition to this, and as was argued by John Norquist, we know that the modern architects which inspired suburbia were mostly socialists and communists, so really suburban development is closer to a vast leftist conspiracy.

He also points out that there are many folks who don’t want to live in these sort of developments.  Who says they have to?  Even if your community does adopt New Urbanist principles, they would only apply to new development.  Your house, your cul-de-sac, your subdivision would be grandfathered.  And even within New Urbanism, there is room for single-family development.  There’s a whole part of the Transect (T3) devoted to it.  He also claims that “Anyone who has lived in an apartment complex for any time at all can attest to” the fact that people don’t want to live close together.  The use of the word “anyone” would make his claim useless in court.  I, for instance, live in a wonderful apartment complex with some of the best neighbors I’ve ever had.  My parents, on the other hand, only know the neighbors across the street from them because they called the cops on my parents for leaving their van parked on the street overnight.  My point is, there are indeed some people who want to live close to others, and living in suburbia doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enjoy living apart from undesirable people.

He points out that a problem with New Urbanism is that it often encounters high capital costs.  This is generally true, but as he mentioned himself, the infrastructure costs are lower, and the energy savings of shared walls and other high-density features are much more cost-effective in the long run than suburban development.

He finishes his article with a variety of prophetic claims that cities will all set up urban growth boundaries, that there will be land shortages which hurt churches, and that cities will increase their use of eminent domain, none of which he substantiates with any sort of facts.  I find it funny that Bright, a builder of churches, is concerned about shortages of large tracts of land for church building.  Now, I’ll admit, being Mormon, I don’t understand much about the subject, because our church has very few standard models for church design, thus limiting the size needed, and we are assigned to congregations based on geography, so we don’t worry about looking around for a church we like.  But despite my general ignorance, I decided to look up some information on churches.  I went to Bright’s website to look at some of his work, and all of his churches are huge structures surrounded by parking and fields.  So yes, his version of a church might not be buildable in New Urbanist communities.  But look at this congregational church from the downtown of where I live, in Provo, Utah:


This church has no off-street parking.  That’s because it’s location allows people to walk or bike there, or they can park on either of the two streets the church fronts.  The chapel is quite spacious, and there are plenty of offices and classrooms.  This church is also a real part of the community, participating in monthly art walks by showing collections of religious art.

Even more Urban is the Provo Baptist Church:


This small church is just another storefront, using the ample on-street parking.

Want more space?  That’s okay, you can still be urban:


This Lutheran church is on a quarter of a block and has ample parking as well as plenty of green space and offices.

Really though, churches are significant civic buildings and should be designed to the highest standards and saved for a place of prominence, like the Provo Tabernacle:


All of these work in an Urban context.  And really, there isn’t much that is new about New Urbanism.  It’s essentially just a new phase of good urbanism, where we hope to bring back the best of yesteryear, before modernism and suburbia.  And churches are a significant part of that revival.