Sunday, March 2, 2008

Level the Urban Playing Field

A blog I really like to check out is the Bellows. Today Ryan discusses a response to an article about equity in cities vs. suburbs by economist Ed Glaeser. I agree with what he and Ed are saying about cities having to pay for some of suburbanites negative externalities which to him include the urban poor and the car based lifestyle. (Side note: A related recent article that people should read is about the movement of McMansions to McSlums by Chris Leinberger in a recent issue of the Atlantic.)

Back to Ed though; Back during the industrial revolution who could blame people for wanting to get away from the black soot and overcrowding that made up cities. It's different now though and there are lots of rules that keep cities from being the slums they were before. But today, cities pay (or as some say export tax base) to the suburbs in the form of road subsidies versus before when streetcars and streetcar suburbs were funded by the people in those suburbs. This to me is the biggest force today that promotes and spreads real sprawl. There have been policies after WWII that accelerated it including the Federal Highway System and suburban lending practices but those now are more of the beginning of the inertia rather than what is happening now. Now pro-suburban policies include job subsidies and the expansion of roads instead of maintenance. Now let's level the playing field.

No region should receive special favors from the federal government; no city should get special treatment from Beacon Hill. But our cities deserve a level playing field. A level playing field requires that urbanites should not bear an undue burden of caring for the poor and that suburbanites should pay for the environmental costs of energy-intensive lifestyles.
Back to the Bellows, some don't think that we should level the playing field to cities but Ryan gives this response:

His follow-up point that we shouldn’t do things to benefit cities because those things will unfairly benefit the rich is dreadfully off the mark. Glaeser is saying that society as a whole would be more urban if we got rid of some of the distortions preventing such a change (by charging, say, for pollution and congestion externalities). His broader point is that this will make society as a whole better off. And yes, policies to make life better in cities will have the effect of making life better for people in cities, and possibly harder for those in suburbs. So what? If the world needs to reduce carbon emissions, then it’s going to be the case that people who have to cut back most on their emissions get hurt the most. The alternative is to continue to allow those folks to not have to pay for the damage they inflict on the rest of us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pardon my schadenfreude, but making suburbs pay to maintain their roads and charging them congestion fees to drive into downtown commercial centers really tweaks my sense of justice.

Road and utility maintenance should be a priority but most cities/suburbs have thought of growth before anything else. Density would, I think, naturally rise as maintenance was taken into account when figuring property taxes and values.

Do I want a house with a patch of lawn one day? You bet, but close to the city center and I don't expect to be subsidized once I decide to go that way. Plus, who wants to live in neighborhood you can get lost in trying to find your own beige house?