Denver Newspaper Readers to Libertarian: You Don't Speak for Us When You Champion Sprawl

Readers delivered a reality check this weekend to Jennifer Lang of the Independence Institute after she penned an op-ed piece in the Rocky Mountain News that trotted out the kind of anti-urbanist canards that get pro-sprawl Libertarians and their principles twisted up in knots. A number of readers were having none of it when Lang suggested that large-lot subdivisions were the natural choice of most Denver residents and that development based on 1950s-style automobile-oriented planning didn't run up government budgets.

"From the tone of the article, you'd think that suburbanites were being herded into cattle cars and forced to live in stylish lofts among Prius-driving do-gooders," wrote Yale J. Kaul of Wheat Ridge in a particularly well-argued letter that went on to cite a litany of ways sprawl leads to larger government subsidies. "When another new exclusive, low-density suburban enclave is built, who pays for the additional infrastructure such as new roads, schools, sewer lines, snowplows and fire stations? Who pays when increased traffic from exurban development "requires" that we spend $5 billion to widen freeways every 10 to 15 years? Who pays for the additional public transit for the people that work at the suburban McDonald's but can't afford to live anywhere near it? Who pays for the new stoplights and turn lanes to service the new (taxpayer-subsidized) suburban Wal-Mart? How about the U.S. Postal Service, which counts among its largest expenditures the upkeep of the delivery vehicles required to serve the suburban routes that couldn't possibly be done on foot?"

Kaul also said that Lang's charge of "socially engineering lifestyles" better suits "single-use zoning laws and neighborhood covenants typical of suburban development, which enforce that people live among people just like them and have to drive everywhere."

Two letters were from parents -- just the kind of people Lang said were unlikely to want to live in a new compact, traditional neighborhood. "For the first time in my adult life I feel like I am really part of a community, " said Heidi Swetich of Westminster. "I have two kids and the 15 kids on our street have been wonderful playmates for them. Previously, I lived in a typical suburban neighborhood, and I would go to the park and never see the same family twice. I didn't know any of my neighbors. I was lonely, really."

And said fellow Bradburn Village resident Petra Speiss, "How horrible that I know all my neighbors, that I have a list of 30 people who live close by that I can call in case of an emergency or if I just need someone to watch my 5-year-old so I can get something done."

It's always gratifying to see ideology-driven preconceptions trumped by real people and their changing expectations of the housing market and community planning. New Urbanism in Denver includes large developments such as Stapleton and Bradburn Village and award-winning ones such as Belmar and Prospect -- and their popularity is part of what's changing market preferences and helping Denver achieve more sustainable growth at a time when it seeks ways to house more than a million new residents in coming decades.


Denver Blog Lights Up Over Sprawl Subsidies

There's more criticism of the Independence Institute's sprawl apologia -- and NU attack -- at DenverInfill Blog. In response to the complaint in the Indy Institute's op-ed that transit-oriented development and New Urbanism in Denver receive too much TIF funding, one of the blog commenters notes that power centers and other automobile-oriented retail developments in Colorado frequently benefit from TIF subsidies. Although there's some disagreement at the blog about just how big the subsidies were, the Centerra shopping center in Loveland qualified for a subsidy by declaring farmland "blighted."


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