Published in The
Colorado Freedom Report
and Planet Goldberg April, 2000.
On March 9, the Denver Rocky Mountain News excitedly reported that Douglas County, Colorado, was the fastest growing county in America. On March 10, the commentary section of the Rocky featured columnist Bonnie Erbe whining about the damage imposed by urban sprawl. She cited a recent poll by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism that named urban sprawl as the number one issue on the minds of Americans.
I live in Aurora and attend church in Highlands Ranch in Douglas County. South Aurora contains considerable sprawl, and Highlands Ranch consists of nothing but sprawl. To be sure, both areas contain their share of architectural monotony. However, this sprawl imposes no actual blight on the land. It displaces no vegetation, as both areas were rolling grasslands until a few years ago. Moreover, these areas, and others like them, take up only a tiny fraction of one percent of Colorado's plentiful open space.
Why, then, are so many politicians and pundits so hot and bothered about sprawl? Perhaps it is just one more symptom of their insatiable desire to control others. Sprawl involves people living their lives as they please. This is just too much for control freaks to deal with.
Life in south Aurora and Highlands Ranch cannot be that hellish. Consider the overheated real estate market. Homes in these areas would not be fetching such exorbitant prices if people were not willing to pay these prices. People want to live there. Society is evolving along a vector that does not conform to the desires of Ms. Erbe and her ilk.
The modern economy has lowered the necessity for people to live cheek by jowl in urban centers. This was happening long before the advent of telecommuting and shopping over the internet. For years, corporations have built huge facilities away from city centers. Consider the suburban locations of such major metro Denver employers Lockheed Martin, Lucent, US West, and Raytheon. Consider also, that more people work in the Denver Tech Center than in downtown Denver, ten miles away. If employment is not centrally concentrated, what sense does it make to insist that housing be so concentrated?
Mrs. Erbe whines about the "ticky-tacky malls that look exactly like each other and have precisely the same shops as the next ticky-tacky mall five miles down the road." Would she be any happier were these malls located one mile apart in some high rise sprawl-free utopia? People will want and need many of the same things no matter how densely they populate the land. She whines about the "increased stress levels that sprawl creates." Is life inherently more stressful along Smoky Hill Road or Highlands Ranch Boulevard than it is in Cherry Creek or Downtown?
If sprawl is so bad, let us consider the alternative. So called "smart growth" only limits the land available for development, thereby increasing overcrowding and real estate prices. And if one city gets serious about anti-sprawl regulations, the nearest city of any size will start sprawling.
Mrs. Erbe is at least honest about why sprawl irks her: sprawl is a symptom of overpopulation. Population growth is a problem that, in capitalist societies, takes care of itself. Runaway population growth is only a problem in socialist nations where no one can turn a profit producing food. At the macro level, the interval it once took to add each additional billion people to the world's population was decreasing with each billion. Current projections show this interval increasing in the future. (1)
At the local level, population growth is a fleeting thing. Metro Denver is growing because, for a variety of reasons, it is a great place to live. Will this trend last forever? Probably not. Americans are a migratory lot. For every Denver, Phoenix, or Orlando that is booming, there is a Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Saint Louis that is past its prime. Even California has been losing people for a few years now. If enough people decide that the negatives about life along the Front Range outweigh the positives, they will saddle up and head for greener pastures.
Until then, Denver will continue to grow. The pursuit of happiness is leading more and more people to buy homes in Highlands Ranch and Parker, as well as along Smoky Hill Road and the Boulder Turnpike. If this makes some other people unhappy, that is just too bad. One man's right to the pursuit of happiness does not require that another man be made happy. If you can be happy only when you are controlling someone else, perhaps it is time for an attitude adjustment.
(1) Source: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision. http://www.stats.demon.nl (Click on "world", "historic", and "table 3".)
Earth Day XXX: Defusing the Population Bomb
Also by Doug Newman: Sprawl is Beautiful
Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman
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