Community Heritage Group Critics:
10 Other Views
and Our Response
CHG is familiar with the arguments that point out why the proposals outlined in our programs will not work. What follows are a few common criticisms, with our response. If you have other comments, please send them. In fact, even if you donít agree with CHG, we still invite you to schedule a conversation with us.
Our programs continue to evolve as we learn from you, and we hope that process is a two-way street. Questioning, challenging, evaluating, and debating the issues Ė in a civil forum, with broad public participation Ė can only be healthy for the future of our communities. What is not healthy is continuing the conversation about the future of our places among a few people and interest groups.
Scan the 10 Other Views in the
next section or jump to any one by clicking immediately below.
- Urban Growth Boundaries
- The Big Box and the Free Market
- Mass Transit
- Cheerleaders for Growth
- The Environment or Jobs
- Funding for Museums, Historic Preservation, Environment
- Suburbs: Schools and Safety
- Recycling and Sustainable Practices
- No More Tourists
Urban Growth Boundaries and other restrictions on growth drive up the cost of housing.
It seems logical that limiting leapfrog
growth into outlying areas would increase the price of homes, since
there is less land to be developed. Experience, however, argues that
the costs are not significantly higher, and when other factors are
taken into account, housing is comparable. Phoenix does not have growth
boundaries, for example, and the average cost of a home is about the
same as Portland, Oregon, which established one of the nationís first
boundaries. Further, even if a home closer to the city center is slightly
more expensive, the money saved on commuting, insurance, and road
maintenance, just to name a few additional costs, is far more than
the price of housing. Finally, one reason the cost of living in healthy
communities remains somewhat higher is simply because there are so
few of them. It's like organic food – it costs more because
the supply of plastic food is so much greater; when more farmers grow
organically, the cost of healthy food will come down. It's the economics
of scale. If we want to drive down the cost of living in healthy places,
build more of them, and less of the plastic towns developers keep
The Big Box is simply the free market at work. I can get my underwear cheaper, and there are more brands to chose from, at the Big Box.
Donít fool yourself that the Big Box is Adam Smithís version of the free market. Without going into all the government subsidies, supplier kickbacks, and labor-busting tactics that benefit Big Boxes, itís fair to say they donít compete on a level playing field with locally owned stores. And while itís true that you may be able to buy underwear cheaper there, you and your community end up paying for too many Big Boxes in other ways. Hereís just one: most employees at the Big Box barely make minimum wage and work about 30 hours a week. Thatís not a livable income by any means, and many workers collect public assistance, such as food stamps. Who pays for that? You. In effect, you subsidize the Big Box so it can pay employees less than local stores and franchises. And what about your own job? Nearly everyone in a community depends on the exchange of dollars and services Ė whether theyíre a waitress, school teacher, city employee, or own a flower shop. It stands to reason that there are fewer people eating in your restaurant, buying your flowers, or paying more taxes (for schools and other public services) if better-paying jobs are eliminated by the Big Box. Weíre not saying donít build any Big Boxes; just donít design your communityís entire economy around them Ė diversify your townís economic portfolio, just as you diversify your own investments.
We canít afford to subsidize mass transit, and nobody uses it anyway. Ours is a car-oriented town. If you donít like that, move someplace else.
First, itís just not fair to say "Move someplace else" if you donít like the transportation system. Nearly half the population in any community does not drive Ė children, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor. The poor, in particular, pay sales taxes and property taxes at disproportionate rates, and these funds are used to build and maintain the highways they seldom use (fuel taxes account for barely half of highway funding). If those who donít drive are subsidizing freeways for commuters, itís only fair that drivers help pay for better mass transit for non-drivers. Itís also evident that if a region offers effective, safe, and convenient public transit, many families will save on car costs (purchase, fuel, insurance, maintenance) Ė and municipalities will save on fewer fire and police to control accident scenes, less environmental cleanup, reduced parking needs, and fewer highways to build and maintain. Weíre not saying donít build freeways but, again, diversify your transportation portfolio.
Growth is a good thing, providing opportunities and jobs. Why else would politicians and the local media always cheer growth in our region?
Itís natural that the media are cheerleaders for growth; notice that when your town is one of the "fastest growing in America," for example, itís a major news story Ė front-page headlines and stirring testimonials from elected officials. Simply put, more people moving to a region means additional subscriptions for newspapers and more viewers for television stations Ė all of which translates to higher advertising revenues. Further, take a look at the businesses that form the biggest block of advertisers for TV and newspapers: automobiles and home furnishings. (Ever notice three or four car commercials in a row on TV?) So who can blame the media for supporting the sprawling status quo and cheering for even more growth? The same is true of most politicians: "growth and jobs" is a compelling and easy campaign slogan. Who, after all, would run on a platform asking voters to seriously consider the hidden costs of growth? Who would suggest that maybe we donít need those jobs? Thatís political suicide and every candidate knows it; but weíre not running for anything, and we do think itís important for communities to look behind the curtain.
We canít protect the environment and foster economic prosperity at the same time.
There are far too many examples to list here that show the "jobs-or-environment" argument is simply a red herring, usually advanced by people and businesses that want few if any restrictions to reign in their private ambitions. More than a few national and international studies have shown that communities with strong environmental regulations also enjoy the most robust economies Ė and vice versa. Is it any surprise that when you visit a town that does not value its land, air, and water, the overarching economy is equally shabby?
Itíd be nice to provide more funding for museums, historic preservation, and environmental protection, but in tough times we can only support priorities.
As stated in #5, communities that invest in environmental protection, along with historic preservation and cultural amenities, experience stronger economies. Theyíre in a better position to attract high-value visitors, more cutting-edge industries are looking to relocate to healthy communities, and property values increase at a steady rate. Many economic studies validate the increased spending and tax revenues that follow from investing in the built, natural, and cultural environment. Most analyses show that the money invested in museums, for example, returns to the public coffers at a 5:1 ratio or better.
The suburbs have better schools, more attractive neighborhoods, and they are safer.
The safety issue is certainly open to
debate. There may be less crime in suburban neighborhoods than inner
cities, but itís fairly well documented that the increased commuting
time suburban life requires (and the likelihood of accidents) more
than makes up for a safer cul-de-sac. If you find suburbs "more
attractive" than a home in a downtown historic neighborhood,
there isnít a lot of room to argue there Ė only to say that more people
are growing weary of master-planned communities, and prices for older
homes are escalating at a much higher rate. But hereís the hidden
problem with the suburbís attraction, whether itís schools or safety:
If your government subsidized one grocery storeís fruit to the point
that the grocer could keep prices artificially lower than his competitors,
more people would shop there and he could claim, "People prefer
my fruit over my competitors!" Isnít that, in effect, what we
do with towns? We subsidize suburbs to a greater degree (transportation,
utilities, housing, education), and then we argue that people favor
them over other living arrangements. Itís time to think about leveling
the playing field, and then we can see what people really prefer.
Weíd like to encourage more recycling and other sustainable programs, but we canít afford to enact them.
Itís going to come to a point where you canít afford not to. We donít need to go into the debate about how much oil, wood, water, air, and other nonrenewable resources remain; but all of these resources are finite, which means that eventually theyíll be too costly to consume at current levels. Even if the planet can supply oil for another 100 years, for example (a very generous estimate by all accounts), in half that time the declining supplies will increase costs significantly, as will the price of nearly every other natural resource. Fifty years Ė about two generations Ė is not too early for communities to begin thinking strategically about their consumption levels. We know how to create more sustainable policies, so letís start (and there are plenty of jobs to be created when you do). And if we think technology or more economic development will save us, consider this passage from economist Herman Daly: "More capital does not substitute for less resources, except on a very restricted margin. You cannot make the same house by substituting more saws for less wood."
We donít want more tourists! They cause congestion, and the proliferation of travel-related businesses is turning our town into a "tourist trap."
We couldnít agree more. CHG promotes "sustainable tourism," not just more tourists. In fact, studies show that towns can even reduce the number of tourists and experience better economic results by developing appropriate products for heritage tourists. Too much tourism focuses on simply attracting more people to a region Ė more "heads in beds," as the lodging industry describes it. Thatís a shortsighted and potentially ruinous approach to building a healthy tourism-based economy. Sustainable tourism, on the other hand, is driven by local needs and local voices, not multinational corporations; hence it is much more likely to preserve the historical, built, and social assets residents value. Further, "quaint" tourism destinations often become "boutique towns," which may be fun for travelers but offer little value for most residents.
Dense communities are unsafe, congested, and dirty. I prefer the open suburbs.
If people prefer the suburbs, thatís a legitimate point of view, but "density" is mistakenly used as a whipping boy to justify more low-density sprawl. Before the Civil War wealthy city dwellers began moving to the countryside, emulating their English counterparts; at the turn of the century cities began building the earliest suburbs, fed by streetcars, so people could escape the grime, overcrowding, and costs of Chicago, New York, or Philadelphia, for instance; and certainly in post-WWII America the automobile, abundant land, and government lending policies fueled even more dreams of a private home on a rural plot. The fact is, however, today few cities have smokestacks, meat-packing plants, or the overcrowded tenement housing characteristic of early 20th-century America. Itís time to talk about density fairly: itís the only live-work pattern that can support mass transit, it saves natural resources, it promotes community, itís less costly in the long run, and it creates a sense of place that sprawl generally cannot. Why is it we love to visit Paris, Amsterdam, London, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Venice Ė some of the most concentrated cities on the planet Ė but when we talk about density at home itís always a bad thing? Some developers even use the diminishing resources argument to promote low-density sprawl, arguing that by putting only one house on an acre (or three acres, or five), they are protecting the environment! But thatís private land, of little or no use to the public. Think about it, which is the "environmental argument": 100 houses on 100 acres, each with its own one-acre lot, or 100 townhomes, condos, and small homes on 20 acres, with 80 acres remaining for a public park Ė or just left wild?