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monsoon

Want a Sustainable City, You need a Socialist Govt

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The Soviet's and their satellites built cities for decades that we would call New Urbanist, smart growth cities. They had high densities, public transportation, no automobiles, and plenty of green space. i.e. what some today would call The Perfect City.

This article describes what happened to one of these cities in East Germany once re-unification with the Democratic West Germany occured in the early 90s. One could conclude from this experience that New Urbanism in the USA, in most forms, is a fad that is doomed to eventually because over time, people prefer their cars and low density living.

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Well sure, one could conlude that if one cherry picked examples from East Germany. You could make just about anything look bad that way (why not say you need socialism to have good olympic athletes!). The author of this article, Randal O'Toole, is on something of a crusade against any and all non-sprawl development so I'd take it with a grain of salt.

The thing he fails to mention is that almost ALL cities, old or new, in Europe are laid out along "new urbanist" lines. Go to any small to mid-sized european city and you will find a central pedestrian shopping district, good mass transit, plenty of public areas, and high density housing. There are hundreds, if not thousands of such cities which are just as vibrant and thriving today as 100 years ago. Picking one east german city and generalizing from that is typical of O'Toole's "ideology first" agenda.

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lol ... Last I checked, most socialist governments generated developments totally antithetical to new urbanism. Sure, the communists built lots of high-rise housing, but all those commie-blocks certainly weren't urban. They were vertical suburban sprawl.

Need I remind anyone that le corbusier and his anti-urban "tower in a park" followers were largely socialists and other forms of authoritarians?

Also, I won't speak for "smart growth," which I disagree with - but new urbanism is a very capitalist approach to urban development. It requires very little government involvement. Really, all it needs is a simple zoning overlay, usually a loosening of the current zoning code anyway.

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For someone who actually visited that workers' paradise, the German "Democratic" Republic (ie East Germany) while under Communist rule (through Checkpoint Charlie), this article is indeed laughable. Communist East Germany was a wasteland with bulletholes and bombed out buildings still on every corner over forty years after WWII or with extraordinarily ugly and shoddy new construction. It was a desolate, depressing place with no amenities whatsoever. For example, you could actually see the wood grain in the toilet paper. It was a joke compared to any place in West Germany or America. There was no cafe life or vibrant street life. People cowered in their apartments for fear of being informed on by their neighbors. This was clearly NOT an urban paradise. If a totalitarian society is needed to prevent sprawl (which I dont agree with) then I say bring on the suburbs.

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By the way, I returned to Berlin in 2002 and the old East Berlin (especially the Mitte section) is now beautiful and vibrant. Most of the grand sections of Berlin had been under Communist control and laid dormant for 45 years. Now, they are full of people and hotels and shops and businesses. All the old buildings have been restored and some great new ones have been built. Berlin has regained its status as a great city through CAPITALIST means.

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How could anybody be against smart growth?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Because "smart growth" is basically just top-down government coercion. It's the same mentality that produced housing projects and urban renewal - both disasters. The mentality is: "let the government planners strictly control everything and it will all be okay." Proponents of smart growth are essentially saying that, yes, government really screwed things up for downtowns in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but that, hey, now we are enlighted, so it's okay to trust them.

I firmly believe that true urbanism is best achieved through more capitalist means. After all, what created sprawl in the first place? Freeways, euclidian zoning, post WWII VA mortgage policies, freeways, housing projects, misguided urban renewal, freeways, etc. All of these things are either government programs or government restrictions. Take them away, and the market will stop building so much sprawl. Some sprawl will always exist, because some people honestly do prefer it. But it sure wouldn't be >90% of all new development being sprawl, as is often the case now.

I'm not a pure anarcho-capitalist. Government clearly has a place. They should manage and create roads, parks, and other public spaces. They should enforce zoning, but it should be flexible and form-based. I actually agree with design review, but it again should be very flexible and accountable to the private sector.

Sprawl is inefficient. Building environments around the car is inefficient. If the government takes away its pro-sprawl regulations and numerous sprawl subsidies, developers WILL build dense urban projects. Smart growth just piles more regulations on us, without truly getting ride of the bad ones that created the problems in the first place!!!

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Smart growth does not necessarily mean government involvement. It means following proper design principles - even it's entirely by the free market's own vilition. You can be against government involvement but still be for smart growth.

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Because "smart growth" is basically just top-down government coercion. It's the same mentality that produced housing projects and urban renewal - both disasters. The mentality is: "let the government planners strictly control everything and it will all be okay." Proponents of smart growth are essentially saying that, yes, government really screwed things up for downtowns in the 50s, 60s and 70s, but that, hey, now we are enlighted, so it's okay to trust them.

I firmly believe that true urbanism is best achieved through more capitalist means. After all, what created sprawl in the first place? Freeways, euclidian zoning, post WWII VA mortgage policies, freeways, housing projects, misguided urban renewal, freeways, etc. All of these things are either government programs or government restrictions. Take them away, and the market will stop building so much sprawl. Some sprawl will always exist, because some people honestly do prefer it. But it sure wouldn't be >90% of all new development being sprawl, as is often the case now.

I'm not a pure anarcho-capitalist. Government clearly has a place. They should manage and create roads, parks, and other public spaces. They should enforce zoning, but it should be flexible and form-based. I actually agree with design review, but it again should be very flexible and accountable to the private sector.

Sprawl is inefficient. Building environments around the car is inefficient. If the government takes away its pro-sprawl regulations and numerous sprawl subsidies, developers WILL build dense urban projects. Smart growth just piles more regulations on us, without truly getting ride of the bad ones that created the problems in the first place!!!

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I agree w/ Captn Obvious here ... New Urbanism nowadays is a movement that's occurring from the ground up rather than the other way around. Developers are beginning to understand that they stand the chance of making a hefty profit from doing pedestrian oriented developments. Now this doesn't mean that the government should be entirely laissez-faire vis-a-vis development, but to impose things like Portland did with its "urban ring concept" only ended up encouraging sprawl further out and letting the inner core rot at an accelerated pace. All with good intentions of course, but tell that to the people living in the slums.

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I agree w/ Captn Obvious here ... New Urbanism nowadays is a movement that's occurring from the ground up rather than the other way around. Developers are beginning to understand that they stand the chance of making a hefty profit from doing pedestrian oriented developments. Now this doesn't mean that the government should be entirely laissez-faire vis-a-vis development, but to impose things like Portland did with its "urban ring concept" only ended up encouraging sprawl further out and letting the inner core rot at an accelerated pace. All with good intentions of course, but tell that to the people living in the slums.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Portland's UGB doesn't promote growth further out, since the entire state of Oregon has UGB's around every city, small town, etc. Boulder, CO, however, is closer to what you're saying, they designated a UGB but the state didn't mandate them for every city or town, allowing for sprawl to happen all around Boulder outside of its UGB.

As for letting the inner core rot at an accelerated rate?? I don't get this, if anything a UGB would strengthen the city's core.

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Socialist development of cities certainly are not "green".

On a recent visit to Beijing, China, I saw this first hand. It seems that China abandoned updating, re-vamping, or expanding their public transportation system sometime in the late 1980s. The buses were all hopelessly falling apart. We saw one bus, during Rush hour, packed to the gills with people that broke down and the people were pushing it down the road.

The subways look as if they were built in the 1960s and haven't been touched since. All this while they're building a 7th freeway ring around the city. The 5th ring is sparsely populated, but speckled across the landscape are new high rise projects going up. You might see 3 or 4 50-60 story high rises going up and then a mile away another project of the same magnitude. It's not uncommon to see 15-20 construction cranes working away at new high rises across the land scapes.

Now, each building is densely populated.. but they're so spread out that "dense" living is not common. The roads are invariably clogged from sunrise to sunset, and the freeways are hopelessly congested (even though they were well planned). In between these high rise projects are expanses of old (I'm not sure of the dates) housing that looks like it came straight from your idealistic vision of China. However, they are crumbling as people move into the new high rises.

All of these cars and Beijing's landlocked location have led to a dangerous pollution level. Even on a cloudless, sunny day you can't see blue sky, even directly over head because the smog is so bad. It makes L.A look like a candidate for Green City USA.

This is in contrast to Hong Kong, where dense planning has been extremely successful. There are few buildings less than 20 or so stories. You can get from one end of Hong Kong using public transport and it is extremely affordable. We recently stayed at the YMCA Hotel on the mainland and wanted to go to a beach on the south end of Hong Kong Island. We took a ferry across for about 40 cents (took about 15 minutes, no lines) and then boarded a bus, and for about a dollar, got a ride on a double decker across the island to a very nice beach.

Hong Kong is probably the best example in the world of sustainable planning. I loved it there and plan to return. China now has a gem in its pocket and hopefully they will use Hong Kong's style on their new fast growing cities.

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The Soviets were sustainable? Tell that to the folks in the food lines or suffered other food & goods shortages. Think the Soviets were good to the environment? Visit Russia, visit the Aral Sea. Capitalism is far kinder to sustainability & the environment than the death cult of socialism.

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Portland's UGB doesn't promote growth further out, since the entire state of Oregon has UGB's around every city, small town, etc.

Actually it does promote growth further out. Those small towns, that are within their own UGB island grow us if they were on steriods as prices increase & housing diversity decreases (within the buyer's price range) closer in. The UGBs are doing more harm then good. Sane zoning, development impact fees, & a more business friendly city of Portland would have been a smarter solution. Look where the growth is in the Greater Portland area; Lake Oswego, Washington County, & Clark County. All the big commercial & business projects are being built in the periphery.

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The thought that highways were not built to promote capitalism is proposterous. After WWII the automobile industry was rewarded for its part in the war by allowing the systematic dismanteling of trolley systems across the country and the mass plan of the interstate system. If the government had anything to do with it, it was corporate America pulling the strings.

Suddenly we all needed cars just to get to where we lived and gas to fill them. There is absolutely nothing more capitalistic than suburban sprawl. It is just now that corporate America is catching the boat as far as Smart Development. Because it makes money, and sprawl is getting unmanagable as we commute longer and longer distances.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$

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Seems like bad management on the part of companies and government together can systematically enforce the worst kinds of development, and good management on the part of companies and government can generate very positive outlooks.

This is just a strawman argument anarcho-capitalists and socialist libertarians use against each other. It all comes down to having a design for society that fosters accountibility in the private and public sector. Without accountibility in one or the other, we just set ourselves up for abuse.

New Urbanism is fine and dandy, but it doesn't solve any problems on its own. The real problems to cope with are decay in existing urban areas, the thinning of local shops and character, and the very obvious lack of mass transit in most cities. Proper zoning and mass transit go a long way to fixing those problems. They create an ideal market for the few companies interested in urban development.

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Maybe Hong Kong is a good example of how the socialists promote good urban sustainable development. By locking down the border of Hong Kong, they created a highly effective UGB creating one of the most intensely urban and sustainable development pattern in history. The free markets managed the scarcity of land through supply and deman, leading to a superhigh density, but livable city.

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I never knew the British were socialists. Until just a few years ago, Hong Kong was a British Colony. However the Communist government of China, which Hong Kong belongs to now, is afraid of cultural contaminatio so there continue to be limits on how the city can expand.

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My personal opinion is that socialism has created some of the LEAST sustainable cities, not the MOST. It is true, though, that if people cannot afford cars then density increases, so in that way I suppose you could draw the conclusion.

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I know the history of Hong Kong. The Chinese (the Socialists in my post) locked down the border, which created a defacto UGB around the British colony. I don't agree with that article, but I was putting a twist on.

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My unprofessional opinion would be that the population growths of Germany and most Soviet states are nearly flat, making a suburban exodus quite damaging, while in the USA our population is surging, both forcing people into the dense areas, and providing new tenants when people can afford to move out to suburbia.

Besides, the examples in the article you include paint a dreary and to my senses forboding picture of this dense living, I'd think a better building itself and the surrounding area would have a lot to do with the success of such communities. I've never seen such a Soviet "community" that was designed with aesthetics in mind, or the happiness of it's tenants. Not saying they don't exist, just that I've never seen one. I have seen many that were constructed in areas that had little previous development or sense of place to them, slapped up in empty fields along heavy rail lines, and so were bleak and lonely.

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