Political conservatives should be smart growth champions, with James Bacon

suburbia crumbles


presented by SCC

Author and publisher James Bacon was editor-in-chief of Virginia Business magazine before launching his own publication, Bacon’s Rebellion.

Bacon’s Rebellion covers a wide range of public policy issues in Virginia with a special emphasis on the state budget, taxes, infrastructure, land use, transportation, energy, the environment and community health. He wants Virginians to feel empowered to build more prosperous, livable and sustainable communities. I’ve been enjoying his work for years, primarily because he doesn’t mind smacking the established order in the mouth.


Smart growth: that’s government imposed population control, right?

We use a special vocabulary when we talk about planning and design. Terms like placemaking, sprawl, urbanism, density, and multimodal networks. One of the terms that has become extraordinarily political is smart growth. The term has political baggage, which means half of America’s population tunes it out as white noise. If you walk into a Republican-sponsored function and boast about supporting “smart growth” people will assume you hate liberty, you promote centralized planning, you oppose family values, and you think trees are more important than humans. Here’s the heart of Jim’s argument: smart growth should be supported by conservatives. Counter-intuitive, if you follow mainstream media politicos.


Disruptive philosophers and practitioners

Jim gave a speech during the 2012 Congress for the New Urbanism making a case that conservatives should support smart growth. One of the reasons I was first attracted to CNU was the diverse group of people who are willing to continually examine their core beliefs and assumptions. To challenge sacred cows. (Which, to borrow a Seth Godin term, makes us purple cows.) CNU is one of the few places where you’ll hear people of all voting persuasions admit that sprawl is a product of government intervention. Jim talks about some of the government policies that have shaped America’s development landscape since World War II.


Why do conservatives support highway subsidies but not transit subsidies?

Transit is a very emotional issue in the world of urban planning and placemaking. I’ve seen yelling matches over it. But anyone who digs into the history of mass transit will find that transit agencies lose money. The assumption is generally that Democrats favor mass transit and Republicans oppose it. From Jim’s conservative lens, why are transit agencies financial messes and what is a free market response?


“If you don’t keep building new highways, then the enemy has already won.”

Both political parties have been spending billions since World War II building highways all around the country — many times ripping up communities and local cultures. (Although to be fair, it’s really two ugly shades of one political party.) Even Republicans who claim to be fiscally conservative will praise new highways, especially in the name of national security. The gas tax is always a big topic in Virginia. But why do so-called fiscally conservative voters keep subsidizing sprawl?


Connect with our guest

Jim Bacon would be happy to see you visit his website. Check out his work and the work of some other regular bloggers on Bacon’s Rebellion. Be sure to subscribe to his RSS or email distribution list to keep up with Jim and his cast of bloggers.



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