The Anti-Sprawl Movement: Anti-Minority
and Anti-Immigrant?

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Author: Wendell Cox
Published: The Heartland Institute 08/22/2003

Next week will see another unwelcome reminder of the elitist strains that infect the anti-sprawl movement. The Center for Immgration Study, in association with a web site called Sprawl City ( will release a study entitled "Outsmarting Smart Growth: Population Growth, Immigration and the Problem of Sprawl," which will, as the name implies lay the blame for sprawl (which the smart growth movement wrongly sees as an inherent evil) at the feet of our newest citizens.

It has long been clear that the anti-sprawl movement is anti-minority. It is not purposeful or mindful on their part, it is rather nave and mindless. Like the socialist planners who thought they could better the market, while impoverishing millions, these anti-economists would rather land without it raising prices. Of course, whatever is made more scarce costs more, especially when it is something people need and want, like housing. A disproportionate share of households who do not own their own homes are minorities --- African-Americans and Hispanics, who would buy houses if only they could afford them. The policies of smart growth --- urban growth boundaries that ration land --- development impact fees that simply add thousands to the price of houses, are already driving the cost of housing beyond their means. When challenged, smart growth proponents show themselves to either be in denial, or to have great faith that government will make the disadvantaged whole, though of course they have never run the numbers.

But the numbers are clear. A recent Harvard University study by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko found that much of the difference in housing costs around the nation had to do with land regulation --- that is to say, the that higher prices in the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, northern Virginia and Denver differences are the product of planners, not the market. This is clear just by examining the explosion in housing costs in fast growing Portland that occurred as housing was becoming more affordable in even faster growing Atlanta and Phoenix.

But now, some smart growthers tell us that sprawl is caused by immigrants. Perhaps because it is politically correct (at least in some circles) to be anti-immigrant, their positions may well be purposeful. The truth is much more complex. In fact, sprawl is caused by population growth and affluence. This might be a problem if sprawl itself were a problem. But the United States is a rich nation, barely five percent developed, with plenty of room to grow (it may be surprising, but even with little or no growth, European urban areas also sprawl).

And while immigration laws, like all others, need to be enforced, we have plenty of room to accept whatever rate of immigration is legal. Our record in that regard is exemplary. In the last 20 years, the nation has added more than 17 million new foreign born residents --- more people than live in Switzerland and Sweden combined. At the same time, economic growth has continued, as our lead in per capita income has widened over that of virtually every other high-income nation.

Both the anti-minority and anti-immigrant strains in the anti-sprawl movement betray what might be called a "seniority" based theory of human development --- that those who have already "made" it can impose costs at will on those who have not. This nation has been at its greatest when it has been inclusionary, not exclusionary and elitist. Our economic and land use policies should create an environment of opportunity so that minorities, immigrants and all can prosper and create further opportunity for those who follow.

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People should have the freedom to live and work where and how they like.

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(c) 2003 --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.