myth and fact soundbites
  • Myth -- Free Markets.  Free enterprise advocates argue that reform means interfering with free markets.  They say "we just build what people want."  In fact, sprawl is the result of numerous subsidies from government.  Highway construction, mortgage policies, favorable tax treatment of house sales and mortgage interest all shape the "market" to encourage sprawl.  One of the most vocal forces for smart growth in California is the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group (SVMG).  SVMG recommends housing policy reforms and urban growth boundaries to rein in sprawling development patterns and its threat to the future vitality of the Silicon Valley.  As for building what people want, Henry Richmond, co-founder of 1,000 Friends of Oregon, says that on the contrary, people buy the only thing that is available. 
     
  • Myth: Property rights.  Property rights advocates say "stopping sprawl denies their free use of property and the financial gain that comes with freedom."  Henry Richmond points out that all property owners have property values at stake.  Relatively few will profit from subsidized speculation while many others will see taxes rise and property values fall thanks to sprawl and urban disinvestment.

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  • Myth: Loss of Local Control.  Land use reformers are for local control.  But we must recognize that local governments are increasingly impacted by forces beyond their control: federal and state budget cuts, global economic trends, unfunded mandates, and actions by neighboring municipalities that negatively effect your own community.

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  • Myth: Development is the Problem.  Development is not the problem; it is really the solution.  The real problem is the patterns of development.  The key is putting quality development in the right place.   Land use regulations can direct development to certain areas and protect open lands. But regulation by itself, can't remedy the problems associated with current land use patterns.  Only new development and a strong comprehensive plan can do this. 

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  • Myth: Urban Growth Boundaries.  Urban growth boundaries are not the cause for soaring house prices as critics would have you believe.  Oregon, the only state with urban growth boundaries around all of its cities, facilitates development inside the boundaries.  As a result, Portland is one of the nation's healthiest cities.  While Metro Portland's population has grown by almost 50 percent since the greenline was imposed in 1975, the area has only consumed about 2 percent more land.  By contrast, from 1970 -1990 the population of Philadelphia increased 2.8 percent yet consumed 33 percent more land.  As far as housing prices, cities such as San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco have higher housing prices. 

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  • Myth: Special interests.  Critics say smart growth advocates are liberal elitists. In fact, business leaders such as the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group (SVMG), a trade association representing over 130 of the largest Silicon Valley employers, including Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and the IBM Corporatio, are strong vocal advocates of smart growth policies.  SVMG has been widely recognized for its efforts to promote improved transportation planning, affordable housing, and other smart growth initiatives to preserve the regionís quality of life, thereby helping to ensure that the nationís leading high-tech companies can continue to entice highly skilled workers to live in the area.  In addition, the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council, Pennsylvania's largest industrial trade association supports Governor Ridge's "Growing Greener" initiative which will spend $1.3 billion of state money to protect watersheds, set aside open space, preserve agricultural land and search for solutions to the problems of growth and outward migration. In addition, three diverse and formerly opposing groups of Oregon constituents -- farmers, businesspeople and environmentalists -- provided key sources of support for growth management in Oregon in the 1960s and early 1970s.  The UGB has survived four attempts to overturn it at the ballot box, as well as numerous legislative assaults.

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  • Myth: Anti-sprawl advocates are anti-growth.  No, we are in favor of growth that directs resources to existing communities and builds on investments taxpayers have already made in existing infrastructure and services. 

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  • Myth: Land loss is overblown.  Critics say there is plenty of land available for farming and because of leaps in technology, we can produce more food on less land than ever before.  Much of the land being paved over is prime cropland.  Once it is converted to urban uses the agricultural productivity of the land is lost forever.  Surveys by pollster Floyd Ciruli found that in 1994, 63 percent of Denver metropolitan area residents said the area was growing too fast.  By 1998 the figure had risen to 76 percent.

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  • Myth: The American Dream.  Critics of smart growth say that the American Dream is a detached house, surrounded by a spacious green lawn, with two or more cars in the garage, far from the city.  What most Americans want is a community of neighbors and places to walk to.
Credits: Conversations with Ed McMahon of the Conservation Fund and "myths" used from his article "Stopping Sprawl By Growing Smarter," Planning Commissioners Journal, Issue 26, page 4, Spring 1997. "Taming the Sprawl Monster," Sierra Club; "Is Urban Sprawl Back on the Political Agenda? Local Growth Control, Regional Growth Management, and Politics," Urban Affairs Review, Nov 1998 v34 n2 p179 (33) Christopher Leo; Mary Ann Beavis; Andrew Carver; Robyne Turner;  Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future, by Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich, Island Press, 1996; The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research (CLEAR), The Environmental Working Group;  "Profiles of Business Leadership on Smart Growth," National Association of Local Government Environmental Professionals, June, 1999.