`Smart Growth' May Be Dumb for Housing Prices

Article excerpt

Plans by environmentalists to rein in urban sprawl, thereby eliminating pollution and providing better living conditions for consumers, potentially could result in soaring housing costs. That's the position of a report released this month by the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), a think tank in the District.

According to the report, "Only 4.8 percent of the nation's land is developed . . . 75 percent of the nation's population [265 million] lives on just 3.5 percent of the land . . . and the ratio of land being set aside for rural parks and wilderness areas is much higher than the ratio of land undergoing development." John Carlisle, director of NCPPR's Environmental Policy Task Force, is the author of the report.

So why all the foaming at the mouth about land development and the sprawl of communities beyond one county line after another? The main concerns are air pollution and global warming.

Americans make up about 6 percent of the global population, but they use an inordinate amount of the world's resources and create tons more garbage than the heavily populated developing countries.

Expanding current communities' boundaries with highways is a quick fix. Obviously, a more prudent means of controlling pollution and protecting our natural resources would be to regulate the way we build, with such methods as mixed-use developments.

On the other hand, no one has provided a workable, affordable plan that would achieve what environmentalists want - a reduction in the amount of asphalt being poured over grasslands and forests as well as a reduction in the use of fossil fuels that cause pollution.

The anti-sprawlers have a problem, however. One of the results of a growing economy is a growth in the work force. A growth in the work force means a growing need for housing. A growing need for housing forces us to build more. Building more obviously results in laying more asphalt so all the new homeowners can drive their cars.

"Smart growth" has become the politically correct terminology in this environmental discussion. Growth is OK; let's just do it "smart" - which sounds reasonable. The concern I have is that growing "smart" may price thousands of people right out of the housing market.

A case in point is Portland, Ore. …