Viewpoint: The free market did not give us suburbia

[Source: Life in Downtown Phoenix blog] — A common refrain of defenders of the dominant American suburban form is that it is simply the culmination of millions of microeconomic decisions by consumers to “vote with their feet” and buy a house in the ‘burbs. If mainstream Americans really wanted urban living, they would have chosen to stay in the cities, goes the argument.

A great article in [the August 15] Wall Street Journal debunks that free market myth, and discusses the way that government — through its creation of Fannie Mae and federal underwriting for mortgage loans, among others — shaped our sprawled-out society through multiple market-distorting policies throughout the 20th century.  One key quote from the article:  “Federal housing policies changed the whole landscape of America, creating the sprawlscapes that we now call home, and in the process, gutting inner cities… [o]f new housing today, 80% is built in the suburbs — the direct legacy of federal policies that favored outlying areas rather than the rehabilitation of city centers.”

The article doesn’t even get into the federal government’s massive freeway-building programs that laid waste to central-city neighborhoods in order to whisk commuters into and out of downtowns and back to the suburbs.

The article is a worthwhile read, and makes one ponder how America would look if government policy (authored by politicians of both parties) hadn’t for decades obsessed over increasing (mostly suburban) homeownership.  And it goes without saying that Phoenix, which came of age as these policies were in their ascendancy, would have looked much different.  It also makes one wonder about Phoenix’s future as these policies increasingly come under question by politicians and more importantly, consumers.

Posted on August 16, 2009, in Affordable Housing, Downtown Vitality, Governance, Livability, Neighborhoods, Population Trends, Transportation, Visioning and Planning and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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