What libertarians think about urban planning by mattsteinglass
October 15, 2009, 4:51 am
Filed under: Environment, Health, Libertarianism

One of the commenters on a recent post took a libertarian stance on government’s role in obesity-related issues, and that prompted me to reflect that I’ve never really understood what it is that libertarians think about government’s role in urban planning. For instance, yesterday Elana Schor had a nice post on the DC Streets blog about a recent national conference of metropolitan area planners. Here’s how she describes the focus of the conference:

Leinberger, an experienced land use strategist, described the core question as: “What kind of built environment do we want? Over the past 50 years, it has been imposed by a bureaucracy, either in D.C. or by the state capitals.”

But as more planners and local residents come to the (non-partisan) conclusion that “it’s time to be conscious about what kind of development our transportation choices spark,” as Leinberger put it, what can the federal government do to help local success go national?

A liberal position might be that the things metropolitan area planners should be doing include building out bicycle transit options so they’re safe and universal, doing more mixed residential/commercial zoning and development to encourage walkable neighborhoods, etc.

As far as I can tell the libertarian position would be that metropolitan area planners don’t actually exist and did not just hold a conference in Washington DC to discuss all the things they don’t do which don’t determine the shape of America’s built environment. Or else it’s that they shouldn’t exist and we should just eliminate the government’s role in building or regulating the country’s physical environment, and see how that works out for a while. I’m not really clear on this.


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Randal O’Toole is a libertarian urban policy analyst for Cato. He writes at Two of his main arguments are that public transit is much less efficient than roads on a cost per passenger mile basis, and that compact cities and regulation tend to raise prices and price out the poor from working/living in most urban areas.

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