I was shocked by this article in USA Today yesterday. It's more nonsense from those who support building denser housing developments or "smart growth". Now they are saying that building denser communities will cut auto emissions. To do this, they want to keep building more houses per acre, so that people will be closer to schools and shops and therefore drive less.
All this is entirely misguided. If someone lives closer to school or shopping, they may, and I repeat may, drive less. However, cutting out any short trips would be just a small reduction in the amount of driving. Most people do the largest amount of driving to and from work. Also, many people live in a different town than where they work due to the school system. Building denser developments won't change this.
Here's a simple idea: if you want to cut auto emissions, then why don't you target autos instead of housing density? You could do this by simply subsidizing the use and development of low-emission vehicles. And when people get home from work in their low-emission car, they will actually have a house that's not pressed up against the neighbor's.
What bothers me the most about all this is how it is value-driven. I don't think the smart growth folks value personal space. If they like living in dense developments, then go for it. But they are trying to mandate their preferences on the rest of society. I like space. The bigger the yard the better. It gives you room to move around, and it gives children room to play.
Somewhere along the line academics got in their head that denser development is a good thing. In general, it isn't. What ends up happening is that people try to apply this idea everywhere. As the saying goes, when your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail. Communities should have a variety of housing options, so that people can choose what level of density they want to live in.