Successful or not, this blog aims to be apolitical. But the reality is that Provo is home to a great, politically conservative population. At the same time, however, many of the “smart growth” concepts that come up on this blog — things like higher density and mixed use neighborhoods — are often stereotyped as “liberal.”
James A. Bacon of the website Bacon’s Rebellion thinks that association is backward. He argues that
There is nothing intrinsically liberal or conservative about the idea of creating more efficient human settlement patterns that expand the range of housing and transportation options while reducing the cost of government. Rather than getting stuck defending an indefensible status quo, conservatives need to articulate their own vision in a manner consistent with conservative principles.
Bacon’s post is lengthy, but a fantastic explanation of why building better cities meshes perfectly with conservatism. His basic point is that cities currently have laws and regulations preventing things like more walkable neighborhoods. In turn these regulations cause more government spending:
But smearing 1,000 people over 1,000 acres of land is impossible to provide with roads, utilities and services as efficiently as if they were concentrated in 100 acres, or even 10 acres, of land. Fiscal conservatives should object to such inefficiency. And property rights advocates should object to the restrictions placed on what property owners can build on their land.
The idea is that the rules, as well as the spending they precipitate, are both examples of Big Government. Conservatives, by contrast, should favor less spending and fewer rules telling people how and where to build:
It’s one thing to allow people to live in cul de sac subdivisions, work in office parks and shop in malls surrounded by vast parking lots. It’s quite a different thing to require them to do so as a matter of code. […] There is no basis in conservative thought for discriminating against neighborhoods where people can walk to the corner store, take the bus or live in an apartment above the shop or studio where they work. Indeed, the intellectual genesis for such controls can be traced to the progressive movement.
Bacon goes on to criticize staples like parking minimums and “leapfrog development” — which was more or less one of my criticisms of Daybreak — as anti-conservative. He also offers several interesting proceedures for moving forward with conservative smart growth in cities.
Next American City followed up Bacon’s post by mentioning that even Republican leaders like Mitt Romney have supported smart growth:
In a recent post for Grist, Lisa Hymas writes about Mitt Romney’s years as governor of Massachusetts and his advocacy for smart growth. Hymas reveals that Romney, as governor, created the Office for Commonwealth Development, a powerful entity tasked with fighting sprawl.
I can’t think of anywhere in the world where Bacon’s essay is more appropriate than in Provo. The city is famously conservative, yet also at a point where there’s great interest in smart growth staples like public transit, walkability, biking, mixed use buildings, etc. In light of Bacon’s essay, then, the convergence of conservatism and smart growth in Provo makes perfect sense.