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Eminent Domain

Urbanism: Not Just for Lefties

12:26 PM EDT on September 11, 2008

The American Prospect reports on a bi-partisan panel at the University of Minnesota last week where some dyed-in-the-wool Republicans declared their affinity for urbanism and opposition to sprawl:

Policies in favor of dense development shouldn't be viewed on a left-right spectrum and certainly needn't be filtered through culture-war rhetoric, the panelists said. In fact, one doesn't have to be concerned about climate change at all in order to support such policies; values of fiscal conservatism and localism, both key to Republican ideology, can be better realized through population-dense development than through sprawl.

Tom Darden, a developer of urban and close-in suburban properties, said Wednesday, "I'm a Republican and have been my whole life. I consider myself a very conservative person. But it never made sense to me why we would tax ordinary people in order to subsidize this form of development, sprawl." Darden told the story of a road-paving project approved by North Carolina when he served on the state's transportation board. A dirt road that handled just five trips per day was paved at taxpayer expense, with money that could have gone toward mass transit benefiting millions of people.

"Those were driveways, in my view, not roads," Darden said.

Now that U.S. taxpayers will probably have to bail out the Highway Trust Fund to the tune of $8 billion, how much longer can the free-spending road-building industry masquerade as an enabler of personal freedom?

Personal sidenote: Stories like this remind me of my high school calculus teacher, Mr. Hall, who was conservative through and through, and didn't shy away from sharing his views in class. When he was a kid, his family's farm ceased to be viable when it got split down the middle to make way for I-91. Much of his distaste for government seemed to spring from this fact. Not that eminent domain doesn't have its uses, but here was a guy whose conservatism was rooted in opposition to highway building.

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