Suburbs Benefit, So Why Would They Criticize Sprawl?

by Josh Vincent

Hearing from township supervisors that sprawl is just an economic choice (as in “Suburban Sprawl Reflects Freedom of Choice,” Aug. 25) is like hearing from a drug dealer that crack cocaine is just a lifestyle option.

If sprawl were truly a market choice, then we’d see it everywhere around the world. But in the highly developed world, people choose to be in cities. In the desperately poor world, people flock to the cities. Governments everywhere try to make cities the places to be.

But we do it differently in Pennsylvania. We let our cities become monuments to incompetence and high taxes; we let our schools decay and our roads fall apart. We excuse bad behavior and even reward it. Nothing is so profitable as letting neighborhoods decay: Vacant lots are taxed not at all, ruined buildings only a bit more; but jobs and healthy development are taxed out of the city by urban leaders who seem not to notice what people do with fancy roads and cars — they leave.

The townships are not unaware of the fact that the decay of cities and boroughs equals big sacks of cash for them. After 200 years of depending on cities and boroughs for their markets and their very existence, townships seem to feel that a collective back-of-the-hand slap is in order. Justifying sprawl is one tactic.

It is ironic that a St. Louis urban policy consulting firm helped the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors with the study giving a glad hand to sprawl, as St. Louis’ decline accompanies our rust-belt neighbors. Perhaps that firm’s chief should help his own city first.

Cranberry in Butler County is growing for one reason: the failure of vision, imagination and nerve by Allegheny County. It’s not one person’s fault; it’s not one party’s fault. As US Census figures show, this is a process of emptying out, not growth. It’s a process of shifting, not creating something new.

One can’t blame townships for trying to justify their newfound wealth. But they should be upfront about the cause.

If the day comes when Pittsburgh stops saying, “What’s the use?” and reforms its taxes, fixes its schools and beats crime, the forces that repel people and jobs will be reversed.

This letter to the Editor appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 31st. Josh says, “Let’s all get our pens and use ’em as a force for change!”

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