Published in the April 2003 issue of
a journal of the Foundation for Economic Education
One of the more obnoxious (and, frankly, dangerous) trends here on Long Island is the growing number of "grass roots" activists who've taken it upon themselves to inform the "less socially aware" -- meaning everyone else -- that our fair isle is suffering (yes, suffering) from "too much development": too many warehouses and office buildings, too many cars and highways, too many golf courses, too many strip malls (a particularly favorite target, for some reason), too many new neighborhoods and -- the root of all this evil -- too many people. We are sacrificing "the environment" -- our trees, trails, ponds, blueberries, warblers and tanagers -- to this "too much development," to the "urbanization of the suburbs." Pledging themselves to "act locally," these self-styled "progressives" are petitioning their county legislature (Big Brother's little brother) to step in and -- as if normal community growth were a felony offense -- put a stop to any further development, an agenda that is ridiculously dubbed "Smart Growth."*
Now it seems to me that this arrogant presumption suggests its own modest proposal: If we are already suffering from "too much development," which implies that these activists know (and have the right to determine) exactly how much development the rest of us should have, then shouldn't we demolish some of this development in order to descend to that specific (though as yet unspecified) level? Why not send in the wrecking crews to raze the strip malls and even the major ones -- and then attempt to reforest the area? Why not turn the Roosevelt Field Mall into blueberry fields forever? Let's bulldoze all of that new housing and allow Mother Nature to reclaim the land for the warblers and the tanagers. Instead of merely opposing expansion of Route 25A, why not go ahead and close it off to everyone? Those who wish to travel can bike the trails or, even better, just walk. But the really great thing about all this destruction is how it will solve the people problem ("population congestion") by necessarily forcing the flight of Long Islanders of every stripe, from Mexican day laborers to the "quality of life" protest groups that routinely demand their deportation.
Those on the left look at development the way their right-wing
counterparts look at immigration: It was fine before, but not anymore. Both
scramble to close the gates behind them -- and to hell with those on the other
side. Incredibly, they imagine that they can freeze time or even turn back the
clock to a "more preferable" period (for them, that is). The fact is, property --
and freedom -- will always attract new people, which means new development, which
in turn attracts more people. It is the history of human civilization, and it will
be the history of the human future. We cannot sacrifice that future to a
conception of "the environment" that, too obviously, signifies only all that is
* For an urban-level examination, see Randal O'Toole, The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities (The Thoreau Institute, 2001).