Friday, July 10, 2009

The City's Dilemma: Ashby Versus Rail

Government interventions into the economy almost always have unintended consequences. City officials are discovering this, as their attempt to stop the Ashby High Rise is now potentially creating problems with their desire to mandate walkable "urban corridors" along the proposed rail lines.

In their eagerness to appease noisy home owners near the Ashby location, city officials made changes to a city document known as the Infrastructure Design Manual to prevent high-density developments from negatively impacting traffic on nearby streets. According to the Chronicle:
City Council members and speakers at a public hearing Wednesday said certain provisions in the design manual conflict with the goals of the proposed urban transit corridors ordinance.

In other words, the city's efforts to stop one high-density development now threaten other high-density developments. The city isn't content to let individuals make decisions about the use of their property, and in their haste to mandate what is and isn't acceptable, city officials are now caught between two conflicting goals.

This is the inevitable result when government rejects the principle of individual rights--it acts on the expediency of the moment. When individuals must seek permission to act, government becomes a battleground as competing groups assert that their cause is in the "public interest" and the rights of others are expendable. Such conflicts can only be resolved by appeasing the gang that exerts the most political influence today. And if today's "solution" conflicts with tomorrow's goal--well, they'll just cross that bridge when they get to it and start the process over again.

Without principles, man is reduced to the range of the moment. Each issue is regarded as new and unique, disconnected from yesterday and irrelevant to tomorrow. As Ayn Rand wrote in "Credibility and Polarization":
Concrete problems cannot even be grasped, let alone judged or solved, without reference to abstract principles.

Andy Icken, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and Engineering has suggested that the city tweak the language of Infrastructure Design Manual:
Icken said he will work with Marlene Gafrick, Houston’s planning and development director, to add language to the transit corridors ordinance clarifying that reduced automobile traffic is likely along corridors where people will be riding trains. That should reduce the need for any traffic mitigation, Icken said.

Which means, if we just change some words in an ordinance we can make the problem go away. All we need to do is assert that people will ride trains. But Icken's wishes will not change the fact that the number of people using light rail is well below Metro's projections. Icken's desires, no matter how he expresses them, will not change reality.

Of course, the city will not allow something as "archaic" as individual rights to impede its plans. It has serious work to do, and if the rights of a few recalcitrant individuals must be trampled, so be it.

If the city truly wants to resolve this problem, it must begin by recognizing and protecting individual rights, including property rights. It must remove arbitrary obstacles to development by repealing mandates and prohibitions on land-use. By recognizing and protecting individual rights, the city can solve this dilemma, today and in the future.

2 comments:

Rajesh Dhawan said...

I recently read TOS article ""Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution," about 1905 case of Lochner v. New York. The dissenting opinion by Justice Holmes laid the foundations for diluting of individual rights for the next century.

I think it is the trickle down effect of this dilution which is seen in the violation of property rights by the City officials.

I guess once the principles involved are ignored, there is a free for all. This suits the officials fine since it gives them limitless power.

The problem is that the majority of people are interested in letting the majority opinion rule and it seems that it is just as difficult to take this power away from the majority, just as it is to take it away from the politicians.

Brian Phillips said...

Rajesh,

The article you cite is quite good and I highly recommend it.

Yes, once principles are ignored there are no standards. Also, I think that a lot of people don't see a problem with using force for their particular cause. And when you get dozens (or more) groups each doing the same thing, it turns into an absolute mess. From every direction the individual sees his rights being attacked and nobody defending them.

I fear it will get much worse before it begins to get better.