Thursday, July 9, 2009

Jumping Off of a Bridge

When I was a child, I would occasionally defend my desire to engage in some activity by telling my mother, "Everyone else is doing it." My mother always responded with the same question: "If everyone were jumping off of a bridge, would you want to do that?"

Her point was quite clear--just because "everyone" else is doing something doesn't make it proper or advisable. This simple childhood lesson has apparently been lost on city council, which is poised to pass tighter restrictions on signs. Anne Culver, executive director of Scenic Houston, an anti-billboard organization, told the Chronicle:
This will help make us look a lot more like the other great cities in the nation and in the world. We can have pride and a sense of place and a business-friendly city. There is no reason why the two can’t coexist.

According to Culver, government can do whatever it wishes and the economy will keep chugging along. The city can continue to slap chains on businesses and there will be no ill consequences. Culver wants Houston to look like other cities, ignoring the fact that many of those cities are losing jobs and citizens precisely because government intervention has wrecked their economies. Apparently, shuttered businesses are more attractive to Culver than billboards and signs.

Culver fails to tell us her criteria for "greatness", but it is safe to assume that appearance is a big part of it. Never mind that Houston led the nation in job creation in 2008--that doesn't qualify as great. Never mind that Houston escaped the housing bubble--that is not important. Never mind that Houston has some of the nation's most affordable housing--that isn't great either.

To Culver and her ilk appearance is more important than facts:
People come here and they are consistently shocked by the city’s appearance and they often ask us how we let this happen to our city. Site consultants say all the time that they’re told not to put Houston on their lists because of pollution, the heat and how it looks.

These types of statements are common among statists. They cite unnamed experts and ignore the actual facts. If Houston is so horrible, and consultants exclude the city from their lists, how has our population continued to grow? Apparently, individuals disagree with the consultants.

And that is what irks Culver and the pro-regulation crowd. They don't like the decisions that some individuals make and they want to use government coercion to dictate what others may do. Unable to accept the fact that some individuals have different values, they seek to impose their views of attractive on the rest of the community. Houston's prosperity is the practical consequence of its general respect for property rights. And this is what Culver dislikes and seeks to change.

That other cities strangle their citizens with regulations does not make it proper--those cities are destroying jobs. That other cities violate the rights of their citizens does not make it right. That other cities are figuratively jumping off of a bridge does not mean that Houston should follow suit. Perhaps my mother needs to have a talk with Anne Culver and city council.


Rajesh Dhawan said...

My folks used to say,"if everybody jumped into a well, ....?"

In New Delhi, where I live, the city has removed most of the signs. It is a pity, the roads and streets seem deprived of character without them. I loved the big, bold graphics with witty taglines.

I think to people like Anne Culver, the billboards are a torturous reminder of people who unlike them are productive, successful, and a constant symbol of Capitalism.

It is not the billboards but what they represent-freedom and enterprise-that these people hate.

Brian Phillips said...

I agree that Culver and her ilk hate freedom, and that the signs are a representation of freedom.

For years the anti-sign crowd has called billboards "visual pollution" in an attempt to smear signs as a threat to our physical well-being. Their tactics are as shameless as their goals.