Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Turf Wars

Apparently, city officials are among those who believe that if we put lipstick on a pig nobody will notice that we have a rather ugly date. They want to tighten development standards in the city, and according to the Chronicle, want to avoid enacting zoning.

Regardless of what they call it, or the details of this latest push for more land-use controls, the fact remains that such restrictions on the use of property are immoral and a violation of individual rights. The latest proposal calls for designating the area between The Loop and The Beltway as urban, which will bring density restrictions into play in those areas.

If the lives of human beings would not be negatively impacted by this, the hypocrisy would be hilarious. On one hand the city is pushing to reduce commutes by shoving light rail down our throats, and on the other hand they act to extend commutes by prohibiting denser development. They want to have our cake, and eat it too.

Much of the justification behind the new standards is to "protect neighborhoods". But what is the nature of this "protection"? Restrictions on development necessarily compel individuals to act differently from how they would freely choose. Which means, some individuals will be forced to act for the alleged benefit of other individuals. Which means, while neighborhoods are being "protected", the rights of individuals are being trampled by the city government.

We are constantly told that we need such regulations to make Houston more "livable". We aren't told for whom the city will be more livable, or by what standard. It certainly won't be more livable for the individuals whose lives are wrecked by government restrictions. It certainly won't be more livable for those who plans are destroyed because they do not conform to the government's mandates. It certainly won't be more livable for the actual human beings who are forced to put aside their own interests and desires in deference to "neighborhoods".

The champions of these causes posit themselves as humanitarians who simply want to make our city better. They brush aside principles, believing that we can learn from the mistakes of other cities and enact "smarter" controls. They refuse to question their basic premises, instead arguing that their gang can can do it better.

The success of redevelopment inside The Loop is testimony to the fact that many Houstonians want denser development. But this clashes with the desires of many current home owners, who seem to believe that they have a right to maintain the character of their neighborhood at the point of a gun. They do not hesitate to use government coercion against others, ignoring the fact that others could demand similar actions against them.

I can empathize with the desire to retain a neighborhood's character. However, civilized individuals resolve conflicts through reason and persuasion, not through coercion. Civilized individuals recognize and respect the rights of other individuals, and do not join noisy gangs to pressure City Hall to enact restrictions on others.

That these turf wars are carried out in the light of day by middle-class Houstonians does not change their nature or grant them moral legitimacy. They are no different from the battles between the Southwest Cholos and La Primera. And like those gangs, the advocates of "neighborhood protection" will "mess you up" if step out of line and show them disrespect. Just ask Buckhead Development.


JG said...

I am not sure I understand the premise behind your statement:
"I can empathize with the desire to retain a neighborhood's character." -could you explain that please?

Brian Phillips said...

Jasmine-- There are areas of Houston with a very distinctive character. For example, The Heights has a lot of Victorian homes. Many of those who purchase a home in The Heights do so because of that fact. I enjoy visiting The Heights because of the architecture and overall "feel" of the area.

If those Victorians were torn down, the character of The Heights would be much different and perhaps much less appealing. So, I can understand why home owners would want to keep that Victorian character.

But that desire does not justify government intervention. There are private means for "protecting" the character of The Heights, such as deed restrictions.

My empathy extends only to the fact that I can understand why a neighborhood would want to retain its character, but it does not extend to the means most use to achieve it.