The Lone Mountain Compact:

Principles for Preserving Freedom and Livability in America's Cities and Suburbs

Lone Mountain Coalition

 

The phenomenon of urban sprawl has become a pre-eminent controversy throughout the United States. Recently a number of scholars and writers, gathered at a conference about the issue at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana by the Political Economy Research Center, decided to distill their conclusions into the following brief statement of principles. The authors have called this statement the "Lone Mountain Compact," and have invited other writers and scholars to join in endorsing its principles. A partial list of signatures appears at the end.

Preamble:
The unprecedented increase in prosperity over the last 25 years has created a large and growing upper middle class in America. New modes of work and leisure combined with population growth have fueled successive waves of suburban expansion in the 20th century. Technological progress is likely to increase housing choice and community diversity even further in the 21st century, enabling more people to live and work outside the conventional urban forms of our time. These choices will likely include low-density, medium-density, and high-density urban forms. This growth brings rapid change to our communities, often with negative side effects, such as traffic congestion, crowded public schools, and the loss of familiar open space. All of these factors are bound up in the controversy that goes by the term "sprawl." The heightened public concern over the character of our cities and suburbs is a healthy expression of citizen demand for solutions that are responsive to our changing needs and wants. Yet tradeoffs between different policy options for addressing these concerns are poorly understood. Productive solutions to public concerns will adhere to the following fundamental principles.

Principles for Livable Cities:
  1. The most fundamental principle is that, absent a material threat to other individuals or the community, people should be allowed to live and work where and how they like.

  2. Prescriptive, centralized plans that attempt to determine the detailed outcome of community form and function should be avoided. Such "comprehensive" plans interfere with the dynamic, adaptive, and evolutionary nature of neighborhoods and cities.

  3. Densities and land uses should be market driven, not plan driven. Proposals to supersede market-driven land use decisions by centrally directed decisions are vulnerable to the same kind of perverse consequences as any other kind of centrally planned resource allocation decisions, and show little awareness of what such a system would have to accomplish even to equal the market in effectiveness.

  4. Communities should allow a diversity in neighborhood design, as desired by the market. Planning and zoning codes and building regulations should allow for neotraditional neighborhood design, historic neighborhood renovation and conversion, and other mixed-use development and the more decentralized development forms of recent years.

  5. Decisions about neighborhood development should be decentralized as far as possible. Local neighborhood associations and private covenants are superior to centralized or regional government planning agencies.

  6. Local planning procedures and tools should incorporate private property rights as a fundamental element of development control. Problems of incompatible or conflicting land uses will be better resolved through the revival of common law principles of nuisance than through zoning regulations which tend to be rigid and inefficient.

  7. All growth management policies should be evaluated according to their cost of living and "burden-shifting" effects. Urban growth boundaries, minimum lot sizes, restrictions on housing development, restrictions on commercial development, and other limits on freely functioning land markets that increase the burdens on lower income groups must be rejected.

  8. Market-oriented transportation strategies should be employed, such as peak period road pricing, HOT lanes, toll roads, and de-monopolized mass transit. Monopoly public transit schemes, especially fixed rail transit that lacks the flexibility to adapt to the changing destinations of a dynamic, decentralized metropolis, should be viewed skeptically.

  9. The rights of present residents should not supersede those of future residents. Planners, citizens, and local officials should recognize that "efficient" land use must include consideration for household and consumer wants, preferences, and desires. Thus, growth controls and land-use planning must consider the desires of future residents and generations, not solely current residents.

  10. Planning decisions should be based upon facts, not perceptions. A number of the concerns raised in the "sprawl" debate are based upon false perceptions. The use of good data in public policy is crucial to the continued progress of American cities and the social advance of all its citizens.

For more information and background on these principles, see A Guide to Smart Growth: Shattering Myths, Providing Solutions, edited by Jane S. Shaw and Ronald D. Utt, (PERC/Heritage Foundation, 2000).

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