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Suburban Growth – The Search of Sustainability

The Dallas Morning News has published a three-part study of the Dallas-Fort Worth region’s suburban growth, culminating in today’s article comparing “managed growth” practices in Portland, Oregon, with the Wild West approach to development in North Texas. The DMN reporter, Jessica Meyers, opines that “Preservation is not a word much connected with Texas, a place rooted in expansionist pride and individual freedoms” and as one result “the state’s suburbs keep spreading as infrastructure erodes, water supplies dwindle and pastures disappear.” In contrast, the Portland metropolitan area has an elected council which limits development to areas inside “urban growth boundary” lines that the council draws every five years. Ms. Meyers notes that Portland’s restrictions do slow growth, boost real estate prices and cause controversy.

I found the articles excellent, and the reader responses on the DMN website today fascinating. People commonly dislike challenges to their current ways of doing things, and Ms. Meyers stirred up a beehive among DMN readers. The reader comments had very little discussion of the environmental costs of suburban sprawl and much passionate defense of property rights and personal freedom. As in all environmental issues of consequence, protecting the community commons necessarily involves restrictions on individual free choice. American communities do not allow citizens to create health hazards by dumping toxic garbage on the streets, or even in their own back yards, or to drive vehicles without observing safety and emission standards. Balancing individual free choice against community-imposed restrictions is at the heart of the political struggles we see in current national, state, and local election campaigns. American voters have important choices in this election year, and the DMN’s examination of the costs and benefits of Dallas and Portland land use strategies furnishes a useful guide to such choices and their effects.

(Note: if you are not a subscriber to the Dallas Morning News, and the link to the story sends you to a page that does not have the full story, you can search for the title of the article ,”Rethinking the future of North Texas development” in a search engine and maybe reach the full text.)


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