Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New urbanism, yes, … but children, no …

New_urbanism    Stories about new urbanist developments such as Seaside, Florida, often include the phrase “victim of its own success.”  One problem with Seaside as a model for American development, the critics argue, is that the well-designed, densely packed houses are so appealing that the price of even a small one quickly rose out of the reach of middle-class families. 

   A new “victim of its own success” story concerns Washington Town Center, a new-urbanist-inspired 400-acre community in central New Jersey, with clustered houses and a design that encourages walking.  The community has been so popular that families have rushed in, not only driving up prices but filling up the local schools.  The school crunch appears so acute to local officials that they are considering using eminent domain to stop expansion of the community.  What a cockeyed situation!         

School_2     I discuss famous land use cases in my Property law class this time of year, and it’s always difficult to explain to students why government uses its power to, in effect, discriminate against families with schoolchildren.  Aren’t we supposed to have a pro-family society?  Why aren’t there protests in the streets –- or at least the level of protests that followed 2005’s eminent domain decision in Kelo –- against land use laws that try to discourage families? 

   Here’s a bedrock principle to law to follow –- land use law should never be used to discriminate against or discourage schoolchildren or families.  If in-migration puts pressure on schools (a pressure that would simply be pushed elsewhere, of course, if a restrictive land use law were adopted), the state government should act to spread revenue for schools so that no jurisdiction finds a need to discourage schoolchildren.

   Would such a policy be too extreme?  Well, let’s start with a policy that says a jurisdiction with a popular smart-growth, new-urbanist area will get aid for schools from the state to ensure that the locality doesn’t discriminate against schoolchildren.  It’s a start ...         


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