This article originally appeared in the summer 2001 issue of IMPACT!, the quarterly newsletter of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
The issue of so-called "smart growth"government restrictions to manage how and where people live in a communitycame to the fore during last year's presidential campaign. And while the campaign may be long over, the issue continues to attract the attention of lawmakers who worry that the growth of cities could lead to environmental degradation.
This spring, a land-use planning bill was introduced in the Michigan Legislature to combat "urban sprawl" in a way that would intrude on private property rights, according to one legislator. That's why the legislator, Rep. Robert Gosselin, invited urban policy expert and Mackinac Center for Public Policy Adjunct Scholar Samuel Staley to testify before a hearing on the bill.
"Dr. Staley offers reasonable, effective, creative, exciting ways to address the [sprawl] problem, which do not violate property rights," Rep. Gosselin said in a news release.
Staley's testimony at the May 8 hearing, a joint session of the House Committees on Land Use and Environment and Local Government and Urban Policy, focused on market-based approaches as the best way to dealing with sprawl concerns, including environmental fears.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Patricia Birkholz, emphasized that her legislation contains no new mandates, but Staley criticized a provision that ties state funding to whether or not a community has developed a 20-year growth plan.
"We don't know where we're going to be in 20 years," Staley told legislators. "We don't even know who is going to be living in our community."
Staley also explained free-market policy alternatives to smart growth at a May 7 Mackinac Center Issues and Ideas luncheon in Lansing and a May 8 breakfast with members of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. Interviews with Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Detroit-area journalists produced robust media coverage, including a May 8 Oakland Press article.
Staley, who directs the Urban Futures Program at the Los Angeles-based Reason Public Policy Institute, is the author of numerous scholarly books and reports on urban issues, including the 1998 Mackinac Center study, "Urban Sprawl and the Michigan Landscape: A Market-Oriented Approach," now in its second printing.