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Previous post: my deviation from the orthodoxy in healthcare and social security.

Part 2: Urban planning.

Urban sprawl
Urban sprawl will always be with us. But in countries like Malaysia, United States and elsewhere (with car-centric transport policies), it is just significantly more extensive than what it would in a free market. I doubt there will be many libertarians defending government failures (public housing, public schooling and crime), interventions (density restrictions, zoning and land use regulations, rent control and home ownership incentives) and subsidies (highway construction, home ownership incentives). I also doubt libertarians will oppose Pigouian taxes on principle (especially things like user fees and congestion charging).

The crux of the difference is that I see urban sprawl as a bad thing, while the vast majority of libertarians see it as a good thing.

On an individual level, living in a nice, low-density leafy suburb will always be desirable to a high-rise flat in a densely populated city. The issue is when most people chose to live in suburbs, the sort of externalities coming out from it increases. For example, people drive more, which increases air polution, which increases the urban heat island effect (which is made worse by the decreasing amount of green areas in an sprawling city).

Urban design
Because I don’t think urban sprawl is sustainable or beneficial, and I think a lot of it is contributed by perverse incentives (a large amount of it created by the government), urban design becomes a lot more important – bad urban design separates a pleasant, albeit high-density environment with a miserable sardine can.

Even though I disagree with most urban planning policy tools, there is still a role for urban planners. There are a few things a great city should be about – accesible buildings that works in their environment, living streets, greenery and water features (not fountains, rather canals, beaches, lakes and rivers).

Most of this can be accomplished through incentives rather than restrictions and regulation. Property tax could be engineered in a way that encourage good design (like high sidewalk accessibility, incentives for green spaces).

Public transport
With some justification, most libertarians are suspicious of public transport. Most systems are heavily subsidized, for example – but as Hong Kong, Tokyo, New Delhi and Singapore shows, mass transit can even churn out a profit.

And I don’t think public transport should be entirely government-led. For example, paratransit like tuk-tuks and minibuses make a better, more efficient, last mile compared to local buses. And when government intervention is necessary, it should be financed entirely by public transport revenue (fares, advertising, station space rentals).

For example, Metro systems is highly efficient in high-density environments but privately-built ones can be infeasible; private companies will enjoy the positive externalities of mass rapid transit, but will suffer high capital outlays and limited cash flows.

Most libertarians see cars as freeing. It is. But if all the externalities of driving (pollution and congestion) is charged, and user-fees finances all transport infrastructure, driving will be a lot more expensive. Public transport gives people a choice, not take them away.


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