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Why Joel Kotkin is Full of It

Joel Kotkin is an urban theorist who loves to flout urban conventional wisdom by supporting suburbs and the rise of new cities like Phoenix.

His primary argument seems to be, “If people want to move there, Why not let them?”

And a good reason to at least call into question this flight of people to places like Phoenix is because the growth of cities in the middle of nowhere is that it can have a deleterious effect on the environment, as this Chronicle article illustrates.

The article discusses a housing boom in California’s Central Valley because land is cheap. However, developing in these hot inland regions means developing under the assumption that people will be living air-conditioned lives, which is an enormous contributor to energy consumption. And, thus, a contributor both or our rolling blackouts, and to the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.

Joel doesn’t seem to care about these second and third order effects, which has always upset me. Residents of these towns should be taxed in ways that reflect the true cost of their living there… Then we’ll see just how quickly they flock there.

Those taxes wouldn’t just address issues like energy consumption, but health as well — residents of a hot inland city are bound to be more sedentary (who wants to go out in that heat?) and thus have all kinds of medical concerns.

It’s not just a matter of giving people what they want. It never is. People living in the Central Valley, or places like Phoenix, are an enormous drain, requiring more energy, greater fossil fuel consumption to supply them with resources, water needing to be brought in from ever-farther distances, etc. etc. And the problems that arise from this drain are not located only in those cities, but shared with everyone. Shouldn’t residents of those cities contribute more to offset the harm they’re causing?