Monday, June 11, 2007

How To Build a Free-Market Conservative Community by Akindele Akinyemi


In recent years, the benefits of the free market have been demonstrated as governments around the world have turned to the private sector to provide services more efficiently. However, critics of the free market argue that a truly free society is unworkable and impractical. Government, the argument goes, is far better equipped to provide the services and public facilities individuals need.
However, a growing number of American homeowners are demonstrating just how far privatization can go. Planned unit developments (PUD's) are privately developed, and primarily privately operated, communities. Today, nearly 30 million Americans live in approximately 100,000 planned communities, consisting of single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, shopping centers, office buildings, and facilities to house light industry. These communities range in size from a single condominium building to huge complexes of more than 50,000 acres.
Why do we need this in Urban Michigan? For me, it fits right into the framework of building urban regional networks through conservative communities. Since Gov. Granholm cannot get it right then we need to begin to look at alternatives.
For example, cities like Benton Harbor and Inkster should be on board with developing Planned unit Developments. Regardless of what the particulars of a given community are PUD's have three common traits: Building and land use restrictions, shared amenities, and community associations to which all property owners belong.
Perhaps the most important function of the community association is enforcing deed restrictions. Deed restrictions are a form of private "zoning," in which developers establish certain rules to prevent undesirable buildings and land use. Like zoning, deed restrictions provide continuity within a given area; unlike zoning, deed restrictions are governed by market considerations.
Most PUD's consist of a number of villages -- subdivisions within the PUD -- separated by the community's major roads. Business areas are located along these thoroughfares, which helps keep cars essentially out of the residential areas. In planning a community, the developer must work closely with the business community to construct a plan which benefits businesses and future homeowners.
While separating commercial and residential areas is a common justification for zoning, developers have found that many homeowners prefer to be close to shopping centers and their jobs. Indeed, many communities seek businesses for this very reason. For example, we can take communities like Ecorse or River Rouge and encourage corporations to locate facilities within the community. Corporations engage in developing mixed-use communities. These types of communities are becoming increasingly popular, as the free market seeks to meet the demands of homeowners. This type of flexible land use is nearly always prohibited by government zoning boards.
PUD's offer a private alternative to another activity traditionally undertaken by government: Protection of the environment. Parks, greenbelts, jogging trails, and wooded areas can be found in nearly every planned community. Once we begin to raise the adult literacy rate in places like Benton Harbor and Highland Park (where 56% of adults are functionally illiterate) we can began to develop 40% of the development consists of parks, greenbelts, lakes, and fairways.
These facilities will be generally built by the developer while the homeowners association eventually assumes control and maintenance responsibilities. Some facilities, such as golf courses and health clubs, are operated by private businesses, and require membership fees. But all of these recreational facilities are provided by the private sector, replacing the parks and recreation departments found in most cities.
Community activism is hardly limited to athletics. The homeowners associations encourage "grass-roots" democracy, and give property owners an opportunity to influence decisions regarding their community. Civic associations also provide support groups, and sponsor art shows, theater groups, and scouting programs for children.
While such sophistication is rare, even less affluent neighborhoods often have some form of private security protection. Shared costs make this affordable. Most developers construct gates at the entrances to their communities. When residents are willing to pay for it, these gates are manned by security personnel. Other communities establish volunteer security patrols, consisting of community residents.
Some services, such as schools, are provided by the public sector in nearly all PUD's. And road maintenance, after certain requirements are met, generally becomes the responsibility of county road crews. But this does not detract from the broader lesson to be learned from master-planned communities; the private sector can and does provide nearly all services traditionally assigned to city governments. While opponents of privatization are arguing that only government can provide certain services -- parks and recreation facilities, land-use controls, trash pick-up, fire protection -- private developers are busily proving otherwise.
In a free and competitive market here in Urban Michigan, developers must compete to attract customers. Protecting property values through deed restrictions and providing high-quality, low-cost services make master-planned communities an attractive housing alternative. Since Gov. Granholm and Michigan Government has failed Urban Michigan we need alternative solutions to building conservative communities.

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