Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Arrested Development

The "crunchy conservative" blog last week was discussing suburban sprawl, ugly subdivisions, chainification, and related issues near and dear to my downtown-dwelling heart. Bruce Frohnen, a professor at Ave Maria School of Law here in Ann Arbor, addressed why we keep seeing boring, soulless, butt-ugly development:

And it isn't because the free market demands it. Far from it. Only a few cities do not have zoning laws, and almost all those that do make real towns, with main streets of shops that have apartments/condos above them, spiraling out through townhouses and neighborhoods with businesses mixed in, illegal.
He concludes:
It's actually a fairly clear problem with a fairly clear solution, but first people have to admit that a few big developers do not a free market make, and that we need to change the laws so that entrepreneurs and communities can come together to make something decent for all of us.
I don't really understand the point of zoning laws. Ann Arbor is zoned out the yin-yang, and yet that fails to prevent a perfectly good old building from being razed to make way for a nine-story tower of yuppies to be plopped down in an old, established neighborhood where no existing building is higher than two stories. If zoning laws aren't about preserving the integrity of a community, what are they for? (I realize this is probably an extremely naive question.)

And Rod Dreher quoting an emailer on the subject of dying downtowns really caught my attention:
Downtowns are dead or dying all over the country, and have been for over a generation...

Go to any county se[a]t in any county, and the downtown is the courthouse, banks, lawyers' offices, and the town newspaper office. This provides the unholy alliance to "revitalize" downtown...

The symbol for smalltown decline — a karate studio on Main Street. As soon as a karate studio moves into an old furniture store or clothing [s]hop, throw dirt over your downtown, because it is dead, dead, dead.
Dreher says his correspondent is "Dave from Georgia," but it sounds to me like this guy must live in Ann Arbor. Courthouse? Check. Banks? Check. Lawyers' offices? Check. Town newspaper? Check. Karate on Main Street? Seriously, this guy is in Georgia?