Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mouse Dystopia and New Urbanism


Mega-City One
Not to long ago I posted about the fallacy of Malthusians over population fears. Stares at the world posted a very fascinating study that has stuck in my mind for a little while now.  Now  I must state that I do not agree with Calhoun's fears on overpopulation or that the study translates well very the growing, for now, human population.  That doesn't mean that the earth cannot get overpopulated by humanity, it can, but technological advancement has been able to avoid the over population scenario.  Moreover, while mice are social animals, human beings take it to a greater degree, which helps ameliorate, though not negate, the negative effects of overly large populations being in a smaller area.  That being said I am cognizant of the negative effects of having to many human beings in too small an area.  I mention in my earlier post that we could fit humanity in the area the size of Texas, but that doesn't mean I consider such a scenario as optimal, far from it.

I find the study very interesting, especially from a sociological perspective, and what it means for human beings.  Mr. Calhoun had constructed a veritable paradise for these mice, and while overpopulation did occur, the effects we see socially with these animals are disturbing.  In some ways it was a veritable Jules Verne tale to of the Time Machine.  The mice, living in conditions wholly outside of what could be found in nature, gradually self destructed.

 I wanted to focus on another aspect, or even unintentional consequence, of the Malthusian movement.  That is the New Urbanism movement, which many Malthusians advocate, that has been gaining traction with academics, activist, and even developers over the decades. One of the stated goals of new urbanism is to create very dense cities to minimize the environmental impact that human beings have on their environment. In short, New Urbanism is a refutation of the earlier few that cities were destructive and harmful environments for human beings by seeking to create cities that emulated the countryside.

During the late 19th and early 20th century it wasn't uncommon for city planners or businessmen enormous wealth to try and design cities that echoed the countryside, this general movement is now known as the city beautiful movement.  And even though it was extremely popular for a short period of time, for many decades if not centuries, civic leaders tried to offset the 'unnatural' conditions of the city with the healthier and more 'natural' conditions of nature.  These Thoreauean proponents no doubt idealized nature beyond reason, but they understood that cramming human beings together into small spaces was contrary to their heath.

Naturally New Urbanism, which first grew from the writings of Jane Jacobs, and ironically advocated bottom up city planning versus the top down planning that usually occurred, has become the darling of city planners and progressives everywhere.  Even in my own city the civic leadership is trying to enforce this urban village concept by making cars more prohibitively expensive to park and spending more municipal funds on public transit.  Moreover more and more municipalities are trying to limit urban sprawl via expansion restrictions.  This effectively halts horizontal expansion and forces cities to develop upwards, raising the price of rents, and acting as an informal and loose kind of rent control.

The decreased availability of space makes living in the city that much more expensive and it would be interesting to see the crime rates of cities by density. I would expect there to be a positive correlation to crime rate and the density of a city.  Space was one of the main drivers for mice because of the males territoriality.  Now human beings aren't quite as territorial as mice, Singapore has a population density of 19,000 people per square mile and the crime in that city state is very low, there  however, if we think of territory as a form of currency then the analogy becomes more apt in my opinion.

Male mice need territory to attract females for reproduction.  The larger their territoriality the better they are able to provide for their mates and their young, as a larger territory would have more resources available to that mouse.  This In that sense territory is a form of wealth.  As more and more mice inhabited a finite space, the ability of a mouse to acquire sufficient 'wealth' decreased to the point where it was no longer worth the activity; causing the majority of males from forgoing the activity.

For human beings replace territory with wealth and we have the same phenomena.  As it becomes harder for men to secure the resources needed to attract women, and I have spoken to many women who do consider how much a man makes or his future earning potential. the more likely it is for the men to drop out.  This isn't even a conscious decision, rather, it is an unconscious one born out a growing frat boy and video game culture.  Now this isn't the only reason why men as a whole have elected not to participate in the sexual market place, there are many reasons, but it is one.

When cities, or even counties, actively work against suburban and exurban growth it eliminates the ability for those on the lower rungs of the economic spectrum to grow their wealth. The American, and Canadian, west was built by these very men, often poor and on the lowest social rungs, striking out west to make their fortune and start their businesses. It is far easier to build and operate industries and businesses in the outskirts were land is cheaper than in the heart of a city.  However, the current crop of urban planners and civic activists frown upon business and industrial parks despite the economic advantages it offers to those starting new businesses.

This could even be taken down to more micro-levels where municipalities actively discourage certain businesses that are run out of the home, home salons and home restaurants come to mind.  And the reason why municipalities do this isn't out of malice but necessity.  Human beings, as a whole, if given the option do not won't to live in crowded cities and nor do they want to live in the exurbs; there is a reason why suburban and smaller urban areas continue to be popular, despite the rhetoric of many New Urbanists, and the only way to ensure that sufficient infill to meet city development is to create restrictions even if only de facto. For example my own city moved to toll the two bridges that connect our major municipal center to many of our growing suburban cities.  While the tolls are meant to pay for new mass transit they also have the effect of making it more economically difficult to live in the suburbs and work in the city.

This is all in a misguided, in my opinion, attempt to increase urban density.  These efforts create the same sort of problems that these are trying to solve, in my opinion because they try to force an economy that have a large demand. And ultimately these efforts will fall, because short of institution Chinese style residency laws, individuals will move to were life is safer, affordable, economically vibrant, and more space. There is a reason why many urban cities have seen much smaller, and sometimes even negative, growth rates relative to surrounding suburban or rural urban areas. And fortunately we do not have Chinese residency laws restricting the freedom of movement, because if we did, and individuals were forced to live in over crowded and economically stagnant cities then Mr. Calhouns mouse dystopia.

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.