Andrew D Atkin
When you get to the facts and away from the nonsense in the Smart Growth debate, the grey zones within the conversation shrink - and radically. The arguments for promoting Smart Growth ahead of demand-responsive planning become somewhat absurd (and mysteriously so). Now that is true, except for this one issue that I highlight in this post.
If Smart Growth is ultimately a tool of social engineering, which it might very well be, then what we need to do is expose what could be the hidden conversation driving this movement. As follows:
Possibly the most important issue relating to Auckland city's Smart Growth movement is its social and demographic effects. It's also something that we never seem to talk about. Well we should talk about it, because it's absolutely relevant.
Okay. By force intensifying Auckland city via restricting land supply, we create the inevitable effect of making low-density living extremely expensive. (With $50,000 fringe sections now going for $300,000 and more, mission accomplished). Because the majority preference is for low-density living, we likewise achieve the basic effect of: Low-density living for rich people, and high-density living for poor people.
We see this today with domestic over-crowding in poorer areas, which is the nastiest and certainly most unhealthy form of high-density living. Not just too many people in one area, but too many people in one house.
Over time, we will see the development of apartment blocks and terraced housing to cater for the new demand, as induced by the (now-created) formidably expensive land for development. This is all part of Auckland councils Unitary Plan. So what all this means, in short, is that the poor will be concentrated into designated high-density zones within specific areas of Auckland city.
Now, it doesn't matter how pretty we make these new developments, they will effectively become slums because of the average type of person who will come to live in them. Not all poor people can be described as the underclass* of course, but the underclass is most certainly a large (and growing) sub-set of the poor.
One thing that we know about high-density living is it's not family-friendly. People (most) instinctively don't want to bring up a child in a high-density zone. They want a safe, quiet atmosphere for their kids, and easy access to room for them to play in (physically). We also know that high-density (urban intensive) living leads to greater social stress, which has been recently observed even in neurological studies. This stress will no doubt be compounded in high-density environments heavily concentrated with "undesirable" people.
With this developing situation, coupled with easy access to contraception and abortion, we could presume that the high-density poor-person zones will achieve the suppressed breeding of this class. Maybe. I don't know. But we can comfortably speculate that anti-family policy (which is what Smart Growth is) will suppress human breeding, if done in the "right" way. Basically, if you create the conditions that take away people's desire to have children, then with a little help they surely won't.
Has Auckland council thought about this? Have the people behind Auckland council's planning ideology thought about this? Dare I say that for all we know it could be central to their thinking. I say that because I can relate to these demographic concerns. On other posts I have explicitly expressed concern for the fact that we are subsidising, through welfare, the breeding of the underclass with all its distressing problems and negative characteristics, and I have expressed before the we need to look for serious solutions in dealing with these problems. Business as usual, in my view, is not a respectable option. My point is I doubt I'm the only one who thinks in these terms.
...Indeed, I have had concerns before that if my ideals for urban development were to be actualised, then we might well see an accelerated explosion in the growth of the underclass. Making life easier for these people to breed will probably induce them to breed even more - to some degree at least. So is that really a good idea for the long-term prosperity of our society? Do we really want people who routinely rape, beat and chronically neglect their children passing on their legacy to their children and the rest of society, unabated?**
Yes, this issue is so taboo that most of us don't dare talk about it unless we're in carefully selected company. What can I say? Realities that effect us significantly should, surely, always be discussed. Refusing to confront issues like this, and pushing them into the underground, only gives others justification for doing our thinking for us (not good!).
If the real purpose of Smart Growth is ultimately to suppress the growth of the underclass, then let's admit it. Let's bring the issue to the table and map the cause-to-effects of our social policy. I for one do not have a problem with putting barriers up to stop broken people from breeding, but I most certainly do not believe in Smart Growth as a method to achieve that end. It should be done with direct controls - not controls that seriously compromise real living standards for everyone. Note that with Smart Growth, even the middle class must struggle. Forcing people to pay double for their detached home obviously cuts enormously into disposable income.
*When I say underclass I mean the social sector with the following types of characteristics; Broken homes, fatherless children, serious child abuse, entrenched welfare dependency, reckless promiscuity, criminality, drug abuse, gang-association and predatory aggression, etc. And please note that my goal here is not to beat-up on these people. I understand more than well that ultimately no-one chooses to be part of this group, and they are indeed terribly unfortunate people. I am simply trying to be strictly realistic about the demographic effects we are or might be creating with Smart Growth policy.
**Note, I am not exaggerating or going onto an emotive tangent. For perspective, it is estimated that about 25% of girls are seriously sexually abused in their childhood's by someone well known within their family, in New Zealand. The greater proportion of that abuse will be within the group we recognise as the underclass.
Addition: 25-6-13: Social mixing?
Poor people are being zoned into high-density areas via the Unitary Plan, but depending on how and where the development is located exactly, it may still be very close to low-density zones. If so, then this will in turn lead to social-mixing on a broad level. Basically the middle and working classes will have to live closer to the underclass.
Now I don't know how much of a problem this will be in itself, but take note that we have the system of school zoning in New Zealand. You have to send your child to a local school from where you live, unless of course you can afford a private school or to homeschool. However, both of those options are probably not going to be affordable to even the middle-class, because of massively high property prices eating up most of their disposable income*.
So what this means, basically, is that people in the "civilised" classes will have no choice but to send their kids to schools well-populated with children who have been seriously emotionally damaged. And that will mean kids who are compelled to dish-out to others what they have had to endure in their personal home lives (I'm keeping it simple).
And what will the effect of this be? I can only speculate, but based on my own 'worldly' understanding, I will say that rather than just ignoring the underclass people may come to despise them. Maybe this will induce enough social tension, over time, of the type leading to political pressure for serious counter-action, such as breeding licenses?
Alas, this is speculation, in part, but we should certainly think about it. Because whether Auckland council realises it or not, they are engaging in serious social engineering.
*Also New Zealand has an advanced welfare system (WFF) that heavily flattens incomes across the classes, no matter what people do (professionally), and likewise making it all the more difficult for people to escape these forced-associations. And further to this, with a struggling middle-class suffering from heavy taxation and costly housing, I would imagine further antagonism towards the underclass who will be perceived as an unaffordable monkey on their backs.
Addition: 30-6-13: Wealth and classing:
The more you have of anything the less it is worth to you, per unit. The difference between earning $200k and $100k a year, for example, is not nearly as significant as the difference between earning $100k and $50k a year, in terms of real living standards. Appreciating this we can see that making housing, an indispensable product, twice as expensive as it should be has the direct effect of making money hugely more important for most people, as their disposable income is essentially castrated. You're taking big money from people inside the income bracket who can't really afford to lose it, at least not without a real impact on their day-to-day lives.
The social effect of this is that you increase institutional conformity-pressure across the board. You end up with a society of struggler's who are very aggressive in working for that promotion or degree, etc, because a failure to professionally perform has much more serious implications for their living standard. When stepping out of the game means living under a bridge, everyone starts to live more like slaves as people must work so hard not just for luxury but mere survival. The 'alternative' or more laid-back lifestyle no longer becomes an option for anyone, or at least those who are not apathetic about their future. So how would this affect your democracy when no-one who might care has the time or energy to think, except those who would probably only want to preserve the status-quo?
Among other things, Smart Growth policy looks to me like a recipe for the development of explicit social classing, whereby a distinct elite herds itself together into clubs as an instinctive protective mechanism, because they have too much to lose should they fall from financial grace. And contrasting, the hard-working and non-thinking poor will tend to buy whatever nonsense an elite might hand to them because without understanding, politics becomes (as it then only can be) little more than a soundbite-driven celebrity show.
The point is I believe that democratising prosperity is important to avoid social classing of the type that we see in poorer nations, and historic societies, where a stratified elite lives in a truly isolated bubble. Do we want this? When an elite becomes isolated it naturally doesn't care about its lower classes, in the same way that you or I don't really care about the plight of the poor in external countries ie. another world, another problem.
Caring is linked to identification (or lack of). The problems tend to happen when those who have power over you (elite) also don't care about you, and that indifference is what happens when an elite becomes isolated into its bubble. I'm not saying this to be contemptuous - it's only human. None of us really have the emotional surplus to care beyond our social perimeter, at least not on a serious level.
Note: Defining elite: When I refer to an elite, I mean the wealthy and influential social class that sees itself as "number one" and to the point where they feel it's their responsibility as much as anyone's to be stewards of mass-social direction. Though, most of these people are not really 'elite' in that sense as they are usually themselves just agents of their in-group opinion ie. playing along to get along. The true "elite's" are the thinkers and researches who influence them, whoever they might be.