The Norman Transcript


May 12, 2013

High density: Is this all you’ve got?



Mr. Lungren points to exactly one public benefit of HR/HD — it would be friendlier to the environment than urban sprawl. For a variety of reasons, however, this is not a good argument for the sort of HR/HD developers have been advocating for Norman. In the first place, building up helps only so long as it replaces building out. Given the customers envisioned — students and young professionals — HR/HD is unlikely to even slow single-family-home-driven sprawl. More crucially, Norman developers are unwilling to cap suburban development in return for permission to go higher and denser in urban areas — they want both. Finally, if we are worried about the effects of sprawl, we should confront them directly by charging suburban developers and owners with the full costs of their decisions (e.g., impact fees). (Given our water worries, everyone now admits that Norman doesn’t cover its costs when it comes to new development). 

We need zoning to protect common community values; with that in place, appropriate prices for city services (and the market mechanism) can prevent environmental degradation.

Lacking a persuasive argument, Mr. Lungren resorts to the claim that HR/HD is inevitable. There is a lot to say about this position. It looks like a crude version of Marx’s economic determinism; it seems to be an attempt to undercut public participation (‘give up now because your fate is already sealed’); etc. The most important thing, however, is to see that that this view is false. Whether to have HR/HD is a choice our community makes. The majority of citizens have already made their decision clear — some higher densities are OK, but Norman should not ‘go all in’.

The only question now is whether Norman’s elected officials will let people like Mr. Lungren distract them from that consensus.

Stephen Ellis


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