Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Preferences trump policies

Mention Kansas City, Tokyo, Paris, Brisbane and most people will evoke very different mental images. This is natural but also misleading. What these places have in comon is fast-growing suburbs, ones that look quite similar to each other.

Look at the cover of Wendell Cox's new book (War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life) and there are four photos of suburban homes in these four cities and it is almost impossible to say which is where. The rest of the book explains why. The narrative is backed up by data of the sort that Wendell has long been making available on his three websites.

The whole story undermines the New Urbanist ideas that cities outside the U.S. are somehow better, that people outside the U.S. make wiser choices and/or that policies in other countries make a substantial difference. None of these are true. Preferences are more universal than most think. Middle class resembles middle class. Any differences between countries are due to time lags (and incomes). And preferences trump polices.