NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 4, 2005

Proponents of high-density, "smart growth" planning seem to be harkening back to socialist principles when it comes to what an American city should look like, says economist Randal O'Toole.

Some 40 years ago, University of Moscow planners wrote "The Ideal Communist City," which provided a blueprint for housing construction in Russia and Eastern Europe. The plan lamented the cost of providing services to a "chaotic and depressing agglomeration of buildings covering enormous stretches of land." Anti-sprawl advocates might use those words to describe today's suburbs.

In fact, many characteristics of a Communist city mirror the vision of today's smart growth planners. For example:

  • Communist planners and smart growth planners encourage transit-oriented development and discourage auto parking.
  • Both urban plans minimize private yards and maximize commons areas.
  • Both urban plans advocate the use of high-density, mixed-income housing, although the Communist planners recommend high-rise buildings, while Smart Growth planners will settle for mid-rise structures.
  • The ideal density of a Communist city was 70,000 people per square mile, slightly more than Manhattan today.

However, the failure of the Communist vision of urban life is now evident in the city of Halle-Neustadt of the former East Germany. Once described as a "sustainable" city, many high-rise buildings are now being demolished, while others are losing occupancy as residents leave their small, drab apartments for single-family homes and duplexes.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "It's 'Smart Growth,' Comrade," Liberty, July 2005.


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