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USC planning contrarian Peter Gordon links to a Michigan Law Review article (PDF) by Notre Dame law prof Nicole Stelle Garnett. She argues that “for a majority of Americans, suburbs have become points of entrance to, not exit from, ‘urban’ life….Perhaps their parents or grandparents left the old neighborhood, but their own experience is entirely suburban” — which undermines one major antisprawl argument.

“The exit paradigm [that most Chicago suburbanites, for instance, emigrated from Chicago to the burbs] provides a powerful normative justification for metropolitan solidarity by tying the fortunes of center cities to the selfish actions of surrounding communities and their residents. Demands to remedy the ‘inequitable’ distribution of fiscal resources within a metropolitan area are most powerful if those benefiting from the inequities helped create them by abandoning their former neighbors. Similarly, proponents of regional government can most plausibly assert that a metropolitan region is, in reality, a single polity when the residents of outlying areas share social, economic, and historical connections to the region’s anchor city and to one another.”

If they don’t, then “regional and growth control proponents must increasingly fall back on utilitarian arguments: metropolitan fragmentation is inefficient, suburban fortunes stand or fall with the fortunes of center cities, and so on. Not only are these arguments challenged by economists who argue that metropolitan fragmentation is efficiency enhancing, but they may also ring hollow with suburban enterers who have little or no affinity for (or connection to) urban life.”

I think Garnett has a point — but don’t you just love the way “economists” are big on everybody letting down the walls when the subject is free trade around the whole world, and suddenly they’re all about how “efficient” walls are when the subject is a metropolitan area?