Home > Uncategorized > Reported “Good News” On Sprawl Masks Major Problems

Reported “Good News” On Sprawl Masks Major Problems

Once Again, Green Cannibals Selfishly Ignore Climate and Social Justice

State Land Use Planning and Regulation Ignored – Market Trends Celebrated

We Call Bullshit On NJ Spotlight’s Coverage

I question whether that “market demand” is exclusively voluntary and all good, or whether it is significantly influenced by things like a precarious job market (low paying dead end jobs with no benefits), heavy student debt burdens, unaffordable healthcare, gentrification and rising housing costs, and the fact that young people are facing a deeply uncertain and terrifying future of climate catastrophe.

New Jersey’s previously perennially controversial issues of land use and sprawl have fallen off the media and policy radar and environmental group agenda’s for over a decade now. The Foundation funding for “sprawl” campaigns has dried up.

The State Planning Commission has been invisible and turned into an economic development cheerleader, after seemingly abandoning the State Development and Redevelopment Plan.

Meanwhile, the Christie and Murphy administrations not only have ignored the State Plan, but the land use planning and regulatory work of the Pinelands Commission, Highlands Council and DEP.

The Christie administration turned the Pinelands Commission into a rubber stamp for pipelines. They killed an attempt to create a Coastal Commission.

The Highlands Council became a political patronage pit.

The “customer service” & “culture change”  Christie DEP Commissioner Bob Martin rolled back DEP’s Highlands and land use regulations under the guise of “regulatory alignment” and reducing “regulatory burdens” and “red tape”.

The Murphy administration basically pursued a policy of “continuity” with Christie, but shifted the focus to climate and energy issues (and from DEP & regulations to BPU & the Energy Master Plan). The media and environmental groups followed along, while the academic community went underground, with the exception of sea level rise and coastal land use issues, where they were forced to engage.

But even with that engagement, the land use issues were presented narrowly and framed in terms of either voluntary local actions (not State planning and regulation), “design” competitions (not regional planning), or feel good individual, site specific and ineffective “sustainable development” and “climate resilience” projects. All this was done while the regulatory status quo, a policy of “rebuild madness”, and beach replenishment and traditional coastal engineering solutions remained unchanged (with the exception of the Murphy DEP rollback of DEP flood regulations, a move that was blasted by FEMA).

We tried to keep the focus on land use and climate, exposing the Christie “rebuild madness”, e.g. see:

So, after a decade of this bi-partisan, media, and environmental group neglect, I was pleasantly surprised to read the headline of today’s “good news” story by NJ Spotlight:

But, I was extremely disappointed upon reading the story.

Here’s the problem:

Hasse attributed the shift in part to declining demand from young people for the traditional suburban living environments favored by their parents. Many people in their 20s and 30s want to live in dense, walkable communities rather than in car-dependent subdivisions, and the trend has resulted in fewer suburban homes being built, he said.

“Twenty-somethings don’t want to be, and can’t afford to be, in a house in the suburbs. They are all flocking back to Philadelphia, Jersey City, New Brunswick,” he said.

I don’t doubt that “twenty-somethings” prefer urban to suburban living.

But I question whether that “market demand” is exclusively voluntary and all good, or whether it is significantly influenced by things like a precarious job market (low paying dead end jobs with no benefits), heavy student debt burdens, unaffordable healthcare, gentrification and rising housing costs, and the fact that young people are facing a deeply uncertain and terrifying future of climate catastrophe.

Is the location of all that “demand” in distressed urban designated EJ communities? It is serving existing urban residents or displacing them by gentrification? Is the new housing affordable and served by public transit? Or is it expensive and car dependent? Is is powered by renewable energy and net zero in carbon emissions?

So, we need to look behind the superficial “market trends” to find out what is really going on.

But, aside from the story’s reliance on “market fundamentalism” as the sole causal mechanism, it is technically misleading to rely so heavily on local Certificate of Occupancy data and to compare 3 years of land use data with a 29 year trend.

Technical flaws and the exclusive focus on market trends and demography ignore important issues and masks huge problems (outlined below).

Additionally, the story makes this unsubstantiated, fact free, and misleading claim:

The shift has also been driven by New Jersey’s conservation movement, led by state initiatives such as the Garden State Preservation Trust, and private nonprofits like the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which together have shielded many lands from development, Hasse said.

For example, preservationists used the 2008-2009 recession as an opportunity to persuade farmers who were unable to sell their land to developers to agree instead to conservation easements — agreements between landowners and government agencies or private conservation groups that typically prevent future real estate development, thus permanently preserving the land as farmland.

This statement greatly exaggerates – without evidence, in the form of data or maps – the role of land preservation in any shift in land use patterns, while ignoring many other important causal factors. (And, as we’ve written, this is not the first time that NJ Spotlight has written a highly misleading story that celebrates “market forces” and ignores or even denigrates the role of planning and regulation. At some point, the bias becomes ideological – i.e. a Neoliberal attack –  and must be called out – even if it gets you banned there.)

And there is no political data or analysis that would in any way justify describing this conservation program as a “movement”. Just the opposite: the Green Cannibals are anti-democratic, foundation funded, elite groups with tiny memberships who operate privately behind the scenes, often in self dealing ways. Give me a break! (reminds me of Pete Buttigieg calling his campaign a movement”):

as Aldous Huxley wrote in the introduction to his classic novel of dystopian technocracy, Brave New World, “the greatest triumphs of propaganda” are accomplished by maintaining “silence about truth.”

The Garden State Preservation Trust and private land conservation efforts have serious limitations and flaws, including the fact that they are based on opportunistic private transactions, and are market based, voluntary, and driven by willing sellers. Accordingly, it is no surprise that they are scattershot. (Note that readers were not provided a map of those lands).

The lands preserved are not based on science, natural resources values, or any overarching land use plan or strategy.

Equally – as I’ve written many times – the program is unfair to urban NJ and disproportionately impacted low income and minority communities, and biased towards protecting the back yards of economically and politically powerful people, land speculators, developers, and corporations.

The land preservation program also has unintended effects, including exacerbating gentrification and it also has been used by affluent all white communities for exclusionary and discriminatory purposes.

Here’s a note I sent to the Spotlight reporter and editor, which outlines other major policy concerns that are ignored or masked by today’s story:

1. Do you realize that your story today included a chart -which drove the narrative – that misleading side by side  compares land use data over a 3 year period with the same data set over a 29 year period? That is incredibly misleading. I strongly urge you to correct it.

2. If redevelopment is all good, are you aware that the climate, anti-corporate subsidy, and environmental justice champion NJ Gov. Murphy just quietly signed legislation that promotes and subsidizes redevelopment and IGNORES climate change & EJ? See:

  • Gov. Murphy Quietly Signs Major Redevelopment Law – No Standards To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy & Environmental Justice


3. Gentrification, affordable housing, and homelessness? Are these no longer relevant issues in NJ? High end urban redevelopment is all good, with no downsides? Young people are free “consumers”, unencumbered by things like huge student debt, a lousy job market, rising housing costs, and a terrifying future of climate catastrophe?

4. Does NJ still have a State Plan, State Planning Commission, Highlands Council, Pinelands Commission, and DEP land use planning and regulatory programs?

How could you ignore all that and exclusively attribute an alleged positive land use trend to market forces and acquisition?

You got spun by self  interested conservation groups that economically benefit from the Green Acres program and a cowardly “academic” who avoids the regulatory and social implications of his data.

5. Are you aware that Gov. Murphy’s recently released Energy Master Plan postpones hard decisions on land use, building retrofits, and building codes until after 2030? (despite recent IPCC warning that we have about 10 -12 years to avoid irreversible catastrophic warming?

6. Ask professor Hasse, conservationists, and DEP to produce a map of green acres acquisitions.

Those acquisitions are opportunistic, based on willing sellers, and follow no natural resource based science or strategic land use plan.

Those acquisitions have had little or no impact on land development patterns, yet – without evidence in the from of a map or data –  your story attributes them (and market forces & demographic trends) as the exclusive factors driving land use, based on a hypothetical farmland preservation focus.

As virtually the only media game in Town in Trenton, NJ Spotlight must do better.

As award winning former NY Times reporter Chris Hedges writes today:

The rhetoric we use to describe ourselves is so disconnected from reality that it has induced collective schizophrenia.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:
You must be logged in to post a comment.