Houston is the poster child for bad urban planning - or should I say the complete lack of any planning. Developers build subdivisions across the Texas plains, and the government builds freeways to them, in an endless cycle of sprawl. This Houston Chronicle article talks about the many negative effects this is having on the region, from decaying inner-ring suburbs to environmental destruction.

This type of development is erroneously thought of as “free market.” But it’s far from free. Only because local and national governments continuously spend taxpayer dollars to build new freeways is this type of development possible. The article simultaneously refers to this as “Houston’s free-market culture” while also acknowledging the government’s role. A true libertarian would argue that the developers should pay for these roads themselves. If they had to do so, a lot more investment might go into improving the existing older suburbs and urban core (such as it is, which in Houston isn’t much) rather than creating brand-new homes 50 miles outside the city.

Government-subsidized sprawl may not be “free market,” but it is capitalist: powerful economic interests such as developers, the auto industry, construction, and others lobby and corrupt government. At the local level, it’s by far the greatest corrupting influence, from Houston to Williamsburg/Greenpoint to Hoboken, where the developer-friendly and corrupt mayor was just reelected thanks to his $1 million of campaign contributions. Are we helplessly stuck with a system where elected officials use the power of government to enrich a small group of contributors rather than getting the most value for the public out of each plot of land?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.