Steve McQueen, the actor, once said that he would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth. This is a typically American attitude toward cities. This distaste of the city environment, the cramped spaces, the crowds, the pollution and the noise goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson who dreamt of a nation founded on yeomen farmers. Although there aren't many farmers today, the dream lives on in many families who wish to live in their own, single, detached home.
The trouble begins when those who have escaped from the big, dangerous, dirty, immoral city wake up one morning and find that they are surrounded by other escapees. Their desert vista has been replaced by a subdivision, or the nearby golf course converted into condos. These people hate density. They hate congestion. They hate pollution. They are worried about crime. These are the foot soldiers in the anti-growth movement.
Thus, Americans have an innate wish to escape the city combined with the desire to burn the bridge behind them to prevent others from following. Add to this other another deeply held American value, respect for private property rights, and you have the basic conflict that makes growth and growth control so tough to deal with.
Into this storm of conflicting values steps a few brave souls who believe they can calm it. Growth control, they promise, can tame the beast of sprawl, preserve the quality of life for those who already have attained the American dream and still keep it within reach for those who haven't. Before examining the promises and results of growth control, it is worthwhile to see where we are at now.