Family, Faith, and Freedom
By Janet Lynn
Janet Lynn Salomon is a member of The Board of Advisors for
The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society. As a young figure skater,
she won five U.S. National Championships and the Bronze Medal at the 1972
Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan (and in doing so set the Olympic record
score for free skating). Turning professional in 1973, she became the "highest
paid female athlete in the world." Yet some years later, she chose to leave
skating to focus on her home, her marriage, and her children (she is the
mother of five boys). She is author of the book Peace and Love.
This essay is adapted from a speech given to a Rockford, Illinois audience in
July, 2000, marking the dedication of The Janet Lynn Ice Arena by the city. It
is a more personal statement than normally found in The Family in America.
These are also the words of a mother and patriot, who understands the vital
connection between "family, faith, and freedom." – The Editor
Speaking is not my favorite past time and preparing to speak is more
difficult for me than you can imagine. You may not know this, but my parents
introduced me to skating hoping it would help cure my extreme shyness and
timidity around people. I liked to skate because I could express myself without
talking to anyone! Somehow I think the joke was on me when I find myself invited
I grew up in Rockford starting at the age of eight. My memories include my
time at home, at the Wagon Wheel skating complex, and at church and school, and
my many opportunities to travel. It is here that foundations were built into my
life. Skating was such an incredible vehicle by which I learned about many areas
of life. I would like to share with you what I learned from the foundations of
my skating and relate them to the foundations of our nation; specifically,
family, faith, and freedom.
Understanding how to live in a free and civilized nation has become a great
passion for me. Over the years, even in the time that I have been raising my
family, I have given deep thought to our freedom, where it comes from, and why
it is important. The skills and priorities I have developed from my job as wife,
mother of five sons, and homemaker have strengthened my belief in the power and
importance of strong foundations. Those historically provided by family and
faith were the inspiration for our nation’s beginning. I believe strongly that
in order to continue to enjoy freedom in a civilized nation, we must rebuild our
God has placed in each and every human spirit the desire to be free. I think
that skating is a very powerful metaphor of that hope of freedom.
It is my belief that one of the things that makes skating so very popular is
that it looks free. People who skate well seem to fly. There is great
exhilaration in watching skaters flow across the ice and then into the air with
such beauty and grace! It touches something deep in the soul of many who watch.
I can tell you that when I was skating well, it did indeed seem like I was
soaring; and I felt free to attempt anything I wanted to on the ice. It was so
much fun to let God and beautiful music inspire my spirit on the ice, to
the point that I could express what was in my soul–without talking. The
freedom I had to skate was built upon foundations. I learned about liberty not
only by being free on the ice, but also from my experience of observing nations
that were not free.
While young, I had the rare opportunity to visit nations that were not free
and to experience, in a small way, the oppression and fear of expression under
which so many wonderful people had to live. I have seen people so afraid of
being caught socializing with people from other nations that they hid in a
closet. I was sobered when our suspicions were confirmed that some
"officials" who closely monitored and traveled with my skating peers
from unfree nations were actually secret police.
On one occasion in an unfree nation, we were assigned an interpreter for our
entire stay with whom I innocently spoke to about God. He must have been
immediately reassigned because we never saw him again. I did not realize how
serious that kind of conversation was in an unfree nation.
I have vivid memories of being a young lady who saw the Stars and Stripes
with an emotional and grateful heart upon returning to the United States. I had
a new awareness of what that flag has meant to many millions who have sought the
privilege to live under its freedom and protection. I remember wanting to kiss
the ground of my country, the most free country on the face of the earth.
Even at a young age, I knew there was an important difference between what I
experienced in nations that were not free and the freedom I knew in our great
nation. I believe the difference is found in the substance of foundations.
I learned about foundations from my skating. My brilliant coach, Miss Kohout
constantly emphasized the foundational skills. The manner in which I executed a
single jump was as important as how I executed a double or triple. I once had a
three hour lesson on just one simple turn. Our challenging weekly Saturday night
workout sessions mostly emphasized the foundations of skating. Plain stroking to
music, as our muscles burned, was something I think we all dreaded. As Miss
Kohout’s students, we were especially challenged the day we had to stroke to
music in rental hockey skates on very bad and chewed up ice. In the face of
these challenges, our skills had to be strong and the technique proper. If the
simple skills were not perfected, the advanced skills would become difficult, if
not impossible, and certainly much more dangerous.
Mastering those foundations required four to ten hours a day, six days a
week, of training, learning, and practicing. The discipline of school figures
was an essential part of my training. Only when the foundational skills were
mastered did I have the freedom to use those skills to express myself without
fear of getting hurt. The training in those foundations of my skating continued
for all the years that I skated. If I started having trouble with a jump, spin,
turn, or edge, it could always be traced back to the loss or incorrect execution
of foundational skills.
For seventeen years, I did not skate at all while I worked to build and raise
my family. When I began to skate again for physical fitness purposes, it became
immediately clear that I had lost most of my freedom to express myself on the
ice without fear of getting hurt. The foundations of my freedom on the ice were
still somewhere in my memory, but I had to start reteaching myself and fighting
with my body, which did not want to do those foundational skills in the way that
gave me the freedom I once had. I could no longer enjoy the delightful feeling
of flying across the ice and doing jumps, spins, and footwork. To regain that
freedom, I need to pay the price of rebuilding the foundations on the ice. Only
when those foundations have again become second nature and I have the
self-government of each muscle will I have earned the freedom to express myself
without fear of getting hurt.
As with the techniques and skills of skating, I learned that in order to have
civilized freedom, our country must remain on its solid foundations. With all my
heart, I believe that these thoughts about my skating are a metaphor about what
is happening in our nation. Our nation’s freedom came at a great price. It was
built upon certain foundations, including those of the natural family and
personal faith in God Almighty. Today we have altered, or ignored, or perhaps
forgotten the foundations of our nation’s freedom, and I believe we are in
great danger of losing our freedom to express ourselves without fear, as I have
lost my freedom to skate without fear.
There is a price to relearn the foundations of our freedom. We can do
it–and we must! I am concerned about the direction of our country. What kind
of nation will my children, and yours, inherit? A lack of self-control is
omnipresent. Our culture seems to exist to satisfy the senses, and we have
forgotten or deadened our souls. It is true that if we are not governed from
within, we will have to be controlled with outside regulation, restrictions, and
force. If we relearn our self-government, there will be no need for excessive
Peter Marshall put it best: "James Madison, chief architect of the
Constitution of the United States, once explained the nature of the American
Republic in these words: ‘We have staked the whole of all our political
institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity
of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain
ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.’"1
I do not want the next generation to inherit a nation where children are
killing children, as we have seen in the recent past and where mothers and
fathers are neglecting, abandoning, or killing their own children. I want my
children to inherit a nation that is relearning and applying the foundations of
self-government, civility, and freedom. This work is hard, especially when
parents have a hard time finding healthy opportunities for their children’s
growth that are not influenced by our degrading culture. That is why it is so
important to make available wholesome activities, like ice skating, which
preserve the innocence of childhood.
I agree with William Bennett, as he spoke about "The Leading Cultural
Indicators," concluding: "the last 3-1/2 decades...have
‘fractured’ many of the pillars American civilization stands on, and the
nation remains ‘more violent and vulgar, coarse and cynical, rude and
remorseless, deviant and depressed,’ than the one we once inhabited." He
continued, "America’s ‘capacity for self-renewal is rare and real. We
have relied on it in the past….We must call on it again.’"2
The foundations of my skating were supported by the foundations of our free
nation. This profoundly impacted my ability to learn to skate and to share my
skill with others. In the United States of America I was free to express on the
ice, without fear, what God put in my soul. The foundations of our free nation
are within reach of every person in this land. They include family, faith, and
the great gift of living in a free country.
On the Natural Family
The important foundation of my family was essential as my skating developed
and started to grow beyond anyone’s expectations. As I mentioned earlier,
there is a price to learning and sustaining foundations. In my case, my family
often found themselves sacrificing for my success. They always did so with great
grace, love, and encouragement to me. It is hard to adequately express my
thoughts and gratitude for the big and little things they did. I could not have
accomplished what I did in skating without my father and mother, my brothers and
sister, and my grandfather. They gave me an honorable place to belong and a
strong assurance that I was loved–whether I won or lost, because my worth did
not come from skating. They taught me how to laugh at myself and they let me
know I was a part of my natural family no matter what part of the world I was
in, or how many hours I spent training. They gave me a perspective on life that
went far beyond what I did on the ice. They are part of the reason that I know
what I have been doing as a homemaker is the most important job in the world.
The natural family is committed to one another and draws lessons, knowledge,
love, and a place of belonging from each other. It is a part of the foundation
of our freedom. We need mothers who are devoted to their children and who are
willing to spend quantity time loving and teaching them right and wrong.
They must be willing to forgo immediate personal fulfillment for long term
family rewards. We need faithful fathers who work with all their might to take
moral responsibility for their families and provide a model for them. Fathers
and mothers need to grow in the ability to give strong, loving guidance. We need
parents who are willing to make their children and homes a priority each day,
providing them with security and safety, protecting, the innocence of childhood.
Though material wealth may have to be sacrificed, the wealth of spirit can
hold the family foundation steady. Taking the time to learn and then to teach
our children, the morals and virtues that sustain freedom only costs our time,
effort, and a healthy balance of love and discipline. These foundations of our
freedom are available to anyone.
Faith was another deep foundation of my skating. Even now, as I look back on
my skating, it is continually apparent to me–even more than when I
skated–that God had a plan for me to skate. I made that statement in an
interview as a shy fourteen-year-old girl right after I made the Olympic Team in
1968. The next day the headlines in the local paper read: "God has plan for
Janet to skate." I have wondered if that sincere statement would make
I did not choose the circumstances that surrounded my ability to skate., nor
did I choose my ability, nor the love that I developed for skating. It had to be
a Providential plan.
My skating gave me many incredible, enriching opportunities and joyful
experiences for which I am deeply thankful. In life, the bitter often comes with
the sweet. There were hard parts: getting up early every day, being so cold so
often, having muscle aches, and being away from family. It was difficult to have
motion sickness since age eight and to travel very uncomfortably. I had strep
throat during the the 1968 Olympics and was not able to take the medicine
because of drug testing. I was determined to be in the Olympics. I ended up very
sick and delirious with fever after the event. It was hard skating on intense
exhibition tours with what was thought to be severe bronchitis, though I wanted
so much to skate and was not about to go home. The emotional lows that
corresponded to the extreme emotional highs were a part of training and
competition. I did not enjoy developing exercise-induced asthma at the height of
my career after suffering from strep throat, pneumonia, and pleurisy. I felt
crushed when I realized that the medical treatment for my induced asthma caused
more of a negative reaction from my body than the condition itself. When I came
home from the Ice Follies to get my condition addressed so I could skate, I had
no idea my body would not respond as I wanted.
Through the joys and difficulties, Jesus Christ has been my stability. He has
a plan for my life and it certainly included skating. The faith that my family
introduced me to through regular church attendance ultimately enabled me to
focus on the good and persevere through the unpleasant things. My faith in
Christ, knowing that the loving God can take even broken dreams and make
something beautiful in His time, has been the hope of my life. This faith was a
foundation of my skating.
A few weeks before I competed in the 1972 Olympics, I appeared on the cover
of Newsweek magazine as a Gold medal hopeful. My life to this point,
including all the effort and sacrifice of my family and coach, as well as my
personal dreams and ambitions for self, country, and God, were wrapped up in
this competition. I was devastated when I found myself in fourth place after the
school figures with no possibility to win the Gold medal. That day I argued with
God as I lay weeping in my Olympic village apartment.
Somehow, through my broken dreams, a thought came into my mind: if I could
not win, then all I could do was to finish the competition and decide to
dedicate my free skating to show God’s love to all who watched. A medal no
longer mattered. Somehow, God heard my cries and answered a girl’s prayers in
ways I could not have imagined.
In my free skate performance, I fell on a flying sit spin, which I had never
missed before, even in practice. Because of the way I had been trained, and the
purpose that was in my heart, I was still smiling when I was sitting on the ice.
That performance did earn me the Bronze medal, but even more, that night I began
an incredible relationship with the nation of Japan that has lasted 27 years. I
was able to go back to Japan to talk about my faith soon after the Olympics.
"How could I keep smiling when I fell in the Olympics?," is a question
that has always been asked of me in Japan. Fifteen years after I spoke in Japan
of my faith, I went back to Japan to skate. A young woman approached me and gave
me a note. In the note she told me that before I had spoken of my faith fifteen
years earlier, she had wanted to take her own life. After hearing about the hope
I had in Christ when I fell in the Olympics, she decided to take that hope for
her own and continue her life. That reward is one that is eternal a reward that
was given by a very powerful God.
On the Place of God
One of the foundations of our free nation is faith in this Almighty God, who
is bigger than ourselves, or any situation. He is the One who put the yearning
for freedom into the human spirit, and it is He who directs us towards the
loving path of discipline and self-control–or–self-government that allows us
to live in that freedom.
I have the gift of being born a free citizen in the United States of America,
upon which my success in skating was built. I did not have to flee my country to
gain freedom or artistic expression, as some had to do during the era in which I
skated; I did not have to fear because I spoke of God.
I had the opportunity to visit some nations which did not allow their people
to believe in God or to express that belief publicly. As a young lady, I was
amazed, and even depressed, when I was taken on tours of old and beautiful
churches which were empty, unused, and explained away merely as great
architectural works. God had been shut out, made unwelcome, even unspeakable. I
was even more depressed when we were taken on an Easter Sunday tour of a place
where a bloody revolution had been started. One of the results of that
revolution was the expulsion of God from a people rich in heart.
Because of that perspective, it disturbs me greatly to see instances in our
nation where people try to exclude God or create fear of talking about God in
public. He has blessed this nation so richly; why would anyone want to shut Him
out? It is upon the principles of this God that this nation’s foundation
One of those principles of God is charity. I believe that our nation has been
the most charitable nation in the history of the world, and I believe that is
because of our foundation of faith and freedom. We have been able to choose how
we will earn a living with honor and honesty. We have been able to freely
choose, according to our conscience, how to spend what we earn.
I was not beholden to a government or its ideals that provided my training.
My family did not believe that freedom was having everything provided. Indeed,
we all worked very hard, and my family was very frugal. At a point in my skating
when I was going to have to quit, the charity of Mr. Walter Williamson as the
sponsor of my skating allowed me to continue working, to become the best I
could. This kind of charity one can never repay, nor did Mr. Williamson ever
expect me to repay his charity to me, though I can pass on what I learned from
it. He never exploited me or my name, nor did he keep me beholden in any way.
His charity remained a quiet, unassuming foundation of my ability to learn to be
free in my skating.
In this great nation, hard work and charity have often been the unnamed
foundation that has helped develop hopes and dreams.
The freedom of our nation allowed my parents to choose a coach who valued
discipline and hard work. Miss Kohout, with incredible charity, freely chose to
stop sending bills for lessons as my skating started to blossom.
By God’s grace I was the beneficiary of the free and charitable spirit of
my coach and sponsor. Besides the generosity of Mr. Williamson and Miss Kohout,
there were a man and wife, whom we had never met, who freely offered to pay for
my skates. Some generous people in New York helped me with costumes, as well as
street clothes and hair cuts, in order to present myself properly. Professional
secretaries freely gave of their time and energy to help with my mail when it
became too overwhelming, and my mother tells of her friends and neighbors who
would each take a part of my costume to bead. Friends, family, and neighbors
often traveled to my competitions for quiet moral support. My ballet teacher,
Helen Olson, patiently worked with me for many years, though I had no
flexibility and no promise of dancing. There was a woman from Rockford who
donated cowboy hats to go with choreography to the music of Rodeo. An
American soldier on leave in Davos, Switzerland, volunteered to shovel snow from
the ice a few hours a day so I could practice school figures while training for
a World Championship, though the snow did not stop for three weeks. The stories
of help and charity are endless: all made possible by freedom.
This freedom is to give and receive and to work hard and have the choice of
how to use what we earn through our hard work. This freedom, based on
self-control and self-government, was a foundation of my skating. Without this
freedom and charitable spirit. I would not have had the opportunity to develop
my skating talent for God and for all those that took part. Ultimately it was
God who gave me this freedom–it was His plan for my life.
Family, faith, and freedom…the three deep foundations that supported my
skating. The foundational skills of skating allowed me to gain freedom to
express the joy God put in my soul. My desire to express God’s love on the ice
changed the destiny of one young woman in Japan. God’s power and love is all
about changed lives and nations that are renewed, free, and civilized.
The foundations of these United States of America have allowed, and can again
allow, the greatest nation on earth to continue to express what God has put into
our national soul and spread that freedom for others to enjoy.
As I learned to gain the foundations of my skating, I hope you will join me
in learning again the foundations of family, faith, and freedom, starting in our
own homes, hearts, and minds. I want all of our children to inherit a nation
where God is not shut out, a nation that is strong, free, and civilized. I hope
we can rise above the desire to just do things that appeal to our senses and
rebuild a nation that fulfills the yearning of the soul.
May God grant us the will to do so.
1 From The Glory of America by Peter Marshall and David Manuel.
2 The Washington Times, October 12, 1999.
by Maria Sophia Aguirre and Cecilia Hadley*
* Maria Sophia Aguirre is associate professor of economics and business at
The Catholic University of America; Cecilia Hadley is a graduate student at the
In recent years, the international community has devoted increasing attention
to population issues. The large and growing sums of money funneled into
population assistance, as well as the motivations for focusing on this aspect of
development as often the primary development goal, are cause for scrutiny. This
essay on the effectiveness of population assistance will examine the role of the
United Nations in the formulation and implementation of modern "population
assistance" as a developmental priority. The Third UN Conference on the
Least Developed Countries (LDC-III) and a High-Level Intergovernmental Event on
Financing for Development, both scheduled in 2001, relate directly to issues of
population funding, making a critical evaluation of the rationale for
"population assistance" necessary.
The international community has spent massive amounts of money on
"population assistance" in the last decade. In principle, these
population policies are people-centered. In reality, the policies have been
twisted in such a way as to foster control over people and have become the
foundation of all development and "population activities"–terms more
and more being reduced to population control. Increasing sums of money are not
only being spent to provide access to contraception and reproductive
"health services," but also in an attempt to change cultures to prefer
small families. Behind these population control policies lies, among other
motives, is a distinct feminist agenda in the name of "reproductive
rights." These arguments, however, overlook the fact that, despite the
large population increases in the twentieth century, no relationship has been
found between population growth and economic development or population growth
and quality of the environment. The international community has poured money
into "population assistance" to the detriment and relative neglect of
real economic growth and social development.
An analysis of the gradually increasing focus on population control must
begin with the United Nations, the primary forum for the international
development debate. Through the evolving language of the UN’s population and
development related conferences, the face of the underlying agenda has been
slowly altered, toward the amplified concentration of population control and
Bucharest and the "Plan of Action"
The first UN conference to develop a plan of action for population and
development was at Bucharest in 1974, producing the World Population Plan of
Action (WPPA). Delegates to this conference stressed population control as a
means to meet the needs of resource problems together with the right of couples
to freely determine the number and spacing of their children. While endorsed by
the majority of delegates, some of the developing countries objected to what was
seen as an undue emphasis on population control at the cost of economic
development. Overall, while no demographic goals were set, the groundwork was
laid for population policy as primarily an international issue rather
than a national issue, within the realm of national sovereignty. Paragraph 99 of
the WPPA states,
The effect of national action/inaction in the fields of population may
extend boundaries; such international implications are particularly evident
with regard to aspects of morbidity, population concentration and
international migration, but may also apply to other aspects of population
Mexico City and "Reproductive Rights"
The 1984 Mexico City conference reflected both a step back from the push for
definitive population goals and a turning point in the language of population
policy. By the time of this conference, coercive population policy in China had
been implemented, resulting in the US delegation’s reversal of position, where
it would no longer support force in achieving population goals. Also due to the
Chinese policy scare, the Mexico City document did not outline quantitative
population goals, but did recommend population policies if population became a
hindrance to national goals. Although the Chinese policy did cause some
anxiety, the international community would not publicly denounce it, for the
situation could not help but undermine their claim to the commitment to human
rights. Instead, it became apparent that the "basic human right of all
couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing
of their children" outlined in the WPPA only existed if the government
judged these decisions to be reasonable. Essentially, if a government deemed
otherwise, the couple could be overruled. Nevertheless, the Chinese scare did
create a generally negative feeling regarding target population rates,
subsequently leading to a change in language from "population control"
to "sustainable development" and "reproductive and sexual
Rio de Janeiro and "Sustainable Development"
Expanding on the concept of sustainable development, the 1992 UN Conference
on Environment and Development at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 made, a distinct link
between population growth, development, and the environment. This reflected the
neo-Malthusian concept that the Earth had an absolute limit to population
capacity and that current population growth rates could not be supported within
these environmental constraints. This occurred despite the fact that a report
issued five years earlier by the World Commission on Environment and Development
had not included population stabilization among the necessary elements of
sustainable development. This earlier report explained that sustainable limits
did exist, but were "not absolute limits but limitations imposed by the
present state of technology and social organization on environmental resources
and by the ability of the biosphere to absorb the effects of human
activities." Contrary to this, the Rio de Janeiro document speaks in terms
of absolute limits and developed policies on this basis. Point 3.2 of Agenda 21
states that "an effective strategy for tackling the problems of poverty,
development, and environment simultaneously should begin by focusing on
resources, production, and people." Point 5.17 of the same agenda continues
to address the implementation of such a strategy, stating: "policies should
be designed to address the consequences of population growth built into
population momentum, while at the same time incorporating measures to bring
about demographic transition." Thus, the term "sustainable
development" could now be used to include the population control agenda
while obfuscating the negative connotations.
Cairo and "Women’s Empowerment"
The next major step in the UN implementation and formulation of population
control policies occurred at the 1994 International Conference on Population and
Development in Cairo. Producing not just a new set of recommendations, this
conference constructed a Programme of Action, including new arguments for
population control and the projected means to implement it. Rarely mentioning
economic development (except within the context of "sustainable
development" or the population and development relationship), the Programme
establishes population stabilization as the required element without
which economic growth, reduction of poverty, environmental protection, and the
solution to other developmental problems cannot occur. Point 3.14 states:
Slower population growth...has increased...countries’ ability to attack
poverty, protect and repair the environment, and build the base for future
sustainable development...Sustained economic growth within the context of
sustainable development is essential to eradicate poverty...Investment in
fields important to the eradication of poverty, such as basic education,
sanitation, drinking water, housing, adequate food supply, and infrastructure
for rapidly growing populations, continue to strain already weak economies and
limit development options.
Implementing these changes includes generating what are referred to initially
as "appropriate demographic policies" in paragraph 3.19. Chapter three
clarifies these as policies that control fertility and limit population growth.
The Cairo conference also connected population control (and therefore
sustainable development) to "women’s empowerment" by emphasizing
access to contraception and reproductive health and reproductive rights.
"Reproductive health" was recognized as a human right, also making
access to contraception a human right. This important connection changed the
discussion from one of national development to an international issue, where
policies were no longer merely advisable, but absolutely necessary, such that
other countries would provide the means for implementation in developing
countries that could not afford it themselves.
These policies are outlined in paragraph 7.3 of the Programme,
describing reproductive rights as part of a responsibility to the community as
determined by the government. In developing countries, this is almost invariably
translated into a "responsibility" to limit family size. In this
framework, governments not only supply contraceptives, but subtly force a need
for them as well as a need for international population assistance. Generally,
the Programme of Action places great emphasis on reproductive health to
the exclusion of other resources. Indeed, in paragraph 13.14, it outlines a
$77.7 billion "costed population package" consisting of family
planning services, basic reproductive health services, STD and HIV/AIDS
prevention, and research, data, and policy analysis, by the year 2015,
two-thirds of which is expected to be domestically funded. Overall, the Programme
of Action centers international population and development financial
assistance solely on reproductive health.
In the end, the UN has firmly rooted all development concerns in the language
and arguments of population control. This myopic approach has in turn caused the
serious neglect of any real economic development issues, hurting the very
nations most in need of growth.
Hadley, Cecilia A. and Maria Sophia Aguirre. "Hindered Growth: The
Ideology and Implications of Population Assistance." http://arts-sciences.cua.edu/econ/faculty/aguirre/FundingUN.doc,
Report of the International Conference on Population (Mexico City 1984)
Report of the International Conference on Population and Development
(Cairo 1994) A/CONF.171/13.
Report of the United Nations World Population Conference (Bucharest 1974)
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro
by Allan Carlson
"Urban sprawl" promises to return in 2001 as a pressing
"American issue." A majority of local "anti-sprawl"
initiatives claimed victory in the November California vote. A campaign against
new suburban subdivisions and malls has gained force in North Carolina, where
C.A.U.S.E. (Citizens Against Urban Sprawl Everywhere) battles
"overzealous" development. In Arizona, anti-sprawl forces point to the
"pursuit of greed" and "the free market" as the sources of
social and environmental degradation. In Minnesota, the Pioneer Press
labels Minneapolis-St. Paul "the third most sprawled region" in
America and the legislature considers a plan to limit future growth to a 200,000
acre circle. Everywhere, fingers point at developers who "buy" local
officials with campaign contributions, to "outsiders" moving in, and
to "overpopulation" as the causes of environmental stress.
Now, I actually agree that sprawl despoils good farm land and the open
countryside, relies excessively on asphalt and gasoline, and commonly results in
architectural eyesores. For good conservative reasons, I too would like to see
less rapid, more intelligent development. Yet it is wrong to blame
"developers" and "outsiders" for the worst features of
sprawl. Rather, I suggest that anti-sprawl advocates look within for the
real source of their problem.
"Sprawl," we need remember, is primarily a function of demand for
housing, driven by the growth in the number of distinct households
seeking shelter through the marketplace. Now it is true that the overall
American population grew from 179.3 million in 1960 to 281.4 million in 2000, an
increase of approximately 57 percent. With all else equal, this would have
required an equivalent increase in housing stock: namely, 57 percent. However,
the number of American households needing separate shelter actually grew
by 100 percent, from 52.8 million in 1960 to an estimated 105 million in
2000. Why the great discrepancy?
The answer lies in a radical change in the nature of American living
patterns. In 1960, 75 percent of all American households were
"married-couple families" and average household size was 3.4 persons.
By 1998, though, married-couple families comprised only 53 percent of American
households, and average household size had fallen to 2.6.
Instead, ever more Americans have been living in households without marriage
or children or, indeed, "significant others" of any kind. In 1960,
there were only 6.9 million "one person households" in this country,
13 percent of the total. By 1998, this count of persons living alone had soared
to 26.3 million, or 26 percent. In the earlier year, there were only one million
households with two-or-more unmarried adults, without children, living together.
By 1998, their number had soared to 5.3 million, primarily childless
How does this relate to sprawl? When Minnesotans fret about the decline in
population density in Minneapolis-St. Paul from 2,451 persons per square mile in
1960 to 1,956 in 1990, they probably imagine abandoned houses. In fact, the real
culprit is fewer people per structure, due to family change. If the American
social order in 2001 was still built around marriage and children as it had been
in 1960, the U.S. as a whole would actually need 25,500,000 fewer
dwelling units than it has. Nearly half of the demand for new housing and
shopping opportunities over the last four decades would not have been present,
and American urban areas would have known much more limited, measured, and
(probably) attractive growth.
In sum, we can add "urban sprawl" to the already long list of
negative consequences derived from the deterioration of the family in America.
The retreat from marriage and children–seen in lower marriage rates,
higher divorce rates, and a steady fall in marital fertility–dates from the
1960’s and has broadly disordered our national life, including our
If "anti-sprawl" activists were serious about their goal, they
would focus on reversing those public policy measures that have contributed to
the decline of marriage. For example, they would seek repeal of those "no
fault" divorce statutes that helped create America’s "culture of
divorce." They would rally to support the Republican plan in Congress to
eliminate the "marriage penalty" in the income tax. They would gird up
for entry into the "culture wars," combating a popular media that
belittles marriage and traditional home life and that celebrates the unattached
single life and "living together" without promises and consequences.
Yet I expect that little of this will occur. Profiles of
"anti-sprawl" environmental activists tend to show persons fairly avante
garde in their social views. They are more likely to be living alone or in
some "informal" relationship and less likely to have children than the
average lot of Americans. The irony is that these very "lifestyle"
decisions to live outside of marriage are, in a sense, a primary cause of
the sprawl problem. Perhaps the "anti-sprawl" forces would better
contemplate that famous line from "Pogo": "we have met the enemy,
and he is us."