High-Density Housing Must Be The Future

As Sean Griffiths points out, cute semi-detached housing might make for aesthetically pleasing New Urbanist cities, but it is not sustainable as a dominant mode of architecture within the 21st century city. Density is the only answer, not only for social and environmental reasons, but because the cost of land in cities has skyrocketed to the point where only the wealthy can purchase such housing.

171 comments on this post.
  1. LeeEsq:

    I think that the best, existing models, for sustainable cities need to combine the high-density, mass-transit oriented places like Paris, Tokyo, and Singapore with policies that won’t freeze out everybody who isn’t upper-middle class or above. The problem is that nobody wants to build affordable housing and America’s success rate with government built housing is less than stellar. Even with the best intentions, government built housing in America was horrible.

    The problem is that a large percentage of the American population, even in the Blue parts, is stil attached to single-family homes and cars as the model of success. To a certain extent, many cities have had some luck in increasing density and getting people to use transit. Its not enough.

  2. Pathman:

    Well, that will certainly make for a higher density of zombies when the zombie apocalypse hits.

  3. UberMitch:

    But doesn’t high density development reduce demand for union-built automobiles? I bring this up based on your post a few days back about online grocers’ implications for organized labor.

  4. witless chum:

    In pretty much every place that has decent, useful mass transit it gets used and housing prices and demand are going up and up. (My own city, Kalamazoo, MI does a lot of dumb things with its bus system and doesn’t get good ridership.) We haven’t yet reached the point where the demand for dense, mass transit-equipped neighborhoods has been met. Building such things is just more complex because you need so many different actors to cooperate as compared to putting up another car-dominated exurb filled with cul de sacs.

    Because I’m a leftist, a soft touch and an optimist, I maintain hope Detroit can reinvent itself because the city’s so far down it’s easier to rebuild it with sensible policies. They are starting a light rail type thingy which runs through the most economically-vital bits of the city and could form the nucleus for a wider system.

  5. Erik Loomis:

    This is a pretty big red herring you’re throwing out here. High density development doesn’t reduce labor as online groceries do. Moreover, a big building program of high-density apartment buildings would be a huge benefit for a variety of building trade unions.

  6. sparks:

    Considering the rate at which it could be adopted, I don’t see that as a problem. If people wanted it, grocers could adopt the online model quickly and there would be mass shutdowns of supermarkets within a few years. The same can’t be said for razing and rebuilding a central city, let alone many. This also doesn’t include transportation between cities, which hasn’t even begun to be addressed. Cars are going to be around awhile.

  7. Corey:

    The problem is that nobody wants to build affordable housing and America’s success rate with government built housing is less than stellar.

    I’d argue that the real problem is that “affordable housing” can’t (or has yet to) be done on a scale that actually lowers prices.

  8. jon:

    Higher density housing is very important and makes a great deal of sense. Not only for energy consumption in the house, but also for construction and materials efficiencies, and equally for the potential to help reduce transportation costs and energy use.

    Denser doesn’t mean having to build Hong Kong everywhere, or socialist termite mounds. Europe uses about half the energy per person as we do, and rather little of it looks like midtown Manhattan. That said, you can achieve needed efficiencies through better energy conservation in buildings – on the order of a ninety percent reduction from current practice for single family houses. The most efficient new buildings being built now are about five stories tall apartment townhouses with nicely landscaped yards. Privately developed, they are so nice and economical that there are long waiting lists for them.

    Transportation energy in the US is nearly as much as energy used in our homes, so closer adjacencies of residence to work, shopping and recreation can yield great savings. And also save the time, stress and costs of long commutes.

    But the future is also not a one size fits all regimentation. There will always be demand for rural housing, and for small towns, as much as there will be for apartment towers downtown, and everything in between. Improving the mix, balance and performance of building is an immense and worthy challenge.

  9. Corey:

    High density development doesn’t reduce labor as online groceries do.

    Sure it does. One large building that houses 1,000 people requires a lot fewer man-hours per resident than one building than 250 small buildings housing four each.

    That’s not to mention all the various efficiencies (*gasp*) in neighborhood services.

  10. LeeEsq:

    A lot of cities in Europe have really great transit systems even though most of them, besides Paris, approach the density levels of Asian cities. Many of them have densities bellow 10,000 per square mile.

  11. Charlie Sweatpants:

    “My own city, Kalamazoo, MI does a lot of dumb things with its bus system and doesn’t get good ridership.”

    Here in Washtenaw county we recently had a major setback for integrating the AATA with the surrounding cities when the unanimity among local governing boards fell apart over a plan to expand service countywide. (The AATA is run very well and gets used by an enormous number of people, but outside of Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti there is no way to get around without a car.) Now they’re going with a much smaller and less ambitious plan, but even that’s going to be tough sledding:

    http://annarborchronicle.com/2012/10/04/aata-keeps-rolling-toward-countywide/

    Long story short, even in what is probably the Bluest county in a Blue state, getting people to vote for transit is a very tough sell. People like their cars, and unless and until gas becomes prohibitively expensive, buses and trains just aren’t as attractive.

  12. joel hanes:

    Density is the only answer

    Or we could, you know, have less children.

    Many women would be happy to have less children if only they had confidential access to safe, effective contraception.

    Support Planned Parenthood.

  13. joel hanes:

    fewer, damnit.

    Why do I never see these things until after I hit “submit” ?

  14. Anna in PDX:

    Portland is known as sort of a model in this regard, but if you look at our local paper’s website you’ll note that a lot of people who live here are not happy about these kinds of policies. I work for our housing bureau and the NIMBY factor re public housing is kind of depressing.

  15. Anna in PDX:

    I mean affordable housing, not “public” housing in the old fashioned sense, though of course affordable housing is government subsidized somehow, or it can’t happen at all…

  16. Dirk Gently:

    Speaking as the parent of young children, the primary attraction of single family homes is space–both exterior and interior. I would live in a townhouse if the square footage was better allocated–not necessarily more of it, just better designed (well, and I could afford it, which is a slightly different conversation). But even moreso: living in high density areas in most cities also means “room to roam” is very hard to come by: fewer parks, almost no “wilderness” space, and outside of a handful of neighborhoods, walkability is still relatively low. What this requires, in other words, is not only higher density dwellings, but (perhaps in a self-defeating manner) more space allocated to parks, plazas, and open space. This would therefore require higher density EVERYTHING, especially commercial space.

    There’s another factor, too: we’re going to be moving from our relatively dense neighborhood by mid-summer because our eldest is starting school, and the school district is SHITTY. Where are the good schools? Out in the ‘burbs. There are a lot of moving parts in making our cities more livable.

  17. elm:

    Speaking as someone who’s apartment is above two large and loud children, I also support families moving into single family homes.

    If I ever do buy a house, it will be almost entirely to reduce the noise pollution inherent in living in multi-unit dwellings.

  18. mpowell:

    Affordable housing is just old expensive housing. It’s a huge problem that all the affordable housing advocates don’t understand this. You have to let all those expensive condos get built. Eventually you will find some more less expensive urban housing options emerging.

  19. mpowell:

    It’s not a red herring at all. The whole point of the example is to demonstrate that avoiding economic efficiency to save jobs is short-sighted. Doing so simply lowers worker productivity and thus averages wages. You might actually have an argument with stuff like manufacturing where the work has traditionally been higher paying and there are arguably important network effects, but as a general proposition it’s a really poor argument.

  20. mpowell:

    It is certainly possible to dramatically improve the noise isolation in multi-family dwellings. No idea how much it would cost though.

  21. joe from Lowell:

    But doesn’t high density development reduce demand for union-built automobiles?

    …while increasing demand for union-built and -operated street cars.

  22. witless chum:

    Wayne County is the bluest by a big margin, by a quick look at the numbers from 2012. And Michigan isn’t all that blue of a blue state in general. It’s only the influence of unions between us and the maw of hell, or as it calls itself, Indiana.

    I tend to think people dislike buses, more so than loving their cars. But I fucking hate my car, so I’m not sure about my impressions.

  23. joe from Lowell:

    I moved from a condo in a mill building to a single family home in a neighborhood because I had small children. I agree, that makes perfect sense.

    But why anyone without kids – either before of after – would live that was is beyond me.

  24. Josh G.:

    That article was written by someone who lives in the UK. Things are different over there because they simply don’t have the physical space for suburban housing for everyone. In America, however, the suburbs exist and aren’t going away. Commuters may switch from gas-guzzling SUVs to efficient hybrid or all-electric vehicles as gas prices increase, but most suburbanites have absolutely zero interest in jamming themselves and their families into tiny city tenements.

  25. Josh G.:

    Probably not as much as you think. Builders are the cheapest bastards on the planet; they will cut corners anywhere and everywhere unless code requires they don’t or it is something that the buyer will actually pay a specific premium for. This is actually worse with your typical suburban McMansion, but city buildings are by no means immune.

  26. zombie rotten mcdonald:

    But the man-hours are lower wage, and many of them are non union for small detached dwellings. Larger, more dense structures have a much higher percentage of union participation, as well as higher levels of minority participation. Plus, since you are using less land, more of them can be built, not to mention they can be done as infill projects, using infrastructure that has already been developed.

  27. elm:

    It probably would be cheap for the builder to provide better sound insulation. What I can do as a renter, I’m not sure about.

  28. witless chum:

    Speaking as someone who went to a shitty school, I think parents worry about the alleged quality of their kids school systems way too much. The biggest factor in your kids’ education is parental involvement and expectation-setting, I believe, based on observing my family and my friends’ families. That’s an independent variable to whatever the district is doing.

  29. Josh G.:

    Our standards for energy efficiency in buildings should be much higher. There are any number of technologies out there that can drastically reduce the energy needed to heat/cool buildings without in any way interfering with their form or function. They don’t even cost all that much, but developers will do anything to save a few bucks on the construction cost of a McMansion, even if it means that the homeowner shells out twice the “cost saving” in utility bills every year.

    Trying to force people into high-density housing is a dead end. It won’t work and is going to alienate huge swathes of the populace. Instead we should be focusing on improving the quality and energy efficiency of suburban buildings.

  30. witless chum:

    See, this is just not the issue. People moving into the kind of subdivisions filled with new and newish starter homes on cul-de-sacs being built on farmland away from anything could have the same amount of space in a traditional suburban neighborhood. My mom grew up a few minutes from the George Washington Bridge and there’s no reason we can’t use the levers of the state to encourage building more neighborhoods like that, with sidewalks and a grid of streets and at least a few businesses within walk distance, instead of the subdivision. Or just encourage building new homes into existing well-laid out neighborhoods.

    Also, small towns can be quite walkable, if they make an effort into being so.

  31. LeeEsq:

    Women are having fewer children. Even in the developing world, in countries with horrendous attiudes on women’s rights, the birth rate is going down. Demograhers are beggining to predict that the world’s human population will decrease.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t need denser housing. Even if with less people, denser housing and public transportation is still needed because its more enviornmentally sound than the alternative.

  32. joe from Lowell:

    You’re buying into framing that provides a false choice.

    “Tiny city tenements?” When I lived in the mill, I had a three-bedroom unit, on three stories, with 1700 square feet.

  33. Carbon Man:

    Forward into our glorious future! We must eliminate the Kulaks suburban homeowners as a class!

    What IS it with the leftist fetish for big, towering, centralized concrete apartment buildings and trains:

  34. Green Socialist Comrade:

    Why do you need that much space? It is wasteful. Did you receive approval from the Planning Committee, comrade? No?

    From now on you will share this space with two other families. We cannot waste the resources of Mother Earth! Commissar Loomis has decreed this MUST be the future!

  35. Green Socialist Comrade:

    That was meant to be in reply to the 1700 sq ft condo comment.

  36. Green Socialist Comrade:

    Light Rail on Woodward was voted down. Nobody wanted the Loot Rail Mobile Crime System in their neighborhood, including liberals as it turns out.

  37. L2P:

    People moving into the kind of subdivisions filled with new and newish starter homes on cul-de-sacs being built on farmland away from anything could have the same amount of space in a traditional suburban neighborhood.

    How? In Hancock Park a house on a 8,000 square foot lot costs roughly $2 Million. For the same money, I could buy a two acre lot with a bigger house. In Santa Clarita, I could get basically whatever the hell I wanted.

    And none of that solves the problem of getting more people into Los Angeles. Right now we solve that problem by having three families living in two bedroom apartments in Koreatown. None of that gets fixed with a SFR.

  38. Green Socialist Comrade:

    No, no, high density housing MUST…BE…THE FUTURE! Period! For families OR the single

    Commissar Loomis and the Green Central Housing and Planning Secretariat have decreed it so! No choices! No debate!

  39. Murc:

    Well, there’s shitty and then there’s shitty. Being genuinely unsafe is a component of ‘shitty’.

    If your kid has to devote the bulk of his mental into figuring out how he’s not going to get the shit kicked out of him by his classmates every single day (as many do) his education is going to suffer no matter how engaged you are.

  40. L2P:

    It depends on the comparison. For a given amount of money, you’re going to be in something “tinier” in the City. It might not be a “tiny tenement” in the grand scheme of things, but few people voluntarily move from a 2,600 square foot place with a 3,600 square foot back yard to a 1,500 square foot place with no yard. It’s going to feel like a “tiny tenement” to a lot of people. It’s especially “tiny” when you figure that the park is probably now crowded and hard to get to, you can’t just hop in your car and drive to the store, and all the other stuff that goes with the burbs.

    I’ve never seen high-density housing that isn’t much less family-friendly than a SFR-based suburb. In thousands of small ways it’s very difficult. If the goal is to create a childless urban core this is probably a good way to get there.

  41. mpowell:

    I understand this dynamic. But high quality sound insulation is not super cheap. I doubt it would be prohibitively expensive, I just don’t know how much it would cost.

    Regarding code, whenever you buy an old home (I’m talking 20-30 years old), the inspector will tell you about all the things are not up to code (but probably were when the house was built). Then you ask whether you should care about those things. They will say no. It’s too bad we can’t get better, more useful housing code. Though, perhaps it’s much better for the internal stuff that the inspector can’t check. I don’t really know.

  42. Charlie Sweatpants:

    Heaven forbid we ever do anything that might integrate metro Detroit.

  43. L2P:

    Of course, for any given amount of “parental involvement and expectation setting,” you’d rather have a better school rather than a worse one, right?

    It’s great to have awesome parental support, but it’s still hard to learn at a high level when the teacher spends half his time dealing with knuckleheads that won’t stop talking, and the other half trying to make sure that the kids that need extra help get it. And that’s in the GATE.

  44. Murc:

    What IS it with the leftist fetish for big, towering, centralized concrete apartment buildings and trains:

    We’d like not to trash the planet, so that future generations have a nice place to live. A necessary part of that is using less energy, especially less energy that dumps carbon into the atmosphere as a side effect. A necessary part of THAT is increased density.

    I’ll flip it around: why are conservatives so hell-bent on preserving suburban homeowners as a class? An extremely large number of suburbs only exist because of direct government intervention and support. We talk about people wanting to live in suburbs, but the truth is that given half the chance, developers would buy up land in desirable suburban areas and build rows and rows of townhouses.

    If, tomorrow, a miraculous system of limitless clean energy were developed, many liberals would stop giving a damn about things like density or mass transit, except inasmuch as they were convenient. (New York would be pretty hard to live in without mass transit unless everyone had the power of flight, for example.) We’d still care about them a little, as you need to live a fair amount of the planet untouched to provide humanity with the water, food, atmosphere, and biodiversity it needs, but it would be much much much less pressing.

    Unless, of course, you believe there’s a vast liberal conspiracy to control your life by lying about the environment. In which case I kind of feel sad for you; there are so many actual things to worry about and you’ve picked an imaginary thing.

  45. David Nieporent:

    Because even before we had kids, we wanted space. It’s more important now that we do have kids, to be sure, but it’s inherently desirable. By space, I don’t merely mean square footage of a house or just having a lawn — I mean distance from neighbors. Privacy. Autonomy, to do what one wants with one’s home.

  46. mpowell:

    This is ridiculous. The places in the urban core are smaller for the same money precisely because people will voluntarily chose that space over the larger one in the suburbs. Granted, this choice makes a lot more sense for people without kids. Most of the cost difference comes from the desirability trade-offs, not actual cost of construction.

    If you have been to LA you can see that people are fine having virtually no yard even in their detached housing. You do need lots of parks, however, and this is sometimes missing in urban areas.

  47. Charlie Sweatpants:

    “Wayne County is the bluest by a big margin”

    Just did a little digging and Wayne county went 72.83 for Obama while Washtenaw was a mere 67%, which is pretty close. Straight Democratic ballots were a bigger margin, 80% for Wayne and just 69% for Washtenaw. Looking things up is fun.

    To the larger point, though, increasing density to where cars aren’t required for day to day living means having lots of stuff be walkable and lots of good public transit to get places that aren’t, and policies that encourage those things lose votes routinely even in places where the population would be theoretically open to them. I don’t have a solution to that problem or anything, but until somebody figures one out talking about increasing density, lowering energy usage, and all that other good stuff remains academic.

  48. elm:

    Crap. I find myself agreeing with Nieporent on a topic other than baseball. Not good.

    There are benefits to multi-unit housing, to be sure, but there are drawbacks, too. And in many situations, I can see the drawbacks being bigger than the benefits even for childless people.

  49. Charlie Sweatpants:

    “People moving into the kind of subdivisions filled with new and newish starter homes on cul-de-sacs being built on farmland away from anything could have the same amount of space in a traditional suburban neighborhood.”

    Very true, but don’t forget that space is only part of the equation. It’s also about perceived security and status. Streets on a grid aren’t seen as creating a haven from crime (and, by implicit association, certain undesirable people) whereas a long windy road with lots of cul-de-sacs and only one entrance does.

    A huge subdivision near where I grew up was built with two entrances and the neighborhood association waged epic fights over keeping a gate closed and padlocked on the back one. People living deep in the development have to drive more than a mile and a half out of their way to get home, but that’s a price they’re willing to pay. It isn’t a gated community, either, anyone can drive in the front entrance, but that gate on the back has been closed and locked since the very early years of the development.

    From a planning point of view it’s dumb as hell. And since there’s only one entrance you can actually have traffic jams there during rush hour even though it’s in the middle of nowhere. (Atrios bitches about this from time to time, so it’s not a rare phenomenon either.) But for status and security, that’s the way they want it. They want space, yeah, but they also want to know that nobody else has access to their space.

  50. TribalistMeathead:

    A concrete train sounds horribly inefficient.

  51. Major Kong:

    I rather like my 1500 square foot townhouse. Why would I want to spend whatever free time I might have mowing the grass?

  52. LeeEsq:

    Conservatives are bent on perserving suburban homeowners as a class because the petit bourgeoisie are the rank and file of the conservative movement in the age of mass politics. Suburban homeowners are the current form of the petit bourgeoisie.

  53. TribalistMeathead:

    Not to mention feasibility of car ownership. As much as I’ve enjoyed car-free living since 2005, hell if I’m loading strollers onto buses.

  54. Dirk Gently:

    Precisely. My kid is smart and well adjusted and we’re involved, so it’s not like I’m desperate to get her into some supa-dupa G&T program or whatever (it’s kindergarten, for fuck’s sake). But it’s not just safety, it’s that in this particular district, most kids are literal refugees and have almost no English language skills, and are a bit lacking in social skills, as well. I’m not worried about my kid’s safety so much as I’m worried about her ability to get any teacher attention and peer socialization whatsoever. School is not merely about keeping one’s head down and doing the work.

  55. Chester Allman:

    It’s funny how different perspectives can be. I live in a 2-bedroom Brooklyn apartment with my wife and toddler, and what I see around me is a neighborhood that is very far from childless. Would it be nice to have more indoor space? Sure. But going to the burbs would mean giving up a lot of our quality of life: the store is a short walk away (and the Coop is not too far either), there are all kinds of great things for kids to do within walking distance (including excellent parks, libraries, museums), and when one of us wants a little free time after the kid has gone to bed, it’s easy to pop out to the corner pub for a couple of drinks.

    I recognize that Brownstone Brooklyn is sort of an ideal-type urban community for child-rearing. But that doesn’t undercut the fact that high-density living can offer a kind of quality of life that many people will find far superior to what’s available in the suburbs.

  56. Cody:

    I have a solution: Young People.

    We hate having to drive places.

    Also, I appreciate calling my state the maw of hell. I live really close to Michigan. I’m still attempting to leave this place…

  57. JRoth:

    But “genuinely unsafe” covers a vanishingly small number of schools, even in urban districts. Unless one is using, ahem, heuristics to gauge safety.

  58. JRoth:

    Super-duper not a big deal. My wife commuted by bus, with stroller, for years with our daughter. Not much more effort than, say, removing a backpack before you sit on a bus seat.

  59. Anon21:

    Trying to force people into high-density housing is a dead end.

    Who’s forcing? Prices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco indicate there are a lot of people clamoring to be allowed to live in high-density urban housing. No one is going to raze suburbia, but there are just a ton of policy changes and resource allocation decisions that could be made to low the cost of high-density urban housing.

  60. JRoth:

    This article makes the same mistake that Yglesias does (and that stupid conservatives do), imagining that only high-rise dwellings can create “density”. Obviously, if you want Hong Kong, then detached houses are pretty much out, but Brooklyn is plenty dense for environmental purposes, and highrises are a tiny fraction of housing units.

    The urban model isn’t complicated, people. At transit nodes, apartment buildings (whether mid-rise or high-rise) beside and atop retail; low-rise commercial & apartments along arteries (both to handle traffic needs and to balance user needs against the fact of traffic), and a mix of rowhouses and semi-detached houses with small yards in between the arteries. That gets you walkability (everyone’s within 10 minutes of major retail & transit), plenty of customers for businesses, non-apartment living for larger/wealthier families, and lots of options for everybody. And while it’s not as dense as the Upper East Side, it’s sustainable, it puts lots of people in a pretty small area, and it addresses Americans’ desires – as made evident by the high cost of living in dense, urban neighborhoods with good transit – for walkability.

    While it’s true that insufficiently dense, quasi-urban neighborhoods fall short of that model, suggesting that the only way to be sustainable is through forests of towers is both wrong and counterproductive, since it freaks out so many Americans.

  61. Cody:

    ^^^^

    I think this is coming people’s perceptions of where they lived. It’s all about what kind of urban environment you’ve lived in and what kind of childhood you had.

    Living in a highly dense area can offer tons of benefits. The issues with crime and poor education are due to the poverty levels inherent in these places currently. Does the Upper East Side have poor schools and no parks?

  62. Major Kong:

    You just described the “inner suburbs” of any number of cities.

    The ones that were built around the trolley lines before automobiles were common.

    It’s not like we don’t know how to do this.

  63. Chester Allman:

    Indeed. And I meant to emphasize “can” – as in “high-density living can offer good quality of life” – the point being that, while there are all kinds of policy and structural reasons why many urban neighborhoods are not particularly “livable,” good policy choices can help foster the development of many more livable neighborhoods.

    And, following on your point – we shouldn’t forget that many people are raising children in “un-livable” urban neighborhoods now. Moving to the suburbs isn’t really an option for many folks. The kinds of policy choices that make high-density living more attractive to middle-class families can also benefit families living in poor neighborhoods (though of course this also opens up the whole gentrification question).

  64. Anna in PDX:

    Yea! This! I was waiting for someone to say “Well, I don’t really WANT a yard.” This is how I feel, we have a yard that we are totally slovenly about, no dog, kids who would rather go to the park down the street and shoot hoops than play in the yard – no real reason for it unless you count the very few days a year we might do a bbq or whatever.

  65. joe from Lowell:

    Do you do this because you’re incapable of writing anything meaningful?

  66. joe from Lowell:

    The centrally-planned project of training Americans to be misanthropic chickenshits has, indeed, been wildly successful.

    You are far from the only person who has internalized the program’s objectives, Mr. Superlibertarian.

    Ohnoes, people! People that might talk to me! Save me, acres of chemical-soaked lawn!

  67. joe from Lowell:

    There clearly needs to be a range of housing options, but with the government overriding the market for six decades, there is a massive oversupply of large-lot single family homes.

  68. Chester Allman:

    What cracks me up about conservatives like the Comrade above is that the suburbs are largely the highly-regimented result of large-scale institutional planning, while successful, high-density urban neighborhoods are in many respects the organic products of market forces, and of the choices made by thousands or even millions of different individuals over time. Yes, they succeed because of public investment in infrastructure and certain other shared goods, but cities are far more “free-market” than burbs.

  69. joe from Lowell:

    It’s especially “tiny” when you figure that the park is probably now crowded and hard to get to, you can’t just hop in your car and drive to the store, and all the other stuff that goes with the burbs.

    Living in the city, and getting to a park in the city, is much, much more convenient than in the suburbs.

    The problem with suburbanites who don’t know anything about urban living is that they think about how inconvenient it would be to live an auto-dependent, sprawl lifestyle in a city – and they’re right, it would be terribly inconvenient to do that. What they don’t understand is that you don’t live an auto-dependent, sprawl lifestyle in the city. You live a much more convenient urban lifestyle.

    “Derp, the park is two blocks away, but by the time I walk to my car, drive those two blocks, and find a parking space, I have to drive home again, derp!”

  70. joe from Lowell:

    I love my yard.

    It’s about 30′x60′. I can mow it with a week whacker.

    I go down to Florida, and I see planting beds in front of gas stations that are larger than my lot. What a waste.

  71. joe from Lowell:

    What IS it with the leftist fetish for big, towering, centralized concrete apartment buildings

    What is this, 1934? There hasn’t been a leftist fetish for concrete high-rises in decades. Leftists were the ones who led the charge against those monstrosities.

    You just don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re actually ignorant enough to think that “high-density housing” and “towering, centralized concrete apartment buildings” are the same thing.

  72. joe from Lowell:

    Don’t accept this troll’s false choice. Only the tiniest % of high-density, urban housing consists of high-rises, even on the island of Manhattan.

  73. joe from Lowell:

    This article makes the same mistake that Yglesias does (and that stupid conservatives do), imagining that only high-rise dwellings can create “density”.

    Exactly right.

  74. Chatham:

    And “unsafe because people might beat up on them” covers schools that are considered “good” as well.

  75. David Nieporent:

    If I wanted to talk to people, I wouldn’t have gotten a text messaging plan.

  76. Bertie:

    The OP and the linked article seemed to have in mind a rather higher density than Park Slope and what not. They’re talking high rises.

    There might be as big of a difference in lifestyle as experienced by a child between a detached house suburb and (the nice parts of) northern Brooklyn, and between northern Brooklyn and the few really high density places in the world like Midtown NYC, Hong Kong, and such.

  77. David Nieporent:

    Well, an oversupply relative to the wishes of people of your ilk, perhaps.

  78. Chatham:

    Pretty much. Also, there’s something to be said for fresh air and being able to see the sun.

  79. Uncle Kvetch:

    I grew up in the suburbs but have lived in urban apartments since my early 20s, and for the life of me I can’t think of how the latter entails less “privacy” or “autonomy” than the former. (Our autonomy is limited by the fact that we rent rather than own, but that’s completely distinct from the house/apartment question.)

    Put another way, I could be just as anti-social as you appear to be in my NYC apartment, if that were my goal.

  80. Chester Allman:

    Well, strictly speaking, the linked article seems to be about “social housing” – what in the US we call public housing. Loomis seems to have modified this somewhat to refer to only “high-density” housing. I think there’s plenty of room to argue that a neighborhood that tops out at about 4 stories is dense enough to give you most of the benefits of a high-density environment.

  81. Bertie:

    The reply would be that the nice parts of Brooklyn have achieved their livability in part by pricing all the poor people out of the neighborhoods. And limiting high density housing is part of that.

  82. Malaclypse:

    Longer Neiporent: I blame people of JFL’s ilk for the housing market not conforming to my preconceptions, because I am a Principled Libertarian.

  83. Joshua:

    I live in one of those nodes, and yea, this is a perfectly workable solution.

    The people who want a yard get a yard along with a quick walk to the businesses, the people who don’t get a condo a bit closer to the rail station with less of a walk.

  84. Cody:

    I suppose. If by his ilk you mean by people who want to live in big cities, which apparently far outweigh those who want to live in the suburbs by the free market’s pricing scheme.

  85. L2P:

    The places in the urban core are smaller for the same money precisely because people will voluntarily chose that space over the larger one in the suburbs.

    You put an odd meaning into “voluntary.” If you mean “I don’t want to drive 50 minutes each way to work, so the only place I can afford doesn’t have a yard,” then, I guess, yeah. People “voluntarily” choose not to have yards.

    But most people I know say they “have” to live in a condo or a townhouse because they “can’t” afford a SFR. They don’t “choose” to live without a yard. They don’t “choose” to live in a smaller place. They aren’t “fine” with it – they “put up” with it. If a SFR down the street opened up for the exact same amount of money, they’d be in it in a second.

    I’m not sure why it’s anathema to point out that people like yards and houses.

    Oh, and:

    Most of the cost difference comes from the desirability trade-offs, not actual cost of construction.

    Yeah, that’s kind of the point. So why are SFRs in West LA selling for twice as much a square foot as condos? Do you still think it’s because “voluntarily” are choosing to live in condos?

  86. Joshua:

    It’s especially “tiny” when you figure that the park is probably now crowded and hard to get to, you can’t just hop in your car and drive to the store, and all the other stuff that goes with the burbs.

    Urban areas are not just more dense suburbs with businesses miles away. They are built around the fact that people need services nearby.

    That park is probably within walking distance, and there’s a good chance that the grocery store delivers. Maybe it’s not as easy to hop in the car to buy a loaf of bread, but that’s part of the whole sustainability thing (not to mention there might be a place a block or two away that can sell it to you).

  87. Uncle Kvetch:

    What is this, 1934? There hasn’t been a leftist fetish for concrete high-rises in decades. Leftists were the ones who led the charge against those monstrosities.

    Don’t let joe fool you, Mr. Troll — he’s an imperialist running dog! Pyongyang is the ultimate urban utopia, and we will not rest until we have built it here in America…but even better, because along with juche, we’ll have pancakes.

  88. L2P:

    So not true. You seem to think parks are everywhere. Where I live parks are 2 miles or so away from each other, which means most people are at least a half mile. So how do you do get there in Cityland?

    You could ride your bike. And now you have to worry about all your stuff getting stolen because you can’t lock up all the crap that you need to bring. Your third wheel, your kid’s seat, whatever it is, it’s just a matter of time.

    You could take the bus. Now your trip to the park is taking all day.

    You could drive. Except there probably isn’t any parking, so you have to park in the pay lot, and now your trip to the park costs $10.

  89. joe from Lowell:

    How predictable.

    The aspect of the American market that has been the most distorted by central planning – the variety of housing options available in the suburbs – is the one aspect of the American economic system that Nierporent refuses to acknowledge has been distorted by government action.

    No, David, it’s not oversupplied according to “my ilk.” It’s oversupplied according to the preferences of Americans seeking housing, while urban-style housing is undersupplied.

    This is not an opinion. This is an easily-found, objective fact that you refuse to admit for reasons entirely dependent upon tribalism.

  90. sparks:

    I live at the end of an old trolley line, and it’s quite a nice place and was walkable before redevelopment razed the reason the trolley went here. After that, retail dropped off so much all the stores in the immediate area closed. Some have been built since, but further away in between my inner ring suburb and the one to the north. Which means being car free isn’t an option. It’s a case of poor planning and competing interests that no retail was installed in the redevelopment area.

  91. Malaclypse:

    Somerville, MA has 18,404 people/square mile. Brooklyn has 13,108. Somerville has no high-rises, and a non-trivial number of single-family homes, and has not priced the poor out of the city.

  92. joe from Lowell:

    In “Cityland,” parks are not 2 miles away from each other, like they are in the suburbs.

    Do you know what you just did? You just “(thought) about how inconvenient it would be to live an auto-dependent, sprawl lifestyle in a city.” Thank you for demonstrating my point.

    Housing is denser in cities. So are parks, streets, sidewalks, and everything else. You can’t just pretend that a city is like Sprawl Hills, except there are high-rises on the house lots.

  93. L2P:

    Urban areas are not just more dense suburbs with businesses miles away. They are built around the fact that people need services nearby.

    Houston is very surprised to hear this. So are most cities in the South, actually. And of course the Southwest, which doesn’t know what the hell you’re talking about. And most cities that were largely built up in the last 50 years.

    I’m not sure where this boundless optimism about development in “urban areas” comes from. It’s like you all forgot there’s money involved here. The same money that turned Riverside and Phoenix and Houston into what they are.

    The ideal plans are awesome. Hope it works out. But I can already see the developer talking Planning into a variance because there’s already a Starbucks and a Subway half-mile away, and that’s “close enough” so they can build nothing but residential. And so can all the other guys. And the parks aren’t getting built because (a) there’s no money and (b) there’s already a park a mile away, and that’s “close enough.”

    I don’t know why you think the same system that built Riverside and San Bernardino isn’t going to do exactly the same thing to high-density buildings.

  94. witless chum:

    Oops, sorry. I’m bad at math. When I quick estimated the percentages looking at the vote totals, I way underestimated Washtenaw.

  95. L2P:

    They totally are. It’s two miles from Lemon Grove park to Queen Anne Park, and 2.5 from Queen Anne to Pacific Park. The next park east from Lemon Grove is over the freeway. It’s over 2.5 miles from Queen Anne to La Cienega Park. But yeah, if you pretend that there are parks in between them, then yeah, that’s awesome.

    You seem to think every city is like New York, Boston, Portland, and San Francisco. They aren’t. Most cities are like Phoenix, Houston, Miami, and Los Angeles. They were built around the car, and things are a looooooong ways apart.

    You’re busy talking about how awesome the city that doesn’t exist will be. I’m talking about the city that DOES exist. You can SAY that “everything’s closer in the city.” That doesn’t make it so.

  96. joe from Lowell:

    We will all have exactly the same number of pancakes (zero) in our tiny, concrete high-rise apartments.

    This is what we call Utopia.

  97. witless chum:

    People in the U.P. are pretty racist, but I was pretty shocked when I went away to college and met white people from Oakland County.

  98. sonamib:

    Come on, do you hate poor people? Old, crumbling apartment buildings are not worthy social housing. The quality of life they provide and their environment-friendliness are, shall we say, suboptimal. Of course, the US is nowhere near implementing a social housing policy even remotely close to, say, the one in the Netherlands. But people who can’t afford nice condos are already living in decrepit buildings, so you’re just advocating for the status quo.

  99. joe from Lowell:

    In addition to what Mal said, what about the suburbs? One way to get more housing into Brooklyn would be to replace five-story buildings with 18-story buildings. Another would be to build some five-story buildings on the other side of the artificial boundary, where only single family homes are allowed.

  100. joe from Lowell:

    I got plenty of fresh air in the mill, and believe it or not, the sun shines in Lowell, too.

  101. joe from Lowell:

    You seem to think every city is like New York, Boston, Portland, and San Francisco.

    No, I think every city should be like New York, Boston, Portland, and San Francisco.

    Most cities are like Phoenix, Houston, Miami, and Los Angeles. They were built around the car, and things are a looooooong ways apart.

    In other words, mostly suburban, and not built in an urban style. How many times would you like me to explain this point to you? What you are describing is a suburban design. It is not an urban design.

    If you were to actually venture into the older, urban-style sections of those cities, you will not find parks that are 2 miles apart. You only find that in the suburban areas.

    I’m talking about the city that DOES exist.

    No, you are talking about the large areas of suburban sprawl that designate themselves cities. You are not talking about the cities that actually exist.

  102. Chester Allman:

    W/r/t the Brooklyn example: depends on what you mean by livability. Some of the basic elements were there in the now-gentrified neighborhoods before they gentrified: parks, transit, small businesses close at hand (though these were not the artisanal cheese shops of today). Other aspects of livability were certainly associated with gentrification (which isn’t the same thing as saying that gentrification was what made the neighborhoods “livable”): lower crime, better maintenance of public facilities, renovated apartments, the aforementioned artisanal cheese shops (if that’s what you need in a neighborhood to consider it livable), etc.

    It is a tricky issue. But I think that any commitment to the present and future well-being of cities and their inhabitants depends upon one’s ability to assume that improving quality of life in an urban neighborhood does not depend upon the pricing-out of poorer residents.

  103. Chester Allman:

    Inner Party members can have pancakes.

  104. Chatham:

    I haven’t been to Lowell in a decade, but when I was there it seemed like they didn’t have a lot of high rises, and had a number of single-family homes. And good Burmese food.

  105. redwoods:

    Fuck strollers, slings are awesome. Lugging a stroller around DC’s transit system would have resulted in toddler-bolting and me losing my shit publically on an every-morning basis.

  106. joe from Lowell:

    For example, it well under half a mile from City Hall Park to Grand Park.

    I don’t doubt that the parks are farther away from each other in the suburban areas, but no matter how many times you say that the parks are just as far away from each other in the city, Google proves you wrong.

  107. joe from Lowell:

    Downtown Lowell has a few of highrises, and no single family homes.

  108. witless chum:

    I don’t know. I don’t have kids and I won’t be having any, but I think my experience, which involved a certain amount of getting my ass kicked specifically for getting good grades and having relatively well-off parents, had a certain amount of value, too. Having to get along with pretty much the whole swath of society seems like more socialization than less, but I guess maybe I don’t know what I was missing?

    To explain a bit more, this was in a tiny town in Upper Michigan which had an insane poverty rate and everything you’d expect along with it as far as alcoholism, shitty parents, etc. Plus, a lot of really terrible teachers who either didn’t give a shit or weren’t equipped to teach anyone anything. Compared to what I heard from kids who went to inner city schools I met in college, it didn’t sound that different.

  109. joe from Lowell:

    Gotta give you props for that one.

    Heh.

  110. Sherm:

    I recognize that Brownstone Brooklyn is sort of an ideal-type urban community for child-rearing. But that doesn’t undercut the fact that high-density living can offer a kind of quality of life that many people will find far superior to what’s available in the suburbs.

    But I suspect that you’re paying quite a premium for that lifestyle.

  111. sonamib:

    Well, let me rebut your anecdotes with mine. The people I know (including me!) love living in cities. We loathe far-away, unwalkable and socially isolated suburbs. We don’t “put up” with living in the urban core. It’s fun having always something to do next to where you’re living and not needing to drive everywhere.

    I’m not sure why it’s anathema to point out that people like yards and houses.

    And by the way, I don’t care about yards, they’re more trouble than they’re worth. Living in an apartment actually saves you real money in energy bills and with lots and lots of neighbours, it’s likely that at least one of them will be friendly and reliable to care for your pets when you’re traveling/babysit your kids/help out in whatever way. My point is that not all people like houses and backyards, and yes, it is anathema to point out that ALL people do.

  112. Chatham:

    High rises meaning 7 – 8 stories tall or 20 – 30 stories tall? I’m also not sure we can take the downtown area populated by ~7k people as an example of what a city of 600 – 900k would be like.

  113. snurp:

    Wow, I thought MARTA’s nickname among assholes in the northeastern Atlanta suburbs was repulsive, but Loot Rail might be a step down. Are there people in every city who support congestion and traffic fatalities because they’ve got some mental image of “young urban bucks” waiting at the bus station with their stolen flatscreen?

  114. Joshua:

    So… a city designed around cars needs a car to get around. I’m shocked. Don’t you understand that is the problem, and it’s also not really what anyone is talking about?

    Nobody who wants to live in a walkable urban area is going to choose to move to a place like Phoenix. Phoenix isn’t on anyone’s mind when they think of high-density city design. People living in Phoenix live more or less a suburban lifestyle, because it’s a huge sprawl made up of dozens or hundreds of suburban pockets. In other words: not what anyone is talking about here.

  115. Sherm:

    Joe — I live in the suburbs and I’m 10 minutes from a park that is 4x the size of central park, which is the only park in Manhattan suitable for sports, biking, jogging, etc.. Unless you live within walking distance on the upper east side or west side, no one in manhattan is getting to central park in 10 minutes. I would love to move the hell out of suburbia and into the city for numerous reasons, but proximity to parks sure as hell ain’t one of them.

  116. sonamib:

    Yeah, gentrification is the big elephant in the room when we’re talking about “urban renewal”. The trouble is that the policy-makers’ prefered method of “rehabilitating” a neighbourhood is kicking out the poor people and making upper-middle class/rich people move in. Instead of, you know, actually making the lives of the people who live there better or something. The only way out would be a social housing program, but that’s a wee bit unlikely in this neoliberal world of ours.

  117. Malaclypse:

    The trouble is that the policy-makers’ prefered method of “rehabilitating” a neighbourhood is kicking out the poor people and making upper-middle class/rich people move in.

    I’ve deliberately cut my hours at work so as to not be forced to move to Cambridge.

  118. sonamib:

    I, for one, welcome our big, towering, centralized concrete trains overlords.

  119. L2P:

    No, you are talking about the large areas of suburban sprawl that designate themselves cities. You are not talking about the cities that actually exist.

    If you’re simply saying that Phoenix, Los Angeles, and essentially every other city in the United States, except for the half-mile square urban core or whatever, aren’t “cities” and so aren’t by definition “urban,” then great.

    Yes, I heartily agree that high-density urban communities can easily be created in already-existing high-density urban communities. But this isn’t the problem. The problem is that places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Miami, and the other vast cities in America need to somehow adjust, and there’s no easy way to do that. Pretending that they’re “not cities” and so “density isn’t a problem” isn’t really helping.

  120. Chester Allman:

    Well, rent’s not cheap, sure. On the other hand, I save a good deal of money because I don’t need a car. My energy bills are pretty reasonable. There’s lots of good free stuff to do.

    Certainly, though, promoting high-density living in a way that’s fair to low-income folks requires some serious efforts around creation and preservation of affordable housing.

  121. Sherm:

    I made that comment because the only people I know who have ditched the suburbs for Manhattan or Brooklyn did so only because they could afford to.

    I would love to sell the house and cars and rid myself of all attendant responsibilities and flee the suburbs and the people who live there for the City, but the cost of living in the City is too damn high when you have kids whom you have to worry about schooling.

  122. L2P:

    So the argument is . . . that already existing high-density areas should be converted . . . to high density areas?

    I have to admit, that’s a clever plan to solve the affordable housing shortage. I don’t know why anybody else didn’t think that the solution was to go to places that are already extremely densely populated, and continue to have them be densely populated.

    People are trying to find answers to affordable housing. The way to make affordable housing is to go to increase density. It can’t easily be done in low-density areas. The only thing to talk about when talking about increasing density is convering places where people “more or less a suburban lifestyle.”

    Otherwise, there’s nothing to talk about. Making Boston more Bostony doesn’t solve anything.

  123. LawSpider:

    Both impossible if you are, er, fortunate enough to have twins. This is, obviously, fairly rare, although increasing in light of IVF (the cost of which is a whole ‘nother economic issue). But as the parent of twins, I can tell you that: (1) slings are impossible; and (2) no bus in a major U.S. city will permit loading of a double-stroller.

    Regardless, people who say traveling with strollers/slings is easy obviously do not live in areas with ice and snow.

  124. sonamib:

    That’s a disingenuous reading of what I was saying. What I meant was that the housing built in “urban renewal” areas is made specifically for upper middle class people, with the blessing of local administrations, which want to expand their tax base. Noone is forced to move at gunpoint, but it sure is a lot easier for affluent people than for poor people to live in gentrified neighbourhoods, that’s the whole point. It’s not that hard to understand.

  125. Sherm:

    My yard is not small, but I’m proud to say that with all the trees and flower beds (plus a large deck and a small pool), I can mow what little grass I have with a reel mower. Throwing away the old gas mower was a treat.

  126. Chatham:

    [quote]Where I live parks are 2 miles or so away from each other, which means most people are at least a half mile. So how do you do get there in Cityland?[/quote]

    Eh? If it’s half a mile away, you should be walking. If it’s further, then create good public transportation systems, and people will ditch their cars. Where I am, it’s pretty common to find people that haven’t owned a car in years, and use a Zip Car (cars stationed around the city that people can rent with a card) when they need one.

  127. Chester Allman:

    I think you’re right that there’s a very high entry cost once you’ve established a life elsewhere. I’ve been here since I was a penniless grad student, so either I’m a frog grown comfortable in the very hot water, or I’ve just been fortunate to have had some opportunities to establish myself. Either way, I think it goes to the overall point that there’s a good deal of un-addressed demand for higher-density living.

    Also, I have to admit that the price of preschool in this town has very nearly driven me over the edge.

  128. Corey:

    Right, but the point is, how often do you actually need a park as big as Central Park? Most parks have a soccer field, a few basketball courts, maybe a tennis court or two. And why can’t you jog on the street?

  129. Erik Loomis:

    Exactly.

  130. MAJeff:

    Sounds like what I had in Somerville and Boston, MA. One of the things I miss the most since leaving that area is the ability to live a carless life while still having access to a shit-ton of wonderful things.

  131. Charlie Sweatpants:

    “Are there people in every city who support congestion and traffic fatalities because they’ve got some mental image of “young urban bucks” waiting at the bus station with their stolen flatscreen?”

    That’s a very active fantasy with a long history. Back in the 1950s and earlier, there were bus routes to and from tonier parts of Detroit that had a policy to literally not pick people up after a certain hour as a way to prevent black people from getting to white neighborhoods. It was one way only so the help couldn’t come back after hours.

    (Not coincidentally, there were a lot of official and unofficial sundown towns in the metro area. Dearborn officials used to actually boast that they were the whitest city in America.)

    The People Mover, which is damn useful if you’re already downtown but can’t take you anywhere else, was originally going to be part of a much larger system that would’ve connected downtown to all the suburbs. Needless to say, that got nixed. Keeping metro-Detroit segregated is very important to a lot of people and has been for a long time.

  132. Sherm:

    Jogging in manhattan is pretty tough with all the vehicle and pedestrian traffic and riding a bike will land you in the hospital.

  133. elm:

    In fairness, on-line food shopping could increase the demand for union teamsters.

  134. elm:

    Yay! I no longer agree with Nieporent! I feel better now. Thanks, Joe!

  135. MAJeff:

    I don’t want a yard, but I would kill for a garden. Then again, community garden plots can provide for that.

  136. etv13:

    Most parks in downtown LA don’t. Grand Park is a lovely place for urban workers to eat lunch, and it has a nifty-looking performance space (although they seem to be intent on shaving the grass right down to the dirt), but I don’t remember seeing any children’s play structures and there’s certainly nowhere to play soccer or basketball or tennis. When we lived in a close-in suburb (Silverlake) and had a three-year-old, we had to drive her to parks that had play equipment and kids to play with. Even the park that was close as the crow flies were up and down steep hills.

    LA is notoriously park-poor, and you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get a picnic space on the weekend in Griffith Park.

    By contrast, the suburb I live in has (private) parks around every corner, and large public ones at regular intervals. And it’s actually pretty dense — full of townhomes and duplexes and condos, and the detached house I live in has a zero lot line.

  137. Bill Murray:

    and the US Soccer teams will be based around Chollima movement ideas. and we all get to pour maple syrup over Jurgen Klinsman

  138. Jeremy:

    You have a hard time getting affordable housing advocates on board with a plan to gentrify poor neighborhoods, convert all the land into expensive condos, and let the grandchildren of today’s poor move in when the units are sufficiently old as to be affordable? Who’d have thunk it?

  139. slothrop:

    I have lived in Atlanta for 40 years. During that time I have seen marta change many things. Some not at all. First it made white Atlantans really stand next to their black neighbors. Then it made them drive less for the lucky few who lived close to stations and worked in town. Over those 40 years it has made Chamblee and lindberg two of the most diverse parts of America. The developement around Atlanta most needs schools worth a damn to see how the 21st century could work.

  140. Jeff Blanks:

    You could fix the land-cost issue simply by making more cities–or, more accurately, making more big towns into small cities and more small cities into big cities. Doing that is the trick.

    Being from GA (The State Atlanta Ate), I’ve long wondered what GA would look like if its population distribution were the same as it was 40 or 50 years ago. You could’ve lived in Macon or Augusta or Savannah and been in a real (well, real enough) city without real estate prices going sky-high. IOW, more like NC or TN, which have a decent number of actual cites, but no mega-cities like ATL.

  141. Somebody:

    But doesn’t high density development reduce demand for union-built automobiles

    I dunno, do Japan and Europe have robust unionized automobile manufacturing industries?

  142. Bijan Parsia:

    his article makes the same mistake that Yglesias does (and that stupid conservatives do), imagining that only high-rise dwellings can create “density”.

    Curse you for making me defend Yglesias:

    Which isn’t to say that we can or should remake ourselves exactly like Paris. But it’s unfortunate that people are so quick to make the mental leap from “denser” to “giant buildings like in New York.” There are lots of models of medium-scale density that work perfectly well.

  143. TribalistMeathead:

    If we were planning on staying in DC until we have kids, it would really just result in one of us working flex time, or finding a day care close to home, or anything besides lugging a stroller around DC’s transit system.

    I mean, I don’t even have kids yet, and I already want to lose my shit every time I see some parent shove their stroller into the path of a closing train door because they think it will stop the doors from closing.

  144. TribalistMeathead:

    *around DC’s transit system during rush hour.

  145. spencer:

    Um, pretty sure it’s moving forward now.

    True, it doesn’t get all the way out to my old neighborhood (between 13 and 14 Mile Roads), but give it time.

  146. spencer:

    Where are the good schools? Out in the ‘burbs

    Why do you suppose that is? And do you think that cannot be changed?

  147. spencer:

    Yes to all of this. I never understood the fixation people have with yards.

  148. Sherm:

    This is correct. But its equally important that the suburbs be changed to be more like cities. Can’t expect people to evacuate suburbia and move into the cities. But we can start building up the downtowns around commuter rail stations to make suburban life more sustainable.

  149. spencer:

    It’s unbelievable how some people think half a mile is just well-nigh unwalkable.

  150. spencer:

    So are most cities in the South, actually.

    Not the one I live in.

  151. spencer:

    So the argument is . . . that already existing high-density areas should be converted . . . to high density areas?

    No. The argument is that places that *should* be high-density areas but aren’t already, should be converted to *actual* high-density areas.

    And the funny thing is, there are a lot of people who live in Phoenix who wouldn’t mind seeing that happen. Oh sure, they may not want to become San Francisco or anything like that, but that drastic a change isn’t needed anyway. Even a more modest improvement there will pay big dividends.

    Also, Miami – the 8th-most-walkable large city in the country, according to Walkscore – isn’t what you think it is. You’re probably thinking about Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. And you’re right – those places are complete suburban shit.

  152. David Nieporent:

    You understand that pricing is a function of both supply and demand, right?

  153. chris:

    Doing so simply lowers worker productivity and thus averages wages.

    If the last 40 years have demonstrated anything at all, it is that average wages aren’t primarily a function of worker productivity. You can call the the product of supply and demand or the outcome of the class struggle, but a reflection of productivity is one thing they clearly aren’t.

  154. chris:

    Ohnoes, people! People that look different from me!

    FTFY.

  155. chris:

    Especially when you consider how much of your commute is spent, essentially, driving past your neighbors’ yards. That’s time from your life you will never get back. Twice a day. Which leaves you with not enough time to do anything with your own yard other than mow and rake it.

  156. firefall:

    presumably after they’ve swallowed

  157. chris:

    The trouble is that the policy-makers’ prefered method of “rehabilitating” a neighbourhood is kicking out the poor people and making upper-middle class/rich people move in.

    Well, to be fair, it’s the only way to “improve” the schools, because pretty much the definition of a good school is one without poor kids in it. Both from the “how do the kids score on standardized tests” perspective — no amount of funding or teacher quality can make up for poverty in the home — and from the “how does a nervous parent feel about their kid’s odds of getting in a fight/meeting a drug dealer” perspective. (The classism and racism in how parents feel about the safety of schools based on their student demographics is arguably bullshit, it’s quite possible to get beaten up by a rich bully, but it *is* how they feel and they choose housing accordingly.)

  158. firefall:

    Actually we don’t know how to do this. We know the end result, but not how to get there, now.

  159. chris:

    But I think that any commitment to the present and future well-being of cities and their inhabitants depends upon one’s ability to assume that improving quality of life in an urban neighborhood does not depend upon the pricing-out of poorer residents.

    Perceived risk of crime and perceived quality of schools depend basically entirely on keeping poor people out of your neighborhood and school district, respectively. And thanks to antidiscrimination laws, price is about the only legal way to do so.

  160. David Nieporent:

    Privacy? In an apartment, you share walls, floors, ceilings. Even if they’re solidly-built and unusually well-insulated, you still hear and smell things from other apartments from time to time. If you want to have a loud get together, you are going to disturb people in neighboring apartments. And of course if they’re typical, then even raised voices or a loud tv will be audible.

    Autonomy? If you own your apartment, you may be allowed to do some significant remodeling — but you’re pretty limited in what you’re able to do. Can you knock out a back wall and expand the place? Build an addition? Tear down the whole building and start over? Add a deck or toolshed or swingset in the back yard? Leave your kids’ toys lying around outside?

    I’ve lived in apartments and townhouses (both rented) and owned homes, and they’re not remotely comparable. Even if you do own the apartment, it’s not fully yours.

  161. David Nieporent:

    Or two young children who aren’t twins.

    Nor do these people do a week’s worth of grocery shopping for their families, apparently. (I mean, you could order groceries online, but that would give Loomis conniptions, because grocery bagging jobs are labor’s future.)

  162. David Nieporent:

    Some of us like cul-de-sacs because they’re safer for our kids. Not because of crime, but because of traffic. Through streets lead to people driving to get through them, which lead to people driving fast to get through them, which is unsafe for kids playing in the street.

  163. David Nieporent:

    My point is that not all people like houses and backyards, and yes, it is anathema to point out that ALL people do.

    But people who like houses and backyards aren’t demanding that apartment buildings be razed to the ground and ALL people be forced to have backyards. People who like apartments are demanding that “high density housing must be the future,” though.

  164. Malaclypse:

    But people who like houses and backyards aren’t demanding that apartment buildings be razed to the ground and ALL people be forced to have backyards.

    You are aware of things like minimum acreage zoning requirements, right? Please, as a Principled Libertarian, tell us why these are a smaller threat to Freedom than a quarter-percent increase in the sales tax rate?

  165. David Nieporent:

    Living in the city, and getting to a park in the city, is much, much more convenient than in the suburbs.

    Of course, if you have a yard, you don’t need a park. You can just go outside whenever you want, and not only is your yard right there, but so is all the stuff you want to have with you.

  166. David Nieporent:

    We’d like not to trash the planet, so that future generations have a nice place to live.

    But can you really call what you want “living”?

    We talk about people wanting to live in suburbs, but the truth is that given half the chance, developers would buy up land in desirable suburban areas and build rows and rows of townhouses.

    But they’re only “desirable suburban areas” because they don’t have rows and rows of townhouses in them.

  167. Uncle Kvetch:

    Even if they’re solidly-built and unusually well-insulated, you still hear and smell things from other apartments from time to time.

    You know, I will concede this point — I do sometimes forget that we’re particularly lucky in this respect. We currently live in a 100-year-old tenement building, and because of the layout we have almost no common walls with other apartments in our building. And just below us is a laundromat that closes at 9:00 p.m. We’ve had loud parties that went well into the wee hours, with 50+ people crammed into our 2-bedroom space, and never had a complaint. (What we do suffer from is infernal traffic noise, but that’s an entirely different story.)

    I did, however, live in a gut-renovated building in the East Village years ago that basically had zero insulation between the floors. You couldn’t walk across the room in stocking feet without the downstairs neighbors pounding on the ceiling with a broom handle.

    It’s been mentioned elsewhere in this thread, but this gets down to the robustness of building standards and their enforcement. Should we ever decide to buy, we have our eye on a co-op complex in Queens that was built in 1955, with concrete slabs between every floor. You could literally tap dance all day without the people downstairs hearing a peep.

  168. Linnaeus:

    As a white person from Oakland County, I wish I could contest your implication, but I really can’t. Macomb was just as bad.

    That said, it’s improved in the time after I grew up there.

  169. David Nieporent:

    @Malaclypse:

    I am aware of zoning requirements that in various ways (setback requirements, minimum acreage, etc.) mandate single family homes with big lots, yes. And as a libertarian, I am opposed to zoning — not just zoning that leads to conditions I dislike, but all zoning. But the zoning requirements that you’re talking about are in places that are already suburbs; nobody is trying to impose those sorts of rules on Brooklyn, let alone Manhattan.

    The people who support those zoning laws are saying, “We want our town to remain low density,” not “Sprawl is the future and all towns going forward should be spread out.” (Hell, the more people you squeeze into Manhattan, the better for those of us who like suburbs.) Whereas Loomis is actually advocating that everything should be high-density.

  170. Malacylpse:

    Yea, Loomis has more power than any zoning board, and you are right to be concerned.

  171. Michele:

    High density housing may be necessary in large cities but planners are foisting their smart growth principles on mid size cities now where land is not in short supply. I hate high density housing. Big yards make better neighbors. Nor am I at a point in my life where I want a mix of housing in my neighborhood.

    Affordable housing used to mean people lived in apartments or shared housing with other family members or took in boarders (more common than people might think). Now fewer people are willing to explore these options and the current solution veers toward requiring more taxpayer subsidized housing. The problem is that taxpayers are often tapped out paying their own bills and saving for their own retirements.

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