Home / General / Was Jane Jacobs Mostly Wrong?

Was Jane Jacobs Mostly Wrong?



OK, this is a little Slate-pitchy. But is it wrong? That’s unclear.

But as often happens when we remember the dead, nearly all of these celebrations and tributes fail to recognize Jacobs as a real person with deeply flawed ideas. Yes, she still deserves praise for challenging the urban-planning maxims of her time. But if we really want to honor her belief that cities can be nearly magical places capable of improving the lives of all of their inhabitants, we have to recognize the limits of her philosophies and the limits of the ways in which we’ve interpreted and remembered them. Looking at the Village today is a great place to start.

The same neighborhood Jacobs lauded for its diversity in the 1960s and ’70s is today a nearly all-white, aesthetically suburban playground for the rich. The average price for a two-bedroom apartment is about $5,000 a month. Those small, varied streets are still there, but the small, community-oriented businesses have been replaced by banks and restaurant chains, upscale cocktail bars, and expensive shoe stores. When I walk its streets now, I mostly feel sad and disconnected, not to mention angry that global wealth has transformed my community into an upscale mall.

Jacobs, to a certain extent, warned of the Village’s imminent transition, arguing that a neighborhood’s outstanding success can ultimately be self-undermining. People are attracted to neighborhoods like the West Village, which become more and more expensive until “one or a few dominating uses finally emerge triumphant … [and] a most intricate and successful organism of economic mutual support and social support has been destroyed by the process,” Jacobs wrote.

It’s not only the Village. Seemingly every Jacobsian paradise, from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco to the newly revitalized parts of Detroit and New Orleans, is mostly white and well-off. Governments (no doubt swayed by the urban planners whose graduate programs hew to Jacobs’ philosophies) spend millions on implementing Jacobs’ recommendations—making streets more walkable, supporting new, local businesses, de-emphasizing cars—and nearly everywhere they do, gentrification and displacement follow. Dense, pedestrian-friendly spaces don’t have to be accessible only to the affluent, of course. But without commitments to affordable and public housing and even the regulation of rent, any change to a neighborhood that increases its real-estate values will inevitably lead to increased urban inequality. When we boil down Jacobs’ ideas to their simplest dictates, we risk those unsavory consequences.

Obviously it’s unfair to blame all or maybe any of this on Jane Jacobs. But urban planning does have to be for the masses if it is to work. I do believe we can have dense, walkable cities with a lot of amenities that create community. But there’s no question that right now, it’s not working well. Part of it is the historical legacy of the urban renewal and suburbanization Jacobs spoke out against, as because there aren’t that many sections of cities that survived the postwar onslaught, a change in Americans’ values means that it’s not hard for the wealthy to control these small areas. However, the post-Jacobs vision has to include racial and class diversity if it is too be successful. We are failing that badly, as anyone living, say, in San Francisco can attest to, with the working-class, often brown and black, service workers now often commuting 2 hours from the central valleys to the city, a completely urban planning nightmare.

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  • Steve LaBonne

    All true, but it’s hard to see how razing the West Village to build a freeway would have been better. There are worse things than Googleization.

    • Dilan Esper

      That’s not really the point, though, is it?

      Or to put it another way, maybe that is the point. Maybe most of the wars we have had about development have been fights between one group of incumbent mostly white property owners and another group of incumbent mostly white property owners. Renters, the poor, minorities, and non-incumbents who want to move someplace have never counted in the calculus.

    • aidian

      I don’t know about the West Village. Though if it’s anything like the neighborhoods I used to love in SF there’s a good argument to be made for carpet bombing the place (Hey! Finally a reason to vote for Trump — this would be a realistic policy proposal under a Trump administration).

      Perhaps a more rational argument, or at least one with a lower body count, would be this: With the poor and working class already pushed out of the urban core, efforts to increase density and walkability in gentrified or gentrifying neighborhoods has a negative impact on anyone who isn’t already in the top one or two income quintiles.

      An example. In the last major metro I lived in, there was a move to to take a major arterial street on the edge of the city core and shrink it to two lanes. This would include some new — primarily mixed-use development, rezoning for added density, and what looked like some pretty cool streetscapes and public space. It wold help turn what was already a pretty active commercial strip into the new edge of the pretty hip urban core.

      It looked like a nice plan. And assuming it was successful, no one making the regional median income could afford to live there. For me it would have meant nothing more than having to find another (out of my way) gas station if I needed gas on the way to work, along with an extra 5-10 minutes added onto my daily commute. That would mean another 5-10 minutes during which I’d have to drive through a deliberately difficult environment at speeds slow enough to notice the attractive housing options I couldn’t afford to live in, the nice restaurants I wouldn’t eat at and couldn’t regularly visit, and the cool shops I wouldn’t patronize even if I had the money.

      In that environment, yes a freeway would be better than the West Village.

  • N__B

    I think Moskowitz is misreading Jacobs. She wasn’t saying that having short blocks, multiple uses, diverse building types, etc. automatically made a neighborhood good and/or stable. She was saying that without those things, the neighborhood was more likely to deadened and with them it was more likely to be lively. I think she was right: the Upper West Side long blocks are more or less dead, although that seems to be how the neighborhood resident want them; even in its gentrified state the Village is far livelier. The Moses-era housing projects, all bastardizations of Corbu’s already-terrible idea of towers in the park, are deadened and deadening.

    IOW, her argument is about inherent livability and does not automatically translate to gentrification. I grew up in downtown Flushing, which has all of the things that Jacobs liked, and it’s thriving but not gentrified.

    • Steve LaBonne

      One of these years I will make a trip to NY specifically for the purpose of eating my way around Asiatown. It’s been far too long since I was there.

      • N__B

        Flu Shing.

    • Nobdy

      The UWS and UES are bedroom communities. The people who live there generally want them relatively quiet. Go further up and you can find vibrant street life even with long blocks. I mean look at 125th street.

      • Manny Kant

        UWS isn’t my favorite neighborhood by any means, but it’s not like the long blocks are all there is. There’s tons of businesses on the Avenues.

        • N__B

          Yeah, but that’s providing Jacobs’s point. Life follows the less dull parts of the neighborhood.

        • los

          “We LOVE the Republican millionaires who shoot people on 5th Avenue”

          or would that be “de-gentrification”?

    • I grew up in downtown Flushing, which has all of the things that Jacobs liked, and it’s thriving but not gentrified.

      Popular-media discussions of urban development and planning inevitably focus on a small number of extremely large cities, and over-apply lessons that don’t apply to smaller cities.

      • N__B

        True, but Flushing is a neighborhood of 100,000 that’s part of NYC, so I think it’s part of the industrial-urban-development complex.

        • Certainly. Just as Lowell, while some distance from Boston, is still part of the metro area.

          But that’s exactly my point. Many metro areas are (and all should be, in my opinion) polycentric, with plenty of secondary and tertiary centers, whether smaller cities or “outer borough” type neighborhoods with their own sizable centers, which aren’t subject to the crushing demand of Lower Manhattan. I think focusing more on these areas can be a big part of the solution.

          To choose one example at random – say, Lowell, Massachusetts – there have been thousands of units of housing added here over the past couple of decades with no gentrification, because most of them were built in vacant mill buildings, vacant commercial buildings, or vacant lots in the neighborhoods.

  • Origami Isopod

    I don’t see from the Slate piece how Jacobs’ philosophy was wrong so much as incomplete. It does sound as though she was aware of the issue of inequality. It’s not her fault that selfish rich people cherry-picked her work for the parts they liked.

    • vic rattlehead

      Incomplete seems like a good way of putting it. Density and walkability seem pretty anodyne. I guess rich people will just coopt anything good.

      • Origami Isopod

        Maybe not even “incomplete,” now that I reconsider. Sounds like the Slate writer is taking aim at the wrong person.

        • Name another urban theorist whose name would be recognized by more than 5% of Slate’s readers, and motivate them to click the link.

          That’s how you end up with this column being about Jane Jacobs, as opposed to the urban planning field generally.

          • djw


          • Origami Isopod

            Well, yes. Clickbait, as Loomis said.

      • Pat

        Whenever people make something that’s pretty good, the privileged will jump all over it. The privileged have the time and the resources to sniff out new stuff that’s pretty good. Then the privileged generally discourage people from making whatever it is into a common good, which would dilute its value.

        Why should urban planning be different from anything else?

        • Dilan Esper

          “They called it paradise, I don’t know why. You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.”

          (I’ll never understand why so many people here hated the Eagles (as came out when Glenn Frey died).)

          • sharculese

            It’s because their music isn’t very good.

    • djw

      It does sound as though she was aware of the issue of inequality.

      Further evidence for Joe’s thesis that this article isn’t really about Jacobs in any meaningful sense. As Turkle notes below, Life and Death of American Cities is the work of someone acutely aware of the potential problem of inequality for her urban vision.

    • los

      Airbags and ABS didn’t show up first in hyundai excels.
      Those arrived first in prototypes or bleeding-edge ‘failures’, then as options or in high priced model and makers
      Tesla first sold the Model S…. now begetting the middle-class Model 3.

      Gentrification – whether hipster-clique organic free range fair trade 24 hour neo-boehemian cafes, or elitist koch-clique red carpet ‘social pages’ new york opera – are as much a market success as Tesla S.

      The implementors of (vaguely) Jacobs analysis have created the equivalent of the Tesla S.

      We await the Tesla 3.

  • Turkle

    I’ve been hearing this critique of Jacobs for a long time. I’m always a bit baffled by it. She clearly mentions in “Death & Life” several times that many of her ideas will only work given a certain level of economic equality. Her ideas of city planning are not meant as a cure for the effects of poverty and inequality. They are meant specifically to counter the horrible policies of urban renewal, etc.

    From D&L:

    “[The rich] pay enormous rents to move into areas with exuberant and varied sidewalk life. They actually crowd out the middle class and poor…” – p. 70

    She clearly argued against “income sorting,” and many of her recommendations were specifically designed to prevent precisely that (e.g. making sure neighborhoods have old and new buildings so some places are still cheap, etc.). But she was very aware that these are not solutions to poverty or gross inequality, and that massive inequality and poverty would frustrate even great planning.

    • Nobdy

      I am chuckling at the idea that having old buildings will keep rent cheap. Not in NY or San Fran anymore. Mayve decrepit, but not old. And even decrepit will cost you $3000 a month in a trendy neighborhood.

      • MAJeff

        I think I’ve mentioned this before, but Sylvie Tissot discusses a similar phenomenon in Boston’s South End, where older architecture also became a selling point in the gentrification process.

      • I am chuckling at the idea that having old buildings will keep rent cheap. Not in NY or San Fran anymore.

        You have to remember the era she was writing in, which was before historic preservation took off, and the replacement of old building with shiny new ones was called “progress.”

        • The Lorax

          I weep when I think about all the amazing buildings NYC and Chicago ( and elsewhere) lost in the name of progress.

          • Srsly Dad Y

            I thought you spoke for the trees.

            • Hogan

              Penn Station also has no tongue.

    • I am far from an expert on urban development, but blaming incomplete or wrong headed development for the highly stratified nature of modern cities (“nearly all-white, aesthetically suburban playground for the rich”) reminds me of the “job training” scam from the 80s-90s. The idea that you were going to take laid off factory workers and turn them into office workers by teaching them Word and Excel was always a cruel joke. Similarly, as long as incomes are basically stagnant or declining from the 90th percentile on down, no amount of urban planning is going to prevent cities from becoming balkanized along income lines.

      • Rob in CT

        The analogy I immediately thought of is education. Teachers are supposed to magically fix things they can’t possibly fix and then get blamed when they fail.

        What Murc said below seems right on. If a planner designs a neighborhood that is so nice to live in that lots of people want to live in it and thus drive up the price… um, that’s failure? No, that’s success. It’s not the planner’s fault that inequality has gotten so bad.

        Caveat: I’m not plugged into this stuff, but I suppose you could fault planners to the extent that they are not even thinking about designing neighborhoods for non-1%ers. I rather doubt that’s the case, though.

        • Turkle

          I agree both with Charlie and especially Rob.

          People make exactly the same argument about education:

          1) Education is a cure for poverty
          2) There are poor educated people
          3) Education must be fundamentally broken, fire all the teachers and close the schools, it’s time to start over

          Why, it’s almost as if education isn’t a cure for poverty!!!!1! Maybe it has social benefits not tied to income!

          • los

            in other news… RealDonald turns taco bowl into toilet bowl.

      • UserGoogol

        Well, if you increase supply that might do it. If there are more houses than the rich are willing to buy, the rest have to sell at prices that the non-rich can afford. That’s a kind of urban planning, and one where Jacob’s legacy has been mixed.

        • jroth95

          Except it turns out that the rich are willing to buy surprising numbers of houses. True, this mostly applies to a handful of cities, but it’s still a very real phenomenon, a million square feet of prime Manhattan real estate (enough to house 3000 of hoi polloi) owned by 200 absentees parking their excess funds in safe havens.

          The bottom line is that we live in a world where it costs $150k (exclusive of land) to build a small 2-BR apartment, and half the people in the country can’t afford $15k for housing (including utilities), and 20% can’t afford half that. You can’t make cars affordable to more people by building more of them; that’s not how supply and demand work.

          • Linnaeus

            The geographer Jim Russell makes this point semi-regularly.

          • UserGoogol

            $150k divided by a price-to-rent ratio of 30 is just $417 a month. And I mean, cheap housing manages to exist. If you can have cheap housing in rural nowhereland, then you should be able to plop that on top of existing buildings and have it remain cheap.

    • djw

      Thank you. Reading this column immediately had me reaching for my copy of Life and Death, but it seems to be missing.

    • Dilan Esper

      She clearly argued against “income sorting,” and many of her recommendations were specifically designed to prevent precisely that (e.g. making sure neighborhoods have old and new buildings so some places are still cheap, etc.). But she was very aware that these are not solutions to poverty or gross inequality, and that massive inequality and poverty would frustrate even great planning.

      The problem is you have to massively increase housing supply to prevent the rich from taking over, and that meant you can’t preserve the sort of small-scale communities Jacobs favored.

      Being aware of the problem doesn’t get you even a gold star in housing policy. Everyone’s aware of the problem, but nobody wants to do anything that actually results in lots of poor and working class people getting to move in.

  • Murc

    This seems like… hrmm.

    To what extent are urban planners responsible for needing to plan around the failures of the economy?

    Because it seems like the urban planning that’s produced all this gentrification and displacement has been a success by its own terms. It has produced really nice neighborhoods, dense, walkable, all the stuff we consider desirous, that people really, really want to live in.

    It just turns out that when you have an area that people really, really want to live in, the people with the most money are the ones who end up living there. What are urban planners to do about that? They have enough trouble getting their own modest proposals passed into law without drawing up ones that have the addendum “to actually work, this requires society-wide changes to tax, transportation, education, employment, and environmental policy.” That’s going to be DOA.

    There’s also the fact that avoiding displacement slams up against other priorities. Most people here are in favor of robust taxes of valuable property, for example… but pursuing that as a policy is basically the same as saying “anyone who lives in a neighborhood that becomes much more tony than it once was is going to be forced out.” That might be okay, but it has to be recognized as a downside.

    • ajay

      Because it seems like the urban planning that’s produced all this gentrification and displacement has been a success by its own terms. It has produced really nice neighborhoods, dense, walkable, all the stuff we consider desirous, that people really, really want to live in.

      It just turns out that when you have an area that people really, really want to live in, the people with the most money are the ones who end up living there. What are urban planners to do about that?

      Exactly. The corollary of “making really nasty areas of town nicer is a bad thing because then rents go up and poor people get displaced” is the assumption that making nice areas of town horrible is a good thing because then more poor people can afford to live there. Which is, obviously, nuts.

      • los

        Let them eat moldy cake.

    • LeeEsq

      My take is that you really can’t plan the classic cityscape but you kind of have to let it grow organically. Its easy to plan low to medium density suburbs or public housing estates. Trying to create places like the West Village, the Upper East Side, Back Bay, or Pacific Heights by planning doesn’t really seem to be possible.

      • I guess that depends what you mean by “plan.” Platting out a highly-connected, short-black street pattern is planning. Insisting on, or even just allowing, storefronts on the street instead of lawns is planning.

        This notion of “organically” is one of those terms that needs a lot of unpacking. None of this is a biological process unmediated by policy and forethought. So what does “develop organically” mean, and what doesn’t count?

        • LeeEsq

          I guess by organically, I meant that it is built overtime rather than all at once and has multiple developers rather than one single government or private developer.

          • There’s no arguing with that. One of Jacobs’ great themes was diversity in the built environment. Diversity of size, diversity of age, diversity of price, diversity of ownership. She went to great lengths denouncing the destruction of small businesses and their replacement with a big, monopolistic store in urban renewal projects.

            The thing is, planners plan. They don’t generally build. If they do, they build a project in an area where most of what is happening is private-sector.

            City planning is like gardening rather than sculpture. Planners create very little of the actual content. Mostly, we’re creating the conditions and seeding.

            • LeeEsq

              It seems that in the 20th century, the tendency was to build neighborhoods, suburbs, and even entire cities all at once and in a very uniform way. The idea of just laying out the infrastructure, street system, legal regime, and letting it grow overtime seems to have been forgotten accept in developing world cities. If you were a wealthy capitalist or an ambitious communist nation than you built wholesale if you built big if you could.

        • Short-block street pattern, I mean.

          Short-black. Good God.

          • lahtiji

            That’s what’s next for Starbucks after the flat white.

          • Schadenboner

            The even-more-problematic sidekick for Indy 5?

        • NewishLawyer

          There is an part of Novato, California where a developer built classic SF looking Victorian rowhouses/town homes. The houses look relatively new and nice enough but it also feels kind of odd because it seems like they were purposefully going for “Let’s create SF!!!” The houses circle around a parkish looking piece of grass and are right across the road from some light industrial.

          The Village developed over many decades. So did Brooklyn and so did SF. The attempts to create new urban spaces are too uniform looking because they are being designed and built at the same time. So it looks like a mall with housing.

          • Yeah, gotcha.

            Some of that is just the newness, though. Once the trees grow up and the owners differentiate their properties over time, areas start to look “established.”

          • erick

            Yeah like all the suburbs that have faux craftsmans. Disneyland developments are pathetic.

            • I dunno, erick. In a country in which anything but a ranch house on a third of an acre was unthinkable for decades, those new urbanist developments strike me as a useful educational/PR project for urbanism.

              Think of a kid who listens to top 40 crap discovering Blink182. There’s some hope there.

              • Just_Dropping_By

                Since when is Blink-182 not “Top 40”? Every one of their albums from Enema of the State onwards was a Billboard top 10 seller in the States.

              • erick

                I guess compared to the typical alternatives. But I’d still prefer more creativity rather than making mass produced copies of 100 year old designs:-)

                • I think that much of the smart growth, transit-oriented planning-reform movement is about rediscovering old wisdom, so I don’t mind that so much.

        • This notion of “organically” is one of those terms that needs a lot of unpacking. None of this is a biological process unmediated by policy and forethought.

          Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I am fed up to here with “organically” used in this and similar contexts.

          • N__B

            That concept has grown organically through the web.

    • Brett

      The best solution might be more community land trusts, like the one described in the link in Boston.

    • djw

      It just turns out that when you have an area that people really, really want to live in, the people with the most money are the ones who end up living there. What are urban planners to do about that?

      An important part of the solution that problem is one that urban planners generally recognize and advocate: build more of it, or allow more of it to be built. They can’t overcome the political obstacles to that on their own, and that’s not really their fault.

      • Fake Irishman

        …like say removing things that drive up the cost of housing while preventing the construction of more of it (getting rid of parking requirements for example, which allows for more housing and cuts costs of a given housing unit since the family isn’t paying for a parking space too.)

        • things that drive up the cost of housing while preventing the construction of more of it

          Big lot size minimums in the suburbs. Single-family-only monoculture.

  • vic rattlehead

    Don’t forget about NYU swallowing the Village too.

    • Oddly this has not happened in the area surrounding the Johns Hopkins medical campus. I’d be interested to know why that is.

      • Crusty

        I have no idea, but it is important to realize that NYU is a massive real estate development enterprise, that happens to run a university as a side project. I don’t know if Johns Hopkins is the same sort of enterprise.

      • West

        There is a vastly greater potential for earning speculative returns from real estate in the areas abutting NYU, as compared to the areas abutting Johns Hopkins, either at the main U campus or the medical center. This has been the case for decades. (I’m not saying there’s NO real estate profits to be had in Bawlmer, I’m saying that it’s far from a no-brainer.)

      • TribalistMeathead

        Here’s a hint: In addition to NYU swallowing the Village, GW has mentioned to swallow much of Foggy Bottom.

        • Some allege that GW axed its urban planning major because of the department’s opposition to swallowing Foggy Bottom.

    • Don’t forget about NYU swallowing the Village too.

      Apparently (if I understand the account of the elder grand-daughter, now working on a Ph.D. at NYU; sometime we will get the energy to use here as a pretext for a trip to NYC) NYU has also swallowed Alphabet City.

      Sort of like the eggplant that ate Chicago, but less appetizing.

  • DrDick

    I think that the biggest problem we have seen with urban renewal is the pervasive economic, as well as racial/ethnic, segregation that results. Sometimes this is deliberate and intentional, as it was in Chicago with the razing of the Robert Taylor Homes and Cabrini Green. Other times, as in the Castro District of San Francisco or Lakeview in Chicago, it is a consequence of market factors unrestrained by mixed growth policies.

    • I don’t want to be a pedant, but I think it’s a bad idea to use “urban renewal” to refer to development or redevelopment brought about by market factors, or even to urban redevelopment generally. Urban renewal was a specific, historical, high-modernist 20th-century policy based around anti-street-life ideas.

      I fear that using it to mean redevelopment broadly blurs the focus, hiding much of what was uniquely terrible about urban renewal while also casting uncalled-for shade on other development dynamics, and otherwise confusing concepts it is useful to keep distinct.

    • Happy Jack

      The things that make cities desirable to professionals are things that white people like. Brewpubs, arthouse cinemas, trendy art galleries, Trader Joe’s.

      If people just wanted their coffee black, they’d move to Buffalo with the steelworkers.

      • DrDick

        On the other hand, what made Lakeview in Chicago (where I lived for 10 years) attractive originally was the multitude of small affordable ethnic restaurants, small theaters, funky little shops, vibrant nightlife, as well as proximity to Wrigley Field. Most of that is gone now, replaced by chains and mass market retail.

        • Happy Jack

          If Lakeview is Whiteyville, you’re reinforcing my point.

          • DrDick

            It is now, though it was not then. The point is that they destroyed what it was that attracted them in the first place.

            • So you’re saying, mutatis mutandis, that they had to destroy the Village in order to save it (for themselves)?

      • The things that make cities desirable to professionals are things that white people like. Brewpubs, arthouse cinemas, trendy art galleries, Trader Joe’s.

        I think this is backwards. The thing that make cities desirable to those businesses is the presence of professionals.

        My experience in Lowell is that star-attraction developments like that are great for redeveloping commercial space and should be pursued for that reason, and that the effort needs to happen in tandem with the attraction of middle-class-and-above people back to the city, but that it isn’t the brew pubs and whatnot that attract the residents.

        I think the new professionals in cities are looking more for affordable housing choices and an urban neighborhood style, ranging from cool old buildings to walkable neighborhoods to little takeout places. Those, or big old institutional/cultural resources like colleges, museums, or government. That is, the things that exist in those cities prior to the splashy types of enterprises you’re talking about. Those types of enterprises follow the new urban dwellers much more than they launch the process.

    • Fake Irishman

      I agree with some of what Dr Dick has to say here. (say like the unfettered construction of luxury apartments and condos everywhere — affordable housing requirements would help with this), but part of the problem is that planning requirements actually don’t square with a freer market in some important ways — like the inclusion of massive setbacks or parking requirements in city planning codes that drive up prices. Houston was famous for “no zoning” for a long time, but its famous sprawl in some ways is the result of bad land use policy — we had parking minimums and other requirements. Jeff Wood talks about this a lot at the Overhead Wire.

      • DrDick

        I would completely agree with this, and it was included in the intentional aspects.

  • Nobdy

    If you make any area attractive it will attract rich people (who want to monopolize anything nice) to drive out the poor unless there are strict controls. This is as true of awesome neighborhoods as it is of beachfront property. The problem with the Village isn’t the Village, it is all the other unappealing places people don’t want to live. If there were more places like it then they would be less expensive to live in.

    Of course then you get into the issue of there being limited space in New York and San Francisco to begin with and the problem gers thornier, but I don’t know if that is an issue government can easily solve unless it wants to remove all caps on building size while also requiring set asides for low income residents. But that makes urban planning more about maximizing density than creating a pleasant place to live.

    • Well, it’s pretty clear that removing caps on building size pretty much has to be part of any solution.

      • Nobdy

        Maybe. I actually think that incentives to decentralize business areas could be an effective solution too. Not moving everything to the suburbs where there is no transit, obviously, but the real problem is that we have these massive business districts where all the jobs are and so there is huge competition to love near the jobs. Clustering the jobs made sense before the communication age but is much less necessary now.

        Improved mass transit would also help immensely even in New York there are large parts of the city the subway does not effectively serve, which is what makes them sucky places to live. SF mass transit is mediocre in general.

        I don’t want to see the village and SF bulldozed and replaced by ugly skyscrapers and I don’t think doing that is necessary to find ways that poor people can have decent housing.

        Obviously we need more building than we have, though. Much more.

        • LeeEsq

          Besides the New York and Chicago metro areas, most jobs in the United States are very decentralized already. Even in dense and expensive San Francisco, most jobs are not located in Financial District. The decentralization of work, leisure shopping, and entertainment is one reason why we have suburban sprawl in the first place. Decentralizing it even further will encourage more car use because you would have to pass through downtown anyway.

        • Clustering the jobs made sense before the communication age but is much less necessary now.

          Yes and no. One aspect of the growth of information technology/telecom has been the growth of the ideas economy, and (contrary to just about everyone’s predictions back in the early 1990s) that type of industry thrives on the 1) face-to-face contact, 2) spontaneous interactions, and 3) headier cultural and intellectual brew that are fostered by urban density.

      • N__B

        That’s not an issue in NY. Our zoning generally allows big buildings…in case that wasn’t obvious. Our problem is general population growth – some one million more people moving into a developed city in 25 years.

        • Crusty

          Not entirely. If a massive high rise is proposed in a low neighborhood of brownstones, it is usually met with protest. I recall at least one such protest, led by (or at least participated in by) Woody Allen when a very tall building was erected in a nice (expensive) area of the Carnegie Hill neighborhood.

          • N__B

            Unless demolition of a designated landmark is involved, those protests usually fail. Look at the Atlantic Yards protest for an example.

        • Srsly Dad Y


          Were you there for the Columbus Circle saga? OMG there would be a new shadow on Central Park.

          • N__B

            The result of all that protest – Jackie O! – was that they built a 50 story building instead of a 60 story building. Wake me when NYC has a lack-of-density problem.

            • Fake Irishman

              I’m not a NEw Yorker, so sprinkle with appropriate levels of salt, but I’m pretty sure that “Manhattan” is not equal to the rest of New York, which is dense, but not fifty stories high dense.

              • SIS1

                big high rises are not necessarily the most dense building type. The taller the building, the more space is taken up by support systems instead of apartment space. Costs rise significantly too, so the per square foot costs skyrocket, meaning that the apartments have to be sold at a premium, meaning you need to use more space for luxuries.

                You get far more density from a mass of 10-20 story apartment buildings than with 50 story towers taking up whole blocks.

                Also, outside of Staten Island, every borough in NYC is more densely populated than the City of SF.

                • bender

                  Really? I thought I read somewhere that SF is one of the most densely populated cities in the U.S. I could be wrong about that, but I wonder whether you might have been looking at density figures for the entire SF metro area, which includes Oakland and a bunch of suburbs.

                  A lot of SF’s housing stock consists of 2-6 story apartment buildings with courtyards or backyards but no side yards, built between about 1890 and 1930. Also row houses.

                  SF’s public transit may be mediocre compared to Manhattan’s, but it’s better than most. It includes buses, streetcars, and interurban rail, it serves most neighborhoods, and much of it runs all night.

            • Srsly Dad Y

              I may be hazy on the details but the problem I’m referring to is that the developers (AFAIR) had to get a height variance on W. 59th Street in the first place.

    • MaxUtility

      Yeah, it seems a bit odd to declare a general approach to urban design a failure because Manhattan and SF gentrified. There are many neighborhoods in those cities and many cities in the US. Judging a broad approach based on loft prices in Chelsea seems a tad narrow.

      • djw

        Yes, this article suffers from an affliction common to all the pieces about higher education that inevitably become about Stanford, Harvard and Yale.

    • LeeEsq

      New York only has limited space if you think that New York means Manhattan. When you add the other boroughs than you get considerably more space. There are lots of areas in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and definitely Staten Island that are suburban in character and could deal with some up-zoning. Is San Francisco looked more like Vancouver, again of similar geographic size but smaller population, it would still be a very charming city but more affordable. You would want to preserve some of the Painted ladies though.

      Paris is about the same size as San Francisco but has over twice as many people because most of the residential buildings are mid to high rise apartment buildings rather than low level but very charming Victorians or similar style housing. The number of real apartment buildings rather than divided single family homes in San Francisco is small. There are also large swathes of San Francisco that consist of nothing but some very suburban single family homes.

      • Nobdy

        It’s a transportation problem in New York. Building large apartment buildings in areas with a 90 minute commute to decent jobs isn’t that helpful. Sure you could up zone the Bronx but much of the Bronx has no subway access so how are all those people supposed to get to work?

        The reason it is so tempting to turn the Village into a cluster of skyscrapers is that it has great subway access.

        The reason that Staten Island is suburban is because you have to rely on the ferry, with limited capacity and running times, to actually get you into the city where the jobs are.

        Now building a subway out to Staten Island would be a good idea and could alleviate many of New York’ issues (Staten Island is more than twice as big as Manhattan) but you’d have to raise taxes on the rich to afford it, and who wants to do that?

        • LeeEsq

          New York City still has the best transit in the United State. I also think that more parts of Brooklyn and Queens lack subway access than the Bronx. There is plenty of up-zoning opportunities available around existing subway stations and the ferry seems to be popular for Staten Island. There is also an express bus through Brooklyn.

          There were plants to build a subway to Staten Island but it met two problems, geography and Robert Moses. I can’t remember where I read this but apparently building an underwater tunnel between Manhattan and Staten Island is not easy for some reason. Moses got in the way of the proposed Brooklyn-Staten Island subway connection.

          • djw

            Yeah, there’s lots of low hanging fruit for upzones in Brooklyn and Queens in areas that currently have good access to job centers.

            • there’s lots of low hanging fruit

              I feel like this is the case in most areas of urban policy reform. As soon as the topic comes up, people bring up counter-arguments like “most people don’t want to live in the city” or “there are some areas that shouldn’t be up zoned,” but there is so very much work to do that we won’t be done with the easy cases for a decade or more. There is massive under-production of urban residences compared to demand. We could charge blindly ahead for years and years providing more before we even come close to worrying about meeting it.

          • sam

            staten island is actually REALLY far away from Manhattan. closer to Brooklyn, but still pretty far – there’s a reason the Verrazano was the longest suspension bridge in the world for several decades.

            • Crusty

              How about we swap Staten Island for Jersey City?

              • LeeEsq

                Hudson County was called the Sixth Borough for awhile because of its closeness to New York and its very urban appearance. It already has a path connection.

      • MacK

        That said, having recently spent time in Queens – there are lots of areas that look like a recent war-zone, and I’m not exaggerating.

        • NewishLawyer

          The same is true for Brooklyn. Gentrification also follows power laws. The areas of Brooklyn and Queens that are gentrifying are generally:

          1. Close or close to Manhattan by Subway. Beford Avenue in famously gentrified Williamsburg is the first stop in Brooklyn on the L line. You are a stone through from Manhattan and can transfer easily at Union Square, 6th Avenue, and 8th Avenue to get uptown or downtown.

          2. Had certain aesthetic features. Brownstone Brooklyn (Park Slope, Cobble Hill) started gentrifying slowly as early as the 1970s when educated, white Bohemians discovered that they could get a Brownstone for 20,000 dollars. People were already getting priced out of Greenwich Village as early as the late 1960s. The real moves in started around the 1980s though. Noah Baumbach’s Squid and the Whale takes places in Park Slope in the 1980s and his autobiographical. His parents were early gentrifiers.

          3. The other areas that followed are still close to some kind of amenity like Prospect Park. People who could not afford Park Slope move into the adjacent neighborhoods like Windsor Terrace or Ditmars Park with its actually detached houses.

          There are plenty of places in Brooklyn that have seen stable and/or declining property values or rents in the last decade. They tend to be very far from the city, the few remaining ethnic strongholds of Italian-American solidarity like Bensonhurst and the areas leading to Coney Island or the “war-zone” look like East New York.

  • Assistant Professor

    Can we take this thread as an opportunity to hate on Richard Florida? Because really, one should always take an opportunity to do so when it’s appropriate.

    • Dennis Orphen

      As soon as the two shots of ‘spro’ my next door neighbor (and old buddy from the Alberta Street days) just pulled for me on his Pavoni Europiccola kick in, I’ll be right on that.

    • jroth95

      Hooray for hating on Florida!

    • Linnaeus

      Yeah, I’ll admit that when I first read Florida’s work, I thought it was pretty interesting even if I didn’t quite buy all of it. The more I read him, though, the more he looks like James Kunstler to me: he repeats the same idea in slightly different form each time.

  • LeeEsq

    Others have already said this but it depends on what you mean by wrong. Jana Jacobs was certainly write that classic city neighborhoods are much nicer places to live than urban renewal neighborhoods based on mid-20th century ideas. The latter neighborhoods quickly feel to hell in most countries where they were implemented. They failed in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and many Communist countries. They failed in heterogeneous and homogeneous countries.

    Its just that classic city neighborhoods are so desirable is that the quickly become expensive and only available to the wealthy or people willing to live with lots of roommates unless your willing to let the neighborhoods fall into disrepair.

    The real take away is that getting urban policy right is really difficult even under the best circumstances. Trying to create a 19th and early 20th century cityscape, the type that people like to live in seemed beyond the capabilities of the 20th century planners. A lot of developers did not like them at all because they seemed so anti-modern. The preference was for the Robert Moses model or suburbs. The few attempts to build classic cityscapes rather than letting them grow organically tended to have a very theme park look to them. You need the right combination of government regulation and market incentives to get it right.

  • MacK

    I was a child in New York in the late 60s and early 70s and I remember visiting friends of my parents in the East Village.

    When I read this article my reaction to it was that the East Village had become expensive and exclusive not because of what Janet Jacobs achieved there, but because of what had happened to other neighbourhoods of New York (or had not happened.) That is to say that in saving primarily the East Village and few other similar neighbourhoods, Jacobs created a situation where the excess demand for that supply was inevitably going to create rising rents, property prices and exclusion.

    • Raise rents, property prices, and exclusion overall, or just in the Village?

      I say, if Robert Moses had gotten his way and Jacobs hadn’t, that same exclusion would still exist; see the Long Island suburbs.

      All else being equal, the existence of neighborhoods within the city itself that are desirable to richer, whiter people decreases the degree of exclusion by locating the rich neighborhood within the actual city, at least, providing such benefits as a stronger tax base, and more paying customers for city businesses.

  • Yes, it’s wrong. Absent Jane Jacobs and her ideas, you have greater racial segregation, not less. You have a larger number of exclusive, malllish areas, not fewer; they’re just all in the suburbs instead of the city. You have more poor, black segregated into urban renewal public housing towers, not fewer.

    The article doesn’t even attempt to show any relationship between Jacobs and the problems the author laments. She’s just a poster child to juice up the writing so an editor won’t spike a story about urban planning.

    • N__B


      • I sympathize with the author, btw.

        “Hey, boss, I have this great story about urban planning. Can you run it on the front page?”

        “You’re fired.”

    • Absolutely. Assuming city planning can’t solve the problems of economic inequality (it can’t) and income segregation (not in the long term), you’re going to end up with rich areas and poor areas. It is better for rich areas to be smaller, more numerous, and less isolated, all things considered. A gentrified neighborhood is better to have than a gated suburban community.

  • Heron

    Yeah; this is a fault not of Jacobs but of the practical political implementation of her ideas. NO is a perfect example; getting rid of the black folks was the plan. The planners were not in anyway shy about that. So much urban revitalization follows her design philosophy while directly rejecting her political message, because most of it is about creating playgrounds for rich white people. The people carrying out these projects are aiming to exclude poor and non-white folks, and that’s not Jacobs’ fault, that’s the fault of our racist technocratic “Elites” and their arrogant deafness to what non-rich US citizens want and need form their communities(same reason Hollywood keeps scuttling their own movies by refusing to cast non-white actors).

    • You raise a good point about the intentionality of the segregation, but I think you misidentify the source.

      Urban development policy, I’m sad to say, does not consist of technocratic planners being given free rein. It has always been primarily about policymakers – politicians – driving the bus. The conscious, deliberate aspect of segregation you’re talking about comes from the broader society mainly through political officials.

      • No Longer Middle Aged Man

        Not so sure. I remember back even in the 1960s-early 1970s “urban renewal” was already being referred to as “Negro removal.”

        • Yes, but urban renewal in practice was not being driven by technocratic planners, but by (mainly local and state) political powers abetted by Congress and the White House.

          Which isn’t to take the blame off the planning profession entirely – there was certainly implicit racism within planning at the time. But to the (very real and considerable) extent that “getting rid of the black folks was the plan,” it was an agenda coming from the political side, not the technocratic side.

  • NewishLawyer

    The question is what do you do about the problem. I think Jane Jacobs was correct that the Village in past and current forms is much better than the destroy it and build a highway version.

    I have mixed feelings on upzoning and I admit that they are largely personal and aesthetic. I do believe that the best way to reduce housing costs is to build but I am also hesitant to give developers a blank check to demolish SF Victorians or Brooklyn Rowhouses and replace them with concrete monstrosities. One of the things I get from Matt Y is that he has very little care for aesthetics.

    I lived on the UES for a year. It was fine. I was subletting a co-op junior one bedroom. But I did not like living in a building with an elevator, it felt so sterile. I prefer my ground level Brooklyn Brownstone apartment and my current small SF apartment building.

    I think there is a deep philosophical issue of what makes a city a city. Would SF be SF if you razed all the Edwardians, Victorians, and Craftsmen and replaced them with large high-rises. Would Brooklyn be Brooklyn if you razed all the Brownstones? There is a part of me that thinks largely not. People would still live there. Maybe even more people but I think the cities would lose strong parts of their identity and charm.

    The problem is that identity and charm are really expensive luxury goods. One thing I get into a debate with an up-zoner I know is whether San Franciscans and Brooklynites would sell their houses if you gave developers the right to buy them out at any price. My hunch is that a lot of people move to SF and Brooklyn for the low urban charm. He firmly believes that the developers will eventually make offers that no one can refuse.

    • LeeEsq

      Most people really don’t think about these things that much just like how they don’t think about politics that much. They know what they like, know what they hate and go for it. What is true is that property represents the bulk of most people’s wealth if they own real estate. An opportunity to strike it big and turn that wealth into something more liquid would be hard to resist for most people.

      San Francisco could easily become the Vancouver of the United States with the right amount of policy. You leave some Victorians, Edwardians, and Craftsman neighborhoods in tact, especially if they are iconic neighborhoods. You allow and encourage apartment living in the outer neighborhoods that people do not go to. The areas on the western, eastern, and southern parts of the city, along the BART stations and MUNI light rail lines.

      • Fake Irishman

        …. and you build out the transit network like you should, by running a goddamn subway under Geary St like the should have done in 1968.

        • LeeEsq

          I like the cut of your gib Fake Irishman. I think the original BART plans did call for a BART line down Geary Street. There should be a Muni light rail down it at least.

        • bender

          I think that’s in the works. I moved to the next county north of SF and only read the city paper about twice a week. SF added a new light rail line when it built the new ballpark, and has been tunneling through downtown to build a new line to (I think) Chinatown.

          This is all Muni Metro. No chance of any more BART lines in SF, ever.

  • erick

    Isn’t the real issue that very few cities have implemented her ideas? there are what of the 100 largest cities in the US maybe 10-15 that fit? San Francisco and Greenwich Village are always going to be highly desirable and get priced up so they aren’t the best examples. But while I love Portland and can’t imagine moving, realistically there is nothing magical about us that couldn’t have been replicated in every mid sized city in America, they choose not to develop this way.

    • NewishLawyer

      Portland and Seattle are on the coasts that helps.

      I find it interesting how some people are seemingly allergic to highly desirable (and usually expensive places to live) and other people are drawn to them like moths to a flame.

      I admit to being a moth to a flame kind of person. Partially because I grew up a half-hour away from NYC and my parents took us to cultural stuff in NYC a lot as a kid. I caught the culture bug and can’t imagine living in a city/area that did not have significant first-class cultural offerings. Portland is nice but nothing when it comes to NYC or even SF for art and culture especially visual art and theatre. They could have a good film scene. Nothing in the U.S. can really compare to NYC’s film scene and the ability to see rare and foreign movies.

      Yet another guy I know told the story about advising a woman on nursing programs. The woman got into programs in the Bay Area, NYC, and Townson, Maryland. His advice was to go for Townson because it was a much more low cost area and the recreation options are “good enough.” I know some others who are even more adverse to high-cost areas. They can’t believe I am choosing stubbornly to stay in SF instead of trying to stake my fortunes in a place like Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto, Buffalo, Albany etc with my law degree.

      To varying degrees people get or don’t get, “I’m Jewish and want to be in area with a good-sized Jewish population.”

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Unless they nod knowingly when you say the words “kill states,” you’re probably wasting your time trying to convince them.

      • erick

        Yeah, the coasts will always be more in demand and have higher prices but the ratios wouldn’t be so bad.

        There are a lot of cities on each coast that could be much more attractive than they are. Seattle, San Francisco, NY, Boston, etc will always be in higher demand but especially on the East Coast there are a lot of cities that could be Portland.

        • LeeEsq

          Hudson County in New Jersey, which is a series of cities but it has over 600,000 people in 44 square miles, seems to be a natural target for gentrification. You have PATH access to New York City, somewhat decent transit in Hudson County because of light rail and busses, and already urban zoning land use.

          Some of the other denser cities in east coast are also targets for becoming Portland like.

          • NewishLawyer

            There is already a lot of gentrification going on in Jersey City and Hoboken. Hoboken spent a lot of money redoing their downtown and making it pictureesque. 20-somethings were moving to Jersey City at least as early as the mid-aughts.

            The Hudson Valley in New York is becoming popular with people priced out of Brooklyn. Some places in Westchester are starting to develop more urban/walkable vibes. Same with Rockland County.

            • Crusty

              Correct me if I’m wrong, but those Hudson Valley people are re-orienting their life and employment away from NYC, right?

        • NewishLawyer

          It is the economy. There is a lot of affordable coastal property in the United States. There is the Lost Coast in CA and places like Port Townsend in Washington.

          Developing an economy for these areas to be like Portland seems very tough.

          • erick

            Portland is mostly growing due to high tech overflowing from the Bay Area and Seattle. Seems lots of small to medium cities with access to an airport could as well. Port Tiensend will probably be always more of a retirement community since the Sound isolates it more from Seattle than the raw distance would seem.

            A college also helps, Bellingham for example is a good candidate for satellites from Amazon and Micrisoft.

            • erick

              Forgot to add, there is also a bit of if you build it they will come going on.

              Portland set up the urban growth boundary in the early 70s, and started the urban infill creating a live in downtown in the 90s. The high tech growth has really only taken off recently in large part I think because it was a desirable place to live.

              • NewishLawyer

                But I thought what made Portland desirable was that it was a kind of place where Bohemia was possible. Meaning you could have a four day a week Barista or bartending job and still have an awesome place/rent and lifestyle. Tech will change this.

                Rents are still great compared to SF or NYC but they can sky-rocket and there can be displacement.

                • Your vision of Portland is disappearing very, very fast.

                • erick

                  That version of Portland was always greatly exaggerated.

          • aidian

            The Lost Coast in CA has become, like most of the nicest parts of the region, pricey. In that region it’s being driven by retirees from America (as we natives refer to everywhere south of Laytonville and east of Trinity County) rather than young professionals — because there’s no jobs anywhere close nor a real airport and decent broadband is limited. Some oldish baby boomer scumbag sells off their place in the city and buys up a property up here. The difference in cost is enough to stretch their retirement income while still driving up prices locally.

            Meanwhile, the legalization or pseudo legalization of weed means the local economy is more troubled than it’s been since the first salmon fishery collapse destroyed the fishing industry and the Redwood National Park expansion (among other things) signaled the death of timber jobs.

            Bonus — those same baby boomers likely profited from the diversion of water that destroyed the salmon fishery. They also likely profited from the financialization of the economy that encouraged a wave of mergers and over-harvesting in the timber industry. And they probably voted for legalization of marijuana because they still smoke a joint once in a while and pretend they’re not sold-out soulless scumbags.

            Meanwhile, they invest in rental properties and locals get to work at McJobs just to pay the rent.

        • A point that often gets overlooked when discussing housing costs in different cities: coastal cities have, on average, half the land area nearby to build on compared to interior cities, because the other half is water.

        • bender

          The coastal cities will be a lot less in demand in twenty or thirty years, when rising sea levels flood their low lying infrastructure on a regular basis. I’m not talking about people marooned on rooftops levels of flooding. Seawater across your transportation corridors or getting into the drinking water supply makes a city divert a lot of tax money from amenities to repair.

          • I read something recently about the end coming for South Florida when the banks stop writing mortgages. First they won’t do any more 30-year mortgages, then 20, and so on until they stop entirely.

      • Linnaeus

        Nothing in the U.S. can really compare to NYC’s film scene and the ability to see rare and foreign movies.

        Thing is, as you know, not everyone can live in NYC. Even if one does, it’s not a given that one can avail oneself of those amenities – I suspect it would be hard for me to if I lived there, but admittedly this is speculation on my part.

        Sometimes “good enough” is, well, good enough. You have to find the right balance between your interests and the costs of those interests.

        • NewishLawyer

          True. My experience though is that good enough is often non-existent outside of major cities and college towns for independent, foreign, and art cinema. Or is vastly small compared to what NYC can offer.

        • N__B

          Thing is, as you know, not everyone can live in NYC.

          Time for the only John Updike line I regularly quote: The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.

  • jroth95

    The fundamental misunderstanding of these issues is to think that planners determine what gets built. They don’t; developers do. Sure, there’s push and pull, and planners have some say in limits, but when a developer shows up with $100M in his (almost always his) pockets, he drives the process.

    And guess what? He doesn’t want to build giant, mixed-income projects. And if it means tearing down 300 low-income units to create 300 high-income units, there’s basically nothing the planners can do but to push for good urbanism.

    There was a time when HUD had a lot of money available for subsidized housing, and developers actually could make money building for people of median income and below, but that time is long passed, and I’m not sure why people think zoning can replace investment.

    • West

      you are right that developers drive the process vastly more than planners, by a wide margin.

      A quibble on your other paragraphs. It’s true that HUD isn’t spreading the subsidy around as much. However, the low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) does spur a heck of a lot of development aimed at people below 60% AMI. Lots of profits are being made in this business. Lots of people, like me, are quite gainfully employed in it. Thousands of units being built each year, more than 2.5M apartments created since inception in 1986. Some of the projects are mixed income (i.e., has LIHTC units and market rate units side by side). The shame of the program is that it reaches too narrow a sector of the population; needs to be expanded upwards at least into the 60-80 AMI range.

      But your final point stands: the LIHTC program did NOT grow out of zoning. And LIHTC developers have to chafe against zoning, and also has to fend of double the NIMBYs of regular developers: we get the “oh but think of the traffic” NIMBYs that every developer gets, and also the “do not let THOSE people move in this neighborhood” NIMBYs.

      My point is we have found a way to shift market priorities to some extent, we just don’t do it enough, not nearly enough. This won’t get fixed with zoning, not mainly. “Inclusionary zoning”, by and large, just doesn’t cut it unless it’s paired with flexible enough rules to keep overall volume up.

      • Fake Irishman

        Every time they try to put up an apartment building with subsidized rental rates in Houston, there will inevitably be a meeting packed full of rich white people earnestly saying they aren’t racist but that they need to protect the neighborhood schools from overcrowding with those people. It’s enough to make me want to put an axe through the TV.

        • Seeing the footage of the apartment building cheek-by-jowl with the latest Texas toxic explosion, I was reminded of the legendary lack of zoning.

  • Quite Likely

    I’d say it’s more that Jane Jacobs was totally correct about what makes a good neighborhood, and what we are seeing now is the price of living in the few existing good neighborhoods being bid up to ridiculous levels. The solution is to actually build more dense, walkable neighborhoods. The piece sort of implies that we tried this and it’s part of the problem, but that seems absurd. Where are additional communities of that type being built? Nowhere around me, that’s for sure.

    • Exactly. No city in the United States has the population density of Queens county, let alone the rest of New York City. Even SF’s density is ~3000 people/square miles less. If we made the other large cities that dense, we’d have tens of millions of more units. Now, that would have the impact to lower housing prices. Maybe not in the West Village, but certainly in other areas. Part of why there are so many people always moving to New York is that it is the only city that dense in the US.

    • LeeEsq

      Most people on this blog would like to build more dense, walkable neighborhoods. There are some problems with that though. The legal zoning regime is often against them and there are a lot of people with a vested interest in keeping it so. These are the people most likely to be really engaged with politics on this level. Your going to have to get over these obstacles first and find developers willing to build these types of neighborhoods.

      The other issue is much less serious but newly built dense, walkable neighborhoods seems to have a theme park feel to them aesthetically. The really desirable neighborhoods grow overtime rather than get built all at once.

      • The legal zoning regime is often against them and there are a lot of people with a vested interest in keeping it so. These are the people most likely to be really engaged with politics on this level. Your going to have to get over these obstacles first and find developers willing to build these types of neighborhoods.

        Fortunately, a corner has been turned, and support for such reforms are picking up steam across the country. Sprawlish communities ranging from small Massachusetts towns to major southwestern cities are making efforts to develop truly urban downtowns and adjacent neo-trad residential neighborhoods.

        Also, developers love to build these types of neighborhoods. Why build 20 units on your land when you can build 80 and some commercial space?

  • one of the blue

    What I am about to say may have been discussed above, and if so apologies. This issue is far from unique to the USA. Visit any large European city and you will find the same thing; in the niftiest neighborhoods people with money attracted to the niftiness come in and bid the rents and house prices up. In Europe most poor and working-class people live in the suburbs more or less for that very reason. The only way around it really is to use progressive taxation to sufficiently reduce the incomes of rich folks such that their collective ability to do so becomes constrained. It doesn’t hurt if more such folks have to function as if they were middle income anyway.

  • Matt McIrvin

    In a structurally unequal society, improvements in some area will always lead to gentrification and the driving-out of low-income people. Blaming the improvements for the gentrification becomes absurd after a certain point; you end up with literally inverted ethics, hoping for more murders and industrial pollution to keep the rent low.

    We need to attack inequality across the whole society instead, so that producing a public good attached to some place doesn’t automatically result in the richest people driving up the price of living there and snarfing it up.

  • shah8

    The whole inequality thing is just almost entirely irrelevant to city planning as the situation exists now.

    The issue is basically the tax structure. In California, the property tax regime is an extreme amplifier of exclusivation (we need a good word for people trying to turn cities into gate communities). No, in the face of ethnic cleansing and whatnot, you can’t just build more housing. That’s what the rent seekers and high noses precisely wants to prevent, and they are great at using, say, environmental regulations to prevent such building. You’re gunna have to bring sappers and use artillery here, and use the tax code to tax (especially the corps) people out of their homes so densification can occur. There are already lots of really neat projects for that money, like schools, mass transit expansions, the like.

    The other things that can be done is simply a bunch of statewide raises in minimum wages. California has a $15 minimum wage? Then people will vote their feet to cheaper places, and the businesses will follow. If NY, Penn, Mass all get $15 minimum wages? NYC starts losing their servant classes mighty quickly until they give in on the whole “let them live their with dignity” thing…As it is, I suspect that home prices have gotten so outrageous that there is a silent crisis in terms of cheap labor for child care, nurses, teachers, and other feminized jobs–the people who are there have huge costs that they pass on to the professional classes that have money. Soon enough, a lot of jobs on the expensive coasts are going to get rejected out of child care or education or some other service provision concerns.

    Another thing that can be done are unified metro areas. No small counties or municipalities can refuse to not be a part of St Louis, or Memphis, etc, and no matter how far white people move out, the borders will catch up, in the sense that a philosophy of all the areas that uses the central city resources have to donate their tax base.

    • There’s a flip side to those unified metro governments: the urban core loses power over operations that mainly benefit poorer people in the urban core. Do I want Lowell to be outvoted by the suburbs on something having to do with the Lowell Housing Authority?

      So that’s a tough one.

      • djw

        It’s dicey, yeah. I have a colleague who studies this; his view is that on balance it’s generally a net positive, but there’s a lot of tradeoffs and it doesn’t solve some of the problems it’s supposed to (it’s unclear if educational inequality as really improved in Louisville in the last 15 years, for instance.)

        • it’s generally a net positive, but there’s a lot of tradeoffs and it doesn’t solve some of the problems it’s supposed to

          Is that the new motto of the American Planning Association?

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