Land Everywhere and Not a Place to Live

by on July 26, 2016 at 7:25 am in Economics, Law | Permalink

Land use regulations raise prices, reduce mobility and increase income inequality in the United States. In many parts of the developing world, however, the situation is worse, much worse.

In an excellent piece Shanu Athiparambath writes:

Land is not scarce in Delhi, as I learned in one of those days, when a friend drove me around the city. There is enough land for everybody to live in a mansion. Delhi has nearly 20,000 parks and gardens. Large tracts of land remain idle or underutilized, either because the government owns it, or because property titles are weak. Politicians and senior bureaucrats live in mansions with vast, manicured lawns in the core of the city. Some of these political eminentoes farm on valuable urban land while firms and households move to the periphery or satellite cities where real estate prices are lower. So the average commute is long, roads are too congested, and Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Zoning regulations inflict great harm. But it is difficult for Americans to imagine the cost of zoning in Indian cities. Delhi is one of the most crowded cities in the world, and there is great demand for floor space. But real estate developers are not allowed to build tall buildings. In Delhi, for apartment buildings, the regulated Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is usually 2. FAR, an urban planning concept, is the ratio of built-out floor space to the area of the plot.

This means, in Delhi, developers are not allowed to build more than 2,000 square feet of floor space on a 1,000 square feet plot. If a building stands on the whole plot, this would be a two-storey building.

To understand the harm this inflicts on the world’s second-most populous city, remember that in Midtown Manhattan, FAR can go up to 15. In Los Angeles, it can get as high as 13, and in Chicago, up to 12. In Hong Kong’s downtown, the highest FAR is 12, in Bahrain it is 17, and in Singapore it can get as high as 25. Not surprisingly, office space in Delhi’s downtown is among the most expensive in the world. It is impossible to profitably redevelop these crumbling buildings in Delhi’s downtown because they are under rent control.

You might expect the capital city to be especially restrictive, just as is Washington, DC, but in Mumbai, the densest major city in the world, the downtown FAR is an absurdly low 1.33.

Think about it like this: A FAR is like a tax on manufacturing land. Why would you impose prohibitive taxes in places where land is most desperately needed?

1 Don Reba July 26, 2016 at 7:59 am

Wouldn’t increasing the density make the city even more crowded and polluted?

2 David Nash July 26, 2016 at 8:10 am

There will be just as many people, but now some can walk rather than take cars/bikes/buses or at least travel shorter distances. Also there will be gains from not having to deliver things to twenty locations spread out.

It may mean the city is more crowded, but the total pollution produced will be less for the wider area.

3 Lord Action July 26, 2016 at 11:40 am

This is not obvious. Building taller is markedly more expensive than building shorter, and the infrastructure demands of density are also demanding. If you have the land to spread out, that may make more sense.

4 Lord Citation July 28, 2016 at 12:34 am

Citation please?

5 Peter Schaeffer July 28, 2016 at 7:50 am


“Building taller is markedly more expensive than building shorter”

I once looked into this in some detail. Very true as it turns out. The physical cost of the steel, concrete, and labor required for high-rise construction is quite high. Excluding land, one-story houses are the cheapest form of construction per-square foot. Single-story townhouses might actually be cheaper. The data didn’t include that case. However, high-rises were very expensive to build.

Note that my comments specifically state “excluding land”. Once you factors in land costs, the results change depending on location. If land is expensive enough, high-rises can be economically rational. Note that this entire analysis excluded all externalities (some positive, some negative). Only tangible construction costs were considered.

The bottom line is easy. High-rises only makes sense if land is very scarce. Houses are always much cheaper to build and are generally cheaper to live in (including land costs).

6 Peter Schaeffer July 28, 2016 at 8:32 am


A note from anoother MR commenter

From “Major January 16, 2013 at 4:32 pm”

“According to the figures I have seen, high-rise condos/apartments cost around three times as much to build per square foot as single-family homes. Low-rise buildings can use inexpensive building materials, inexpensive construction techniques and inexpensive labor. High-rise buildings generally require more expensive materials (lots of steel, reinforced concrete, glass, etc.), more expensive construction (cranes, pumps, hoists, pile-drivers, etc.), and more expensive, skilled labor. In addition, a significant fraction of the total area of high-rise buildings cannot be used for private living space but must be dedicated to shared access (lobbies, hallways, stairwells, elevator shafts). This not only increases construction costs, but also operating costs, for lighting, heating/cooling, cleaning and maintenance of the common areas.”

7 Peter Schaeffer July 28, 2016 at 8:37 am


A note from another MR commenter

From “Major January 16, 2013 at 4:32 pm”

“According to the figures I have seen, high-rise condos/apartments cost around three times as much to build per square foot as single-family homes. Low-rise buildings can use inexpensive building materials, inexpensive construction techniques and inexpensive labor. High-rise buildings generally require more expensive materials (lots of steel, reinforced concrete, glass, etc.), more expensive construction (cranes, pumps, hoists, pile-drivers, etc.), and more expensive, skilled labor. In addition, a significant fraction of the total area of high-rise buildings cannot be used for private living space but must be dedicated to shared access (lobbies, hallways, stairwells, elevator shafts). This not only increases construction costs, but also operating costs, for lighting, heating/cooling, cleaning and maintenance of the common areas.”

8 Peter Schaeffer July 27, 2016 at 4:18 pm


I think opposition to zoning is rent-seeking pretending to be “free-market” libertarianism, and worse cynical exploitation of the “tragedy of the commons”. Let me use a trivial example. Imagine a developer wants to build an low-income apartment building in a single-family, residential community. The building will bring crime, congestion, and lower quality schools to the neighborhood.

Of course, the development will be profitable for the developer and property owner who provides the land. Rent-seeking usually is profitable. Exploiting the tragedy of the commons usually is profitable. However, it is still unjustifiable (and economically irrational) exploitation.

What you decry as “exclusionary zoning” is simply logical (and correct) human behavior. Keeping crime, congestion, and lower quality schools out of a community is simply rationale and reasonable. In your worldview, being a “free-rider” in a community is legitimate and appropriate. People who exploit the tragedy of the common always have some excuse for their personal depredations. Rent-seekers always have their pretenses.

In your worldview, putting thieves in prison is “exclusionary zoning” because it enables non-thieves to enjoy the rents associated with living in a safer, lower-crime society. Clearly, the vast majority of folks don’t agree.

As for the literature, let me offer

“An Economic History of Zoning and a Cure for Its Exclusionary Effects”


“The purpose of this historical inquiry is to offer a test of the thesis of my book, The Homevoter Hypothesis (2001). Its central idea is that the way to understand local government behavior is to see it through the eyes of homeowners — and not renters, developers, business interests, or machine politicians — who are resident in the community. Homeowners have a special interest in their community that helps overcome the free-rider problem in public affairs. For most of them, a home is by far their largest financial asset, and, unlike corporate stock owners, homeowners cannot diversify their holdings among several communities. Fear of a capital loss to their major asset and desire to increase its value motivate owners of homes to become “homevoters.” They vote their homes in local elections and at public hearings.”

And (from the Supreme Court decision upholding zoning as Constitutional)

apartments are “a mere parasite, constructed in order to take advantage of the open spaces and attractive surroundings created by the residential character of the district”


As for professional economists, it appear that they generally strongly support zoning. Let me offer, Robert Shiller as an example. Officially, he not a big fan of zoning. However, he lives in a community zoned for multi-acre lots. I have yet to find an economist who doesn’t live in an “exclusionary” zoned community. Presumably they do exist.

The phrase here is “revealed preference”.

9 Lord Citation July 28, 2016 at 12:41 am

Your “trivial example” is moot as is your flaccid passion for the “tragedy of the commons”. Since when do developers build low-income housing without government subsidy?

10 Peter Schaeffer July 28, 2016 at 8:56 am


“Since when do developers build low-income housing without government subsidy?”

Actually, that’s the entire history of low-income housing until quite recently. The demand for zoning, the actual implementation of zoning, and the Supreme Court test cases that validated zoning are from (roughly) 100 years ago. Obviously, government subsidized housing wasn’t the driving force back then.

Today, zoning battles in suburbia typically have nothing to do with government subsidized housing. The real issues are always the same. The developers want to personally profit from exploiting the tragedy of the commons and suburban residents (rightfully) resist.

Exploiting the tragedy of the commons doesn’t require government subsidies. Why should it? Making a profit by imposing externalities on others can be very profitable. So is car theft. Zoning exists for the same reason that car theft is illegal. Private gains from the imposition of negative externalities on others is morally wrong and economically irrational.

11 Steve-O July 28, 2016 at 12:03 pm

In the nice area with good schools, land is expensive. The developer needs to cover his costs, which includes the land. The housing won’t be low-income, because low-income people can’t afford the premium.

12 Peter Schaeffer July 28, 2016 at 3:24 pm


“In the nice area with good schools, land is expensive. The developer needs to cover his costs, which includes the land. The housing won’t be low-income, because low-income people can’t afford the premium.”

Of course, schools (along with crime, congestion, public amenities, etc.) are the real issue(s). However, you are wrong about the possibilities of low-income housing. A lot on tiny apartments can be built on a tiny amount of land, if zoning rules don’t block them.

It’s a classic “free-rider”, “tragedy of the commons” problem. Collectively, it is is more profitable for all land owners (home owners) to block apartment construction. It can be highly profitable for one home owner to sell out to an apartment company.

That’s why zoning (or the restrictive covenants) are used to stop such things.

13 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 11:12 am


I generally support densification in urban areas (whether reducing or increasing rules is the way to go) combined with a plan to increase green space.

Why fill a city with 10-floor buildings when you can fill half of it with 20-floor buildings and everyone gets lots of parks for recreation, small trade, health, etc.

Forcing people to build high (not letting them build low, or making them pay development fees based on the assumption that a plot could be built up 10 stories) is probably better at reducing average prices and increasing the quality of space remaining in the city. But this would seem very heavy handed to those who wish to achieve similar objectives by getting the government out of the way.

Selling urbanites on the notion of increased park space and park access, part and parcel with a densification policy, is a much easier sell than suggesting to let anyone pave over a park if they want to.

14 yo July 26, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Density makes transit (=less pollution) more viable.

15 Peter Schaeffer July 27, 2016 at 4:15 pm


Zoning laws are a rational way of preventing negative externalities. You learn this stuff in Econ 101. Somehow people forget it later.

From some prior comments of mine…

Like it not, but congestion, low(er) quality schools, and high-crime neighbors are the large negative externalities that homeowners (quite reasonably) care about. Of course, a smoke-belching factory would be undesirable as well. However, the threat of a new steel mill being built in Brentwood, CA is rather small. The probability of apartment buildings is considerably greater.

Rules enforcing minimum lot sizes, height restrictions, exclusion of street-level shops, multi-family homes, etc, are simply rational mechanisms for preventing deep negative externalities. You may not like this, but it is just Econ 101.

As for a common law alternative to zoning, that’s absurd. The law simply doesn’t allow a home owner to sue a developer over congestion, crime, and public school quality, etc. Zoning is the mechanism that works, which is why it is so popular. Famously, the city of Houston has no zoning. However, it has restrictive land-use covenants that put municipal zoning (elsewhere) to shame. Predictably, the neighborhoods with restrictive covenants are the nicest and most expensive.

It is certainly not true that zoning (in general) prevents higher-value uses for land. It is probably true, that one homeowner could sell out at a profit to an apartment developer, but then the rest would be stuck with lower, not higher home values.

Here is a better way of understanding this issue. Opposition to zoning is just cynical rent seeking (using the mask of faux libertarianism) based on exploiting the tragedy of the commons.

Just Econ 101.

16 Ken August 2, 2016 at 10:40 am


17 Ashish Kulkarni July 26, 2016 at 8:02 am

Who owns the resource that has been made scarce by the taxation?

18 Lord July 26, 2016 at 8:14 am

Is it zoned everywhere? Why wouldn’t other areas without restrictions rapidly grow to dominate the scene? Why don’t we ever see high rises in less populous areas? You are missing something.

19 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 11:18 am

Do you commute? Delihi is a very big city.

20 rayward July 26, 2016 at 8:16 am

This is consistent with Paul Romer’s explanation for economic development (i.e., urbanization). In 1980, Shenzhen’s population was about 300,000, today it’s over 10 million; in 1980, the per capita GDP in Shenzhen was about $750, today it’s over $20,000. In America, baby boomers (and their parents) preferred the suburban life, enduring long commutes as an acceptable cost of living on a cul-de-sac. Today, millennials prefer the urban life, the congestion and expense far outweighed by the convenience and cultural and entertainment options that come with living in the city. Tabarrok blames zoning for India’s sprawl, yet Houston, which has no zoning, is the most sprawling city in America – and the least appealing. I haven’t been to India, but I’ve been to Paris, where height restrictions in the city have pushed the construction of high rises to the suburbs, which makes Paris a unique and beautiful place (while increasing the cost of housing within the city). Houston can never be Paris, zoning or no zoning, height restrictions or no height restrictions. Can Houston be Shenzhen, the latter often referred to as the Silicon Valley of China? After all, both are in very hot and humid climates.

21 Andrew M July 26, 2016 at 8:37 am

Houston is the least appealing city in America? It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in America. It might not appeal to you, but it obviously appeals to the thousands of people who decide to make it their home each year.

22 Psmith July 26, 2016 at 9:36 am

Yep. Jobs and affordable housing are a lot more important than walking to Guillame’s bakery to buy fresh baguettes every morning.

23 karl July 26, 2016 at 10:47 am

Are those necessarily mutually exclusive?

24 Lord Action July 26, 2016 at 11:38 am

Yeah, aren’t they?

25 karl July 26, 2016 at 4:39 pm

Well, there seems to be an assumption here that jobs and affordable housing are only available in a sprawling, car-driven culture.
Surely there must be some places outside of NYC (and in America, of course — this sort of set-up isn’t uncommon in other countries) where people live in average-height buildings (4-6 stories) with retail on the ground floor.

26 TMC July 26, 2016 at 12:01 pm

“Houston is the least appealing city in America? ”

Yeah. No one goes there anymore. Too crowded.

27 meh July 26, 2016 at 9:51 am

“…yet Houston, which has no zoning, is the most sprawling city in America – and the least appealing to me”.

There, I fixed it for you.

28 Urso July 26, 2016 at 10:44 am

I’m not a Houston-lover by *any* stretch, but for whatever reason the SWPL types have this almost physical aversion to its very mention. They’d probably be surprised at how SWPL-friendly Houston can actually be; it’s like a muggy version of LA.

29 Cooper July 26, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities in America. 6% Asian, 37% Hispanic, 24% Black, 33% White non-Hispanic

Comparing Houston to Portland and saying it’s not as good as Lily White Portland is borderline racist, no?

30 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 11:22 am

The Chinese have crazy ideas like maybe sometimes things work out better if you think them through in advance. Like … urban planning. I’m not saying a planned economy is a good idea, I’m saying that many types of planning are better than no planning. Do you think 10 million people could fit in Shenzhen with Houston’s zoning rules?

31 Daniel in VA July 26, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Regulation isn’t just a one dimensional thing where you either have more or less. Some regulations have more benefits and some (sometimes the same) regulations have more costs. But I think that the reflexive opposition to lifting any rule in land use in the United State to be the absolute worst case for the regulatory state of any. Ending limits on the quantity of market rate housing *would* have a significant effect on lower cost housing as professionals who are pushed into expensive mid-grade housing would be able to get a high-end apartment, relieving some of the pressure on the middling housing stock, which in turn would pull demand from the lower end housing stock. Other people have also pointed out that land use regulations have the effect of segregating school districts: if people could move to well funded school districts, that would go a long way to reducing inequality in school funding. Most cities and suburban counties in America have minimum lot sizes, so it’s not lack of planning that’s preventing density or lower housing costs here.

32 Doug July 26, 2016 at 11:27 am

Houston doesn’t have zoning, but it does have a laundry list of regulations that strongly discourages density. Primarily, minimum lot sizes and minimum parking spaces.

33 Floccina July 26, 2016 at 12:08 pm

It s like I say about Ocala FL it’s not pretty and most people do like to take tours of it but is a very liable for lower earners.

34 Slocum July 26, 2016 at 1:46 pm

” In America, baby boomers (and their parents) preferred the suburban life, enduring long commutes as an acceptable cost of living on a cul-de-sac. Today, millennials prefer the urban life, the congestion and expense far outweighed by the convenience and cultural and entertainment options that come with living in the city. ”

No. There was a brief period when core cities grew slightly faster. But that turned out to be a blip. We’re back to suburbs having faster growth:

Also. Living in the suburbs does not generally mean a long commute to the core city because employers have also moved to the suburbs. In fact, people in the densest urban areas who rely on mass transit have longer commute times, with New York City leading the way:

35 Cooper July 26, 2016 at 2:18 pm

For every five people aged 25 in America, there are only about four people aged 40.

Who lives in suburbs? 40 year olds with children.

Who lives in hip, trendy urban cores? Childless 20 somethings

Guess what’s going to happen over the next decade. Those Childless 20-somethings are going to form families and move out of their studio apartments.

36 Thomas July 26, 2016 at 5:21 pm

But 50 year silver fox and spinster Democrats will surely replace those exiting 30 somethings with newborns.

37 ohwilleke July 26, 2016 at 11:16 pm

In Denver, the city proper has had about 50% of metro area growth for a decade or more despite making up only about 1/6th of the metro area population and being landlocked. Our public schools in the city proper have added about 20,000 students from 50,000ish to 70,000ish. Tall buildings are popping up everywhere and the transit infrastructure has also grown dramatically in that time frame. Denver is certainly experiencing a return to the pre-Interstate Highway system norm of central cities being the home to the affluent and the suburbs being for those who can’t afford it, although certainly not to the extremes that this used to be the case and with plenty of historic exceptions.

Why Denver is doing this (and building new developments, even in the suburbs) at high urban densities, while other places are not, is hard to say (although limited water resources and dissatisfaction with long commutes are likely culprits as we have no shortage of vacant land in the metro area).

38 Plucky July 26, 2016 at 1:56 pm

I live in Houston, which has had a 5-year stretch as the #1 destination for 1-way U-Haul rentals and has been growing extremely rapidly. So, “least appealing” is not exactly consistent with revealed preferences. The metro area is now about 7m, so it’s in the ballpark of Shenzhen, population-wise. It’s only unappealing to people who can’t stand the summers or who think the purpose of the city is to be an art project instead of a place to raise a family with a good standard of living. It is entirely true that there is zero reason to come to Houston as a tourist, but so what? New Yorkers don’t actually go to their own tourist attractions and sneer at the people who do. Tourism is just another industry, and not a particularly high value-add one (see Miami, New Orleans, etc).

One thing people who do not live in Houston don’t understand is that the sprawl in residence is largely matched by the sprawl in job location, so “sprawl” does not necessarily mean “insanely long commutes” for many people. Houston doesn’t have just one “central business district” but several. In addition to downtown (which is largely energy corporate management and the associated white collar service industries like lawyers, consultants, & finance), there’s the medical center which is 5 miles south/southwest of downtown. The galleria area is 7 miles west of downtown.The energy corridor (largely the engineering side of the energy industry) is 18-20 miles west of downtown. The port & industrial base occupy an 8-10 mile stretch that begins 6 miles southeast of downtown. And those are just ones that have names. The freeway plan is hub-and-spoke with 2 rings ~7 and ~15 miles out from downtown (with a 3rd loop 22-23 miles out partially built), and every intersection of freeway and ring features a substantial amount of office space. The Woodlands (30 mi north of downtown) is a corporate center in its own right, with a few HQs and the giant new Exxon campus. The point is, odds are that wherever it is you work in Houston, you can probably afford to live within 30 minutes if you want to.

The other thing people do not often know about Houston is that the central area is getting much, much denser. Something like 40% of the housing stock in the city is now apartments. Density in Houston has not meant adopting the car-less lifestyle, because there is very little demand for it. No amount of urban planning can ever make Houston “walkable” because we have this thing called August. The normal high temperature is above 90 from early May through mid-September. The density doesn’t have a NY/Chicago “urban” feel because on the whole the trend is for 3/4-story midrise developments (4 stories being the max for wood construction) with parking garages and amenities like pools, grills, and gyms. No-zoning has been invaluable to Houston in the past decade because it has allowed such developments to get built at a rate high enough to absorb the population growth without anything resembling the explosion in rent/housing cost that’s happened in say, the bay area. Personally, I live in one such apartment complex and rent has basically just kept pace with inflation (up 6-8% total in 4 years). Having lived in NYC, it was shocking to hear someone in an apt leasing office talk about their “competitive pricing” part of their sales pitch, but that’s how it ought to be.

You should read Joel Kotkin on the topic of millenial housing preferences. The short version is is there is a highly visible subset that prefers The Urban Life, but overwhelmingly they express a preference for suburban-style, single family homes. The key limitations are that they want that after they get married, and that they struggle with affordability. Affordability is partially a function of the zoning-induced scarcity, partially a function of millenials just being poorer than boomers at their age and more burdened by debt (one of the un-remarked upon features of the inflation of the 70’s was that it wiped out about a quarter of the real value of boomer college and first-mortgage debt. It’s amazing how much of boomer economic history can be described as “great for them, shitty for everyone else”). The story of millenials in the next decade will be them moving to the burbs the second they can afford it, just like their parents.

39 Factory July 26, 2016 at 6:42 pm

“No amount of urban planning can ever make Houston “walkable” because we have this thing called August. The normal high temperature is above 90 from early May through mid-September.”

Counterpoint: Singapore.
Interestingly enough Malaysia is very car oriented, yet is right next door.

40 Colin July 26, 2016 at 8:52 pm

The other thing people do not often know about Houston is that the central area is getting much, much denser.

Yep, take a look:

41 ChrisA July 27, 2016 at 2:59 am

I believe the ratio of cost of living vs salarly is just about the lowest in the world in Houston. You can live in 1930’s movie star luxury on the wages of a bank teller. Truly a magnificent achievement to letting markets be free. Plus as noted, because of the lack of business zoning you can have very reasonable commutes. The only thing which could further improve Houston would be school vouchers, there are many areas that are lagging because the local schools are too scary for any sensible person. The ability to have widespread selected private schools available for middle class people would solve that.

When I look at Houston it seems that almost every established view on city planning elsewhere is wrong in terms of delivering what is actually the best for the majority of people. Zoning and planning restrictions are basically among the most evil inventions ever.

42 Peter Schaeffer July 28, 2016 at 9:27 am


“I believe the ratio of cost of living vs salary is just about the lowest in the world in Houston”

That’s true, but is something of an anomaly. Houston does have very high incomes and low costs. The low costs are explained elsewhere. However, the high incomes require further comments. It appears that the oil industry established a high wage scale many decades ago and the high wage scale has persisted even though oil has declined as a share of the local economy. Note that this is a conjecture (with plenty of supporting facts).

“You can live in 1930’s movie star luxury on the wages of a bank teller”

That’s absurd. You need the income of a “1930’s move star” to live like one, even in Houston. The nice neighborhoods in Houston are quite pricey. Cheap compared to NYC, LA, DC, or San Francisco, but still nothing affordable on a bank teller’s income.

“there are many areas that are lagging because the local schools are too scary for any sensible person”

Just as true in Houston as any other American city.

“When I look at Houston it seems that almost every established view on city planning elsewhere is wrong in terms of delivering what is actually the best for the majority of people. Zoning and planning restrictions are basically among the most evil inventions ever.”

Actually, Houston is one of the most tightly zoned cities in America. The difference is that zoning is enforced via restrictive land covenants, not city rules. In real life zoning in Houston is better enforced than a typical American city. Drive around the Memorial (many square miles) and you won’t find a gas station, store, or a cell phone tower. The only deviations from single-family homes are churches and schools.

It is worth noting, that every (almost every) upscale neighborhood in Houston is very tightly restricted (by land use covenants). Rhetorically, upscale Houstonians oppose zoning and government regulation of development. Their “revealed preference” is for draconian regulation.

43 Mr. Econotarian July 26, 2016 at 7:22 pm

“I’ve been to Paris, where height restrictions in the city have pushed the construction of high rises to the suburbs,”

Supposedly Paris has population density of 55,000 people per square mile, the highest of any large city in a developed nation.

Paris has had a 121 foot building limit for a while, but that is a lot more than the 40 foot limit in San Francisco (population density 17,000/sq. mi.). Paris is mostly tightly packed 5-6 story buildings, although it is true that often 2 people live in 300 sq. feet.

44 Ricardo July 26, 2016 at 8:16 am

“There is enough land for everybody to live in a mansion.”

Um, no. Delhi is one of the most densely populated municipalities in the world with a population density of 66,135 per square mile. With 640 acres in a square mile, that is about 103 people for every acre in the city. Not exactly “mansion” living. Yes, Delhi is a mess and that is why so companies and individuals have moved to the suburbs over the years but hyperbole about how much room is available in the city limits doesn’t strengthen the argument.

45 ZZZ July 26, 2016 at 9:56 am

You’re assuming Delhi’s population is evenly distributed, it’s not. There are equal parts mansions with low density and slums with 10 people in a single room apartment. So Alex’s assertion that there is plenty of bare land is not incompatible with the overall density of the city. Also, he specifically mentions a lack of commercial/office space, again not incompatible with the high population density.

46 Ricardo July 26, 2016 at 11:33 am

I am not assuming anything, I am pointing out the claim that “everybody” could live in a mansion is hyperbole. Arithmetic and the fact that urban development tends to be highly uneven in terms of density dictates that a large number of Delhi’s population will live in relatively crowded conditions no matter what policies are implemented. The article gives a misleading impression about how much space there actually is in Delhi relative to its enormous population — the city is already more than twice as dense as New York City.

47 Bernard Guerrero July 26, 2016 at 1:49 pm

Note that “density” as defined by people per X^2 != “living space”. You could have precisely the same density per square mile and yet have wildly different qualities of life depending upon whether you can build upwards or not.

48 ZZZ July 26, 2016 at 6:14 pm

If you allowed buildings to be built to any height you could in fact have enough space to have everyone live in a “mansion” based on the total square footage of living space. You’re only looking at the number of people per sf of land, you need to look at it as the the number of people per sf of living space. Assuming a density of 103 people per acre, a single story building that occupies an acre of land would give 423sf of gross living space per person. A five story building on that same acre of land would give you 2115sf of gross living space per person without increasing the population density of the city.

49 Yancey Ward July 26, 2016 at 12:09 pm

Two things:

In the city proper, the density is about 30,000/sq mile. In the Metro area altogether, Wikipedia tells me that the density is about 1000/sq mile.

50 Ricardo July 26, 2016 at 1:16 pm

I’ve spent considerable time in Delhi. The city limits are fairly expansive and it is larger in land area than both New York City and Los Angeles (again, just the incorporated municipalities, not the metro areas). The Delhi “metro area” — which presumably means what the Indian government calls the National Capital Region — encompasses a land area bigger than Massachusetts, New Jersey or Maryland and that includes some highly developed suburbs and satellite cities along with a lot of farmland and villages.

51 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Ricardo, Thank You. Yes. The Delhi National Capital Region includes many towns. City boundaries usually widen when transportation technology improves, so long as topographical constraints do not prevent this from happening. In Delhi, where vehicle ownership is much higher than in other Indian cities, this is happening to some degree. There is so much land out there in Gurgaon, Noida and other towns in the Delhi National Capital Region.

52 Yancey Ward July 26, 2016 at 1:43 pm

I knew what you meant, and your density number is wrong by a factor of two if Wikipedia is to be believed (not always a good assumption, but is my default).

53 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:23 pm

I had the Delhi National Capital Region in mind, which is much larger and includes many towns. People and firms have already moved to such areas. This is an argument which a Bastiat Prize Winner once made. (BTW, Indians use the word bungalow in a different sense. The British used to call large houses built for administrators bungalows.)

Let us return to where we started: the shortage of urban land. And let us look at New Delhi. The ministers all live in the centre of the town in bungalows designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, each with a lawn of over an acre. Yet, in Gurgaon, 30 kilometres away, middle class people live in high rise apartments. If you go to any top floor balcony in Gurgaon and look out, you will see vacant land stretching from horizon to horizon. Note than inLondon there are precious few high rises. Because English people prefer to live in homes with gardens, almostevery Londoner has such a house. There is enough land around Delhi for every Dilliwallah to own a bungalow just like the ones the ministers live in. Why is the average Londoner the owner of a row house with a smallgarden at the back? What can Delhi learn from London?

54 D-bag Dmitri July 26, 2016 at 3:10 pm

“Because English people prefer to live in homes with gardens, almost every Londoner has such a house…Why is the average Londoner the owner of a row house with a small garden at the back?”

Dude, have you ever been to London? What are you talking about?

55 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 3:25 pm

That’s is not my article. Please read the PDF. The author lived in London, long ago. I haven’t lived in London. When I share an essay, that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything the author wrote. There is a whole body of literature on why houses in the UK are smaller, and I know that.

56 Yancey Ward July 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm

And, what is a mansion? At 2500 square feet of floor space and two levels, one could fit in about 20 “mansions” with a small yard in an acre.

I don’t think the facts actually can be used to describe it as “hyperbole” unless you are willing to claim to know what is meant by the term “mansion”.

57 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 2:02 pm

Ricardo, Actually it is 29,259.12 per square mile. I’d the Delhi National Capital region in mind. In the Scribd article I shared in this thread, you’ll see a more detailed explanation.

58 Mr. Econotarian July 26, 2016 at 7:27 pm

If you build like 432 Park avenue, each of those 103 people can almost have their own floor on an 85 story apartment building with a footprint just under one acre…

59 Axa July 26, 2016 at 8:29 am

@Alex, some fact checking is needed. Mr. Shanu Athiparambath says: “In most cities, FARs are higher near mass-transit corridors. To allow redevelopment of buildings, regulated FARs are usually higher than FARs of existing buildings. Indian cities, however, do not conform to these norms. Floor area ratios in Indian cities bear little relationship to real estate prices.”

Then this 2015 article on FAR ratios of 250-400 near mass transit corridors in Delhi

Categorical affirmations like the ones on the link you shared don’t add to a good discusssion. As Tyler said, when you think of the world in black and white you lose 10 IQ points.

60 Jim July 26, 2016 at 9:29 am

Note that the article describes FAR ratios going from 2 or 2.5 to 4–that is far below what would be normal in a city of this size and that is only allowed on huge plots of 100 acres or more! Absurd. Also, that announcement is only from 2015. So overall, I think it supports the writer who said FARS bear little relationship to real estate prices.

61 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Jim, Yes. Newspaper reporters are not very good at covering such matters. This has not yet happened. The newspaper report AXA shared was published almost a year before this was published:

To begin with, FARs are still low. If you read that carefully, you will see that I meant, 1) FARs usually do not bear much relationship to real estate prices. 2) FARs are usually not higher near mass transit corridors. This does not mean that FARs bear no relationship with real estate prices, or that FARs are not higher near mass transit corridors anywhere.

And as you pointed out, this is for large tracts of land. Alex has done some good work on how difficult assembling of plots is.

62 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 11:29 am

I doubt you’d lose many points on the test itself, but I think black and white thinking is far more costly than 10 IQ points. It can turn pure genius into complete retardation. Minus 10 points is probably a lower bound, the upper bound being whatever the theoretical maximum is.

Anyways, the areas where black and white thinking is particularly troublesome for society would be hard to put on an intelligence test, and would surely result in claims of being rigged on some ideological basis.

63 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Axa, Local governments have been trying to change this in the recent past. In most cases, these are just proposals. In the link you shared, for example, the land holding should be over 1 hectare. Land holding is usually much lower in Indian cities, especially near metro corridors. Amalgamation of plots is very difficult, because property titles are usually very weak. Such proposals are usually opposed by politicians, activists and intellectuals. And such proposals come with many caveats. The proposal to raise FAR near mass transit corridors in Indian cities is usually intended to fund infrastructure in areas which are poorly served by infrastructure.

64 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Axa, This is a July 2016 report on the opposition this draft policy faced in the past one year. You’d see that this is a long, complex process, and not yet real.

65 Axa July 27, 2016 at 7:16 am

No problem is solved overnight anywhere. Solutions are complex and take time. I wrote as a working professional that every once in a while has to deal with the “no one is doing anything” type of activists.

66 qwerty July 26, 2016 at 8:46 am

Overpopulation is the true problem. With fewer total people, less space is needed. In fact, less GDP is needed to have a high GDP per capita.

67 Edgar July 26, 2016 at 9:09 am

No. “Overpopulation” whatever you think that wholly meaningless concept refers to, is not an issue. India has more arable land per inhabitant than Italy. Urbanization is thought to improve living standards by improving opportunities for trade. Densely populated cities are thought to be more desirable than less populated cities and more people living in rural poverty. India’s greatest resource is its people and, as China is learning, population controls are far more harmful than helpful in the long run.

68 qwerty July 26, 2016 at 10:26 am

China suffers from mismanagement and pollution. They don’t suffer from a lack of people. If anything, perhaps their problem is an overpopulation of old people.

Italy is also overpopulated. With more arable land per capita, energy abundance could be achieved just by producing energy crops. Gains from trade between more people sound nice until you realize you only need those gains because the denominator in your GDP per capita figure is too high.

69 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 11:40 am

“China suffers from mismanagement and pollution.”

This statement can be defended in quite a lot of ways. But, after the longest highest growth run in the history of the planet, don’t think they are unable to clean up faster than most would expect when they reach the point that the trade-offs are deemed worthwhile (we’re already well into that territory, especially on the east coast).

70 A Real Black Person July 26, 2016 at 11:38 am

If people were the most valuable resource that cannot explain why certain countries that happen to be host to vast hyrdrocarbon deposits.have gotten rich in the Middle East.
I’m sorry, but you can’t educate your way out of resource problems.
For every example of a group of people innovating their way around constraints on exponential growth, there are examples of where growth has been limited by resource constraints. No economy is powered purely by magical thinking– optimism and a strong work ethic.

71 Edgar July 26, 2016 at 1:10 pm

“No economy is powered purely by magical thinking – optimism and a strong work ethic.” True. Not arguing otherwise. But the constraints on economic growth are rarely natural resource related, but rather political and social factors like:

Inefficiencies within the micro-economy.

Imbalances in the structure of the economy.

A rapidly growing or declining population.

Lack of financial capital.

Lack of human capital.

Poor governance and corruption.

Missing markets.

Barriers to trade.

And natural resources like hydrocarbon deposits are often paradoxically linked to depressed economic growth:

India is on the brink of breaking through its development constraints and has such vast potential, that I see it as humanity’s great hope for the next several decades.

72 Thomas July 26, 2016 at 5:48 pm

The entire earth is made of natural resources such that this seems like an idiotic statement, but it’s not. The true constraints are technology and work.

73 A Real Black Person July 26, 2016 at 10:39 pm

Don’t patronize me by saying that you’re not disagreeing with me and then go on by listing all these abstract and hard to measure things like “inefficiencies'” and “capital” as being limits to perpetual economic growth. You cite abstract concepts like capital, regulation, and “inbalances” as hindering growth. I think all of these abstract impediments are related to physical limitations. Let’s start, shall we…

capital comes from surplus…if an economy can not create an agricultural or energy surplus…it can non generate domestic capital…and is reliant on foreign capital…surplus food, energy, and other commodities paramount to industrialization from other parts of the world…imported and paid for with debt. If a country dependent on foreign capital cannot generate a trade surplus, being dependent on foreign “capital” doesn’t help them become a developed country.

Imbalances are the natural outcome of inequalities on how resources are naturally distributed and who has access to education, adequate healthcare, etc. In a market economy, the highest bidders often set the price for goods and services.
Economies of scale only work if there is an imbalance of power between labor and capitalists, for example.

Property is always expensive because wealthy people have always used it to extract wealth from others. Where property is the most expensive is where wealthy people have successfully bid up the price. Housing for the affluent is profitable to developers. Housing for poor people is not.

“A rapidly growing or declining population.” Populations grow when the food supply grow…and decline for a variety of reasons. In rich countries, population doesn’t decline, it ages. People stop reproducing at the replacement because their standard of living and lifestyle makes it very expensive to raise children without the help of a LARGE extended family.
In poor countries, population declines for obvious reasons but most of the time it doesn’t because the birth rate is high.

ALL governments make bad decisions and technically all governments are corrupt. The poorer a country is, the more corruption is visible but it’s always there. Corruption often exists in countries where the TAX REVENUE is so low, government workers are tempted to commit criminal acts to get paid properly. This is India’s problem. India attracted foreign capital with a large supply of desperate people willing to work for next to nothing, and low taxes. Infrastructure, and police forces cannot function properly if no one wants to pay for infrastructure and police. The wages of Indian workers are too low to pay for all those developed economy amenities, and businesses avoid paying taxes in India. It’s easy to blame corruption but corruption is everywhere, in successful economies and unsuccessful ones.

Presently, the global economy, including the economies of India can only handle a limited amount of inflation. This is [ part of the reason why the money created by central bankers in the wake of the near collapse of the financial system to bail out the bankers cannot be used as capital by the banks. High amounts of money moving around in the global economy sends prices of commodities higher than what consumers can afford. There are high-priced, low quality commodities like oil shale that need high prices to make them profitable to develop. The affordability issue limits the deployment of capital if capital causes high amounts of inflation.

I’m not sure what a missing market is but it sounds very stupid. If something is missing, it doesn’t exist. If was worth existing, than it would. Carbon trades and carbon sequestering are two markets that never got to existing–because they wouldn’t benefit anyone.

74 James Filmore July 27, 2016 at 12:20 am

Why do we need enormous populations of pointless, boring humans? Maybe Dehli would be a better place to live if there were fewer people in it and that would be just fine. What’s so good about extra people, and how do we know that its better than having large empty green spaces?

75 qwerty July 27, 2016 at 3:34 am

“What’s so good about extra people, and how do we know that its better than having large empty green spaces?”

Or, you know, enough energy crops to power a wealthy lifestyle for everyone for the next 100 million years.

76 Cliff July 26, 2016 at 3:55 pm

What natural resources does Singapore have?

77 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 5:01 pm

The most valuable of them all: access to the sea.

78 Steve Sailer July 26, 2016 at 8:49 am

Delhi has a spectacular VIP section left over from the days of the Raj:

“Lutyens Bungalow Zone” covers an area of about 26 km2. All land and buildings in the LBZ belong to the central government, except for 254.5 acres which is in private hands. There are about 1000 bungalows in the LBZ, of which less than ten percent are in private hands.[4]
In order to create development control norms, the Ministry of Urban Development constituted the ‘New Delhi Redevelopment Advisory Committee’ (NDRAC) in 1972, when the redevelopment of the areas around the walled city, north of Connaught Place and on Prithviraj Road was taken up.[5]

Land Prices in LBZ[edit]
The LBZ has the most expensive real estate in India, possibly the world. The market value of 254.5 acres of Land in private hands in the LBZ has increased eightfold in the last ten years, from around Rs 6,100 crores to Rs 49,000 crores. In 2013, Rajan Mittal, Bharti Enterprises Vice-Chairman bought a bungalow in the zone for Rs 156 crore. In June 2014, Rajiv Rattan, India bulls co-founder, was reported, to have bought a 2,920 sq yard plot for Rs 220 crore.[4][6]
Contiguous Areas[edit]

Around the great green expanse of the LBZ, is a thick swathe of green, a glacis of trees, and manicured lawns, and grand buildings, that protect and cushion LBZ from the swirl and swarm of Delhi’s crowded parts: on the west is the vast wooded area of the Delhi Ridge, adjoining the grand acres of the Presidential Estate; to the west and south is Nehru Park, the Race Course, the Air force station, the Delhi Gymkhana Club, Safdarjung Airport, Safdarjang Tomb, and the Diplomatic enclave; to the south is the Lodi Gardens, with its fabulous Lodhi era tombs, and remains; on the SE are great lavishly tended greens of Delhi Golf Club, with its Mughal era ruins; and beyond the Golf course, on the edge of the LBZ boundary is the green stretch of National Zoological Park, lakes, the Purana Qila, and the Humayun’s Tomb. The contiguous areas are lavished with as much care by the government as the LBZ. Those who can’t buy into the LBZ buy into the contiguous areas, like Jhor Bagh, where property prices are almost as steep as in the LBZ.[5]

79 Edgar July 26, 2016 at 9:03 am

Although one might argue with some of the details, the basic gist of Alex’s post has been long established and documented: “It was found that finance, policies, regulation, laws and other instruments formulated to improve the efficiency of the land market have often themselves become constraints requiring change.” There was a post on here just the other day on how Turkey had found the means to address some of these issues, the informal land market in particular, and has greatly benefited from it. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would do well to consider Turkey’s approach. Mumbai is mentioned in the article and it is considering up-zoning density, yet, the opposition appears strong: The Mumbai plan deserves much more attention and analysis as a possible model for other cities in India. And the US would do well to keep these examples in mind as local zoning practices grow ever more confiscatory and authoritarian: US central cities are not models of success.

80 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Edgar, I don’t think anyone who studied land use planning in India in some detail will disagree with any of the broad statements. It is just that when you write for the public, you compromise precision for clarity to some degree.

81 Benjamin Cole July 26, 2016 at 9:08 am

So…send in the bulldozers into America’s single-family detached housing districts on the West Coast, Boston and NYC? High-rise condos where lower-rise apartments are now?

Property zoning is a structural impediment, much like the minimum wage, possibly worse.

Odd how Western economic pundits will forever cite principles and fret over the minimum wage…but go mute on property zoning.

Zoning in India?

What about the USA?

What gives?

82 Urstoff July 26, 2016 at 11:54 am

You must not read MR much (or have heard of Matt Yglesias) if you think people are silent on zoning laws in the US.

83 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Matt Yglesias once wrote a very informed article on zoning regulations in Mumbai. He called the attempt to raise FARs in Mumbai the most informed urban policy in the world happening right now. But as someone pointed out here, the opposition is so huge and is not likely to be real anytime soon.

84 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 11:56 am

I guess you don’t know that he periodically talks about zoning in the USA as well.

85 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:55 pm

I know that. I’ve read his books and his columns.

86 Plucky July 26, 2016 at 11:57 am

You pretty clearly have not been following Tyler on this subject very long. If you had, you would know that the criticism of American zoning restrictions is obviously implied by the comparison, because he has made the explicit criticism of zoning regulations many, many times. The point of using India as a comparison is to show a) an extreme case of a problem that exists in milder form here to make it easy to understand why it causes problems and b) comparatively few readers will have emotional attachments to the way things are there, as opposed to where they live.

87 Peter July 26, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Did you not read *the first sentence*!

88 liberalarts July 26, 2016 at 9:16 am

FAR in my small American city is 1/4 in my neighborhood. I have a 12,000 square foot lot and had to get a variance when I decided to put an addition on my 3,000 square foot house!

89 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 12:01 pm

People must like driving there.

90 Sam the Sham July 26, 2016 at 9:55 am

I’m in favor of some market distortions favoring vertical buildings. Some. As far as zoning, the mixed use shops + lofts in my area of KC seem to have a fair amount of vitality in them.

I read The Fountainhead recently, and a phrase that stuck out at me, paraphrased… “This may be the last skyscraper New York ever builds. Instead of skyscrapers, it will build sprawling public housing. It will cease to attempt to reach the sky, and begin to decline.”

91 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 12:37 pm

One need not be communist to believe that market distortions exist which may improve outcomes.

Strongly agree on the “some” part (although presumably our lines differ). I don’t imagine many Americans want to live in a Singapore, for example.

92 Cliff July 26, 2016 at 3:58 pm

Seriously? What % of people do you think would object to living in Singapore?

93 Plucky July 26, 2016 at 4:38 pm

I’d guess somewhere around 65% of the US, if offered the lifestyle their income would get them in Singapore, would say “Never in a Million F’n Years” and another 20% would say “That’d be fun for a couple years in my 20’s or early 30’s, but no way would I want that permanently.” I’d guess 15% tops would not object

Remember that the median household income in the US is in the low 50’s. We’re not talking about Singapore on a cushy expat package, we’re talking about Singapore on your current, actual actual income.

94 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Depends on the scenario. a) Implanting Sinagpore’s rules into their place of living, b) Whether they think living in Singapore might be a lovely idea but have no actual intention to ever do so even if all finances are made equivalent, c) being escorted to a plane, to be dragged to Singapore, where you will live for the rest of your life and never be allowed to leave, etc.

Just about every political, ideological and interest group has special reasons that they would never want to live in Singapore (no pot = no hippies, required brown neighbours = eliminate 20-30% of white people, girls under 16 can get abortions without parental consent = no evangelicals, etc.), despite having a generally good impression and perhaps enjoying their stay there for 2-3 days on layover to wherever else.

95 Sam the Sham July 26, 2016 at 6:12 pm


Yeah, I’ve never been an absolutist on this stuff, I don’t think people generally are. And it’s a rare treat when we agree on things like this. #NotAllRegulations #NotAllTaxStructures. Before I could strongly support any new market distortions, let’s take the energy sector as an example. All told, I’d like our federal tax scheme to somewhat penalize fossil fuels. HOWEVER, we have oil subsidies, solar and wind subsidies, gas taxes, cash for clunkers, ethanol/biofuel subsidies, peak usage taxes, wearing-red-shirts-on-Tuesdays fees, etc. I’d love to peel away all this fluff and get back to basics. I would therefore favor a candidate that ran on a “LOLNO REGULATIONS/TAXES” platform, and after we get rid of all the fluff, we can then begin adding again. Keeping It Simple. Land usage, same principle.

Kansas City is a very sprawling city, and it hurts neighborhood spirit, makes transportation and other infrastructure expensive to maintain (both roads + everyone owning a car), pollution, etc. We do have a generally low cost of living in part because of cheap land to expand to, but I suspect it could be cheaper yet if we’d had some incentive to make the investment for 5 story buildings instead of 2 (more expensive at first, cheaper in the long run). I’d prefer if they had a small, simple reward for verticaling, maybe a one-time rebate from the city of 10$/sq.ft of floor space above the ground (asspull numbers). This 20-story stuff people were talking about surely is the product of a fevered mind, and much beyond that and we’re starting to get into SimCity Arcology type stuff, at least for KC. 🙂 I think that’s how I’d distort the market, in the world where I am King.

96 ohwilleke July 26, 2016 at 11:03 pm

FWIW, essentially all of the housing stock in Singapore was historically built and owned by a government monopoly that is currently making half measure efforts to privatize. Singapore has gone from having 95% renters from publicly owned enterprises, to a very high percentage of “home ownership” but with property rights associated with that “home ownership” that are probably close to those of a tenant in a NYC rent controlled apartment than any common law or European notion of real property ownership.

97 GoneWithTheWind July 26, 2016 at 10:38 am

Zoning regulations make sense and even if we got rid of the ones the author dislikes I have no doubt that he would want to replece them with the ones he does like. Cities shouldn’t grow endlessly until they all touch and there is nothing but concrete and slums for a hundred miles. Green space is a good thing. Building factories and junk yards in land zoned for single family housing is a bad thing. Like it or not zoning regulations will always be with us and should be.

98 J. Pitt July 26, 2016 at 11:37 am

If you don’t want cities to “grow endlessly until they all touch,” a good first step would be letting people build more dwelling units on city land that is already developed.

99 GoneWithTheWind July 26, 2016 at 6:18 pm

No a good first decision is to create zoning that keeps land unbuildable. That could be farmland, parks, wildlands, open land, whatever.

100 Mr. Econotarian July 26, 2016 at 7:30 pm

London’s “green belt” is the largest cause of its sprawl outside of the green belt, and general high housing prices as well.

101 Kris July 27, 2016 at 6:55 am

And the people would live…..where exactly?

India is not China. Masses of villagers pour into our cities on a daily basis (on cheap, government-subsidized railways.) As the article describes, even those who suffer the most terrible urban privations consider themselves more fortunate than their brethren they left behind in the villages. India neither wants, nor is equipped to, prevent this demographic phenomenon through Stalinist or Maoist levels of brutality. Better urban planning is simply one of the available and feasible tools we have to make the best out of a (hopefully temporary) bad situation.

102 GoneWithTheWind July 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

“And the people would live…..where exactly?”

Live where ever they like but cannot build on land set aside to keep the city livable. Once a city exceeds a certain size it becomes unsustainable and often unlivable. Why not limit the size of cities. Have cities that can easily grow to 8 million but also have cities that cannot grow past 100,000 or even 50,000. Why not? The cites sell bonds to do things useful and sometimes wasteful, so why not sell bonds to buy land to put in the public trust that cannot be built on. Why not zone existing farmland so that it will remain farmland. Why build homes and apartments on farmland!!?? This is stupid. Either through zoning or set aside limit the growth of existing cities to keep them livable.

103 J. Pitt July 27, 2016 at 10:08 am

Too late. The “first decision” is already made – in the cities being discussed, you can not add enough density.

104 ohwilleke July 26, 2016 at 10:58 pm

Zoning regulations often make little sense. But, the regulations that seem to be holding back Delhi are really building code issues and not zoning regulations per se. Building code regulations very frequently make all sorts of sense and address key information imbalances between builders and the people who hire them.

105 Garima July 26, 2016 at 11:24 am

Land is indeed scarce in Delhi and to say that there is enough land for everybody to live in a mansion is a joke. Also, parks are not exactly ‘underutilized’. They perform an essential service to an already greatly polluted city. This article is written with absolutely no context of Delhi’s ecology – the fact that a large part of it located on riverbed, where thousands (if not millions and no these are not politicians but poor farmers) are still conducting farming and providing produce to millions; that it lies on a fault line and very susceptible to earthquakes; that groundwater in certain parts is overflowing and causing damage to high-rise buildings and in certain parts is fast depleting. Lastly, please note that yes, traffic is bad in Delhi but vehicular pollution is only one cause of pollution in the city, and to assume that constructing high-rise buildings (which consume a lot of energy and other resources) will be beneficial in terms of pollution reduction is highly simplistic.
To be clear, I’m not saying anything about the efficiency and logic of zoning regulations in India. I’m simply commenting on how absurd it is to talk about land use without referring to Delhi’s ecology and other goods that make up the bundle (sewage network, water distribution system and power).

106 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm

If you’ve ever watched construction on a multi-story unit in India, the issue of the fault line alone should suffice to kill any plan to try to massively increase average building height in Delhi any time in the near future.

Otherwise … you might like to keep tabs on betting markets for the “earthquake causing casualties over 50,000 in Delhi in next 10 years” to get ahead of the market in case they change the rules.

107 Daniel in VA July 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm

But techniques for earthquake resistance for tall structures exist. Are you really saying that Delhi should not build taller to get more housing and work space per unit land in spite of the existence of those techniques.

108 Troll me July 26, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Your first point is correct. But if you had ever watched construction on a multi-story unit in India, you would not have bothered to say it. In time …

109 ohwilleke July 26, 2016 at 10:56 pm

Those are an engineering challenge for the best funded, most technologically advanced builders and engineers in the world with absolute no corruption or quality control problems in the entire supply chain of the construction crew. Yet, even in a place like Denver, Colorado, in quite recent history it isn’t uncommon for there to be major structural construction defeats in big projects (Denver International Airport, St. Joseph’s Hospital, the former appellate court building, the new VA Hospital, the new art museum, the Beauvillion high rise condo complex) due to quality control failures in either the design phase or the supply chain (e.g. rivets below design specifications, underengineered components, installation precision issues with new materials). I can’t imagine that it would be any easier in a city with no established history of building tall, earthquake ready buildings.

110 A Real Black Person July 27, 2016 at 10:19 am

Without sufficient resources*, what you are encouraging is the building of half-finished buildings that will probably not be earthquake resistant.

*If India was wealthy as some here truly believe it is it would have pursued this.

111 Shanu Athiparambath July 26, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Garima, I had the Delhi National Capital Region in mind. What I said is just an oversimplification of a more subtle argument. See this essay:

The success of London as a thriving mega-city is based on transportation. The suburbs are all organically linked to the city centre by the London Underground, which began operations in the first decade of the twentieth century, long before the automobile became commonplace. But socialist New Delhi missed both the underground as well as the automobile. In London, just after WW2, the first ribbon housing project came up in Stan more,very far away from the city centre. But the London Underground’s Jubilee Line was immediately extended to Stan more. This transport connection allowed many to shift there. Property was cheap and affordable in Stan more. Poor people benefited. Gurgaon, in stark contrast, has been attracting developers and residents for over 20 years. Only now has a toll expressway been built connecting it to Delhi. And the Delhi Metro railway will still take a few more years to connect to this important satellite town. Yet, there are probably a hundred or more satellite towns around Delhi – just as there are around all the other 4 big cities. In all these cases, the cities are overcrowding and the satellites are not developing because of poor transport connectivity. If this transport connectivity was attended too, the supply of urban land would increase many times over. Almost anyone would be able to afford a small row house with a garden miles away from the city. And he would be able to live there because his commute to the city – on which his livelihood depends – would be cheap and fast. The vision of a booming urban India depends entirely on a transportation revolution.The train, the tram, the bus, the car, the highway et. al.The crux of the argument is that transportation links between a city and its surrounds add to the total supply of urban land. This increased supply brings down overall prices and makes urban land affordable to all. But in India we actually have an Urban Land Ceiling Act! We also have monopolistic government agencies like the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) that are the sole developers of urban land. These agencies also monopolize road development. It is this double whammy of a dual monopoly that has killed the cities. The government monopolist has lowered the supply of developed land and also lowered the supply of roads. He has lowered quality as well. We are thus in a position to appreciate the great observation Peter Bauer made of overcrowding in Indian cities.

112 Antoine July 26, 2016 at 11:44 am

Because “you” own the already-manufactured land, and ask for protection against new entrants in the land-manufacturing business.

113 Brad_sk July 26, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Politicians in India are extremely corrupt. They have vast amount of urban land area gotten through corrupt ways and means. Making these zoning restrictions more normal means losing some of their long held land values. No politician in India would allow that to happen.

114 A Real Black Person July 26, 2016 at 10:45 pm

Yeah, building skyscrapers near a earthquake fault is a good idea. God, you’re stupid.

115 ChrisA July 27, 2016 at 3:43 am

There are many many examples of where high rise buildings have been built in severe earthquake zones, many of them in developing countries. Making a 6 or 8 story building with a steel frame earthquake proof is pretty cheap and easy. Actually it is probably more safe than a single story built without earthquakes codes – like most brick built buildings. These tend to fail catastrophically since the walls depend on compression forces only.

116 A Real Black Person July 27, 2016 at 10:15 am

An often proposed solution to high rent in cities with a high population density is to build up tall apartment buildings, which would be higher than 7-8 stories if we are serious about increasing supply to meet demand in a limited area. If were possible to build thirty story apartment buildings that could withstand a 7.0 earthquake–nothing suggests that it would be a good investment. It would NOT be “cheap”, because of the additional complexity of building a tall stress-resistant structure, and the additional cost. The cost of tall stress resistant building would be driven higher by the inability to use cheap materials. The average urban dweller’s wages , in India, would be too low to afford the rent a land developer would need to demand to make a return on his investment
There would also need to be an adequately financed and competent third party, to make sure the stress resistant buildings can hold up in a severe Earthquake . The required third party is unlikely to arise in India locally because of low wages of government employees and a lack of local people perusing a career in civil engineering. Importing expertise from abroad will drive up cost.

Nothing cheap and easy about the situation.

117 ohwilleke July 26, 2016 at 10:48 pm

If the politicians in India are extremely corrupt, isn’t it likely the the contractors and building inspectors involved in building tall buildings are also corrupt, potentially with deadly consequences?

118 Brad_sk July 27, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Most of contractors and almost all of building inspectors are also corrupt in India. The level of corruption there is mind boggling. Note that you need to pay up even if you ready to follow all rules, else your permit is stuck somewhere.

Not sure of Delhi but other cities have many multi floor building on small lands – say a 4 level building on a 2400 sq ft land is super common. You just pay up extra bribe to throw FAR limits.

119 ohwilleke July 26, 2016 at 10:46 pm

In defense of the status quo, it is not implausible to me that, at least at the time that regulations in question were drafted and perhaps even now or in the very recent past, the quality of construction work in India’s big cities and of governmental inspection of compliance with adequate building codes and of fire department resources, was such that the risk of building collapse or catastrophic fires that could not adequately be controlled was such that prohibiting tall buildings was wise under the circumstances.

Corruption in the construction trades and in government regulation of construction safety has historically been rampant in the developing world, and the quality of municipal services like fire protection in the developing world, has also historically been deficient. And, given the number of lives placed at risk if even one in a thousand tall buildings in a major city collapses or catches on fire, and the difficulty involved in securing 99.9% corruption free construction and building inspection in a developing country, I would not be quick to judge that the local politicians have made an unsound policy choice.

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