Would deregulated building lead to higher urban density?

Maybe not if deregulation is across the board:

Were we to unilaterally liberalize zoning, some builders would see new opportunities in Manhattan. But it seems far more likely gazillions of suburban folks would see the benefit to building a cheap extra unit in the yard and renting it.

In terms of raw potential, it seems quite likely there is more “zoning-prevented housing” in the suburbs or in fairly low-density areas than in already high-density ones. The result could easily be that uniform upzoning boosts metro-wide population, but also causes a shift of population out of the center, into the ‘burbs, where geography may prove less of a constraint. The fact that less-regulated places also seem to be less dense suggests that this outcome is at a minimum plausible. That is to say, if density is your goal, deregulation may be a very uncertain way to get there because, while there may well be demand for urban cores (maybe), land use rules are just one of many supply constraints. Geography, higher construction costs, large existing investments, and the dramatically lower costs to adding equivalent supply in the ‘burbs all combine to suggest blanket liberalization could cause the typical household to reside in a less dense neighborhood than they did under stricter regulation.

That is from a partially confused but still interesting short essay by Lyman Stone.  Here are some criticisms of the piece.


Count me in then. I'm not sure why it isn't surprising that most people don't want to live in little boxes crammed between other little boxes.

That explains why Manhattan is so cheap.

John nailed it. Manhattan is expensive because people like to live in small homes and because ceteris paribus is #fakenews and they didn't cover it in my humanities degree.

Depends how deregulation is done. To make it a little simpler, build whatever you want within 1000ft from a subway station might be more appropriate in NYC.

Geography in the case of New York or Las Vegas for example are to play a major role.

It would be a lot easier if NYC built lot more subway stations.

I note that conservatives know that NYC pays way too much to private for-profits construction companies when it accepts bids for construction subways and stations because in the US politicians want to pay $500 million per km minimum in pure profit, see Scott Sumner http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2017/05/saving_cost_con.html What I don't understand is why Scott Sumner hasn't started a construction comparing bidding on projects with only $400 million in profits per km. It can't be labor laws and unions that make NYC labor more expensive than French labor where unions are constantly going on strike and French labor law mandates a month of paid vacation and prohibits firing workers. But even if NYC labor costs twice French labor, $250 million per km would be only $500 million per km but the cost in .NYC is $1700 million per km, which means it must be pure profit.

Like, why wouldn't the Koch brothers provide Scott with the capital to bid on big government contracts. Or are the Kochs already invested in these contracts and are blocking competition that would result in their high profits being slashed?

-- But even if NYC labor costs twice French labor, $250 million per km would be only $500 million per km but the cost in .NYC is $1700 million per km, which means it must be pure profit.--

Quite simply, the single dumbest utterance in the history of the English language. Which means it must be pure mulp.

Go read this re: underground construction in Manhattan: https://www.city-journal.org/html/fifteen-stories-under-14105.html

Mulp, I've been reading your posts regularly and this one seems to be a misstep on your part. You see, I've come to believe in the Mulpian law of economics; "higher costs = more profit". The MLE necessarily means that higher subway expenses -> more profit -> more subways -> more expenses -> more profits -> more subways. So while US subway production costs twice as much as our peers' construction, we get three times as much subways.

Oval Ovid Brazilian.

There is an impossibility triangle. You can't at the same time fight against urban sprawl, preserve urban centers and have affordable prices. So if both urban sprawl and city center urbanism were to be deregulated at the same time, it is not dubious to guess ex-ante which effect would win.

"But it seems far more likely gazillions of suburban folks would see the benefit to building a cheap extra unit in the yard and renting it."

Seems more likely investors would buy houses in neighborhoods with good schools, etc, and convert and expand the single family house into a four flat for four families with kids and then rent each flat at 75% of a house in the same school district.

When I grew up in the 60s, lots of people bought houses as investments in their local community, maybe inherited for the first, converted them to two family, maybe already done before the parents died or moved to a retirement home, rented them out, and then started buying a few more, fixing them up and renting them.

In the 80s, I knew people who were buying houses in working class towns to rent as better investments than stocks. They would spend weekends rehabbing of fixing problems so 100% of rent went to debt with taxes etc being offset by tax reductions from business losses cutting taxes owed on income. Lots of depreciation in real estate to convert wage income into capital gains.

In the dozen years I rented before buying in 1980, I only lived in an apartment building for two years, the rest of the time living in old houses used as investments, the bigger ones converted to multifamily units.

Isn't the whole point of moving to the suburbs that you get your own home and yard? I find it very difficult to believe many suburbanites want to live in close proximity to their tenants like that.

Helps pay the mortgage, and best if unregulated so they don't have to deal with rent control or renter rights boards.

It helps to pay the mortgage on your single family house in suburbia if there are no rent controls?

Or are you saying that the NYC REIT that bought the house next door to you benefits from converting it into a duplex or quad rental property if there are no zoning regulations and no rent control. You will benefit from lower school taxes if four families with school age kids move in next door? Lower policing costs if the four renters bring four times the police visits of a single family rental?

I can point to lots of cities and towns with cheap housing but few renters or buyers. Many have no zoning, or are willing to change zoning to anything if it will bring in real estate investor and developers to increase the value of the property by increasing real estate returns.

I'd say people fled many cities, especially Detroit, because of getting rid of zoning rules that restricted who could buy houses and that prohibited renting houses.

What was so bad about much of Detroit housing except for the lack of regulations blocking blacks from buying on the block formerly zoned white owner occupied only?

My feeling is that most would simply buy a rental house elsewhere.

There's an easy way to answer that question, Josh.

We can remove the regulation and see how many people decide to build "in-law" units in their backyards.

Oh, I'm fine with that. But if there's a financial instrument I can buy to place a bet that suburbanites building rental units on their property will be a vanishingly rare phenomenon, I will put a lot of money into it.

Well, Ann Arbor has done that recently -- loosening up the regulations for 'Accessory Dwelling Units'. Previously they were allowed, but only as attached units to an existing house. Under the old rules, only two permits were issued over a period of more than 20 years. For a year now, standalone units have been allowed as well, but I've read no stories of ADUs being built. And this is in a city with a large number of potential ADU renters and where new high-rise student-focused apartment buildings are going up at a rapid clip. My sense is ADUs are going to continue to have a minimal impact here even though it most ways it should be an ideal situation for them.

Just mare woman's arms, round and warm and white, delicious as a woman's arms should be, with the canny muscles and contour and fine, smooth skin, rose up this warming, uprose with the smiling sun.

Show us your fart-hole.

The prediction that deregulation would favor suburban innovation seems solid, but I am a bit puzzled that this is presented as an "a ha!" to would-be deregulators.

LA Weekly called 2016: The Year of the Nimby


This is not just about unicorn dreams for dense urban centers.

The impassioned low tones, then his vocal javelins curved away and farther, night-flower hedge, don't let them school you, these fish, the goal must remain. Go to hell if not. And be abrupt about it, the honi ka ua wikikiwiki

The right is the worst, always has been, always will be, no doubt in my mind. but could it relax? Say something then. That must be the case.

How do you get the smell of ass off your hands after you've butt-fingered someone?

There are many reasons to be critical of zoning laws in the largest American cities. However, that doesn't imply that the optimal solution is eliminating all zoning.

I don't think anybody proposes to eliminate ALL zoning except in thought experiments. But the optimal solution is probably closer to no zoning than the zoning we have now. As you state, you are aware of reasons to be critical of the American zoning laws. Even Houston, which is said to not have zoning still has building restrictions. It was only this decade that you could build townhomes in large parts of the city.

Maybe he should have really been president instead of a middle school teacher in Chicago.

"I shall keep it if it is fifty years.

Jack London
Mrs. Landingham
jfk Donald J. Trump


She's a dude!

My guess is you'd just see a smoother density gradient as a function of distance from the employment core.

Rather than seeing a dense urban center and low density suburbs, you'd see a dense center, a medium density suburb, and low density exurbs. That's probably not so different from what we see now, though a stripping of regulation would smooth out anomalously zoned pockets.

While we might see those in the urban core move out to a now-cheaper suburb, you might also see others in the exurbs move closer to the city for the same reason, balancing out the effect.

In Manhattan, which offers up lots of barriers to commuters (delay ridden bridges, tunnels, and public transport), I'm guessing you'd see net density move toward the center as the cost of living in the suburbs is less about housing costs and more about commuting costs.

This sounds the most plausible to me. My first thought was that I'd want to own property in the innermost ring of single family-suburban style houses. If I could have that spot in a city that goes from skyscrapers to neat Euclidean egg-crates in a short distance, all the better

The trees also grow down to the salty edge of things, an ever lasting sea, and one siets in their shade and looks seaward, microsocopically small, alost of fear, desolation and invincible roar, erect full-statured, Her is brown mercury and rayward what did I say about mercury, Frank speck tristam and Isolde and when the top of the wave falls over, forward, and down, curling and cretin and roaring as it does, it is the bottom of a wave against the top, a spending-surfriding sruf.

Hey, I heard when your husband went from Illinois to US senator, your salary tripled from 100K to 300K, and when you became first lady, your position was not replaced.

Any truth to that?

Because she's a dude! (And he's a shlong-gobbler.)

I'm surprised The Irvine Company doesn't come up much in these discussions, which owns a big chunk of the OC. It has enough influence that I'd imagine the zoning laws in its territories are more like the norms that would prevail under deregulation than in most other parts of the country.

Their business model certainly doesn't entail maximizing density. Basically, they set up a bunch of gated communities--a fairly even mix of single family homes and apartment communities that aren't very dense. Rents are pretty high. Keeping things clean, not too dense, placing a high value on the upkeep of public spaces and safety, and keeping things expensive enough to keep out the riff-raff appears to be what they really focus on.

As a factoid, I had a friend who did mapping for them in the old privately owned days. He said that they had massive greenbelts set aside. With each buyout those shrank. I think there are still some greenfield projects, up at the top of Jeffrey. Those recent projects are much higher density than what was done 20 or 30 years ago. I think they might be going as dense as they think the can for this current market.

It would be fascinating to see what opportunities opened up were restrictive zoning regulations rolled back. Consider formerly industrial stretches that have been redeveloped. San Francisco's Mission Bay, Boston's Seaport District, Seattle's SoDo, or DC's Navy Yard. All were developed through different processes but are ending up basically the same.

I am a man fire with Ford and Freeth.

We can see your junk in many pictures, I thought the US government would be able to control that better.

Hmmm. I'm not sure if this is right. The question is whether (a) people will move from further out suburbs into inner suburbs , or (b) people will move from urban cores into suburbs. Even if most additional housing is developed in less dense suburban areas, that might attract some people from cities to move to suburbs, but it might also attract exurb dwellers to move closer in. People don't like long commutes, so other things being equal, I suspect people will tend to gravitate inwards - if there is sufficient housing and the price is affordable and the community provides enough amenities and safety to be an attractive enough place to live. This is consistent with, of course, the long trend of urbanization since the industrial revolution. Obviously, density itself will at some point make an area undesirable, which is fine with me. So if people move out of urban cores into suburbs, but also from exurbs into suburbs, so the suburbs become more dense but the city cores less so, is that really an undesirable decrease in density? Does urban density have to mean condos in high-rises?

Also you would have to take into consideration if any of these changes impact migration patterns. It could be the case that having a lot more infill development and densification in the suburbs of NYC, LA, or the SF Bay area leads to a dramatic reduction in the number of people who leave the region each year by making housing more affordable relative to wages.

Good point. In general, density does not have to mean only density of urban cores, but density of the entire metro era, suburbs included.

Show us your fuck-hole.

Wouldn't making suburbs more densely populated (by increasing the density of dwelling units in the suburbs) just make the metro area as a whole more dense by adding people without expanding the metro areas footprint? Or is the hypothesis that in cities like NYC or DC or the SF Bay, where living with roommates is very common, building a lot more housing in the burbs would cause the population of central areas to drop because people could afford to have their own place? As the writer says in their piece, they are skeptical that liberalized zoning would lead to all that much additional construction in geography constrained cores of metro areas, so it isn't like accessory dwelling units or two-families or small quad unit apartments in the suburbs or lower density parts of central municipalities are going to lead to a net destruction of dwelling units in the metro's core.

There are some urban cores that are really nasty places to live. So I could see people moving from those inner cities to inner suburbs, but still having a net increase in densification if you metric is the entire metro area, not just the core.

Do you go for butt-sex?

If you would like to "deregulated" zoning in action, in the real world, visit most areas of Alabama outside the major metro areas. There is no "county-wide" zoning in Alabama, with the exception of 1, maybe 2, counties. A visit to Alabama will show you exactly what deregulated zoning looks like in areas outside the "inner urban core."

Drive 1/4 mile outside the city limits of most tows and you'll see crapola trailers crammed together, within 1/4 mile of middle-class ranchers, and a sprinkling of luxury middle-class McMansions, within 1/4 mile of section of dilapidated tenant farm houses and old-60s era "Jim Walter Homes" that are falling apart or minimally kept up. Then 1/2 mile away, you might find a stretch of well-kept double-wide homes and a 1950s suburban rancher across the street. You'll pass by a few abandoned vehicles, as well.

When someone gets ready to set up a poultry mega farm (or surface mine) at least 1,000 feet from a rural residential subdivision there are no laws to stop it in de-regulated zoning-free rural Alabama.


The discussion sort of presumes that the land in question is high value and that zoning is imposing sub-optimal development. If the land is valueless, then all bets are off. High value land should preclude hodge-podge low-value development like mega poultry farms and shoddy trailer parks near urban cores.

I wanted to convert a single family lot near Seattle into 2-3 apartments (apartments are already on the same block). Sorry - zoning prevents this. Only a big developer can push for rezoning, buy a bigger piece and make a large building. I wish zoning was much more flexible - it might actually benefit individuals more than realized.

Preserving aspects of the streetscape and inhibiting you from building an 8 story apartment bloc would have been reasonable. Preventing you from turning a house into a duplex, not.

If zoning is the problem with density, let's look at a city with no zoning laws and see whether there is urban sprawl.

Among large populated cities in the United States, Houston is unique as the largest city in the country with no zoning ordinances. Houston voters have rejected efforts to implement zoning in 1948, 1962, and 1993. It is commonly believed that "Houston is Houston" because of the lack of zoning laws.[1] Houston is similar, however, to other large cities throughout the Sun Belt, who all experienced the bulk of their population growth during the Age of the Automobile. The largest of these cities, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Dallas, Phoenix, and Kansas City, have all experienced urban sprawl such as experienced by Houston despite having zoning systems.[2][3][4]

While Houston has no official zoning ordinances, many private properties have legal covenants or "deed restrictions" that limit the future uses of land, with effects similar to those of zoning systems.[3][5]

Also, the city has enacted development regulations that specify how lots are subdivided, standard setbacks, and parking requirements.[6] The regulations have contributed to the city's automobile-dependent urban sprawl, by requiring the existence of large minimum residential lot sizes and large commercial parking lots." From Wikipedia on Zoning Laws.

Read through the articles and read through the twitter response. I find the twitter response not compelling. A 3% expansion in the housing stock? Every year? Really? The entire state of North Dakota added 3.5% housing units as of 2016: https://urbanedge.blogs.rice.edu/2016/05/24/texas-leads-country-in-new-units-built/#.WTCDb02wdCo
So yeah, the idea that New York City, with its massive built environment, is going to add 3% housing units, every year, for forever....yeah, strikes me as a horrible overestimate.

Also, would that help? Quick google: 2010 Seattle Census had 283,510 housing units. The Seattle gov says they now have 340,479 housing units. That's 20% growth (still can't sustain that 3% growth every year!) Other headline: "Seattle rent now growing faster than any other US city"

So how much more housing stock do we need to add to get rents to a reasonable level? How many units in the Bay Area? It doesn't seem construction can possibly keep pace with a hot city. Even if it could, it's not at all obvious that we should let it, lest we end up with massive over-construction and a pointless built environment that merely deteriorates into slums in 40 years. Rents are going to go up. Lower-income people will be priced out. This is the way of the world. Cincinnati is that way.

I mean, obviously, increase supply, lower price, all else being equal, but YIMBYism promises the sun and the stars, and at this point it's more of a religion than a reasonable set of policies.

North Dakota started from near-zero...

Toronto added 160,000 households from 1996-2011 (~16% increase, ~1% per year), with high-rise apartments accounting for 68% of all newly occupied units (http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/pg/bgrd/backgroundfile-84816.pdf)

And yes it is true that Seattle had a 14% increase in housing units between 2000 and 2010, and also saw a 9% housing growth in 1990-2000 (http://www.seattle.gov/dPd/cityplanning/populationdemographics/aboutseattle/housing/default.htm).

San Francisco has averaged adding about 1,400 units per year over the last seven years. Which is kind of pathetic.

If Shakespeare ever through a bottle cap no one ever gained the profit. That Shakespeare invented bottle caps remains to proven. Though Shakespeare was a gallantry man, he drank his beard on the dailymotion website.

I'm pretty sure Shakespeare invented the Dirty Sanchez.

This isn't really about NYC, although it could still gain density with little trouble by just building upwards in more areas. It's really about the Bay Area, which is now more expensive than NYC, and is full of single family homes and warehouses in places that, if the only regulation was basic building codes for safety, would be built 7 stories high at the minimum. There's streets that look like derelict sections of Detroit, and are a 10 minute walk away from AT&T Stadium. And then there's the situation further south, where we see low density suburbia that is more expensive than the upper east side and are underserved by commercial areas anyway.

Without local regulation that has nothing to do with safety, large parts of the west bay would look like Manhattan in 20 years. But instead, we get people that are against construction and gentrification at the same time.

Deregulate. Let the market sort it out.

Here is an idea: replace the San Francisco 40-foot height limit with the Paris height limit (164 feet). Forget the suburbs!

What fraction of SF regulations are path dependant on earthquakes and fires? Engineering and building methods are better today, regulations could account for this

If you consider traffic, is this even remotely doable in places like DuPage County? https://danielkayhertz.com/2016/04/11/why-everyone-drives-in-dupage/ Maybe only with driverless cars. Or staggered workdays for office workers (which would be great for all sorts of reasons). Probably both would be required.

I live in Dupage county. Actually, the biggest problem in Dupage is that what public transit there is is completely oriented around people who work jobs in the loop that run somewhere between 7 am and 7 pm. Most of my neighbors work in other suburbs, so public transit isn't an option, and the fact that their jobs all provide free parking and often require unforeseen overtime means that there is really not much motivation to car pool.

Increasing density without changing those factors will make the traffic untenable. But one of the effects of increasing density will mean that the cost of providing free parking will probably reach a breaking point where finally we can start talking about changing the zoning code.

Honestly, my town has HUGELY increased the density in it's downtown in the past 10 years, as it decided to wisely allow the building of condo buildings up to 5 stories in the center of town near our metra station. We've probably tripled the people who live in the 1 square mile around that station. I've not seen any more difficulty parking downtown, and traffic to get through isn't any worse, but the downtown has flourished. There is constant foot traffic now - the sidewalks always during daytime hours and most of the evening have lots of people. Tax income from the downtown has doubled, which has allowed the town to make much needed infrastructure improvement - like building a train crossing that underpasses the metra line allowing traffic to move efficiently north and south. Overall, the increase in density has been a fantastic boon. I live just on the edge of the area allowed to develop (it's on the other side of the street from my house.) If it had made things worse, I would have been among the first to notice.

Perhaps without zoning you will end up with Portuguese-style suburbs?


The entire country of Portugal smells like ass.

Lawn is overrated.
Having your own lawn is way overrated.

Most people who buy property with a yard bought property with a yard because they want a yard.

If they wanted to save money, they would have bought a smaller property.

The problem with no zoning is an outcome like LA metro which, contrary to what many may realize, is the most dense urban area in the US. It is a moderate density over a very wide area and this correlates with bad traffic congestion and a difficult area to serve by public transportation

We need planning/zoning that is concerned with public investment in transportation and serving the needs of all citizens (singles, elderly, new families) and not the entrenched resident interests.

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