More on street-by-street zoning

A number of commentators on my recent column have suggested that allowing street-by-street zoning would lead to more restrictionist outcomes than under the status quo.  It might well be true that the improvement will be zero, but if new construction already is constrained at zero perhaps matters won’t get much worse.  I see two reasons, however, for believing a number of streets would be willing to make bold or at least modest experiments in the direction of more development.

First, if you are considering more development for a larger area, say half of a county, you might worry that traffic problems will become much worse and thus the veto rights will prevail.  In contrast, if a street of say thirty homes decides to add three homes more, they probably are less worried about the net traffic impact of that very small decision (unless running kids over in that very street is the main worry).  Of course, if every street makes a matching decision, aggregate traffic still will go up a lot.  But in essence, by breaking the problem down street by street, the traffic veto motives are weakened in prisoner’s dilemma-like fashion.

Of course you might think all that extra traffic and development is a bad thing, but that is a different and indeed opposite critique from fearing excess restrictionism.

Second, a lot of streets just aren’t up to making these decisions across a long series of legally complex variables.  I can well imagine that generalized holding companies spring up to represent individual streets in their negotiations with the municipality/county/developer — whatever.  Imagine negotiating companies funded by the developers, whether directly or indirectly, which in turn fund additional amenities for the street whenever new revenue is generated by a micro-local decision.  Coase!  “Well…if you will accept these five new homes, the developer will donate some money to park maintenance and a scholarship at the K-12 school.”  It might not even amount to illegal bribery.

I don’t think street-by-street zoning is “the answer” to NIMBY, rather it is one idea worth experimenting with on a limited basis.  If it works well, it can spread.  If you start trying it in already NIMBY-dysfunctional areas, I just don’t see the downside.


I like NIMBY! What's wrong with NIMBY?

Maybe your assumption that NIMBY is bad is wrong.

After all, isn't one of the main selling points of capitalism private ownership? People take care of the things they own - they have skin in the game.

YIMBY might be ok, but NIMBY.

Private property rights don’t allow the owner to have power over their property and their neighbors property as well!

Too much of NIMBY is allowing a vocal minority to operate as a dictatorship over the rest of us. And like any good dictator they’re saving us from “something bad”-black people, traffic, crime, falling property values and whatever other BS NIMBY purports to save us from...

Actually, ownership terms often do explicitly grant such rights, and in the reality of our society they virtually always grant them implicitly.

Explicit: Lots of places (including my own dwelling) are covered by HOAs, development covenants (my case), or the like. Famously the Dakota in NYC is a kind of exclusionary corporate condo - you can't just move into a unit. (How this particular thing survived the civil rights act is a mystery to me.) HOAs and covenants typically ban anything other than single family dwellings, often of a particular style.

Implicit: Somebody bought a dwelling in a nice neigborhood, with the expectation it would stay that way.

Collateral effect - in lots of places, the zip code sets the quality of the schools, and this to a large degree is an effect of money and concentration of money over the number of students. So allowing more households in, driving up density, will per force tend to drive the quality of the schools down.

So people will continue their flight to the suburbs and exurbs.

Remember folks, we're not talking about the price of a dwelling, we're talking about the price of dwelling convienent to particular resources - jobs and schools.

The net effect of schemes like Tylers (and many others) is to force density up in the areas that don't have HOAs, convenants, armed-density-resistors, or the like. In other words more or less rich people will be keep what they have, not-so-rich people will see their implicit property rights trashed.

Tyler (and many others) seem unable to grasp that more growth and density in existing cities might be BAD.

Rather than easier zoning for residential construction, force the 10 largest employers in Seattle, SF, the Valley, etc. to move into rural ares. Jobs and the like will follow, pressure will be relieved.

"Tyler (and many others) seem unable to grasp that more growth and density in existing cities might be BAD."

Exactly. There is an assumption that high density is good. My lived experience tells me otherwise.

Wealthy city dwellers often have second or third homes in rural areas. They have an escape. Poor people are stuck.

If you don't want density, leave the city. It's always an option. Will it cost too much and exclude you from a valuable job market? Yes! But that is exactly the cost of avoiding density. It's supply and demand. If you restrict supply the cost is going to go up. This is what causes poor people to be stuck.

Thinking that you can solve something like a preference for low-density by not building is a great example of the problem with NIMBY thinking. It looks a one little part of the system (my backyard), and ignores the system overall. There are inescapable truths about systems, and ignoring them doesn't make them go away.

When someone blocks urban development because they don't want density, rather than just moving out of the city, they are blocking the ability for thousands of others to live in the city. And what makes the city desirable to live in? It's all things that are enabled by density.

A lot of people would love to have both a great social scene, dynamic business culture, access to lots of businesses while living on a McMansion on farm with the closest neighbor a mile away. But you know what? The math just doesn't add up. The business can't exist at that density, unless it's this one singular person living at low-density and everyone else at high-density.

If you live in the city, or more specifically, benefit from a city, perhaps via your job, you've inherited a moral responsibility to embrace what makes it work. Go ahead and make your individual decisions, but when it comes to regulation, think and act as a civic person. If we can't trust ourselves to do so, we should collectively cede that authority to an organization that can think is this way.

"Too much of NIMBY is allowing a vocal minority to operate as a dictatorship over the rest of us. "

If you don't like laws, go to a desert of the Moon. A neighborhood has the right to defend itself from invaders and speculation.

The purpose of street by street zoning is to allow the politicians to get what they want even though a majority of voters do not want it. It is the classic example of two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner. They break down the choice to be made by the smallest group of citizens in the hope that some of these small groups will indeed vote for what the majority of all the residents/citizens do not want. Presumably after enough streets vote to destroy their environment enough of those opposed to destroying the neighborhood will move away and the politicians can get what they want on every street.

I'm not sure what to call this technique. Perhaps it is: "overcoming democracy by empowering the useful idiots." Or: "How to destroy a country with the aide of the low information voters." Or perhaps just call it what it is; Stealing power by corrupt politicians who have forgotten their place."

Divide and Conquer.

The only expression an animal knows is being animal. Sink in, the echo is forgiveness. Mend fences. Misunderstanding is not the same as not understanding, one seeks wealth, the other is seeks eternal vigilance. To seek refuge, to refuse. Or am I? That’s Jung’s unconscious. Forfeit your conscious, imagine yourself an experiment, such that for every judge penitent you’ll find your conscious is shared. Not one, not by two, by homily. Negation of evil of is our version of pride. Go ahead, spell Parole. Patient in battle, we’ll save our aggression for the war. Tempted? Yet unconscious reason is sentiment. Our aversion is flu, a brand of favoritism. Love means admitting your wrong. Raw, uncut, uncouth, that’s our idea. Imagination is that agile. 1.5 seconds, kick-jump, what’s the illness component? How excited are you to die happy? Oh, the inconceivable logic! The best part is you paused a moment at your own thought!

Jack Kerouac really thanked his parents while comparing torture to not knowing Jesus personal.

I too am puzzled by this “reverse collective action problem” Tyler has proposed. If only we could keep citizens from making collective decisions and instead atomize and alienate them so we can impose unwanted policies on them... uh, ok Tyler.

Ahhh ... start with the race baiting. Kind of like anchoring, stick that in the mind like a parasite.

NIMBY is knowing that greedy developers and tax hungry politicians don't give a hoot about external costs, like traffic, water demand and ground water depletion, air and water pollution, loss of open space, environmental degradation, etc.

We are not fooled by libertarian fantasies.

We aren't fooled by NIMBY dictators. NIMBY is authoritarian nationalism at the local level.

Not, it is not. It is self-determination and freedom.

NIMBYs determine how others use their land. That's neither self-determination nor freedom.

In life and in a "free" country everything is determined by how it affects others and/or by consensus. Even if you exclude the freedom to self determination as in oppressive societies, many things are decided simply because they make sense. But the idea behind street by street zoning is intended to allow a few to benefit excessively by "taking" away from the many. I.e. tear down your house in a single family neighborhood and build a six unit apartment and walk away with $100,000 profit but reduce the value of every home on the block by $50,000. So I offer a compromise: Allow street by street zoning and require that each landowner that experiences a loss in home value due to another person taking advantage of the new zoning be compensated in full by that person who benefits from the new zoning laws. That would be fair, right?

Does a YIMBY man actually exist or some libertarian platonic ideal? I just can't imagine any liberals in a metro area signing off for more development in their neighborhood but only in their neighbors' neighborhood.

How can the angry liberal ask to speak to the managers when everyone IS the managers of other managers?

A NIMBY-dysfunctional area would necessarily have to start with something like a zoning overlay that allowed for conversion of a basement apartment or a unit above the garage into a legally conforming unit. Perhaps, an upzoning that allowed for construction of a two flat or three flat. Those can and do exist side by side with single family homes in Chicago and the older suburbs surrounding Chicago, in expensive housing areas. The mix and age of buildings provides for some diversity that makes the areas attractive. I would not expect such a NIMBY-area to ever vote for allowing commercial uses (small retail ok) and that makes sense from a noise, traffic, loading, and even underground infrastructure standpoint - no need to consider changes to sewer sizes or water main sizes or pavement thicknesses. Minor increase in density of people combines with more variety in choices and wider range of prices for housing and income for existing owners. What is not to like? Changes beyond that strike me as a bridge too far, both politically and economically. See the Seattle experiment that will be closely watched -

" more restrictionist outcomes than under the status quo. It might well be true that the improvement will be zero" Begging the question. If it becomes more resticitonist because of the residents wishes it is a positive improvement.

Okay so Coase works magic.

Why doesn't it work now?

After all cannot the developers offer the same deal in aggregate as they could in the micro-option? In a democracy, everything is subject to Coase. You merely have to buy enough goodwill to win at the ballot box. If you can convince 50% of each street to rezone, then you can convince 50% of the city. If you attempt relies on obfuscating the impacts of your actions, this might be a bigger reason why the current Coasean bargain fails.

What really confuses me is how all of the development questions focus, relentlessly on how to pack more people into a few favored costal locations. We know people do not move to these areas because they must live in the area, after all, the majority of them will move right back out after a decade. Further when asked, most people reply that they move to where the jobs are.

Might it be a much simpler development problem to leave the democratic processes of the suburbs intact and just strike a slightly different Coasean bargain with the employers? Say give them a tax break by moving their jobs to places that aren't full of NIMBYs? Or possibly tax them to stay in areas with high desirability?

Frankly, what I am seeing is not a failure of Coase, but an unwillingness of businesses to pay the Coasean price for developing out highly desired communities. If the horrors of skyrocketing rents, long commutes, and unaffordable houses are so bad, why aren't businesses taking the implicit Coeasean offer of decamping to places that are cheaper? They sell out their "right" to operate in coastal California, the Bos-Wash corridor and the like and get "paid" to develop a place like Youngstown.

I am likely crazy, but it seems to me that a lot of the NIMBY fears basically revolve around how we can make it cheaper for a bunch of very wealthy businesses to house and employ people in places they wish to locate the business.

I mean sure we lose some productivity by forcing the highly productive boffins out of their enclaves. But I suspect we might gain more back by not having quite so horrid commuting times and of course not having to destroy capital stock rather than building in areas with fallow urban capital.

Th truly nasty side effect of nimby is what it does to the poor and immigrants.

I know it seems strange that new immigrants, poor people and big business developers are on the same side of an issue but it’s true.

Nimbyism at its core is about keeping black people housed in ghettos.

More race baiting.

Your opinions can be reasonably ignored.

And here I noticed I pattern of business moving out of cities with high black populations (e.g. Detroit, New Orleans, Jackson, Birmingham, Memphis, Flint) and toward cities with low black populations (e.g. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Pheonix, Portland, Fargo).

If we are going to look for racism, I would suggest the evidence is much stronger for businesses development rather than homeowners.

Los Angeles is not a city with a particularly low black population percentage. It's maybe a couple percentage points lower than the national average and twice the California percentage.

LA is 9.6% black. National average is ~14%. LA is almost a full third less black than the US a whole.

California is 6.5% black so LA is a whopping 47% more black than the state as a whole. In comparison, a city like Buffalo is 38.6% black in a state that is only 15% black.

While I don't think the narrative of "Corporations shun black states" is all that much less a priori racist than "Corporations shun black cities". We could also look the other way. What's you over under on the zip codes surrounding the major corporate HQs for black population?

I don't think corporations are racists just because they end up in states/metros/zip codes that just happen be less white than average, often by a lot. But then I'm silly and don't think zoning rules make people racists either.

CA became less black because of its high percentage of immigrants. It is also less white and more Asian/Hispanic for this same reason. Even a good percentage of white people there are Middle Easterners.

Corporations don't move into less black/white areas for racial reasons. In CA, the reason is more mundane--it created many of its businesses like Google, Facebook, and Tesla. CA's trick is to attract business creators from all 50 states and across the globe while letting other parts of the US attract "job creators" who game local governments into getting tax breaks and subsidies. CA doesn't care if Toyota, Honda, or Nissan of America decamp to Texas and the South (all of them did that) or if Foxconn opens a factory in WI even though CA has a much larger Taiwanese/Chinese population. CA rightfully and wrongfully got pilloried in the business press for allowing this. But you can't blame them for sticking to their winning strategy like they've been doing for decades now of nabbing and retaining top talent to form new businesses.

CA became less black because when California was booming during the early 20th century they had aggressive redlining and a highly racist culture. Back in 1960 CA was 5.6% black. That was still around half the national stats. CA's peak black population was in 1980 at 7.7%, still substantially below national average.

I don't think corporations go the CA to reap the benefits of a racist past. But then I'm silly and don't believe people support restricted zoning to reap the benefits of racism either.

Why is this so hard to understand? African Americans pre zoning, new deal, Robert Moses, historical review boards and every other planning restriction were the most geographically dispersed racial-ethnic group in NYC. After regulation, they became the most geographically segregated.

There is a poor black ghetto in every major US city because land use policy is especially racist.

FAR ratios may development more expensive. Because of FAR and zoning and historical review, African Americans can not live near affluent whites at a rate that is way above what a free market would produce.

I also don’t even want to get into red lining and public housing policy in the US which has completely put African Americans behind in terms of housing.

Every other planning restriction? Seems a bit broad of claim. Would you mind giving some evidence for that?

The fact that some policy was "once used by racists" does not make it always racist. My grandparents, for instance, were actual victims of redlining (full mortgage denial and everything). Yet when they moved late in life, they specifically sought a community with restrictive zoning, noise ordinances, high housing prices, and good schools. They wished to live in a quiet neighborhood.

Were people who literally had a cross burned into their grass being racist for wanting a stable neighborhood for their retirement that would not be swallowed up by the urban crisis de jour?

Here's a newsflash. Plenty of us who were on the wrong side of Robert Moses like our neighborhoods too. We often paid a premium precisely because we don't want to live in urbanity and we sure as all get out want a nice neighborhood that we choose for raising our kids.

I don't really give a rat's ass why zoning was used in the pass. After all Robert Moses was one of the initial disciples of density, should we look at all such efforts to increase density as just another way to maintain segregation?

Thank you, but know zoning is not necessarily racist. Classist? Perhaps. But I would argue that clustering major employers in a handful of exceedingly expensive and influential cities is vastly more classist.

Nimbyism at its core is about keeping black people housed in ghettos.

Thanks for the projection. Been an education.

The Census Bureau delineates 389 metropolitan commuter belts in this country, encompassing about 86% of the total population. A mean of 14.7% of the population living in such commuter belts is black or mulatto.

Let's have a detailed look at the Louisville commuter belt. The black and mulatto portion thereof, at 15.8%, is just a shade over the national mean. It's on the border of the South and the rest of the country. And about 1/2 the population of the U.S. lives in dense settlements more populous than the urban core of the Louisville commuter belt and about half lives in dense settlements less populous (or out in the countryside). As representative as any place on certain scales. The total population of the commuter belt as a whole is about 1.3 million, which includes 204,000 blacks & c.

The Louisville commuter belt runs over 931 Census block groups. The population of these block groups averages 1,400 people. The black proportion of each block group varies a great deal, from 0% to 100%.

1. About 1/2 the black population lives in block groups which are > 39% black and about 1/2 live in block groups that are < 39% black. About 43% of the black population live in black majority block groups. About 26% live in block groups where the black share exceeds 80%.

2. About 1/2 of the non-black population lives in block groups which are < 5% black.

Blacks have a menu of options within their price ranges, with most living in areas where they're not the majority.

It's naive to say that a 50% democratic vote is sufficient. People who lose such votes very often turn to the courts for relief. And the lengthy litigation process is itself a barrier in terms of both delays and costs.

It's also naive to say that you just need to convince employers to move out of the city. Top employers need to attract well-qualified employees, and many of them, especially the young, crave what the city offers: restaurants, clubs, friends and Tinder dates and networking opportunities within easy travel distance, and much more.

And you think it is better for our court system to have block by block litigation rather than a couple of master cases? You think there will be fewer court cases that get swept up into personal feuds? I doubt it. The pettier the arena, the more vicious the disagreements.

Regardless, your assertion about the preferences of the young is in error.

Of young adults (18-29) only 17% would prefer to live in a large city per Gallop's polling ( A further 16% would like to live in a small city.

Even if we take a generous view of where the young would like to live, the majority would prefer not to live where companies are locating the majority of their jobs (only 43% would prefer to live in major metropolitan area or its suburbs). The majority of the young would prefer to live outside of any city or away from a major metropolis.

Maybe you are thinking only of the educated. Sorry, no dice. Only 16% of college grads want into the metropolis and 27% it their burbs. But what about the highly educated. 14% and 34%.

The desire to live in the city just isn't there, as only 12% of Americans actually want the big city life. Almost twice as many Americans live in major cities (20%) than would prefer to live in such cities. Small cities are closer (20% actual vs 17% desired). But it is all the options - the burbs (large or small), towns, and rural areas all score higher on preferences than reality.

Young adults would prefer to live in rural areas than in big cities. For them it is almost even. For the country as a whole, almost twice as many people would prefer to live in a rural area than in the cities.

Even racial demographics won't save you. Non-whites would prefer to live in rural areas as much as they would prefer to live in big cities.

Which is what boggles my mind about how much people invest into urban density. The real utility gain is not in moving more people towards the places companies want to be located, but in moving the companies towards the places where people actually want to live.

People who want to desire to live in major cities are weird. They are a small minority that does not correlate with age, ethnic, or educational demographics. Why exactly we should continue to devote so much social policy initiative towards this very skewed demographic who, after all, are much younger, healthier, and wealthier than the rest of the nation is beyond me.

To state the obvious, companies could save a ton of money by not locating in cities. No need to pay hugely inflated rates per square foot for office space, and no need to pay hugely inflated salaries which in turn are largely captured by residential landlords.

Why would you even need tax breaks to incentivize companies to move, as you are suggesting? If it was a viable option, they would stampede out to the burbs all by themselves. It would be their fiduciary duty to their shareholders to do so. They wouldn't merely cut costs drastically, they would (according to you) attract a much larger pool of happier employees.

So why then do so many companies still locate in cities? Particularly companies whose employees skew young, and who bend over backward to attract new employees and coddle existing ones. If living in the suburbs was high on employees' wish lists, we would see companies accommodating that.

Revealed preferences say that you are wrong. If your thesis flies in the face of conventional wisdom and consensus reality, you'll have to back it up with more than a few nebulous survey results.

"Why would you even need tax breaks to incentivize companies to move, as you are suggesting? If it was a viable option, they would stampede out to the burbs all by themselves."

I don't know about stampeding, but it's not that uncommon for companies to operate out of offices in suburbs, especially if they're more than a decade or two old.

I work at a company a lot like what Captain Slime is describing. Offices are in the burbs, but most of the young techies commute in from the city, and pay a pretty significant premium to do so. There's probably a class/culture angle here. If you're a blue-collar guy who likes fishing and tossing back Buds with the boys, you're probably going to prefer to live out in the country. If you're a nootropic-snorting computer-toucher who would rather be at his polycule's cuddle session, you probably prefer the city.

The computer-touchers mostly call the shots for "top employers", but that's because "top employers" generally don't actually make things.


Only 14% of the highly educated prefer the big city per actual, data.

I certainly believe that a small, highly privileged minority calls the shots for corporations. I just fail to see why we should bend over backwards to undermine rules implemented by democratic vote to cater towards this tiny minority's preferences.

"So why then do so many companies still locate in cities?"

Because corporations are run by powerful people whose personal interests do not perfectly align with that of the company. Because we have grown a society where structural forces that make it hard to have "the best life" without being anchored to major metropoli. Because we have policies in place that favor these developments.

First off let's look at the companies. Within most companies there are people with power. Some are in the C-suite, some are merely irreplaceable, but they are never the new people on their first job. Many of them will partake of the revolving door between competitors and satellite organizations. They can afford the high costs of the city and being close to nexi of power is good for them personally. As noted previously elsewhere Amazon's HQ2 elected to build in Crystal City. Maybe they needed to be DC. Maybe they needed to be on the Metro. But there are far cheaper and more convenient options that allow them to tap DC without being in the densest part of NoVa. The Silver Line, for instance is still relatively new, slated to expand, and offers great access to the city with train service on par with Crystal City. It also offers a much wider range of commuting options and is much closer to affordable housing. Yet HQ2 is going to locate in one of the least affordable (for the company or the employees) in an area already saturated for mass transit and worse for cars. And it is not like you have trouble staffing high end computing companies further out - ManTech has about 10,000 of exactly the high end computing types in Herndan. CACI has 20,000 without even being on the metro. DXC is in Tysons. The public talent is also clustered further out. The NRO is now in Chantilly, NCTC is in McLean, and the CIA is further north in McLean. And of course there is the fact that Amazon, itself, placed Amazon Web Services out in Ashburn. Why is Amazon locating away from all the places where the computing talent in NoVA actually clusttered?

It isn't access to the downtown, Silver line gets you that cheaper and easy than Crystal City. It isn't because that is where the local pool of talent already lies. It isn't because that is where the talent wants to live (when they moved the NRO west the employees wanted to head west for cheaper housing/better schools).

I would suggest that Amazon picked DC not for its neither its employee pool or its economics. Amazon picked DC because it wants to be close to the power centers of DC. Both ends of Pennsylvania avenue, the Pentagon, Langley, Foggy Bottom. Which also explains the move to NoVA instead of actually going into DC. Places where they can actually snag office space in DC are much more limited. Getting their build out with the height restrictions in the district meant that they would have to go out to something like Benning Road. Of course that would have placed outside the corridors of power. It looks an awful lot like Amazon is fine having actual computing operations in DC out where it makes the most economic sense, but for headquarters that means powerful people and that means in high visibility, important location.

How about structural forces? Google for instance released a heat map of its employees. Everyone talked about how many Googlers lived in SanFrancisco proper, truth is the hottest spot was as close as you could get to Googleplex. The most popular location was whichever one minimized the commute. Shockingly, Google seems to finally be getting this with recent office acquisitions in Sunnyvale and San Jose precisely to allow more of its staff to live in more affordable areas.

But why not build outside the Bay Area? Google looked at this. The biggest problem is not the young singles who want funzies. It is the double-job trap. Suppose Google offers some Googler a defacto pay raise to decamp to Dubuque, well what is her husband going to do? Will his firm have a location there? Will he be able to find comparable employment? It is well known in medicine that if both halves of the couple are in medicine it is vastly easier to gun for top positions. You can take a position at Wash U and they will find something for your spouse. If you are a doc/lawyer combo, that starts to be constraining. And this is what Google finds. There are too many power couples where leaving the Bay Area would mean a significant step down for the other half.

How about policy? Well for years we said to the wealthiest locals, why don't you raise taxes, spend that on public services, and then we will place relatively more tax burden on the less wealthy places who don't have high SALT. And of course there is the mortgage deduction, which ends up being disproportionately valuable for employees in highly desirable areas. And of course there is immigration. Somehow we end up having a whole bunch of these H1-Bs which for some reason are tied to major employers and again favors locales with lots of employers clustered together.

Corporations may just be following the money, but the net result is that people end up having to live somewhere they don't want to live. They end up having fewer children than they want to have. Revealed preferences? Don't make me laugh. Clearly fewer people wanted to be gay in the 1950s, their preferences were revealed by their actions. All revealed preferences tell us is that people prefer to have a good job to having their ideal living situation - which is exactly what they tell us in surveys. The real revealed preference is in urban longevity. A majority of domestic migrants to cities are gone within a decade, decamping at least out to the burbs. The fastest growing places in the US are the exurbs. Somehow in spite of the long commutes (which Americans profess to hate), the lack of amenities, and the lack of walkability ... this is where Americans are actually moving. Now you can tell me that this doesn't reveal preference - people are only moving out there because it it is too expensive to live where they really want - but that is the same problem with jobs. I submit that the vast majority of Americans moving to the city only do so for the jobs.

There is much more to gain from moving the jobs to the people than the people to the jobs.

Did you know that Silicon Valley proper is a suburb? Neither Mountain View, Santa Clara, nor Palo Alto are what we would call major cities. You might like it there.

"Which is what boggles my mind about how much people invest into urban density."

Success is what turns you into a city. Winners attracting aspiring winners means taller buildings must come up. Even Newsome can no longer deny that housing isn't a problem. Are you asking that Silicon Valley not pursue their growth policy so other rural/suburbs can play catch up? Let's suppose we could slow down SV, would its competitors in Asia and Europe show the same beneficence? I'm expecting not.

"The real utility gain is not in moving more people towards the places companies want to be located, but in moving the companies towards the places where people actually want to live."

I agree with you on principle but not in reality. I'm going to speak more frankly, but the business owner is in the driver seat. They aren't there to appease your sense of economic injustice but to run a successful business. If small towns want a larger share of the pie they need to offer incentives. Some of these are very costly like tax benefits but others are less so like making your town a great place to live. I can tell you as a rank and file worker that for me to make a move I need to see a large number of businesses in my field. If that weren't the case and I bought a house in the middle of the country and my job didn't work out, I would be in real trouble. The local Dollar Tree or gas station job won't cut it. This is a real risk for many people and why cities will remain the engine that powers the economy.

I don't know how familiar you are with the "network effect" but it might quell your sense of bewilderment of the way things are.

Look what China is doing:

"Chinese technology startups are flocking to second-tier cities, taking advantage of large talent pools and operationals costs that are substantially lower than in main metropolises such as Shanghai and Shenzhen."

Do these large talent pools exist in the pockets the US?

Nope. That's why the less prosperous parts of the country will remain that way for the near future. Education is priceless. Either you educate your own or you import them. Do neither and expect to fall behind.

Funny. When you look at the demographics of Silicon Valley or any of the other major hubs what you find are less than expected numbers of locals, plenty of international immigrants, and all the domestic immigrants.

When it comes to actually producing educated workers the major cities are net drains, by a lot.

The places that do educate their own, and do the best job of churning out good graduates in quantity, somehow seem not to be benefiting from it.

Since we are engaging flights of fancy, I'll continue the space filling curve idea.

Any property owner may assert a new zoning for his property. He starts with one 100 points. His nearest neighbor may object, subtracting 20 points, then the next nearest 19 points, and so on until neighbor interest falls to 0. If, at the end of voting the property owner retains any points, the zoning change is valid.

(Interesting synchronicity, "it's a good day in the neighborhood" has been running through my head. And my drywall repair seems adequate for behind the dishwasher.)

TC's proposal is not a "flight of fancy" just a return to the old-fashioned concept of a "variance" in zoning. Back in the day, like about 30 years ago, variances were routinely granted in big cities, but the modern trend (and codified in law in VA) is largely not to grant them, hence no "street by street zoning". Your proposal is 'de facto' already practiced in zoning law, when the zoning board holds a hearing and not enough NIMBY types complain, the zoning proposal is adopted (kind of like in a marriage when the pastor asks if anybody objects to the marriage to say something). We had to get a minor variance once and we had some friendly neighbors who came to our defense and allowed us to develop a certain Fairfax county VA property (and allow us, who are in the 1%, to get even richer, thank you neighbors, names I've since forgotten).

Tyler keeps going on about "streets" but in my neck of the woods they can run 50 miles or more. Heck, the Pacific Coast Highway isn't too far away. 656 miles of "street" with stores, houses, farms and factories.

And when those raucous city council meeting are held, I don't thing there is any nearest first weighting, no.

Maybe loudest first.

Basically, I am an engineer offering to retune a bad specification.

If you don't like zoning, move to Houston.

Is the notion that there is a cost associated with disruption absent from economic thought? If you rezone my neighbor’s property to industrial, even if my neighbor a street over (so, what, 200 feet away?) you’re significantly changing the types of value my home provides.

Maybe we need distance-weighted x old-zoning x new-zoning weights for this voting. Then a change from single-family residential to high-rise residential is treated differently from a change to a pig farm or whatever.

That's what I'm talking about.

People who love high density are completely impervious to the argument that some people like space and quiet. Completely impervious -- and that makes sense, because...people who love high density are...completely impervious. Is that a tautology? It's the truth. I have a friend who adores NYC -- and as you might expect, he's the kind of guy whose apartment could be over a cement factory and he would not notice. A crazed bear could break into his apartment at 2 AM and rape him, and he'd just take a shower and get up the next morning and go to work. Go to an urban park in most cities outside of Scandinavia and notice the number of people who drag huge bass speakered music systems out to blast auto-tuned disco songs so loudly they are distorted. To these folks, that's somehow comforting to them -- it gives them a small mild buzz. They haul this music everywhere, even on their bicycles, or on a motorboat (go to Miami's beach front and hear the roar.) Thank God most of the US is still rural or empty, so that those of us who like quiet can still enjoy our lives. What the 'noise' people fail to comprehend is that their right to make noise ends at my ear. I have no counter weapon to aim at them -- there is no silence machine -- but imagine if there were. If I could aim a silence machine at a noisy person and force them to hear nothing. Imagine the discomfort and anger.

Maybe thank Apple. The AirPods are now cooler than the BoomBox.

Also, go to a park. They are nice.

> why aren't businesses taking the implicit Coeasean offer of decamping to places that are cheaper

They are. Coase is working as intended, but that says nothing about people moaning about the state of things.

It is a good proposal because it breaks down the collective action problem that is based on fear of the unknown and fear of density factor. On the scale of a street or a few blocks it is easy to see the advantage of a few low rise apartment buildings or duplexes or california style courtyard buildings or in law units and maybe even a small, tasteful shopping plaza. Ugly large parking lots or very tall buildings can be prevented. At this scale the land values should go up because density is higher per parcel and the changes would seem to add to the quality of life of the neighborhood. What people fear are massive high rise developments or government housing, street by street or small area zoning would prevent that, but allow for changes that add walkability and character and the convenience of say housing ones offspring or parents nearby and maybe having a cafe or small marker within walking distance as well as potentially adding public parks or squares because the density makes them affordable to the community as densities increase. People imagine they will get Tokyo, but American suburbs are so expansive, and there is so much land that what we would instead get is at most scattered brownstone level densities. There simply aren't enough people to support even those densities if you spread them out over all the inner ring suburbs, let alone outer ring of any American city. Pepole genuinely would prefer higher density, it's just they imagine a shibboleth, at this scale they can see the outcome would be beneficial.

What is your evidence for this preferred higher density? Large cities are the least preferred residential location in the US according to all the polling data I have ever seen. They also appear terrible when you look at how quickly people with options get the heck out (e.g. half of new domestic immigrants to cities will be gone within 10 years). And when people say why they actually moved to a city, it is very rarely for the amenities, but instead pretty much always say that they either wanted a specific job or wanted to work in some local industry.

People's top preferences in life tend to be raising children in environments they deem favorable. Pretty much uniformly, no one uses that to describe dense cities. People also have this habit, even in major cities, when they get they chance to buy more living space. I have yet to find a city where denser neighborhoods are actually higher in living price than the less dense ones, ceteris paribis.

The populace shows me no signs of actually wanting to live in dense cities. It shows me lots of signs of being forced to do so for jobs (e.g. growth rate of urban cores collapsed with economic recovery last decade, while the burbs managed the exact opposite). What are the signs you see for all this density desire?

When you hear density you think Manhattan or downtown Chicago. But in reality what is intended is something we can't imagine anymore because we haven't seen it for generations. The few remaining places like this have skyrocketed in value. Like the brownstone areas of Brooklyn or Georgetown or small town Connecticut or Mass. People love those places. But no one can imagine building them anew, so they oppose all density. When using the word density what people imagine isn't the same thing as what would actually get built. Which would be places like Santa Monica, for example. Now incredibly expensive and desirable, but once affordable and very normal, just a typical high density walkable beach town. Places like that can be found up and down the coasts. Or Cambridge. Density does not mean Manhattan. It means at most Bay Ridge Brooklyn or Princeton, New Jersey.

Some people choose Manhattan density .. but maybe they can all fit in Manhattan. Or close enough.

Personally, I think it's nice for 3 or 4 days and then I start to miss my mountains.

Trivia: The highest elevation in Los Angeles County is 9,988 feet. West Baldy squeaks in.

Fine story, whats your evidence?

I did a quick google and the best poll I could find was likely not representative, but it found townhomes polling at only 9% and high rises (i.e. Manhattan) at 2%. This would be in keeping with the actual prices of places that have the density you describe. Taking a spot check through a few zillow locales suggests that the many, many cities with townhome densities show no appreciable premium to neighborhoods with more single detached homes.

I would submit that if all your examples are coming from the Acela corridor you are missing the actual dynamics of urban America. It seems far more likely that people pay premiums for brownstones because they are close to the jobs they want rather than the nearby amenities.

It has been a few years, but when I lived in NoVa, I rented in exactly that sort of density (military housing allowance). I saw no premium for that level of density. It was instead priced entirely by distance for the commute. It was a pretty nice place to observe the commuting premium. As we had to live close to the Pentagon we could pretty easily see what we could afford and as expected closer to the Pentagon (or easy access to the metros or better bus lines) had a premium. Lower density for a given commute was more expensive. That held for townhomes out in Vienna or Franconia and it held for single detached homes in Arlington.

People keep saying everyone wants density, but I submit that is mostly a confounding for proximity to the highest payest/highest status jobs.

The comparison might be per acre cost for land low density versus high density at the same commuting distance for neighborhoods with decent schools.
Regardless, there are few people who visit places like English or Italian small towns who don't respond to these places intrinsically. The same for midwestern or New England towns. I can't prove it, but it's hard for me to imagine that people don't prefer these places, anecdotally and within the culture it seems like most people I speak with do. I can imagine a rural preference also being common, but that is not what contemporary suburbia is. There is a lot of happiness research on sense of community vs social isolation which should support medium density vs suburbia.

"There is a lot of happiness research on sense of community vs social isolation which should support medium density vs suburbia."

Density does not imply "community" nor social capital. It takes time to buanild social capital, and requires multiple social interactions and the expression of reciprocity. People in dense cities are mostly anonymous and have minimal interactions with neighbors.

People in cities find it easier to find jobs and climb up the career ladder. Having neighbors that know you is nice but they won't pay your mortgage or your healthcare.

This is silly. Georgetown, for instance, has the lowest cost per acre using this metric of places in the district. Renting a 2 bedroom townhouse with 900 sq ft is about $3100. Anything three stories and up will crush that for per acre rental prices.

When we looked in DC we made up a spreadsheet. Type of dwelling. Commute time. Cost. Amenities. And across the board 1 bedroom condo in a low density area was more expensive than a 1 bedroom condo in a high density area. Georgetown was actually on our list. It was more expensive that places that were more dense than it and less expensive than comparable places that were more dense.

As far as community and social isolation, well funny but I get official data on those for vets. Per the VA rural vets end up with over twice the social support of urban vets. When it comes down to friend counts, interpersonal interactions, and above all extended family connections, urban areas scored the worse on all the interpersonal measures on the suicide risk studies I have seen.

Shockingly, cities have one clutch advantage: jobs. Almost as though the real driver of urban living not about amenities, but about having good employment.

The most expensive home sale in the DC region this year is a recently-renovated, 8,500 square-foot Georgetown home. ... Originally listed for $7.99 million, the home sold for $6.8 million.Apr 9, 2019

Per acre. There are many, many more homes on a Georgetown acre than a low density acre.

Also you are comparing rural to urban. I am talking about mid level density. The statistics arent granular enough to capture this because it is so rare in the US.

So far, here, when they consciously try to evoke those places, it somehow doesn't work. In my town the fire department that, with its enormous engines, will never permit the narrower street width that is so integral to the charm of older places. That is but one example, but a crucial one. Those small-scale retail/restaurant districts - no: for whatever reason, though walkability may be touted in these new urbanist locations, the stuff you can walk to is an IKEA and Bed Bath and Beyond and vape store and whatnot, basically the stuff of every freeway exit in America. And you'll be eventually be walking through a parking lot, it's just a fact, whether that's down to the developer's bottom line or the city's mandated parking minimums.

And whether it's the building code or land prices, I don't know, but the small attractive apartment complex is a relic of the past. In our new donut-shaped multifamily buildings, where it'll take you five minutes just to walk from your unit at the back to the street, the ground-floor retail space, if it is ever filled, is some business that lasts 6 months, and then the owner doesn't try to find another tenant, and - so I've heard - is not open to lowering the rent to make success more likely, because that would throw off the formula he used to get his financing.

Even the corner store. In my state that's going to need to be a gas station. I once asked somebody in the know why all the new gas stations are huge plazas now. (I'm fan of the little "mission-style" gas stations mostly remaining in small towns, mostly defunct.) He said that most of the suppliers won't deal with them, they are too small (the tanks? Or the trucks are too big?).

Sadly, entirely true. One problem is scale, big corporations vs local mom and pop builders and retailers. Which is caused by overregulation, so that only big corporations with scale can afford compliance. The professional planners need something to do so they overregulate, each rule sort of makes sense but the end result is something sterile, expensive and inhuman. Proposals like Tyler's are about deregulating so that we can get back to a human centered market for building and retail. Though the Europeans are also highly regulated and seem to make it work, the results are impressive. I am not sure how.
SB 50 in California and the new bills in Minnesota and Seattle are also about deregulation in this direction. Nonetheless something needs to be done to eliminate most of the planning rules. Any ideas on how this gets done?

Check out the strong town movement. They take on these issues, also there is a new urbanist movement to refor zoning town by town. The evocation. Of urbanism that doest quite work and had a large parking lot is not representative of new urbanism or yimby, both of which want to eliminate parking requirements, for example.

I have an idea. Not a proposal - I'm no good at that - but an idea: the rulemakers are simply overwhelmed. Their services are no longer required.

Aspects of the building code, here, seem to function as a tax levied on Dudley Do-Rights in some parts of town but not in others - I am no expert but it's become a sort of local truism that the world is divided not into the haves and have-nots but into the pull-permits and don't-pull-permits. My new sliding, gliding door had a code inspection fee of about $275 - because I can't tell the difference between a door and a hole in the wall, presumably - which fee I paid because the project was much beyond my DIY skills. (There was never any actual visit to ensure I was in compliance with - whatever it was I was supposed to be in compliance, by the way. I guess they've decided occasional spot checks are enough to keep the "When Sliding Doors Kill" headlines at bay.)

But there are plenty of neighborhoods where folks, less hidebound to the rules - many of whom are newcomers to this country - perform some pretty strange effects on their small single-family homes, due to their having *some* construction skills, I guess, and needing room for larger families. Or for groups of guys. Why doesn't code compliance operate in these areas? Dunno, maybe because there's no dough for them to collect, maybe because it's just too much for their little office to monitor? And who's going to complain ("we only respond to complaints") when it's the custom of the street? My favorite are the garage conversions - somebody needs to come down here and do a reverse-chic coffee table book of these garage conversions. You can't believe the variety, and the aesthetic choices.

You get substandard, even dangerous apartment buildings - they're flagged, but no one ever gets shut down. You forget about it until finally the local news runs the story - "A story we first reported in in 2011!" When City code department determined this complex was hazardous! Frustrated residents are still waiting for [hot water, the stairway leaning at a 45 degree angle to be righted, etc.] ... the city says they *may* start fining the owners if they do not make the needed repairs..."

And after all, it's the original affordable housing.

Then you have not a few immigrants living in trailers crowded onto plots of land that a fire truck could never even penetrate. But it's all good, apparently. The reality becomes the possible, the thinkable. And always there's that ready cop-out - it must be better than what they left, or they wouldn't have come, right? I see that line getting used a lot in coming years.

You see these small changes in other aspects of civic life. The rules of the road. A whole lot of new folks in my town don't seem to have internalized those rules. When two lanes turn, stay in your lane - or don't! That's not a thing anymore. All those signs so beloved of traffic engineers! One every fifty feet for something or other. Maybe people can't read the signs, who knows. So many people don't have insurance - or license, or other reason for not wanting to wait around for the police? - that running from an accident is commonplace. The most dramatic traffic shibboleth to fall is the idea that the right side of a divided road is for going one way, the left side for another; and never should, or could, the twain mix. But I've so regularly seen it with my own eyes (so he must have gone up the exit ramp?!) despite my limited driving; and evidently the traffic engineers have too - because Wrong Way signs have started popping up in some strange places ...

You see nice things, too, that make you envious: every weekend, huge family parties in the park, grilling, playing lawn games or soccer, everybody watching everybody's kids, SO much food ... too bad we're not friends with those people ...

What my idea is - demography overwhelms the rulemakers. It even overwhelms commercial spaces and a staid idea of what they're *supposed* to be. The mall near me - the only one in my booming city, actually - is becoming, day by day, less "Williams-Sonoma" and "Ann Taylor Loft" and more flea market. "The Everything's $7.99 Store!" Ranks of coin-operated kiddie rides. This spring the parking lot was given over to a Mexican circus 400 yards from the Nordstrom department store.

Honestly, this is how I see the rules getting thrown out.

Interesting. One can hope.

Scale is indeed an issue.

The town where I grew up was laid out greenfield about 1830, and was quite walkable. County courthouse square, city hall, firehouse, banks, post office, telephone office, public library, movie theatre, various retail, major churches, newspapers, train depot (while it lasted) - all literally within a couple of blocks. Go out six blocks, and you get elementary, middle, junior high, and high school, football stadium, hospital, grocery stores, water tower, jail, community pool, plus a large fraction of residential, almost all single family. Go out a mile, and you get almost everything else. I walked, or rode a bike, pretty much everywhere.

Of course, the total population was about 6000.

Fortunately the original layout had very wide streets, so it was easy to accommodate cars when they came on the scene.

It's hard to scale this up for 150,000 people, which is about the population of the city I live in now, let alone accommodate the 100 million people we've added over the last 50 years.

It seems like it would be hard to scale but it's actually not. The houses just get a little taller and a little closer together. Check out Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, the Hague, Barcelona, Genoa. Or anywhere in Europe really. Higher density scales and pick any town of 150,000 in Europe and you will be charmed. Completely doable. The only problem is our zoning code which makes building these kinds of places completely illegal. As a random example Eindhoven in the Netherlands has a little over 200k population. Go on Google street view and randomly look at a couple of streets. I promise you will be impressed.

I did so, and let me know if this isn't representative.,12.5704593,3a,66y,165.39h,86.65t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1snR4AoNw2PvPgVRydKcdI_w!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Not impressive at all. Why would you want to live in a zoo like this? Looks like dorm rooms from the 70s.

Not representative. I know this town. Try looking at some more streets. That is atypical.


As I commented the other day, the “more density” advocates seem to be optimizing for the childless less-than-fully-adult demographic. This seems a poor choice for national policy.

Actually the opposite, high housing prices, long work commutes and hours in the car mitigate against women either having children or working full time. Whereas walkable neighborhoods allow for less time commuting to work and errands and activities and more neighborhood support, plus lower per unit housing prices. The suburbs make family formation far more expensive and incovenient than it need be.

Actually no.

Small homes much more directly correlate with childlessness. After all that is not a single urban core in the US (possibly excepting Salt Lake City) that has replacement rate fertility. Likewise, the worst traffic and commutes are encountered in the metropolitan cores rather than the low density areas of the country.

For all the talk about walkability and density. Having kids undermines most of the city's advantages. Paying for 4 fares for a trip starts making public transportation wildly unaffordable (it can barely compete with car ownership for a single rider). Likewise, hoping for the basic setup of parents, boys', girls' rooms is exceeding expensive as three bedrooms typically takes you well into luxury rates for most urban dwellings. And of course walkability takes a massive downgrade when you need to figure out something to manage a 20 lb child who refuses to walk to the grocery store.

Every, pretty much in the world, for all of history has watched urban areas have later marriages and lower fertility rates than the outlying areas. It was remarked upon in Rome. It was formally calculated in London (where deaths so massively exceeded birth that it was not until the Victorian era when London had even a noticeable number of people "from London" in the place).

In the US fertility for major metro areas is around 1.6 - 1.7. For rural areas it is around 1.9 - 2.0. The core areas in the US are so bad at family formation that they score about as well on the common demographic markers as China, you know the place that formally banned second children until not too long ago. For non-immigrants, the figures are worse.

Urban culture is basically toxic for families. And we have seen this same anti-family trend play out pretty much everywhere that has urbanized to high density places.

The data in the US are pretty clear, major cities are terrible at family formation. Then small cities suck. Burbs do okay. And rural areas are just barely below self-sustaining. If cities had to sustain their own populations they would implode within a generation (e.g. see Detroit).

I think the confusion is when Americans hear more density they think of Manhattan. Take a look at mid level density, places like Copenhagen or Dutch cities or American small towns. Places where you can walk. That's where the advantages show up more clearly.

Also, correlation is not causation. A statistical relationship does not in any way imply causality. There can be other factors that relate to the issue that aren't showing up in the correlation.

>you might think all that extra traffic and development is a bad thing

Because (spoiler alert).... it is.

If that's true why are housing prices higher in the denser locations like a Park Slope or Georgetown on a per acre basis? If given the choice between living in a typical suburb vs living in something like Cambridge, Mass or another medium density town, the vast majority would choose the walkable small town with a square and nearby shops. Because our planning has forgotten how to build old style towns and neighborhoods we rightfully fear change, but if done right almost everyone really does prefer something akin to the traditional American small town. The goal is to find ways to get back to that, and that's what the block by block proposal is trying to encourage. We have simply forgotten that it is possible to build such places so we go in defensive mode and justifiably oppose all change. The fault for this lies with the planners who ruined our small towns with their utopian zoning approaches. We used to know how to build those kinds of places, they sprang up naturally because when humans are given the freedom to build what they want they infill naturally at a small scale that over time accretes into traditional small towns.

Well for the obvious reason, living in Georgetown is a vastly shorter commute if you are going to work at GW, Georgetown, or their hospitals. It also helps if you work for any of the many embassies located in Georgetown (e.g. France, Germany). Some of the largest white collar employers in the District just happen to be located in Georgetown or via dedicated shuttles from Georgetown.

Certainly the people I know who live in Georgetown are not doing it for the density. I know about 50 people who live there are precisely zero have a reverse commute. The vast majority work close to Georgetown and the rest work further into the city.

I am not familiar with Park Slope, but I would suggest being within easy commuting distance of Manhattan without all the issues of similarly located places counts for most of the premium there as well. After all, how many people live in Park Slope and commute to Westchester? You would think there would be quite a few if was actually all about the living experience.

An example of that is San Francisco most of the Eastern portion of which is medium density, essentially brownstone density. Many people who live there reverse commute into silicon valley. Google runs buses for this, actually. I can't prove walkable neighborhoods are preferable but for people who have lived in them it's rare for people to not express admiration for them. I feel like there aren't enough examples in the US today to really see it clearly but if you spend time in Europe, the advantages become readily apparent. Same is true of Brooklyn or older areas of Boston. These places are charming, convenient, homey and human.

Also many people who don't work in Manhattan who work from home choose to live in Brooklyn. You will find many artists and authors and other creatives live in Brooklyn and do so by choice, in fact it's probably the largest single agglomeration of such people in the US. Relatively few of those people live on Long Island or New Jersey. You should check it out, you might come away impressed. Even just taking a peek with Google Street view could give you a sense of why it's such an attractive place to so many.

Nice story, what's the data?

I have actually toured places in Georgetown. I was not impressed. I do not doubt that there are a small number of people who prefer such places; data suggests that its about 12% of the US population. That works out to be around 39 million people. It would not surprise me that a population known to have elevated suicide risk, depression risk, and social isolation (e.g. creatives) wants to live in an area that the rest of the population does not.

You can fill up 3 - 4 NYCs with people who actually want to live in that sort of place. But for the 286 million Americans who don't want such things, our policies shouldn't be about how to create more areas people dislike.

Having rented or bought at least a dozen different dwellings in my adult life, I have found that maybe 1 in 5 of my peers prefers such arrangements and I come from a highly skewed profession which makes multiples of median income.

I can also quote statistics, show millenial and retiring boomer trends and point to the revivals of countless mid-density neighborhoods and even whole cities(back in the day much of San Francisco, was pretty rough) over the past 25 years to demonstrate the attractiveness of these kinds of mid density places, as I am sure you know. Also most Americans have little experience with safe, vibrant walkable neighborhoods, which many believe justifiably skews preferences. But more intersestingly, please take a look at a few new urbanist places and respond with what you think, my goal is to convince you.
Seaside, Florida.
Kentlands and Laklelands, MD,
Charleston, South Carolina.
New Town at St. Charles, MO.
Please let me know if you prefer a typical suburban neighborhood to places like these. These are the kind of mid-density places new urbanists want to build for new developments going forward. What do you think?

In the minimum wage immediately! It is a moral wrong. And rent control immediately! It is a moral wrong.

But property zoning needs undefined reforms at an undefined future date.

Why YIMBY is irrational:

1. US infrastructure expansion is too expensive.
2. US local politicians are total assholes.

Yimby requires less infrastructure, higher density means more users in a given area, thus more use per unit of infrastructure, and usually taking advantage of existing infrastructure. Check out the strong towns movement.

Even as I type this I'm not sure it would play out like this in real life, but isn't it possible that hyper-local decision making would also make people more self-conscious and accountable about their decision making? Would secret ballots really be possible? Imagine finding out that the Joneses are NIMBYs!? You wouldn't want to be the only one voting NIMBY.

Not really, that is actually the goal, not to make Manhattan even more dense but to build town centers in the suburbs and along major corridors that replicate pre1950s era small town density. Manhattan is not the ideal, though it's a great place, it is mainly more like a downtown and not ideal for families. The goal is much more like the typical nineteenth or early twentieth century European city or town or American towns like much of Boston and it's surrounding towns or Cambridge.

This is easily the most poorly argued post I have seen on this blog. I hope this is not a sign of things to come.

"unless running kids over in that very street is the main worry" - That's always the worry, their kids on their street. I think that shows a serious misunderstanding of how proponents of restrictive zoning think and behave on your part.

Rezoning is realy just a form of taking. Unless you want to say that urban land use regulation should not create any future expectations. If San Francisco want to have a lot of high rise dwellings, let the government take responsibility. Just use eminent domain to buy up enire blocks and auction high rise development rights. San Francisco is really the only place in the country where the libertarian jihad on single family residences has any practical salience, and San Francisco is not inexperienced in using eminent domain. They could do directly what they want to see happen but want to avoid the accountability that would come with it. It is not greedy homeowners who are the problem, it is accountability-avoiding politicians and bureaucrats.

It’s also really hard to have a meaningful dialogue about zoning without talking about street systems.

Part of the reason suburbia is so ugly in the US isn’t just a function of single use zoning. The new deal-Robert Moses-le Corbusier idea that street life is nasty and ugly and should be eradicated in favor of highways is also a huge part of the problem.

Instead of viewing highways as a transportation solution entire post war suburban and urban settings have been completely planned around them.

Gone is the type of street patterns that promote proper density, public transportation, some kind of Jacobsian urban ideal etc.

So zoning is a huge problem but a lot of our biggest issues city planning wise are sort of intractable...

This is true, but need not present a problem . The suburbs are simply massive, to densify all of them to even pre 1950 small town America levels might mean (just a guess) quintupling the US population. Neither likely nor desirable, obviously. The Los Angeles statistical area is about 33,984(not a typo) square miles. It is bigger than some countries. New York city is about 302 square miles. New york City has less than 10 million people. And huge chunks of it are suburban and parkland. Nothing need change in the vast majority of suburban areas, just upzoning some major transit corridors and a few blocks back on each side of those corridors and the old town centers of some suburbs will absorb so much population that it will take generations to begin to fill up. Suburban areas in America are truly vast. The people worried about the suburbs become crowded don't really understand the relative scale of the suburbs.

I am not sure the urbanists - at least the representative type in my town - understand it either. Or they're not great geometers. They see no opportunity in places more than six miles from the center of town, and so great is their disdain that they cannot help making "that's not really even *town name* is it" remarks on the rare occasion the unfashionable post-1950 sprawl comes up. Instead, they monomaniacally focus on re-developing the already comparatively dense, functional, mixed, attractive central neighborhoods - the core of town (though hardly the only job center) - that could reasonably be said to be largely "done" under your low-rise Euro model, allowing for the American taste for yards and greenery as part of the mix.

Oh, they have their defense - transit can "never" serve that vast territory.

You can always spread out a bit from the town center, as the circle gets bigger more land falls under it that is still connected. Its just easier and more efficient to expand contiguosly.
Of course all of this is moot, anyway. The driverless car is coming, like the train and private automobile before it. And with it the need for parking. Because why own a car when you can order an uber style driverless vehicle(2 seater? 1 seater even? Minibus?) for so much less, with no worry or hassle. So far fewer vehicles will be needed that can park anywhere at much higher parking density. This sounds weird, but so did the train, automobile, internet, uber, airbnb and the smartphone in their days. Radical change is coming, technology waits for no one. And what is likely is that the need for parking drastically decreases. And retail is dying as we speak. What happens to those old malls and big box shopping centers with their acres of parking?? You know, you could fit an entire European style city where a wal-mart and an old big box center or a mall used to be.....hmmm... I wonder if a company like Google which is developing the waymo driverless car project has thought about that...wait, isn't Google building a walkable city with their sidewalk labs division in Toronto?????

My first argument against your proposal was going to be that bribery would be easier due to the smaller scale of development, but then realized that it would be closer to a developer paying fair market rate for permission.

In general, many big cities are already set up with levels of control, reaching down to small neighborhood organizations, allowing for a degree of freedom at the smaller scale. The larger the scale of impact though, the higher up the chain decisions tend to go, in an effort to control for externalities. The fact that it is hard for a project to pass that negatively affects others is a feature of the system, and it is the in giving too much power at the smaller scale that you get into NIMBY territory. Ideally, a higher level of government, such as at the city level, is looking more to the big picture and less influenced by the NIMBY behavior. For instance, in Chicago, the mayor's office is more likely to piss people off than an alderman. That can be good or bad, depending on your point of view.

Street-zoning seems neat. Like the micro-equivalent of a "Special Economic Zone", streets could work for experimentation and give skeptical NIMBY-people a taste of what opportunities freedom can bring. Besides, even hardcore NIMBYS probably wouldn't mind to have some streets close by that isn't so dull.
Maybe NIMBYS turn to NIMS (not in my street!) and then to YITSDSLAFNOWWD (yes, in their street! Definitely sounds like a fun night out within walking distance!) weakening their overall position and bringing some much-needed life into American cities.

Comments for this post are closed