Squeezing the Balloon

8 thoughts on “Squeezing the Balloon”

  1. Spot on. Thanks for raising this issue. And it’s maddening that housing isn’t dealt with in regional terms rather than these small communities getting veto over large parcels that just happen to be in their jurisdiction.

  2. Devil’s advocate: Aren’t Vancouver, Hong Kong, NYC super dense and super expensive? For example, Vancouver is roughly 2x Seattle in terms of housing cost and density. Yet Seattle has the booming tech economy. What gives? Chinese money has been given as a one explanation.

    I don’t know the answer but I think the overall affordability equation has a lot of inputs so I cringe when urbanist types say “Oh we just need to build up” or something along those lines even though I do think building up and adding any supply is good regardless…

    1. Density doesn’t cause high prices. Instead, a location becomes desirable and expensive and then density is built to satisfy the demand. If density is forbidden that jacks up the cost of existing low density property and pushes people farther away from where they want to be.

      Hong Kong would have sprawled with split level ranch homes on cul-de-sacs if it could. But it’s a cluster of tiny mountainous islands surrounded by the sea and mainland China (different government). Those six million people had no place to go but up.

      The Vancouver metro area is overwhelmingly composed of low density suburban sprawl. They just don’t put the strip malls of Burnaby and Surrey on their postcards. Vancouver is expensive because it’s a desirable place to live and a safe haven for foreign investment. Modest tract homes there regularly sell for a million bucks. Density has nothing to do with what’s driving real estate values. And Vancouver is in Canada, not the US. Immigration patterns there favor certain populations and investment flows differently than the US system.

      Manhattan (1.6 million people) may be super dense, but the vast majority of the New York metroplex (20 million people) live in sprawl in New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, and Westchester. People are willing to pay extra to be closer to jobs and culture. Building density allows the market to supply more of what people are willing to pay a premium for.

      One solution would be to build more medium density places like the older neighborhoods in Victorian San Francisco or brownstone Brooklyn – nothing taller than three or four stories, but really charming and walkable with great urbanism and high quality public spaces. But we haven’t built places like that for decades. I’m not sure it’s even legal anymore. So we get sprawl instead.

      1. No, I’m with you. I don’t think density or urban boundaries cause high prices. And I take your point that metros that look dense at first glance are actually sprawl away from the core. But if NYC can’t be an example of density in practice, what can? Tokyo? Jakarta? Dehli? Zurich?

        It seems to me the more important factor in affordability is the amount of rich folks that want to live in your neck of the woods. Denver and Austin are cool now so home prices are through the roof. Sprawly or not, who cares? A massive influx of money will steamroll any small effect that zoning has on affordability.

        Regardless, I agree that zoning for medium density is the best course. I loved living in a flat in the Inner Richmond. Walking to most things yet having private space too. Total Goldilocks zone. Let’s build more of that.

  3. I pay $800 for an 80 year old (lots of character), 1100 sf, two bedroom apartment in Cincinnati and live within one block of a huge park, too many restaurants, an indie movie theater, two coffeehouses, an ACE hardware, a public library branch, a pharmacy, a branch of my bank and a small organic grocery. It takes me 10 minutes to get to work.

    1. Ah, but when you go for a walk in say, July, the humidity causes you to melt into a puddle of goo. And that’s ignoring FEBRUARY. 🙂


      (Seriously though, I think Cincinatti has some amazing neighborhoods with a lot of character. And an economy which is not based on “my company makes an ap that turns my cell phone screen different colors to reflect my mood” LOL)

  4. One of my favorite photographers is “Dead Slow” (Christopher Hall) on Flickr who has been shooting old cars in Alameda for years.

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