Matt Yglesias on Urban Development
The book is The Rent is Too Damn High.
Counties, municipalities, states, and everyone else involved in promulgating land-use regulations need to ease off on parking requirements, artificial constraints on lot size, height restrictions, etc.
Other interesting excerpts below.
(Possibly related: In Canada, is a parking space a human right?)
In an economy where the majority of people make a living by performing services for one another, pricing large swathes of the population out of living in the highest-income portions of the country is perverse…decisions to move to cheap land creates downward pressure on median wages.
Many people…are in lines of work where access to other people is a key input
the rewards to human labor are going to landowners rather than working people
Chicago, for example, spreads its 2.7 million people over about 227 square miles of land. Paris crams about 2.2 million people into just 40 square miles.
We’ve switched from a system in which owning a piece of real estate means you’re entitled to do what you want with it, to one in which owning a piece of real estate means you get wide-ranging powers to veto activities on your neighbors’ land.
But the fact that houses and offices are built by rich businessmen shouldn’t distract people.
Progressives and urbanists need to move beyond their romance with central planning and get over their distaste for business and developers.
His point is that anti-business bias supports a lot of regressive land-use policies.
for all conservatives’ talk about small government and free markets…the movement shows little interest in the subject. Ideological battles focus more on questions of identity, and the conservative movement has strongly positioned itself as an anti-urban movement for conformism-minded suburbanites.
I imagine that you can blame conservatives for land-use policy in some suburbs. But the cities are controlled by liberals, and so are many (most?) of the suburbs with the policies that he criticizes. And is it a coincidence that land use is less regulated in Texas than in the Blue states?
If people have strong feelings about not wanting to live on the same block as a tall building, they can move or they can pay what it costs to make it worth a neighboring property owner’s while to avoid building taller.
Ah, but there’s the issue, don’t you see? How do you deal with the Coasian bargaining issues? Suppose somebody wants to put a big apartment building in my neighborhood, without providing parking, creating major inconvenience for those of us who no longer will have street parking available. How do we arrange for the developer to compensate us, or for us to pay the developer to provide us with parking?
In practice, politicians are happy to settle the issue. And the people who already live in a place have more political power than the people who potentially could live there. (This is somewhat offset by the fact that developers have more money with which to bribe politicians.)
I don’t think urban planning is avoidable. You could move it from the public sector to the private sector, but it would require a very radical reallocation of property rights. Instead of individuals owning small parcels and government setting zoning rules, imagine it were the norm for a developer to own a large parcel and to choose the allocation of space that maximizes rental income. (Sort of reminiscent of the Rouse communities around here, although those probably did not turn out to have the density that Yglesias would like.) That might enhance welfare on some dimensions, but one can think of other dimensions where it would not do so.
Overall, I’m glad that Yglesias is pointing out to liberals some of the consequences of their anti-development bias. But in terms of his overall goals of increasing density, I don’t think it is quite so easy to get there from here.