19 Comments

> I never fully understand why the delays and half-measures are helpful.

My understanding is that (a) in general people punish politicians for doing things (because thermostatic politics) and (b) this usually fades by the next election, (or at least, politicians believe a and b), so politicians are much happier to vote for anything that only takes effect after their next election.

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I think this is about budget cycles. You can't require the state council to do X immediately if they haven't budgeted to spend money on X in the current fiscal year, and there are legal as well as administrative barriers to spending money without authorization.

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Typo thread! Unfinished sentence: "I don’t have a good sense of what percentage"

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Painfully not mentioned: new housing developments are both ugly and generally a bad time to be around? I'd love for someone to point out a single high-density housing development from the last 40 years that has become a real "happening" place that people genuinely love to spend their time.

I'll have to swallow my pride in linking to an Alan de Botton video but in this case he's simply right: people want to live in places that are... nice. Old developments and old neighbourhoods with plenty of store-fronts, restaurants, bars, lovely and highly variable architecture with cute little details, a variety of buildings, offices inter-spliced with residences inter-spliced with commercial spaces, and low tolerance for cars + car parks + boring building facades are.. nicer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy4QjmKzF1c

I'd love to live in Oakland, or anywhere else, if it looked and felt a bit more like the happening neighbourhoods near downtown San Francisco or New York (Mission, Marina, Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, etc). Those happening neighbourhoods are not filled with new, cheap hosing developments. When is the last time you heard a fun and life-loving friend say "I just wish I lived near Hudson Yards!"?

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I can't think of many examples where the quality of a good has increased because the entry level to partake in making it has decreased (outside of luxury goods?).

I'd much more easily presume that it would just result in... even worse condominiums? https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2018/12/were-still-trying-to-understand-why-new-apartments-are-so-ugly/

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I posted this comment but then immediately changed my mind. For some reason I don't have the option to edit or delete it - please ignore, but click the link

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On the contrary, I get the feeling that it may be necessary nowadays to enforce mixed use by imposing structure on zoning laws - Berlin has something to the effect of a minimum of 20% office, 20% retail, 20% residential in new housing developments, as well as a requirement to make the buildings look like they are different, even if they are technically conjoined, to avoid so-called "ground-scrapers". They also have requirements for buildings to have a particular "Berlin style" aesthetic design - things like emphasising columns, windows that get shorter on upper floors etc

This is all from memory from an urban design course I took there about seven years ago, sorry for the lack of links

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Honestly I like Hudson Yards when I visit, especially that it has car-free streets. I agree that it would be better if we built better new buildings, I'd be happy to work on fixing that.

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Individual new buildings can be fine, but whole new neighbourhoods are generally not. I'm not sure if age itself somehow grants legitimacy to the neighbourhood, or if neighbourhoods need a few "archaeological layers" to look good, or if we've genuinely forgotten something that we used to understand about how to build things.

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I think this might be related to fixed costs of new development: all the permitting, discretionary reviews, legal consultation, back-and-forth with architects and contractors to satisfy the hyper-local land-use and form requirements, add a ton of unpredictability and cost to *any* project, no matter how small or large. (I don’t often see this mentioned, but think about the financing costs these delays and unpredictability add - how much more return do you have to offer investors if the project delivery timeline has a standard deviation of, say, 3 years) Clearly small projects won’t pencil out given this reality, so large ones it is.

Then, if the few large projects in the new neighborhood do build retail space, it’s all new and expensive and being leased top-down to the least risky tenants, which are often chains or stores that market to the affluent. Hence the sterile, predictable feeling we often get from these neighborhoods.

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LIC is pretty great, and a lot of the housing in downtown Brooklyn is pretty new too (and pretty nice.

(Also, I really do like Hudson yards).

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May 8, 2023·edited May 8, 2023

"I think this is wrong. San Francisco and New York are valued for their density and the results of being dense, but also highly valued for other reasons."

Are they though? It seems like basically everything that would suggest that the notion that living in NYC or SF is desirable is, to first order (or *at most* second order) the result of agglomeration effects. The putative amenities aren't really taken advantage of on anything like the scale of day to day living (as the Onion observes "nobody goes to the Met anyway," - and if you did, it would be weird to pay rent through the nose 364 days a year to save a trip of a couple of hours to NYC on the 365th). And heaven knows it isn't the schools. Basically every reason to actually *live* in New York or similar urban metropolises at eyewatering rents with low per-person space and lousy public schools seems to round out to "the labor market is robust and pay is higher" - which I think can comfortably be called an agglomeration effect. Everything else seems more like a reason at most to visit rather than a reason to forgo more space at lower cost at all times.

[ Onion article referenced above: https://www.theonion.com/8-4-million-new-yorkers-suddenly-realize-new-york-city-1819571723 ]

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It's about the variety of things close by. 100 different things to do nearby instead of 10, so you save that 2 hour trip almost every weekend. Plus daily shopping and commuting is less.

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Substance aside, you see why "It's about the variety of things close by" is basically just a reaffirmation that density is doing all the work though, right? I'm contesting Zvi's claim that there's really anything more than agglomeration going on.

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The way democracy is supposed to work:

Some people want more density, some people want less density. They get together and hammer out a sensible compromise about how much density to allow and where.

The way democracy seems to be working in the US at the moment:

Some people want more density, some people want less density. The "less density" folks manage to take over an entire arm of government and make a rule that says "You can't build anything anywhere" while the "more density" folks manage to take over another level of government and make a conflicting rule that says "Actually you can build anything anywhere at any time, so there". Then they let the courts figure it out.

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>San Francisco disallows large windows because they ‘were a statement of class and privilege.’

This is a misstatement. It's an SF design commission making a decision on ONE building. This decision does not ban large windows city-wide. It's just another one of those arbitrary decisions that are commonly delegated to zoning boards and made in an unpredictable manner.

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With regards to DC, you're not wrong from a clean-sheet perspective. In the DC that actually exists, the Council and the Mayor are involved in a long, iterated game of budgetary bluff, where the Mayor has in recent months repeatedly used "we no longer have money for that" as an excuse to defund programs. (This appears to sometimes be driven by ah, insufficiently skilled staff in the DC CFO office making inaccurate projections, but sometimes appears to be an explicit effort by the Mayor to defund things she doesn't like).

Separately, she's perceived as being supported by local developers.

One might imagine how tax breaks for conversions of commercial to residential property addresses both of those concerns at once.

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As if the price difference between Austin and Houston is down to *zoning*. It is to laugh. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc926OV65h4

The types of people who read these posts all played Sim City as children, all learned about zoning, and probably all learned that Houston was a rare American example of a city without zoning, and were scandalized.

Prices in Austin are higher than in Houston because Austin gained national and international *status* with the kind of people who were already willing to spend a lot of money on modest housing. Speaking from personal experience as someone who has lived in Austin on and off for twenty years, as well as the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Cambridge UK at various points in the last twenty years, there is a *strong* observable pattern: People who know basically next to nothing about Texas know that Austin is good. These people would never move to Houston, or San Antonio. They do not feel that those are places.

Speaking as an Austin resident who likes the food and thinks it has improved, Houston has *appreciably* superior food and food culture. Speaking as a music fan, Houston has the larger and better music scene. What Houston doesn't have is the social cachet.

Whenever I read this example, anywhere, my Gell-Mann amnesia vanishes, and I remember that we all generally don't know what we're talking about with respect to housing, housing policy, etc. I would recommend significantly down-weighting Scott Sumner's argument.

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Years ago I was thinking of moving in to downtown Seattle from the suburbs to eliminate my commute. I was shocked to find that pretty much every high rise had absurd HOA fees, and a quick search through listings on Zillow confirms this is still true. Here's an 800 sq ft unit for $600,000 but with a $910 per month HOA fee: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/909-5th-Ave-UNIT-1805-Seattle-WA-98164/83230588_zpid/

At the time I had assumed that there was something about high-rises that was just far more expensive to maintain. Maybe it's the elevators, or seismic compliance, the plumbing, something else? But the maintenance cost for that 800 sq ft condo is far higher than would be the maintenance cost on an 800 sq ft bungalow, even factoring in that every 20-30 years you'd need to pay for your own new roof.

Suppose that density doesn't actually increase local *prices*, might it still not increase local costs?

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