Timothy B. Lee -- Writer with Ars Technica and the Cato Institute
In my last post I promised to discuss why the political forces opposing greater density are so strong. Reader JonF311 helpfully chimed in with an example of one of the concerns I had in mind:
And how are we to get a whole block of homewoners to sell out and let their houses be torn down and replaced with some high-rise? Kelo-like laws? That's the real reason we aren't building that sort of housing in near-in suburbs. People already live there and they don't want to give up their homes to yet another social experiment.
I think ghhar's response was spot-on:
There is some middle ground between "Single Family Homes Only" and "Dystopian Eminent Domain Sim-City Arcology Social Engineering." Maybe no houses get torn down at all. In my area some developers are going to tear down some old storefronts and build a mixed shops+apartments building. They originally wanted it to be 4 stories but didn't want a zoning fight so they're settling for two. There's a 12 story hospital building not two blocks away, but I guess it wasn't worth the fight. Or maybe some homeowner sells their kind of rundown mid-50s house. What's so bad about a builder splitting the lot into a new duplex or triplex?
Again, this isn't primarily about 50-story apartment towers. In many suburban neighborhoods, lots are large enough to have room for two or three townhouse units or row houses. Combine two or three adjacent lots and you've got space for a small apartment building. This kind of small-scale development need not be a big logistical burden for developers, nor is it especially onerous for nearby homeowners. But in the aggregate, allowing this kind of development across a metro area can create housing for thousands of new residents.
In the chapter of his book titled "The Mirage of Gentrification," Matt Yglesias patiently debunks the common misperception that higher-density development causes rising rents. In reality, he points out, rising rents and new developments are both symptoms of an underlying increase in demand for housing. Restricting density would actually make rents rise even faster.