Retail is Not a Crime

Ryan Avent makes a pretty persuasive case that cities ought to either "directly subsidize neighborhood-serving retail" like grocery stores or else "they should foster the creation of neighborhood organizations empowered to do the same thing on a local level." In a more free markety vein, though, I would note that the particular city in which Ryan and I live erects an enormous quantity of regulatory barriers to the opening of retail establishments. It's almost as if people were always walking around town saying to each other "you know what I don't like about this city -- there are just way too many opportunities to buy goods and services in a convenient manner at a reasonable price."

When you see a slice of retail-friendly zoning like the "Arts / C-3-A" zone on 14th street from Rhode Island Avenue to U Street then -- like magic -- there are stores to shop in. But most places aren't zoned for retail, and even streets like 9th and 11th where there are some patches of retail permitted also have these odd zoning-mandated dead zones that prevent them from developing into real retail corridors. This is nice for people who own the privileged patches of real estate, but obviously has the effect of making rents for retail space in non-depressed parts of the city substantially higher than they might otherwise be. That, in turn, gives us fewer grocery stores (and, indeed, other kinds of stores) than we might otherwise have.

In general, I think relaxing the regulatory restrictions around what kinds of things you're allowed to build and what kinds of business you're allowed to run in America's urban areas has a ton of potential to make life in this country much, much better.