Land use and development roundup


  • re: Housing. Interesting article on housing. One caveat. Dallas and Houston have almost unlimited land to build on. NYC does not, but it does have a history of building vertically, so replacing single family housing with multi-family units is not as disruptive as it might be in DC, San Francisco, and LA.

    Also, Dallas and Houston are decidedly flat and have no views. That is decidedly different from LA and San Francisco. While that is not the case for DC, it has the unique issue of the national monuments, which we generally want to be more prominent than local buildings.

    In sum, approving more housing in Dallas, Houston, and NYC is non-disruptive. To do that in LA, SF, and DC would require changing the way the residents in those cities think about living.

  • SF does have distinctive physical challenges, as do Tokyo and many other Asian cities that build vertically, as well as NYC. It has accepted substantial vertical expansion for office towers and would not lose its charm if it carefully did the same for residential, the way NYC does. Of course the housing shortage would not be nearly so dire were various low-density suburban areas like Marin not as locked-up as they are.

    L.A. is different. While it has mountains, it also has a vast amount of horizontal land that would be trivially easy to zone for denser development. It could accommodate a far larger population just by standing back while the market replaced one-and two-story dwellings with four- or six-story multiples.

    D.C., too, could accommodate a great deal of new housing without tampering with the height limit by allowing mid-rise construction in low-rise neighborhoods. While some of this is going on in Northeast as well as former warehouse/industrial zones, much more could be done without touching the important historic districts. Building vertically a la Paris in suburban areas a few miles from the District center would also allow vast increase in the housing stock; some areas have been open to this, but others are in the grip of NIMBYism and determined to remain expensive.

    • As always, good points. I wish there were some way to get people to move places that need population, for example the Rust Belt, without government intervention. Certainly, changing taxes is insufficient. If that were not the case, why would so many people want to live in California?

      And would more people be willing to live in mid-state Kansas if there were better transportation to Denver and Kansas City (perhaps high speed rail) and better infrastructure (high speed internet)?

      • “why would so many people want to live in California? ”

        Delusions of grandeur and/or Hollywood glory.

  • Allan, in the early 1970s average housing costs in the Bay Area, greater LA, and greater San Diego were something like 15% above the national average. With the passage of CEQA ( CA Environmental Quality Act) and the rise of environmental consciousness/anti-development sentiment (my view is that the former legitimized the latter), home prices took off at a rate of 20-30%/yr in the late 1970s in all three regions. Home prices have since had the usual cyclical effects but the long term trend has been for home prices to continually outpace national patterns since then.

    I see no explanation for why prices exploded in all three regions (not to mention Monterey/Carmel and Santa Barbara) simultaneously that incorporates topography or running out of developable land. The only logical conclusion is that legislation, regulation, and the growing ability of existing residents to prevent new development from occuring is why housing costs in California have done what they have over the last 40+ years.

  • Paul,

    I disagree. There was quite a migration to California in the past 70 years. More people, more demand. Certainly, regulations are problematic. Perhaps the answer is to persuade fewer people to move there, as it is too expensive? I don’t know if you have ever been to Dallas or Houston. I have. I would much rather live in California. You pay for the natural beauty. If you take away the quality of life there, what do you have?

  • ““why would so many people want to live in California? ”
    Delusions of grandeur and/or Hollywood glory.”

    The New Years Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, Ca is a major reason. People wake up on new years day with snow up to the roof and see the parade with the sun shining down and the scantly dressed girls and say “I want to move there!”.