Market Urbanism https://www.marketurbanism.com Liberalizing cities | From the bottom up Mon, 28 Nov 2022 20:39:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 https://i2.wp.com/www.marketurbanism.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/cropped-Market-Urbanism-icon.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 Market Urbanism https://www.marketurbanism.com 32 32 3505127 Wanted: Market urbanist research assistant https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/28/wanted-market-urbanist-research-assistant/ https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/28/wanted-market-urbanist-research-assistant/#respond Mon, 28 Nov 2022 20:18:21 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=74122 Ever wondered how you could make your urbanism hobby a full-time job? Come work with me & Emily Hamilton at the Mercatus Center’s Urbanity project: Are you a gritty, liberty-minded researcher who is passionate about cities? This is a unique opportunity for an aspiring scholar to develop a portfolio of research in urban economics, planning, […]

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Ever wondered how you could make your urbanism hobby a full-time job? Come work with me & Emily Hamilton at the Mercatus Center’s Urbanity project:

Are you a gritty, liberty-minded researcher who is passionate about cities? This is a unique opportunity for an aspiring scholar to develop a portfolio of research in urban economics, planning, housing affordability, and land use regulations with talented scholars and staff at the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas.  The ideal candidate will think like an economist, deftly handle complex datasets, and express himself or herself clearly in writing. This position reports to the program manager of the Urbanity Project.

Responsibilities Include:
•Collaborate with research fellows on quantitative research projects using GIS and data analysis software.
•Read, understand and summarize scholarship in urban economics, planning, and land use law.
•Translate and promote research through media and outreach engagement.
•Support Mercatus scholars and affiliated fellows in consultations with city and state policymakers.

Requirements Include:
•Degree or equivalent knowledge in economics, urban & regional planning, or a related field
•Experience with either a GIS or a statistical software package such as Stata and R; familiarity with and willingness to master the other
•Strong verbal, written, and interpersonal communication skills 
•Enthusiasm for collaboration and adaptability to a varying mix of responsibilities
•A strong interest in the Mercatus Center’s mission, with a specific focus on cities and liberty

https://us63.dayforcehcm.com/CandidatePortal/en-US/mercatus/Posting/View/732

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An Anti-Anti-NIMBY article https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/24/an-anti-anti-nimby-article/ https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/24/an-anti-anti-nimby-article/#respond Thu, 24 Nov 2022 19:01:50 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=74057 During the Trump Administration, liberals sometimes criticized conservatives for being anti-anti-Trump: that is, not directly championing Trump’s more obnoxious behaviour, but devoting their energies to criticizing people who criticized him. Similarly, I’ve seen some articles recently that were anti-anti-NIMBY*: they acknowledge the need for new housing, but they try to split the difference by focusing […]

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During the Trump Administration, liberals sometimes criticized conservatives for being anti-anti-Trump: that is, not directly championing Trump’s more obnoxious behaviour, but devoting their energies to criticizing people who criticized him.

Similarly, I’ve seen some articles recently that were anti-anti-NIMBY*: they acknowledge the need for new housing, but they try to split the difference by focusing their fire on YIMBYs.**

A recent article in Governing, by Aaron Renn, is an example of this genre. Renn agrees with “building more densely in popular areas like San Francisco and the north side of Chicago, in other cities along commercial corridors, near commuter rail stops, and in suburban town centers.” Since I am all for these things, I suspect I agree with Renn far more than I disagree.

But then he complains that YIMBYs “have much bigger aims” because they “want to totally eliminate any housing for exclusively single-family districts- everywhere.” What’s wrong with that?

First, he says (correctly) that this would require state preemption of local zoning. And this is bad, he says, because it “would completely upend this country’s traditional approach to land use.” Here, Renn is overlooking most of American history: zoning didn’t exist for roughly the first century and a half of American history, and in some places has become far more restrictive over the last few decades. Thus, YIMBY policies are not a upending of tradition, but a return to a tradition that was destroyed in the middle and late 20th century. To the extent state preemption gives Americans more rights to build more type of housing, it would actually recreate the earlier tradition that was wiped out. Moreover, even if the status quo was a “tradition”, that doesn’t make it the best policy for the 21st century. For most of the 20th century, housing was far cheaper than it is today, so local control of zoning was far less costly than it is today.

Second, he seems to think changing single-family subdivisions is somehow bad, but he doesn’t say why. Instead, he uses emotionally loaded sentences like “YIMBYs have a target on the back of every subdivision in America.” Clearly he wants readers to believe that allowing a fourplex next to a single-family house is bad, but he doesn’t want to tell them why it is bad.

Third, he raises an ad hominem argument, claiming that “The YIMBY claim to be concerned about high housing prices is undermined by the fact that many YIMBYs support urban growth boundaries and other forms of urban containment that raise housing prices…Many YIMBYs appear to have simply repackaged the age-old opposition to sprawl and a desire to encourage more people to live a denser urban lifestyle into a new libertarian marketing program ostensibly aimed at prices.”

Yet in the preceding paragraph he says: “If the houses on either side of a single-family home in the suburbs were torn away and replaced with four-plexes, most YIMBY activists would undoubtedly celebrate.” So on the one hand, YIMBYs are bad because they want fewer people to live in suburbia, and on the other hand they are bad because they want fourplexes in suburbia, which means that MORE people would live in suburbia. These points of view seem inconsistent.

Perhaps Renn is trying to say that suburbs should grow, but only through sprawl rather than infill: that is, through development in areas that have no neighbors to object. But if that’s what he wants, he should say so more clearly.***

*For those of you unfamiliar with this piece of zoning jargon, NIMBY is an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard” and, read literally, refers to people who are willing to support new housing or public works as long as it is not near them, that is, in their “back yards”. However, it is somewhat of a misnomer, since some people don’t really see the need for new housing anywhere, or at least not anywhere in their city.

**YIMBY is an acronym for “Yes In My Back Yard”. Despite the reference to back yards, YIMBYs are not just people who want housing next to them; rather, the term usually is used to refer to people who want lots of new housing in all kinds of places.

***I think this policy has a variety of disadvantages: First, it increases transportation costs for everyone, because more people will need cars and will have to drive them farther. Second, it leads to more pollution of all types, because more cars lead to more pollution. Third, it freezes nondrivers out of jobs and other opportunities, as development spreads to places without public transit. On the other hand, any increase in housing supply does hold down prices, so from an affordability statement outer-suburb housing is better than no housing at all. However, allowing new housing everywhere would increase housing supply even more.

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Would the Vienna strategy work here? https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/18/would-the-vienna-strategy-work-here/ https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/18/would-the-vienna-strategy-work-here/#respond Fri, 18 Nov 2022 17:23:34 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=73979 Progressives often argue that American cities should imitate Vienna’s 1920s strategy of building enormous amounts of public housing while controlling rents paid to private landlords. But a look at the birth of Vienna’s public housing system shows why that system is not easily replicated. A book supported by the city government points out that the […]

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Progressives often argue that American cities should imitate Vienna’s 1920s strategy of building enormous amounts of public housing while controlling rents paid to private landlords. But a look at the birth of Vienna’s public housing system shows why that system is not easily replicated.

A book supported by the city government points out that the city had an enormous housing shortage after World War I, and that the working classes “began reclaiming the land surrounding the cities” (p. 13). The city then “offered its support in the form of the redesignation and purchase of sites”. Settlers received housing in return for committing to work on the building site (id.) Obviously, this strategy cannot be replicated today; there is not a huge amount of unowned or extremely cheap land that people can just commandeer and build on, and I am not sure many people can easily become construction workers in exchange for housing.

In addition, the city financed housing in ways that are not easily replicated today. The book notes that tax revenue for housing came from a 1923 “tax on housing development .. a simple working-class apartment was taxed at an average annual rate of 2.083% of its pre-war rentable value, this went up to 36.4 for luxury homes.” This might have worked in 1923 because city residents had no suburbs to flee to; however, today, city residents can easily respond to large tax increases by moving.

Moreover, in 1923 there was no zoning or environmental review or “community engagement” to give Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) activists a chance to delay or prevent housing construction. Today, even if government can afford to build new housing somewhere, the bureaucratic obstacles to such housing might made it politically impossible to build in some places, or expensive and time-consuming to build in others.

This is not to say that it is impossible to build large amounts of public housing- but it does mean that if American cities want to build as much housing as Vienna, they need to change a lot of rules as well as raising a lot of money.

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Louisville and density regulation https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/17/louisville-and-density-regulation/ https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/17/louisville-and-density-regulation/#respond Thu, 17 Nov 2022 15:33:34 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=73961 Lydia Lo and Yonah Freemark have an interesting new paper ? EditSign on zoning in Louisville on the Urban Institute website. They point out that of the land zoned for single-family housing, 59 percent is zoned R4, requiring 9000-square-foot lots, which means no more than five houses per acre. From a transportation standpoint, this is […]

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Lydia Lo and Yonah Freemark have an interesting new paper on zoning in Louisville on the Urban Institute website. They point out that of the land zoned for single-family housing, 59 percent is zoned R4, requiring 9000-square-foot lots, which means no more than five houses per acre.

From a transportation standpoint, this is not ideal. Even the most cursory Google search reveals that a neighborhood should have at least eight or ten units per acre to support minimal bus service. This is because if only a few people live near a bus stop, only a few people will ride the bus. So Louisville’s zoning generally prohibits density high enough for decent bus service.

Similarly, from a housing supply standpoint, such zoning is not ideal either. Obviously, a development with 5 houses per acre contributes less to regional housing supply than one with 10 houses per acre.

Much ink has been spilled over the evils of zoning places for nothing but single-family housing. But perhaps the density of housing is just as important as its form.

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Urban Paths “World” Cup https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/08/urban-paths-world-cup/ https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/11/08/urban-paths-world-cup/#respond Tue, 08 Nov 2022 18:56:07 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=73823 What's the best urban path in America? Vote on Twitter this month for nominees in the Urban Paths World Cup.

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This month, I’m running a Twitter contest to identify the best urban paths in the U.S. As American urbanists usually do, I’m grabbing one global concept and then ignoring anything of real substance I might learn from other countries. This is a World Cup of American urban paths.

After receiving nominations and doing my own research, I randomized a 52-nominee bracket. The contest will begin with two “play-ins” and then proceed with 48 nominees in 8 groups.

Each group contains one nominee in each category:

  • Top-seeded nominees
  • Waterfronts
  • Rail trails
  • Local flavor
  • Greenways
  • Long rides

The group stage will be a 5-game round robin of Twitter polls. Make sure to show up and vote for your team in Games 2 through 5 even if it loses Game 1 – this isn’t march madness.

Matches will last at least 20 hours of Twitter voting. Head-to-head matchup and then total margin of victory will be a tiebreaker if needed to determine group rankings.

Two nominees from each group will advance. Those 16 nominees will form a World Cup-style bracket. Two teams that advance from the same group will not meet again until the Final.

Hoboken’s waterfront ready to compete in Group H

Play-ins

The first play in is a simple head-to-head matchup between Washington DC rail trails: the Capital Crescent versus the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The winner will be the Group F Rail Trail. (Northern Virginia’s W&OD Trail has already punched its ticket in the “Long Rides” category).

The “Underdog Play-in” will be a two-round bracket among four nominees on the bubble:

  • Chehalis Western Trail (Olympia)
  • East Bay Bike Path (Providence)
  • Markell Trail (Wilmington DE)
  • Decker’s Creek Trail (Morgantown WV)

Bonus contest

How many of the paths have you been on? My Twitter follower who reports the most wins Fan of the Year. Honor system, people.

Groups

In the World Cup, the home team gets a slot alongside the seven top seeds. The home team here is the Anacostia River Trails (Maryland), which anchors a light-hitting Group A:

Top Seed Anacostia River Trails (Maryland)
Waterfront
San Diego Embarcadero
Rail trail Springwater Corridor (Portland OR)
Local flavorScioto Mile (Columbus)
GreenwayMidtown Greenway (Minneapolis)
Long ride Jordan River Trail (Salt Lake City)

Group B features the tournament’s top seed. For my money, a great urban path is not just well-engineered and equally popular with cyclists, dog walkers, joggers, and children, but also generates commerce and mixes commuting, recreation, tourism, and becomes a destination in itself. Our top seeded path has reoriented neighborhoods around itself and become a political touchstone in its city. A couple other amazing paths were drawn in, making this a clear “Group of Death.”

Top SeedAltanta BeltLine
Waterfront
Schuylkill River Trail (Philadelphia)
Rail trailBurke-Gilman Trail (Seattle)
Local flavorCliff Walk (Newport RI)
GreenwayCapital Area Greenway (Raleigh)
Long rideCherry Creek Regional Trail (Denver)

Group C is anchored by one of the most iconic places in the U.S. Formally it’s “Ocean Front Walk”, it encompasses the Venice Beach boardwalk, passes the Santa Monica pier, and extends south to Torrance State Beach.

Top SeedThe Strand (Santa Monica, Venice, South Bay)
Waterfront
Butler Hike & Bike Trail (Lady Bird Lake, Austin)
Rail trailKaty Trail (Dallas)
Local flavorLake Merritt Loop Trail (Oakland)
GreenwayBoise River Greenbelt
Long rideW&OD Trail (VA)

San Antonio’s River Walk (conceived 1929, born 1946) is the grandfather of many of the other spaces in this tourney, but have any equaled it? I visited it at age 10 — it was utterly captivating. The River Walk highlights Group D:

Top SeedSan Antonio River Walk
Waterfront
Genesee Riverway Trail (Rochester)
Rail trailMinuteman Bikeway (MA)
Local flavorUnderdog play-in winner
GreenwayMilwaukee River Greenway
Long rideJedediah Smith Memorial Trail (Sacramento)

The luck of the =RAND() put New York’s High Line up against its brassy imitator, Chicago’s 606 for an elevated urban way battle in Group E:

Top SeedHigh Line (NYC)
Waterfront
Miami Beach Boardwalk
Rail trailThe 606 (Chicago)
Local flavorLas Vegas Strip
GreenwayShelby Bottoms Greenway (Nashville)
Long rideCapital City State Trail (Madison)

Group F is a mismatch between 3 major metros and 3 small cities:

Top SeedEmbarcadero (San Francisco)
Waterfront
Lakefront Trail (Chicago)
Rail trailDC play-in winner
Local flavorAtlantic City Boardwalk
GreenwayLafitte Greenway (NoLa)
Long rideSwamp Rabbit Trail (Greenville SC)

Like many of the nominees, Group G‘s top seed blurs the line between path and park. And Detroit’s Dequindre Cut emerged from the nominations on the short list of urban paths I most want to visit:

Top SeedCharles River Esplanade (Boston)
Waterfront
Canal Walk (Richmond)
Rail trailDequindre Cut (Detroit)
Local flavorWaterfront Promenade (Baltimore)
GreenwayBuffalo Bayou (Houston)
Long ridePaseo del Bosque Trail (Albuquerque)

Our final sextet is chaotic good. Charlotte Rail Trail is a top-seeded nominee on the strength of @taylorrule’s tweet:

Charlotte’s rail trail transformed South End from a bunch of warehouses in 2008 into several miles of transit oriented development with tons of amenities and mixed uses. One of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the US, now home to 12K+ people

Besides a surprising top seed, Group H drew the Hudson River Greenway – on the Manhattan side – against the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway – side-eyeing it from Jersey. But I’d be voting for the Clear Creek Trail, where I walked upstream again and again this summer, just to float back down again.

Top SeedCharlotte Rail Trail
Waterfront
Hudson River Waterfront Walkway (NJ)
Rail trailMonon Trail (Indianapolis)
Local flavorClear Creek Trail (Golden CO)
GreenwayHudson River Greenway (NYC)
Long rideOhio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail (Cleveland – Masillon)

Results!

In addition to Twitter, I’ll post results here as they come in.

Play-in results:

Group stage results

11/14 game notes: tight game in Group C; Oakland held on for the win. Group D cheeseheads showed up with over 100 votes for Milwaukee River Greenway – suddenly a path to watch!

11/15 notes: Group G looks like it might be the most interesting, with a draw and two close matches in the first round.

11/16 notes: In a major upset, the BeltLine got trounced by the Schuylkill River Trail.

11/17 notes: low turnout leads to our first shutout, the Atlantic City Boardwalk won 6-0 over the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Thanksgiving week notes: A set of matches posted Tuesday garnered lots of attention – another set posted Friday got the lowest turnout so far. Both had 2 days. Going into the final matches, just 5 paths have won all their matches – including both of Wisconsin’s entries.

Group A:

  • Anacostia River Trails 68, Springwater Corridor 32
  • San Diego Embarcadero 70, Scioto Mile 30
  • Midtown Greenway 83, Jordan River Trail 17
  • Anacostia River Trails 75, SD Embarcadero 25
  • Midtown Greenway 62, Springwater Corridor 38
  • Scioto Mile 50, Jordan River Trail 50
  • Anacostia River Trails 82, Scioto Mile 18
  • Jordan River Trail 88, Springwater Corridor 12
  • San Diego Embarcadero 67, Midtown Greenway 33
  • Midtown Greenway 78, Anacostia River Trails 22
  • Springwater Corridor 60, Scioto Mile 40
  • Jordan River Trail 59, San Diego Embarcadero 41

Midtown Greenway: 9 pts
Anacostia River Trails: 9 pts
Jordan River Trail: 7 pts
San Diego Embarcadero: 6 pts
Springwater Corridor: 3 pts
Scioto Mile: 1 pt

Group B:

  • BeltLine 72, Burke-Gilman 28
  • Schuylkill River Trail 59, Cliff Walk 41
  • Cherry Creek Regional Trail 73, Capital Area Greenway 27
  • Schuylkill River Trail 73, BeltLine 27
  • Burke-Gilman Trail 50, Capital Area Greenway 50
  • Cherry Creek Trail 71, Cliff Walk 29
  • BeltLine 89, Cliff Walk 11
  • Cherry Creek Trail 67, Burke-Gilman Trail 33
  • Schuylkill River Trail 50, Capital Area Greenway 50
  • BeltLine 64, Capital Area Greenway 36
  • Burke-Gilman Trail 82, Cliff Walk 18
  • Schuylkill River Trail 58, Cherry Creek Regional Trail 42

Schuylkill River Trail: 10 pts
BeltLine: 9 pts
Cherry Creek Regional Trail: 9 pts
Burke-Gilman Trail: 4 pts
Capital Area Greenway: 2 pts
Cliff Walk: 0 pts

Group C:

  • The Strand 71, Katy Trail 29
  • Lake Merritt Loop Trail 52, Butler Hike & Bike Trail 48
  • W&OD Trail 74, Boise River Greenbelt 26
  • The Strand 88, Butler Hike & Bike Trail 12
  • Katy Trail 56, Boise River Greenbelt 44
  • Lake Merritt Loop Trail 76, W&OD Trail 24
  • The Strand 86, Lake Merritt Loop Trail 14
  • W&OD Trail 83, Katy Trail 17
  • Butler Hike & Bike Trail 50, Boise River Greenbelt 50
  • The Strand 60, Boise River Greenbelt 40
  • Lake Merritt Loop Trail 75, Katy Trail 25
  • W&OD Trail 53, Butler Hike & Bike Trail 47

The Strand: 12 pts
Lake Merritt Loop Trail: 9 pts
W&OD Trail: 9 pts
Katy Trail: 3 pts
Butler Hike & Bike Trail: 1 pt
Boise River Greenbelt: 1 pt

Group D:

  • River Walk 65, Minuteman Commuter Bikeway 35
  • Genesee Riverway Trail 74, Chehalis Western Trail 26
  • Milwaukee River Greenway 95, Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail 5
  • River Walk 62, Genesee Riverway Trail 38
  • Milwaukee River Greenway 85, Minuteman Commuter Bikeway 15
  • Chehalis Western Trail 64, Jedediah Smith Trail 36
  • River Walk 75, Chehalis Western Trail 25
  • Minuteman Commuter Bikeway 100, Jedediah Smith Trail 0
  • Milwaukee River Greenway 55, Genesee Riverway Trail 45
  • Milwaukee River Greenway 64, River Walk 36
  • Minuteman Commuter Bikeway 58, Chehalis Western Trail 42

Milwaukee River Greenway: 12 pts
River Walk: 9 pts
Genesee Riverway Trail: 6 pts
Minuteman Commuter Bikeway: 6 pts
Chehalis Western Trail: 3 pts
Jedediah Smith Trail: 0 pts

Group E:

  • The 606 62, High Line 38
  • Miami Beach Boardwalk 78, Las Vegas Strip 22
  • Capital City Trail 89, Shelby Bottoms Greenway 11
  • High Line 89, Miami Beach Boardwalk 11
  • The 606 78, Shelby Bottoms Greenway 22
  • Capital City Trail 67, Las Vegas Strip 33
  • High Line 89, Las Vegas Strip 11
  • Capital City Trail 74, The 606 26
  • Miami Beach Boardwalk 57, Shelby Bottoms Greenway 43
  • High Line 88, Shelby Bottoms Greenway 12
  • The 606 67, Las Vegas Strip 33
  • Capital City Trail 80, Miami Beach Boardwalk 20

Capital City Trail: 12 pts
The 606: 9 pts
High Line: 9 pts
Miami Beach Boardwalk: 6 pts
Las Vegas Strip: 0 pts
Shelby Bottoms Greenway: 0 pts

Group F:

  • Metropolitan Branch Trail 71, Embarcadero 29
  • Lakefront Trail 69, Atlantic City Boardwalk 31
  • Lafitte Greenway 68, Swamp Rabbit Trail 32
  • Embarcadero 50, Lakefront Trail 50
  • Metropolitan Branch Trail 78, Lafitte Greenway 22
  • Boardwalk 100, Swamp Rabbit Trail 0
  • Embarcadero 62, Boardwalk 38
  • Metropolitan Branch Trail 80, Swamp Rabbit Trail 20
  • Lakefront Trail 90, Lafitte Greenway 10
  • Lafitte Greenway 67, Embarcadero 33
  • Metropolitan Branch Trail 77, Boardwalk 23
  • Lakefront Trail 86, Swamp Rabbit Trail 14

Met Branch Trail: 12 pts
Lakefront Trail: 10 pts
Lafitte Greenway: 6 pts
Embarcadero: 4 pts
Boardwalk: 3 pts
Swamp Rabbit Trail: 0 pts

Group G:

  • Charles River Esplanade 59, Dequindre Cut 41
  • Canal Walk 52, Waterfront Promenade 48
  • Buffalo Bayou 50, Paseo del Bosque 50
  • Charles River Esplanade 79, Canal Walk 21
  • Buffalo Bayou 60, Dequindre Cut 40
  • Waterfront Promenade 60, Paseo del Bosque 40
  • Charles River Esplanade 83, Waterfront Promenade 17
  • Dequindre Cut 60, Paseo del Bosque 40
  • Canal Walk 50, Buffalo Bayou 50
  • Charles River Esplanade 71, Buffalo Bayou 29
  • Waterfront Promenade 75, Dequindre Cut 25
  • Canal Walk 100, Paseo del Bosque 0

Esplanade: 12 pts
Canal Walk: 7 pts
Waterfront Promenade: 6 pts
Buffalo Bayou: 5 pts
Dequindre Cut: 3 pts
Paseo del Bosque: 1 pt

Group H:

  • Charlotte Rail Trail 62, Monon Trail 38
  • Hudson Waterfront Walkway 93, Clear Creek Trail 7
  • Hudson River Greenway 75, Towpath Trail 25
  • Charlotte Rail Trail 90, Hudson Waterfront Walkway 10
  • Monon Trail 56, Hudson River Greenway 44
  • Towpath Trail 57, Clear Creek Trail 43
  • Charlotte Rail Trail 70, Clear Creek Trail 30
  • Monon Trail 50, Towpath Trail 50
  • Hudson Waterfront Walkway 70, Hudson River Greenway 30
  • Hudson River Greenway 57, Charlotte Rail Trail 43
  • Monon Trail 50, Clear Creek Trail 50
  • Hudson Waterfront Walkway 75, Towpath Trail 25

Charlotte Rail Trail: 9 pts
Hudson Waterfront Walkway: 9 pts
Hudson River Greenway: 6 pts
Monon Trail: 5 pts
Towpath Trail: 4 pts
Clear Creek Trail: 1 pt

Root, root, root for the home team! #SligoCreek

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Is affordability just, “You get what you pay for”? https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/10/20/is-affordability-just-you-get-what-you-pay-for/ Thu, 20 Oct 2022 19:33:51 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=73504 In a tweet this week, the Welcoming Neighbors Network recommended that pro-housing advocates keep supply-and-demand arguments in their back pockets and emphasize simpler housing composition arguments: This advice makes an economist’s mind race. We know, after all, that supply and demand work. But we’re not so sure about composition changes. If “affordability” is achieved by […]

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In a tweet this week, the Welcoming Neighbors Network recommended that pro-housing advocates keep supply-and-demand arguments in their back pockets and emphasize simpler housing composition arguments:

This advice makes an economist’s mind race. We know, after all, that supply and demand work. But we’re not so sure about composition changes. If “affordability” is achieved by building units that people don’t want (in bad locations, too small, lacking valued attributes), then the price-per-unit can be low without actually benefiting people on their own terms. Even if existing homes are bigger than many people want, at least some of the price decline from building smaller homes is the “you get what you pay for” effect.

The wrong kind of affordability

(Incidentally, this is the opposite concern from that held by econ-skeptics concerned about gentrification: they worry that new housing will be too good or that investment will upscale neighborhoods. This inverts the trope that economists “only care about money”.)

A few days later, a Maryland state senator asked me that very supply-and-demand question: “What’s the evidence that large-scale upzoning leads to affordability?” This is a tough question. First, large-scale upzonings are very scarce. Second, even if one occurs, it’s not in an experimental vacuum.

Three kinds of affordability

Let’s specify that an upzoning likely promotes affordability in three ways:

  • Supply and demand
  • You get what you pay for
  • Only pay for what you want

The first channel is obvious – it explains why Cleveland is cheaper than Boston. The second source of affordability is valuable for people at risk of homelessness, but doesn’t make most people better off. The third source – what WNN recommends advocates emphasize – is that many regulations require people to pay for more housing (or pricey attributes) that they don’t want.

In a lot of cases, the last two effects will go together. Suppose a regulation forces me to pay for covered parking. I value the garage at $10,000, but it actually adds $30,000 to my home’s cost. Repealing it would save me $10k via “you get what you pay for” and $20k via “only pay for what you want.”

In my own research on Houston and Dallas minimum lot sizes this is exactly what I find: people value additional yard space, but not by as much as they’re paying for it.

Facing these questions, I was pleased to find that University of Michigan Ph.D. candidate Mike Mei had posted his job market paper – one of the few rigorous analyses that gets right to the heart of WNN’s advice and the senator’s question.

Finding an experiment in Houston

Houston’s choice to reduce minimum lot sizes to 1,400 square feet in 1999 was not random, and there’s no “control Houston” in an alternate universe. So Mei uses a “synthetic control” method to argue that reducing minimum lot size also reduced the size of newly built homes.

Synthetic controls use a weighted average of a “donor pool” of similarly situated cities that tracked the “treated” city (i.e. Houston) before a policy change. Mei’s synthetic control is reasonably convincing, although it relies mostly on just three donors.

Mei shows that Houston’s new housing sizes dropped sharply relative to “synthetic Houston”

This is a very useful and direct result for those of us advocating for minimum lot size reductions: even though developers squeeze as much house as they can onto Houston’s small lots, those houses are still smaller than the alternative.

Affordability without supply effects

Mei could have tried the same synthetic method to measure the impact of Houston’s reform on new home prices. But that wouldn’t let us distinguish between the various sources of affordability.

Instead, Mei uses a model of household decisions, taking into account household income and size (i.e., number of people). Intuitively, bigger households need bigger houses. His model allows migration, has no limits on how many houses are built, and assumes away location preferences, which effectively shuts down supply-and-demand as a source of affordability. That lets him isolate the gains from the “only pay for what you want” channel.

(There’s another minor “reallocation” channel in his model, but it wouldn’t show up in an affordability calculation, so let’s set it aside.)

Figure 14(a) shows that, in the long run, the value of only paying for as much house as they want will benefit Houston households by between zero and $28,000, with generally higher values for lower-income households. The average benefit is $18,000, which is one-third of the median income at the time of the reform. Figure 14(b) shows that households of all sizes benefit, but the benefits are greatest for smaller households.

For Figure 15, Mei adds very simplified asset holdings, allowing households to rent housing and then become owners. If this simplification holds up, it shows that virtually all the benefits flow to people who were renters before the policy was introduced. Homeowners lose a little bit on average. The biggest losses are for owners who had small houses before the reform; those face the biggest increase in competition.

(It’s not clear to me why there’s a rigid ceiling at about $28,000 in gains – that’s probably an artifact of the model.)

Does supply even matter?

In my conversation with the Maryland senator, I confronted the hard truth that supply changes need to be very large to make a real dent in prices. If, as Albouy, Ehrlich, and Liu estimate, it takes a 3 percent increase in the housing stock to bring prices down 2 percent, then a major metropolitan area needs a massive increase in housing to make a real dent in rent.

Can we get there faster with composition effects? Let’s do a quick back of the envelope. First, assume population and housing stock would grow 10% each at baseline, with no resulting change in price.

  • Supply only approach: we add 40% to the housing stock without changing the mix of housing types. Result: 20% affordability gains.
  • Composition-only approach: we add 10% to the housing stock, but with the average price just 50% as high as the norm. Result: 5% affordability gains from lowering average price.
  • Mixed approach: we add 25% to the housing stock, with the average prices 75% as high as the norm. Result: 15% affordability gain (10% from supply, 5% from lowering average price).

How realistic are any of these scenarios? I’m not sure. But my takeaway is that supply remains the primary avenue for broad-based affordability gains. But the “you get what you pay for” and “only pay for what you want” channels are far more important for the affordability of a particular new housing unit.

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Before YIMBY https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/10/06/before-yimby/ Thu, 06 Oct 2022 22:43:53 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=73249 In an encouraging post this morning, Matt Yglesias – one of the O.G. YIMBYs – summed up 10 years of success since his book, The Rent Is Too Damn High, was published. If you’d asked me, I’d have guessed that Too Damn High was published in 2015 or 2016, when YIMBY was in its infancy […]

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In an encouraging post this morning, Matt Yglesias – one of the O.G. YIMBYs – summed up 10 years of success since his book, The Rent Is Too Damn High, was published. If you’d asked me, I’d have guessed that Too Damn High was published in 2015 or 2016, when YIMBY was in its infancy and researchers like me were starting to nose around zoning as a major regulatory cost. Yglesias was several years ahead of the curve.

In his post, Yglesias gives free marketers a lot of credit for being for upzoning before it was cool. Market urbanists will certainly accept the compliment, and the legacies of Bernard Siegan and Bob Ellickson (19722022 – incredible!) are undeniable.

But there’s another major part of the pre-YIMBY world that’s missing in this story, which is the progressive critics of suburban zoning. One of the graphs that keeps me up at night is the Google n-gram showing that “exclusionary zoning” was less a part of the discourse in the 2010s than it was throughout the 70s and 80s… and yet the activists of the time accomplished so little!

Too bad nobody talks about exclusionary zoning anymore

The progressive critics of zoning, such as Paul Davidoff and Myron Orfield, were focused on allowing multifamily housing – especially if subsidized – in the suburbs. Urban housing markets were pretty slack at the time, and adding affordable housing in central cities risked concentrating poverty.

A great book that covers a specific housing battle spanning the 1990s is Lawrence Lanahan’s The Lines Between Us.

Alongside YIMBY

As I understand it, these activists’ energy became formalized in the affordable housing industry. A lot of those institutions – and individuals – are still active. They have a mixed relationship with the YIMBY movement. In some cities and states, they’re enthusiastic participants. In others, they’re antagonistic.

It would be too glib (and wrong) to say that YIMBY has its roots in libertarian critiques of zoning rather than progressive ones. What might be more accurate is that YIMBY, like the early market urbanists, recognizes that the greatest gains to zoning liberalization are in central cities. That’s a departure from the 1980s focus on opening the suburbs.

Ironically, most of the specific YIMBY wins, at least in state law, are broad requirements that loosen up exclusionary suburban zoning – such as California’s ADU laws, Oregon’s lot-split law, or Massachusetts “MBTA Communities” law (which doesn’t apply to Boston at all).

What’s next?

YIMBY is still gaining momentum. Last year, the outreach team I work with sent a blast to state legislators from all 50 states with my Menu of Options for zoning reform. About 40 legislators responded, making it possibly the most effective email blast in the team’s history.

This week, we sent basically the same email promoting basically the same product. We might already, in just 3 days, be close to surpassing last year’s number of briefing requests.

And this time, we only blasted it to 13 states.

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Rent Control is How the Rich Outbid Less-Affluent People for Valuable Land https://www.marketurbanism.com/2022/09/12/rent-control-is-how-the-rich-outbid-less-affluent-people-for-valuable-land/ Mon, 12 Sep 2022 20:46:22 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=72909 Rent control has devalued property so badly that you could make a million dollars by tearing down a nice 12-unit building in my neighborhood.

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Several homes in my neighborhood have sold recently, each more expensive than the last. The priciest was a lovely home that drew $1.65 million at the peak of this spring’s market.

Takoma Park is a great place to live. It’s also the only jurisdiction in the region that has rent control.

As a result, one building here sold cheap: a 12-unit multifamily building at went under contract in late July for $1,280,000. That’s just $130 per square foot, less than a third as much as the dilapidated (although heroically marketed) house next door.

Electric meters (Long & Foster Real Estate)

Outside the City of Takoma Park, inferior multifamily real estate commands higher prices. On the unincorporated side of Flower Ave – where commutes are longer, perceived crime risk is higher, and students are assigned to less desirable schools – two small, unrenovated multifamily buildings sold this year for $258 and $191 per square foot, respectively.

What $191 per square foot buys you just outside Takoma Park (Google Streetview)

Now, it’s of course possible that the cheap 12-unit building is so cheap due to major maintenance issues or higher taxes. But it’s no surprise to find that decades of strict rent control would massively depress multifamily building values.

Priced like a tear-down (Google Streetview)

The upshot is that there’s an investment opportunity here. For just $1.3 million, you can buy this 25,000 square foot lot, scrape it, split it into three lots, and build a McMansion on each. If the Big Macs cost half a million to build and sell for $1.25 million each – we’re being conservative here – you’re looking at a clean million dollars in profit.

As far as I know, no-one has done that with a Takoma Park rental building. But plenty have been converted to condos (“very cool, hip, and chic”, fellow kids). And no one has built new multifamily within the city limits since rent control was instituted in 1980. Rent control is how affluent people outbid their working class neighbors for valuable urban land.

Be my neighbor for just $1,295,000 (Long & Foster Real Estate)

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