Friday, February 04, 2011

Just say no to urban density phobia

Ed Glaeser via Friedersdorf:
The sad fact from an environmental point of view is that building in the San Francisco Bay is a great thing to do. There's an incredibly temperate climate, which means that the carbon emissions for households there are among the lowest in the country. It's got plenty of access to great public transportation. This is the area that should be building a great deal of housing. But when you make it difficult to build there, you make sure that there's housing being built instead in the suburbs of Houston, where you'd need a lot of energy to create a pleasant manmade environment, and there's a lot of driving.
I don't see what's "sad" about this fact. And I suspect zoning laws and people's desire to keep their neighborhood as close to a suburban ideal as possible are more responsible than environmental regulations for lack of density. But I'm not familiar with the development landscape here in the Bay Area. I do know that there's a huge, mostly-derelict former naval base right in Alameda where I live. It's prime Bay Area real estate worth an enormous amount of money, but has been woefully under-utilized as the city and various developers fight over terms.

People seem to love to live in nice, dense, walkable, urban neighborhoods, if housing prices are any indication of people's living preferences. I certainly have paid a lot of money throughout my life to be able to live in such an area, and will continue to do so. But oftimes zoning laws, parking requirements, and density restrictions make the creation of new such areas actually illegal. This seems very silly to me.

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