Live from La Farine: Rick Perry stole my urbanist talking points. Too bad he doesn’t actually understand them: "As David Graham of The Atlantic noted...**:
...Perry’s big speech on race last week had a section that sounded as if it could have been written by yours truly:
In blue-state coastal cities, you have these strict zoning laws, environmental regulations that have prevented buildings from expanding the housing supply. And that may be great for the venture capitalist who wants to keep a nice view of San Francisco Bay. But it’s not so great for the single mother working two jobs in order to pay rent and still put food on the table for her kids...
Perhaps his speechwriter has been reading Grist or some like-minded websites. It has become commonplace in the policy-wonk corner of the internet to blame the nation’s densest, lowest-emissions cities like New York and San Francisco for their high cost of housing.... But Perry, unsurprisingly, is missing the big picture. It would be wonderful if the nation’s problems with sprawl and housing unaffordability could be solved by upzoning in a few cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, those cities are not actually the primary driver of these problems.... Almost three times as many people live in the suburbs of the 51 largest major metro areas than in the inner cities.... Most people in ‘San Francisco’ don’t live in San Francisco. They live in the suburbs of San Francisco, which are hideously expensive.... New York City is more than 10 times denser than its suburbs. Most suburban areas allow only detached houses with big yards.... That’s why the average resident of New York’s suburban Great Neck, Long Island has twice the carbon footprint of the average Manhattanite. That’s also why — despite all the hype about gentrification and the high cost of inner-city housing — Manhattan, like New York City’s other boroughs and like San Franciso, has a lower median household income than any of its surrounding suburban counties. The suburbs are just as unaffordable as the inner cities, even more so when you factor in the cost of owning a car and driving everywhere....
You know who else restricts density? Cities in Texas. And the reasons are completely selfish. Consider this report from last October in the Houston Chronicle:
A stretch of Riverside Terrace, a rebound neighborhood known for its ‘large lots, mature trees and a view of the downtown skyline,’ will be the first residential pocket in Houston where homeowners can use a new city code provision to fend off unwanted townhome, condo or residential tower developments. The City Council on Wednesday voted to grant residents in the 68-lot swath the right to establish a ‘special minimum lot size area,’ a tool created by recent changes in the Houston development code to counter some of the tearing down, paving over and skyward building across the region.
This is classic not-in-my-backyard-yard, inefficient, anti-density zoning.... So much for the myth that Houston has no zoning; it’s actually loaded up with rules mandating large lot sizes and ample parking. This is bad for the environment, it drives up the cost of housing, and it’s going on right in Perry’s own state. It turns out that cities in blue states are actually far better than cities in red states about allowing dense development. New York and San Francisco are by far the two densest cities in the country.... Take a look at, say, Phoenix’s zoning map, and you can see that almost the entire city is dedicated to single-family detached housing lots... [that] can have absurd requirements such as 35,000-square-foot minimum lot sizes, 40-foot setbacks from the street, and maximum heights of just two stories.
While these cities have cheaper housing than San Francisco, much of that cost advantage disappears when you factor in the cost of transportation in car-dependent sprawl. As Derek Thompson noted in The Atlantic in 2012:
Housing in Houston isn’t so bad — it’s the 8th most affordable large city to own a home in. But… factor in transportation, and it’s the 8th least affordable large city to live. On the other hand, dense expensive cities like San Francisco, Boston and New York are considerably more affordable when you add in transportation costs because of their superior public transit.
Insofar as Houston is cheaper than San Francisco, it’s not because Houston hasn’t restricted development. It’s because not as many people want to live in Houston as San Francisco, Houston’s wages are lower, and the cost of driving leaves Houstonians with less income to bid up the price of housing....
If we want the benefits of more affordable and denser, lower-emissions housing, there are a whole bunch of bigger policies than revising San Francisco’s zoning code that a presidential candidate could propose... stop subsidizing suburban sprawl... build mass transit... invest more in... Section 8.... We need suburban counties and towns to build more affordable housing, reform their zoning codes to allow density and mixed uses, and reform their transportation policies to require walkability and bikeability. And we need all those same policies in sprawling, inefficient, low-density cities like Houston, too.... I eagerly await Rick Perry’s next speech where he talks about all of that.