Matthew Yglesias – What Price Density
The solution, as Ryan Avent says, is to build denser communities. We ought to build more transit infrastructure, of course, but it’s cheaper to use what we already have more intensively. And, of course, it’s more practical to build new infrastructure if there’s a reasonable expectation that it will serve intensive development. Beyond that, density also serves to make walking and biking more practical for more trips. And best of all, getting denser could be accomplished mostly through growth-enhancing relaxation of regulatory burdens.
And of course if the supply of housing in central cities and nearby suburbs were radically higher, then it would be much easier for people to afford to live in them. Instead, restrictions on the supply of conveniently located housing lead to high prices and the “drive until you qualify” phenomenon that’s currently leaving many Americans in deep trouble as they try to pay for fuel.
In general, relaxing density restrictions will ease housing prices. But, a couple notes:
Creating more socialized infrastructure, whether transit or roads, disperses development. High densities create demand for transit, not the other way around. Transit creates demand to locate near the stations, but not elsewhere. This is because as commuters are diverted from roads, congestion subsides, allowing drivers to commute from further-out places. So, if density is the goal, I would privatize highways & parking, while putting the breaks on construction of new public highways & parking prior to building new expensive transit. If individual commuters were to pay for their use of the roads, many would alter their habits and perhaps where they choose to commute to / from. The change in location preference will, no-doubt, increase density.
Building densely has higher construction costs per unit as land costs are dispersed among more units, so density doesn’t necessarily equal affordability for those who live densely. However, building higher density where there is high demand releases pent up demand to gentrify less desirable areas. Overall affordability improves for a city as a result of allowing the market to provide additional supply.