How do we actually get there? Is "just" changing zoning actually enough? Is there a case study? Over what time-frame? With what downsides?
NIMBYism isn't a magical spell cast by Satan: it's an organic outgrowth of people's incentives. What is the way around it? I don't believe that then 1,001st reiteration of the advantages of mixed use developments is the answer. What kind of compromises work to keep NIMBYism from obstructing all of these developments?
You'll gradually get more density and less traffic this way over time, assuming that's what people want (and if it's not, they'll get what they want instead)
The root of the problem is the impulse to be disgusted by your neighbor's choices, and wishing to harness violent force (government rules) to force your neighbor to conform to your wishes. Enough already.
Everyone essentially agrees with you. The problem is that when ONE of these people wants to build the next Trump Tower on top of grandma's old cottage, the "live and let live" ethos goes out the window - everyone's at city council decrying mixed zoning or whatever else they think is "ruining" their neighborhood! There's a reason the term NIMBY exists, there's a reason we don't like living next to Sriracha factories or concert venues and don't just let people turn their houses into one of them at will.
We live in a society and the law is a reflection of it, especially in cities where a lot of people with different needs and desires have to get along. If you want to literally do whatever you want on your property, there's lots of places (in Alaska) that you can do that.
Hell, I actually agree with you, and that's why I'm eventually going to move somewhere where I don't get woke up by traffic every morning, where I don't get stuck in traffic, where I can play music as loud as I want, and celebrate Pagan holidays with massive bonfires until 7am. But until then, I won't live under any illusion of living in a libertarian paradise, because it's just not a viable outcome for city dwellers.
Enshrining a right to only live next to other residences is how we end up in this problem of boring neighborhoods that require lots of travel just to get to where you want to go.
In old large eastern US cities and in towns of any size in other countries I've been in (Mexico, Japan) there is MUCH more mixed use. You might see a motorcycle repair shop in between a couple of regular single family homes. Nobody seems to mind. I don't get why we're special and weird like this.
Most of lower Manhattan, which is so valued now, could not be built legally today. It was built before zoning codes.
I'm not against mild zoning codes that merely slow down rather than block change. For example, rather than a named maximum height, say that no building can be built more than twice the average building height in the area within a certain radius. Or, the percentage of nonresidential uses within an area cannot increase by more than 2% per year, or something.
This way in the short term, a neighborhood cannot be transformed overnight. But, it can be transformed slowly over decades towards what the market will bear, ie what people actually want and are willing to pay for.
This isn't a libertarian fantasy, it's just how towns used to work in the US before zoning and how they work in many other less backwards parts of the world...
I feel like the other commenters are missing that this is the debate. If you choose to move in next to a concert venue, that's your prerogative. If one opens next door, this is when NIMBYism kicks in. Cities need to evolve, and existing owners speaking out against loud businesses or view-blocking skyscrapers or whatever it may be prevent this from happening. Whether this is virtuous or not is up for debate, but it's certainly a limiting factor.
The massive amounts of traffic (foot\car) these things can generate, depending on the city and size of the venue. The noise from that many people on the street is not containable.
The same with a new 1000 unit apartment complex going up next to you - it's going to have a massive impact on local services around you, depending on what was there already. Your idea about disallowing large changes isn't horrible.
Pretty big assumption, my friend. Generally they're not, or they're not contained well enough, or people are just old and grouchy so they go form homeowners associations and ban Sriracha factories. That said, I do agree with your overall outlook here, I'm just afraid that a lot of (particularly older, more traditional people) don't, so it's unrealistic to expect change. People don't like change, and they sure as hell don't like changing the way things change.
Assuming you never had to walk or feed it and it never misbehaved, what's so hard about having a dog for a pet?
I was thinking along similar lines, yet I suspect that this won't happen for various reasons even if NIMBYism is discounted. The layout of many suburban communities is less than ideal for commercial development, even something as innocent as a convenience store, since they are low density and unwalkable for community members while the roads are ill suited for traffic from outside of the community. Talking about gradually increasing height or unit restrictions sounds nice, yet I suspect that land and construction costs have been driven so high by existing zoning regulations that developers find smaller projects uneconomical.
We live in a society and the law is a reflection of it,
especially in cities where a lot of people with different
needs and desires have to get along. If you want to literally
do whatever you want on your property, there's lots of places
(in Alaska) that you can do that.
The problem emerges here: cities are increasingly becoming centers of cultural clout, if not political or economic clout. If you don't have some kind of foothold there or some grasp of the proceedings there -- and no matter what your cultural leanings are & whether you lean left of center or right of it -- the change will drift to your shores, no matter how remotely you live or work.
Every aspect of every issue that has been covered in this thread is somehow going to affect how you live, work & socialize, in the near future. Compartmentalizing yourself -- and I'm not saying you're implying that -- from this debate with the hopes of one day moving to the far reaches of the continental expanse, is definitely not the answer.
With increasing urbanization of the world, this applies to you, even if you plan to move to a sparsely populated patch in another continent. 
Most people don't think through this enough. I wish I could overstate this.
Cultural clout shapes large portions of your life. And cities are increasingly holding larger and larger chunks of that clout, even if they always have.
Every law stipulating the amount of bio-degradable plastic in the cutlery at your run of the mill chain restaurant to the maximum wattage legally allowed to power your domestic vacuum cleaner  is somehow fashioned in the cities or influenced by people who've lived with city folk their entire lives.
This is why cities matter.
And with that, how cities are fashioned with the input & desires of a small coterie of like-minded micro-apartment-dwelling, parklet-embracing & density-demanding people, can one day have far-flung consequences on a geographically & culturally removed set of people who've never ever bought a two way ticket at a metro train station kiosk or had to share traffic with a paratransit bus , on their countryside roadways.
I'm not even mentioning the political pressure large companies with thousands of employees have been able to brought to bear on entire states, let alone cities, to mold & influence laws.
This is why we all have to partake in this, whether we could be bothered to do so or not. Because one day we will.
edit: errors & added a footnote
But then what if the person is a travelling salesman? Has the $1m prize for this problem been solved and awarded yet? Not that I know of.
On your point about limiting how much a vacuum cleaner can use, try this simple test, pick up some dirt, put on the palm of your hand and blow it. You don't need much blow to get it off your hand. Now try the same but in reverse ie suck the dirt. Did you breath it all in? I'd say no and this is why rules restricting how powerful the vacuum cleaner can be is stupid. Its the same as using eco friendly light bulbs if working from home during the winter months. These contribute to depression & SAD, so get yourself a brighter light that's still a CFL but gives you more light (lux) for the same wattage as the old style incandescent. Technology is designed to make life better for us, not to go backwards because some politician said so.
If politicians were really bothered about the planet, your health etc, they would not spends millions on defence, they would invest massively in research whilst also spending more on education to further drive the research. The fact they don't just confirms to me, they are there for big business only.
The West's population would be in decline and has been in decline since the 70's if it wasn't for immigration. Immigration is needed because we have a messed up financial system which needs constant growth to keep driving inflation. If we didn't have inflation, very quickly you would see the financial system is just a generational Ponzi scheme as the baby boomers who stole your future have demonstrated. If you wont have to work for longer before you get your pension then the boomers have not stolen your future.
Side note, the TSP is only infeasible in theory, not in practice.
I agree that strict limits on vacuum energy use are overreaching a bit, but it has had good results. People wrongly believe that energy use = suction power.
Before the limits, vacuums were advertised on how much power they use. All manufacturers had to do was to put in an inefficient motor, and stamp "wastes even more watts" on the box.
After the limit, I now see vacuums advertised with some standardised "cleaning performance score" on carpet and hardwood, and airflow per minute. Hopefully this means that manufacturers will focus on (advertising) metrics that more closely match the actual purpose of vacuums.
Now the same result could probably have been achieved with just the advertising rules. And energy efficiency & environmental goals could be achieved with pollution tax on electricity and everyone making their own decisions on energy-efficient devices. But that's a much more complicated political move, with a lot of people opposed to it.
Before the rules, manufacturers were advertising vacuum cleaners with ever larger wattage numbers. They weren't actually any better at picking up dirt, they just had less efficient motors.
I would have preferred consumer education (e.g. require suction/CFM numbers to be shown) but banning pointless wastes of electricity in the name of marketing isn't as crazy at it may seem.
So there is a more healthier and lenient alternative to city planning which does not result in total chaos. I think many people here are stuck in between two extremes. The anarchistic what ever goes crowd that's sick and tired of the bureaucratic mess, and what we currently have. However there is I think a healthier synthesis between the two ideas that we need to really consider.
We know what the problem is, we know why there's a problem, and we even have plenty of solutions, but as has been pointed out the problem is in implementation. That's the real problem.
Here's the full post:
Here in the USA, only the older parts of the old pre-zoning cities have a shot at being nice like that, and even that may have been ruined in many cities. I think we artificially have an obsession with preservation in the USA, because current zoning means that many building forms are unbuildable today so the only way to get them is to preserve something old. These nice old sorts of buildings and neighborhoods can be destroyed but not created, but that's only an artifact of zoning. With more Japanese-style zoning, preservation would be less important
You've probably misdiagnosed the root of the problem; some extended family had a shoe factory built directly next to their home and it greatly impacted their quality of life, and I don't think I'd suggest it's their fault for being unhappy about it.
"It all falls apart"? I beg to differ. It is a continuum of cities being differently developed, yes. But many cities (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei) are not all that far from many European cities, and they are often far more vibrant (think Manhattan or Paris).
In fact, it is more of an uneven development, where things like subways, street food and internet might be much better, but sewage and smog is worse. It is mostly just different and depends on what you focus your attention on, seeing the bad things that are different or the good things.
I'm talking in particular about cities which have little-to-no planning (look at 1-10m population non-capital cities through China, Indonesia, India etc.)
When we were living in Guangzhou we had to deal with constant blackouts, water stopping at least once a week. Our visits to friends in Hunan and surrounding provinces were practically the same experience.
The same is true of many European cities as well, such as Paris and London. It just happened a long time ago and it is hidden under the layers of time (for example parts of Paris changed drastically 150 years ago with Hausmann). I specifically left out Singapore because, while a well-planned and pleasant city, a huge part of it doesn't strike me as having being created organically. A tell-tale sign is the lack of narrow streets in most places, instead having a lot of huge roads (with very little traffic compared to US cities, though).
It seems to me that one of the main differences is whether a city was created before or after cars were created. See this image for an illustration: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/64/Revised_petro...
If anything, you should shift the barrier a bit. Instead of saying you cannot build because X Y or Z, change it to be that you cannot rent or sell or open to the public without X Y and Z. It kills the nimbyism if the building is already there, but still keeps consumer protection in place to stop you from ending up in an apartment building built this century with exposed asbestos.
Can't speak for Bangkok though, but Taipei and Hong Kong have incredible transport systems.
If there is a specific noise/shadow or other detriment that is clearly caused to an adjoining property, then OK, the adjoining neighbor should be able to stop it (or sell the right to complain as an easement if they wish). If there isn't, and it just "looks ugly" and "isn't normal" then there is no meaningful detriment and they should be allowed to build
If you think about it, zoning and land use laws are just the codifying of things that are detriments to your neighbors. Obviously, no one is going to agree with all of them, but they are what society has deemed worthy of forbidding.
Only if by 'society' you mean rich old rentseeking stay-at-home busybodies with nothing better to do than complain at town council meetings.
Edit: less snarkily put, the people doing the forbidding are not representative of society and are not acting in our collective best interests
Pretend there is a dark shroud covering away all boundaries of your property line. Whatever elements, whether noise, shadow, smell, smoke, etc enter into your property volume, you are allowed to complain about. Anything outside of that, you are not. How damned hard is that?
Do you have any examples of zoning or land use laws that don't fit your definition of 'things we are allowed to regulate'?
We needed to submit drawings of the garage, explain that it fit well with the main building, a distinct house from 1909, well known in the neighbourhood. Describe the colour to be used, including the colour on the garage door.
They come and check that the foundations get placed within four inches (10 cm) of what the building permit allows.
Do I mind? No. End result is good, took longer than expected due to heavy load on the city planning department.
In some villages in Switzerland you get fined if you don't have the right colour flowers on your balcony. (Or maybe the flowers showed up on your doorstep, with a mandatory bill, without having to ask.) :)
Given that the two condos that sold near me (one next door, and one two doors away) went in the 300k-350k range, it doesn't seem to be depressing the property values much either.
A land owner close to where the city is now shouldn't be able to squat on that land at the cost of the opportunity it can provide to the neighborhood(s) around it.
Should we also TAX vacant or idle storefronts that seem to have zero foot traffic any given hour of any given day?
(SF seems to have dozens of those every city block. One wonders if those are some kind of fronts for illicit activities. They seem to never change ownership even with skyrocketing rents for office space nearby.)
Should a street level business that serves a large number of residents, get TAX BREAKS? Like a grocery store that vends fresh produce as opposed to a boutique book store that specializes in first editions?
Should they also get favorable lease terms, mandated by the city?
Should businesses that, by nature, serve out of town-ers be forced to move to designated neighborhoods?
Should empty storefronts be forced to take up tenants who could serve the needs of the residents?
Is TAXING even the solution to any of these problems?
Not to say it shouldn't be done, but there are definitely two edges to that sword.
When you bulldoze black neighborhoods to build the expressway that serves your suburb of single family homes, that's when there is a problem.
When the tax base of poor neighborhoods subsidize the burden of infrastructure support of affluent neighborhoods, that's when there is a problem. 
That's what I propose anyway. Yes, I am very aware of what a big problem we've had in the 20th century with private developers colluding with municipalities to take land from the poor, use it to build things for the wealthy, and get taxpayers to pay for as much of the related infrastructure as possible.
There are even more things you definitely don't and can't pay for your own use - fire stations, police, the salaries of the DMV employees that regulate drivers licenses so someone who doesn't know how to drive doesn't crash into your house. There's a huge long-tail of public goods that serve everyone in every urban or suburban area, no getting around it.
Check out the front-side picture. What do you think would happen to resale value? If you think property owners will continue to buy houses and give up any hope of actionable damages in the race to the bottom of this tragedy of the commons, you're delusional.
Buy a house if you like it and want to live in it for the next 30 years. Then you won't care about resale value.
Should we also feel bad for people who decided to short a bunch of random stocks because they had a gut feeling? Mortgages are highly leveraged, and are not inherently a safe investment. What makes them safe is when you're buying something you intend to live in anyway, because you'll always need some form of housing, you're just prepaying for it.
Besides, long term, this will make the neighborhood denser and ultimately increase land value. As long as you hold on long enough your resale value may actually go up. Either way, resale value is not something legitimate everyday people should be concerned with, only speculators. If you're not ready to commit to live somewhere for the next 30 years, rent.
It's not on your property and it was built up to local code and zoning regulations.
The UK has a lot of Victoria era terraced houses, and in big cities it's pretty common to see the attic converted into another bedroom or an extension build on the garden . If you are the first person in your street doing it, you'll have a hard time getting permission from the council, but if someone else has done it, it'll be a lot easier.
You can still go somewhere where there isn't a HOA or there is a competing HOA. In many US cities today, there is no option, because zoning is municipal, not a HOA rule.
These days, builders always create an HOA. The options to avoid an HOA are very limited. You can settle for something really old. In theory you can become a builder yourself, but buying 30 acres and putting in streets and storm drains and... is a huge investment and a huge amount of time and effort. Even then, there are places where you simply can't do it due to zoning.
i really like this alternate universe where you have to fight govt in order to build smaller
here in the bay area it's the exact opposite. between zoning , height limits, Discretionary Review, CEQA and "environmental impact" reviews, it is unbelievably hard to build density here.
projects are delayed in unpredictable ways ranging from weeks to years, often while a developer pays rent and property tax on a vacant lot.
the resulting artificial scarcity inflates rents, which is great for incumbent property owners. boomers who have owned property for really long time are often essentially exempt from property tax due to Prop 13. 
 i made a map: https://dcpos.ch/yimby/zoning
 example: https://twitter.com/hanlonbt/status/769662484936429569
the city kinda wallows in its own bureaucracy. back in 2004, they won funding to build a rapid transit bus line on Geary St. volunteers knocked on doors, voters voted, a ballot initiative passed. just weeks ago, it passed "Environmental Impact Review".
it was stuck in EIR for 13 years.
We need to have zoning laws.
"You'll gradually get more density and less traffic this way over time, assuming that's what people want "
Once a city has been structured, it's nary impossible to 'unstructure'.
"The root of the problem is the impulse to be disgusted by your neighbor's choices, "
We live in a community and we have no choice but to have rules & laws - they just need to be done intelligently.
Cities like Frankfurt and Munich are very close to ideal. They have 'just right' urban density, good Trams, Subways and Trains - and it works extremely well. You can get where you need to quickly, there's not a lot of traffic - and ample choice for those who want to have a 'big house' vs. 'smaller home' vs. 'urban flat'.
North Americans really screwed up - and it has a lot to do with builders, bad zoning etc.
If people were actually 'given the choice' of semi-dense urban living + easy commute to slightly more dense suburbs - they would usually take it.
In North America - people 'have less choice' and 'less options' because one of the key ingredients: public transport (i.e. trams, trains and subways) requires some degree of collective organization, as well as some foresight with respect to urban planning.
It seems a little 'anti choice' to opt for a Euro-style city, but really, there is a lot of 'choice' and the effectiveness of basic public transport is so awesome for people that I can't imagine anybody would want to opt out.
For example, I don't think anyone in all of Europe would opt for 'less' transit services, they are usually great and used heavily - and you can still drive if you want.
Zoning laws, especially ones as expansive as what the US has, have only existed as they are for about 60 years. My still living grandmother can recollect how the process to buy and build her house was straightforward - you buy the lot from the private owner, you draft up your own design, you buy materials and you build your house. No county zoning code, no state inspector.
This is in suburban PA, where pretty much 50-70% of standing homes were built pre-zoning and there is no new home owner being "exploited" here - you simply get 2 inspectors to look over the house for code violations, deduct the cost of getting the house to code compliance from the sale price, and make that your offer.
> Once a city has been structured
There are cities around the world that have existed in some form for thousands of years. They constantly evolve and change, and to think we are at some point in progress that it won't happen anymore seems like undue hubris. Cities will absolutely continue to change, the only difference being if cities want to use the law to prevent organic change and growth, it will simply go elsewhere and the city will wither and die.
The reason NA doesn't get public transit is a vicious cycle, with historical motivations:
* Awful zoning and building code means new construction cannot happen, leading to city rot.
* City rot drives money away, and leaves the husk to the poor.
* The poor have no collective will or enough economic impact to justify investment, so the cities they reside in never see infrastructure development that would drive economic growth.
* The fleeing rich seek extraordinary zoning blockades to keep the poor (ie, minorities) out, but by taking the money with them they take the growth opportunities that attract anyone less than lavish.
* The rich become extraordinarily NIMBY to defend against undesirables moving near their neighborhoods. Additionally, they use their influence in zoning and NIMBY policy to zone / structure where they live in unsustainable and culturally hostile ways to project their desired vision for where they live.
* The economic stagnation the extreme amount of overregulation causes pushes you back to eventual rot, and you restart the cycle.
As long as you don't actually want a big property and cars at a middle class cost. In the many US suburbs, you can get a 3000 Sq ft home with a two car garage (not included in the area calc) for less than $200k and be within a half hour drive from a major city center.
So those German cities are only 'ideal' if you have different priorities.
Also - Germany is quite a bit smaller than the US so property prices are an issue.
There's no reason there couldn't be a 'Frankfurt, Maine' - with large homes a little further out - and still cheap.
I'm not aware of any city in the world where someone can purchase a 3000 Sq ft+ property with a two car garage for less than 4x the average annual family income and have access to amazing public transportation.
Everywhere has busses, trams, trains and cities have subway.
If you really want a huge home and want to 'ride public transit' - then it's possible to get one near or by a bus route, or a short walk from the station at the village.
Or you can buy a little further out, and drive 2 minutes to the village and catch the train when needed.
"Good transportation requires high density or or high property values to pay the taxes required to build it."
No, it just requires foresight, social buy in and a tax base.
Almost everywhere in Europe has really good transport - and it actually is possible to buy big homes, very few want them.
>Almost everywhere in Europe has really good transport
No, it doesn't. If your bar for good public transportation is a bus route and a drive to a nearby train station, then the US has good public transportation as well because every city has buses.
Good transportation is within the cities like Paris, Vienna, Rome, London. Trains run at least every 10 minutes and can get you nearly anywhere in the city within a half hour. It has to be good enough that it's actually faster and more convenient than driving. All of the houses on these train stops are very expensive or very small (or both if you're in London).
No garage, a carport is enough for the few times a year someone needs to park a car there.
Bus stops every 90 minutes, so not exactly amazing, but good enough for the occasional trip to the city.
Note that bus service doesn't need lots of tax money to build up infrastructure, so it can be built out into even sparsely populated areas.
If that's your bar for good public transportation, then the US has amazing public transportation.
That's not how it works. Aggregate preferences doesn't, necessarily, give you the best of worlds. All kind of local minimums and nasty equilibriums are possible.
Houston is the counterexample to your thesis.
Maybe that's not your optimal amazing perfect development. But it doesn't count as not going up.
Of course, it's also growing out at a tremendous rate as well.
Of course, Houston is not helped by having weather not terribly conducive to walking year round.
aaaaand I can safely ignore everything you say.
People still live there.
Changing zoning and eliminating minimum parking requirements, height limitations and setbacks is a good start.
Case studies? Towns in the US before zoning, and much of modern Europe?
Politically... it's a much tougher problem. People are used to their 'burbs and feel they have a right to tell other people what to do with their own land.
Signing up for organizations like the various YIMBY groups, Strong Towns, and so on is probably a good first step.
If you don't have a local YIMBY group - make one!
Make it so I can still store my car (near) my unit. Also that there's a GOOD loading dock so I can get items to/from my unit and transport.
This might be a mega-garage at the edge of a city with moving belt people movers and giant commercial promenades that are covered indoor malls /between/ buildings.
It might just be more parking under the building out of sight.
I also NEED sufficient privacy. I don't want to hear my neighbors slamming the microwave around, food processioning, or cleaning. Nor do I want to hear that idiot above me who thuds around too much. Build it in to the fire and privacy codes that there WILL be walls of sufficient thickness.
Make that inner wall a complete full one, no plumbing or electrical/etc. That's where all of the insulation goes. That's the disconnect between units. Then /outside/ of that build the utility / facing wall that isn't for support, it's for finishing and routing of wall items.
The roof? I'm not sure how to handle that other than, maybe something similar.
Then, what I want, give me a good choice of true high-speed (Ethernet/Fiber) ISPs.
Also, what other people want. Do all of the above, but also build in PLENTY of FAMILY sized units. Units with 4+ real rooms and a common area. Also make it easier to sublet within those rooms for friends (this means the inner doors might need locks as well, and should also sound-isolate).
It works, but it's no good for daily driving. You can get out of town in a car with some patience, but you're going to take the train in town.
If you can accept that, you can have it all. But no American city has made that choice.
At least part of the issue is a chicken and egg type problem. Older city housing stock mostly does not meet your criteria (or it does but costs several millions of dollars and has no density), so people oppose dense urban housing, so it doesn't get built, so we never get to see how it actually can meet the criteria people care about.
Not everywhere. Salt Lake City for example has wide streets and multi-story underground garages to allow locals and commuters alike to drive to the city, with a walkable city center above the garages. The newest residential buildings in the city also advertise their double-walled soundproofing between units.
One issue I have with a lot of smaller cities with walkable cores is that you run out of choices pretty quickly. I'm familiar with a number of places in that vein and they're fine to visit once in a while but I think I'd tire of them as an example of "city living" pretty quickly if I were looking for that sort of thing.
- SF is going to be a lot more crowded, noisy, less clean, obvious signs of poverty. Nothing you can really do to address it other than be aware that some areas are best generally avoided.
- On the other hand, SF has a lot more culture, restaurant variety, and is just a more interesting urban environment than SLC. So, basically, take advantage of that. SF, more than even most larger cities, has a huge number of interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
- Generally speaking, smaller cities often do have some degree of walkability in a central core but you're still crowded in to some degree while you lack the variety and opportunities that preferred large cities have to offer. (I'm not personally much of a fan of smaller cities. I think they tend to have city disadvantages without giving me offsetting benefits.)
Markets would probably also provide units without all the above and while you may not want to live there, perhaps someone would accept it rather than not be able to live in an area at all.
And Houston. There are many case studies, and they point in many directions.
>“We do have a lot of land-use regulations,” Festa said. “We still have a lot of stuff that looks and smells like zoning.” To be be more precise, Houston doesn’t exactly have official zoning. But it has what Festa calls “de facto zoning,” which closely resembles the real thing. “We’ve got a lot of regulations that in other cities would be in the zoning code,” Festa said. “When we use it here, we just don’t use the ‘z’ word.”
Both places started from quite a different place than a modern US municipality. A little too glib an answer, I think.
Main difference between Japan and US is that the zoning is "zoning class or lower", not "zoning class"
So an area that is "factories" can also have commercial stores or residential areas. Areas that are zoned for high rise offices can also have high rise residencies or low-rise offices.
This means that decisions on what gets built in an area are much more guided by what people want. Convenience stores get placed in the middle of neighborhoods (same zoning class as small housing), because.... that's the logical thing to do. Small 3 people companies just set up shop in an appartment, not needing to get more expensive office space.
The end result: if a neighborhood is far from a super market, someone will quickly buy up a plot of land and set one up. Services go where they need to. The lack of reclassification also avoids regulatory hurdles and potential NIMBY vetos.
Case in point: next to where I live, there used to be a large factory. It's gotten demolished and is being replaced by a couple apartment complexes + a grocery store + book store. The process went very quickly, with little issue.
It helps that the transit companies are also real estate, so there's a bit of planning on that end for larger development. But most of the growth is organic, and there are a lot of players.
Which makes it an exceptionally poor case study for our purposes.
Also, Japan is about the size of California while America is one of the largest countries on Earth.
What specifically about urban environments in Japan and Europe won't work in the US?
Some people still own cars but at least they think twice, and often share one per family. And not having so many cars per capita means non-luxury businesses must cater to public transit users.
So the zones set an upper bound but not a lower bound.
More info: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12325992
So you could start with the commercial zones and simply allow them to become mixed use. And for new developments, you could authorize mixed use cases. In a lot of areas they're currently forbidden, even with no existing residents.
and the other articles on that site give some ideas about how to make it work.
> Now, the funny thing is that the New Suburbanists don’t hold any other urban place as an ideal either. They don’t point to a single urban place in the world and say, “yes, this is what I want.” But the fact is, the world has a good selection of functioning, enjoyable, pleasant metropolises. Tokyo is my favorite
> My definition of an urban environment is one where it is easier to not own a car than to own one.
Totally agree with this, and I simply can't understand why neighborhoods like this are so rare in North America. Tokyo, from what little time I've spent there, strikes me as a near perfect lifestyle, such a high proportion of completely walkable neighborhoods, plenty of green parks, plenty of incredible and cheap places to eat, and all connected by an efficient train system. Granted, population helps a lot in this, but it's certainly not something we could work towards in most places.
Vancouver Canada has quite a few neighborhoods that are fairly similar, but the problem with moving forward is the demand for housing is so high such that as soon as something is zoned for building towards this model, the price of the land immediately rises to the point where you practically have to be a millionaire (at least) to buy anything more than 500 square feet. Because of this, this city center is doomed as far as I can tell, but I see no reason we couldn't start building mini-self-sufficient towns like this in the suburbs with the "town centre" surrounding the train station...yet, I'd bet money that we will not for reasons unknown to me.
You don't have to buy property somewhere to live there and most people throughout history have not done so, and as far as I'm aware most continue not to do so now in places like NYC, Paris, Tokyo, etc.
Reevaluate property tax / land value tax each year along with sensible zoning and development permits. Attend your local town hall meetings and offer counter arguments against NIMBYs and real estate leaches.
An example, Tyson's Corner, VA was developed over the decades as a car friendly tangle of office parks and commercial shopping. It has something like 160,000 parking spaces with a population under 20,000. The area is in the beginning of a major 40 year redevelopment plan that will cost a nontrivial percentage of a trillion dollars.
This is why people are now becoming skeptical of new construction, new neighborhoods in the Bay Area. For a San Francisco example, check out the new mission bay developments. The area still feels dangerous and empty. Not enough realistic businesses - there is no legitimate reason to be on the street, other than wanting to 'hang out' in public spaces.
Once Mission Bay becomes a nightlife draw, with a mix of uses - like the Castro or Polk for example - then it will be an example of something done well. Until then, nope.
Its still too early to tell if Mission Bay is a success or not. Most of the housing here is either still in the development pipeline[0,1,2] or just finished within the last 1-2 years. Mission Rock  is probably the most ambitious and likely to draw crowds. Also, the 4th street retail area is just starting to sprout up with shops. It just takes time for neighborhoods to develop.
Perhaps an argument could be made that, this time, architects have finally gotten smart about the failures of designed spaces.
The classic critique being "Notes on a Synthesis of Form": https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0674627512/ref=oh_aui_deta...
I confess to not having fully read my copy of this book yet, so I cannot offer a rousing rebuttal to a 'better designed space'.
But almost all modern buildings I've seen, both residential and commercial, have huge lobbies. This means the shops are very thinly distributed at street-level, even in downtown areas with tall skyscrapers.
First, a couple of ramps that go underground is really not that much space in the footing of a big tower. I see old neighborhoods with lots of shops that nevertheless have underground garages. Second, I don't think shops are that deep. New city blocks, especially hosting skyscrapers, are much deeper than the typical blocks in (say) the West Village. Those shops seem to do fine with very little floorspace.
Seattle high-rises usually have retail/restaurants on the 1st and sometimes 2nd floor; if the building is tall, there may be some commercial office space on some floors above retail; and then residential is the majority of the building above that. It means you generally don't have to walk very far for anything.
From a quality of life standpoint, I love it. I only need to drive if I am leaving the city.
Some random pointers for those interested:
The neighborhood ends up being filled with people rushing home after work, and since it isnt a mixed area, ie: not many families, the after-dark streets seem dangerous.
I used to live right near Laguna and Market, and the amount of how much traffic meant I always felt safe no matter the day or night. Lots of businesses open late too.
It also benefits the city because there are more people in general.
What's wrong with that? "Hanging out" is what public places are for.
My town, Indianapolis, manages to integrate most events right into the downtown along with the convention center, hotels, and the financial district. Lucas Oil Field and Victory Field are around the corner on the edge of downtown; that section feels slightly more dead. But Banker's Life Fieldhouse is right there in walking distance and hosts concerts, circuses, Disney on Ice, etc., in addition to the main draw of NBA and WNBA games. So there are multiple events per week, plus conferences and conventions during the week. Plus youth sports events. When you add up the hustle and bustle of weekday office business, restaurants, and all the events, it feels like there's always something going on. Somehow all that fits in a relatively small downtown. There are no expansive parking lots like one might expect for a football stadium outside the city, so that helps the feel; I don't know where people park when Lucas Oil is full but somehow they get there.
Compate the Moda Center Portland - https://goo.gl/maps/pAzRD2rLFRv
with Wrigley in Chicago at the same scale - https://goo.gl/maps/oTKEs75Y7BL2
There's probably 2-3 orders of magnitude more people within a pedestrian mile.
I totally agree with you. It took years for South Beach / Ballpark in SF to become anything that remotely resembles a neighborhood. I remember considering it, briefly in 2008, but my gf decided it wasn't safe enough for her. I didn't like the lack of city amenities.
There is more now, but that's been driven by nightlife chasing after post-work startup people, presumably needing to find somewhere to drink after a rough day :-)
Mechanization meant that a minimal family farms became approximately an order of magnitude larger (from 1/4 section of 160 acres to a couple of sections and >1000 acres). Along with all those farmers the shopkeepers had to find someplace in the city too. Automobiles encouraged the migration by making it easier to relocate off the farm.
Cities had not planned for that influx. Or for cars. Moreover, cities were increasingly discouraging tenements...with sound scientific reasoning. The suburbs were about the only quick fix. Cities take a long time and a lot of money to build. It also costs more in political capital and financial capital than building roads...multiple jurisdictions will float bonds for transportation infrastructure versus multiple private interests that must agree for many modestly scaled real-estate development projects...https://nypost.com/2014/09/19/nyc-church-bags-71m-for-air-ov...
In the past couple of years, I've started thinking about real-estate in terms of monopolies. Locations are not fungible and control of a parcel is an absolute but localized monopoly. What suburbia does is disrupt (or maybe bypass do to the locality) entrenched monopolies. Forty minute commutes are somewhat fungible. Boxes made of ticky-tacky are also somewhat fungible. Chain retail is very much fungible.
>Moreover, cities were increasingly discouraging tenements...with sound scientific reasoning.
Please cite said "scientific" reasoning.
Cars revolutionized society in a lot of ways. They're cheap and opened up possibilities that were unthinkable beforehand. Greenfield building is cheaper and easier than retrofitting, and since real estate cartels typically dominate urban real estate, city life is always more expensive than the bigger, nicer and more stable suburban home.
A lot of things happened in the postwar era beyond redlining. The poor Italians, Irish, Jews and Polish who lived in the tenements started making more money and slighter better opportunity. Jim Crow sparked a great migration of blacks from the south northward. Government thought that bulldozing tenements would fix problems.
The subsidization of cars and suburbs drives people away from public community spaces and dense development.
Just look at what might have been had San Francisco not risen up against the suburbification of the 1950s:
"Central Parking District"
>since real estate cartels typically dominate urban real estate
Perhaps had all the resources of government been focused on fixing this problem instead of confining black and brown people to and divesting from the inner cities, we might have more affordable, walkable, dense, valuable, resource-efficient, revenue-positive neighborhoods today.
Certainly in London there seems to be a slip towards more of the working from home 1 day a week. It definitely feels like there are more working parents doing flexible hours out of necessity but there's a a fair amount of bias in that I've seen a lot more of that struggle from living it myself for the last 5 years.
I take the train from a commuter area and there's no real financial incentive to do 4 days commuting with 1 day off. Which I find sad - I think Train lines should _have_ to include discounted 4 day per week season tickets. Then again, I'm in a southern trains area so the trains aren't running half the time anyway....
Usually this happens during that 'advance planning' stage. It adds an unavoidable lag time to come to some sort of decision or plan, especially when there is a conflict.
And if people have to wait on a decision to get started on something, that adds more inefficiency.
Another solution is to live close to work, build high-rises and subways, or you have 'core meeting hours' and people come in from 9am-noon.
Core hours: have some consideration for late risers and people with DSPS. Early birds have enough control already.
I still think having people coming to the office less is prettty straight-forward and would help.
As you get older too you will find that other criteria define your willingness to move when you get a new job. Don't count on being able to find your ideal job within 10 minutes of your current home.
It scared me to death.
If renting, you may suffer a rent control reset.
If owning, you lose 10% of the home's value to various middlemen. You also get a reset on property taxes.
Either way, you also have the opportunity cost associated with a house search, and you have the moving expenses.
1. super-dense city core (your current situation)
2. mega sprawl like LA and Houston
3. traditional suburb, with long commute into a city
4. out on the farm/ranch, maybe telecommuting
5. small town
6. small city
In this sort of place, commuting is easy by both bicycle and car. Traffic is seldom much of a concern. Parking is plentiful. Usually the houses are cheap, frequently 100 to 500 thousand for free-standing homes with yards. Usually the schools are good, with enough people to have a full set of advanced classes at the local high school.
I've lived in several of these in several states. My commute is typically single-digit miles. I normally drive, but walking isn't much trouble. Currently I walk less than a mile. I'll need to do 5 miles in the near future, which should take 10 minutes by car.
What is not to like about it?
It has Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Harris, Embraer, GE Transportation Systems, GE Energy Management, FightLite Industries, Thales, Raytheon, DRS, and a bunch of little cyberwar startups.
So there is plenty related to aircraft, cyberwar, and generally all sorts of engineering/manufacturing/etc. for government (especially military) purposes.
Working in a specialized industry is fine. The city is specialized.
OTOH, moving elsewhere is not the end of the world. There are many other fine small cities all across America. You don't have to live where there is more than one job suited for you. Moving every now and then will let you experience more of America.
Scale by making more cities, not bigger cities.
If you don't live in SFO or NYC you're doomed to a miserable existence of restless toil.
But... a significant percentage of professional jobs are in the NY Metro area, but not in the movie ideal NYC environment.
Fully-autonomous driving can mitigate this; you will still be commuting, but with an added benefit of being hands-free (to check your e-mails, to finish up your TPS reports, to nap) for much of society this can be highly efficient if utilized correctly.
In my mid-sized city, roads are reasonably well maintained. The city budget is 78% police and fire salary/benefits. Less than 8% is allocated to the public works department, which includes other functions as well. State grants ranging from 1-3% provide some assistance for roads.
You know, the free stuff, no parking space minimums for new developments, rezoning city areas to allow for shops, enabling actual new developments in the first place instead of NIMBYism.
Here's why : 1. Traffic affects those who cannot/will not make a significant difference to the problem and 2. the ones who can make a difference don't face it/ don't consider it a top tier problem / can pay for a way around it (live closer, don't have to drive the same route each day)
You also won't hear any political/marketing campaigns about reducing traffic and congestion unless public transport becomes a private thing. I believe there's tons of money to be made here but the initial funding required is astronomical and not to mention deep connections in the public sector (licensing) required to even get this off the ground. I can imagine a decentralized mechanism to do this but there are just too many failure points in any strategy that I can think of. Not a problem that a bunch of kids could start solving in their garage you see.
I don't see this getting fixed anytime soon anywhere.
"I can't take the bus/train - it doesn't go to where I need" - start with the 5 whys and it's a pain to get even halfway to the conclusion. The car (and the supporting infrastructure!) is just assumed in most folks' minds. At least in the US.
Why do you drive?
A: Its the most efficient way to get to work in several dimensions including time, flexibility and cost.
Why don't you get a job in walking/bus distance?
A: I'm a director on a good career path in an organization that I am happy with. Opportunities with similar pay, influence and outlook are not trivial to attain.
Why don't you move?
A: My son is established at a local school that he walks to and has friends in. Migrating around like a day laborer is a miserable existence that no professional will sign up for.
Doesn't sound like a big deal but consider that land is cheap, land with buildings is not. You can find an acre around where I live for 250,000-350,000 dollars but you want to buy four neighboring houses and build density, that's going to start at 2.4 million.
And of course, you have to pay for each house what someone looking to live in it would be willing to pay. Density is only acheived when the price of density becomes worth it. If you're building a city from scratch, density is cheap but very few cities get built from scratch.
This is from a tiny village in Germany: http://newworldeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/GV-3...
This is a village in Italy: http://newworldeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/iv3....
A Swiss village: http://newworldeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/sv2....
A French village from above: http://newworldeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/egui...
Another French village from above: http://newworldeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ober...
Do you notice something?
These are tiny villages; around them for many kilometers is farmland. Yet they’re very dense.
I suspect 80% of all office work could be done remotely.
We need a cute psychological trick like "daylight saving time", to give people permission to break convention and do things like work remotely and work in offset shifts [ so as to spread out rush hour peaks ].
Once those other modes of transportation become feasible, the myth of the personal freedom of driving may actually be true. Driving out of necessity is not freedom. It is a burden. It forces people to work more to purchase, insure, maintain, and fuel a vehicle. It forces people to work more to pay the taxes necessary to build and maintain more roads as well as higher capacity roads. It forces people to work more to pay higher taxes because the land lost to roads, whether it is paved over or serves as a buffer, does not generate property tax revenue. In cases where there is no business or residential frontage on a road, people are paying more taxes to build yet more roads to provide access the adjoining land. And even after you have considered how people are slaves to their jobs because of the expenses incurred by automobile centric cities, they are slaves to their vehicle because other modes of transportation are not viable.
Personal freedom comes from choice. Many of our cities are not designed with that choice in mind.
I grew up in the suburbs and moved to the inner city when I had the choice. I own a car, but I find it hard to imagine not having so much walkability. To me that is more freeing than having to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere. If I want outdoor space I can walk to a park, or drive to the countryside.
You want space, you move to the countryside. That makes sense at least.
Drivers do not expect people to be on foot or on bike, and the arterials are 50 to 60mph in North Austin. Considering that it has become moderately dense with Apartments & Condos in the past decade, its sad that it is dangerous to walk in that area.
And culture. Big suburbs = lots of traffic.
We don't need 'Hong Kong' style density ...
But 'European style' density would work fine.
There are basically 0 residential high-rises in Frankfurt (they're just banks), but they still pack a lot of people in.
And it doesn't 'feel' tight or congested.
+ Trams, Trains and Subways - it's amazing.
We have urban wasteland regions, and then nearby you might see very crowded areas. Car culture and zoning play a big role in that, but land speculation ought not be underestimated. Every vacant lot or abandoned building is owned by someone. If it is left vacant, that is because the owner is choosing to keep it that way. A high tax on land value, regardless of whether it is in use, would ensure that those who aren't making use of prime locations sell it off or rent it out affordably to people who do intend to make use.
It isn't as if vacant lots provide breathing room, and make cities nice places to be. Parks do that, sure, but not vacant lots. Vacant lots just attract weeds, vermin, and used heroin needles.
I admit, my focus on tax reform is actually because it would raise wages, reduce unemployment, and improve economic efficiency... and thereby improve the rate and trajectory of social progress. But the benefit of more rational land use is a nice little bonus on top of that.
Step 1. Tear down your city
Step 2. Rebuild a completely new city in its place.
How expensive could it be?
And that's why USA dooms the Earth in terms of carbon emissions. The whole country is built with costless petroleum in mind. It doesn't require completely tearing down the cities (another comment suggested altering the zoning plans), but if there isn't a very strong change of cap in terms of city planning, it'll keep being unfathomable to get rid of your car as an American citizen.
The pollution tax (=integrating the cost of global warming in everything that's based on petroleum) is another way to solve it, but it will lead to the same result: Rearchitecting american cities.