That single line sums up a huge source of problems in Los Angeles from high rents to homelessness to traffic to lack of public transit. People want to move to, live in, and work in the city, but its zoning laws have unnaturally restricted growth for decades.
This way you get the a lot of benefit from market forces sinking their teeth into "land luddites." Land surely becomes more expensive where you can build a luxury highrise, and you know it IS better if a highrise developer will after all buy the bloody house from a "land luddite" for a gazillion than letting his house stand there for eternity, stalling any development.
I can immediately think of at least one way to use a lack of zoning to create large monopolies of land ownership by weaponizing non-optimal land use for a short to medium time period. Can you?
It’s also hot and not that pretty (I’m from Austin okay so don’t shoot the messenger!) and there’s a relative abundance of buildable land, all of those things make it a little easier to manage growth.
But Texas has sprawled like crazy and the central cities are still struggling with overheated housing (especially in austin) within the urban, semi-walkable areas, because they aren’t building any more of that stuff.
Houston was a famous example of a city that didn't have zoning laws (you just had to provide parking) and was praised for it, but then was discovered to allowed development in an area the US govt declared for flooding.
To be fair, Houston really didn't need zoning laws to prevent development in a designated flood area, but still someone would have mentioned it if I didn't.
Of course, each metro handles details different. For example, in Houston you'll find more multifamily dwellings amongst single family ones than in the Metroplex as well as a larger mix of incomes in proximity to each other.
I'll come up with a term for building in an environment with lots of land: FISEBY - fine, in someone else's backyard.
Answer: you can't. Houston is a rather unique environment, and discussing it would be an interesting afternoon's work. It's not simple, though. You might notice: it is rather spread out, for instance.
Have a look at the demographia report on housing affordability (p27):
Texas also has fairly high land taxes that help to reduce prices.
Less zoning really does work. Another possibility is setting up a body like the Reserve Bank for a state or city that releases more land for housing and increases height restrictions when housing affordability becomes an issue.
For anyone else, the height limits in Austin are tight.
He wants to replacing zoning with 'sanitary codes' which is an interesting argument to encourage high density development. I would also add noise pollution codes, sound dampening, and other things to make apartment living much better.
Basically, something similar to the Japanese blacklisting approach (everything up to a certain use is allowed) vs. the incredibly specific North American whitelisting approach (this area can only have big box stores, vs. this one which can only have small storefronts). http://devonzuegel.com/post/north-american-vs-japanese-zonin...
Ideally, you want something where the adverse impact on use value is transitory, so once you've monopolized the area, you can convert it back to a high-value use and either sell it all off or (if the market is skeptical because of the threat someone else pulls your trick), retain ownership, including of a buffer zone, and rent out units for the high-value use.
Obviously the content on the land should also be taxed in some way as a different matter for other reasons.
I.e. it's not fair to tax above it's current use if that is the only allowed use, so some owners fight for restrictions on their own property that end up being permanent.
There's precedent in intrastate agriculture being subject to the interstate commerce clause for similar reasons (that is, affecting interstate prices)
I get the impression from CA property discussions (of SF especially) on this forum, that anything which drives up rents and makes it hard for the typical person on this forum to live there is de facto, wrong. It’s obvious and the received wisdom that the solution is to build build build. Are you so sure the solution for everyone who isn’t looking for a high-end techie salary (i.e. most people) isn’t for the industry to be less concentrated in one city?
Plus the whole water poured into a desert and earthquake things.
Now I realize this is all a massively unpopular viewpoint around these parts, but these parts are at their most “in a bubble” around this issue I think. It’s no shock that the people who stand to benefit most from their preferred solution are fanatically in favor of it, especially when the alternatives involve (in the short term) sacrifice, and ideologically undesired outcomes like continued regulation. The thing is, between people who spent a lifetime in a city not wanting it to turn into blocks of high-rises, and an influx chasing VC money, there really is more than the dichotomy of “the virtuous” and “the NIMBY.”
Everyone here would benefit from reading Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner.
Edit: I knew going in that this was going to be downvoted to death, but I hold out some hope that it can get some thoughtful rebuttals too. Preferably light on the glib “Natural disasters happen in many paces” canard.
I usually use an extreme example to make my point: if 100 million people want to live in Hawaii, should current Hawaiians be forced/guilted/compelled to accommodate them? Is there any point at which you say to people 'no, you have to live somewhere less desirable'?
I'm not saying LA is free of problems, but I'm pretty sure there aren't too many problems that can be solved by cramming more people into LA. I would like to see the density increase, sure, but then return areas to open space(as if that will ever happen, but a boy can dream).
Similarly the 4 million people who live in Los Angeles are not the same 4 million who lived in the city 20 years ago. The actual makeup of the city is constantly shuffled around as prices of rent change and different sets of people are willing and able to afford to live there. "Cramming more people into LA" would actually lead to more stability for current residents as it would stall the price increases of real estate by keeping the supply of housing more in sync with the rising demand for housing.
Sure, at the extremes there are adverse effects. But Los Angeles has 1/6th the population density of Paris (a city with strict building height restrictions). It isn't crammed at all.
Unrestricted growth would look like... the present day. LA has grown unrestricted in many ways. New land is continually cleared for houses. New highways are routinely built. The only thing which is restricted is growth that puts people closer together. LA residents have no qualms with supporting economic policies that ultimately fund housing construction in the outskirts of Riverside and San Fernando. LA residents benefit materially from this growth, via increased property values and cheaper services as new residents lend slack to the labor market.
You want to protect the environment of southern California? Limit new employment. Enact urban growth boundaries. Stop subsidizing fire insurance. People will stop moving there -- I guarantee it. But LA residents don't want that. They want to continue to benefit from growth without having to meet any of the people whose high rents ultimately subsidize their utility bills.
>can’t get water, is subject to deveststing earthquakes,
Water is just a pricing issue. The price of water will never rise too high for residential use. Desalination might triple the cost -- which is still cheaper than a heating bill in Minnesota. Earthquakes are a non-issue. Humans have built cities in earthquake zones for millenia. That includes Rome, Toyko, Mexico City and Calcutta.
The city is right next to the ocean. Desalination is expensive and not the most environmentally friendly thing, but it is an option if there is no other way to get enough water.
> is overpopulated in terms of what can be sustained in a sane manner over time
Citation needed. There are other cities that are larger and have higher population density.
> ideologically undesired outcomes like continued regulation
Aren't most people actually asking for less regulation, especially less strict zoning?
No. People who want to do things that zoning doesn't permit are advocating certain things under the banner of "less regulation". It's not clear they actually have thought through the consequences of less regulation; it's just that they think it will get them the policy outcome they want.
Years of going from idealized to actual implementation experience tells us that the most likely thing to happen is .. something other than what proponents have in mind.
Most people who live in those homes don't want a major change that will destroy the values they find there. People advocating radical change for the most part explicitly plan to harm their interests and take pleasure in the prospect that they will be harmed.
This is the big issue here. Current residents are getting pushed out by the rising prices that these new people will have to accept for lack of other good options. It fucks over everyone other than real estate owners. This effect happens in all cities across the globe, it's just much much stronger in Cali.
If you replace "water" with "food and water" (which seems a reasonable thing to do as both are necessary for people to live), and allow substituting hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, floods, etc., for earthquakes...then doesn't your statement apply to nearly all large cities?
They almost all have to import food, for example. How is that fundamentally different from importing water?
The answer to the latter question seems to be contained within it.
California has plenty of water, it's just allocated poorly. Agriculture uses most of it. And don't give that silly "but we need food!!!" response, nobody's gonna starve if water prices go up a bit.
> is subject to deveststing earthquakes
Doesn't seem to have impacted Tokyo too badly. Really, modern buildings don't have much of a problem here. If anything, the wildfires seem to cause more trouble than the earthquakes.
Nah, California really isn't that densely populated. Besides, denser-type development would be mean less resource usage, person for person.
> Even if you reject that premise, what you call “unnaturally restricted growth” is being applied to a truly massive city. What would unrestricted growth look like exactly? After all was said and done, would it still be such a desirable place to live?
Vienna is mostly 5 or 6 story buildings and scores extremely high on livability ratings, much higher than LA. I live in Munich right now which is similar and it's quite nice, so I'd say: yes.
> Are you so sure the solution for everyone who isn’t looking for a high-end techie salary (i.e. most people) isn’t for the industry to be less concentrated in one city?
Agglomeration of an industrial sector in a particular area is normal and fine. It happens, even though companies have to pay higher rents and higher salaries, because it's advantageous to productivity to concentrate a wide variety of specialists for a certain field in a particular area. If companies want to spread out more, of course that's fine, but forcing them to do so would almost certainly hurt their performance. If you want lots more high-paying jobs, maybe not the best idea.
> The thing is, between people who spent a lifetime in a city not wanting it to turn into blocks of high-rises
It's pretty amusing to see so many people who think a 5 story building qualifies as a "high rise". 5 stories is nowhere close to that, chief.
> there really is more than the dichotomy of “the virtuous” and “the NIMBY.”
Yeah, but California (and really the US as a whole) is chock full of NIMBYs whose policies definitely hurt others. Rent prices are a big problem right now, especially in any area that's booming, not just California, and the two big problems are incredibly restrictive zoning regulations, and no serious public housing efforts (and the latter is also impacted by the former anyway).
> I hold out some hope that it can get some thoughtful rebuttals too.
Perhaps you should first put forth some thoughtful arguments then? I don't see anything that can't be easily dismissed by anyone who's actually put forth a modicum of amateur research into this area.
I read most of Cadillac Desert back in high school for one of my classes, I don't recall anything that sounds like it'd be unsolvable now. If you remember anything that would actually be hard to deal with, by all means, bring it up. So far everything you've mentioned is fairly trivial.
He's talking about Los Angeles specifically, not California generally.
> Agglomeration of an industrial sector in a particular area is normal and fine. It happens, even though companies have to pay higher rents and higher salaries, because it's advantageous to productivity to concentrate a wide variety of specialists for a certain field in a particular area. If companies want to spread out more, of course that's fine, but forcing them to do so would almost certainly hurt their performance. If you want lots more high-paying jobs, maybe not the best idea.
The essence of his point is that there's a tradeoff between livability and productivity. As an LA resident (though not a homeowner, so I don't have NIMBY-skin in the game), traffic is horrendous, and substantially increasing the population would make it unbearable. Now, you can argue that we should build better mass transit infrastructure, and I think that's a good idea. But that needs to happen first, and the point I think is that there are really a complex set of tradeoffs here between the character of a place (along many axes) and its population density. I do think that the scales are often overly tilted towards NIMBYism and against dense housing, but I also think its important to acknowledge the reality of the tradeoffs.
And I meant not just California as a whole, but California's metro areas and cities too. Los Angeles isn't that dense.
> But that needs to happen first
This is wrong. Transportation and land use are complementary, and
development in each should happen (and has to happen) in parallel. If anything, since LA has been building rail the last couple decades, it's really zoning that needs to catch up: more people would actually use transit if they lived within easy walking distance of it.
> I also think its important to acknowledge the reality of the tradeoffs.
LA tried building out of traffic by doubling down on freeways and sprawl enablement for decades, and it only succeeded in making the problem worse. The only logical response is to try something new, perhaps something that's already proven successful in many other cities around the globe.
These things take time. It’s fine for a city to take a more measured approach to growth, and make sure that the infrastructure is capable of supporting it, before going full laissez-faire “build! build! build!”.
What's the point of spending tens of millions on a new train station, and then intentionally making it hard for people to actually access? "Gee, nobody uses the transit that we made sure people can't live next to. I wonder why?"
Every train station should have at least mid-rise housing in a 4-block radius, and low-rise from 5 to 8 blocks out.
Seattle is up there on the traffic scale, but at least in the neighborhoods there aren't 6 lane monster roads criss crossing every which way, with few pedestrian crossings and no lanes for bikes or busses. Traffic calming has helped quite a bit too, though I imagine reducing a 4 lane road to a 2 lane road with parking, a center turn lane and bike lanes would get the average politician recalled down in LA.
That being said, the revitalized downtown, the slowly growing metro system, and uber/lyft to fill the gaps have made it better than it once was. It still is a massive monstrosity of a city, so it's never going to be as "walkable" as compact city like SF.
"Los Angeles is a great place to live, but I wouldn't want to visit."
Once you understand how to travel the city, it's hard to live anywhere else because quality of life is so ridiculously high. It's why people tend not to leave if they make it past their two year mark.
Only big downsides are commuting and cost of living. Also homeless everywhere unless you're locked up in a suburb, but not as bad as SF since they stick to certain areas. Skid Row is both fascinating and terrifying to visit.
Please don't come here though, rent is going up as it is.
I was set on relocating there but real estate prices, taxes and distance from relatives forced me to backpedal. I think LA has a fantastic fuutre, especially once efficient public transit system will fully emerge. Recently I was shocked to learn that LA has better air quality than Prague. Can you believe that? Everybody drives fucking diesel on a stick here while you guys are migrating to hybrids. Go LA.
Many would consider proximity to Vegas as a downside
Why do you have a right to the city but others don't?
Please leave there, I'd like to come and want rent to go down. Thanks.
You can afford a place with a yard even if you don't work in tech, though it'll still take a few decades to save up.
You said you missed mountains around Seattle, so I had to point out that while not glaciated, the Gabriels and San Bernardino mountains are breathtaking in their own right. And the Sequoias by Yosemite just 4 hours north arent bad either where you have peaks over 14K feet. I live in the mountains, I moved to California for the mountains.
Agreed. The tech scene here has also been exploding (especially along Santa Monica, Venice etc) to the point where colleagues of mine from SV have been relocating here. As a former New Yorker I honestly feel lucky to be living here - LA is a remarkable city and is continuing to evolve rapidly.
I want to have the outdoors everywhere I go, not specifically drive there.
San Diego has also struck me as a bit more of a monoculture than LA. (although this may be my ignorance) Different parts of LA feel very different.
The "sprawl" was less sprawly than it was a collection of multiple cities that have been annexed over the decades. In the 1890's, LA was 28 square miles (and that 28 "original" LA is still very evident today). Today, it's 469 square miles. LA's current sprawl is absolutely because of the car. There's a very clear reason old east coast cities and european cities look so much different than newer cities like LA.
Orange groves, mountain ranges, oil fields, and huge movie studio back lots are all part of LA's history.
LA sprawled from the start. This likely made it well suited to developing their cult of the car, not the other way around.
These wide roads were originally a buffer space for all the smoke and filth of the industrial city. As a weird unintended consequence, the car could become commonplace so early because american cities already had the roads to accommodate them. And now with cars, these roads became dangerous and noisy as well. When industry left the city proper, early 20th century, the cars remained and continued to make the city an unpleasant place to live in.
No wonder people decided to move out, first using streetcars or trains, and then yes, with their cars, which paradoxically contributed to why the city was awful in the first place. LA, even though younger than most american cities, follows a similar template.
Places emerge because of culture, economics and time. LA is LA because it entered a long boom that lined up with the explosion of automobiles. People wanted cars and people wanted to live in LA. They got what they wanted. Ironically, at the time many of the "immigrants" from LA are fleeing the crowded cities of the east and midwest.
Now, we're in a era of wage stagnation where land is expensive and industry is consolidating into a few places. So apartments that were crack dens in the 80s are hot properties today.
I've got stories of relatives living anywhere from Hermosa Beach to Huntington Park pre-depression, so I'm inclined to believe LA certainly spread out early on, but I'd guess most of the density was along the coast and rail.
I was (or had been) bedridden. I had been to San Francisco for the first time and fallen madly in love with the city and I spent $300 at the bookstore on the way home on urban planning books and other books that I felt made sense for my mad, mad scheme to get well and someday be an urban planner. (And also to keep me occupied while I recuperated.)
I'm terrible with titles anyway and this was a particularly bad time in my life.
I don't remember the details of the history I read. It was a long time ago. I just remember that it made the point that LA sprawled from the beginning and this had to do with what made financial sense at the time. What we can do today is different from what was feasible back then.
Most of LA (by square mileage) was built up since the 1950s (later than the Empire State Building). There’s no reason except political will that it couldn’t have been built in clusters of 2-4 story multi-family units within walking distance of transit.
As a college student, I wrote an alternate commuter rail plan for Solano County around 15 years ago. It was based on GIS and research and lacked the politicking that strongly influenced the existing rail plan.
I was told gas would need to be $4/gallon before the stations would be built. I was sick and going through a divorce and had been a homemaker for 2 decades. I have no political connections and no political know how.
Some months ago, I tried briefly to figure out how to promote that plan. It basically went nowhere.
The first rail station had its grand opening in April. I believe this increases the odds that Travis AFB will finally leave California like the federal government has threatened for years.
The worst of the three stations has yet to be built. I updated the website yesterday and stuck a link in my HN profile.
That's probably as far as it will go. I'm no longer in California. I'm still struggling to solve my own problems.
The rail plan research I did is dead in the water.
I wish I had the know how. I wish I had the right connections. I wish people took me more seriously than they do. I wish I had to be time and energy to pour into figuring this out.
I don't. I have to get on with my life and none of that fits into my schedule. I've tried. It went nowhere.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by entropy.
Well, it was also land-locked and not earthquake prone.
Should we be surprised that different incentives produce different outcomes?
Building vertically is even less attractive when you consider CA's geological situation.
Once you put in the pipes to get it there, you better build out enough homes and businesses to at least break even on that part of it or you are doomed.
Have you ever been in Pittsburgh? I cannot fathom many cities have a worse network between the myriad of bridges, triangle shaped downtown and geography.
There are plenty of walkable neighborhoods in Los Angeles. This is a common misconception. More than in Seattle is my guess but Seattle is much smaller. Apples and Oranges.
Weather plays a big role of course as many find Seattle too depressing to live in for most of the year.
Compare that to New York where people are stacked up on top of each other like ants.
For the cost of a studio apartment in Manhattan one could rent a free standing house in Los Angeles and with year round beautiful weather.
Shhh. This is why Silverlake is full of New Yorkers now. If anyone asks, its terrible here.
Cars are nice for some things, but they don't scale well. The bigger the city, the worse cars work.
Ive never seen my GPS do the sort of gymnastics it did when driving to Long Island during rush hour.
Weather I'll give you, how many miles of bike lanes are really being built though? What's the ratio between bike lane miles vs car lane miles in the city? What percentage of the bike lanes are protected vs unprotected? Are there any protected intersections?
I don't dispute that LA is taking biking more seriously, but it'll be a loooooong time before biking is even a second class citizen like walking in LA.
Of course, NYC is #2, so not much better. But at least there you have a viable option besides driving.
I don't know what Los Angeles you live in.
NYC isn't any different and often even if you live close by the commute can still easily be 40 minutes between walking to stations, waiting for trains, and changing trains.
Personally I'd rather be stuck in my car than stuck in a train.
Agree to disagree.
I have a nice bicycle, live near work, and can get to the beach or mountains fairly easily by either bike or mass transit.
I live in LA now and I miss that sense of freedom every day.
Thinking of all the places I travel to around here like the desert, mountains, Vegas, beaches, etc.. I can't imagine not having a car.
I've spent some time in Marina del Ray and Long Beach, and they're walkable cities in their own right if you ignore the rest of LA (my preferred strategy)
Hot by your standards maybe and also has been hotter in recent years but generally speaking most people find Southern California to have the best climate in the US and also in the world.
Also, remember that at least some of the people in socal are there because they wanted to socal climate, so there's some selection bias.
I lived in San Diego too, and thought it was too hot there, and also very hostile to cycling (a big deal to me). The climate mattered for that too since I was always sweaty when I got where I was going.
But I'm glad you like it!
West coast of the US in general feels nicer to most people I've met. What is more temperate than socal? Maybe Cape Town and Nairobi, but it would be tough for me to come up with many places.
While LA rents have increased dramatically the last several years it does not rival cost of living in NYC from my experience.
As for walking, you could walk from downtown to Hollywood, Pasadena, or Santa Monica if you're willing to walk that far (9, 10, and 14 miles, respectively).
When choosing in between huge, unaffordable house, and a luxury apartment. Are really sure you will chose the former?
What a ridiculous thing to say.
My point being, distance is relative to the density of the city. When the city is dense you don't need to travel long distances, so comparing travel time per distance straight across isn't a relevant comparison. But you're still off anyway; the average subway speed is 17 mph, and LIRR/MetroNorth are considerably faster since they make fewer stops.
Now, there are still neighborhoods in central areas that don't have much multifamily housing, but these are the areas that need to be targeted. Multifamily sprawl is just as bad if not worse than single family home sprawl, as it only feeds into traffic. The real problem in LA is a lack of proper transit oriented development, especially around employment.
I should also add that LA is the densest metro area in the US, largely because even though LA has so many single family homes, subdivisions are far smaller than you see in NYC suburbs.
I agree. Constantly intensifying car traffic is at the heart of LA's (and Southern California's) problems.
LA (and Southern California) will not improve its car traffic density problem for at least another generation (and probably multiple generations).
Very unusual view.
It was cold!
And it’s Gore jacket :)
If you've been to LA, you know that those single-family homes are nearly touching each other and that the cityscape is very built, with hardly any empty space.
Yes it's overall not transit friendly, but it's still a huge area that you can reasonably call urban.