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Oregon Just Voted to Legalize Duplexes on Almost Every City Lot (sightline.org)
376 points by jseliger 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 323 comments

This was super stressful to follow along the whole path in the legislature. We turned out some YIMBY's to meet our state rep here in Bend to support it back in... January I think it was. It kept going in fits and starts, and really came down to the wire today, with a failing vote before it went up again and passed, before the legislative session expired.

I'm happy to have played a very small part... our Republican state senator was one who voted in favor; maybe our calls and emails had a positive effect.

Hats off to the people in the legislature and some of the advocacy groups around Oregon like "1000 friends of Oregon" who worked really hard to get this through.

This is often the path that a lot of legislation takes thru the legislature.

The bit where the first vote failed because one of the senators who ended up voting in favor didn't feel comfortable being in the same room as one of the Republicans who had been hiding in Idaho to deny the senate a quorum, and who had threatened to kill Oregon State Police if they were sent to find him was kind of over the top though.

Really? Sounds like they don't have the spine to represent their constituents properly if they're willing to let legislation fail because a colleague is making empty threats. Kinda sad that they were too uncomfortable to do their job because someone else was too insane to do their job...

She showed back up. I don't have a lot of details so we'll wait and see what shakes out. The important thing is the bill passed. There will be disciplinary hearings of some kind for the R who made the threats. Because of the walkout, everything got compressed into two final days, so I don't think they had time for that beforehand, which was unfortunate, as he certainly wasn't doing his constituents a favor with that kind of talk.

Anyway, it was pretty crazy and a real nail-biter.

Disciplinary hearings? Imagine the hearing you'd get if you publicly threatened to assassinate members of government with a specific intent of preventing the government from functioning.

In some minds, the threat that senator made is roughly equivalent to someone saying "if you come to arrest me for being gay, I will resist violently".

I'd personally blame the insane person.

Why not both?

I'm really not sure what I'd do if a coworker fled the area to avoid being compelled to do their job, threatened to murder anyone who tried to get them to do their job, then showed back up at work. It's just totally beyond the pale. But I can't really blame someone for being uncomfortable in the situation.

Imagine you're a safety inspector for a manned spacecraft launch, and know that launching today will result in everyone onboard dying. However, through bureaucratic incompetence, you do not have the ability to get this information to someone who can cancel or delay the launch. There is no backup for the position you hold, and if you fail to appear on the day of the launch the launch will be cancelled.

Is showing up to work that day doing your job?

It's not a perfect analogy, but in my opinion it fits.

Pretty generous to use an analogy where the people running away from their jobs are doing so in the interest of someone's health lol

You can't know that a threat isn't empty until it's too late.

Or you could realize a sitting state senator in the chambers of their congress literally has no means of harming them besides their fists due to the security force of the state?

How do you know they didn’t bring a gun? There’s no reason to feel safe around someone who recently made a credible murder threat.

There were rumors he wanted to bring his gun to the capitol, which is apparently legal. No, I don't think he would have actually done anything, but it's too bad he couldn't have been dealt with in a fair and calm way in order to ensure her concerns had been assuaged.

It was kind of a maddening sideshow: in normal times, he would have been reprimanded in some way, and she would have been made to feel safe, but they were in a crazy rush to finish.

> she would have been made to feel safe

Personally, I find it interesting that the focus here is on her feeling safe, and not actually being safe - because she already was.

Only with the benefit of hindsight. She did not know if she was safe then.

Her decision on whether to stay is, of course, based on her assessment of her own safety. Making it safer is one way to make her feel safer.

I wonder if you spend as much time attacking the character of representatives who flee their state and threaten to kill law enforcement as you do attacking someone who doesn't want to be in the same room as the lunatic.

A year ago the right-wing militia types took over a bird sanctuary and ended up getting in a shootout with the state police.

It's not unreasonable to feel unsafe around these people; maybe the burden of safe and civil governance should fall on the people making death threats, not someone who could reasonably consider herself the target of such violence.

Thankfully this is beginning to look like a trend. Minneapolis adopted a similar deal (redefining all single family to be residential up to three units) late last year, and more of these kind of upzonings are in the works across the country. Ref: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/12/12/three-cheers-...

Wonder how long will it take for prices to take notice, doesn't seem to be happening yet: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MNXRSA

In Oregon? 60 years if ever. You can't get a building permit to build anything without your lawyers ($$$) spending years getting you through the process. Or so I've heard.

In Minneapolis I expect it will start to make a difference in 5 years. In Minneapolis a building permits for something allowed in code takes an hour from the time you park your car to the time you drive away, and no lawyer needed.

Note that we will never really know that a difference was made: there are any other factors involved in housing prices with no way to control for any of them. Thus no matter what happens you will be able to reasonably argue from data whichever side you want.

People exaggerate. Portland's already been transformed by row houses, lots of apartment and condo structures, and dense building. Unsurprisingly, a lot of old-timers hate it, and their complaints all boil down to "it's different from when I was a child/raising a family here".

The dense building is already taking place, in every neighborhood in the city. Getting a permit is no problem; my little brother, an engineer with no background in building, got a permit to build a four-unit building on one of the sites where they were already allowed (before this law was passed) in 8 weeks; the normal time for any permit approval for construction, he says, and in his engineering work he did a lot of work with permitting for customer projects, too, so I'd guess he knows.

Portland's already been changing and it's made the city so much more pleasant to walk through. Neighborhood after neighborhood of single-family detached housing is boring, tiresome to drive or bike through, and an environmental disaster (as the ODOT study recently confirmed).

If the rest of Oregon can now follow suit, this is only a good thing.

The funny thing is, driving through old towns in Oregon or anywhere, where most of the building was done before these zoning laws made everything into the same boring city planning style, architecture and construction used to be a lot more interesting and visually pleasing. It's neat to drive through places with variety of structure. These laws are one of the most pointless things, that's done a great deal of damage, the US has done.

This might be a good thing for the environment, but fixing “boring” is very questionable in my opinion. Now you’ll simply have driveways that are 2-4x wider than before (which also means more rain run-off) and less lawn. That sounds boring and ugly IMHO.

The rain runoff can flow into the bioswales the city is already building all over; it won't just run into the city sewers.

As for needing to build wider driveways, and that making it boring, I realize there's a certain kind of subjectivity here but I don't think that what we're going to end up with is literally "duplexes with double-wide driveways replacing single-family dwellings on the same-sized lots."

The front-runner for the 2020 mayoral race has an architectural background and has been talking about ideas like introducing an LA-style design review board to Portland, to ensure that new development has to pass aesthetic review in addition to environmental review. I guarantee you that six months after something like that were enacted, every architect in the city would know exactly what they needed to do to keep the city interesting as well as weird.

i heartily support raising density limits, but i’d caution against adding a design review board like we have here in LA. imho, it doesn’t add any more harmony or interestingness, while adding cost and delay to projects. we have whole classes of buildings that can no longer be built here because they’re not in style any longer.

That's fair, I've never lived in LA so I don't know what problems it caused; only that the architect I know who's running for mayor liked it and felt it improved the city.

He said that one of the problems he sees with development in Portland now is that the developers are under no constraint to make their buildings visually interesting at all;

as an example he's cited, lots of the new apartment/condo buildings go up with a nearly uniform front structure for the entire length of a city block, when varying materials or architectural features would add little cost but make the structures more pleasant to walk by, drive by, etc., a facet of city living that is hard to pin down quantitatively but makes a subjective difference.

I haven't lived in Portland in a while so I can't speak first-hand to this alleged blandness of new construction but I do remember the last time I was there seeing a lot of new stuff that was essentially undecorated, and of course it's cheaper that way but compared to lots of the development that is designed with more variety, I know which I'd choose.

Maybe there's a middle ground, I don't know, I just know this is a situation where the market will converge on construction that probably isn't ideal for very-long-term city construction, but there isn't really an adequate feedback mechanism to force people to make prettier buildings. The city's under such housing pressure that people would live in unpainted cement blocks if someone built those. (Okay, I love brutalist architecture, especially some of the Soviet monstrosities, and I'd live in one in a heartbeat, but that's definitely me and even those had some style.) Seems like a place where a regulatory authority could do well, but maybe not a cookie-cutter of what LA has. It's just, these buildings are going to be around for a long time; now's the time to make them look good.

> "Maybe there's a middle ground, I don't know, [...] The city's under such housing pressure that people would live in unpainted cement blocks if someone built those."

you point to one answer already: if the housing market were truly competitive, developers would have to compete on housing features beyond the basic box. that's why i'd generally advocate for a lighter touch on the regulatory side, because housing seems to be already overburdened to the point of making it unaffordable for most urbanites.

yes, let's make sure a house meets basic safety requirements, and that builders and engineers document how they meet them, but beyond that, allow people a little creative freedom and you'll get interestingness.

and i'm no fan of brutalism, but having some brutalist structures around serves to remind me how much i like other styles better. =)

I think the thing my architect friend was getting at is, these structures are here for a long, long time, and they take up a finite (and heavily constrained resource), so it's not like there's an opportunity for people to realistically decide in 5 or 10 years that fifteen new buildings that have been built should be replaced or adjudicated.

I think the problem is that this already falls so far out of the realm of "let the market address it" because of the constraints on building and housing, especially in such a tightly-housed city as Portland; if builders build it wrong (and will make money regardless because of the constraints on this market that mean people can't reasonably take their dollar elsewhere), the city suffers in non-dollar-measurable ways for decades.

Again, this is mostly coming from my friend who likes the design review board, and sees that a lot of the new development in Portland is boring from an architectural point of view (and will remain so for at least the remainder of his life) but there's absolutely nothing in a market sense that would compel anyone to build more interesting buildings.

And, the more we talk about this, the more I like the idea of the design review board; I'm all in favor of sensible regulation, and your original complaint, that some styles are no longer permitted in LA, seems like even less of an issue if it means that new construction does remain aesthetically interesting.

An extremely small price to pay for putting pressure on architects to build interesting new things as these buildings go up all over down.

But, of course, it's all just talk and speculation, since neither of us is mayor (and at least one of us doesn't live there.)

Beauty is in the eye or the beholder.

If people want a beautiful place to live enough they will pay for it. Thus the concern means that you are wrong: people do not agree with your ideas of beauty (remember, this is competing concerns: they may like it, but not enough to pay for it)

So basically: Architect advocates for works program for architects...?

No. The architects are all already employed. You don't build a big building (or even a small one) without hiring them for the design process to begin with.

In fact, for a lot of small-enough construction work, architects can follow a predefined set of specifications and mostly bypass the civil engineering process.

The architects are not the expendable part of construction in any way.

Short term yes.

However duplexes start enable the next level.

Public transit needs a certain level of density to become useful, so longer term people can think about getting rid of a car.

Density also means that while there is more solid pavement on lots, there are less lots overall, and less roads between the lots, and less driving from place to place. So globally this is an environmental win even though locally it is worse.

What actually happens is that the roads get clogged by all the people in cars, and then no one want to ride buses because if you are stuck in traffic anyway, why also add an extra 15-30min waiting for a bus to be stuck in traffic behind other people's cars?

Because I'd rather spend 15 minutes on my phone waiting for a bus + 30 minutes on my phone on the bus than 30 minutes driving a car through traffic.

Seattle made a bunch of lanes bus-only and my understanding is it helped with both congestion and transit use

If you're afraid (or overjoyed) that this might change the city overnight, you might want to read this story about an area of Portland that repealed its apartment ban 39 years ago.

Even without exclusionary zoning, neighborhoods change very slowly.


Anyone who is worried about the neighborhood "changing overnight" should be worried about immigration and not the international kind. It's wealthy people from the next city or state over who change things when they move in because they have the money (which is convertible to political power although the conversion is not 100% efficient) to change things how they want.

Same author :-)

He worked his ass off - like a lot of people - to get this passed.

This is a fantastic step towards affordable housing. We need more state-level interventions like these to remove the hurdles that impede building new housing. I hope that government officials in California follow a similar path.

The only sustainable way to affordable housing is to make market rates affordable.

Housing is affordable in large swaths of the country. It’s only a relatively few cities where it isn’t.

Actually, not. The housing crisis in the US, particularly expressed as evictions, is not merely a tech-hub/coastal problem.

On the Media's "Scarlet E" series is an excellent exploration of this:



2.8% eviction rate is not a “crisis”. What percentage would be acceptable?

The legal case record tells only part of the story, addressed in the 1st segment of the series:

[L]andlords, they had a lot of ways to evict a family. I spent a time with a landlord that would pay you to move and help you move. That's a pretty good eviction, you know, if you've got to get evicted. I met a landlord that would just take your door off. Just imagine you don't have a front door you're living in, you know, anywhere in the country. We need front doors on our homes. That got me thinking, 'gosh, OK there's all these evictions that are processed through civil court, housing court or eviction court but there are all these evictions that no one sees.' They occur in the shadow of the law, informal evictions we call them. So I did a study in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and it's a big issue. For every formal eviction that goes to the court, at least in Milwaukee, there are two informal evictions that are executed....

...the Federal Reserve found that 44 percent of us couldn't cover a sudden 400 dollar expense without borrowing or selling something. And so if you don't have family or friends you can tap, anything unexpected–health issues, accidents, car trouble, reduced work hours–can trigger calamity cascades....

...HUD classifies families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent as 'rent burdened.' According to Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, that applies to nearly half of all U.S. renters...

Further down, Gladstone and Desmond discuss the data issue (and problems in collecting it), official vs unofficial evictions, and the disparity between ever-rising rents and flat court proceedings. It doesn't add up.

https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/scarlet-e-part-one-why (click "transcript")

Look at where most of the red is when calculating the housing affordability index....


The reddest areas are CA, NY, Boston and the places people who have made a bunch of money in those places buy vacation homes and/or cash out and retire to. It's literally just a problem in a few places but the people of those places are exporting their housing cost problems as they move out (i.e by using their wall street money to out-compete the locals for a scenic square of swamp).

If you just took a bunch of Wall Street bankers, a bunch of CA VCs and then mapped their cell phone location data over the next several days (July 4 weekend) you'd get basically the same map.

You can hide an awful lot of sins in county-level data. Census tract would be far more interesting.

Even from ESRI's map it's clear that affordability drops near cities: Chicago and its collar counties, Salt Lake-Provo in Utah, Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, latter mentioned in the OTM piece. Even cities such as Omaha are visible, and regions such as Appalachian North Carolina.

And we care about these "relatively few cities" because by now these are some of the most productive areas in the nation. Low density and unaffordability in these places makes the problem of income inequality even worse, while not even letting these areas be as productive as they could be via increased density combined with great quality of life.

Productive for who? To think that “quality of life” for everyone means living on top of each other is also myopic.

True, people may earn less in smaller areas but the cost of living is much lower.

If you don't want to live in a city, don't. But trying to play 'suburb' in an area where many people would like to live is pretty conceited, and does cost a ton of money:


Well. Maybe I would like to live in the center of Manhattan. That doesn’t mean that it’s the city’s responsibility to make that happen.

The very least they could do is not actively try and prevent it though. Which is exactly what places like Palo Alto do.

Why? Why shouldn’t residents be able to decide the living characteristics of their own city?

There is plenty of land in the US. If prices are too high to afford to live there, residents will start moving and businesses move with them or vice versa. More businesses will start expanding to lower cost of living areas.

Some people, including myself, think that it's reasonable for the residents of Palo Alto to have more say over the local policies and goings-on in the town than non-residents.

There's acres and acres of completely undeveloped land in Stanford. Why do they get a pass?

And they continue to build a disproportionate amount of square footage that is not housing, worsening the housing shortage in the area.

The cost of living isn't that much lower, only housing costs are. There's more to cost-of-living than housing, and you aren't going to get food, cars, etc. significantly cheaper in low-cost areas, and in fact, many things can cost more because of the added transportation costs.

Finally, those smaller areas with very low CoL usually don't have many jobs or opportunities. There's a reason people are flocking to cities, and have been for well over a century.

You’re minimizing housing cost as both how large of a percentage of budget item it is for most people and how drastically different housing costs are in most of the country compared to the west coast.

I live in metro Atlanta - not exactly a small town with a lack of opportunity. You can buy a 2800 square foot house for less than $200K not to far out from the city center. But there are a lot of people who go years without ever going into the actual city of Atlanta and live and work in the burbs.

My wife and I just bought a house two years ago in the northern burbs - a brand new build, 3100 square feet, 5-3-1/2 with a large office and all of the trimmings for less than $350K - 5% down because that’s what the builder asked for.

A similar house the large west coast tech hubs would go for well over a $1.25 million.

As far as jobs, I’ve lived here for two decades and have never had a problem finding a software development job.

Despite what people on HN seem to think, the rest of the country is not some vast wasteland where people live in poverty.

Minneapolis is really the same way. The twin cites have a very bimodal distribution. There’s high density in the two downtown areas and the corridor between them, but a good portion (most?) of the office jobs are actually located on the 494/694 ring. So you have lots of 2nd ring suburbs with good commutes for most of their residents. And we aren’t space constrained in any way by geography so construction keeps suburb house prices reasonable. But the city does need a bit more, especially with the growth of all of the universities.

>Despite what people on HN seem to think, the rest of the country is not some vast wasteland where people live in poverty.

I'm perfectly happy to let them keep thinking that.

Most americans dont live in "large swaths of the country", they live in or near cities where housing is expensive.


- more people who live in rural areas are homeowners

- fewer live in poverty

So it seems like “city living” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

So it seems like “city living” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Couldn't that be because the poor tend to end up in urban areas where they have more access to social services?

Causality could go the other way. Consider a rational reaction to being just at the edge of the welfare cliff. If you haven't heard of that, look at the graphs in these two articles:



It's a better deal to earn $29,000 than $69,000 due to the loss of benefits. That means people don't strive for better. They avoid promotions.

The correlation is a matter of fact, but I find your inference about the direction of causality improbable. Do people decide whether to live in the country or the city, and then end up landowners or poor as a result? Or do people who own land in the country stay there, and people who are poor live in the city because it's harder to survive in poverty in the country?

Everyone's entitled to their own metrics. Most folks I know would rather be destitute in a thriving city than owning their own shack in the country where nobody lives and nothing happens.

I know plenty of people who would rather be destitute in BFE than live in the city (and it's not even a hypothetical question, a lot of these people are employed in trades where they could make decent $ in a city but there's no work for them where they live so they can barely afford a double wide). What's your point?

So instead of basing a conversation on the US Census Bureau, we should base it on “people you know”?

I'm not disputing your numbers; I'm disputing your values. Some do not consider home ownership to be a good thing. Some believe there are worse things than living in poverty.

The relatively small overpriced housing in the west coast would be considered horrible for someone living in other places in the US. I couldn't imagine paying twice as much for less than a third of the space.

Cool. I think having more space leads to a subconscious desire for more things to fill it. I've lived in suburban sprawl, rural hand-made cabins, and even an actual polygamist mansion once, and never been happier than in my overpriced 400sq/ft (east coast) loft. Do you grok what I mean about different values for different people now?

I agree with you.

The biggest issue for us when we were looking to buy a house in the area we wanted were you only had a few choices.

Buy an older cheaper smaller house from the relatively few people who were living in the city before the county started growing. But then you have an old house in an area where there is a rapid expansion of new homes. No one is going to buy a house that would be 40 years old if we did decide to sell in 10 years when they could buy a much newer home. [1]

Buy a smaller condo closer to shops and businesses. But those were more expensive with less space, with the risk of random assessments based on repairs that might come up and we would still lack the benefits of individual housing. Not to mention the higher HOA dues.

From the builders perspective, it doesn’t make sense to build, smaller slightly more affordable homes once you take all of the fixed costs into account. Our house was I believe the smallest floor plan available and we still had 3100 square feet - not bragging it was less than $350. Any halfway competent developer in Atlanta could afford it. This is a well known issue for why new affordable homes aren’t being built.

[1] Also in our case, we weren’t comfortable living in the older parts of the county. We live in a part of Atlanta that made national news as being a “sundown town” as recently as 35 years ago (it was on Oprah in the 80s). But with the influx of a younger demographic the character has changed a lot.

Well... that sounds like the consequence of a personal choice then, and not a public crisis.

It would be interesting to see cost of living adjustments for properly priced carbon. Does $2.00 extra per gallon of gas push costs high enough to promote density?

When you compare it to median income it isn't as affordable as it seems. You can get a very nice house in Ohio for 200k but jobs there pay shite and decent jobs are really hard to get. Try paying that mortgage on barely above minimum wage. Keep in mind that energy, food, college tuition, health care, etc. are not that much cheaper than they are in say LA or SF.

Some cities like SF have it bad but much of the country has a housing problem.

Is there a chance some local municipality will sue? Single family zoning went to the supreme court where it won and created the situation we have today.

Why wait for a municipality, any party with standing can sue and even those without standing can try and bog down the process.

Go look up the theatrics that stifle housing in major California cities. If not stopped for historic reasons, the drop back to the old favorite the environment, or if need be the new favorite of mental health; as in shadows cast are bad.

Zoning and more is mostly the means that became the accepted means of segregation. when zoning for the sake of segregation got called out they simply diverted the attention by marketing it better; hence historical preservation, environmental protection, and more.

I assume you are talking about Euclid v. Ambler[1]. That case has no bearing on a state attempting to regulate the zoning of subordinate municipalities.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_of_Euclid_v._Ambler_....

Then how was this law passed? Did they ignore the ruling?

If I'm not mistaken, there's nothing to stop one from passing a law, see AL and the recent abortion laws. Whether a law is unconstitutional/against precedent or not is decided once it goes to the courts. IANAL

You can but it’ll get taken out by an injunction in Federal court. These laws are “passed” to court favor with voters. In the end the state govt will end up paying millions in legal fees etc... for basically marketing.

There's no ruling forbidding this. The SCOTUS case in question was a developer suing a town over zoning ordinances, claiming that they violated the 14th Amendment. That was resolved a long time ago. The hypothetical lawsuit here would be a town suing the state, claiming that the state doesn't have the power to control local zoning regulations. But I don't know where you'd even begin to argue that -- local land-use regulations are considered a delegation of the state's police power. Under current SCOTUS precedent, it would be totally legal for a state to outlaw all local zoning ordinances and mandate their own.

Thank you for the explanation, that makes sense.

I tend to oppose this kind of state usurpation of local authority on principle, and believe that the correct way to resolve this issue is with proper land tax assessments, not outlawing single family home zoning. Still, it's better than no action--more housing does need to be built, and there are too many restrictions on building in cities already.

They can do whatever they want until someone stops them.

I'm genuinely curious: in the mid / long term will this lead to more affordable housing, or just more densification? If duplexes are the new norm, wouldn't standalone single-family houses just become more expensive? Are there any case studies to show how densification relates to housing prices? I've been reading that in places like Vancouver for example, factors such as speculative real-estate investment and money laundering have been found to be driving up housing prices and are having to be addressed with other specifically targeted measures that go beyond simply allowing more units to be built. If densification is one part of the solution, are there others, and what are they?

Why haven't they simply rezoned some areas to allow higher density housing? This sort of blanket change doesn't grant much control on which zone should increase density.

Because leaving it up to local governments to decide which areas to upzone will result in perverse outcomes, as entrenched interests will simply seek to protect their assets instead of provide the most good for the most people.

Removing the element of control prevents this from happening.

Local government have insight on the capacity of services currently available in some regions, and also which growth strategy they could follow to avoid very expensive investments with very negative externalities (i.e., congestioned freeways whose capacity can't be extended).

Allowing high-density residential construction near public transportation hubs creates more value than allowing urbam sprawl to grow indefinitely. The single most important reason why people are forced to waste their lives in long commutes is allowing residential neighborhoods to spring up in the middle of nowhere in places where their only way in and out of their homes is through a long congestioned road served by no public transportation service.

You've got the wrong end on this one.

Oregon law prescribes urban growth boundaries, so there's already a mechanism to counter sprawl. HB 2001 is in no way a "build more sprawl" bill.

The bill also allocates funds to local governments in order to help them understand how their infrastructure needs may change under the bill.

"Appropriates moneys to Department of Land Conservation and Development to provide technical assistance to local governments in implementing middle housing regulations and to plan improvement of urban services supporting middle housing."

We know from experience that one lane roads are enough to support a city of all two story buildings. There are plenty of examples of such cities more than 500 years old that are still going strong.

That’s the point. Granting control on which zone should improve density has worked very well for land owners, not so much for anyone else. They haven’t set duplexes as a ceiling but as a floor on density.

In what way does this provide a floor on density? It seems that building single-family residences is still legal in areas where it was before.

They have!

Problem is that our zoning is about detached single family homes.

When we bought our current home (2015) it was zoned R2.5 (residential, min. 2500sqft lot). We are now zoned as R2.

All that means is shrinking the required lot size for a single family home.

This bill changes a lot of that.

Also, Oregon (esp. Multnomah county) is kinda different.

I believe California will be the last state on the list to do something similar to this.

Washington next please. I’ll settle for just Seattle for now, and I plan to vote and have been donating accordingly in this year’s city council races.

Relatedly, fellow Seattleites: the primary for city council races is in August, and ballots go out in just under three weeks. Make sure your voter registration information is up to date! https://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/

Seattle is very close to approving backyard cottages on all SFH-zoned properties [1].

They're also very close to approving a pretty major city-wide upzone [2], though it largely just makes mutli-family zoning denser and doesn't affect SFH zones much.

[1] https://seattle.curbed.com/2019/5/13/18619101/adu-dadu-backy...

[2] https://seattle.curbed.com/2019/2/26/18240535/mha-hala-zonin...

(* No affiliation with Curbed, they were just the first articles to pop up on my search that weren't paywalled).

ADUs are great and MHA is fine, but both of these packages literally took years to pass. The city council needs to move faster.

Quite a few of this year's candidates are proposing eliminating single-family zoning entirely. It could be on the agenda during the next couple of years.

It's great to see this! But they need to make it through the primaries and then win in the general, and this is not an insignificant lift.

This is great in another way that isn't talked about much. As housing prices and commute times go up so does the price of everything that involves human labor. Bus drivers, plumbers, wait staff, etc all have to be paid enough to live in the city or suffer a long commute. So anyone struggling to make ends meet has it even harder.

“Every increase in the real wealth of the society, every increase in the quantity of useful labour employed within it, tends indirectly to raise the real rent of land.”

-Adam Smith, “The Wealth Of Nations”

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the quote, but home prices aren't going up because of an "increase in the quantity of useful labour employed within it".

These are just dumb city planning decisions: Hey, I'm going to permit an increasing number of offices in this downtown and not allow denser housing. Drive until you qualify, millennials.

Forgive me for being obtuse. You said:

> As housing prices and commute times go up so does the price of everything that involves human labor.

Which in my estimation was a restatement of the Adam Smith quote. You approached the issue from a different direction... but it all works out in the end. Housing prices cannot increase without the capital to drive them up. I was merely agreeing with you in quote format.

Different mechanisms.

The Smith quote is a demand-side dynamic: increased wealth > increased activity > increased demand.

Sprawl is a supply-side dynamic, increasing the minimum viable cost floor: greater sprawl, greater frictions, transport and commute delays, congestion and travel costs. For a given unit of labour you're incurring a greater overhead in (dead) travel time. Efficiency is decreasing, but labour demands its minimum viable wage.

Can you then explain why many cities where the population is declining in the US are seeing housing prices go up? For example Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland?

1. People want to move back to the city. I live near Detroit and you can't go a week without hearing as to how people are moving back into the city, and subsequently driving up housing prices.

2. The Federal Reserve's quantitative easing has artificially pushed down interest rates, which has predictably led to an increase in housing prices.

Are they going up substantially more than inflation over the same time period?

Housing stock tends to shrink with population since in a renters market there's less incentive for landlords to keep properties in rent-able condition. For example, an apartment remodel that might have been sub'd out for $10k and done in a month instead takes $5k and is done over the course of a year. When some % of all landlords start doing this to some % of properties it takes a chunk out of available supply and rents stay the same-ish.

> Are they going up substantially more than inflation over the same time period?

Yes, considerably more.

I've only paid attention to local markets in DC and the Bay Area. If you know of any good write ups on other markets I'm curious to see what's going on.

Yes, that's why we need to get more bang out of the same land.

And perhaps tax away those ground rents, removing the hugely inefficient speculative drive:


I did some digging into this at some point seeing it mentioned on a Strong Town's article. It looks like a city that tried to do it had it repealed because it didn't work as a merely city level tax[0], amongst other issues.

[0] https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/the-short-life-of-pennsyl...

there's many more examples of lvt than just altoona


not all the examples listed were permanently successful, e.g. both pittsburg and taiwan allowed their property valuations to fall far behind the true value of the land (in pittsburgs case once they reassessed the value of the land to reflect market value, the lvt ended up being repealed; in taiwan this behavior has contributed to a huge property bubble)

other examples are missing, e.g. possibly the best historical example of lvt (since it was the only tax levied), is kiatschou/tsingtao, the germany holding in china prior to ww1.

Vancouver has a pretty great dynamic of lots of high rises on top of stores. Means there's tons of housing downtown and it's incredibly walkable.

Ship it. Restrictive zoning laws are choking the poor and middle class and causing cities to stagnate. Hopefully CA follows suit.

Also duplexes really don't do much harm to the "suburban" feeling of a neighborhood. A nice, big duplex feels as much like a home as any other.

If anything, I feel like it helps make neighborhoods more dynamic by increasing the population density without increasing the physical density of buildings and roads.

That said, parking will be important (need enough room for garages or lots of on-street parking) since I assume these areas won't have great mass transit.

I personally think multiplex homes look way better than the rows of snout houses you find in 99% of modern suburban development.

IIRC the latest revisions of sb50 in California would have rezoned the whole state to allow fourplexes (while still upcoming even higher to 5 stories along transit corridors).

But it was blackholed for at least a year by the supreme chancellor of the senate (or whatever her official title is) even though it likely has enough votes to pass if it would have gone to the floor.

That’s democracy I guess?

Not democracy at all, just the Democrat leadership. Democrats have supermajorities in CA.

It’s a sensible move. Vancouver BC is studying moving to allowing fourplexes on most detached residential lots too, and I hope that city takes steps toward implementing that.

A great outcome from this is that now that cities are finally implementing these policies, we can study their impacts.

At this point in YIMBY urbanist circles policies like this have taken on somewhat of a mythical panacea quality, so it’d be good to finally be able to ground the affordable housing discussion with hard data.

I really don't understand why we can't also allow bodega-type stores at least on the ends of residential streets.

Nobody is going to drive ten miles to go to your local bodega. It's not going to increase traffic. You're not going to need more parking. You can even make it illegal to sell cigarettes and alcohol entirely there.

Making cigarettes and alcohol illegal makes them illegal. There is a reason you find tiny stores that sell just alcohol and cigarettes all over in poor neighborhoods: they are the only thing high enough margin to work out. If such stores can sell the high margin products they then have enough money to stock lower margin things as well.

Besides, with the problems of drinking and driving, you should want alcohol stores nearby to drinkers can get their fix without having to drive to the store.

There are some comments about infrastructure deficiencies here. Reality: Sprawl is more of a burden on municipal jurisdictions because infrastructure, including roads, has to be extended to it and it's not dense enough to adequately cover the cost involved.

If you play SimCity, you can kind of model this by creating a new city from scratch and creating an urban core. Place a fire department and police department at the center and build out to roughly the perimeter of their coverage.

Keep improving development within that footprint until you have an economically viable city, then add a satellite suburb following a similar pattern.

Not everything needs to be in that footprint. You can have farms outside of it, for example, and you can have some industry with only fire coverage, no police.

But if you build a sprawling low-density city, you will find it is impossible to provide adequate services. You can't afford to pay for them. You wind up with high rates of poverty and crime.

Missing Middle housing also helps get an area to residential densities that help make public transit make sense. It also helps improve walkability.

A lot of the problems we have currently are because America sprawls. These problems likely won't be made worse by gently increasing densities. Increasing density in a good way should start to remedy a lot of these issues.

Sim City lies, too. Real American "cities" (to use the term generously) are basically a parking lot with a mayor.



Some muckety-muck architecture magazine was interviewing Will Wright about SimCity, and they asked him a question something like “which ontological urban paradigm most influenced your design of the simulator, the Exo-Hamiltonian Pattern Language Movement, or the Intra-Urban Deconstructionist Sub-Culture Hypothesis?” He replied, “I just kind of optimized for game play.”

All mental models are imperfect and have their limitations. If you understand that explicitly upfront, simulations have their uses.

You only get in trouble if you are trying to accomplish something in the real world and being told "Your conclusion is wrong. That sounds nice in theory, but the real world doesn't work that way." And your response is to double down on "But the simulation says...!!!!" instead of going back to the drawing board and checking your assumptions and mental models.

This is a general forum with a lot of programmers and other professionals. Most people here are not professional city planners.

I have a Certificate in GIS. At one time, I was studying to be an urban planner. So I actually have some idea of how this stuff works in the real world.

I also play SimCity. My SimCity example was to say "If you want to understand this concept a little better without getting enough education to become an urban planner, you can loosely simulate this in this readily available game. Here's the way to do that."

Check out this article: http://archive.vg/blog/retro-book-look-the-simcity-planning-... I have the book and can attest to the content. While SimCity has its biases, it originally had a lot of basis in reality.

It has its basis in real models of reality.

Unfortunately the original models are biased, and so too is SimCity's model of the model.

What a weird tone for that article! Acts like the game developers were out to cheat people out of understanding reality.

Well, I wouldn't say it's evil or anything (it's just a game) but it is a bit frustrating in a game calling itself a simulation.

Also, it's humantransit, which specifically promotes walking, cycling, etc. so they're going to be understandably annoyed when the cited inspiration for plenty of city planners understates the negative impact of car dependence.

Personally I wouldn't call it understating car dependence so much as underestimating the alternatives. Which reminds me of Cities Skylines and how they did the opposite for what was probably an amusing oversight.

Foot paths are very good for traffic without congestion which makes perfect sense. What doesn't make sense is the complete lack of time or distance limit meaning the population will happily walk a massive pedestrian walkway the length of an entire sector.

A somewhat more realistic way is to use subways to link your high density residences with no highway access to places like work and retail while leaving the roads for mostly delivery trucks and emergency services. Apparently Japanese developments were practically planned this way - adding to where a new subway loop and putting housing on top for synergy.

> What doesn't make sense is the complete lack of time or distance limit meaning the population will happily walk a massive pedestrian walkway the length of an entire sector.

How far is sector? What would you consider reasonable walking distances? Something like 30mins regularly, 60-90mins occasionally?

Real world transit-oriented design in the US routinely uses either 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile for the radius from transit that most people can/will walk. I believe they estimate that it takes 15 minutes to walk a quarter mile and 30 minutes to walk half a mile.

Single data point: I'm a pedestrian. I haven't owned a car in over a decade. I'm willing to walk up to 30 minutes regularly and farther occasionally. I also use public transit sometimes.

30 minutes for a half-mile? Is that the round-trip time or something?

No, that's little old ladies in street clothes hobbling as fast as they can.

People walking as a mode of transit aren't competing with joggers for who gets there first. These times are for planning purposes.

Of course, it's okay if you walk faster than that. But planning departments need to look at "Who will actually walk this?" And the answer is "Ordinary people will walk it if it isn't over 30 minutes, but 15 minutes is better. And that works at these distances."

You see the most traffic from establishments within a quarter mile, and some additional traffic within the half mile radius but outside the quarter mile. It drops off steeply outside of the half mile radius.

Ah, makes sense. 30 minutes is a very slowly walked city mile for me (25min at a casual, unhurried pace, shaving a couple minutes off that for a 22-23min time with a bit more bounce in the step but still not jogging or even speed-walking) so I figured it was either round-trip or the slowest speed anyone capable of walking anywhere at all would attain—seems it's the latter.

Potentially that amount of time would allow carrying some groceries with a screaming toddler in tow.

By sector I mean map section - you start with one and can buy more with growth to model city annexing. They aren't small. If it is a flat area of land parcelled out for maximium footprint I think it would be for at least four or five separate emergency services buildings to cover it when fully built.

While I get that tolerances vary I think walking marathons is a bit unreasonable for a commute and should probably draw complaints and lower desirability like congestion about things being too far away.

It could be a case of differing norms admittedly. Reminds me of one complaint from an online friend in Southern California about how Civilization used an unrealistically dark color for the ocean - she was used to a lighter blue compared to the more northern ocean color chosen. Both colors are realistic but assumptions differed and varying it visually would be confusing for gameplay reasons.

Anyway I would probably set the game limit to a fraction of a typical service radius (perhaps specifically setting it based on age and health) or make it more consistent with their sidewalk preference behavior. Like say if the walking distance for children was the radius of a small elementry school but for teens it was half the radius of the high school.

Game design decisions made in the name of doing something fun instead of perfect makes it easy to churn out clickbait that paints the designer as monsters. There are entire publications kept afloat by rewriting that article all day every day.

The Robust-First Distributed City Generation rule for the Moveable Feast Machine does a pretty good simulation of spontaneous urban sprawl / gray goo. (Check out when he cuts a hole in the wall at 1:40!)


Robust-first Computing: Distributed City Generation

A rough video demo of Trent R. Small's procedural city generation dynamics in the Movable Feast Machine simulator. See http://nm8.us/q for more information. Apologies for the poor audio!

That's like saying Super Mario Bros. lies about jumping physics.

When a game attempts to mimick urban planning enough to inspire urban planners, it's a bit worrying if they might leverage experiences from it (despite the traditional education in urban planning/etc).

See: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19311003 "From video game to day job: How ‘SimCity’ inspired a generation of city planners"

(and my specific comment from then: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19313380 )

I think you are taking this too seriously. Star Trek inspired people to go work for NASA. I'm not hearing reports that NASA has gone to hell because everyone is commited to making Warp Drive a reality so we can make contact with the Klingons.

Early iterations of SimCity would bring an alien invasion down on your head. I eventually concluded it was triggered by inadequate fire coverage.

I have yet to hear a single city planner talk about needing more fire departments as a magical talisman to ward off alien invasions.

I began playing SimCity because I was wondering if I might want to become an urban planner. It caused me to decide to get a Certificate in GIS because, good God, city planning would be so much better if we could handily look up the kind of data that is available on SimCity for making informed decisions if you take the time to look at it.

I have serious health problems. Life got in the way. So far, I haven't worked professionally in this field.

I did spend a lot of time on an urban planning forum for some years and founded a small subforum and was a low level moderator with limited moderating powers. So I've talked to actual professional planners, been to an urban planning conference, etc.

Lots of city planners play(ed) SimCity. Every one of them I've spoken to seems well aware of its limitations and that the real world doesn't actually work that way.

You're right in general, except there are outliers. (Or outliars ;)

Unfortunately SimCity has actually inspired some weak minded, incompetent, deeply ignorant, anti-intellectual politicians. "We need a leader, not a reader."


>“We encourage politicians to continue to look to innovative games like SimCity for inspiration for social and economic change,” said Katsarelis. “While we at Maxis and Electronic Arts do not endorse any political candidates or their platforms, it’s interesting to see GOP candidate Herman Cain propose a simplified tax system like one we designed for the video game SimCity 4.” -Kip Katsarelis, a senior producer for Maxis


>How well did the 9-9-9 plan work in SimCity? "Running SimCity 4 on its default tax setting was a disaster waiting to happen," says Bridgette P. LaVictoire in Lez Get Real. Unless you used a cheat code, "you ran out of money pretty fast, in fact, and had to go deep into debt." But even if it had worked, there's a pretty huge difference between running a fake city and the most powerful nation on earth. Also, notes TIME's Newman, "Sim City 4 features meteors, UFOs, and robot attacks, which would probably mess up most attempts at realistic modeling."


>According to the Republican presidential candidate's revolutionary plan, corporate income taxes, personal income taxes, and national sales tax rates would each be 9%. Seems smart and original, right? Wrong. Reporters have unearthed an astonishing similarity between Cain's 9-9-9 Plan and SimCity 4's default tax scheme.


>So while most have likened Cain's 9-9-9 plan to a pizza commercial promotion, they now have a new origin story. And as DealBook's Will Alden (formerly of HuffPost), tweets, "If you're gonna rip a tax plan from a video game you could definitely do worse than SimCity."


>The Cain camp remains resolute however responding to the SimCity comparisons by saying “everyone likes 9-9-9.” While that might be true for some, unfortunately there aren’t any cheat codes to make the math work in real life.


>Trump joked military should come up with a Herman Cain-style '9-9-9 plan' for border: report


>Trump summoned Cain to the meeting, and then told the military brass that they needed to come up with a “9-9-9” plan for the border. The joke fell flat.

I don't think you can actually hold SimCity responsible for what politicians choose to do, even if they want to justify it with "I played a game once on the topic!"

If it weren't SimCity, they would draw lazy solutions from somewhere else. Politicians and city planners are mostly different classes of people.

In the US, we have minimal requirements for "qualifying" to run for office. The system was intentionally designed that way. It certainly has its downsides.

I don't currently have the time or bandwidth to read through everything you have posted. I have bookmarked your other comment already and look forward to digging into it at some point.

I had never heard of Doreen Nelson. Doreen is an uncommon name. I initially thought you were talking about me and was glad to see you weren't.

He probably isn't intellectually curious enough to have ever played SimCity. My theory is that he thought the "9-9-9" Tax Plan would appeal to the base, because it sounds like you're saying "no" to taxes in German.

Yes, Doreen's not a common name, so seeing your name in the thread reminded me of other Doreen's work, and inspired me to post about it.

Did you know that Wolfram Alpha can try to guess your age by your name (it doesn't actually guess since it's not artificially intelligent yet, but it does tell you the most common year for any name):


It "thinks" I'm 64 years old!


SimCity can be used educationally, but not in the sense of literally training people to be urban planners or mayors.

It's more useful for "Constructionist Education" and "Design Based Learning", as practiced by Seymour Papert and Doreen Nelson.

Constructionism (learning theory):


>Constructionist learning is when learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. Constructionism advocates student-centered, discovery learning where students use information they already know to acquire more knowledge. Students learn through participation in project-based learning where they make connections between different ideas and areas of knowledge facilitated by the teacher through coaching rather than using lectures or step-by-step guidance. Further, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on Jean Piaget's epistemological theory of constructivism.

>Seymour Papert defined constructionism in a proposal to the National Science Foundation titled Constructionism: A New Opportunity for Elementary Science Education as follows:

>"The word constructionism is a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory of science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product."

Chaim Gingold's PhD thesis "Play Design" deeply analyzes SimCity, and also has an entire section about Doreen Nelson's lifetime work on "City Building Education".

Not only did she write the SimCity 3000 Teacher's Guide for Maxis, but long before SimCity ever existed, she developed "Design Based Learning", which in 1974 she originally called "City Building Education", in which kids built cities out of cardboard instead of pixels.

Chaim Gingold's thesis on "Play Design":


page 366> Play has a complex relationship to what is not play. Depending on who you ask, SimCity, the software toy, is either a frivolous diversion or an earnest model—and sometimes both. Right from the start, SimCity had appeal as an educational tool, a quality that Maxis tried to capitalize on. According to Braun, “It was never our intention to go into the education market, but the education market came to us and said: ‘This is what we need if you’re gonna work with us.’ ” What the education market wanted was teacher’s guides that translated and adapted SimCity for classroom use. It didn’t hurt that Brøderbund, Maxis’s publishing partner, was deep into the then hot educational software market, and that along with the investment Maxis received from venture capitalists in 1992, came a hunger for aggressive growth into new markets. Wright, of course, was busy making titles like SimEarth and SimAnt for an uncertain market. Maybe that market was education?

>[...] One of the teachers Curtin hired was Doreen Nelson, a brilliant and innovative educator who had developed a pedagogy called City Building Education, in which students collaboratively built cities out of craft materials and role play. Nelson become a regular visitor to Maxis, and Curtin made some trips to Los Angeles to see City Building in action, where she found the experience of “watching a classroom actually go through a couple of days worth of creation” to be “very inspiring. … I will never forget that experience” (Curtin 2015; Nelson 2015). [5]

[5]> This translation took the form of a short teacher’s guide, a pamphlet, really, written by Michael Bremer, and published by Maxis in 1989—the same year SimCity was released, explaining the limitations and applications of SimCity, and offering curricular questions and scripts. Within a few years, Maxis became more serious about tackling the education market, and hired Claire Curtin, in 1992, as their first educational product manager, charging her with finding ways to package SimCity, SimEarth, and SimAnt for the school market. Prior to joining Maxis, Curtin had been the senior producer of Brøderbund’s hit educational franchise, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, a job she had started in 1988, immediately after finishing graduate studies at NYU’s Educational Communication and Technology program, where she had studied with the noted education technology researcher Roy Pea. Over the course of her career at Maxis, Curtin shifted roles and projects, a result of Maxis’s fickle focus and its inability to produce hits beyond SimCity (chapter 5). Later, when Maxis defocused on a hard to reach education market, Curtin would go on to co-design or co-produce the kids’ titles SimTown (1995) and SimSafari (1998). Curtin collaborated closely with Roxana (“Roxy”) Wolosenko, and after Maxis decided not to do any more kid specific titles, the two of them were shifted to Wright’s “Dollhouse” project—a title that was not spoken out loud due to its gender connotations—where they were instrumental, as Wright’s co-designers, in evolving the design focus away from time management and towards people and interactions inspired by everyday life. It is this more human centric vision of Dollhouse that eventually saw release as The Sims, which became, at long last, the second commercially successful Sim title (Curtin 2015).

Design-based learning:


>Design-based learning was developed in the 1980s by Doreen Nelson, a professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona and the Art Center College of Design. Her findings suggested that kinesthetic problem-solving helps students acquire, retain, and synthesize information in practical ways.

Doreen Nelson's SimCity 3000 Teacher's Guide:


Here's a transcript of the HAR2009 talk I gave about "Micropolis: Constructionist Educational Open Source SimCity", which explores some ideas of applying Constructionism to SimCity.


Here's some more information on the design of SimCity:


This is why I can never leave NYC.

Eh... Don't buy it. At least in SC4 I've found the west coast urban planning style or suburban styles produce highly profitable and $$ or $$$ res/comm/industrial cities that don't fail.

SimCity is a fun game but it's really broken for modelling real world stuff.

SC4 is broken. Try it in SimCity 3000 or 2000.

SC4 intentionally made it stupidly easy to make the city work financially and also killed what I thought of as "the game god." It's all ooh, shiny and can be fun in a largely superficial manner. But I don't think it works well as an actual city simulation anymore.

(SC4 followed the company acquisition. It has a more polished, corporate feel and it's cool that it has things like recycling centers. But I am not really a fan.)

I cannot find an article about it, but one city uploaded it's data to SimCity and got surprisingly solid city modeling results. This was before the joke that is SC4.

Edit: Geez, can we not downvote the comment I'm replying to? I left out the fact that I primarily play SimCity 3000. It's a perfectly reasonable reply that prompted me to fill in missing details that I hadn't thought to include in my original comment.

Wrt downvoting: I’ve seen some really trigger happy downvoting on other comments as well, even though the argument was cogent. It would be nice to reserve downvoting for clearly stupid comments.

It's a reasonable comment, but I think it's being downvoted because many believe SC4 was the most difficult game in the franchise. It's been a long time since I've played any of those games, but I recall a good bit of backlash about the new SimCity being too easy compared to previous games.

Wait - I thought downvoting was for the quality of the comment and not the content? Is downvoting for when people disagree? Wouldn't that hide dissension?

This has been widely hashed out over the years. You can use downvotes to express disagreement.

I have no problem with that generally because I would rather see downvotes than see every single person who disagrees feel compelled to pile on with petty BS. But in this case, the comment called attention to a defect in my earlier comment -- my failure to specify which SimCity -- and allowed me to add the missing information.

Since my reply with the additional info has substantial upvotes, I think it's wrong to punish the comment that elicited that reply from me. It has too much of that "you win an argument by making the other guy lose" vibe.

I hesitate to say this explicitly, because past experience suggests it will result in a temporary pile-on of everyone and their brother nitpicking the hell out of my comments, but I really don't want to discourage good faith comments that nudge me to address defects or omissions in my comments. I don't think that improves discussion here. I think it makes things worse.

"Don't shoot the messenger."

You can down-vote for whatever reason you like. You are trusted to justify it only to yourself.

I've been playing it a lot lately. It is the most difficult, so long as you abstain from playing "missions" and don't install mods. But if you play the missions it becomes very easy. And the most popular gameplay mod is a mod to make the transit system easier.

Also simcity 4 isn't meant to be a 1:1 mapping from game to real city anyway. Most buildings in simcity4 can hold a multiple of what they would contain in real life; it is a model of a city, not a real city, after all. So it stands to reason that they could just cut out the parking lots for aesthetic purposes.

The ridiculously itty bitty size of SimCity 4 city regions make it impossible to model urban sprawls. That's part of what makes it difficult, and frustrating. Having to zone parking lots would just make it worse. I really wish they'd remove that limitation -- enough years have passed since its release that today's CPUs can certainly handle it.

Could you please present a logical argument to back your claim? For example, logically, if someone is in a high density area and can walk to their workplace which is nearby (since it's a high density area), there is less of an infrastructure burden as they do not need to commute each day. That means they won't be contributing to a traffic jam or packed train.

What's the argument for sprawl leading to less infrastructure burden?

Don't most people change jobs more often than they change where they live? Unless the employers in your field are concentrated in one area, being able to walk to work probably only lasts for one or two jobs for most people, and then they end up commuting.

I think if you live near public transit downtown it's easy to change jobs without a commute.

Cost - when I worked in Central London I could not afford to buy a former council flat (Red Lion Square) near work, My Boss , a Director and My Bosses Boss the MD could not afford it either

But then that just means the area isn't high density enough, right? High density means greater supply. As supply increases, you would expect that the cost of a flat will decrease, except if value had been created by increasing the density. I think value will be created by increasing the density initially; consider the extreme case of city property value versus country-side property value. That can only keep happening up to a certain point, of course. It seems most places haven't found that ceiling yet. As you mentioned, high density to you implies high cost. That's because the density isn't yet high enough.

Not exactly. A manufactured Single family house (ie trailer house) is about the cheapest building you can make for a family. However the construction doesn't scale at all: it isn't strong enough to go up and for fire reasons there needs to be a gap between units. The next level of construction (which can still be manufactured but needs more onsite setup so traditional on site is competitive) costs more to build, and it scales somewhat linearly to about 5 floors. Then you get a price jump.

In short, the highest density cannot be as cheap as the mid density because the rent you need to justify that level of building must be higher than the middle levels.

On the other hand, 5 floors is much larger than most areas have. There is plenty of room to grow denser without crossing that limit.

There are also sticky factors. It costs a lot of money to build something. If you already have a building your rent needs to be high to justify tearing down a perfectly good building and building larger. It is possible for rent to be increasing fast in a neighborhood with only a few more people who want to live there than there are units. So you risk building bigger only to discover you can't rent all your new apartments and rent drops for everybody as supply now exceeds demand.

This is the reason affordable housing needs to be built 40 years ago.

If a large apartment building was built in 1979 with a target rent price of $500/mo, that would have been considered a high-end development. Today, that building could (not necessarily will) provide low-income housing. As it would be paid off and $500/mo per unit could probably still provide enough money for maintenance and upkeep.

Exactly. This is way CA can't solve their housing problems today even if they had the political will to correct all the mal-incentives they have put into place.

As they say; the best time to build more affordable housing is 40 years ago... the second-best time is right now!

I don't want to live in a coffin hotel :-) and the flats in red lion square are a high rise.

London has hugely inflated house prices, particularly in Central but now all over the city due to foreign investment. It's obvious - virtually no one who actually lives in the city can afford it anymore.

Not entirely true. The various CXO, MD, expensive contractors and middle managers in large companies can afford in some parts of the city. They could afford almost everywhere a couple years ago.

There is a lot of money in London, people just can't fathom how much. An income of £100k a year only gets you around the top 10% of workers.

Needless to say. The closest you get to the center, the more you are competing against the very top percentile, which is filthy rich.

Sure that’s relatively true but it makes no sense for 90% of new housing to be built for those 10% of individuals (and I think it’s less than 10%). What makes more sense is that direct foreign investment has spiralled prices up because it allows the 10% richest of any country to buy london property (whether they live there or not). I mean I’ve seen ads for London property in Honk Kong and I’ve heard reports of a Russian buying up entire towers in the Battersea development (from a contractor there). I think the idea that current housing is completely unaffordable to the median wage (around 30k) to be incomprehensible unless you account for huge amounts of foreign investment. Sure there’s lot of wealth in London there’s always been. From memory the multiplier between wage-to-house-price went up like 10x in the last couple of decades (let’s say something like from 9x annual salary to 90x) I don’t understand how that could happen without foreign money. People can’t build unaffordable housing to the local population unless they are not catering to the local population.

What meddlepal is saying is that it works in SimCity (4), not that it works in the real world.

The city planner had my city recreated in SimCity. The ongoing joke was he'd test out things there. Obviously more thought went into decisions but we have yet to have Godzilla attack.

Back in 1980, Kirkpatrick Sale wrote a great book called "Human Scale" about how things (government, business, infrastructure) in society are built beyond what humans can comprehend and manage. He pointed to studies that found that if we were to start over and build small 50,000 people towns 15-20 miles apart, each of these towns would have enough people and trades to support those towns. Scholars such as Plato and thinkers like da Vinci also believed that smaller towns of that size contributed to the overall well-being of citizens.

Oregon cities are constrained by an Urban Growth Boundary.


I agree with your sprawl argument in general, but specifically for this article it does not apply.

The portland metro area is constrained by the UGB, and that constraint has yet to materialize in any sort of land shortages. And there is plenty of ways to sprawl within that boundary.

The Portland region has loads of underused land, and nearly all the other cities in Oregon are FAR from running into the UGB. And they just vote to extend it anyway whenever they want to grow into a specific place that's on the other side. (I'm looking at you, Bend!) It's nice that it's there, but it's mostly symbolic.

When i moved to the US i had no idea about the amount of zonening laws, construction regulations and building codes. Coming from europe i naively thought that since the US is the "land of the free" people could basically build whatever they want on the piece of dirt they owned. Reality is, the amoung of regulation is far more than i have encountered in my hometown in Poland.

For most Americans, yes. I live out in the country, which has some regulations (state regulations involving sewer systems) and some small zoning regs (routinely ignored) but not much else. I can build as I choose, landscape as I choose, dig as I choose (as long as I don't damage infrastructure).

Some of what I do is audited (for tax purposes) but nobody is telling me not to build a shed, or where I should build it, or how tall or what color.

But I cashed out of Silicon Valley and bought 80 acres in the county, build a house on it, so my experience is not typical. City-dwellers have layer upon layer of restrictions.

In the US, “owning” land doesn’t mean what it sounds like. The combination of taxes + imminent domain law means landowners mostly rent it from the government with the ability to ask permission to develop it into something.

  people could basically build whatever they want on the piece of dirt they owned.
Europe lacks fire and earthquake codes?

Here in the UK, we have building regulations and planning permission. Building regulations cover making sure the building won't fall down and hurt someone, including regulations about fire safety etc.

Planning permission is where old people who want to keep house prices inflated as they already own property can go to council meetings and object to anything new. Young people can't take part because they have to go to work and stuff, and don't have time to go to council meetings.

What sparkling is saying is that we Europeans have an image of the US having fewer regulations than in our home countries.

I don't live in Poland but here in Europe where I do live there are definitely less rules and zoning is most definitely more relaxed.

Obviously anything safety-related is regulated. But nobody is going to tell you what type or color of roof shingles you need to buy.

Depends on where you live. If you are in a historical protected neighborhood of a city someone definitely will tell you what color and type of roof shingles you need to buy.

Another article linked from within the same one posted here [1] is so batshit insanely heartbreaking and infuriating.

Much of today’s nonsense becomes so much clearer when you learn what was par for the course merely a century ago.

[1] https://www.sightline.org/2018/05/25/a-century-of-exclusion-...

The article itself is of course fine; what's "batshit insane" and heartbreaking is the blatant unfairness it describes. Newsflash - exclusionary zoning leads to exclusion, which often has its hardest impact on vulnerable minorities. Who would have guessed? There is a common stereotype that segregation and exclusion can only result from fuzzy "structural" forces or from private action by opportunistic and unethical individuals - but in fact, these things can endure because they're often enforced by a morass of laws and regulations, though sometimes in remarkably devious and opaque ways.

It’s an adverb and it refers to the heartbreak, not the article itself. I’m afraid you misread my comment ;)

As a non-north american I was initially confused at the replies because surely duplexes are low density construction for a city.

This is specifically about allowing duplexes and similar small multiplexes in neighborhoods that are currently zoned exclusively for single family dwellings. So yes, this is actually an increase in density.

There are plenty of condo/apartment towers going up in Portland too, but this bill addresses the much larger areas of the city where those aren't viable.

Yeah, my reaction was... are things that bad there that this is significant good news?

American history, specifically of racism and hatred of the poor, runs deep and probably stumps most outsiders.

Nope, American single family home zoning is really that out of control.

Even San Francisco (inarguably an area that should be densely urban) bans duplexes (or denser) in over 30% of the city's residential areas.

I really wish the rest of the US would take note, both conditions as well as climate change really need reduction of sprawl but it really won't matter if OR legalizes this while FL puts up five times more exhurbs.

Except for some coastal areas and larger cities housing density is way down the list of priorities because it's simply not a problem.

It might not be seen as a problem, but it is a problem. It makes forms of transportation other than cars non-viable, which is awful for the environment. Cheap electric cars will happen eventually, but we don't exactly have time to waste.

I'm all for raising density, but cheap electric cars will happen a LOT faster than rebuilding all of America with higher density housing and infrastructure, besides the carbon emission that that refactoring entails. Cement and steel emit way more co2 than individual transport.

Care are problematic in more ways than just fossil fuels.

They're the leading cause of death among young people, and they take up massive amounts of space in our cities.

Is this really true? Transportation is the top producer of GHGs according to the EPA.


"Cheap electric cars" will have range problems for a long time. Electric transport (not just "cars", either) works very well with increased density, and not so well with the low-density status quo.

Range doesn't matter. People tend to have a half hour commute range. Electric cars have long been able to replace gas for commute for nearly everybody already. (range anxiety has been about the exceptions - once a month I do X and the electric car can't do that...)

All large cities are boxed in by their suburbs which are cities in their own right. The only way for the city to grow is dense. A city needs to maintain the existing infrastructure, and people hate paying taxes so the only sane option is to grow denser so that the taxes are spread among more people. It doesn't help the city either that poor people with less money to tax have moved in - at least in many cases. Most of the roads in a city are not busy and can well take 10x the amount of traffic without needing any upgrades (the exceptions are often highways which the state not city pays for)

Note that there are competing concerns and incentives here. Cities have other pressures which run other ways.

It is a problem, or rather, becoming denser is the best tool cities have to tackling THE problem of our time, which is climate change.

One of the best ways that cities can contribute to lowering CO2 emissions is to make it so that the city is designed in such a way that a car is not a mandatory requirement for travel.

Creating reasonably dense residential/commercial communities that are traversable by walking and active transportation instead of sprawling out to the horizon is how to achieve this.

Couldn't increasing density create induced demand for more space in a driveable distance? Let's say we create policies to promote a manhattan-like density, and have lots of space nearby; don't you think manhattan would expand were it not bounded by water? This seems to offer at least some support for the idea:


Other concern: what are the effects of super-dense cities on mental health? Spread-out cities often have a lot more green, which I know has positive effects mentally:



In the UK, semi-detached houses are probably the most common middle class type of dwelling, so it's interesting to see that there is some sort of debate about this.

Loads of differences between US/UK but still

Aren't most council houses semi-detached - I wouldn't describe it as a middle class thing?

Disclosure: I don't live in Portland. I live in Sydney, which has a much higher population and much higher real estate prices. The population density is hard to compare, since Sydney has a very large and sprawling metropolitan area of 4,775.2 square miles. The first thing I think of when I read this is that while this kind of development may superficially look to benefit those looking to purchase property, urban consolidation will benefit property developers much more so than consumers. Sydney is undergoing considerable urban consolidation and we're hardly seeing any reduction in property value at all. We've seen all manner of predatory practices on behalf of property developers occurring in this city to ensure that the price is kept artificially high. One practice that is all too common is developers buying up property and only releasing it onto the market slowly to maximise commercial gain, as ridiculous as it sounds, anecdotally this is quite common. I wouldn't celebrate just yet.

Who cares? Once equilibrium is reached, prices will be lower (or at least, rise more slowly). That’s simple supply and demand.

Those property developers are taking on a considerable amount of inventory risk. One hiccup in the housing market and they go bankrupt. If that’s the game they are willing to play, then so be it.

There's not a whole lot of risk in being first in line to buy up all of the XBoxes and scalping them to desperate parents.

Or to buying up enough aluminum that you can hoard it.

Or owning enough land that you choose the price.

When you control the supply of an essential resource, you can name your price. Great way to make money, terrible way to make a society.

What Oregon did here, massively increase the supply of buildable land in one fell swoop, is pretty much the antithesis of those shortages you talk about there though.

The trend for cities in the past 75 years has been to down some continuously until there's not enough spare land that's zoned to account for the necessary population growth. Then, in that highly supply constrained environment, use political processes to upzone only a tiny amount of land. Typically this is the "blight," the few places that minorities where allowed to live when racist deed restrictions were allowed, the areas where city services were less, and that stayed that way.

Societies would take the most undervalued land, force the huge backed up pressure into these vulnerable neighborhoods, and let the few lucky developers that were politically savvy enough to navigate the process make away with the profits.

Now that it's everywhere, there will be more competition between developers and there will be far less exploitation of an artificially restricted resource. Land is already restricted enough, zoning for density just makes it all the more scarce and exploitable by the powerful.

Living here in Portland, though, my fear is that it won’t be developers taking a flyer to build these homes, it will be the investor class bankrolling the developers to build permanent rental properties.

Hoping I’m wrong, but the last few decades’ antics with investors tells me I’m not.

What’s with all the handwringing over investors and developers? Yes, some people will benefit from this decision, just as some people would have benefited from the opposite decision. Who cares? The only thing that will reduce housing prices is more housing being created.

People want more than just housing from housing. Some people want a system of wealth distribution to allow new entrants to the market (the young and/or disadvantaged) to build capital. Some want a place that they can call their own and customize as they see fit. Some want to be invested in a community. Some don't want to have to listen to and smell their neighbors through cheaply built shared walls.

If the existing capital holders build a bunch of rentals, then many of those goals are not possible.

People have all sorts of delusions. Cheaper housing, by and large, makes it easier for new entrants to build wealth, whilst having a place that they can call their own.

That’s great and all. Let’s just continue with single family homes then. You know what’s better than that young couple having to rent for a while instead of buy? Having them be priced out completely and forced to commute from an hour away or move out of the area entirely.

Maybe. You may get owners who live in one duplex and rent the others out. Or two couple Buy two and rent the others out. Lots of options. I would do it. In fact seems like a good reason to move to Minneapolis.

I'm a little speechless that so many people seem to think that this decision will empower the owners of these lots more so than investors. It takes a significant capital investment to convert a single dwelling into a duplex. At the very least for most people this will require incurring a significant mortgage, more likely than not just being outright prohibitively expensive. It's not like every piece of land will become twice as valuable in practice, that will take quite some time for the demand to catch up to the supply. In the meantime, the land is slowly purchased by developers and investors to build multi-tenant dwellings.

Banks will offer special financing, it will be straightforward once a model is proved. You can get remodeling loans. You can build a home with 3% down. You can buy into a neighborhood (crappy teardown where the property is basically the land value). This is not a difficult thing.

There's not a whole lot of risk in being first in line to buy up all of the XBoxes and scalping them to desperate parents.

There are external risks. In the case of XBox, Microsoft can either unexpectedly increase supply or the demand can be lower than expected.

Sydney, like S.F. is a highly distorted market (but for different reasons, and in different ways: what is similar, is that it is distorted, not how its distorted)

Yes, you're completely right. Sydney has some severe problems in this area that there's no incentive for regulators to resolve. I can't comment on S.F, however.

To what extent does the number of families in a building change with the law vs. just evolving as the environment evolves? I'm currently staying temporarily in the bay area, and it seems that many homes here have been "converted" from single family homes to full-time airbnb's with extra bedrooms and bathrooms tacked on in any way that they can manage. Functionally it's probably common for a suburban neighborhood to be a bunch of "4, 5, 6-plexes" when appearing to be a typical suburb of single family homes on the outside.

  full-time airbnb's with extra bedrooms and bathrooms tacked on in any way that they can
... which is exactly a risk of killing "zoning" (capacity limits) restrictions. It's now far riskier for a property owner to rent to traditional tenants (especially with the threat of Section 8 acceptance becoming mandatory) than to cash out into the AirBnB market.

America should follow the example of progressive countries.

Point 1. Residential highrises should become the main housing option

Point 2. Stop subsidising suburban lifestyle for the rich

Point 3. Massive public investments into infrastructure

Point 4. Replace zoning regulations with something less extremely specific or go for sanitary code type regulation

Point 5. Stop requiring people without cars to buy unneeded parking space on their own plot

Point 2. Stop subsidising suburban lifestyle for the rich

The average price of a house is $226500. (https://www.zillow.com/home-values/).

Almost anyone can get an FHA mortgage with 3.5% down. The thought that only rich people can afford a home is not true for most of the country.

Yup. You can buy brand new houses where I live (San Antonio) for $150k (even less).

True, but "rich" is fairly subjective. I also don't think that point was implying that only rich people could afford homes, but that the suburban "lifestyle" and the associated costs of infrastructure were being "subsidized". For the most part, cities subsidize less urban areas.

Subsidized by who? Suburban areas are often separate municipalities with separate budgets and I would think that most infrastructure would be paid by property taxes and local sales taxes.

In fact here in Atlanta there is a trend toward upper class neighborhoods separating from Atlanta and creating separate cities - no this isn’t a good thing.

It's not exactly true that all services in a local municipality are funded solely by local funds. For example, in your state of Georgia the state pays a share of public education. Most states' largest sources of revenue come from sales taxes which it should be clear comes disproportionately from cities as cities are disproportionately populated. Any state funded and especially state run service is going to be largely funded by city dollars. It's admittedly complex and varies state by state in degree, but overall it stands true that cities pay more taxes to their state in dollar amount by virtue of there being more people; therefore it seems fair to say that any state funds used for any area outside the cities is subsidized by the cities. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, just a valid observation.

There is a book that examined this over a century ago, Progress and Poverty (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progress_and_Poverty), which was hugely influential in it's day. It seems as though it could have been written today. Yet, it's interesting that the solution proposed is nearly the exact opposite of what was enacted in California.

Point 3. They've done these types of things and often they are unsuccessful (light rails systems for example). The suburban lifestyle is very strong in the US culture. Just because you build something doesn't mean it will get used.

Excellent. Fingers crossed it works well and provides a blueprint for other cities and states.

About time. Over the last generation almost all US cities have failed to add enough new housing to handle the growing population.

Want to reduce homelessness? Build homes.

Want to reduce ridiculously overpriced homes? Build homes.

So what is a duplex? Nowhere does it say and it's not a term I've ever heard used in the UK? I guess "semi-detached" would be closest but not sure?

I think a semi-detached is a duplex, but the latter term is more broad, covering also two-story apartment buildings and such: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duplex_(building)

'Semi-detached' can be used about the end unit of a long chain of terraced houses, so while a semi-detached can be part of a duplex, it might also not be.

Building with two separate housing units. In most of the US, probably similar to what you call a "semi-detached" or Germans call "Doppelhaushälfte" (units are next to each other, sharing a wall in the middle), but especially in the Northeast, sometimes a larger old house split by floors (ground floor and basement as one unit, second floor and attic as another unit, with some sort of separate entrance to reduce disturbance of first unit residents)

Two end of terrace houses next to each other. If you want a standard "semi-detached" house in the US it's normally called a townhouse (or similar).

To be a duplex, it needs to be 2 homes on one property that are touching. It is expected that the wall would be shared and that the two homes would be mirror images of each other. There exist houses that touch each other but are on separate lots; these are not duplexes.

A townhouse is 2-story and it touches another one. It could be a duplex, but it might be on a separate lot or it might be part of a group of more than 2.

I wasn't aware of the lot distinction. I believe we agree otherwise, though.

In the UK, Ireland, etc. a "terraced" house is essentially what we'd call a townhouse - they can be in groups of 2, 3, 20, etc.

> So what is a duplex?

A single property (usually a single building) consisting of exactly 2 housing units.

> I guess "semi-detached" would be closest but not sure?

Semi-detached is similar, but AFAIK usually refers to separate properties sharing a wall not two housing units on one property. There appear to be regional variations in both terms, though.

Coming from the East Coast of the U.S. I always called these houses twins. One building with two housing units side by side, usually mirror images of each other. We would refer to a building with two housing units above and below each other as a duplex.

It's a home that's been divided into 2 homes, usually with paper thin walls. At least that's been my experience in the USA.

Fantastic. I hope with all my heart that rezoning at least slows down price increases. It should certainly be done as widely as possible.

But in the end I think we need to keep in mind that there will need to additional aggressive legislation to even keep prices flat relative to wages let alone reduce them.

On that note, does anyone know of any economist(s), or thinkers, who a have a comprehensive plan to change the way the housing market works?

Alain Bertaud might have the opposite of what you might want to call a "comprehensive plan". He makes great suggestions on how to give control back to the market and achieve better outcomes than the quasi, soviet-style, planned economy that our housing market is in the US (my words not his). Great interview with him on econtalk about his new book: http://www.econtalk.org/alain-bertaud-on-cities-planning-and...

Edit: typo in author name.

Henry George had some interesting ideas about the Land Value Tax.

Not strictly limited to housing, but Vishaan Chakrabarti[1] speaks about urban development at large, and his book "Country of Cities"[2] is an engaging read.

[1] https://www.arch.columbia.edu/faculty/74-vishaan-chakrabarti

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Country-Cities-Manifesto-Urban-Americ...

We're in a single-family home HOA in Portland that prohibits duplexes and DADUs, and everyone's confused about whether this supersedes the HOA rules. I think it doesn't; HOAs can still prevent something the law allows, but I'm not certain on that.

It depends on the wording of the law, I think. Many HOA agreements have severability clauses and also large antenna bans. But federal law explicitly allows antennas, so that antenna-ban clause is silently severed. It remains in the agreement text, so a naive homeowner might believe it remains in effect, and the HOA might attempt to enforce it using the same forms as all the clauses they can lawfully enforce, but they will always lose if the dispute goes to court.

The federal 1996 Telecommunications Act, and OTARD rule in the implementing regulations, explicitly prohibits rules preventing over-the-air reception antennas "by homeowner, townhome, condominium or cooperative association rules, including deed restrictions, covenants, by-laws and similar restrictions".

So the law proposed by HB 2001 could sever the clause preventing duplexes or render the entire HOA agreement invalid (if no severability clause), and therefore make duplexes allowed in HOA neighborhoods.

But... it does not. It only reaches down to the "local government" level, which is the municipal or county zoning restrictions. The NIMBYest of the NIMBYs will already have HOA agreements that match or make more restrictive the zoning requirements of their municipalities. The effect will probably be to increase the prevalence of HOAs to impede progress, in lieu of zoning.

I am not a lawyer or legislator, but the bill should have been amended to burn out anti-density covenants, deed restrictions, and association by-laws.

With luck the law will crush this HOA silliness. Maybe eliminate HOA's altogether.

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