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Why are you/we trying to force density when it's so obvious that most people want the exact opposite?

The problem is that the playing field isn't level: as Edward Glaeser points out in his book, The Triumph of the City (highly recommended; http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health...), there are numerous institutional barriers to urban living, including, in no particular order:

1) Mortgage interest tax deduction; since urban life favors multi-unit dwellings but condos have externalities single-family houses don't (it's hard to deal with a noisy upstairs neighbor when you both own), this favors suburbs.

2) Substantial car-based infrastructure investment that means car owners pay around half of the "total" or social cost of their driving.

3) Barriers to entry in urban areas, especially in the form of zoning height limits.

4) Tying education and education funding to geographic location.

I believe there are a couple others I've forgotten.

It's pretty obvious that a lot of people want density—if they didn't, housing prices in NYC, DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and others wouldn't be so high. Hold supply relatively constant while demand increases, and you get prices that zoom up. I would, in many ways, draw the opposite conclusion from yours.




> It's pretty obvious that a lot of people want density

Yes, but folks living in suburbs don't stop folks who like density from having it.

It's interesting that suburb dwellers never complain about other people's living choices. It's always the city fans who can't tolerate folks who want something else.

BTW - If you want high-density housing, you're going to have shared walls. It's unclear why you blame suburbs for that.

> 4) Tying education and education funding to geographic location.

That's actually less of an issue in densely populated areas, for somewhat obvious reasons.

As to the "car subsidy" argument, every time I've checked the numbers presented by folks who claim it exists, I've found that their accounting is borderline fraudulent. Of course, they're typically just passing along numbers from someone else, but ....

There is maybe one mass-transit system in the world that pays its operating costs and they all receive massive subsidies for capital expenditures, often from the gas tax....


It's interesting that suburb dwellers never complain about other people's living choices.

No, they just vote against spending any public money on things like public transit, or against raising car and gas taxes. If suburbians paid their own way I wouldn't mind them either.


Why would anyone want to vote to spend money on anything that will be a net loss?

Subsidizing public transportation is an economic drain on society. The correct answer is to have self-sustaining, profitable public transportation. This can only happen in cities with sufficient population density, such as NYC.

Car and gas taxes? Tax the hell out of them, since the costs right now are so over-externalized. Eventually, that will start to force more population density, and then we can talk about sustainable public transportation.


It's strange to argue against government spending on infrastructure on the premise that infrastructure should be profitable. Unless you have similar feelings about tolling the city street or privatizing the sidewalk, this isn't a consistent argument.

Subsidizing alternatives to car usage reduces the externalities of car usage. You can't effectively disincent car usage in the absence of alternatives.


It's certainly not strange to argue in favor of the most efficient system. If something cannot be made to be more profitable compared to its alternatives, assuming they are all priced fairly in order to to cover external costs equally, then it is not the most efficient. What economist would argue in favor of that?

It's quite a consistent argument when I say that I am in favor of taxing gas and automobiles. In fact, I think they should be taxed at much higher rates, to internalize the costs that are currently being externalized. Ideally, the costs of roads and bridges are covered by those taxes. Thus they're usage-based and not subsidized by those not using them.

I'm not sure why you think the best way to internalize the costs of car usage is to subsidize public transportation. That's just backwards thinking.

As car usage becomes more expensive due to taxation, cities will become more dense. This is the point where we can start talking about building infrastructure for public transportation, that will then make economic sense thanks to population density. It makes no sense to have a bus meander around the suburbs for hours to pick up a few riders, all traveling to different parts of town. It's an impossible idea. You have to have density first. Tax cars and gas so that they pay for their own infrastructure and environmental consequences, and density will be a natural outgrowth, at which point public transportation will be more viable.


Maybe it makes sense for public transit to be profitable in the long run, but it takes investment to get to that point, and to some extent you have to have public transit, at least in the cities, in order for people to move to the cities and give up their cars in the first place.


Since the gas taxes are often diverted to non-road purposes....

I'll make you a deal. Let the cities pay for the mass transit systems (capital and running costs) and let the urbs pay for their highways. Both pay for their streets.


If you implemented that completely, I think you'd see a pretty massive correction and living in the suburbs would become much more expensive. State and even federal taxes fundamentally redistribute wealth out of cities and into sparsely populated regions--correcting for that alone is probably more than the realistic urbanist can ever hope for.


> If you implemented that completely, I think you'd see a pretty massive correction and living in the suburbs would become much more expensive.

Go for it.


All things are not created equal. The single most environmentally friendly place to live in the US is downtown New York City. Yet we still feel the need to subsidize single family dwellings though a wide range of tax breaks and subsidies.


> The single most environmentally friendly place to live in the US is downtown New York City.

Not even close.

Also, the vast majority of city dwellers go out of their way/pay extra to not live as environmentally efficiently as possible, so it's absurd to claim that environmental efficiency is the most important criteria.

Suburbs provide some things far more efficiently than cities do. And, cities provide other things more efficiently. The fact that you value one set of things more than the other does not imply that your choice is correct.


It's interesting that suburb dwellers never complain about other people's living choices. It's always the city fans who can't tolerate folks who want something else.

In a nutshell, this is what I find so frustrating about these discussions and really the only reason I got drawn in in the first place!

I live in the country on a small farm. I have a long, expensive drive into work. I can only get relatively slow broadband (lucky to get any at all) and it's expensive; I have no city services, so I'm responsible for maintaining my own water treatment and sewage equipment; everything takes a long time; if I run out of something critical, the closest grocery store is 8 miles away and charges an arm and a leg; more reasonably priced ones are about 13 miles away. And I consider myself lucky they are that close.

I don't bitch about this because I made the decision to incur these costs so my family can have the lifestyle we like.

If people want to live in a dense city, on top of each other (and I lived in NYC for 8 years), fine. That's their choice; I don't have to like it. The reality is that people will do what's in their own self interest regardless of what others want them to do. So work for cheaper, cleaner energy; work for lower-impact building processes and improved street layout; work for smaller, more energy efficient houses; work for more public transit (the bus 12 miles from my house can get me into the city in 1/3 the time it would take me to drive there).

But don't tell me where I can live!


> but folks living in suburbs don't stop folks who like density from having it.

Yes. They do. That giant sucking sound you hear are the burbs bleeding the urban tax base dry.

Further, in my area, the burb leaders cock block anything that smells like it might help the urbans.

My city would be sparkling and new if we didn't have to subsidize the standard of living of all the deadbeats in the burbs.


"My city would be sparkling and new if we didn't have to subsidize the standard of living of all the deadbeats in the burbs."

That is a silly notion. Are you assuming those out in the burbs don't pay property tax, vehicle related taxes, tax on purchases and every other tax in existence?

I'm positive we'd all learn quite a bit if we actually dug into the numbers.


He's generalizing, of course, but it's because in the US, the suburbs incorporate into their own cities, and keep the taxes for themselves. Meanwhile, they commute into a city on a freeway paid for by the urbanites and enjoy all the benefits of city infrastructure, without paying for it.

Not sure how cities incorporate in Canada but that's how it usually is here.


Certainly no disagreement that suburbanites commute. And once they arrive they spend bucketloads of money on a daily basis & tend to work for companies that spend bucketloads of money locally for office space & all the goods held therein.

Communters do tend to also help support public transportation systems that are made available, in effect subsidizing them. Afterwards they leave & cost the city absolutely nothing beyond some infrastructure.

I can name ten(s) of cities in the United States that absolutely die the moment 5-6pm strike, but were couriered money in by suburbanites during the day and would have zero infrastructure otherwise.

I too am generalizing, of course.. I couldn't imagine seeing suburbanites as vultures.


> I can name ten(s) of cities in the United States that absolutely die the moment 5-6pm strike, but were couriered money in by suburbanites during the day and would have zero infrastructure otherwise.

Citation please.

(This should be interesting.)


> Certainly no disagreement that suburbanites commute.

I'll disagree, because the truth is that SOME suburbanites commute. In most places, most don't.

And then there's SF, where a significant number of city-dwellers commute to the suburbs....


>He's generalizing, of course, but it's because in the US, the suburbs incorporate into their own cities, and keep the taxes for themselves.

Well, sure, and they provide services to residents with those taxes, just like the cities do. Cities don't have any claim on that money. If the cities really think they're getting a raw deal tax-wise, then they can institute a municipal income tax the way NYC does. I suspect New York is the only city that can actually get away with it over the long run, though.

>Meanwhile, they commute into a city on a freeway paid for by the urbanites and enjoy all the benefits of city infrastructure, without paying for it.

They pay for the freeways with gas and income taxes. At least in my state cities don't maintain freeways, that's done at the state level. Their employers pay taxes to the city, they pay taxes on everything they buy on their lunch break. On Friday night they come into the city and drop more money in bars and restaurants, and part of that money makes its way into city coffers. Shouldn't the cities be returning some of that money to the suburbs?

In any event, it's not the suburbs that come out ahead tax-wise. It's the rural areas. Rural America is heavily subsidized at both the state and national level and most of those studies don't make any distinction.

One other point... the highway system, which city people always count as a "subsidy" of other areas is most heavily used to move goods from one population center to another. The rural areas would never have built the highway system because they don't need it.


> Well, sure, and they provide services to residents with those taxes, just like the cities do.

So their taxes go to pay for services only they use, and my taxes go to services that we all use. How is that fair?

> They pay for the freeways with gas and income taxes.

That's just an example. They spend half of their day in the city every weekday, they are going to end up utilizing some services that are paid for by municipal taxes sooner or later. It's simply ludicrous to suggest otherwise. Unless of course suburbanites aren't allowed to walk on the sidewalk or visit city parks where you live.

> On Friday night they come into the city and drop more money in bars and restaurants, and part of that money makes its way into city coffers.

Ahh, the old boost the economy/trickle down theory. I would rather they just pay taxes to the city, frankly. The money that possibly makes its way into city coffers is much less than it would be if they just paid taxes directly to the city.

> In any event, it's not the suburbs that come out ahead tax-wise. It's the rural areas.

This simply serves to demonstrate our point. Nobody is arguing otherwise, rural areas are definitely subsidized more than urban or suburban areas.

However, the same issues that cause rural areas to be so unequally subsidized apply to urban areas vs suburban areas too. It's just exacerbated in the case of rural areas.


Hi Ryan.

Yup. Making a generalized statement about a widespread, general phenomenon:

Urban centers subsidize everyone else, suburbs are freeloaders.

This is really basic, uncontroversial information.

Example county level:

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/welfare-state/Content?oid...

State level:

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0923084.html

Same thing happens at the local level.


The vast majority of the so-called subsidy is welfare, which has been pushed by urban politicians.

If you don't like the costs of the programs that you push, look in the mirror.

I've no objection to making welfare a county-level thing, so cities can pay what they want (and are willing to fund) and suburbs can pay what they want (and are willing to fund).

Deal?


Citation please.

This should be fun.


By deadbeats, I mean people too damned selfish to carry their own weight. You think because suburbanites pay some taxes, they're paying their own way?

Suburbs would depopulate if we urbanites withheld our largess.


How much does it cost to draw eletricity, telephones, water lines, and plumbing into a a) new city building b) new suburban home?


> That giant sucking sound you hear are the burbs bleeding the urban tax base dry.

No, that's folks moving away because US cities are a disaster.

Suburb dwellers don't have an obligation to fix or pay for cities.

I get that you like cities. Good for you, but they're your problem. If you can't make them work....


>It's pretty obvious that a lot of people want density—if they didn't, housing prices in NYC, DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and others wouldn't be so high.

You're making the assumption people want to live there because of the density and not because there are certain types of jobs that pay more in big cities. I could make twenty or thirty percent more if I moved to NYC, but that's something I'll never do.


Not necessarily -- people may want to live there in spite of the density, since not everybody is like you in turning down a 30% salary bump to avoid the big city. But it's definitely true that dense expensive places are dense and expensive because people want to live there. The regulatory problem being pointed out is that it's borderline-illegal to increase densities almost everywhere, despite increasing prices. It is all but certain that if there were no regulatory incentives for one level of density over another that there would be a lot more density than there is now.


>But it's definitely true that dense expensive places are dense and expensive because people want to live there.

It's just as likely for every person who wants to live in a dense city there's someone else who lives there for career reasons but would rather live somewhere else. The second person drives up the cost of housing just as much as the first.


You're making the assumption people want to live there because of the density and not because there are certain types of jobs that pay more in big cities.

Glaeser's book and a lot of the other work on economic geography make it clear that the two are inherently related and evolve together; density promotes knowledge spillover effects, dense markets, and various other Good Things. See also some of Richard Florida's work (though it can be frothy at times).


Well, we're not in disagreement, then. But saying you want to do such and such a job doesn't necessarily imply you're interested in living on top of ten million other people. Everyone makes tradeoffs - for a lot of people the density is a big negative, but it's outweighed by employment opportunities.




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