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Builder's Remedy goes into effect in many California cities tomorrow (darrellowens.substack.com)
886 points by yboris on Jan 31, 2023 | hide | past | favorite | 1228 comments



Looking at other countries like Japan with like barely any zoning laws, this looks great, I hope it leads to more mixed cities again and more walkable/liveable areas like before WW2. It is funny that America land of the free had so many restrictions, building up hundreds of zoning laws across the country did a lot of bad and led to a lot of urban sprawl leading to very poor cities and towns that literally cannot pay for themselves. I think we need some zoning laws though, and I'm sure these laws will come back faster then people expect mostly from bad planning or large bribes whichever. But hopefully some good helpful zoning laws will stick.


This has little to do with the existence of zoning laws themselves, but the specific zones that they define. Japan has zones, so does Spain. But there's just nothing anywhere near as Restrictive as most US cities' R1 zone. Many places have R2s and R3s that are still more restrictive than the least dense thing than a Spanish city has.

Remove zones alone, and HOAs will get areas into legally binding covenants that are also just as tough as their current zoning regulation.

To solve the US density issue, localities have to be severely restricted in what they can block, but we also have to look at the bigger picture: What is making people want to restrict their neighborhood to extremely low density suburbs? The answers are very uncomfortable.


> The answers are very uncomfortable.

Are they? Isn't it possible that people who live in beautiful neighborhoods with mature trees, nice big yards, and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around, want to keep them that way for primarily those reasons?

Of course their desires alone shouldn't be the final word on proposed changes to codes, but implying that all of these homeowners are primarily driven by prejudice is a pretty big leap given the many obvious benefits of the status quo for them.

I imagine you could take almost any demographic and put them in a low density neighborhood with big yards, trees, low traffic, and neighbors that they've known for decades, and they're going to resist change.


> and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around

Actually, suburban streets are significantly more dangerous than urban streets, in terms of number of children killed, as a fraction of both population and miles driven.

> Motor vehicle traffic was the leading mechanism of unintentional injury death among children aged 5–13, with the rural rate (3.1) twice as high as the urban rate (1.5)

> Motor vehicle traffic was the leading mechanism of unintentional injury death among children aged 14–17 in both urban and rural areas; the rate was 2.5 times higher in rural (12.5) than in urban areas

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db421.htm

> cul-de-sac communities actually have some of the highest rates of traffic accidents involving young children. In fact, children in suburban communities are five times more likely to be killed in a pedestrian accident than urban children.

https://www.lewisandtompkins.com/motor-vehicle-and-public-tr...

> City streets safer than suburban roads, study finds

https://whyy.org/articles/study-city-driving-often-safer-tha...

> Cul-de-Sacs Are Killing Us: Public Safety Lessons From Suburbia

https://usa.streetsblog.org/2011/06/07/cul-de-sacs-are-killi...


But why is that? Maybe because children don’t play on the street at all in the city. So what does the fraction look when we take children playing outside and be healthy instead of just children?

The chance remains the same but for the ones that survive there is a better quality of life.


The disconnect between city folk and rural/suburban folk is wild. We've got comments below saying (paraphrased, my interpretation) "well of course kids play in the streets" followed by "well not literally, I mean on the sidewalks, who on earth would literally play in the street where cars drive".

My neighbors have a basketball hoop facing their street. They consider the street, the street that cars drive on, a basketball court. And the neighborhood I grew up in was dotted with cal-de-sacs. Which, again, are streets that cars drive on, and all of which were baseball diamonds by kids' God-given right.

Half of you know that I literally mean every word of what I said and half of you are equally certain I don't.


Yep we played lots of street hockey with nets in the street. Part of the game was clearing all people/sticks/balls and the two nets in <5 seconds whenever a car showed up.

All drivers in the whole neighborhood understood this as normal.

That said, as kids we’d be equally fine with a dedicated lot specifically to play various types of street ball. As long as it allowed random pickup games, always had a free spot for us, and didn’t require us to pay $100/mo each to some sports league organization.

Abundant free sports facilities for each neighborhood are fine. We don’t need to play in the literal street.


> All drivers in the whole neighborhood understood this as normal.

But the fact remains that kids get hit in suburbs more often. We feel like drivers in suburbia understand this, but the roads are actually designed to encourage speed, and accidents happen.


I did some OpenStreetMap work recently with aerial imagery in the US in such a suburb and was a bit surprised to see that the streets where people lived (not arterial roads through the suburb) were about 10 m wide. I feel the residential streets here with 5.5 m are already a bit too wide, and the main road through the village (with bus traffic and until recently lots of traffic to the motorway) is about 7 m wide.

That people tend to speed when you build a road as if it were a 100 km/h rural road doesn't seem too surprising, sadly. Now, as a parent I still think people are driving too fast, especially around the kindergarten (30 km/h speed limit doesn't automatically make that the desired default speed for that street), but it's probably night and day compared to American suburbs.


Yeah that neighborhood was impossible to speed like today's suburbs. Blocks were 300 ft from intersection to intersection, and no road was longer than 3 blocks. Going to my house from the main road was literally: "First left, then first right, then second left, then first right, then the third house on the left".


On my first trip to the US, early 2000s, my business partner and I were slowly driving around (I think) Palo Alto on a Saturday admiring the houses and he suddenly asked “WHERE ARE ALL THE CHILDREN?”

I couldn’t unsee it. This pristine suburbia, optimized for families, perfect weather, but no kids to be seen. It seemed so weird to us who’d grown up mostly outdoors. In Ireland.


So true. The Bay's suburbs are definitely lacking kids.

Mostly, I think, because those areas are where tech workers live and they tend to skew younger and childless (or few children). So you end up with tech bros crammed into single family homes, with no need for the front/back yard.

Areas around FAANG campuses really just need higher density zoning. It's stupid that the neighborhoods surrounding all Google, Apple, Amazon campuses are single family homes when there is a massive demand for tech workers to be as close to the office as possible.


And let me emphasize that's still suburban, not rural. I live 8 minutes from a good grocery store, 30 minutes from a city of 46,000 people. Small roads aren't paved here (the nearby highway is, and the in-town streets are), and the 20 mph road maintained by nobody else but a couple of residents with tractors is 400 feet from the house.

(And the trade-off for this level of remoteness, for those wondering, is I have about 200 square miles of public lands walkable from the house without crossing a highway. Ever taken a two-hour walk from your house, with your dogs off leash, without seeing another human?)


that sounds really nice… without “blowing up the spot”, could you give a vague location?


That's really a question of pick your climate. Colorado's mountains get a lot of snow in the winter, Arizona's deserts never get really cold, Utah gets both snow and hot summers. All of Southwest has quiet spots if you look for them.

I'm an hour south of Colorado's mountain ranges, in a little pocket of microclimate where most storm clouds sweep past you on both sides, where winter still exists but where you don't need to shovel snow, and where summer days stay below 100 F. We looked at houses in 3 states before settling on this.

Look into Arizona, New Mexico, Utah (Moab is an outdoor sports mecca), California (around highway 395, and on the coast outside of big cities, are some pretty areas), Colorado (if you love skiing etc), maybe Texas (e.g. "Hill Country").

And if you want more free space, move to Wyoming or Montana (but good luck with the groceries).

We spent just under 3 years roaming the Western US with a motorhome. I've seen a lot of natural beauty, you just have to leave the cities and it's there. The rest is mostly a matter of what climate, plant life, etc you prefer, and how close do you want to live to a good hospital, groceries, UPS & mail delivery, etc.


A typical two lane road is a great width for a street hockey rink


Just to clarify - do you think that situation is a positive thing, negative thing, or no opinion with regards to it?

I say this as someone who grew up around some places that fit your description.


Children do play on city streets, however one of the big differences is sight lines. Suburban streets tend to be dangerous due to visibility issues and often lack well connected sidewalks etc.

A core reason for this is developers want to maximize the number of houses they can fit on a given plot of land which will often have odd shapes etc. So kids simply walking to a friends house are often in real danger.


Some anecdata here having moved from a suburb to Boston metro:

I regularly have to slow down for children riding bikes, playing basketball or hockey in the street, etc. to this day when I visit my mom in the suburbs. I have never seen a single child playing in the streets in nearly five years living near Boston.


To be clear, in the city kids don't play literally in the streets. They're on the sidewalks and playgrounds. It's the fact that suburban kids are often in the actual street that is part of the problem, and the fact that the streets are actually roads and designed for cars to go fast on.


I thought about this as I posted my story. There’s a park on the street next to mine. When weather allows, kids play basketball and baseball there and play on the jungle gym. We never had that growing up. For us, there were two or three parks in town, but none were within walking distance of our house, so we didn’t play there. If areas were set aside and accessible for kids to play safely, I’d imagine more would do that.


In my neighborhood of Washington, DC, I do see kids playing in the streets now and then--throwing a football, throwing a baseball, shooting baskets on a hoop at the curb. I also see grumbling about it on the neighborhood listserv. This is a residential neighborhood of free-standing houses, with a few duplexes thrown in.


Where in Boston did you live? That’s definitely the case in the fancy parts of Boston and definitely not the case in the minority ghettoes like roxbury, JP, and dorchester


I'm not the original commenter, but I do live in Boston.

Could give a lot of anecdotal stories, but here's the stat -- Boston is the 3rd worst in the nation for auto accidents.

https://dailyinfographic.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Citi...


This kind of data is less than useless without knowing the details of how they measured.

Typically they're just using insurance reported events which has a huge bias against areas where cars are newer on average (rich areas and against states that heavily use road salt) because nobody reports when two 20yo shitboxes trade paint but everybody calls in The System(TM) when two expensive new cars do (and these sorts of small accidents make up the majority of collisions).

Even if we knew it's still skewed heavily against dense metros because it uses miles instead of operating hours.

And this is coming from someone who hates the people of Massachusetts and wants to believe they are rightfully at the top of the list...


There's reversed arguments to every one of these...

> nobody reports when two 20yo shitboxes trade paint

And few people drive lambos around in Boston winter, the salt wrecks really nice cars. Also, SF is richer and ranks lower.

>skewed heavily against dense metros because it uses miles

If people are going slow, the accidents are more minor and they would be less likely to need reporting. Also, NYC is denser and ranks lower.

Anyway, this has gotten too far from housing discussion.

edit for formatting


I'd argue it's wide suburban streets that encourage high speed driving. The road I live on is not wide enough for two cars to pass each other if there are also cars parked on each side, and driving even 20mph feels way too fast. But when I go visit family members in the suburbs, the streets are wide enough for two lanes of parked cars, plus 3 lanes of driving cars. Driving under 50mph feels like you might as well get out and walk.


This is called "traffic calming", the notion that you have to design the streets so it's impossible for drivers to go at unsafe speeds, rather than making wide straight roads and plonking down a "pls no speederino" sign.

Leave wide straight roads for segregated highways and build streets for people, not just cars.


> This is called "traffic calming"

That sounds like the PR branding for a positive externality of developers making streets narrower because they can and it allows them to maximize the space they get to charge for when they sell.

I live in one such neighborhood, and enough people park on the street that even without two cars needing to pass each other it feels unsafe even at slow speed, because if you're taking a turn you can't see oncoming traffic, and if some kid ran out from behind a car there would be no room to maneuver to avoid them without hitting something else, even at a slow speed.

If it wasn't about money they would just put speed bumps in, like they do in lots of places.


It's not PR branding, cities actually spend time and energy and money actually making streets "worse" for cars. A common technique, for instance, is to alternate the side that cars are parked on. This creates a sinuous road where you're constantly doing little turns, instead of a straight-away.

This isn't just because of the width of the roads, because these didn't exist 30 years ago (in the states at least; they were starting to become common in the UK 30 years ago), but the houses haven't suddenly merged closer together.

I see in another reply you say these underperform. Citation? Fatalities are still lower in cities.


The fact that it feels unsafe is what makes it safer. You're prompted to slow down and pay attention to what's in front of you.


You might slow down but that’s offset by the roads being it’s inherently unsafe. Real world statistics frequently show such designs underperform compared to the expected payoffs and sometimes reduce safety.


I'm interested in these statistics, can you suggest a source?


Speed bumps make it harder for fire apparatuses to respond to calls. Traffic calming is preferred because the expectation is for opposite ROW traffic to yield to the fire apparatus.


I'm not sure I agree that a high quality of life requires playing in the streets. Perhaps an issue is that many rural areas lack adequate pedestrian pathing and recreational areas? Maybe an even larger issue is that parents generally feel unsafe leaving their kids alone outside.


Urban sprawl by definition takes up a lot of space, meaning that if parks and other shared areas are planned in support of a specific amount of people, many of those people will have to travel farther to reach it than they would were it a more dense neighborhood.


Probably bikes right? Children surely are doing less biking in cities per capita compared to suburban areas.


I'm an avid cyclist. Just from personal observation, outside of high density urban areas I see very little people on bicycles.

Now I moved out of NYC to the suburbs - I know every cyclist in the area, and that's me plus 2 other people. I barely ever see bikes...


I'm sorry, I don't know what you are responding to with "Probably bikes right?". Cities that are built for living typically include massive investments in pedestrian infrastructure, including bikes, if that is what you are saying. Biking is not feasible in most suburbs because of the distance. Cities that care about reducing traffic, such as Amsterdam, absolutely have more children biking than a suburban area. Unfortunately a lot of cities in the United States were built for cars and not people.


Higher speeds. Suburban streets/roads/stroads optimize for traffic safety, not pedestrian safety.

The wide roads and large front yards promote higher driving speeds. For a long time the thinking was even that front yards can work as a place for cars to stop safely if they fly off the road.

They talk about this in Strong Towns iirc


I think it's more likely because there are very few kids playing outside in urban areas. There are kids in the Pearl and the South Waterfront in Portland. It is rare to see them play outside, much more rare to see them playing in the street. On the other hand, kids playing catch or riding their bikes on suburban streets is a daily occurrence in my neighborhood. That's definitely going to drive up interactions with cars, but the motor vehicle rates you cite above are still exceedingly low.


That's just not true though. There are tons of kids playing in the street here in chicago. Maybe you just don't live near many children?


Really? I grew up in the suburbs of chicago and we didn't really play in the streets. We played basketball in one of our parents driveways or at the local park and played football in one of our parents front/back yards or at the local park.

Now I live in Lake View during the summer and I haven't really seen any kids playing in the streets either.

Where are you at in Chicago and what do they play if I may ask?


I'm in Oak Park, just across Austin from Chicago, and kids play in the streets all the time. Basketball and baseball, mostly. The comment upthread suggests kids aren't even riding bikes in the streets. I mean, come on.


Kids play outside on the sidewalk/street in urban Chicago? I've never been to Chicago, but my wife went to school at University of Chicago, and she says she never saw any such thing. The area around the university is pretty rough, but still. And I'm in downtown Portland all the time, and no, there are no kids playing on the sidewalk/street. Not even in the little urban parks, or at least very, very few.


What's "urban Chicago"? The loop? Kids do not play on the street in the loop. This is what the loop looks like:

https://www.google.com/maps/place/jackson+and+lasalle+chicag...

Most of Chicago doesn't look like the loop. It's a big city.

The University of Chicago is in Hyde Park, 10 minutes south of the loop. It's one of the safest neighborhoods in the city. This is what Hyde Park looks like:

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.7995114,-87.5981733,3a,75y,1...

Kids play on the sidewalks and in the streets in Chicago all the time. I mean: of course they do? It's a city of 2.7 million people. Did you think all the kids were just kept inside all the time?


That second link sure looks to me like the R-1 developments the activists seem upset about. Yes, I would expect kids play there.


That second link is what most of Chicago looks like. See for yourself: this site will generate totally random addresses in Chicago, and you can just copy them to Google Maps to see the street view.

https://il.postcodebase.com/random_address_city/CHICAGO


The point, I think, is that the elimination of zoning is meant to upset the R-1 style of development you say is prevalent in Chicago and that I agree is conducive to kids playing outside, on and off the street. Where you have high density mixed-use urban development, outside play of that nature is much, much less common, as evidenced by my examples in Portland.


What about this:

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.7994972,-87.5942747,3a,75y,9...

Thats 3 blocks from the original link. Thats a park on the right that I saw kids playing outside in today when it was 2 degrees (F) out.

https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8009554,-87.5937668,3a,75y,2...

Is the street I saw the pickleball kids playing on last summer. It's one block away from my first link.


No, the alternative to R-1 development isn't "high density mixed use", it's 2-, 3-, and 4- flats. Pull up any random address from that site that's in Lakeview --- entirely RT-4 and above --- and you'll see kids playing on the street the same way.

This is the problem with the zoning debate: people exclude the middle, and say that zoning is either good single-family regions where kids can play on the streets, or terrible industrial zones that look like Giede Prime. We don't have to carefully reason through the alternatives --- good, functioning cities are full of them.


Lol. I’ve lived in Hyde Park or Woodlawn (the neighborhoods around UofC) for over 20 years. It’s not rough and kids play in the streets and sidewalks all the time. Soccer, baseball and hockey are very common, along with skateboarding and variations of tag. I’ve recently seen kids playing pickle ball which seems like they should be made fun of for. Basketball is less common than where I grew up in Indiana but that’s because there are a ton of courts in the parks.


Cole said while he doesn't believe he was targeted Tuesday afternoon, he has been shot at in the past, in 2018 and in June of this year as well.

Kilwins, a popular Hyde Park ice cream shop, was damaged in the shooting.

The shop's owner and employees spoke Wednesday about their safety concerns in returning to work, and Cole returned to where he was shot at.

"We need the partner in federal government to step up. Somebody has to have a sense of urgency," he said. "You can't nonprofit your way out of this. We can't program our way out of these shootings," he said.

According to the city's Violence Reduction Dashboard, as of Nov. 8 shootings in the neighborhood have more than tripled compared to 2020, with 16 this year compared to five last year.

The same data shows that for violent crimes of all time, Hyde Park has had 196 so far this year, up from 155 in the same period in 2020.

Kilwins owner Jackie Jackson said the most recent violent crime, along with increasing rent and fewer customers, may force her to close the business she opened nearly 10 years ago.

https://abc7chicago.com/chicago-shooting-hyde-park-u-of-c-ja...


You're referencing an article about one of the most shocking violent incidents in Hyde Park memory. In 2021, Jahmal Cole was a congressional candidate who was shot at (though not injured) while visiting Hyde Park in a crime they never determined the motif for.

If you go look at the actual Violence Reduction Dashboard referenced in the article you'll see that Hyde Park has less shootings per capita than the loop and the near north side. Its tiered in the safest neighborhoods in Chicago. Its used as an example of what the Dashboard calls "The Safety Gap" to distinguish how much safer some neighborhoods are than others.

Chicago has a violent crime problem, in some neighborhoods its an absolute multiple generation failure and an outrage. But if you aren't comfortable with Hyde Park's crime rate, you aren't comfortable anywhere in Chicago or you have some other bias at play. Thats fine! Feel free to make your own choices about where you go but Hyde Park isn't rough by any American statistical observation.

And it certainly isn't germane to whether kids play outside! You'll find that in the absolute roughest neighborhoods in Chicago as well as the poshest.


kids living in the pearl district or anywhere on the west side south of there, up to and including lake Oswego, are going to be living in million dollar-plus homes and condos, and have parents with plenty of resources to keep them busy in safe environments outsude school.


May also be type of vehicle. Big farm truck in suburbs/rural, can't see anyone under ~3ft well when they're right up on you unless you're really intentionally looking down. Also could be the children are improperly trained. False sense of security, whereas in the city it's basically entrenched in anyone that as soon as you set foot outside that the cars are trying to slaughter everyone so kids & adults alike are always on alert. Whenever I live in the city I basically assume if I'm not in a city park a car is on the prowl to run me over at any minute, which means I'm not really caught unawares.


I live on 3 acres in a rural area and "if you go in to the road a driver will slaughter you" was the most important lesson we had to teach our kid.


Yes that was the lesson. Not "if you go outside a driver will slaughter you" which is the lesson in the city, and probably a more accurate one. You still go outside but you know you're in the slaughterhouse. Farm kid by your own admission doesn't realize they're still in the slaughterhouse when off the road.


That may have been the case like 30-40 years ago, but it's not the case now.


Sure children can be trained, but children will still go in the road because they are children. Based on current laws, this is acceptable collateral damage so that cars can go fast.


> Maybe because children don’t play on the street at all in the city.

They absolutely do


Lol what? Where do you see kids playing close to downtown or in the streets of a heavily urban center. Examples?


Cities are not just dense downtown cores with arterial streets. Most families living in cities live on side-streets that don't get much through traffic, and children frequently play in them.


There is also a significant ant difference in the absolute numbers.

Not to mention people tend to be much lore cautious in high traffic areas.


> Isn't it possible that people who live in beautiful neighborhoods with mature trees, nice big yards, and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around

Basically how things were built pre-WW2?

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streetcar_suburb

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWsGBRdK2N0&t=68s

The Oh the Urbanity channel has a video on the (misguided) idea that "urban living" = Manhattan / Hong Kong apartment blocks:

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCmz-fgp24E

Examples (Streetview):

* https://www.google.com/maps/place/125+Hampton+Ave,+Toronto,+...

* https://www.google.com/maps/place/50+Geoffrey+St,+Toronto,+O...

* https://www.google.com/maps/place/70+Jackman+Ave+Toronto,+ON

See also:

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO6txCZpbsQ&t=9m28s

Fifteen minutes pedalling in one direction is downtown Amsterdam, fifteen minutes in the other is farm land.


> Basically how things were built pre-WW2?

The majority of America was not some idyllic "streetcar suburb" even pre WWII. Majority of it was either grid based urban development or rural residential / agriculture in large plots (often 20, 40, 80, 160, 320, 640 acre plots).

https://web.archive.org/web/20131108174122/http://www.thegre...

As agriculture got more efficient, and raising food for ones self became less common, and as cars became more prevalent these large rural plots often got sold to developers who would be tasked with breaking up the land into parcels and installing new roads and infrastructure.

Even in 1906 in San Francisco, you can see that cars are beginning to overtake the cable car and horse carriage as the central form of transport: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHkc83XA2dY

So it's natural that majority of American land was developed around the automobile.


I grew up in a house built in the 1890s (with residual pipes for gas lighting because electricity hadn't been "invented" yet). It was designed to be with-in walking distance of retail and streetcars/trams/trolleys, because the car had not been invented yet. Grid layout pre-dates the automobile:

* http://oldtorontomaps.blogspot.com/p/index-of-maps.html

There's nothing "natural" about car-centric design and giving priority to cars:

* https://mitpress.mit.edu/9780262516129/fighting-traffic/

It's a policy choice, one which (e.g.) the Dutch started moving away from in the late 1970s:

* https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bic...

* https://inkspire.org/post/amsterdam-was-a-car-loving-city-in...

Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Death_and_Life_of_Great_Am...

The book Crabgrass Frontier was published in 1985:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crabgrass_Frontier

The Geography of Nowhere was published in 1993:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Geography_of_Nowhere

We've know for decades about the consequences of sprawl.


Well I've been in many pre 1890s buildings and houses that were never anywhere near a streetcar or even railroad, because they were not located anywhere near a dense urban area. The United States is a vast swath of highly arable land. Far more of it is amenable in terms of climate than Canada. And huge swaths of this country were sparsely inhabitated, broken up into these large rural parcels as I described. People moved to the United States throughout the 1800s specifically to obtain land.

> There's nothing "natural" about car-centric design and giving priority to cars

Look at the video footage of San Fran in 1906 I posted. It is just about as perfect of a model as you could find. It was a premier city at the time. It had cable car infrastructure across the city that survives to this day. However, even in this footage people are foregoing the cable car for the automobile. More people are jetting around in their car, far before any real infrastructure even existed specifically for the car. It was a consumer choice.

People like to think it was some kind of conspiracy that streetcars and railroads fell out of favor for cars.

No, cars replaced horses and horse carriages, which were flexible in path movement, did not depend on central operators, asynchronous in that they could be deployed any time, and also like horses, cars were owned.

Independence, ownership, empowerment, etc. Huge American cultural values in part shaped by the sheer geography of the U.S.

For the United States, based on its geography and culture, absolutely inevitable that independent and self owned forms of transportation would dominate.

Sprawl, in a sprawling country, is inevitable.


> Sprawl, in a sprawling country, is inevitable.

The communities listed in this page were suburbs, just not car-centric suburbs:

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streetcar_suburb

Development could have continued to be denser communities around either tram lines, rail stations, or existing towns. LA's 'sprawl' started around the trolley system:

* https://la.curbed.com/2017/9/20/16340038/los-angeles-streetc...

* https://www.jstor.org/stable/26412661

Some of the original bedroom communities were based around rail stations. But those communities still had 'urban-ish' communities that one walked around, and long distance travel was rail, or horse, later car.

And I know well communities not around any dense urban area, as I visited my grandparents' farm in Communist Europe numerous times when I was young: my aunts/uncles had cars back in the Old Country, but my grand parents still used horses for a lot of work and even going into town.

A random farm, in a rural area, in a sprawling country is not the same planned development on a parcel of land, which required government approval and permits. Low-density development, cul-de-sacs, restrictive zoning where residential is not with-in waling distance of commercial/industrial were all policy choices. There was nothing inevitable about it. Certainly in the 1940s and 50s maybe folks didn't know any better, but that's harder to say by the 1970s and 80s.

(Parenthetically, originally people used to live in towns and commute to their farms: living right on the farm was a later development (relatively speaking).)


Not to mention that many places in US actively oppose or outright ban mixed use developments. (commercial lower levels, with residential on top)


"Basically how things were built pre-WW2?"

Or, like many places still build them today?


You can have all this (and more!) in cities as well. Lived in Seattle for a bit and my apartment had several neighborhoods of single-family homes within a couple blocks: each with mature trees, yards, and low traffic streets. Sure, the yard maybe isn't as massive as you can get in a suburb, but there's still plenty of space (and far more public parks).

Because they were so close to dense housing, they also had the added benefits of public transit and being walking distance to several grocery stores. Much better than suburbia in my opinion.


I dont like noise, light pollution, or crowds. I'd like nighttime to be silent and pitch dark, and the daytime to be mostly silent as well.

I go on trips and need to be able to load lots of stuff in and out of "my" or "a" car without living in terror of all of my stuff getting stolen while I'm inside.

Where should I live?

Note: I lived in three different boroughs of NYC for 25 years


That's nice. Many of us don't want that, but have it forced upon us considering something like 90% of all residential zoning in the USA is R1 zoning.

There will be demand for neighborhoods you want and they will exist but it won't necessarily be in the middle of major population centers like it is now.


> 90% of all residential zoning in the USA is R1

well if that's based on land area that's not a very informative number. you'd want to do it by population.


What? No, doing it by population is a bad approach.

Land is the resource you're dividing up. The question is how much of the divided-up land is allocated to an (allegedly) niche usage.

Doing it by population is like saying "almost no one is a billionaire, almost everyone is basically poor and equally-poor, so there can't possibly be a wealth inequality problem". (I'm not saying there is/isn't a wealth inequality problem, I'm only saying that's a dud argument.)


Sounds like the country is the place for you, I experienced all of that in a suburb.

The "living in terror" part sounds like you could use some work on mindfulness though.


If we're throwing out anecdata, I've experienced none of that in 22 years of living in the Seattle suburb of Redmond. We've never had a package stolen from our doorstep. No one breaks into our car (and we have multiple vehicles in the driveway). We did have one little shit steal a bunch of mail a few years ago, and locking mailboxes fixed that. There's homeless folks I only know about because I run the local trails, but they are otherwise invisible AFAICT.

And this, despite the Redmond PD apparently going on strike the last few years (when's the last time you saw a RPD car north of 85th St., fellow Redmondites?).

However, if we're addressing the dark and noise part, well, it's a suburb and you don't get dark and quiet here.


I live in a decently "nice" part of Seattle. Constantly concerned stuff will get stolen. Have had car broken in to more than once. "Terror" might be overstating if, but the level of property crime is objectively harming my day-to-day experience.


That is less an inherent property of density and more a property of Seattle's moronic lack of petty crime enforcement.


Yeah, sorry, Im not trying to make a claim as to the cause here, just agreeing that this really does exist and really does make life way shittier in some very major cities.


We're seeing a level of wealth inequality now that rivals the level seen in the Gilded Age. "Petty crime enforcement" won't do anything but place more of your neighbors in harm's way. An oppressively policed neighborhood does not make the neighborhood safer.

The child poverty rate was halved under an emergency declaration in 2020. That policy was allowed to expire in 2022[1] and that, along with unchecked inflation and labor-averse federal monetary policy, is naturally producing misery and desperation.

1. https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/news-internal/monthly...


Just curious: do you believe this a Seattle problem, a United States problem, or an urban problem?


Having lived, in the past five years, in Seattle, in a Seattle exurb, in a small city well north of Seattle (Bellingham), and now in London, I can say that this is just a problem -- not a Seattle problem, and urban problem, or a US problem. We had people prowling our secure parking garage in my Seattle condo building; my exurb house was in a development where summer days brought the smell of cow manure in through the open windows, but barely a week went by without cars being prowled; Bellingham is a college town and has had property crime issues for decades; and obviously London has loads of thefts and robberies, with a recent trend being masked robbers on motorcycles and scooters snatching phones from people's hands on the streets.

Everybody thinks this is a local problem, but the reality is that, in developed nations, property crime is quite strongly correlated with wealth inequality[1], which has been growing in most of the western world for the past couple of decades.

1. https://equalitytrust.org.uk/crime#:~:text=The%20link%20betw....


I don't know. I lived in a wealthy suburb outside San Diego and did not experience this problem (I used to leave my keys in my car with the car unlocked, which was obviously moronic but never caused me any problems), and I lived briefly in SF where it was substantially worse.


thanks for the patronizing, very mindful! not had your stuff stolen then , I gather ?


I have been robbed at knifepoint, intentionally kicked off my bike by a motorbike, pickpocketed and cash taken from the ATM(with a ruse)... All traumatic events that haunt me to this day.

And yet, I still can say that a city is still one of the safest places to be.

Your experience isn't invalid, it's just how it impacts everyone. The outcome of your and mine experiences are subjective, and people who go through them(you and me both) should stop pretending that our experiences are universal.


>I go on trips and need to be able to load lots of stuff in and out of "my" or "a" car without living in terror of all of my stuff getting stolen while I'm inside.

This is not a problem in cities in Asia. It was not a problem before the '60s. It is still not a problem in the dense downtowns of a few small American cities that have avoided the modern homelessness crisis. It is a specifically recent American major city phenomenon that nobody wants to accept as the norm.


people with homes steal things they see available as well. even people who aren't poor steal things, either just for "fun" or because they are opportunistic and trying to just amass more wealth. laptops, cars etc. are not stolen by homeless people, more like professional thieves. I've seen a lot of things stolen, my own and that of close family members. Crowded places have more theft, facilitated by there just being lots of people around and also that it's the norm for everyone to be completely anonymous of everyone else. Have not been to Asia but you certainly will get your stuff stolen in European cities as well (have had that happen also in Dublin for example, extremely traumatizing).


> extremely traumatizing

Words have meaning, and "extremely traumatizing" should be reserved for slightly more damaging things than getting ready to leave the restaurant and realizing your phone is gone. I realize word inflation is a battle that is lost every day, but it's still annoying. See what I did there? I didn't say that word inflation is extremely enraging or plunges me into a mental breakdown. It's just annoying.


how do you know I wasnt robbed at gunpoint? or am phobic of travel and being without a passport etc. had me stranded / without food / etc? make an attempt at seeing other people's existence?


> Where should I live?

If you just want less human noise, somewhere with a large lot. On my 9 acre lot I can still hear human noise, but usually only big things, which tends to be daytime, and not a lot of it. Oh, and backyard roosters; they're everywhere around here, but only noisy when the sun is up. Vehicle noises carry a long way when people have more horsepower than brains, though; gunshots and fireworks too. Not sure how to avoid those noises. I don't get a lot of artificial light from the neighbors, but there's some; more forest or a larger lot would help.

On the other hand, there's a lot of noise from local wildlife, and wind and rain and hail and other natural phenomenon that creates noise. And sometimes the moon is pretty bright at night. I guess you could live somewhere with caves and avoid some of that, but critters are everywhere.


Virtually anywhere in the entire country?


A small town in Iceland (which is pretty much all of them except Reykjavik) would do the trick.

But then you have a crappy range of very expensive food at the local supermarket, pretty much everything else you have to order in or pick up from Reykjavik (or abroad), if you want to see live music your choice is “Ja Ja Ding Dong” at the (only) pub one night a week or (again) going to Reykjavik. Want to see the latest musical (or a Grand Slam tennis tournament, or a million other events that are on all the time in NYC) live? Hop on an international flight. And everybody in the street will know pretty much everything you do.

But the mountains are stunningly beautiful, the crime rate is almost zero and you can drive your Super Jeep around to your heart’s content.

I get the desire for solitude but it comes with tradeoffs.


If you throw a dart at a US map it will probably land on a place like what you described. It isn't hard to find a house where you literally cannot see your neighbors.


Live in a rural area. Move to Adirondacks, you'll have to drive everywhere - but there's little to no noise and so little light pollution, that you can see the Milky Way.

We moved from Williamsburg to Cornwall(NY). We live in a rural area and there's a tonne of noise(interstate traffic is audible from 5+ miles away) and light pollution(Hudson Valley light pollution is high).


Any smaller city in Europe lol. With a flat facing the inside of house block (not the street). If you want it to be dead silent and truly pitch dark, then northern Europe (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia).


Most single family homes in neighborhoods of major cities are like this, provided your home is one of the 90+% that is not on a major road.


Sounds like you're describing a farm


... in Winter.

Warm months can get noisy. Especially the god-damned locusts, but there are crickets and all kinds of things at night, even when those are dormant. Coyotes—those even, and perhaps especially, in Winter, but at least they're not so unpleasant to listen to unless your dogs are out or you forgot to put the fowl in for the night. Seemingly-endless Canada geese flocks low overhead, honking from horizon to horizon. God help you if you're near water. Frogs. Ugh. Frogs.

But, not so much neighbors' lawnmowers, or cars. Or car horns. Or people yelling. Or anyone else's music. That is nice. And man are the Winters peaceful.

Dust from gravel roads (you have no idea how much if you've not experienced it—dust every surface at 9am, can write in the new dust on the kitchen table by 4pm, on a bad day when the wind's wrong and it's dry), "snow" from combines and various ag processing plants (pretty sure this stuff's terrible on your lungs, but at least it's not all the time and only in some places). That shit smell for a few days when the next farmer over spreads manure. Your hour-plus drive (each way) every two to four weeks for your "big shopping" (and they say cities have food deserts! LOL—and if you think there aren't rural folks so damn poor they have trouble keeping a car running and need tons of help just to get groceries... well, there are, and lots of them) and needing to have a deep freeze or two and maybe even two refrigerators depending on how big your family is. Having to drive that far, too, if your kid needs clothes or shoes and the limited selection at the tractor & feed won't cut it. Forget walking anywhere that ain't your own land.

Got its own challenges. But, sometimes, it is very, very quiet.

[EDIT] Oh, and gunshots! Pretty often, mostly far off, varies a little depending on what your neighbors are like, but common enough I think it's fair to call that a normal part of the rural soundscape.


Old narrow-street, maybe an alley in the back, grid-layout suburbs with the odd block corner zoned commercial and all-neighborhood-streets routes to all kinds of businesses and parks and libraries and such are a whole different beast from the twisty-road car-dependent mazes of post-70s suburbia. And they're so much damn nicer. Too bad no-one builds them anymore.


Most cities have zoning that doesn't allow that kind of thing.


We moved from the latter to the former about a year ago, and it's SO MUCH BETTER. The low traffic residential grid roads make great walking and cycling (for quite long distances) and the closer proximity to neighbors seems to result in friendlier people. I'm amazed at what a different feeling it is compared to our old McMansion/Condo stuff where people kept to their boxes and didn't seem to know how to politely interact.


problem isn't zoning but design regulations. A lot of street design is dictated by being able to fire engine equipment in and turned around. Hence no new alleys are being built.


The "residential" road that I live on is (and most in the area are) 45 ft wide, with 2.5' sidewalks. The Hummer H1 is an incredible 7.2 feet wide, meaning you could fit six full-size hummers side-by-side down this road. Add in the mandatory front 30ft setback and you have a sight line that is around 110 feet wide.

People are expected to go up to 30 mph here. They don't.


We could build fire equipment to fit narrower streets.



Yeah, just not used in the US. All we have is giant custom things that cost a fortune.


I don't even mean that narrow. Just not, like, 4ish cars wide. More like 3 or 2.5 (if one-way).


> Much better than suburbia in my opinion.

I think a lot of people just assume that the only kind of suburbia that exists is endless tract housing as far as the eye can see. I'm absolutely positive that does happen, but I've never lived in a suburban neighborhood that fit such a description. We have stores. We have business parks here and there. Heck, we even have public transit.

This is probably why there is such a dichotomy between those who hate suburbia, and those who love it. Different experiences piggybacking on the same terminology.


If you find your way to my other comment ("suburban sprawl") this is largely what it looked like to me when I visited my brother. The developments aren't very large and there is roughly nothing around them.

Contrast to NJ, where the NYC suburbs extend way outside Midtown and the city limits.

As a result, it is very rare to feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.


I don’t think parent was denying that, or at least I don’t get a sense of this dichotomy in the text. As someone that lives on Vashon island (what some consider a suburb of Seattle; but I actually consider rural King County), I got the sense that suburbia here was specifically directed at the endless tract of housing one (so like East Bellevue, Kent, or large parts of Kirkland), but not actual small towns around the main city (like Bothel, Lynnwood, Kirkland proper, or—well—Vashon) or even other dense urban areas like Burien or Redmond.


But I do think that's a matter of opinion, and totally unrelated to prejudice.


Having lived in Texas my whole life this idea was mostly foreign to me, but last year I visited Brooklyn and had my eyes opened


... and I moved to Texas from Brooklyn, and I can assure you, longer term residents than me are still finding it foreign. That's slowly changing...


I mean, you’re basically saying that you can have suburbia in the city?

If lots of people want it, the price will skyrocket, so then somebody will buy some land just outside the city and build suburbia there so more people can afford it.

Rinse and repeat.


Those single family homes are the exact plots that people look to as examples of NIMBY homeowners standing in the way of affordable housing.


> Isn't it possible that people who live in beautiful neighborhoods with mature trees, nice big yards, and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around, want to keep them that way for primarily those reasons?

Yes that is absolutely something people want. You can get that in cities if you give up on yard and instead share with parks. That said, some of the reasons people want it are uncomfortable.

Some people don’t like change and moved somewhere based on how it looked in <year>, understandable, but change is a part of life especially as our population grows. Streets that are safe for kids are common in many parts of the world, in many different city structures, not just suburbs. So the “family friendly” myth about suburbs isn’t true.

Regarding uncomfortable truths, if you go and listen to some of the town meetings, you’ll walk away with a couple points, of varying degrees of prejudice.

Some people simply want it to be “exclusionary” to keep prices up, and to keep themselves feeling special. Those people in town meetings may suggest paying for affordable housing in another town to keep theirs as is.

Some people will say they don’t want affordable housing because “we all know that those people bring crime”. This can be a varying degree of prejudice, whether it’s low income people or racial minorities, but invariably someone always says it.


I'm sure at town meetings there are plenty of unsavory things said, and people with prejudices show up in disproportionate numbers. It's just not accurate or OK to imply that all property owners seeking to keep their neighborhoods from rapidly changing to higher densities are doing so out of prejudice. Give people the benefit of believing they are primarily motivated by rational self interest rather than some irrational prejudice.

I totally agree parks are an amazing solution and can create really nice places for kids to play safely. We love our parks. That said, even if the end product is objectively better for the current homeowners due to new amenities, etc. there is still a long period of lots of construction they'll have to endure that might be the only years their kids are at an age where they'd normally be wandering the previously quiet neighborhood. None of this is simple, and it's going to be a trade-off between the valid interests of the existing property owners and the valid interests of the larger metro area population that needs a place to live.


I have nothing against parks. Parks are great. But I'm not sure what problem they supposedly solve.

If I were living in an apartment, then a park would be better than nothing.

But I can't grow a vegetable garden in a park. I can't enjoy the park while I have stuff inside my house that I need to check on in 15 minutes. You can't let a 5 year-old go to the park alone but, if your backyard is relatively secured and you can see them out of your window, then you can let them play in the backyard. I can't let my dog out to run to the park in order to "do its business" etc. I don't have the same level of privacy and solitude at a park as I do in my backyard.

While there are certain things I would prioritize over a backyard (like having a garage to set up a "makers shop" in), there's not much I would trade a backyard for ... least of all a park.

Beyond the "yard solution" I also have a very hard time living in even medium-sized cities, let alone large ones. I don't like noise, traffic (street or pedestrian) or crowds. Public transportation is a nightmare for me and grocery delivery services have actually saved my life so I don't need or want a grocery store within walking distance (I find shopping to be one of the most stressful activities in life). Rural living is for me.


>But I can't grow a vegetable garden in a park.

It's funny how common things like vegetable gardens are in Internet rhetoric and how comparatively rare they are in the world I actually walk around in.

This is a thread about development policy. If you actually want to raise a vegetable garden, you're in a small minority. Nobody is forcing you to live anywhere, and there is certainly no need to prevent the growth of cities or preserve low-density neighborhoods in the inner region of a major metropolitan area to ensure there will be space for the small fraction of us who want to grow their own tomatoes. In fact the opposite is true: allowing dense development to take place ensures that there will be more unspoilt land available on the outskirts for those of us with a green thumb.


I don't understand your point. I was replying to people who were talking about how parks solve certain problems for those without yards, and I was wondering what problems they solve. The fact that most people don't grow vegetable gardens is cherry-picking one example I gave of something you can do in a backyard but that you can't do in a park. Why did you zero in on that and go off on a rant about how most people don't grow vegetable gardens and those who do can not live in cities? That has literally nothing to do with my comment.


>I don't understand your point.

My point is simple: you are not being forced to live in a city.

>Why did you zero in on that

It helped highlight the irrelevance and myopia of your post.

>That has literally nothing to do with my comment.

Your concluding sentence was "Rural living is for me". Do you see the connection now?

This is a thread about how some people make life more expensive for everyone because the world around them is changing and they want to use the government to stop it. This is a thread about development policy. Development policy does not make your backyard disappear. It is a question about whether you should ban other people from living in ways you don't personally enjoy.

>I was wondering what problems they solve. The fact that most people don't grow vegetable gardens is cherry-picking one example I gave of something you can do in a backyard but that you can't do in a park.

Why did you cherry-pick one example the poster gave about what he enjoys about living in a city and go off on a rant about all of the things you can do in a backyard but not in a park?

See how silly that sounds?


> My point is simple: you are not being forced to live in a city.

But that has nothing to do with anything. I never once said or even implied that I, or anyone else, was.

> It helped highlight the irrelevance and myopia of your post.

I re-read the thread and come away with a different conclusion. My post was neither myopic or off-topic IMO.

> Your concluding sentence was "Rural living is for me". Do you see the connection now?

You misunderstood my point and concluded that i was implying that everyone is being forced to live in cities. You are being argumentative, I was making conversation.

> Why did you cherry-pick one example the poster gave about what he enjoys about living in a city and go off on a rant about all of the things you can do in a backyard but not in a park?

Re-read the parent, troll.


>I re-read the thread and come away with a different conclusion. My post was neither myopic or off-topic IMO.

The thread is about policy. Every post before yours in the tree you responded to discusses the motivations of people, particularly people in large CA metropolitan areas, for supporting particular policies, or discusses the impacts of the policies themselves. I attempted to respond to your post as though you were trying to say something relevant to policy, and in so doing, tried to explain that your personal preferences are not necessarily a good guide to policy, particularly in the areas in question.

You have pulled the less important sentences out of my posts and chosen to repeatedly attack me personally:

>You are being argumentative

>Re-read the parent, troll.

In fairness, it was not the post you responded to that mentioned parks as an amenity of cities, but the one before that. I regret that my attempt at a humorous illustration seems to have been missed.

It doesn't seem like further exposition on my part is likely to help you see what you missed. Please understand that there are many people like you who interject these sort of unhelpful anti-city anecdotes in discussions about local land use regulations, so I showed a little annoyance.


I agree with all of this, while also noting I have had several friends and colleagues who grow herbs and vegetables in apartments, on balconies, in sun rooms and so on. Anything short of a tree appears completely viable even without an expansive back yard.


> But I can't grow a vegetable garden in a park.

Zurich has community gardens because of that. Of course, demand is high, you’ll need to get on a list for a plot.

But it sounds like you really need rural living, but just a heavy socialized municipality.


In the US it is an arrestable offense for your kids to go play in the park on their own, so I pretty much see it as a waste to fund children's playgrounds. Average parent is worked to death just keeping the household afloat with no time to have to accompany their kid the whole time. Rather have a private one where the police at least need a warrant to enter the secured curtilage.


> In the US it is an arrestable offense for your kids to go play in the park on their own

No, that is definitely just an urban legend. First, the law would depend on the state, and second, most states don’t have restrictions for kids once they are 7-8 years old, which I consider way too young to be by themselves but I wouldn’t get arrested over it.


OK as long as you say you won't be arrested I'm sure you won't. The news stories simply from googling "arrested child park" were all fake.


It does depend on your state, but whenever it happens, it’s a news story simply because it doesn’t happen often. Nuance is important:

> Phillips, Debra Harrell’s attorney, confirmed there is no age at which a child can be left on his or her own specified in South Carolina law. The challenge for the prosecutor will be to prove that this child’s needs and care were not adequately arranged before she was left at the park, he said.

There is no law against it (in South Carolina at least). The law they are using for the charge is reckless endangerment. And usually at the end of it, prosecutors drop all charges due to lack of evidence.


Have you ever been subject of a criminal complaint? Not long ago I was detained on some absurd hearsay. I was cuffed, I was fingerprinted, I was strip searched. Tossed in a cell. Made to perform bodily functions in front of officers. You don't know who is going to take care of your pets, your child(ren). You don't know if you'll be fired from your job. You don't know when you'll be released. In the case of something involving a child, it will be used as prejudicial information in the DCS case and the followup investigation. You quite likely will be put on a civil list of child abusers, which makes it difficult to work with children or adopt.

All these things make public playgrounds just extremely inconvenient. It's such a treacherous hazard I can't in good conscious consider it as anything close to a substitute.


Again that’s not how it works. First, whenever this happens it is broadcast widely in the news. Second, there is some debate, a mention that no state law (and definitely no federal law, as the original comment suggested) actually exists prohibiting kids from being at the playground alone, a vague weak law is used and then the prosecutor goes WTF were the police thinking.


> Rural living is for me.

Yes. You know where you should be.

I'm very adaptive and can do both(to a degree), and a lot of people are like you, me and city dwelling socialites(that pay $5000 for a shoebox apartment in the middle of Manhattan).

The issue arises, is when people with your mindset also want to be close to big social life. Then they may, and NIMBYs do, stifle natural city growth. << That is the problem here

I'm 100% sure that there is a way to negotiate better outcomes for everyone.


> It's just not accurate or OK to imply that all property owners seeking to keep their neighborhoods from rapidly changing to higher densities are doing so out of prejudice

Very few people here are implying this. It’s true that some people are doing it out of prejudice, and that some of American culture has been conditioned to like the suburbs, out of historic prejudices.

> there is still a long period of lots of construction they'll have to endure that might be the only years their kids are at an age where they'd normally be wandering the previously quiet neighborhood.

Those people will still have the yards they had yesterday though? They’ll still have everything they had the day before zoning changed. Nothing is lost for homeowners. The whole neighborhood isn’t going to be under scaffolding overnight and quiet neighborhoods are far more dangerous for kids to play outside than a more developed area.

And just as development isn’t instantaneous, neither is childhood growth - the people that move into new houses that are built will likely be pre-child families looking to move somewhere (still quite) quiet to raise a kid.

> trade-off between the valid interests of the existing property owners and the valid interests of the larger metro area population that needs a place to live.

Completely false dichotomy. This isn’t about metro vs suburbs. It’s those homeowners vs all of society, or more precisely current town residents vs future town residents.

The suburbs need more housing, and the cities. All of American society has too few houses for the population, and people have to live somewhere. Some want to live in a big city, but some want to live outside a big city. This population should not be looked at as “city overflow” and more than the current residents should be considered city dwellers. Plenty of people would rather live in a 5% more dense Hillsboro than a 5% more dense San Francisco. And both towns may need to be 5% more dense to support housing needs.


> I'm sure at town meetings there are plenty of unsavory things said, and people with prejudices show up in disproportionate numbers. It's just not accurate or OK to imply that all property owners seeking to keep their neighborhoods from rapidly changing to higher densities are doing so out of prejudice.

Perhaps not, but it's the people who attend town meetings and complain (more often than not for prejudiced reasons, IME) who influence housing policy. City planning leadership reacts to and votes on the opinions of those people primarily, not the people who don't show up.


And additionally, the only people who would show up already live there, when a large part of this issue is about a non-present constituency: those who have either been forced to leave, or those who would like to move there, but cannot afford to currently.

So it's even more non-representative than that!


Parks cannot replace yards as long as the homeless camps exist across every existing park in my city.


Yes, exactly this. Additionally we have seen how many once beautiful cities and parks have turned into unsafe homeless camps because of government policy. If I buy a house with a nice backyard I can guarantee that it will be nice as long as I maintain it. I cannot guarantee that the local park will not turn into a needle strewn homeless camp sometime in the future when some politician changes something.


And people will be homeless in large numbers until enough housing is built for them, and the government is allowed to spend the $x to house them rather than the $(x * y) required to deal with all the effects them being homeless.


This is very true. Sadly there is zero chance of finding a politically-palatable solution for this one in California.


What is the non-politically-palatable solution?


Build subsidized housing for people who need it. Time and time again experience has shown that to be the cheapest solution. But many Americans who never grew past toddlerhood find that unacceptable because it means someone else is getting something they aren't.


Lol. Yeah, and just keep building MORE free housing next year to give away as the Greyhounds keep rolling in. Of course, it's criminal to even suggest building it somewhere less expensive. Only the finest and most convenient locations will do! So, to afford the land and materials, and the armies of social workers, uhh, just raise payroll and property taxes?


I guess you'd have to be at least in grade school to think this subsidized housing should be built in the most expensive areas of the country/world?


My brother bought a house in Fremont next to an apartment building. Had nothing but trouble with the neighbors; loud noise, trash around, tons of traffic in front of his house. He eventually had to move.


Are they? Isn't it possible that people who live in beautiful neighborhoods with mature trees, nice big yards, and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around, want to keep them that way for primarily those reasons?

Cars are currently two tons noise and pollution machine. It's no wonder why people feel unsafe around them.

You could restrict traffic to only bicycles and pedestrians combined with mixed zoning.

Also, lawn mowers....They're extremely loud.


Seems like a non sequitur


> Are they? Isn't it possible that people who live in beautiful neighborhoods with mature trees, nice big yards, and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around, want to keep them that way for primarily those reasons?

You mean like all the medium-density neighborhoods of San Francisco? American R-1 suburbs are a nightmare for kids, and that's why you never see any kids outside there, tell me how this: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Menlo+Park,+CA/@37.4562493...

, in one of America's most expensive suburbs, is any sort of safe for kids.


I live in a suburban R-1 neighborhood in Oregon and my kids play basketball, ride bikes, and roller skate in the street literally every day with boatloads of other kids. If that's your vision of a nightmare, I fear we're not going to agree on any of this.


I'm seriously shocked by how many people value the idea that kids can play in the street. Why not a park or other recreation area? I get that it isn't entirely common in the United States to build walkable parks but that is a United States problem, not a city problem. Cities built for living should offer much better alternatives to children than playing in the street.


We have a great park just down the street (about a block and a half), but the street is great and it's right outside. Maybe 10 cars per day travel our street. Besides, the street is paved for bikes and rollerskates. The park is, of course, not. Also, it's easier to keep tabs on the kids right out the front door than it is when they're unsupervised down at the park.

But, yes, they also play at the park. They all run all over the damned place -- because it's a safe place and, culturally, the people living in the neighborhood have a high degree of trust and look out for one another. It's very difficult to replicate that in high density urban developments with the attendant problems those areas recruit (e.g., crime, homelessness, etc.).


> Why not a park or other recreation area

How do they get there? What might not be obvious is that the parks are often far away, because you can't afford to maintain many parks because the tax base is too small.


I completely agree if we are talking about a typical suburb. A mixed-use area built for living doesn't have that issue. What I find really strange is that some people in these comments seem opposed to mixed-use areas BECAUSE their children will no longer be able to play in the streets. It's like some sort of weird, cyclical way of justifying the lack of proper pedestrian areas.


If the tax base is too small for parks, it's also too small to pay for the street/road infrastructure, and that's being subsidized by people outside of the community. If a community can't afford basic infrastructure (which should include parks), it isn't zoned to be dense enough.


You don't see many kids in San Francisco because homes are tiny, prices are crazy, police don't enforce public order, and the public school system is mess. Opening up zoning restrictions is generally a good thing, but it's not going to make SF an attractive place for middle-class families to raise small children.


The pro-density crowd cannot comprehend wanting to live in a quiet, safe, uncrowded town. They say the only possible motivations are money and racism.


What we can't comprehend is forcing everyone in the country to live in the type of town you want. Move to bumfuck if you want a quiet uncrowded town. People near jobs want cheap housing.


Sure we can. We just think that can also look like this: https://youtu.be/5APjiZz_XCY

Uncrowded is subjective I suppose but it's certainly no Manhattan.


> The pro-density crowd cannot comprehend wanting to live in a quiet, safe, uncrowded town.

No, we just can't comprehend why you would expect the big city to be quiet and uncrowded. It's like moving to the tropics, and complaining that it rains too much, and that the skiing sucks.

If you want quiet and uncrowded, there's the 99.9% of the country's land area that isn't taken up by coastal metros in the middle of a crippling housing crisis.


San Fransisco left behind "uncrowded town" quite a lot time ago.


I live in Tokyo, in a central area (nearish to Shibuya). It's dense, but quiet, safe, and surprisingly not that crowded. There's a few children's play areas within a 2 minute walk. There's numerous parks around me, including dog runs.

The anti-density crowd can't imagine allowing well planned towns and cities to exist in the US.


many others have pointed out how tunnel-vision you are being, but just wanted to add:

Low traffic → Less cars driving

How do you get less cars driving? People need realistic options. How do you get those options? Density to support transit and Density to support having businesses close to everyone's homes so they can just walk or bike. Car-dependent suburbia IS the problem, and the more of it you have in the city the bigger the problems of traffic and unaffordability get.

Finally though:

> want to keep them that way

Look, don't get carried away. Unless a very significant block of homeowners in your beautiful leafy neighborhood are itching to sell, you have literally nothing to fear. Maybe when a large mall is demolished a mile away from you, someone will build something other than single-family tract homes. Big whoop.

*Nobody is coming for your suburbs with bulldozers* just because "SFH" might not be enshrined as the only way anything can be developed.


> many others have pointed out how tunnel-vision you are being

I'm not advocating for low density suburbs or for things to remain unchanged.

My point was that the implication that some kind of nefarious prejudice was the main reason for homeowners wanting to keep the status quo, isn't fair or accurate.


This is a very simplistic view. Less people per unit land also means less cars per unit land. Depending on how the roads are designed, you can get a spread out neighborhood with no traffic on your street.

I grew up on a cul-de-sac. There were 8 houses on the street. The only time there was a car on the street is when someone from one of those 8 houses went somewhere. There was zero traffic and the street was safe for kids to play in.


> Less people per unit land also means less cars per unit land.

Only if you arbitrarily cherry-pick the unit of analysis to support your argument.

The only way to actually reduce cars per unit of land across all available land is to increase housing density so that sensible transportation alternatives like bicycle and metro become viable for the lazier marginal population.


> Are they? Isn't it possible that people who live in beautiful neighborhoods with mature trees, nice big yards, and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around, want to keep them that way for primarily those reasons?

You're describing European cities, there. That is literally how I grew up in a big city, and we were lower middle class at best.


Even the prejudice part we don't have to dance around.

I'm from the Netherlands, and for the first 24 years of my life have lived in lower working class neighborhoods, 3 in total. Low income families, people on wellfare, the like. In this case all white, so it's not a racial thing.

All of these 3 neighborhoods were awful. Relatively high crime, vandalism, the public dumping of trash, alcoholism, very loud music blasting, shouting, just general anti-social behavior.

The biggest quality of life improvement in my lifetime is that eventually I was able to afford living in a good neighborhood. Middle class to a bit above it. Families, stable citizens, civil, considerate, sane. The piece of mind this gives is invaluable. This is just one step up the ladder, I'm by no means rich.

It's not elitism. It shouldn't be a high bar to feel comfortable, safe, and not constantly frustrated by obnoxious people, or the spaces ruined. But at the same time we should acknowledge that this "bar" is strongly correlated with class. For obvious reasons, in the lower classes more people have what I'll categorize as "social issues".

And here's the thing. It's a rotten apple dynamic. Perhaps as little as 5-10% of the inhabitants are responsible for all this shit, yet the entire neighborhood becomes unlivable because of it. The real issue here is that these rotten apples are not addressed. Because it's near-impossible to address. The behavior is petty crime at best and often merely obnoxious and anti-social behavior. You can't put people in jail for that and they have to live somewhere. This is already the lowest end, there's nowhere else to go.

So the positive here is that it's not racism (in my example), and not even classism. 90% of people in the lower classes are decent and social people. The real issue is the inability to deal with the 10% that is not. The dysfunctionals and anti-socials wrecking the place.

I'm sure that each has their own story, but I'm not going to suffer my entire life at their whims. I've done plenty of that. You could say that this "prejudice" is very much grounded in reality. Sometimes you need to a reality check.


Nothing about this would let a developer cut down your tree, build on your yard, etc. You just wouldn't be able to stop your neighbor from selling their property to a developer who might cut down trees and build things there. It's not unreasonable for you to have preferences about what your neighbors do with their property, just like it's not unreasonable for you to have preferences about which kinds of restaurants are close to your home. But should you be able to prevent your favorite restaurant from legally closing?


Your neighbor doesn't currently have the right to do anything they want with their property though. They don't absolutely own it and have some kind of sovereign status. They can't turn it into a gas station or auto repair shop. They have the right to exclusive use of the land for the purpose of a single family dwelling built to certain specifications and abiding by various guidelines and regulations.

When each neighbor bought into the neighborhood, they all signed up for this same basic deal. Many of them would likely have chosen to not spend their money on the property had their neighbors not been bound by the same rules.

What is being proposed is a significant change to those rules that every owner at some point agreed to. This absolutely does affect everyone in the neighborhood because an older neighborhood is more than a collection of unrelated properties, it is a collection of actual homes of similar size and character with a particular feel and aesthetic.

A change to the rules may absolutely be necessary for the health of the city / population as a whole. Totally agree with this. Don't pretend though that it's not coming at the cost of infringing on the existing homeowners' reasonable expectations of what they bought into when they purchased their properties. Again, maybe it does need to happen, but homeowners are not unreasonable for wanting to keep their neighborhoods as they've always known and loved them.


> What is being proposed is a significant change to those rules that every owner at some point agreed to.

Sure, because the law is changing, at least ostensibly due to the will of the people. The didn’t initially “agree to the rules,” and the new rules aren’t optional either. I’m obviously not so naive to think that all changes in law reflect the will of the people, but it’s pretty easy to see why this is likely the case, especially in these particular places that have enormous demand for housing and extreme restrictions on new housing developments (I bet that’s not a coincidence!).


Buying a house and expecting nothing to change in one's neighborhood is completely unreasonable. Places change constantly.


> Buying a house and expecting nothing to change in one's neighborhood is completely unreasonable.

From a contractual/legal perspective, sure.

From an emotional perspective though, it's different. Nobody buys a house on a whim, people spend a huge amount of time researching the best spot to buy based on all their preferences. To suddenly change all that is going to be distressing to any person who has ever bought a house.


> that are safe for kids

It’s all about kids.

Without kids in the picture sure, go ahead, make cities look like Coruscant from Star Wars.

The instant you have kids you see how important open spaces safe enough for unstructured minimally supervised play are. Without spaces like this all you have are kids drooling on Roblox and YouTube all day. There’s nothing for kids in an urban core.

Those spaces don’t have to be undeveloped or even outdoor but I have yet to see a city successfully create an environment safe enough that I’d let my small daughters run around.

So while I agree that zoning is dumb and complicated, I also think it’s important to understand where people are coming from.


I grew up in a Soviet planned city, with courtyard focused developments.

Our playgrounds were(they still are) larger and more accessible, than anything my current neighbours kids get on their 2a of land in rural USA.

Even the new developments in Eastern Europe provide a kid friendly courtyard. Shielded from all traffic and observable by literally the whole community.

Suburbia should be reserved for the insane rich people, that hate their neighbors.


Advantages for real-estate developers triumphed over the community-minded across a lot of the USA. I talked to my elderly Uncle, and he said that these zoning and quality of life issues were discussed quite a bit in the 1950s, but the "sprawl" pattern won in most cases. Shopping mall retail is another example of low-quality results in the USA, but with a different menu of inputs.


exactly - the problem is that House-absessed people do not understand how to build and manage apartments. In their imagination its just stacking towers without courtyards on top of each-other.

When they have coirtyards, they looks lile prisons.


Japan is much more child friendly in terms of that. For example, young children are regularly sent to do errands on their own (see the Old Enough tv show for an exaggerated version of that). So people may believe it to be the case, but I'm not convinced our zoning style achieves that goal.


In theory I agree - however there some differences between Japan and the US/CA.

I think the key with Japan is that they have several big HOA style restrictions at the very front of their property - the border. Immigration and existing cultural norms of being super respectful and following conventions in public places make this possible - the HOA style rules are built in at the country level.

There's also a very strict police presence apparently to ensure HOA compliance. [1]

It'd be awesome if there was experimental urban (or suburban) development in the US/CA that existed that was very high density and had very strict HOA rules and enforcement similar to Japan/Singapore.

[1] Japan, a "heaven for cops" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAri8cD4kN8


This is what every country needs.


Your opinion here seems to come from more a lack of experience or imagination, than from reality. Yes, many US "urban cores" are as you describe. But that is not the norm. The US is severely broken when it comes to city planning, and has been since at least the advent of the automobile.


With suburban sprawl, it's likely the only places within walking distance (i.e. "kid-reachable") are other houses, maybe a park. If managed well, a dense(r) city can have a forest or other semi-natural area nearby to everyone.


Name a single city in walking distance to a forest. And no, Central Park is not a forest.

I have acres of woods _in my backyard_. There are also no homeless people sleeping on the benches.


Freiburg in Germany. The black forest literally starts at the edge of the city. It was a while since I was there, but we definitely walked from the city centre to the forest. Might have been 30 minutes. Would be quick on a bike.

Zaragoza in Spain. Walked from the old city centre to the edge of the city (which was apartment blocks) in a reasonable time. It was mostly agricultural land, but I recall some forest along the river.

San Sebastián, also in Spain. You can walk into the hills, but we went to the beach.

Parks covered in homeless people is a US problem, in my experience. I've been around most of Europe and haven't seen anything like that. The homeless problem in the US is a policy choice, just like the urban development is. It's easily solvable given political will.

Can you walk to a cafe?


> Name a single city in walking distance to a forest.

Offhand, from relatively recent experience:

Singapore and Hong Kong contain forests, and when living there I regularly walked to them. Hong Kong is more than half green space.

The east side of Cologne is around an hour's walk from a proper forest.

Central Salzburg is an easy walk from several forests.

Hiroshima is surrounded by gorgeous forests, easily reached on foot, where you occasionally encountered secluded temples along the paths.


Good for you that you have the money to buy acres of woods (or an exclusive parcel bordering woodland) and a job that can support living in a remote place. For many people that would want that lifestyle it's simply unattainable, and we should give them reasonable alternatives.

I live in Prague, my parents in a nearby town. Walking 10 minutes gets me either to a metro station or an "urban forest"/heavily wooded park called Stromovka. I think it's a very appropriate place for kids to play in nature. My parents have walking/biking access to similar places.

Not every place in Prague is this close to nature, but it's common enough that someone seeking that kind of housing can get it at basically no premium.


+1 for prague, I lived 100 meters from a woodland. Used to find hedgehogs as a kid. Never seen a homeless person withing a square mile of it.

Mah suburbia people do not even grasp the alternatives they are missing



> > The answers are very uncomfortable.

> but implying that all of these homeowners are primarily driven by prejudice

This is a good example of why being coy rather than explicit is bad for productive discussion. Bigotry of its various forms is certainly one possible uncomfortable answer to the question. But there are others, like crime, or the effect of local property-value-to-enrollment ratio on school quality, or plenty of other problems that systematically occur in American cities.

NIMBYism is by no means the exclusive domain of homeowners in low-density neighborhoods. Even when it comes from them, they are often concerned with developments that are not actually in their neighborhoods — their trees and yards not being in jeopardy. There's a fundamental distrust of the overall process of development that animates anti-growth sentiments not only in middle-class neighborhoods but also in, for example, the Mission.


I would say that the reasons you stated above are uncomfortable because they are implicitly discriminatory to people outside those areas who want to move in. People who already live there are, in effect, saying "we're full up here, go somewhere else". And these are often the same people with signs in their front yard saying things like "no matter where you are from, we're glad you're our neighbor" in multiple languages, or "climate change is real", or "no human is illegal" which espouse values in direct opposition to that implicitly discriminatory message.


> Are they? Isn't it possible that people who live in beautiful neighborhoods with mature trees, nice big yards, and low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around, want to keep them that way for primarily those reasons?

For one if zoning laws change tomorrow no one is going to bulldoze those neighborhoods on Thursday. So everyone already in their "safe" neighborhood will remain "safe". Except in rare circumstances no one is going to build a 10-lane expressway behind that tract of "safe" houses.

Second you've got to be realistic about the socioeconomic factors behind those "safe" suburbs.

The small, often winding suburban streets are largely impenetrable to buses and completely immune to light rail. This means public transit often used by "those people" (for whatever local definition of "those") is inaccessible from inside the "safe" suburban housing tracts. This is exacerbated by many suburbs lacking sidewalks. Inaccessibility of public transit was a design criteria for early suburbs preventing anyone that could afford a house but not a car from moving to them.


> For one if zoning laws change tomorrow no one is going to bulldoze those neighborhoods on Thursday.

I’m so in favor of up zoning, but some parts of California will be quickly thrust into a new reality.

Santa Monica was the first town to fail the housing element. They previously had 1600 houses built in the last 8 years. Since failing recently, developers have submitted permits for 4000 units. That’s 20x above the yearly average. If I was a “desirable” town, I’d be very nervous to not comply.

If I owned property in one of those towns I’d have been advertising it to developers hard too.


Low traffic streets are a reason to remove cars, not people.


Many of the big trees are on public right of ways. Nothing is happening to them. The center of many city residential blocks are still quiet green oasis. Busy streets will still stay busy, quiet side streets tend to stay that way. Go look at any european city, or any city outside of the US really


> Many of the big trees are on public right of ways. Nothing is happening to them.

*Until the city decides they want to change it

That's why people want to ensrine in law that those trees don't change. They don't trust the city to maintain homeostasis for the duration of their residency.

What happens when people want to build a new apartment building but those trees are too big to safely build next to?


You make a very good point: Only cities chop down trees, private landowners absolutely never ever do.


They don't (legally) on city property. That's what we're talking about. If you move into a neighborhood where the city maintains the trees in the common areas (sidewalks, parks, etc.), it's not unreasonable to want to put a barrier between the city deciding, for example, it's too expensive to keep maintaining those trees so they are going to cut them all down.

If I or my neighbor wants to cut down a tree is a completely different conversation.

I appreciate your snark though, even though it's completely irrelevant.


> low traffic streets that are safe for kids to play around

Suburban streets are extremely dangerous to kids (in fact being hit by a driver is the leading cause of death to kids under 14).

You know what is safe? Walkable cities, pedestrianised streets, speed bumps wherever cars do drive inside the city, etc.


They absolutely can.

In the end it should be their right... but... what happens now, is that they underpay for the infrastructure and services they get.


...and then you need a car because everything is literally miles away


Cities are not loud. Cars are loud!


I think the primary reason in 2023 is to keep housing values high and rising, not racism.


> Remove zones alone, and HOAs will get areas into legally binding covenants that are also just as tough as their current zoning regulation.

This. Houston has little or no zoning and is terribly sprawling and car-centric. Despite the lack of zoning, in most neighborhoods you can't just build whatever you want because of restrictive covenants. Developers build massive car-focused single-family-only developments and load them with covenants that prevent anything else from being built on the property after it is sold.


You're right Houston doesn't call it zoning, but they basically have the same rules. This video sums it up well: https://youtu.be/TaU1UH_3B5k


Houston also had minimum parking requirements. Also, TXDOT literally built highways through the city. It's not JUST zoning, but zoning is a large part of it. Houston does have way lower housing costs than other places though.


Next up, get rid of HOAs.


HOAs are the most local form of democracy there is. Perhaps just reduce the overwhelming supermajority requirements to dissolve them, perhaps. In many places your only viable option if you don't like your HOA is get elected to the board yourself along with enough like-minded neighbors. You might not be able to dissolve it, but you could seriously neuter the policies if you wanted.


> HOAs are the most local form of democracy there is.

Yes, they're the most local demonstration of the fact that "democracy" is not an acceptable approach to decide what color I can paint my house, or what plants I can plant, or how soon after the 6am garbage pickup my garbage can has to be brought inside.

They're also, often, not even a democracy: they're a loudest-ocracy, because most people have better things to do with their time than dictate what their neighbors can do.

Destroy HOAs with fire.

To be clear, echoing a point from elsewhere in this thread: nobody should have to have an asphalt manufacturing plant next to their home. But that same premise doesn't extend to "nobody should have a house next to them with an Unapproved Paint Color".


Having democratic properties doesn't make a bad thing good.

But like I think states like Michigan should do things like get rid of townships (which end up being a redundant layer under counties given modern infrastructure and administrative capacity).

The dumbest meeting I ever went to was a township zoning discussion where one group disingenuously argued that wind towers were the worst thing that could ever happen, another group argued that they should be able to put a wind tower anywhere they want regardless of any impact on their neighbors, and a guy that liked his own voice talked about how natural gas is a conspiracy, or something like that.


First thing to fix is the broken financial model. Exclusive suburbs pay disproportional less taxes for low density, low efficient, infrastructure. They are being subsidised by high density areas. That's not fair.


I second that.

We moved from Manhattan an hour north into a rural area. Our town clears our road continuously during winter, while are property taxes are low single thousands. We get three trash pickups per week and other trash removal services included.

We woefully underpay for those services.


Yep, municipalities should require a large deposit up-front to connect new neighborhoods to existing infrastructure, based on the amount of infrastructure (roads, water, sewer) the new neighborhood has.


How does that work? Property tax is by city and suburbs are their own cities. For example, my city has implemented has implemented a Mello-Roos for new developments to fund new schools.



Cherry picking cities can show anything. Let's look at SF compared to suburbs like Palo Alto. Separate cities with their own budgets and SF has one the highest tax revenues per resident in the US but since SF has high density and lacks of car access goes up, costs explode including labor. SF average city employee salary is $180k. SF infrastructure is below palo alto. Palo alto has better streets, better schools, better maintained parks even with standford paying no property taxes.

You can see also see this in New York.


When I visited Palo Alto I found it a very strange experience, my ‘terrain reading’ skills that would lead me to a convenience store and similar affordances in most developed and developing countries did not work at all.

It seemed to me that you could double the population density of that kind of neighborhood by replacing a single family lot with a 8 story tower every other block and filling in an occasional duplex, triplex or small apartment building. Such a neighborhood would be different but still pretty nice by most people’s standards, you can see neighborhoods like that in L.A. or São Paulo.

To be devil’s advocate though I’d say there are larger scale reasons why people might conclude that ‘California is full’. One is that the population density of California overall is about the same as Germany even though most of California is uninhabitable or massive farm fields. Certain regions of the coast are highly populated by U.S. standards even if they are nothing like Hong Kong or Singapore. The linear pattern of dense development means the radio spectrum is utilized like nowhere else in the US such that there are more OTA TVs channels in LA than some cable plans.

California struggles with water and any population addition would require adding more infrastructure of all kinds. It could be more highways, it could be more public transit but it has to be paid for. And the US is a country that spends 10’s of billions to duplicate a train station in NYC or run rail from Bakersfield to Fresno. A reasonable person could very well try to gum up the gears in that machine no matter how they can.

You might say that more population means more economic activity and more tax base but I am not so sure. A lot of it seems driven by inequity and monopoly power. Google and Facebook could not double their revenue by doubling their hiring in California and it is not so plausible that the next big startup in the U.S. would be able to accomplish what they’ve done. There was a time you could dream of selling a company like WhatsApp to Facebook even if going public was not in the cards but the monopolists would hate to have to spend that much to defend their positions and surely try to shape the environment to prevent that. (Now from Genshin Impact to Tik-Tok innovation in social/entertainment is happening in the PRC because that economy is more open to competition.)


> It seemed to me that you could double the population density of that kind of neighborhood by replacing a single family lot with a 8 story tower every other block and filling in an occasional duplex, triplex or small apartment building.

And you could probably maintain or even increase the amount of ground-level "yard" space per capita even while increasing population density. Of course it would need to be parks that you share.


Dealing with HOAs is actually easier - transfer all infrastructure ownership and maintenance to them... you'll see some big changes real fast.

Like treat HOA as a commercial entity for purposes of trash, water and sewage. (HOAs are, de facto, incorporated organizations). Tax land under the roads as plain land.

As for localities - they should be mandated to reassess property values every X years and distribute infrastructure maintenance costs appropriately. I now live in a rural area, and I underpay taxes for the services I get... while smaller houses in town overpay.


This is the dumbest idea I’ve heard. You’ll end up with people paying $0 for infra for 70 years then suddenly having to buy multimillion dollar projects with no cash reserves. The net result will be widespread chaos and huge social pressure on government to bail out badly managed HOAs.


Not different from the current system, where we elect politicians who promise not to raise taxes, so they defer maintenance on all infrastructure, until in 70 years we have to spend trillions replacing old pipes/bridges/roads that could have been kept up for decades longer with better maintenance.

Except they can't go begging to the feds, because they've also have been voted in under platforms of "minimize tax increases" for 40 years, so they're also indebted.


Chaos for badly managed HOAs, that will have to be dissolved and the property transferred to municipal control... disbanding bad HOAs and leaving properly managed HOAs.

I didn't mention that bad HOAs should definitely have the option to not have to pony up... However, suburban homes have to get their taxes ramped up, because they are unsustainable at current levels.


The answers are very uncomfortable

Like cleaner air, safer streets, less traffic and a better place to raise a child and/or dog with backyards and privacy.


Streets are dangerous because of cars zipping around. Cars contribute to air pollution quality (until electrified) and noise quality.

So, you ban cars from streets and allow only pedestrians and cyclists. Next, you allow local amenities to pop up so you don't feel the need to get a car out.

The suburban pattern of development as it currently exists isn't the only way to facilitate the quality of life you're looking for.


You can't ban cars before you have the infrastructure and commercial resources to replace what cars were used for.


When are US cities going to ban cars? My guess is 0-2 in the next century.


Even electrified, tires shed loads of nasty particulates.


And at higher speeds make a good chunk of the noise, too.


Nearly all studies regarding suburban vs. urban streets have shown that suburban streets have significantly higher rates of child deaths and injuries than urban streets.


Probably because kids dont play outside on urban streets at all, it'd be an instant death sentence


Just absolutely untrue. Cars on my street drive at 20 because of all the speed bumps. Even if a kid got hit it wouldn't be a death sentence. And guess what, they don't, they just move out of the way when a car comes.


Nah some people do. I saw a lady who was letting her infant crawl across an urban road. She gave me the death glare because her child decided to crawl out from underneath a parked vehicle right in front of me and I was only able to avoid it at the last minute because I wasn't expecting crawling babies to pop out from underneath a parked car.


Out of curiosity (I do not know the answer), is there a study on the percentage of time that children spend playing outside in urban vs suburban vs rural areas?


I guarantee you children in (european) urban areas go out more because there are more children and places to play with.

In suburban hell what are you supposed to play with? And with whom? The only other two kids on the street?


There are constantly kids in my area out and about, playing or on their way to play. I'm not sure what kind of wasteland you thing the suburbs is, but lots of children are within walking distance of each other.


> Like cleaner air, safer streets, less traffic and a better place to raise a child and/or dog with backyards and privacy.

So, like in European cities.


I don't have to try that hard with google maps to find places in Europe that look just like suburbs of the US.


And I grew up in Germany all my life and live in the US now. Maybe "places like suburbs in the US" do exist, though I doubt they are as restricted as the suburbs I'm seeing here, and that you can recognize their nature from a quick Google Maps glance.

But in any case, it does not change the fact that I grew up in a big city, with, as listed above, "cleaner air, safer streets, less traffic, a better place to raise a child and/or dog with backyards and privacy", and that that was common all around me. Children, me included, played on the streets. It's literally called a "Spielstraße", and they are very common. We just walked over to school, too, maybe took the bus for a few stations.

I've been living in the US for close than a decade now, and it's markedly different. I don't blame the US, I just hate zoning with a passion. I so miss living in a nice area in the city and being able to walk over to a small supermarket, a café, a barber, within the same area. Just live my life, without having to hop into my car and make it a journey for every tiny thing. It's so isolating here.

These news give me hope.


> I've been living in the US for close than a decade now, and it's markedly different.

For what it's worth, the US is huge. I've lived in a number of places around this country, and I can't generalize much of anything between them. This is probably why I love suburbia and you hate it. My neighborhood is awesome and sounds just like you describe your ideal neighborhood to be. It's also suburban by any definition.

Sometimes I wonder if people just assume that all of the US has Midwest-style tract housing that sprawls for miles, or if we're all like California, etc. It's so variable, and the generalizations unhelpful (but hilarious).


Right, so I guess your city does not have the zoning laws that I'm lamenting here? I even specifically wrote "I don't blame the US, I just hate zoning laws with a passion".


> I so miss living in a nice area in the city and being able to walk over to a small supermarket, a café, a barber, within the same area.

So what’s stopping you? Move to the downtown area of any decently-sized city. You make it sound as if such areas don’t exist at all in the US.


Did you read the rest? There are significant differences between the typical downtown area of a US city, and what I was describing. In my experience, downtown is not exactly where children get to play on quiet streets.

But it is true that I don't know every larger city. So if there is a city where the zoning laws I'm lamenting do not apply, great, let's have that in California as well, please.


Post a couple photos of what you’re describing and I’ll show you some similar areas in the US then.


The answer is very comfortable. Lots of people like a quiet neighborhood and a good amount of space to themselves. It might be a bit selfish, and there are undoubtably some exceptions, but the idea that the suburbs are full of awful people trying to keep out some specific segment is flat wrong. Most people are too concerned with keeping their day to day life together to sit around worrying about/hating on others.


The answer is that people benefit from stability, both financially and socially.

Single and duplex zoning was a great deal for cities and close suburbs because they are operationally efficient - less services are required; fewer parks, fewer schools, fewer calls for fire and police service. It’s a good deal for people because financially it has been historically better to own a building and land vs rent or buy into coops.

For existing, pre-1990 low density urban neighborhoods, retrofitting medium density housing is usually a shitshow. Why?

- The areas of were detached houses that usually have yards, no parks, fire stations, etc.

- Because of healthcare and tax policy, it’s very difficult to run the types of small businesses that are needed to support an urban lifestyle. Boutiques, restaurants/bars and similar

- Because there are no local amenities, people still need cars, and there’s rarely enough parking to meet demand.

- Schools are tied to geography, and changes in school assignments are impactful and traumatic to families.

- Developers usually get tax credits for including street level retail, but have no financial incentive to rent them as tax policy pays them to do nothing.

If you look at functioning urban environments like NYC, you see it all over the place. I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. As small retail fades away, major big box scaled retail moves in. The neighborhood 20-40k sq ft grocery stores of my childhood (Key Food, Finest, A&P, ShopRite) are being displaced by bodegas at the low end and big developments on the high end - which drive demand for cars and exclude people relying on transit.

You can only fix this stuff with fairly radical change, that will be very painful for lots of stakeholders.


> they are operationally efficient

> Because there are no local amenities, people need cars

Seems like the definition of inefficiency

> - Developers usually get tax credits for including street level retail, but have no financial incentive to rent them as tax policy pays them to do nothing

Damn


Dumb question, but how do HOAs enforce things? Presumably they have some binding agreement, but I can't imagine why someone would opt into one. 'Why yes, I'd love to pay dues and fines to my noisiest neighbors.'


Had occasion to visit my hometown last year, so I drove around the middle-class neighborhood where I grew up. People have trash, old appliances, rusting inoperable cars parked on the lawn, 4-foot grass and weeds growing. People who spent like a million bucks on a house don't want the neighborhood to be full of blight and trash.

In a typical average HOA neighborhood:

* The HOA pays for landscaping of all the common areas like green belts and parks within the tract. If you don't have an HOA, you either are benefiting from your city choosing to locate and maintain those kinds of amenities right by where you live, or you just don't get any of those.

* Obviously one of the big ones, the other main HOA budget item is pools, clubhouses you can rent cheaply for parties, tennis courts, etc. For rich people they don't care since they have their own pools, but it's a great boon to people not rich enough to have a pool to have easy free access to one that isn't crowded and is close to home.

* They, in theory, fine you for outwardly living like an absolute slob or selfish jerk. NOTE: In practice nobody cares about most of these little rules, like mailbox color or a patio chair left on your lawn, unless you're acting wildly outside the norms. The rules are there to let them enforce them selectively on the person who's making everyone miserable.

* They regulate architecture and paint color. This may be my least favorite because it seems like we shouldn't need this, I have taste and why should I have to submit my stuff for approval to these jerks? But really, this is only there because there would be SOMEBODY who would paint their house an absurd garish color or build a giant ugly addition in their front yard or something that looks wildly out of place.


HOAs vary a lot. My mom is in an HOA because they shovel the snow to her front door in window. Really she lives in a 4 unit apartment where everyone has separate entrances and they are allowed to paint the walls and otherwise change the interior as they want. Which is to say for her needs she has the best of both apartment living and single family house living at the same time. The HOA does all exterior maintenance, and is a good deal.

There are also HOAs that place a lot of weird restrictions on what you can do. It really depends on the HOA, some are good, some are very bad.

That said, for the place where I personally am in life, a HOA is bad and I refuse to live in one.


> I can't imagine why someone would opt into one.

You cannot buy without being a part of the HOA.


It’s in the deed so owning the property means you agree to follow the rules of the deed. The HOA can sue you for enforcement.

At a high level, anyone can sue you to enforce a deed term, as long as the organization/person with an interest is around to do it and knows to do it. As an easy example, a long time ago people added racist stuff to deeds, but those family descendants no longer enforce it. HOAs don’t die like people and collect dues so they don’t run out of legal fees.

You can try to get dead HOAs removed from a deed, and you can try to get a living HOA removed from a deed. Obviously one is a lot easier because it doesn’t fight back. You can also get the residents to vote to dissolve an HOA. Some HOAs expire after so long if the residents don’t renew.

TLDR you can’t buy the house without agreeing to the HOA.


> you can try to get a living HOA removed from a deed

I'd be curious about people's experiences and successes with this. Has anyone successfully pulled that off with a still-existing HOA?


Not entirely the same, but here in Canada (still common law), any housing covenants applied to a deed can be struck down if they are illegal. There were a bunch of houses with ancient unenforceable covenants like not selling homes to certain ethnic/religious groups and they were granted the right to no just ignore, but actually remove those causes from the deed. Transitively, I imagine any deeds for HOA rules and regulations that are illegal under the law could also be challenged under similar merits. I've got no examples of this though, so who knows.


That definitely seems like the easy case, sure.

I'd be extremely interested in cases of any modern HOA being successfully removed from a deed and thus rendered moot, ideally administratively without a massive legal battle.


You have to get all parties to agree to remove the restriction. I've heard of it happening.


If people live in a low density area, we can assume they want to live in a low density area. So it makes perfect sense they would be against making their low density area high density. What is so uncomfortable about that?

To get at what your really implying though, what's wrong with maintaining some degree of cultural homogeneity in a neighborhood? It's a good thing in that it makes for high trust communities.


It's not that mysterious why people want this. For people of means, they want to preserve the quality of life that they see in having mostly single family homes and in the past keep it full of white people with money, hopefully the only whites thing has faded. Of course racism was a core issue in how these exclusions panned out in the US.

If I'm in a city and and I own one of these houses, it's clear economically that wanting to limit building multi-unit housing near me enhances the value growth of my property - because you can't build nearly as many SFH as you can apartments. I'm sure racism and fear of the other is still an issue (I'm from the south, I know it's an issue based on personal experience) but it's far more economic imho today. The end result is the same, people want to hold on to what they see as part of their "intrinsic value" in their neighborhood setup.


> it's clear economically that wanting to limit building multi-unit housing near me enhances the value growth of my property

This argument never made sense for me. Being able to put more units in the same space drastically increases the value of the land. It of course reduces the value of other things like having towering buildings around your 2 story home which blocks your view. In this sense, home owners need to turn to zoning to prevent that despite it being detrimental to their land value.


They have a different argument, namely by making sure houses are less dense, the total number of houses being built in an area is far less than what the land can support, leading to artificial scarcity in the market. The artificially limited supply then leads to high prices.


Restricting supply obviously increases prices. That's economics 101. Their claim is that they are doing it precisely for economic gains. Whereas I'm saying that it is actually not about the economic gains because they are giving up economic value (much higher land value) in order to preserve non-economic things (neighborhood, view, etc.). My point is that an acre of land in the center of Manhattan is worth a lot of money. That value goes drastically down if something prevents you from building above 35 feet.


It lowers your house price but may increase the value of the land that has been sliced up.


There is evidence that opposition to new construction is not only from home-owners, but also from renters, due to economic ignorance: https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2022/11/th...


I think the renters are often acting rationally, given the fact that new construction is so overwhelmingly often directed at their own neighbourhoods where they currently live in affordable apartments. Accordingly no real surprise that someone would act out of self interest to oppose being evicted.

So rarely if ever is new apartment development targeted at a mansion district, and I've never seen an apartment dweller oppose that concept. I don't know why they would and I wouldn't expect them to.


I dunno why this is being downvoted because in my experience this is spot on, and I've heard such things from my neighbours. (maybe people are uncomfortable with the truth spoken so plainly)

Most of all people want exclusivity. Only having a handful of neighbours is something that is hard to buy. It's easier enforced through regulation.

Established neighbourhoods push for regulations to keep people out.

In the past it absolutely was for racist reasons. Today more likely economic ones. Apartments means renters which means less wealthy people. Exclusive detached home areas are pretty much guaranteed to have a high floor of wealth.


> I dunno why this is being downvoted

People don't like to be casually accused of racism when there are other perfectly reasonable explanations.


> What is making people want to restrict their neighborhood to extremely low density suburbs? The answers are very uncomfortable.

That’s just urbanists smearing people with innuendo about racism to advance unrelated policy goals. It’s actually ironic, because one of the major population trends right now is “black flight” to the suburbs.

People, especially families, like low density suburban zoning because it’s convenient. I live in a pre-zoning code suburb with houses packed tightly together. People are always fighting over parking spots, contractor trucks can block people into their parking spots or block the road, etc. There’s a lot of retired people, and they complain about families with young kids moving in due to the noise. (And these are white and white adjacent kids too.) My parents refused to move into the subdivision, and instead moved nearby to a 1 acre plot surrounded by trees where they didn’t have to interact with their neighbors.


If it was that simple, inner ring suburbs wouldn't all be zoned single-family, and it wouldn't take state-level action to allow multifamily dwellings to be built. Instead, they artificially restrict density, in defiance of market forces.


>What is making people want to restrict their neighborhood to extremely low density suburbs?

Because it's actually what many people want. They want a house in the quiet suburbs that they can sell in 30 years for much more than it's worth. This is obviously all because nearly everyone alive that can vividly remember a time before WW2 are dead. All they know are car-centric architecture. And we all know how much people love change.


> that they can sell in 30 years for much more than it's worth

Sooner or later this will collapse disasterously


> What is making people want to restrict their neighborhood to extremely low density suburbs?

They need a way of keeping out black households without violating the legal prohibition on an HOA saying "no black owners".


As yet anothor note in this thread about Houston (from a long-time Houstonian) and less in direct response to OP -- the lack of zoning bit is actually a bit more complicated than at first glance. While it's true there is no zoning, there are two other forces at work that exacerbate the sprawl issues here:

(1) Minimum parking lot size requirements (as others mentioned). Commercial properties are required to have X amount of parking spaces available.

(2) Political issues and how money gets invested: despite public "protests" (maybe more like "kvetching"), there's continued investment in freeway expansion / car-centric infrastructure due to lobbying/other political efforts instead of public transportation.

Our sprawl is more due to (1) and (2) rather than lack of zoning regulation.

But also to Houston's credit, things are slowly (SLOWLY) getting better.


> Minimum parking lot size requirements

This one irks me the most. we have 8 parking spots for every car and giant shopping malls are surrounded by parking lots that take up twice their size and are 50% empty for 95% of the time (more if you count night time)


> Japan with like barely any zoning laws,

Japan has strong national zoning laws that are very strictly applied. The biggest differences are the zones allow for a looser range of outcomes than the American ones, and the zoning approach is not controlled by local government (which often is NIMBYs)


Tokyo is not a free-for-all. It does zone for different uses by forbidding certain uses above a certain nuisance or hazard level. For instance, in many areas you can’t just plop down a chemical factory. The cool thing about Tokyo zoning though is that anything below a nuisance level is pretty much allowed. Want to build a house next to a dump or above a discotheque? Go for it, no one is going to stop you.


Yes, it makes sense to mix Residential and Commercial in many cases. It rarely makes sense to mix Industrial with either Residential or Commercial. No one wants a smelter next to a house or an office.


This SimCity style thinking about zoning is just too simplistic. Yes, absolutely, nobody wants to live next to a smelter. But not every commercial property is a smelter. People love to live near corner stores, yet that is "commercial."


The smelter is "Industrial" not "Commercial". At least in SimCity abstractions.

Usually commercial and some level of manufacturing overlap in zoning, but smelters are in a different category.


A tailor and laundry are technically industrial use, yet I wouldn't mind having a taylor or a laundry service nearby.


They seem to be zoned commercially in most zoning laws I look at. Where are they zoned only industrial?


Sure. Three or five total zoning designations is still not fine-grained enough, especially if they're exclusive.


That's why zoning in the US is classified Residential, Commercial / Light Industrial, and Heavy Industrial, and Residential never abuts Heavy Industrial.


Yes. I personally still find this far too simplistic, and would prefer non-exclusionary zoning.


"I live above a bowling alley, and below another bowling alley"

Rent has gotten so outrageous that this is a good thing now.


Some people have different preferences when it comes to housing.

My place overlooks a freeway. I really, truly dislike that freeway. But one thing I do like about it is the noise that it makes, even at night. I find it very hard to fall asleep in silence.

Oh and I should mention that most of the units in my building do not face the freeway, and therefore, those who prefer quiet can also get that, even in the same building.


You should really check the air quality you're breathing. I agree about sound, but there's other ways to generate it. Seriously though, check the air quality you breath.


Air quality is absolutely one of the reasons that I hate that highway. It sucks.

I'm of the persuasion that highways should never go through cities. I'd never argue living by a highway is good. It's just that one isolated aspect of it that others may find bad, I find good, due to preference.


Looking forward, if we really do turn automotive transportation green, some of the negative effects like air quality will improve dramatically. Though I suppose the accompanying reduction in noise will be a detriment for your particular sleeping needs.


That would improve that, for sure :) I would still hate the highway for tons of other reasons...

and I would happily just play some white noise on a speaker instead in exchange for being rid of it. Oh well.


"Don't ask me how the economy works"


> like Japan with like barely any zoning laws

I read an article a year or two ago (maybe posted here?) about Japan's zoning laws and they just make sense.

- Rather than dozens of categories, there are just 4 or 5 in increasing amounts of annoyance (e.g residence -> retail/office -> manufacturing) and areas approved for one level can always be used by lower levels.

- The laws are uniform nationally.

- Zoning decisions get made at higher levels (prefecture or national?) so they can consider what the whole region needs, and get less NIMBYism / maximize-my-near-term-property-value-ism.

I don't recall whether they even have the distinct single-family versus multi-family dwelling categorization that seems to cause so much of the housing supply shortage in the U.S.



I'm not an expert, but I lean towards relaxing zoning laws but not getting rid of them completely. Look to Houston to see what happens when there are no zoning laws at all.


Would just like to correct a common misconception:

Houston technically has no zoning laws, but it has a combination of other laws that end up behaving similarly to exactly how zoning laws work. Giving you a link to City Beautiful which works as a great primer.

https://youtu.be/TaU1UH_3B5k


Median sale price in Houston is currently $310,500, vs $441,250 in Sacramento, $917,500 in LA and $1.3MM in SF.

Aesthetic judgments aside, seems like a winning strategy for housing affordability?


He's referring to the hundreds of houses that were knowingly built in a floodplain, because Houston does not have the kind of zoning that would have prevented that. Those houses are at high risk of flooding any time there is a storm, and many of them did flood during last year's storms.

It's easy to have cheap housing when you ignore common sense and just build wherever. (Also, part of the expense for LA and SF is that we have earthquakes, and our buildings have to be built to withstand earthquakes. For example: a 5.4 earthquake in 2011 caused over $300 million in damage on the East Coast. A series of CA earthquakes stronger than that in 2019, including 6.4 and 7.1 quakes, only caused a few thousand in damage near the epicenter. A 5.1 earthquake earlier this year in SoCal caused so little damage that most people slept through it and only know it happened because the news reported it. Note that each "magnitude" is about 30x difference in strength, so the 6.4 quake was 30x stronger than the 5.4 quake, and the 7.1 quake was nearly 900x stronger.)


I'm not sure what codes are in Texas, but I can tell you in MN the housing codes are designed nationally to cover CA earthquakes and Florida Hurricanes even though both are not factors. Of course those codes also cover insulation which the other two states don't really need as much of..


Housing codes are adopted at the municipal or state level. There is no mandatory "national" building code in the U.S., though there is a "model" building code at the national level upon which the state and local building codes are based. (https://localhousingsolutions.org/housing-policy-library/hou...)

Specifically, Texas just uses the ICC's IRC, while California has the California Building Standards Code, which has additional requirements to account for our many earthquakes (https://peer.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/peer2019-05_ss...).


You can't compare prices across geographic areas like that. For instance, property taxes are way higher in Houston. Assuming everything else was equal, the price of real estate in Houston would be less simply because it has higher carrying costs. That's just one of many possible differences unrelated to zoning.


There are no income taxes in Houston though, so while the property tax load is higher, the tax part of cost of living is not very different. (depending on what state you compare to)


I live in Palo Alto and saw a local ad for an acre of land with no house in Atherton going for $5.2M. The housing here is really screwed.


With a moderate density like 40du/acre, that amounts to about $130,000 in land cost per unit, which is not so bad!

even at our grossly inflated land costs, simply allowing density throughout the Bay Area would enable much more housing affordability, allow more transit, and reduce our emissions and enhance our social contact. But a side benefit of broad legalization of density would be that those land costs would drop dramatically too, as there would be a much greater supply.


California cities like Atherton, Woodside, Bradbury, San Marino, etc. are bad metrics to use for anything approaching affordable housing.


It just highlights the craziness of the area and zoning rules


There's also the matter of cause and effect

- Is it a desirable location, and the zoning laws cause the prices to skyrocket because not all the people that want to live there can

- Is it desirable because the zoning laws make sure it's a certain type of environment, and the desirability is what causes the price to increase

- Is it a combination of the two.

I think any reasonable person would say it's a combination of the two. And removing the zoning laws would both make it less desirable _and_ lower the price of housing. It would not leave it just as desirable, but with more people living there.


that's about 90 apartment units, or ~ $60k/unit in land cost...


Currently atherton zones only allow one family house per acre (with this change you could convert it into flats now though!)


No doubt the $5.2MM anticipated the zoning changes. No one would be stupid enough to sell property based on the law today if you knew it was going to change tomorrow.


Atherton is the Beverley Hills of Northern California.


But think about the aesthetics!!!! /s


I mean, houses abutting landfills are even cheaper, but no one would consider "put landfills everywhere" a good strategy.

Houston has had a stable population (per square mile) over the past decade and has a median income of ~$50,000. Sacramento has had the population per square mile increase by ~15% in the past decade and has a median income of ~$71,000. San Francisco has had the population per square mile increase by ~9% in the past decade and has a median income of ~$126,000.


When looking at market prices, how should we distinguish between "affordable" and "undesirable"?


California has a population density of 249.1 people per sq mile compared to 103.2 people per sq mile in Texas. Seems an obviously more important factor here.


Both states have a lot of rural areas that should not be counted when considering density. CSA and MSA for a city are the easiest to look up that can be compared. Even then though things are misleading. (the MSA for my city is mostly large farms so overall our density is very low, but if you only take the parts that look like a city is much higher)


Wow, Sacramento looks like a really good deal. Almost as cheap as Houston, it probably has better weather as well?


Yes, zoning is a terrible idea, a way to insert politics literally in our homes, or at least the land the home sits on.


There are a myriad of ways Houston does control land use beyond zoning such as minimum parking requirements and private covenants.


Yeah.

In Houston, we have what is effectively zoning. It's just that we do it at the neighborhood level. You want to go into the museum district or third ward and develop x, or y, or z? No problem. So long as the neighbors agree with you.

Hint: Once they gentrify to the point of being called "The Museum District", they will definitely not be agreeing with you.

I saw someone above throw out a figure of 3 or 4 hundred k as a price point and I had to chuckle. If all you want to do is build a low-rise for workforce housing? Yeah, this neighborhood wouldn't care if you had the money or not. Piss off peasant. The people in the Museum District no longer wish to reside in proximity with your kind. Some neighborhood get togethers you almost get the impression that people would like to put gates to the city at all the 610 exits. Keep the riff raff out. And don't even get me started about what I hear from friends behind the gates down Sunset.

In Houston, the zoning is way worse than in other cities. Because people can literally stop anyone they want. No city council permission necessary.


What I've noticed too - when I've visited a couple of times - in addition once you move out of the city center, in the suburbs surrounding Houston, residential developments with strict HOAs are pretty much the de facto standard for residential developments.


> No problem. So long as the neighbors agree with you.

That's what zoning laws are.


Houston has lots of zoning laws in the way of parking minimums. These parking spot requirements apply to new buildings and make it very difficult to build dense housing. It’s a big reason why Houston has so much sprawl.


You’re going to need to do more than just toss off a scaremongering phrase like “look to Houston” with no elaboration, particularly when the replies are already explaining that its approach to zoning has been rewarded with much more tractable prices. What, specifically, is wrong with Houston, and is it worse than the affordability disaster that is most of California?


Technically not most of California, since population is focused into a few urban areas and otherwise you have vast amounts of nothing if you actually see the state.

Houston is a huge urban/semi-urban sprawl, the kind that used to be popular in LA a few decades ago. Dallas is similar, Austin gets that way outside of its downtown, San Antonio does also but at least has a much more interesting urban core. It always seemed you get what you pay for in Houston, there isn’t anything wrong with that, but many people don’t want it.


What's wrong with Houston? You have pretty much whatever you want there. You can go get a single family house, live in a gated community, rent a shack on the bayou, go be a hipster in montrose, live in a high-rise downtown... Pretty good as far as I'm concerned.


Can they now build housing in parks and open space? Those require zoning to keep separate.


Tokyo has lax zoning, but it looks the way it does only because people who live there want it to look that way.

Houston, which also has loose zoning, looks totally different because most Texans want to live in suburbs and drive cars.

In other words, zoning laws are generally an expression of what the majority of people already wanted.

I can tell you for sure that in most parts of California (and most of the rest of the USA) the majority of people want to live in a detached single-family home that they own, and prefer driving cars to public transit.

People who prefer a denser arrangement are an especially vocal minority on the internet, but if you put it to a vote, you'd end up with pretty much what we have today -- the fact that people wanted them is why they got built in the first place!


Texans don't want to live in suburbs in drive cars, they have no choice because it's illegal to build dense housing via deed covenants and city ordinances that work in place of zoning. The most expensive and desirable housing (not counting the hyper-wealthy enclaves) in Houston is also the most walkable and dense.


Like most discussions about zoning, this mixes up cause and effect.

Certain types of housing are illegal because people don’t like them, and voted to ban them! Zoning laws don’t just magically appear out of nowhere.


Another data point on lax zoning laws is Houston, which is awful and completely unwalkable. It’s not cool when someone builds a concrete plant next to your house either.


One thing that's interesting about Japanese zoning is that I wouldn't describe it as "no zoning," (for that matter I wouldn't in Houston either because that's more rhetorical than reality but anyway).

They key is that they don't do Euclidian, or exclusive zoning. You can build housing in almost every single one of their (iirc) fifteen different zoning designations.

So to US norms, this feels like "no zoning," but it's still restrictive in many ways. Just not in a way that says "only housing here" or "no housing here." (again on that last one, in the vast majority of cases, but not strictly speaking all.)


Houston has "zoning but we're not calling it zoning" zoning laws

https://youtu.be/TaU1UH_3B5k


This video provides a great overview of zoning in Japan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfm2xCKOCNk


If I can make a nuanced point...

Suburban sprawl is fine and coming from NJ, going to a place where it doesn't exist feels very strange.

My brother lives just outside Charlotte - outside of the airport and city proper, you hit what I would consider rural areas within roughly 20 minutes.

It's a thing...I guess?


Whats wrong with having rural areas close to the city proper? In Berlin (one of Europe’s largest cities) you don’t need to go more the 10 km from Neukölln (one of it’s densest neighborhoods) before you hit the country side. In Seattle the Snoqualmie River and the Duvall valley is a beautiful countryside only 20 miles from the city center. Why would you want to sacrifice that for a sub-optimal housing sprawl with horrible carbon footprint?

For people that like the quiet living they can live in a nearby town (Duvall has around 10,000 people living in the town), the density of the town means you’ll probably be close to a grocery store and other amenities, and probably even a bus line or a commuter train to the nearby city if you need to commute to work. Meanwhile the countryside is open for everyone (including city dwellers) to enjoy.

It feels like sacrificing this for boring monotonous suburban sprawl (as is tradition in California) benefits nobody while ruining a good thing many have.


I think that many US people have too optimistic idea about zoning laws in other countries. In many countries there are floor area ratio requirements in zoning plans and if you have ratio limit 0.2 on <1000 m^2 land lots, you cannot really build anything much different than single family housing.


It's disingenuous/dishonest to paint it like that. Japan for example has extremely strict controls on on-street parking: if you want to buy a car you need to prove you own the parking space to put it. Try to make that fly in the US.


I dunno, I feel like things like heavy manufacturing, smokestack etc. Should have their zoning controlled, everything else.. go nuts. I just don't want to breathe emissions.


They demolish everything every 30 years


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