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Great comment. I'll add an observation:

we should be encouraging people to drive fewer miles

To do this we basically need denser neighborhoods, as Edward Glaeser points out in The Triumph of the City (http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health... he points out, as does Matt Yglesias in The Rent is Too Damn High, that the big problems are with local zoning requirements, which by and large forbid density increases.

There are lots of local battles going on regarding density, and I agree that these are good things: "living closer to where you work, using mass transit, biking, and walking more," but they can all be encourage or discouraged by zoning. In most of America they're discouraged.

In the meantime better mileage is at least an improvement.




A lot of people simply don't want to live in a crowded city in an apartment crowded on every side with other apartments. I'd prefer a location in a low-density suburban area (with a lot of forest around me) where I could get to the city in a few minutes.


That's a false dichotomy. There are ways to create suburban areas with forests and local gardens that are much higher density than our current suburban outlay while still being enjoyable to live in. However, it requires giving up the McMansion style of building. The only way for this to happen though, in my opinion, is to incentivize developers into planning these types of neighborhoods vs. McMansion lands (and I say this from an experienced standpoint with a family of real-estate developers).


What we need are projects like this:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/12588351@N02/sets/721576231926...

If half the land set aside for cars were instead converted into public parks, you could have the benefits of nature in the city.


You misunderstood. I meant literally around me. House surrounded by at least a mile or a few miles of woods. If the houses were lined up in front of the forest you could increase the density, though. But the way I posed it originally, not so much.

What's your threshold for where a house becomes a "McMansion?" What would you think of ~1200sqft, two stories with a basement, with a good yard?


i think it's the quantity. it's not one house, it's that there's a neighborhood with a thousand of very similar houses.


How is that alone a density issue?


The lower the neighborhood density the less incentive there is for local retail. Without local retail everyone is forced to drive and in some cases drive fairly long distances when the area is full of low density houses.

Still, the internet can significantly reduce peoples need to drive because package delivery can be much more efficient than driving to a shopping mall.


> A lot of people simply don't want to live in a crowded city in an apartment crowded on every side with other apartments. I'd prefer a location in a low-density suburban area (with a lot of forest around me) where I could get to the city in a few minutes.

This is always an interesting aspect of the zoning debate to me. People who prefer to live in suburbs often seem to oppose zoning that allows densification. But if more development were allowed in cities, there would be less pressure to densify the suburbs. Seems like it would be a win-win for both lifestyle preferences.


Which is fine. But I'd prefer not to subsidize your lifestyle choice I do now through my taxes that subsidize your fuel, roads, and emergency services.


And I don't want to subsidize your police force, welfare programs, or subway with my taxes, but I'm not out there complaining about urban hipsters. More power to them. If you don't like suburbs, don;t live there, and leave them alone.


The net subsidy is usually from city to suburbs and countryside.

Besides, many suburbanites work or take entertainment in the city, where they get utility from the city services.


>The net subsidy is usually from city to suburbs and countryside.

Because of progressive taxation and the fact you have to pay people a lot more to live in dense cities. Any time you want to propose a flat tax you'll have my support.


I'm a fan of flat taxes.

But you miss the point: a large fraction of those suburban dwellers work and get paid in the city. Cities like London have literally millions of daily commuters.

Money flows out of cities because they contain a lot of taxpayers that consume resources efficiently. Collecting the garbage from a 200-unit condo building is way cheaper than visiting 200 houses in a suburban subdivision. Yet the dollar value of the house and condo are similar and they pay similar taxes. If the city condo dweller works at the next desk to commuting suburbanite, they get paid the same and pay the same taxes. The suburbanite costs more to service and consumes more energy, etc.

Also, cities have a higher ratio of taxpayers to non-taxpayers. There are fewer kids and retirees living there, for example.

I'm not against suburbs at all. Often a great place to live, particularly with kids. But it's helpful to understand their costs.


>But you miss the point: a large fraction of those suburban dwellers work and get paid in the city. Cities like London have literally millions of daily commuters.

Yes, and they use fewer services than locals. They also pay transportation-related fees (commuters are a gold mine for San Francisco), and sometimes even income taxes (as in NYC). Hell, New York forces you to pay city income taxes if you telecommute to a company there even if you never set foot in the city.

In my local big city the two biggest budget items are "protection" (police and fire, mostly) and "health and welfare". Commuters don't require police or fire protection in the evenings, and they don't use the local methadone clinic. They don't use residential services either, which tend to be subsidized by businesses.

>Money flows out of cities because they contain a lot of taxpayers that consume resources efficiently. Collecting the garbage from a 200-unit condo building is way cheaper than visiting 200 houses in a suburban subdivision. Yet the dollar value of the house and condo are similar and they pay similar taxes. If the city condo dweller works at the next desk to commuting suburbanite, they get paid the same and pay the same taxes. The suburbanite costs more to service and consumes more energy, etc.

Suburban people pay the cost of their own trash pickup, as well as other utilities. At least where I live these kinds of services are done on a city-by-city contract basis, so nobody is subsidizing the water, trash, communications, or sewer for my suburban city. And yet, I pay less than the local urban people do, which implies it's not as efficient to provide services to built-up areas as proponents claim.

I work at a mobile provider, and for us urban customers cost many times what the suburban customers do. Everything in cities is crazy expensive, the permitting process always takes longer, and you can never put things where you want to put them. When I want to do a drive test it takes forever because of traffic, and people who work in the city have to be paid more. If I want to open a storefront for customer service the rent is many times what I pay in the suburbs.

Everyone who's providing services has to be running into the same sorts of costs.

>Also, cities have a higher ratio of taxpayers to non-taxpayers. There are fewer kids and retirees living there, for example.

That's because high density cities are too expensive to raise children or take care of grandpa. This is a counter-argument to the one you're trying to make, as it implies cities are forcing suburbs to take people who aren't a net tax benefit.

>I'm not against suburbs at all. Often a great place to live, particularly with kids. But it's helpful to understand their costs.

Yes, well, my argument is the costs you've enumerated are being paid by the people who incur them. Usually people who try to claim cities are subsidizing suburbs lean on highways, which are normally paid on a regional or national basis. But that argument rests on the fanciful notion that when California builds a highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco it's primarily a benefit to the people in the Central Valley.


Interesting reply, challenging the conventional wisdom, thanks.


No, because cities are much, much more efficient.


I know people keep repeating that, but I doubt it's actually true. See my other comment.


That is your prerogative, but you do not pay 100% of the extra cost for the lifestyle you prefer.



Unfortunately, if you follow that train of thought to it's logical conclusion, such a place is a contradiction. If everyone wanted to live in a low-density suburban area, these low-density suburban areas have to be built farther and farther away from the city, well more than "a few minutes" drive. To see the fallacy of this you only have to look at places like Toronto, or Atlanta.


True, but the profoundly high cost of living in a dense, walkable area might indicate that more people want to do this than that market allows.




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