Wednesday, October 13, 2021


This is Joseph.

One piece of the housing cost piece that is complicated is that a lot of the YIMBYs are also urbanists. For example, look at strong towns. This is the view that density allows us to create more efficient infrastructure and get rid of automobile dependence. 

At some level this is a very logical proposition. Putting in place common infrastructure for a city, like sewer pipes, is always going to benefit from high density. It is also true that places that are walkable are attractive and interesting, which gives this idea a lot of appeal. 

Now it is true that the incredible benefits of car traffic does have a lot of infrastructure costs. Things like fast transportation and convenient parking are expensive commodities to resource. Just look at the budget for Winnipeg, a mid-sized Canadian city. Road costs are nearly three times the cost of public transportation and, even post-pandemic, the roads are not lightly congested. 

However, there is another option that could be explored to reduce housing costs: sprawl. This is an attractive option in places like Southern Ontario (see this discussion on Twitter). But if you want to resist sprawl and projections indicate that you will need one million new homes in the next ten years then the options are "build up" or "build out".

Now, my sympathies tend to be with the urbanists. But I also lived without a car as a responsible working adult. That said, if you want to do this transformation, there is a LOT of planning that needs to be reconsidered. In Canada there are a lot of services directed by the government: it is hard to pick where you have daycare or a medical appointment. Try having twice weekly medical appointments with > 1 hour bus rides each way (and buses are unreliable and appointments are unforgiving of being late). This could be fixed but it isn't a matter of just tinkering with density but rethinking cities from the ground up. 

This doesn't mean that it is infeasible (Europe has great examples) but that this is two intellectual ideas (density and housing costs) quietly linked. It is like when people are anti-carbon but also anti-nuclear -- it could be a sensible position but the second half of the idea needs to be defended on its own merits. 

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