The problems in our big cities aren't caused by restrictions on density and height, but by inequality.

310 88th street New York
Screen capture 310 88th street New York / Google street view

Exactly one year ago today I wrote It's time to dump the tired argument that density and height are green and sustainable. It was part of my continuing rant about Edward Glaeser and Ryan Avent and Matt Yglesias who want to get rid of height restrictions and historic preservation rules and let a thousand towers bloom. Because:


So New York YIMBY suggests that we need new towers so that nine apartments can be turned in to one house for some very wealthy single family. How about suggesting that the real problem in New York and much of America is the rise in inequality, that creates situations where nine families get pushed out for one.

Zoning application/Screen capture

How about recognizing that New York is going through a massive de-densification as the number of people per square foot continues to plummet, because the rich can afford to do this and the occupants in the nine units cannot afford to stay under such conditions.

How about recognizing that the problem here is inequality. That the very rich are getting a whole lot richer, and that the occupants of nine little apartments don't earn enough to stay in their apartments. Last year, Felix Salmon complained that development is being stifled by "nostalgists and NIMBYs." Well, call me a nostalgist and NIMBY but I don't see why the buildings we love should be knocked down so that the ultra-rich can take up all the room.

Census/Public Domain

I don't see why buildings have to be knocked down for sliver towers when New York City has been de-densifying for a century as families get smaller and incomes get larger and apartments get bigger. I am not suggesting that we go back to having ten to a room on the lower east side but lets not blame controls on height and density and preservation for this, it is wealth, pure and simple. Blow everything away to build tall towers and you get more wealth, not cheaper housing. You get Singapore on the Hudson.

Ryan and Matt and Ed say it's all about supply and demand, that the only way to bring housing prices down is to radically increase supply. How about looking at stopping this decrease in supply through continuing de-densification and aristocratization.

Tags: Cities | New York City | Urban Life

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