Joel Kotkin has penned a transparently political anti-urban piece, so transparently political that it’s in Real Clear Politics rather than a major newspaper. He creates a picture of “forced densification” – I imagine people being marched into cities at gunpoint and into Soviet-style high-rise apartment blocks.
Roughly four in five home buyers prefer a single-family home, but much of the political class increasingly wants them to live differently… it has been decided, mostly by self-described progressives, that suburban living is too unecological, not mention too uncool, and even too white for their future America. Density is their new holy grail, for both the world and the U.S. Across the country efforts are now being mounted—through HUD, the EPA, and scores of local agencies—to impede suburban home-building, or to raise its cost.
Of course, people who actually choose to live in cities know this is absurd. Sure, there are high rise apartment blocks and some people choose to live in them. But many people choose to live in row homes, town homes, brownstones, etc. These are single family homes, Joel. Let’s think about land use for a minute. Density is defined by residents per square mile. Density allows infrastructure, open space, and economically productive space to be shared more efficiently by more people. It also allows more people to get around under their own muscle power, i.e. by walking and bicycling. This promotes physical health and mental health, social activity, creativity and innovation. Time spent “commuting” to work on foot or by bicycle is not empty, useless, or wasted time.
Once density drops to a suburban level, most people have to make most trips by car. Cars require enormous amounts of space, for driving but especially for parking. This space is wasted – it is not available for housing or for recreation. It is not economically productive. The infrastructure cost in the suburbs has to be much higher per person, and the economic production and tax revenue has to be much lower per square mile. The enormous amounts of time spent commuting by car are just wasted time – they are not economically productive, supportive of physical health, mental health, or families. Add air pollution and civilization-crushing greenhouse gas emissions on top of all this.
So what does all this add up to? Resources are being sucked out of the efficient denser areas, where they are generated, and used to subsidize the time-, land-, money-, and health-wasting lifestyle in the suburbs. And yet, contrary to what Joel would have you believe, not only are people not being forced into walkable, bikable, communities, but these choices are not available to most Americans.
Forcibly marching people into high-rise apartment blocks wouldn’t be American. Some people really want privacy and large private open spaces to themselves, and certainly those choices should not be taken away. But many people would love to live in truly walkable, bikable communities, and those choices have been denied most citizens of the United States. Giving people true equal opportunity and a free choice of lifestyles, and letting them choose to pay the true cost of their choices, would be very American. Don’t fall for the deceptive double-talk people are throwing out there to try to convince you to support having your choices taken away.