Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Gated City

I finally got around to finishing The Gated City by Economist blogger Ryan Avent, it's a little repetitive but I would recommend it to people interested in Urban Planning.

The major argument of the book is: 1) denser cities are more productive, 2) the densest/most productive cities in America have strict zoning laws, 3) these strict zoning laws constrict housing supply, even as demand rises, 4) this causes the price of housing in these cities to increase, 5) so citizens migrate to less dense cities where the housing is cheaper, 6) America becomes less productive

It's a good argument and pretty well presented throughout the book. There are arguments to be made for and against each of the points above but for the most part I agree with Avent's analysis. My main problem with the book is how D.C.-centric it is.

From what I gather Washington D.C. is moderately dense metro area with a good public transit system. They also have notoriously restrictive height limits, tight zoning laws, organized NIMBY groups and an overactive Historic Preservation Review Board. By removing these restrictions the free market would create a greater supply of housing, the city would become denser and the prices of housing in the city would fall. All would be good in D.C.

The problem is most American cities are not D.C. (or San Francisco, or Portland, or Boston, or New York). Most American cities are midwest rustbelt cities where the downtown core and inner ring suburbs have stagnating population growth and relatively low rent prices or newer sunbelt cities that have relaxed zoning laws and low density suburban sprawl.

In order to increase density/productivity in these cities some central planning will need to take place to increase transit and job centralization. Otherwise we will continue to see sprawl.

Avent makes same great points about how to increase density and productivity. But I'm cautious to take his free market approach as a panacea for all of America's urban planning ills.


  1. In my opinion, the housing bubble is more complicated as there are an over-supply of new homes that remain unsold and there are tons of foreclosed houses that no one is buying.

  2. These are great points about how to increase density and productivity. I think the free market approach can help the housing community in general.
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  3. I think that free market can create more housing due to less restriction to zoning laws and thus more people will invest in housing.
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  4. It really depends on their economy status. Actually I am one of the people who are under the housing project loans. And I cant wait to see my new house soon.

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