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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Building Density and the Environment

Density and the Environment

There is an incorrect idea that higher density is good for the environment because denser urban environments emit fewer Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions than less dense suburbs. 

Link to this post:

The net effect of increasing the density of suburbs is that these denser suburbs create their own suburbs and you're worse off than before.  This is explained by UC-Berkeley Professor Dr. Kammen.  Dr. Kammen chairs several committees on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

(Dr. Kammen is Distinguished Professor of Energy in the Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy, and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.  In addition he runs the "CoolCalifornia Challenge" which is sponsored by the California Air Resources Board and Energy Upgrade California.  Dr. Kammen conceived of, and initiated the PACE program.  I could go further in listing his accomplishments but it would take w-a-a-a-y too much space.  More here: )

Following is from easy-to-read article:

Dr. Kammen points out that while the center dense parts of large urban areas like New York City have relatively low GHG emissions per person (green area in map below) this is more than made up for by the suburbs (red areas in map below).

NYC - 29 Metric Tons CO2 per person
But look at the Red Suburbs
NY City & Suburbs - Can't have one without the other

Sunnyvale - 47 Metric Tons CO2 per person
62% more than NYC
While it might seem that the solution is to get everyone to live in dense inner cities, short of forcing people at the point of a gun, this is simply not going to happen.
Hong Kong
Not Everyone Wants to Live Like This
    "Taking into account the impact of all urban and suburban residents, large metropolitan areas have a slightly higher average carbon footprint than smaller metro areas."

New York City - Metro Area 24M
More Dense: Overall Worse for the Environment

Roanoke VA - Metro Area 300,000
Less Dense: Overall Better for the Environment
This is because larger cities have larger and more geographically spread out suburbs and...

    "Increasing population density alone, for example, appears not to be a very effective strategy for reducing emissions. A 10-fold increase [1,000% increase] in population density in central cities corresponds to only 25 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, and “high carbon suburbanization results as an unintended side effect,”

    "Increasing population density in suburbs is even more problematic, he said.  Surprisingly, population dense suburbs have significantly higher carbon footprints than less dense suburbs, due largely to higher incomes and resulting consumption. ... Population dense suburbs also tend to create their own suburbs, which is bad news for the climate,”
So if increasing the population density has overall negative effects on GHG emissions, what should be done?

   “Suburbs are excellent candidates for a combination of solar photovoltaic systems, electric vehicles and energy-efficient technologies,” said Kammen. “When you package low-carbon technologies together you find real financial savings and big social and environmental benefits.”
Solar Panels Everywhere in the Land of the Single Family House!
In the city - not so much - too many tall apartments and offices.
So solar panels are great for the suburbs because there aren't a lot of tall buildings blocking the sun.  It is a car-centric environment but if all cars are electric, who cares?

1910 Waverly Electric Car
Women (including Henry Ford's wife) generally preferred electrics in the early days of the auto.
On the other hand, increasing density without solar panels and electric cars makes GHG emissions worse.
China - Density, Good public transit.
Not Enough
The main focus to clean the environment of GHGs should be buildings.

All transport emits about 26% of GHGs in the US of which cars contribute 12%, trucks about 9% and everything else the remaining 5% of Transport GHG emissions.

2014 GHG Emissions in US

By 2030 electric cars and trucks will be the only legal types you can buy so the ground transport problem will disappear leaving the 5% due to sea and air transport.  I establish that here:

In summary:

Increasing population density is worse for the environment.  The only real solution is clean energy running clean cars and buildings.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Prop 13


Prop 13

I was listening to some "housing advocate" give a talk and she suddenly mentioned Prop 13 (which limits growth in property tax).  It was the same old stuff about California schools needing the repeal of Prop 13.  It was totally irrelevant to her point so I guess it was just "virtue-signaling" to the crowd ("I am one of you").   It suddenly hit me that if there were no Prop 13 things would change dramatically - possibly against the build-build-build crowd.

Prop 13 Limits Voter Anger at Rising Density

Right now property owners look at their house doubling in value in 7 years (from Sep-2011 to Sep-2017 in blue line in chart below) and think "Wow!  (But I don't like the traffic)."
SF House Price Doubles from Sept. 2011 to September 2017 (7 years)
But, if they saw their property tax double along with its value they would be up in arms, taking over city councils, storming Sacramento.  We would be hearing about teachers, nurses, and seniors being forced out of their homes.   A daily feature in the papers would be stories of long term residents having to give up their family, friends, and jobs to move to Nevada because they couldn't keep up with the property taxes.

And things would get even worse for renters than it is now since the property tax on apartment buildings would increase dramatically as well and that would be passed on in the form of even higher rents.  As it is now, only renters feel the pain of rising property values and they don't vote much.

Eliminating Prop 13 might favor the build-build-build crowd if people could be convinced that more housing would lower property values (and thus taxes).  In that case, home owners might favor increasing density and accepting worse traffic.

But what if instead, people realized that increased housing density is just serving local tech companies to bring in and house more employees which in turn raises the cost of housing?  In that case, there would be a big backlash against development as serving only the interests of the tech giants.  Many already make that connection as seen in many comments from around the country on SF Bay housing costs in the NY Times found here (under "Readers' Favorites"):

In that case, instead of giving anodyne talks to the public, the "housing advocate" might need an unlisted number and gated housing.

In a sense, Prop 13 is 'rent control' for homeowners and ultimately protects the companies that feed the SF Bay area growth.  It mitigates the effects of development on homeowners and thus disengages the most politically active voters from vigorously protesting the increase in traffic and congestion, that currently drives renters out of the area.  Instead of protesting, homeowners pack up and leave, made easier by the increased value of the property they sell - sort of a relocation package.  If it weren't for immigration via H1-B visas and other means, California would have been losing population since the 1970's. C.f.,

Moving On

That housing advocate should be thanking prop 13 for making her job easier in promoting increased housing density.

Prop 13 and School Funding and Student Performance

One could fill volumes about Prop 13 and schools but I will limit myself to a few items.

First of all, the CA courts ruled in Serrano vs. Priest that depending mainly on property taxes to fund schools was inherently unfair to poorer kids since their neighborhoods had less money from property taxes.  (

This put the burden on the state.  So even if Prop 13 were repealed entirely, more tax money for schools wouldn't come primarily from property taxes anyway, per the courts.  If you want more money for schools, the state legislature needs to do some shifting around of priorities or ask for more money from the voters.  Google Prop 98 (guaranteed percentage goes to schools) and Prop 111 (complexifies Prop 98 a lot) for more on that.

Second, more money may not mean higher educational achievement.  NY City and Washington, DC spend roughly 2 times and 1.7 times as much per pupil, respectively, as CA. (click on graphic to enlarge):

Spending per Student
NYC = $20,000
Washington, DC = $17,000
Chicago = $13,000
Los Angeles = $11,000

New York City spent $20,226 per pupil, CA about $10,000

But CA students are about on a par with NYC students and are way above DC students.  DC students score at the very bottom of the NAEP tests ("The Nation's Report Card") despite the huge amount spent on them.  See chart below.
That NYC and DC spend much more money than CA yet have similar or worse educational attainment means dollars spent per child can't be a factor in measured educational attainment.  So perhaps "throwing money at it" isn't really the major factor.

You need to compare similar demographics, not just entire populations.  Each state has a different mix and demographics is a huge factor in educational performance.  More important than overall state test scores is demographic improvement relative to national norms.  There CA is doing okay, maybe even better than okay.

The demographics of California school children have changed a lot in the last few decades.  The percentage of white children in schools has gone from slightly above 50% down to about 25% while Hispanics have gone from about 28% to over 50% of the school population.  See chart below:

Dramatic Change in Demographics
If you correct for the demographic changes, the nationwide test results look a lot better as seen below:

Red line (below) = scores if CA demographics hadn't changed.  
Blue line = scores with current demographics.

As another example, from 1992 to 2011, Black students in CA improved from below the national average to slightly above the national average for Black students although both groups improved considerably. (click on graph to enlarge).

CA black students catch up with and pass black students nationwide.
Should schools have more money?  I would certainly prefer that over some other things like High Speed Rail, but I'm not sure how much more money, and what good it would do given the poor correlation between money and educational attainment once you take demographics into account.

Prop 13 - Home Owners vs. Commercial Property Owners

Turning to other effects of Prop 13, the California Legislative Analyst's Office published an exploration few years ago titled "Common Claims About Proposition 13".  This is available at

Some interesting charts from that LAO report below:

Increase in property taxes when changing houses makes it harder to move.

Commercial and Residential Properties turn over at similar rates

Residential and Commercial Properties Reassessed Relatively Similarly

There's more in the LAO document cited above.

CA Taxes vs. Other States

How do CA property taxes as a percentage of state taxes compare to other states?  A little less than average (seen below) but this is made up for by the above average state income tax:
Excerpt from
CA property taxes at 25% of state income are a little below the US average of 31% but not very much compared to Arkansas (18%), and Hawaii (17%).  (The lowest is North Dakota at 11%, highest is New Hampshire at 66% - not shown here).  The lower property taxes are made up for by the higher percentage of state revenue (32%) from income taxes compared to the US average (23%) (several states have no state income tax).  So if you want more money for schools it is there in the CA state income tax revenue instead of property taxes.

Addendum 1/7/2018:  Dan Walters points out that revenues have soared the last 10 years despite prop 13.
   "The most eye-popping number, however, is the immense growth in property tax revenue — well over 50 percent during the last decade alone and about 1,000 percent since 1978, when Proposition 13 was overwhelmingly passed by voters.

   "The Legislature’s budget analyst, Mac Taylor, points out that “the property tax has grown faster than the economy” since then."
   "The Proposition 13 debate will continue, but arguing that it has undermined vital tax revenue is disingenuous, as the latest data prove."

More here:

End Thoughts

What do I think about Prop 13?  The same thing I think about gravity.  I don't have an opinion about gravity and I don't have an opinion about Prop 13.  Every year there is some discussion about repealing or modifying it.  Whenever anyone raises it, I answer "you have my permission to change it."  Nothing ever happens.  I doubt anything ever will happen.  I focus on other things.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Geometry of Commuting and Urban Areas


In plain English this exercise shows that the best location for a business is in the center of a populated area.  This is examined in terms of commuting and in terms of business having access to human resources.  

         1:  Modeling a populated area as a circle, I show that in a very simple model it requires about 45% more vehicle miles for everyone to commute to an edge city instead of to the center.

         2:  I show that 80% of the population has a longer commute if the employment center is on the edge of the populated area instead of in the center.

         3:  I show that 60% of the population has an unacceptable commute if they have to commute to an edge city than if they can commute to the center of the urban area

In summary, people need to commute 45% more miles, 80% have to commute further, and 60% much, much further to employment on the edge of the area than to the center.

This is theoretical math at high school level geometry.  I am doing it in order to set a rigorous basis for why the logical place to develop a business is in the center of a populated areas.  This jibes quite well with Alonso's modern interpretation of von Thunen's explanation of spatial layouts of cities.  This will later be compared to census data to determine how close to reality it is.

Part 1:  Infrastructure and VMT

I show that in a simple model of a populated area, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is 45% higher if everyone has to commute to the edge of the area instead of the center.

First we consider the simplest geometry of an urban area - a circle of radius 10 miles with all the jobs in the center of the metropolitan area.  For reference, 10 miles 'as-the-crow-flies' is the distance from Apple Headquarters to downtown San Jose.  If we consider 5 people, one each at N, E, S, W, and C - shown below as graphic "A" - then C commutes not at all, and each of the other four commute 10 miles each for a total Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) of 4 people x 10 miles each = 40 VMT.

Diagram 1

Now consider "B" - the extreme case where all the jobs are located at one location on the edge at "S".  Now N has to commute 20 miles, C commutes 10, E and W commute 14 miles each for a total of 58 VMT vs the centrally located job center with 40 VMT - 18 more VMT for the edge job center in diagram "B".  This is 18/40 = 45% more VMT.  (The 14 miles for "E" and "W" is from Pythagoras' theorem: SQRT(10^2 + 10^2) = 14.1)

Diagram 2

 This means that locating jobs on the edge of the populated area results in ...

...45% more traffic,

...45% more pollution, 

...45% more Green House Gas emissions,

...45% more infrastructure,

Part 2:  People's Commuting Distance

I show that 80% of the population in our model urban area has a shorter commute if they commute to the center of the populated area than if they commute to the edge.

We just considered urban commutes from an infrastructure point.  Now we look at it from the point of view of commuters. See diagram below.  

Don't Care" line is shown in purple.  Anyone living on that line is equally distant from the center "C" and the bottom edge point "S".  They don't care if they go north to the center "C" or south to the edge at "S".  

In the middle of the "Don't Care" line they are 5 miles from each job center.  At the end of the "Don't Care" line at "SE" they are 10 miles from both "C" and "S".  

Everyone in the green area is closer to the center "C" than to the edge point "S".  It turns out that the green area is 80% of the total area (80.38% to be exact).  

To prove this takes a little high school level geometry which I put at the end for those interested.  It is in the section titled "Proof of Diagram 3".

Diagram 3

A company with a lot of workers will make it easiest on their employees in commuting terms by locating in the center.  If a company is small and can get all the people it needs in a certain location then the edges points like "S" are fine.  

In the context of Silicon Valley, that means places like Cupertino, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale are good places for small start-ups but once they reach a certain point, they will be nicest to their employees, the environment, and infrastructure in commute terms by expanding in the center.

Part 3:  Company Hiring Area

I show that a company located on the edge of an urban area imposes an unacceptable commute on 60% of the population compared to a business located in the center.

Suppose employees set a limit to their commute of 10 miles.  They don't mind commuting 10 miles or less but they won't take a job if the commute is more than 10 miles (defined as unacceptable).  

Clearly if jobs are located in the center of the 10-mile radius circle, 100% of the population is just fine with the commute.  No diagram for that.  

If the company is on the edge, we have the case in the diagram below.  It turns out that 60% (61% actually, but let's keep it simple) of those living in the circle are not going to commute to "S" because it is too far.  

The math here is basic HS geometry I put it at the end in the section titled "Proof of Diagram 4" to avoid distractions.
Diagram 4

From the point of view of hiring talent, a company locating at "S" has cut itself off from 60% of the population in that situation where a 10 mile (radius of the circle) commute is considered an acceptable limit.  Alternatively, it has imposed a commuting burden on 60% of the population that is above what they would have if the business were located in the center.  Why would any responsible business do that?

Not everyone will set a hard and fast limit at 10 miles commuting.  Some will set a lower limit, some a higher, and it will vary depending on the characteristics of the job, but clearly it is to the advantage of the company to locate close to the center to have the least commute for the greatest number of potential employees.  

This depends, of course, on how big the populated area is and how busy a commute it is.  In a smaller community or more spread out community, where freeways, buses, subways etc. are all fast and easy, it is a mind over matter situation - "if you don't mind, it doesn't matter". 
That is not the case in the case of Silicon Valley where only 4% can commute by public bus, and the freeways are clogged pretty much all the time.

Begin Math Proofs

Proof of Diagram 3

The following diagram is a bit 'busy' but it contains all the elements.  I am assuming knowledge of HS geometry.  I can't teach that in a blog post so find a HS kid to help you if you forgot your geometry.

Diagram 5

Half the triangle in the circle
Diagram 6
In the blue triangle in diagram 6 we show half the pink triangle in diagram 5.  The height is 5 miles, the hypotenuse is 10 miles, so by Pythagoras, the base is 5 x SQRT(3) = 8.7 miles.  The area of the triangle is then Base x Height / 2 = 21.7 sq. miles.  We double this to get the are of the entire pink triangle of Diagram 5 = 43.4 sq. mi.  Using Arcsin(5 miles /10 miles) = 30 degrees we find the top angle is 60 deg. so the entire pink triangle subtends an arc of 120 deg.  This means the remaining part of the circle is 240 deg. or 2/3 of a circle.  The radius of the circle is 10 miles so the entire circle is of area 314 sq. mi. as shown in diagram 5.  Now 2/3 of that is 209 sq. mi. which we add to the area of the pink triangle in diagram 5 for a total area above the 'don't care' line of 252 sq. mi.  As a fraction of the total area, that is 252 / 314 = 0.8025 = 80% of the total area.  Done.  Q.E.D.

Proof of Diagram 4

I am assuming knowledge of HS geometry.  I can't teach that in a blog post so find someone to help you if you forgot your geometry.  

In diagram 7 we want to find the area of the green section of the circle labeled "G".  We do that by finding the area of the pink section, labeled "P", and adding in the two equal white sections "W1".  We will then subtract that total area ("P" + "W1" + "W1") from the area of the whole circle giving us the area of the green section "G".

From the "proof of diagram 3" in the preceding section we know that "P" subtends an arc of 120 deg. = 1/3 of the circle.  A circle of radius 10 miles has area = "pi R squared" = (3.14) (10 x 10) = 314.2 sq. mi. Therefore 1/3 of that is 104.7 sq. mi.  Now all we need is the area of the two white "W1" sections to add to the area of "P".

Area of "P" = 104.7 sq. mi.

Diagram 7

Look at diagram 8 below and note that the pink section P in "Diagram 7" above contains the two T1 triangles in "Diagram 8" below plus the two white sections W2 also seen in "Diagram 8".  

The W2 sections are the same as the W1 sections we need to add to the area of the pink section of "Diagram 7".  

We found the area of one pink T1 triangle in the previous "Proof of Diagram 3", above to be 43.4 sq. mi.  

The two T1 triangles together thus have area 2 x 43.4 = 86.8 sq. mi.   

If we subtract the area of the two T1s in "Diagram 8"from the area of the "P" in "Diagram 8" we have the areas of the two W2 sections.

So, Area of:
 2 x W2 = P - 2 x T1= 104.7 sq. mi. - 86.8 sq. mi. = 17.9 sq. mi.

Recall that the area of W1 is the same as the area of W2

Diagram 8
The area of the Green section "G" in diagrams 7 and 8 is then:
   the area of the circle (314 sq. mi.) minus the area of (P + 2 x W1) 
   = 314 - (104.7 + 17.9) = 191.4 sq. mi.  

This is 191.4 / 314 = 0.61 = 61% of the area of the circle is outside the radius of commuting.


End of Proofs and of post.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Readers Comment on NYT Article on SF Bay Housing

The NY Times published an article on housing and development in the SF Bay Area.

Basically the same old pro-density, pro-growth stuff you read all the time in the corporate newspapers around the SF Bay area, but I found the reader comments interesting because they mostly contradicted the journalist's narrative.  That is unusual in the NY Times.  Usually reader comments agree with the thrust of an article since the NY Times is a liberal publication subscribed to by liberals who agree with the overall content (or they wouldn't subscribe).

This post is different from my previous ones.  It contains the voices of others (in the manner of Studs Terkel) from around the country.  There are many who feel that uncontrolled growth in a very few cities is making life worse.  That was the dominant theme in the readers comments on the NY Times' article.  Of course, there were those who wrote that greater density is necessary and desirable (but one was from Vermont! 😉).

NY Times Readers' Comments:

Andy W - Chicago:

NY, LA and the San Francisco Bay Area are basically at their maximum population levels. It’s time to start rebuilding the vast swaths of America that have been largely ignored since the great industrial exodus. Silicon Valley is already discovering that it needs to seek talent in far less costly and competitive locations.
4 BR, 2,112 Sq.Ft. for $925/mo
What can you get in SF Bay area for that?
The answer isn’t in ruining pleasant suburbs by shoehorning in dense construction that doesn’t fit. The answer is in building advanced infrastructure and transportation out to America’s smaller cities, thereby revitalizing them. .... Middle America feels ignored because it has been.
Louisville, KY Metro Area is 1.3M People
On the Ohio River in the Appalachian Mountains bordering Indiana
It has six four-year Universities

You have to subsidize transportation and communication in secondary cities to make them viable. This concept strengthens the whole country, as America first proved many decades ago. Our ignorance in ending rural transportation subsidies provided an even greater incentive for companies to shutter domestic factories and head overseas. The coastal super-cities don’t need to artificially create more density. They will be far better off not growing anymore.

Benjamin Teral, San Francisco:

Most San Franciscans see this problem as deriving from the City's policy of attracting ultra-dense tech employment through huge tax give-aways. The way the story goes is that all those young tech workers might as well live in those Manhattan-style buildings that are transforming San Francisco's skyline. Of course it doesn't work that way - they'd rather live in a nice Victorian in the Mission.

Many of us don't see the benefit of attracting those big tech employers - the City gets very little tax benefit, and it isn't clear what all the population does. Does a big increase in Uber rides, more overnight deliveries from Amazon, meals delivered from Blue Apron, FedEx diaper services (!), really do that much for the City?  And all that high-rise construction is done by workers who commute, or are bused, from quite a distance. Someone's getting rich, but it isn't the average San Francisco resident.

Is the solution to attract 100,000 new tech workers, and force the quiet residential neighbors of the city to accept higher population density? Maybe the right thing is to let those 100,000 jobs go somewhere else, and leave us to our fog and our neighborhood markets and restaurants.

Waleed Khalid, New York, New York 

Most people move to the suburbs to escape the city and its feel for at least a portion of the day. Also, people want to own a home- no one thinks the height of the American dream is to live in a rented apartment ... Instead of thinking about cities having a housing crisis- let’s think about the large swaths of underdeveloped country that have a crisis of not enough bodies. 

Not the American Dream


Ceilidth, Boulder, CO

The best way to get affordable housing is to disperse jobs. There are literally hundreds of cities with decent affordable housing in the US. But the lemming mentality says that only a few of them: Seattle, the Bay Area, the northern Front Range of Colorado, DC, NY, Atlanta and Boston are worthy of businesses. This is nonsense. There are many pleasant places to live in the US in the kinds of housing that Americans tend to prefer. If more businesses took into consideration the cost of living where they hang their shingles, we wouldn't be in this mess. And if businesses decamped from those overpriced places, the cost of housing would drop there as well.


Blair, Los Angeles

As long as "increasing affordable housing" really plays out as ill-conceived over-development, then every single-family homeowner should fight with every breath he has. We spent over 20 years in a Los Angeles neighborhood that originally provided lots of horizontal air space, two- or maybe three-story apartment buildings, and plenty of leftover bungalows from the early 20th century. Even then things were crowded and parking hard. Then they began "developing." Multi-story apartments rose every corner, and, by the way, built within the existing 1920s-era narrow streets. Is there a word for this kind of stupidity? Traffic became horrendous, parking impossible, and ironically for all the new units, the kind of place no sane person would want to live. To paraphrase the Vietnam War paradox: We had to destroy the neighborhood to save it.
LA Freeways
(9 lanes on left, 10 lanes on right)
The Other Side of Housing Density



I grew up in the Bay Area and have lived in Silicon Valley since 1993. Right now my goal is to leave as soon as I can afford to retire. This used to be a wonderful place to live. It isn't anymore. Everything is choked to the gills with people. I don't even enjoy visiting our lovely parks and open spaces anymore because they are so crowded that you can't find parking and you spend most of your walk simultaneously dodging aggressive bicyclists and tripping over an endless stream of kids and strollers. There are long waits at restaurants and nowhere to park so sometimes it feels like too much trouble to even leave the house. It's hard to even get out of the area to go somewhere else because of the traffic. I used to love going to Half Moon Bay on the weekends to walk on the beach, but driving over the hill in stop and go traffic kills the fun. And the solution? Build more more more housing for more more more people. I can't wait to leave this place.

Half Moon Bay is Great...
...If you can get there.


Seabiscute, MA

At least in California the neighborhood residents have the ability to sue. Here in Massachusetts, a developer's dream of a regulation called 40B allows a developer to ignore all of a municipality's zoning if that town doesn't have 10% affordable housing. This is not to say that developments under 40B must have affordable units -- no, only 20-25% affordability is required, and even these can be (I believe) for people earning up to 100% of the regional median income. All the rest can be luxury housing. And we can't do anything.

Seth Tager, Oakland CA

This article is one dimensional. It frames the issue almost entirely in terms of housing affordability without seriously considering other important factors of livability. We, as a society, should be able to shape our environment in a way that makes life enjoyable, making trade offs proactively rather than accepting them as a side effect of acting within the boundaries of narrowly crafted laws. I live in Oakland and commute to San Francisco and the traffic has gotten noticeably worse in just the past 5 years. If you want to solve the housing crisis you have to build up the infrastructure to support it. Public transit development has not kept up. BART is at capacity and more trains cannot be added to the system.
Highway 80, 580, 680 to SF, Oakland, San Jose

Const, NY 

One of my millennial children moved from Long Island to Rochester, NY because he didn't want to spend $1,000/month living in someone's illegal basement apartment. 

In Rochester, he found a good job, very affordable place to live and vibrant community of "young" people who also chose to escape overcrowded and overpriced metro NYC. 
Buy for $425/Month...
...and in a nice neighborhood, too!
The Bay area, NYC, Los Angeles and Denver are not the only places with jobs in our vast country.


Jim S., Cleveland, OH

Cry me a river of tears for the people in Silicon Valley and NYC who keep complaining about the lack of affordable housing. 90% of the country offers affordable housing. There is no reason the work being done in these places, most of which involves sitting behind a computer terminal, can't be done in affordable, yet livable, cities elsewhere.
$1,204/mo to buy in a desirable neighborhood.
Near Lake Erie (Sailing, Fishing, Windsurfing)
Cleveland Metro area has 2M people
Case Western Reserve is the most prominent of many universities


John Dyer, Troutville, VA

Lets say I am a business owner who decides to open up a large store or restaurant in an area already well served. Does the community have a responsibility to provide cheap housing for my workers? Or lets say I am a software developer who wants to open in a location where I can steal employees from a critical mass of other software developers. Again, do I have a right to affordable housing for my workers at the expense of the community? I lean on the side of the rights of local home owners. If a community is already saturated, with full employment, make it so costly that the employers decide to create jobs elsewhere where the population is not as dense. There are many regions of the country that are very rural and accommodating for business. I know this goes against the religion of growth at all costs, but something needs to be said for quality of life.

(Troutville is a small town outside Roanoke, VA in the Blue Ridge Mountains)
Blue Ridge Mountains

Roanoke, VA


Scott Cole, Des Moines, IA

The problem with just building higher density in desirable and geographically limited areas like the bay area is that you will never, ever build your way out of it. People will just keep coming. And unless they provide better public transport, higher density will just make things worse.

Savvy SF

I live in the Bay Area in a small city whose median home price is now 2,000,000. There has been a surge of high density construction near CalTrain in my area but it’s still very pricey. No parking spots are included for tenants under the strange assumption none will have cars. No accommodations or plans were made at local schools for a potential influx of kids, the library, roads — everything stays as if we were still a sleepy town of SFRs (Single Family Residences, ed.). It’s the biggest problem I foresee: no infrastructure changes to accommodate growth, as if the newcomers are just going to stay locked in their condos and have no children.

reader09 Plano, TX

Sorry, I agree with the neighbors. That's a small house on a small lot. The houses that they're proposing are going to be small and if there are two adults (a couple) living in each house, then you have 3 houses + 6 vehicles in that small space--and you'll also have a more noise.

Who would want to live next door to that? Certainly not someone who perhaps moved there 10 years ago and chose the neighborhood because it's quiet and has more greenery. The challenge is not trying to cram more people into tiny spaces, but getting companies to let go of this fixation they have with just a handful of US cities when there are plenty of other locations that they could hire talent in and for less.

Just Curious Oregon

Against this backdrop, why do we continue to measure economic vitality in terms of “growth”? For decades, progressive economists have proposed using other metrics, such as education, infrastructure, access to outdoor spaces, etc. But No, we pursue relentless growth, even as we spoil our own habitat.



4 years ago I bought an SFR in Seattle. I bought it because I liked the neighborhood, the views, and the balance of history, culture and community. The recent HALA initiatives put that in jeopardy with 5 story apartment boxes without sufficient parking being zoned in, destroying the views and - basically - devaluing my property. I didn't buy this for astronomical appreciation, I valued the neighborhood feel of Seattle - something very unique compared with most US cities. I want to protect the lifestyle I bought - one in which I can see the skyline and the coastline while dog walking, not a 5-story crevasse void of sun.
This is free market dynamics, supply and demand, apple pie. There is no more land in Seattle. SF is still the 7x7 mile square. The island of Manhattan isn't growing. No one is entitled to cheap rent just because they want to live there.

I want to live in Manhattan or London - I really enjoy it when I visit - so should I insist they make property available that I can afford? Regardless of the impact to what people there already own?


Abby, Pleasant Hill, CA

I moved to this area from Ohio too. My boyfriend is a Berkeley native, who owns a house in Oakland. I am on the Millenial/Gen X cusp. I am shocked at how people in my own age cohort move to the most expensive area in the country for "good jobs" and demand that the "gentrification" stop so that they can buy affordable housing in a fun, desirable area. You are a gentrifier! You made the cost of housing go up!


greatsmile, Boulder, Colorado

sigh. c'mon New York Times, ask some questions about the YIMBY movement. It is funded by real estate interests. And the problem it claims to solve -- affordable housing - isn't solved. Developers build for the wealthy, not the lower and middle class. The developer in this story bought a crummy house and will sell three $1 million homes. That's not affordable. Period. But developers want to maximize their investment so you will rarely see someone build three houses to sell for $500,000 each. Nor do you see many developers building affordable condos, at least not in places where lots of folks want to live. You have bought the Yimby line hook and sinker. shame.
(click image to enlarge)


J Jencks, Portland, OR

For what it's worth I spent many years in architectural academia (at UC Berkeley) and have a Master's Degree in Architecture.
DESIGN at a much higher geographic level, by creating state-wide policies that encourage economic growth in existing under-developed cities. Taking California for example, that would mean creating tax, land use and infrastructure policies that would encourage new businesses to set up in places like Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield, thus relieving some of the pressure from cities like San Francisco.
(Click on images to enlarge). 
$1,018/mo to buy
Right outside Yosemite National Park

Unfortunately, large scale, long term planning is not something we do very well in our fractious democracy.
Fresno Movie Festival


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