The roots of anti-density sentiment

Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, and Ryan Avent have been discussing the political economy of anti-density regulations, and I have a lot of comments, but I’m not sure I have the time (or, really, the patience) to air all of them. So, we’ll see how long this post gets.

First of all, I think all this talk of federal policy is misguided. Writing about the federal government sells well in journalism since it reaches the widest audience, but even taking into account the feds’ massive power grab over the last century, the real action is still at the local level. Local property tax distortions favoring single family homes are widespread and egregious, but orders of magnitude more ink gets spilled about the relatively ineffectual mortgage interest tax deduction. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s refusal to fund mixed use developments is unfortunate, but it’s nothing compared to the almighty parking minimum. So while obviously the rural-biased Senate isn’t doing urbanism any favors, the nation’s Greatest Deliberative Body is next to meaningless when compared to lowly municipal governments.

Secondly, I think that historically speaking, Ryan Avent is starting his analysis a few decades too late. He cites the Great Migration(s) of blacks out of the South and the law-and-order backlash as a reason that American politicians fear density, but the real anti-density legislation began around the turn of the century, decades before the black boogyman hit the scene. And while the federal highway projects that Ryan cites were bad for cities, they were really the final nail in the coffin – urban business associations welcomed them as a cure for decentralization. In other words, cities were already in decline by the time the interstate highways started papering over neighborhoods. The real germ entered the system decades earlier.

Read remainder of the story at MarketUrbanism.

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About Bob Voelker

Head of the Munsch Hardt (Dallas law firm) Hospitality & Mixed Use Development Group, and former developer of affordable housing. I'm i
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