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Monday, September 04, 2017

Paul Krugman: Why Can’t We Get Cities Right?

"It’s not hard to see what we should be doing":

Why Can’t We Get Cities Right?, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: The waters are receding in Houston, and so, inevitably, is national interest. But Harvey will leave a huge amount of wreckage behind, some of it invisible. In particular, we don’t yet know just how much poison has been released by flooding of chemical plants, waste dumps, and more. But it’s a good bet that more people will eventually die from the toxins Harvey leaves behind than were killed during the storm itself. ...
...Harvey was an epic disaster. And it was a disaster brought on, in large part, by ... rampant, unregulated development. ...
So is Houston’s disaster a lesson in the importance of urban land-use regulation, of not letting developers build whatever they want, wherever they want? Yes, but.
To understand that “but,” consider the different kind of disaster taking place in San Francisco. Where Houston has long been famous for its virtual absence of regulations on building, greater San Francisco is famous for its NIMBYism — that is, the power of “not in my backyard” sentiment to prevent new housing construction. The Bay Area economy has boomed in recent years, mainly thanks to Silicon Valley; but very few new housing units have been added.
The result has been soaring rents and home prices..., so why not have more tall buildings?
But politics has blocked that kind of construction, and the result is housing that’s out of reach for ordinary working families. ...
Houston and San Francisco are extreme cases, but not that extreme. ...
Why can’t we get urban policy right? It’s not hard to see what we should be doing. We should have regulation that prevents clear hazards, like exploding chemical plants in the middle of residential neighborhoods, preserves a fair amount of open land, but allows housing construction.
In particular, we should encourage construction that takes advantage of the most effective mass transit technology yet devised: the elevator.
In practice, however, policy all too often ends up being captured by interest groups. ...
Can America break out of these political traps? Maybe. In blue states where cities build too little, there’s a growing political movement calling for more housing supply. Until now, there’s been much less evidence of second thoughts about unmanaged development in red states, but Harvey may serve as a wake-up call.
One thing is clear: How we manage urban land is a really important issue, with huge impacts on American lives.

    Posted by on Monday, September 4, 2017 at 11:14 AM in Economics, Housing, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (66)


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