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Even though polls show that seventy-one percent of
California adults prefer single-family homes, California 's legislators and city
planners want to cram people into crowded, tenement-style housing in the urban
According to Joel Kotkin's article in Forbes:
These draconian measures could
lead to a ban on the construction of private residences, particularly on the
suburban fringe. The new
legislation's goal is to cram future generations of Californians into
multi-family apartment buildings, turning them from car-driving suburbanites
into strap-hanging urbanistas.
Supporters of these "cramming" policies in California
and North Carolina often argue that market forces are already moving in this
direction and that these policies are merely echoing market trends. Kotkin makes short
work of these claims.
These [market trend] "facts" may be more
grounded in academic mythology than reality. Some widely quoted experts, like
the Anderson Forecast at UCLA, cite Census information to say that demographics
are shifting demand from single-family homes to condos and apartments, although
the Census asked
no such question. These experts also fail to address why condo prices have
dropped even more in the major California markets than single-family
home prices; the percentage of starts that come from single-family houses
shifts from year to year, but last year 's number tracks around the same level
as seen in the 1980s.
biggest weakness in the analysis lies with long-term demographic factors. As I wrote last week, [and highlighted in the Local Government Update] many of the "young
and restless" folks whom city planners try to court tend to move into
suburbs and affordable low-density regions as they grow older and begin
starting families. Similarly, the vast majority of boomers, according to AARP,
want to remain in their old homes as long as possible. Most of those homes are
located in suburban, low- to medium-density neighborhoods. But who needs facts
when you have religion?
Kotkin notes that high density housing "cramming"
is not the wave of the future, telecommuting is. "The Silicon Valley
already has 25% more telecommuters than transit users."
In the end, however,
substituting religion for markets and people 's preferences is
counterproductive. For one thing, people "forced" to live densely
will find other places to live the way they like -- even if it means leaving
California. This is already happening to middle class families in places like San
Francisco and may soon be true of California 's traditionally
middle-class-friendly interior as well.
Many North Carolina planners are implementing their own
versions of these fads, especially in Raleigh and Charlotte. The Obama
administration is also offering federal money to entice communities to
participate in its "sustainability communities" policies, which have
been developed jointly by the EPA, HUD and DOT.
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