David Roberts @drvox Seattleite transplanted from Tennessee; now blogging for t.co/5gESirnht7 about energy politics. Climate hawk, deficit dove. Not a doctor. Jan. 06, 2019 4 min read

There's something seriously wrong with the fact that US cities have talked themselves into fearing growth and wealth.  https://www.seattletimes.com/business/happy-new-year-may-your-city-never-become-san-francisco-new-york-or-seattle/ 

1. OK, this tweet created some agita, so I thought I'd do a quick thread to explain myself. This isn't some big treatise on urbanism (I'm procrastinating on Real Work), just a few thoughts off the top of my head. In a nutshell: we need to get good at making good cities.

2. As I see it, cities are either growing or shrinking. I'm not aware of a city of any size that has managed to reach some perfect equilibrium, healthy but neither adding nor losing population. Cities are either adding people, businesses, & tax revenue ...

3. ... improving schools, building infrastructure, & investing in civic life, or tax revenue is shrinking, all those things are getting cut, more people are leaving & revenue is shrinking more. Whether positive or negative, it's self-reinforcing cycle.

4. Any sane person should prefer growth. Managing a declining city is incredibly difficult. It's worse for everyone, *especially long-time residents & low-income workers*. It's ugly & unjust & I think you'd have a hard time pointing to a city that's done it gracefully.

5. So if you live in a city, you should want the city to be growing & thriving. The alternative sucks ass. That's the baseline (& what I meant by the original tweet). What's more, cities are going to grow all over the world this century, like it or not, so there's no real choice.

6. That said, obviously growth can be managed well or poorly - it can be more or less just & equitable, more or less sustainable, more or less pleasant. The debate shouldn't be growth or not, it should be *how to do growth well*. Lots of places are f'ing it up.

7. Here's the fundamental dynamic in SF, Seattle, etc.: they're nice. They're growing, businesses & jobs are moving there, people are moving there. But they are not building new housing at anything close to the rate people are arriving. Housing isn't keeping up.

8. Predictably, as demand continues exceeding supply, prices are going up. People lucky enough to have bought early enough are sitting on gold mines, constantly accruing value. They have every financial incentive to fight any new housing, to maintain the supply/demand imbalance.

9. Tech workers & millionaires can afford new homes, but renters, service workers, students, & many long-time residents are getting pushed out to crappy housing on the periphery that requires long, draining car commutes. Everything central is gentrifying.

10. SF is becoming dystopic, with manbunned VC investors piloting electric scooters through the refuse of homelessness. It's top & bottom with less & less in between. Other growing cities sensibly fear that fate - thus the angst in Seattle over Amazon's growth.

11. What's the solution to the dilemma of growing well? One thing that frustrates me about these debates is, it seems like my fellow lefties have identified, as their enemies in this fight, the people & businesses who want to come to the cities -- gentrifiers & greedy developers.

12. But my general take (which I think is the correct leftie take! ) is that it's fruitless to demonize people or businesses for pursuing their interests within the law. The way for citizens to express their interests is through *government*. Policy. Rules. Investment.

13. The best, healthiest, most livable cities I've spent time in got that way through *planning* - intense, close, passionate planning by people who loved the city. Americans have an anti-regulatory, anti-gov't strain in their politics that makes them unwilling or unable ...

14. ...to simply & transparently dictate the outcomes they want (which is why so much policy gets buried in the tax code & obscure rules). I remember walking through downtown Vancouver w/ @BrentToderian (city planner 2005-11) & asking him how they kept so many families there...

15. ... since growing US cities are having a notoriously difficult time keeping families around. He said (paraphrasing), it's not magic. Families need 3- & 4-bedroom condos. So we passed a rule saying developers have to build a few of those for every X units they build.

16. Now there are a bunch of big condos, a bunch of families, & a bunch of good downtown schools. If the people of the city want families, they can have them. They don't have to sit back & hope the market provides.

17. Same with walkability, public & green spaces, bike infrastructure, the right mix of residential & business activity -- it can be had through planning. So the ones to pressure are the *planners*, the policymakers, not the private actors operating w/in the current system. IMO.

18. Not to say activism & pressure on biz can't work to shift the politics - they can! - but shifting politics is the goal. OK, one final point. I think we have a decent sense of how to get green, walkable, sociable cities; lots of work to do, but solutions exist. However...

19. ... I don't know any rapidly growing city that's solved the affordability problem. It's just very, very tough. I don't see any solution long-term but lots more social housing. In Vienna, 60% of housing is social, subsidized in one way or another.

20. In Barcelona it's 3% & the current administration aspires to get it to 10%. I'm too lazy to google, but I'm guessing in most US cities it is less than that & pretty crappy. To really preserve diversity of income will require social housing for the middle, not just the bottom.


You can follow David Roberts.



Bookmark

____
Tip: mention @threader_app on a Twitter thread with the keyword “compile” to get a link to it.

Enjoy Threader? Sign up.

Download Threader on iOS.