Once seen as a human-scale alternative to the crowded cities of the past, California’s cities are targeted by policy makers and planners dreaming of bringing back the “good old days,” circa 1900, when most people in the largest cities lived in small, cramped apartments. This move is being fronted by well-funded YIMBYs (“yes in my backyard”), who claim ever greater densification will help relieve the state’s severe housing crisis.
The goal, as stated by one YIMBY journalist, is startling in its retroactive boldness. “Getting people out of their cars in favor of walking, cycling or riding mass transit.” notes Liam Dillion, “will require the development of new, closely packed housing near jobs and commercial centers at a rate not seen in the United States since at least before World War II.”
Besides being ahistorical — this kind of housing was restricted to the urban cores a few of the largest metropolitan areas — many residents of these districts, including in California, gleefully abandoned this lifestyle for a more private, lower-density and family friendly lifestyle as soon as it became practicable. In fact, millions of people moved here from crowded cities, small towns, rural areas and other countries to enjoy this lifestyle.
The density delusion
The density-seeking measures such as state Sen. Scott Wiener’s highly contested SB827 seek to dismantle local zoning to boost densities, allegedly to address state’s housing affordability crisis. High density housing is far more expensive per square foot to build than townhouse or single-family construction. Nearly all the new market-rate housing built in the state is “luxury” by middle-income standards, and more expensive than what it replaces.
In reality, the YIMBY’s suggestion that new, dense housing will improve affordability for all is patently absurd. Decades of densification in Los Angeles has seen ever higher rents, displacing low-income, especially minority households. Many former transit customers have been driven to lower-rent areas with less transit service, precipitating a massive decline in ridership, even as billions continue to be spent building new rail lines. The Wiener Bill could exacerbate this trend, and likely increase the…