231 Comments

Most YIMBYs I know would see the Brownstones as high density housing. The comparator is not high rise blocks but single family houses. Terraced (in UK terms don't know US term here) 6 story buildings are high density.

Look at the Eixample district of Barcelona - very high density (highest in Europe I think?) but a desirable walkable place to live. I would argue that the very fact the brownstones are walkable neighbourhoods shows they are high density.

I cannot find it now, but I have seen some claims that 6-8 story buildings offer the best density as they do not need the space around them or support services high rises do.

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Why, exactly, do "we have to build"? Because lots of people want to live in New York? I just don't see that as sufficient reason (and I live in California, not New York).

Per this 2021 article about the "hot" housing market in my hometown of Akron, Ohio, the median listing price was $180K: https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/business/2021/04/16/akron-ohio-realtor-com-list-housing-markets-march-2021/7238183002/

So how about: don't destroy New York's nice neighborhoods, the very things that make people want to live there. Move to Akron (or a zillion other places like it) instead, where there is plenty of existing housing at far more reasonable prices.

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I live in a Philly rowhome on a block of rowhomes. Personally I love living in a rowhome and enjoy having my own private outdoor space, and I love passing my neighbors sitting on the steps. A block over, there are three apartment/condo buildings. All 3 of them were built after I moved in. The density doesn't affect the character of the neighborhood at all, imo. It makes parking harder, but I rarely drive. The added population adds amenities to the area. Likewise that block pictured would be just as idyllic imo if there were an apartment building right out of frame.

In my experience, when neighbors lament the change of "neighborhood character", they're just resentful that new people are moving in, period. Younger, different politics, more or less affluent, etc. And of course the parking issue which is behind like 90% of politics in this city. I don't really think it's an argument worth engaging with. But I do wish there were more of a left-YIMBY movement. We exist but many of the most prominent voices are pretty moderate.

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Two things here.

First, I don't think any kind of real zoning reform is coming to New York. Look at what happened with Hochul's ADU/accessory apartment proposal. It was the weakest of teas and people out here on Long Island freaked the fuck out.

Second, apart from neighborhood character, the majority of people would prefer not to live in a concrete box in the sky. I really enjoy the luxury of twenty feet of air between my walls and my closest neighbors.

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Sooooooo...I haven't really dipped into the NIMBY wars because the whole thing seems among the most toxic debates available right now, but...

...do the YIMBYs have any rebuttal or attempts to lessen to how unattractive most people apparently find high-density living? Because that seems to be the crux of the issue: everyone hates it, but everyone also wants to keep living in Brooklyn or wherever. Those who have bought or lucked into property desperately protect it, while those who don't have it want it--but want more of what already exists, not high-density.

Like, even in these piece you seem to be implying that high-density building would impact certain poorer neighborhoods in detrimental ways. Of course people don't want their neighborhoods to be worsened! Why isn't the argument "here's all the way high-density housing will make your life better"?

(I hate cities so much that I find even sprawling Minneapolis grotesque, but most people seem to have at least some aversion to apartment or converted living)

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Aside from the obvious issue that Brooklyn brownstones are not "low-density", this article is to me an example of how the YIMBY movement is missing the point. YIMBY's obviously arose as a response to "NIMBY's", who are, at least in the housing context, homeowners (and maybe people living in rent-controlled units) opposing new development in their neighborhoods. So we've now had two decades of conflict essentially about the right of a developer to tear down an existing single family home and erect an apartment building in its place. The result has been very little new housing constructed both nationally and especially where the demand is highest and affordability getting worse in nearly every city with a decent or better economy.

And you are correct that no matter what kinds of regulatory measures are put into place, it is always going to be an uphill battle to replace single family homes with apartment buildings in any place where the existing homeowners have economic and political power, which is to say anywhere where those new homes would be marketable.

But let me propose for a moment that even under the best of possible circumstances replacing existing single family homes with apartment buildings was never going to solve our housing problems, and that we're wasting our energy and political capital in the highly divisive and polarizing attempt to do so. Why not instead focus that energy and capital on constructing forests of high-rise housing in formerly industrial areas?

You can go to any city in America, and there will be miles and miles of industrial areas that are often located along waterfronts of various sorts and are usually occupied by single-story construction, with many of the uses not even requiring industrial zoning to operate. A four or five story in-fill apartment building on a corner lot might house 100 people, and if you can get 10-20 of those built in a given year in most cities, you're probably doing well. A single square mile of high-rise residential neighborhood will house 50,000 people, and there are literally thousands of square miles of derelict industrial shoreline in cities and their surrounding areas all across the country.

I'm not suggesting anything that hasn't already been done at scale all over the world, and even, haltingly, in some places here in the U.S. Millions of people already live in industrial areas that were converted to high-rise housing, many of which are some of the most desirable urban neighborhoods on Earth. But it takes effort, despite that incredible market potential, converting industrial areas into high-rise residential neighborhoods are also probably the most difficult real estate development projects imaginable. It takes bold, coordinated action by political leaders to lay the large-scale infrastructure in place (environmental clean-up, transit, parks, etc.) within which the housing can even be built.

But what's more worthwhile, endlessly bickering and battling with "NIMBY" homeowners who mostly just want to be able to park in front of their home and know who their neighbors in order to generate a few hundred units here and there, or the wholesale transformation of environmentally derelict parts of the city into vibrant, healthy communities housing hundreds of thousands of people each?

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I’d never heard of YIMBY and NIMBY, but I’m glad we have another point to divide us. Society needs that.

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I have been directly involved in affordable housing policy and projects for my liberal left coast college town. The university has been growing over the decades, yet the residents - largely retired university employees - have remained consistently NIMBY… voting down every peripheral development proposal and also challenging all significant infill projects… wile also virtue signaling their care for the low income. The result has been skyrocketing rents that has infected neighboring communities, increased commute times and generally punishing the family budgets of those least able to handle it.

Here is a key to understand about NIMBYs… they don’t care. They are not going to be reasoned with. They have to simply be defeated.

But there is a key to help weaken their resolve to block change… it is to STOP with the damn egalitarian knee jerk reaction that ALL housing needs to be high density.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has educated us on… that congested humanity isn’t necessarily healthy despite some of the valid environmental arguments. Higher incomes should afford more space and we should welcome development that provides it… as it deflates some NIMBY resistance and those that can afford it and want it… free up the other available units.

But regulatory reform is required. NIMBYs file legal cause against developments that drive up costs. Local and state governments layer on regulations, taxes and fees. In my community the average cost of a new affordable 2-bedroom unit is over $465,000. The land is expensive because of the land use restrictions. The building is expensive because of copious codes and requirements (must be solar with tens of thousands of dollars in energy-saving requirements).

The reason for too expensive housing is simple… not enough units are built relative to the demand. All of our efforts should be to reduce the costs and restrictions for building more units.

But trying to force everyone into high density housing is going to keep the resistance strong.

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Whoa how did this happen:

"I find resistance to such new building misguided, those of us who want to build more have to acknowledge that it’s an ugly thing if rich white people can keep new developments off their block but poor people of color can’t."

The emphasis on the whole piece was on market power of wealth, and then you somehow stealth identity into it. Do you think that rich people are going to act fundamentally differently based on race?

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I'm curious what people think of the theory of Georgism, which is primarily designed to address the problem of perverse building incentives in urban areas.

The basic idea is to implement a Land Value Tax (LVT) on the land value of every property, as close as possible to 100% -- just the *land value,* not the improvement value, meaning you tax value of the land itself, but not the value of the buildings constructed on the land. This encourages landowners to build the most valuable buildings possible on their land, because otherwise they'll lose all their money to the tax. The theory is that this will heavily incentivize super-dense housing, and also incentivize landlords to keep their properties well-maintained and attractive to renters. Also, the proceeds of the LVT are rolled back into the community as a whole, essentially providing everybody with a universal basic income or community subsidy or whatever you want to call it.

In its full expression, Georgist LVT amounts to de facto socializing the ownership of land within an area, but not socializing the ownership of buildings or other capital property. It theoretically should remove all the incentive to speculate on future increases in land value by building cheap structures in attractive locations (or just holding lots empty).

For a fuller explanation, here's a good place to start: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/your-book-review-progress-and-poverty?s=r

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Mar 16, 2022·edited Mar 16, 2022

When I was born the population of the United States was about 230 million. Today the population of the United States is 330 million. When the population increases by 50% in a generation cities and communities have to change. There’s no way around it. Communities in the 1980s looked different from those in the 1940s because the population grew and changed and we developed our cities and communities to accommodate it. Now those people who benefited from that development to build wealth and a stable living situation want to deny that same opportunity to those coming after them. That’s not the way to build a prosperous future for people in our country.

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Brownstone neighborhoods are actually very high-density. You'd be surprised. Certainly by the standards of almost anywhere else in the US. It isn't really close.

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Mar 16, 2022·edited Mar 16, 2022

Left YIMBY here. There is a whole other thing that California YIMBYs are doing, which is forcing neighborhoods zoned single family to upzone to allow at least three and sometimes six units per lot. This is at least a start to redress the redlining which historically de jure and now de facto segregated neighborhoods.

There is no way that just more market rate housing in severely housing restricted areas like the Bay Area can make housing affordable for poor and working class people. It *does* help reduce displacement though, which is a good thing, and it helps us in many other ways. Denser housing means less driving, which reduces our carbon footprint. It also lowers housing costs for middle class people, which is pretty important.

Just building more market rate housing won't solve all of our problems, but it will help solve some of them. Here we have inclusionary zoning, so building new housing funds more affordable housing. This is of course a double edged sword, as it builds more affordable housing at the cost of making new construction even more expensive. YIMBYs (Scott Wiener really) have tried to counter this by making new construction that builds more affordable housing get a "density bonus" but it doesn't totally offset the cost.

We are also doing other things to rally for more construction at all price points: we sued various suburbs for illegally trying to block apartment buildings, we came out in force for a homeless shelter in a poor neighborhood and other things. We aren't 100% a neoliberal organization, which is often how we are characterized by our Progressive NIMBY opponents. It's a "big tent" with members all across the political spectrum. 32,000 members and counting. It's a real grass roots movement, albeit with big funding from developers and unions.

Edit: "Progressive" in San Francisco has a different meaning than the usual definition.

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"We have to build. But “just build” is never sufficient analysis."

Then I guess it's great that that is not the YIMBY analysis then.

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I'm reading these comments and wondering when Ohio became a shorthand for "the middle of nowhere."

Have none of you been to Nebraska? North Dakota?

Ohio has 18 electoral college votes, like, ease up.

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A good article on how attempting to control sprawl has contributed to rising housing costs.

https://reason.com/2022/03/13/how-the-war-on-sprawl-caused-high-housing-prices/

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