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August 07, 2003

Gentrification and Density

Larry Kastenbaum, as usual, has interesting comments on the housing thread of discussion, arguing:

I'm in favor of legalizing higher density, both in existing areas and in all new construction, but Manhattan is already the densest place in North America, and building even higher high-rises will make the place look like the scenery in the Batman movie. I wish you could export some of your affluent folks to Detroit, or Flint, or Akron, or St. Louis, or many other older Midwest cities, which desperately need more people and more economic activity, where many thousands of housing units are lost to abandonment every year...

All this wailing and intense media scrutiny of alleged "gentrification" pushing lower-income folks out of a handful of NYC and San Francisco neighborhoods tends to further stigmatize the idea of living in, say, Detroit, as if by moving there, you're displacing somebody.

While I don't disagree that New York and SF are only part of the story, there are actually a lot of cities going through "reurbanization", including older industrial cities, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and many others including odd cities like Houston. Despite being the bette noire of urban planners, Houston's downtown population rose 69 percent in the 1990s-the most for any city major city.

In many cases, density actually attracts density since the concentration of population makes it easier to run public transit more regularly and support the infrastructure that makes urban living pleasurable compared to the car-based freedom that attracts people to the suburbs.

But it's a complex interaction of people being attracted to downtown areas in many cities, even in many cases where the overall city is losing population. Check out this Fannie Mae report showing increased population in many downtown areas. Even Detroit, despite seeing lost population overall, has actually increased its density downtown.

The original point was not to make downtowns ugly, but to recognize the NIMBYism in much of the resistance to higher density. It is quite possible for individuals ALREADY living downtown to prefer lower density, even as higher density will attract more people downtown by making it more affordable.

Posted by Nathan at August 7, 2003 04:43 PM