Yes, Upzone The Nice Areas Too

MLewyn's picture

An interesting and provocative blog post by Chicago planner Pete Saunders argued that urbanites should not be pressing too hard for upzoning well-off urban neighborhoods because "maybe they ought to consider more of the city to live in.  For every highly desirable attractive urban neighborhood, even in the most in-demand metro areas, there are just as many languishing neighborhoods that aren't even part of the conversation." Saunders goes on to worry that if cities are too successful in upzoning "nice" areas to meet consumer demand, there will be less movement into low-income areas, causing lots of segregation.

But it seems to me that this sort of argument puts would-be urbanites in a no-win situation.  If they stay in the traditionally upper-class parts of the city they are accused of segregating themselves- but if they move to the poor parts of the city they are accused of gentrificiation.  Either argument can easily be used to prevent construction of new housing.

Moreover, this argument assumes that the demand for urban life is so fixed that people will actually be willing to move into low-income areas if housing in higher-income areas becomes more expensive.  This is certainly true in New York - but I think it is less true in higher-crime cities (by which I mean, most cities).  Middle-class renters and homebuyers usually have three choices: well-off urban neighborhoods, not-so-well-off urban neighborhoods and suburbia.  Some may be willing to choose down-at-the-heels areas if they cannot afford the best areas, but others will just pick suburbia over marginal neighborhoods.

 

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