The argument has become tiresome. To make themselves “affordable,” so-called elite cities must plow down their old neighborhoods for new forests of sterile towers. To argue otherwise is to open one to charges of NIMBYism. In our opinion, the people who live in these places have every right to influence what does and what does not go in their backyard.
Furthermore, the very buildings developers lust to take down are often low-slung ones in working class neighborhoods. What they erect in their place are usually luxury towers, sometimes marketed to rich foreigners as investments. To finagle more height and floor space the developers agree to create a handful of affordable units far, far away. A good example is the controversial plan to build a megatower in the middle of leafy 58th Street near Sutton Place.
Libertarians and to their discredit liberals such as Paul Krugman buy into a half-cooked version of the theory of supply and demand. Increase the supply and the cost will go down, they say.
Ignoring the demand side
True but how about the demand side? I argue in my recent column that the problem of very expensive housing — as well as congestion — also reflects too much demand. Let the expense of living in New York, London and San Francisco incentivize people and businesses to move to and grow in other less dense cities. It’s already happening, witness Amazon.com’s announcement that it will build a second headquarters somewhere other than its hometown, increasingly costly Seattle.
My latest column takes this viewpoint. Here’s an excerpt addressing the insane decision to shoehorn more people into Midtown East:
The explosive growth of New York City’s population has driven the subway system to near breakdown. Some see congestion pricing — charging new fees to drive into midtown Manhattan — as a fix for perpetual gridlock. That would encourage more people to use the subways, the argument goes (but see two sentences above).
Get this. New York has just “upzoned” the Midtown East business district to allow the construction of at least 16 new office towers. That would bring 28,000 more workers to the area. Things have gotten so crowded the city is removing some subway seats to pack in more people.
New York has just “upzoned” the Midtown East business district to allow the construction of at least 16 new office towers.
We love New York because we’re New Yorkers. And we put up with a lot to be here.
Don’t forget the other cities
For those less committed but who want urban, walkable surroundings, there are other wonderful American cities. We’re especially fond of Columbus, Raleigh, Omaha and Pittsburgh. Then there are the hipster outposts, Austin, Madison, Asheville and Burlington.
It just makes no sense to shoehorn so much ambition, innovation and animals spirits into a tiny speck of the North American landmass. Let other urban areas take some of our wealth — and they’ll take some of our congestion.
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