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Not Just Bikes
Suburbia is Subsidized: Here's the Math [ST07]
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> I’m not convinced that will ever change unless sprawl becomes unimaginably expensive.
Right, but that's the core of my point: It is unimaginably expensive, it's just getting subsidized to ridiculous extents. (For the readers unaware of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI)
And saying the "vast majority" prefer it is wrong. They prefer it over the alternatives they have within the United States, not over the alternative possibilities. I'm absolutely not dismissing that some people prefer the suburbian lifestyle over EU-style walkable cities, but saying the majority of Americans do when so few even know what's possible is misplaced in the best possible read of it.
The demand for car-free neighbourhoods is also obvious if you look at what exists, and how exorbitant the prices are due to the high demand and low offer. Another example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWDFgzAjr1k
This song-and-dance of "Everyone likes suburbia because everyone wants to move there, it's illegal to build anything else because it would then be something else than suburbia, nobody wants the alternative anyway because it's too expensive, it's too expensive because it's in high demand, and it's in high demand because it's illegal to build something else" is like the definition of catch-22.
⬐ kory> It is unimaginably expensive, it's just getting subsidized to ridiculous extents.
Yep, that's totally true. But we as a society have chosen to subsidize it. We would not continue to subsidize it if society as a whole didn't find that lifestyle worth the immense weight on government finances.
> but saying the majority of Americans do when so few even know what's possible is misplaced in the best possible read of it.
Perhaps you're correct, but we're getting into conjecture at this point. The single family home on a quarter acre plot is ingrained into the physche of Americans at birth. It's the American dream. Cultural memes like that don't die without a herculean amount of effort. And when this dream is so well built into our urban design, uniformity across the country, the likelihood of it really changing is fairly small. Online spaces are really the first time I've seen anything different from the mainstream viewpoint here--never heard anything like this offline. Even San Francisco won’t upzone. If that isn’t a clear indication of preference, I don’t know what is.
> The demand for car-free neighbourhoods is also obvious if you look at what exists, and how exorbitant the prices are due to the high demand and low offer.
Definitely, we need more of these neighborhoods to satisfy demand. Again, I live in one, and I experience the price increases first hand. I just don't agree with the position folks take of changing existing neighborhoods into "urban, walkable" ones when the residents don't want that. There is a lot of space to try building these communities, especially since many people (even not in tech!) don't need to go to downtown offices anymore.
Streetcar suburbs are pretty awesome, because they allow single family home-style living while maintaining walkability. But density advocates want to see those neighborhoods built up into apartments and townhomes. That's tough for residents to swallow, since they have heavily invested in making their neighborhood the exact low-ish density but walkable, manicured living space they want to be in. And it's part of the appeal of unwalkable / HOA subdivisions, because such up zone conversions are difficult to impossible, or make little financial sense.
Vegetation, old architecture, etc. takes a long time to grow and "settle in". Destruction of backyards and old homes for large buildings that don't fit in with anything else in the neighborhood is not a fun time for existing residents. I don't really care about the property value (well, I would care if my neighborhood completely changed by a forced zoning change and I needed to move). It's about keeping the small town neighborhood vibes I chose to move here for.⬐ scrollawayOK but this is a completely different beast to what you posted earlier, which is:
> It’s good thing we moved from these old urban walkable designs to a car centric lifestyle, which the vast majority of Americans enjoy.
Your (non-)argument that american lifestyle being car-centric is a "good thing" is VERY different to "I enjoy suburbia and I'd like it not to be destroyed".
Your corner of the earth can remain. If some people are trying to destroy or change it, those people aren't me, nor anyone else in this thread, and they may or may not be "walkability advocates" or what have you that's pretty irrelevant.
The majority of walkability advocates argue for the following:
- US suburbia should not be subsidized as much as it is, it's putting cities in dangerous debt.
- Zoning laws preventing the construction of denser neighbourhoods that aren't skyscrapers should be relaxed.
- City centers should become more walkable and livable, less car-centric
- New constructions and renovations should focus on being human scale, instead of giving massive amounts of land and priority to cars.⬐ kory> Your (non-)argument that american lifestyle being car-centric is a "good thing"
It's a good thing because it allows (or, rather, allowed) the supermajority of people to have the "countryside-style" living (while being able to work) that was available only to the wealthy a century ago. At the time suburbia was "invented", people moved out of the crowded cities to these new subdivisions in masses.
> is VERY different to "I enjoy suburbia and I'd like it not to be destroyed". > The majority of walkability advocates argue for the following:
In a vacuum I would agree with you wholeheartedly. However, in practice, urbanists and walkability advocates almost always push increased density on neighborhoods whose residents don't want those changes. I very rarely see advocacy for building new walkable subdivisions, the only advocacy group that's even remotely close to this that I could think of is Strong Towns.
The existence of suburbs itself is a subsidy to cars, almost every suburb is a money sink of infrastructure maintenance.
Video essay for reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
⬐ skinnymuchThank you for this. I knew this was true, but didn’t have actual backing to be able to know how exactly.
The other thing I have a lack of knowledge with is how and where people in America lived 100 years ago. I assume most people lived within distance of a handful of essential shops until some point after the WW2/Depression, when suburbia probably sky rocketed.
⬐ OODHow does this work for areas like Texas where most of the suburbs are not in the cities that are supposedly subsidizing them? An example would be the outskirts of Houston where the residents pay for their own utilities through MUDs: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/...
It may not be sustainable for them, but it doesn't seem to be subsidized by the larger city tens of miles away.⬐ doktorhladnjak⬐ OODVia counties and states⬐ OODBut the MUDs are outside of the cities and pay for the utilities in their defined area... The cities and counties aren't paying for what the MUDs provide, unless I'm mistaken...I'd like to see if any of these results and conclusions change if you take into account the total tax basis for suburbanites (income tax, sales tax spent in the cities they don't live in, etc.) versus the relatively less well off inner city urbanites. Not all areas are the same, but in places like the Bay Area, a lot of the high income earners move out to the suburbs (think Palo Alto, Pleasanton, Walnut Creek, etc.).
To add, a lot of the economic activities in downtown areas are by workers and customers who live in the suburbs and commute into town. I don't believe that was taken into account.⬐ ramblenode⬐ georgia_peachStrongtowns.org has some research on this. It points toward most suburbs being indirectly subsidized by the tax base of nearby urban areas after costs are accounted for.
The basic problem is density and scaling of infrastructure and utilities. The cost of many utilities (power, water, roads) is dominated by the distance from the source to the hookup. When buildings only scale laterally (single story) then comparatively more utilities are needed than when they can scale vertically into the 3rd dimension. This gets exaggerated because the population of a volume tends to scale much faster vertically than laterally (apartments are much closer together than single family dwellings) so most of the utility cost ends up being the lateral footprint of a neighborhood.
Looking at this another way, the taxes of lateral neighborhoods would need to grow exponentially faster than those in vertical neighborhoods to maintain the same unit of infrastructure.Of course it is. Now let's discuss the Chesterton Fence: When did they start subsidizing it, and why? In the US, remember that Eisenhower sold the interstate highway system as a defense item. After the firebombing of European cities, after Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and with the potential of the cold war turning hot, doesn't it make sense to "nudge" people out of the cities--to de-densify the population centers? And with the current geopolitical situation, such considerations are pertinent as ever.⬐ homonculus1⬐ wizofausThere's no need for such an policy even if it were a strategic goal. Urban environments have been "nudging" people towards greener pastures since the 1960's.⬐ georgia_peachInterstate highway system, FHA/VA, Fannie/Freddie, desegregation/civil rights passed by otherwise racist deep-south representatives, and the most disruptive civic changes coinciding with the touch-and-go moments of the cold war... Necessary or not, it happened.Is there a textual summary somewhere?⬐ ratata⬐ stewartmcgownHere is an article that was referenced in the video: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/1/9/the-real-reason...⬐ wizofausThanks! Good read, hopefully will have time to read the whole series (and watch the video!) eventually.⬐ moominRead that before. It’s amazing how it just lays out how an entire way of life is not sustainable.
Of course, I live in a walkable neighbourhood in Europe, so it’s easy for me to say that.⬐ wizofausNot even sustainable on a simple medium term economical basis, regardless of externalities (environmental/human health impacts). But that's arguably a good thing, as long as we don't run out of money before making the necessary changes...I noticed this pattern of development in my town of Livingston, in Scotland. it's a "new town" i.e. was planned and built in the 50s to support the postwar boom. It is one of the few places in Scotland that were designed as suburbs around a big shopping mall, which makes it a distinctly soulless and culture-lite town.
The channel this video is from is out of this world. It redefined how I think about the cities and towns we live in and what is the objectively correct way to build them - with waaaaay more mixed use walkable residential.⬐ ratataMost of the remaining walkable neighborhoods in the states were built before that time period too. It’s unfortunate that we let automakers and fossil fuel interests take our cities hostage with car dependent designs.⬐ Scott_SandersonThe Not Just Bikes YT channel recently observed that building new walkable neighborhoods in the US and Canada is not legal.
The existing pre-war walkable neighborhoods are all we are going to get and they are expensive. We made walking to school a thing for rich kids.
Suburban infrastructure is much more costly per resident than urban infrastructure. However, we massively subsidize suburban infrastructure and restrict urban environments with zoning.
Europe & Asia is huge, but that's irrelevant to the structure of cities & economic hubs. Cities in America are designed around cars to the detriment of community, shared prosperity, & fitness/health.
Higher density areas zoned for mixed use are the only areas of modern american cities that are revenue positive for the city. Suburbs and other less dense developments are massively subsidized by denser developments.
Density also makes services like policing cover more ground for less money. Japanese & european cities are often much denser and face lower crime rates.
⬐ colechristensenThose statistical arguments I wouldn't trust until I'd seen a red team try to pick them apart, it is very easy for your biases to leak in especially in ambiguous things like claiming costs based on area. (example, how do you claim police charges, by the area or the actual number of calls? a highrise with hundreds of people has a very small footprint but likely quite a few emergency calls, vs a few suburban houses which might go decades with 0)⬐ bombcarYeah, I'm always highly suspicious of that "fact" thrown around, since urban areas always seem to be exceptionally expensive compared to actual rural towns (now suburbs may be a different deal) - said towns which pay for their own police, etc.⬐ inferiorhuman⬐ Hammershaft> said towns which pay for their own police, etc.
Yeah they don't. At least not the way you're implying. e.g.:
- That rural town in Maine (Passadumkeag) that basically shut down because its sole clerk couldn't survive on $13,000 annually.
- There's plenty of state and federal money in local government. Texas, for instance, will use state funds to ensure a minimum level of school funding even in rural areas.
- Some places don't have much in the way of services. For e.g. Timathy Taylor in Klamath County, Oregon. The sheriff there has three (3) officers to patrol 6,136 square miles.This analysis wasn't from team blue, and it wasn't made to score political brownie points. It was paid for by struggling american cities in states like Louisiana to help stabilize finances & avoid bankruptcy. It measures the budgetary balance in each area of providing infrastructure & services compared to tax revenue recieved. Lafayette used the analysis to shift zoning laws towards higher density zoning across the city core and the city's finances improved.
The uniquely north american model of cities oriented around sparse car centric growth is just not sustainable in the long run. Every metre of asphalt paved & pipes placed is a metre of commitment to eternal maintenance, and when that metre connects to a tiny suburb of 15 people that can't remotely afford the bill for the infrastructure that supports them then you have a cities that grow over the long run towards massively subsidized development, soaring property taxes, & growing debt.⬐ RHSeeger> tiny suburb of 15 people
That seems more like rural. Every suburb I've lived in has been on the order of 5,000-40,000 people (and that's one town, with towns not separated by anything but an invisible line).
Did they? Can we see that the entire value of these properties moved? Sounds like an impossible thing to measure. Considering most people already had space to work from home so they didn't move value anywhere. There is also the problem where the property which is most profitable for local governments has been the hardest hit. When you look at the maps that have been produced on this you can see some serious issues coming up where the profit centers of cities are all at risk while the ROI negative areas are expanding.
⬐ midasuniDu no about the US, but covid caused England and Wales prices to increase in rural areas far faster than urban areas⬐ Morgawr> Considering most people already had space to work from home so they didn't move value anywhere.
This is a very debatable statement. Looking at my coworkers in the past two years, opinions seem to have been pretty evenly 50/50 split between people who had enough space/comfortable home to be able to work from home, and people who had no real good option to work from home (family situation, loud kids, living in a single bedroom apartment with no desk, etc). I know A LOT of people who specifically rented apartments that were only serving the purpose of "a place to sleep, close to the office", because these people's lives revolved around doing 90% of their stuff outside of their house (eat at the office, go out during weekends, travel, etc). These people got gutted when the pandemic hit and we were forced to work from home. I always wanted a large apartment (far from the office, so less expensive) at the exchange of a longer commute. I always wanted my own work/office area. And now that we're started returning to the office I applied for (and was granted) fully remote work. However I know that if this is going to become the norm for a lot of other people, apartment layout and demand is going to change.
My wife is also working from home, and we're expecting a baby. We're likely going to buy a new house and one of our specific requirements is going to be two separate offices for both me and her, plus a room for our baby. This kind of stuff wouldn't have likely happened before.
Both are the exact same problem.
Most of the US has outlawed the 'middle housing' , leaving us with massive crammed skyscraper concrete jungles or sprawling suburbia.
Cities in developed countries around the world do not have to made this trade-off between space and walkability. Apartments are sufficiently big for families, while having everything within arms reach.
If anything, public spaces allow for more amenities available for more people. Unless your definition of space is 'private' space (private gardens, private yards, private gyms), there is plenty of space in well planned cities.
Lastly, suburbs simply do not pay their fair share in taxes.  They are incredibly inefficient and deplete city resources such that the city goes bankrupt the second a recession hits. I would be fine with suburbs if that's what people want. But, pay your fair share in taxes, renounce any high ground on the climate change debate and for the love of God, stop making anything that isn't a suburb illegal to build. (looking at you Berkeley...and every other deep-blue liberal suburb)
> The idea is that we just don't have enough productivity to sustain slightly longer roads, and live in the same houses we used to have on farms in 1920s is insulting to reader's intelligence.
Plenty of academic research/literature on this, as well as books:
> Chuck is not the first to point out the financial inefficiencies associated with sprawl. Robert Burchell of Rutgers has led several important studies showing the substantially increased municipal costs associated with sprawl development; my then-colleague Matt Raimi devoted a well-researched chapter to it in our 1999 book Once There Were Greenfields. At NRDC, we undertook a small empirical study in Cleveland and Chicago that confirmed the additional operating and maintenance costs associated with suburban wastewater infrastructure when compared with that in the cities.
Strong Towns is only reporting what the literature is saying. You're free to be skeptical, but that's what they've concluded from the empirical evidence. The claim is falsifiable if you want to get into testing it.
Measure the cost of services per acre/hectare of low-density and of high-density, then measure the revenues. You'll see which is net positive and which is net negative:
> Urban3 is a consulting company that helps cities better understand the economic impact of development. They have worked with many American cities to better understand and visualize the costs of development, and uncover which properties are productive, and which are not. Some municipalities have been willing to share that information, and it has provided a fascinating glimpse into the financial problems caused by sprawling car-centric suburban development.
Lafayette, LA case study from the video:
This is an accounting and ROI issue. If you don't want to believe the numbers… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
⬐ forum_ghost>Measure the cost of services per acre/hectare of low-density and of high-density, then measure the revenues. You'll see which is net positive and which is net negative
I have no interest in living in shoeboxes.
> This is an accounting and ROI issue.
Nope. Some just think quality of life isn’t about accounting and ROI. Do enjoy your shoebox though.⬐ enragedcacti> Some just think quality of life isn’t about accounting and ROI
By disregarding the ROI, the implication is that other people need to live in the "shoeboxes" generating a surplus in order to fund your life choices.
If you want to avoid being a freeloader feel free to calculate the long-term cost of your suburban lifestyle and donate it to your municipality, or move to a rural area on well-water, septic, solar, and dirt roads.⬐ throw0101a> I have no interest in living in shoeboxes.
No need. See the concept of "streetcar suburbs" and how things used to be built pre-WW2:
High(er) density does not mean Manhattan and Hong Kong levels of density. 50-100 people per hectare (Hamburg, Paris, Stockholm, London, Brussels) is not crazy high:
A video of what's available via a fifteen minute bicycle ride from Amsterdam:
Fifteen minutes pedalling in one direction is downtown, fifteen minutes in the other is farm land.
> Nope. Some just think quality of life isn’t about accounting and ROI. Do enjoy your shoebox though.
IMHO you have a myopic view of what "urban" means.
Further, what will your quality of life be like if your municipality/county goes bankrupt:
Or if taxes need to be raised over and over to keep things in a state of good repair and other services suffer. A growing portion of your income could end up going to taxes with less left over to discretionary spending because the place you're living in made bad financial decisions.⬐ otterleyDon’t be insulting and dismissive here. It’s against our community guidelines.⬐ mattcwilsonIf you aren’t willing to look at the data, and are admitting you’re closed off to even considering the idea (“I have no interest”), how do you know your head isn’t fully in the sand, or that you’re not part of the problem?
That's fine if people want to live in the suburbs but... They need to start paying the full amount of what it costs to maintain those suburbs. As it is, the dense urban downtown is subsidizing all of it. That's not fair.
⬐ ghaffIt's by no means a straightforward question.
It's not like a city exists in some impermeable bubble from the surrounding area. A great deal is shipped into a city through the suburbs and other surrounding area. Many workers commute in from suburbs which are often cheaper than the city even though they may have better school systems (even though the per student costs are often lower). Food comes in from generally more rural areas.
Cities and especially their denser and more walkable areas are dependent on the surrounding area in many ways. More dependent than the suburbs are on the city except perhaps for employment.
There's a reasonable argument to be made that while San Francisco was the original primary catalyst for development in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley (which is effectively suburban sprawl) would be just fine without the city at all. The same would have been true of the Boston area to a large degree especially 20 years or so ago, except perhaps for the universities.⬐ gernb⬐ ethbr0It makes sense the downtown is where people in the suburbs go to work and that therefore downtown appears to be making more. But that's still ignoring the fact that there's a cost to maintain every road, water pipe, sewer, sidewalk, etc. Those suburbs still cost way more than downtown and the suburbs are not paying enough to maintain their costs. Cities are going bankrupt.
If you want to consider the entire thing one unit (suburbs + downtown = unit), you still have to figure out how to pay for all the services. The more spread out everything is the more those services cost.
So it still comes down to the same thing. If you want, blame it on the government zoning downtown for no residents and only zoning for single family housing and therefore leading to the only affordable thing being the suburbs. But, to maintain those suburbs they're going to have to raise taxes 4x to 8x on everyone in that unit.That seems like an incomplete accounting though, as it's looking at net revenue per acre.
When in reality, the productivity of an acre (and therefore its tax revenue) depends on that acre + all its inputs (people, services, etc).
Downtowns (aka central business districts) look wildly productive, but they're fueled by people who live... not there.
From this perspective, it's really more of a call for mixed use development , which is able to supply more of its own requirements AND benefit from locality.⬐ ghaffThe City of London is perhaps the most extreme example. I assume its revenues are astonishing. But hardly anyone lives there. It would be absurd to say that the City is subsidizing the rest of London.⬐ MichaelZuoWhy do you think it’s absurd? Clearly the City generates a disproportionately large amount of revenue.
Western Europe doesn't have the problems of America's suburbia. You just don't see the solutions because you are trapped in the mindset that cars are ubiquitous and alternatives must therefore be bad.
As I said, it will be interesting how well the American suburbs will be able to function. They function only because of heavily subsidized infrastructure and the poor parts of town are the ones paying.
⬐ seunosewaDo you have any answer to the OP's preference for raising children in the space and privacy of a single family home?⬐ imtringuedYou don't need a massive backyard for that.⬐ foepysYes, the Netherlands have a large amount of single family homes without the need for American-style suburbs. Over 56% of all Dutch citizens own at least one house, 69% of all residential buildings are owned by the people living in them. Those houses are mostly not oversized like American houses and have less land attached to them. For comparison, the home ownership rate for the US is about 65.3%.
Everything points to the American way of doing housing and infrastructure is wrong and could be done cheaper and easier if American city planners were to look at other parts of the world.
I agree with you that people have different preferences. If only the suburbs would start paying their fair share. As it is they are subsidized by the cities
On the points of culture, there's a video  that talks about how common US zoning pressures towns to all build very similarly, to the point where they look almost indistinguishable from one another. There's similar videos done by City Beautiful and Not Just Bikes, but I'm having a harder time searching my history for them on my phone. (I'll try to post them once I'm back at a real computer.)
Here's another video  that discusses how city tax revenue is primarily earned in their dense downtown regions, and spent on their more distributed suburban environments.
Others in the comments have discussed this, but the issues with towns being walkable and cyclist friendly tend to intersect directly with anti-goals if car design. Places aren't walkable if there's huge roads and parking lots that people have to traverse in order to get to them. Similarly, cars are quite hazardous to pedestrians and cyclists. If we're optimizing for human-scale environments, we're inherently car-hostile. Similarly, if we're optimizing for efficiency of cars, then we're hostile to human-scale design. The ideas are largely antithetical.
You can get some hybridization--metra trains from city cores to the suburbs, street cars or trams along main suburban drags alongside with automobiles, but one system constrains the other.
Historically, highway systems have segregated neighborhoods whose citizens were poorer, and relied disproportionately on public transit or bikes and walking. If you have to go half a mile out of your way to find an overpass over the highway to get to the nearest grocery, and that overpass has a litter-covered sidewalk barely two feet wide, we definitely aren't building our suburbs to be walkable or bikable.
Yep the suburbs are a money-loser for governments as noted in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
⬐ bombcarThe density difference between many suburbs and many so-called urban areas isn’t that great sometimes. The main defining aspect of suburbs is the lack of much besides housing.⬐ TimPCSuburbs are a money-loser for governments if you allocate income tax revenue at the location of the job. That isn't really a fair allocation though, as suburbs are part of the reason professionals take jobs in big cities. If you either average the income tax revenue between where someone lives and where someone works or put it entirely where someone lives suburbs easily pay for themselves.⬐ imtringuedThat's a recipe for corruption. If a politician receives no strings attached income taxes even if those are intended to be spent to improve location and pay for infrastructure, he is sure to spend them as if they have none of those strings attached.⬐ TimPC⬐ pyradiusI never said to give the income tax to the suburbs. I said the model of whether or not suburbs are tax sources or tax sinks depends on how this is computed. People create models where cities that swell to double the size in the day generate all the tax revenue and every other community is a financial burden. This isn’t saying cities get all the money. I’m just saying how you measure tax generation has big impacts on which communities generate more taxes than they consume.Alas there is no relationship between an income tax and personal consumption of spatial services. There is absolutely no coherent reason to do as you suggest, and every reason for the land to pay the cost of delivering those services, along with the rest of the rental value of land.⬐ TimPCI’m not suggesting altering the flow of tax money. I’m suggesting changing how it’s measured when you determine which communities are sources and sinks. It’s very superficial to say a city with a job generates 100% of the income tax from that job when the city doesn’t house the person and provides barely and services to that person or their family. If you measure things that way of course cities are the only tax sources. But it’s a bad way to measure things.
It’s more reasonable to measure where taxes are coming from by some combination of where people live and where they work. If you do this then suburbs are not tax sinks. This isn’t saying you change how you distribute tax revenue it’s only saying you change how you measure where it comes from.
> 1 house - tax breaks
Why should society be subsidizing home ownership more than they already do?
The real estate market already discriminates against people who cannot afford a deposit (an increasing proportion of people, since house prices are increasing so rapidly), and the design of North American cities encourages urban spawl which is unsustainable with current property tax rates. 
> and I think to promote everyone's owning a house
Why? Half of German households rent  and no one is wringing their hands about how people should be owning their home instead of renting.
As someone who has lived in Europe and North America, there seems to be a borderline obsession with owning a house in anglophone countries, and I don't understand why. If the rental market is sane (e.g. rent is approximately equivalent to a mortgage) then it's up to the individual if they want to purchase a home (e.g. to renovate how they see fit) or is comfortable just renting.
⬐ franciscop> "Why should society be subsidizing home ownership more than they already do?"
Because it's good for society if a large % of the population owns a home. I'm not advocating for more urban sprawl.
> "no one is wringing their hands about how people should be owning their home instead of renting"
What do you mean? People are desperate in e.g. Berlin, that they don't come here to HN and write in German about it doesn't mean that it's all rosy.
> "there seems to be a borderline obsession with owning a house in anglophone countries"
I'm a Spaniard living in Japan, not American, so not sure what you mean.⬐ bombcarHome ownership was picked as a goal for America after the Great Depression/World War 2 and it hasn't changed since.
Amusingly enough we have rent inversions in many markets right now, rental costs are below mortgage carrying costs.⬐ tomrodIf you pay a mortgage and you expect the housing market to stay stable or increase, you are investing in an asset.
Rent is gone to the owner, in exchange for one more month/two weeks/year/whatever frequency the payment is paid to the owner.
The opportunity cost between a mortgage and rent is not dollar for dollar (euro for euro, or whatever).
I am not a fan of more suburban sprawl which is what it sounds like you're advocating for. So, no thank you. Instead we should focus on building walkable neighborhoods that have higher density, less reliance on cars, and more emphasis on cycling+walking+public transit.
Why it's bad:
Suburbia is subsidized (many articles on HN similar to this video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
Climate change effects and other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO6txCZpbsQ
Affordable housing is housing that is passed down from generation to generation. We don't need to build "affordable housing". We need to build good high quality housing that will then get transferred down to other people through sales. (And with proper land value taxes - these will not be appreciating assets)
⬐ heavyset_goNo, I am not advocating for suburban sprawl.
> Affordable housing is housing that is passed down from generation to generation. We don't need to build "affordable housing". We need to build good high quality housing that will then get transferred down to other people through sales. (And with proper land value taxes - these will not be appreciating assets)
This is just trickle down theory, but for housing instead. What actually happens is that old housing stock is bought by investors who then tear it down and develop it into luxury housing, and often that housing is then either used as speculative assets or bought by some of the world's richest people looking to store value.
Affordable housing doesn't mean "low-quality housing", it can mean high quality housing that is subsidized so that working class people can afford it, instead of just the adult children of the already wealthy, like many neighborhoods in cities are becoming/already are. Do it right, and that housing can become generational wealth, as well.⬐ fennecfoxen> This is just trickle down theory
The laws of economics are real; increased supply will generally depress prices, damaging an asset's speculative value; increased prices will generally mean increased profits from building and thus attract more supply.
It is always something to find those who deny the laws of economics so vigorously, in the manner that many deny climate change. I am certain that you had a cold winter in Missouri last year, and I am certain that you have found a neighborhood where someone is renovating old housing stock into luxury homes which some weirdoes are renting unused. Nevertheless the general laws hold: the globe warms, and new supply lowers prices.
There are a finite number of people who will buy luxury homes of the sort you describe, they have finite amounts of money, many of them have alternatives in which to invest, and it is such a pathetically small and ineffective thing to make an campaign of class warfare against these people the centerpiece of one's housing policy, instead of simply encouraging more building by any reasonable means necessary, public or private, and removing barriers to that building.⬐ bradlys> This is just trickle down theory, but for housing instead. What actually happens is that old housing stock is bought by investors who then tear it down and develop it into luxury housing, and often that housing is then either used as speculative assets or bought by some of the world's richest people looking to store value.
Yet this theory is how actual housing has worked in many other places. Just because institutional investors have been manipulating the market in the US for a while doesn't mean it hasn't worked in the past in other places.
Again - land value tax + some other taxes like vacancy taxes would solve this issue. You wouldn't see the weird skyscrapers in Manhattan if such things existed.
Subsidized housing is not sustainable in the US. Fix the core issues like housing supply and this is a solvable problem. Things like subsidized housing just just fuck over the middle class more.
Housing as generational wealth is something we should also avoid. Just creates another aristocracy.
> Of course it will distort choices and leave some people worse off. If the author can't see that, then they have a serious bias problem. The whole point of the land value tax is to tax land to encourage higher density and higher cost use.
Under our current system we subsidize low value land uses by subsidizing the crap out of infrastructure to expansions of suburban areas zoned for single family homes.
The only revenue positive portion of nearly any modern american city/town are the few sparse walkable mixed use neighbourhoods and the dense urban core. Policies like a land value tax that push for higher value land uses are necessary to stave off the oncoming wave of municipal bankruptcies America faces.
> Income tax would only provide a disincentive to work if the alternative (assistance programs) is more attractive.
You are thinking in absolute terms and not on the margins. If the marginal income tax beyond a threshold jumps by %10, then even discounting the increasingly marginal value of each additional dollar earned I will value the return on work less when I hit that tax threshold.
⬐ notreallyserio> You are thinking in absolute terms and not on the margins. If the marginal income tax beyond a threshold jumps by %10, then even discounting the increasingly marginal value of each additional dollar earned I will value the return on work less when I hit that tax threshold.
And given you don't want that dollar, and given the dollar is still on offer (the work's still gotta get done) someone else will earn it instead. This is probably a net gain because you got to do something else with your time and the other person got money they (probably) needed more than you.⬐ apendleton⬐ giantg2> and given the dollar is still on offer (the work's still gotta get done) someone else will earn it instead
Maybe, maybe not. The supply of work to be done isn't static. It might well be that the work is unpleasant, and everyone qualified to do it would now earn less than they did before because of the increased taxes, and it's now no longer worth it to any of them, so you can only get anyone to do it by paying more... but maybe now whatever the work product is isn't worth the higher cost, and you decide to just not offer the service or make the widget anymore, or it becomes worth it to automate it and not employ anyone, etc. etc."The only revenue positive portion of nearly any modern american city/town is the dense urban core."
Even then most places rely on state and federal grants to make ends meet. Do you have have any examples of cities actually net positive without outside funds?
"You are thinking in absolute terms and not on the margins."
I think my position still stands. The claim was that people would not work because income is taxed. What you describe is reduction in work incentive when you hit the next bracket. I'm saying that in order to not work you would have to value the support systems more than making any income.
And of course, most people are no where near the level income that they don't want to make more. We're pretty talking about the 1% ($600k), or maybe the top 5% ($240k). So not particularly useful for designing policy for the other 95-99%. In fact, it could be beneficial for those high earners to drop out and allow new people to take their place.⬐ Hammershaft> Even then most places rely on state and federal grants to make ends meet. Do you have have any examples of cities actually net positive without outside funds?
Did you watch the video? It's short and demonstrates incredibly well through data the problems with our model of urban development.
> I think my position still stands. The claim was that people would not work because income is taxed. What you describe is reduction in work incentive when you hit the next bracket. I'm saying that in order to not work you would have to value the support systems more than making any income.
On the margins, income taxes lower the incentive to work more hours.
I think people don't realize just how bad car dependence is for their own communities. notjustbikes has many good videos on the topic, such as:
Suburbia is Subsidized: Here's the Math:
Why American Cities Are Broke - The Growth Ponzi Scheme:
The Ugly, Dangerous, and Inefficient Stroads found all over the US & Canada:
⬐ cassandrattWe understand. What are we supposed to do, sell our houses and move to a condo downtown? Whose going to buy them, and where the fuck are we going to get the resources to house that many people without a massive energy/resource exploitation. So "no cars" is childish and naive.
Awareness isn't the issue, but awareness of an issue we have no control over does nothing of value to anyone other than add anxiety.
That goes in both senses though, and that becomes a tougher sell.
Both the "there shouldn't be places" and the "where the rail doesn't go"
Sprawl just doesn't pay for itself. The more of it there is, more a government will bleed money building and maintaining infrastructure for few people per square kilometer. It doesn't make economic sense.
Now, of course "does it make money" is not a criterion to be applied to everything in life and society, but sprawl just makes it harder to fund everything, and you can end up subsidizing low-density well-to-do neighborhoods with the tax collected from lower-income people if they live in more densely zoned areas.
It's just a road to not having money to maintain the infrastructure, or improve education, or provide daycares, or anything else that would improve the life of the population.
1. Youtube "citations" are lame but this is a presentation of a consultancy ran for a few municipalities on the matter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
Hi, there is minority movement in traffic engineering that pushes toward making traffic better by shuffling priorities around.
A nice channel that focus on what other priorities could look like is
A recent viral videos it recently made focuses why approaches that are complementary to suburban sprawl and high speed roads are necessary in North America (where I am assuming you are from).
Another resource that might resonate with people theorizes why fatal car crashes went up since in the last couple years.
I live in a different continent, but I am quite passionate about the topic and I believe that most people are good actors that want a better world around them. Egoistically I hope these material might change someone opinion on what that better world looks like.
⬐ simonhUK actually but thanks for the links, cheers!
> When the demand for houses rises, Flatland metropolitan areas, which don't really have traditional downtowns, just sprawl some more.
And this is the driving force behind those cities going bankrupt, they're easy to build but not sustainable in the long term: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
There are people that talk about the effect the car has. This is probably the best explanation of what we've become because of it: Not just bikes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
Not to mention that cities subsidize suburbs in many ways:
> These small areas of hyper-convenience don’t exist without cars.
That's completely backward. Here are two different takes on how cities subsidize suburbs and rural areas.
⬐ AmericanChopperThat’s really a completely different topic. I’m talking about the positive economic externalities of private vehicle ownership. Those massively beneficial externalities exist for cities whether rural areas exist or not. Any analysis of the externalities of vehicle ownership is simply agenda-driven nonsense if it doesn’t account for that.⬐ thanatos519⬐ briHassThe agenda is not manufacturing more vehicles than we need. Those privately-owned vehicles are idle most of the time. In rural areas, if you need a ride, book it in advance and it will arrive 5 minutes before you need it. In the city, walk 2 minutes to the nearest vehicle, and drive it to your home if you need to pick something up.
Public transit should include automobiles.⬐ rtlfeIt's the same thing. Private car ownership requires suburbs and suburbs require car ownership. In properly dense city areas (not single family zones that technically are within the limits of a city) car ownership is impractical and there's very little of it.⬐ PaulDavisThe1stThis seems obviously falsifiable to me. There are many cities worldwide where private vehicle ownership (and use) is a fraction of what it is in common US cities (though of course, NYC would be an example that is actually within the US). Are you suggesting that London, Paris, Tokyo, Seoul or NYC are in some way suffering because less people there own and/or use private vehicles for transportation?
As so many have pointed out in this sub-thread, and so many other places, the pattern of US urban and suburban development for the last 80 years has essentially assumed the predominance of private vehicle ownership and use. It's not a surprise, therefore, that within these patterns of developments, car ownership and use brings significant benefits (even if it also causes significant negative externalities). However, what is also true is that these patterns of development severely penalize lack of car ownership in a way that not even old world cities do. My sister who lives in London leaves her car parked for roughly 95% of the time and moves around by mass transit. If she had no vehicle (like her daughter, also in London), her life would change very little. By contrast, the resident of most US cities and essentially all suburbs who attempts to live without a car will be hamstrung in most areas of their life.⬐ AmericanChopperThe entire topic of this sub-thread is that the supposed “true cost” of driving a car is imposed upon society via negative externalities. It is true that those negative externalities exist, however if you want to quantify the “true cost” of vehicle ownership, then you need to account for all externalities, not only the ones that support your point of view. The OP in this sub-thread makes no mention of those confounding externalities at all, and therefore their entire premise is without merit. Making reference to any of the small number of cities around the world where the economy is somewhat less reliant on private vehicle ownership doesn’t falsify that at all.⬐ PaulDavisThe1stIt falsifies to the extent that it demonstrates that you can build successful communities at scale, where people want to live, businesses want to operate, and things fundamentally work, without designing them around the positive externalities of widely owned and used private vehicles. More pertinently, in cities that meet the above concept (i.e. most cities in the world outside of N. America), there are few or no positive externalities associated with widely owned and used private vehicles, so "balancing" all the externalities essentially falls back to the negatives.
> small number of cities
Hilarious. The cities for which this is most obviously true contain a huge proportion of worldwide human population. And most cities in most of the world outside of N. America have this as a fundamental truth because of their history (in many of them, residents are coming to recognize the enormous downsides of superimposing private vehicles on a city infrastructure designed around other means of moving around).
So yes, it's true that if you design a contemporary N. American city around widespread ownership and use of private vehicles, there are some positive externalities associated with said vehicles, and they should be taken into account when quantifying the "true cost" of those vehicles in that context.
But if you for any reason do not want that to be a guiding force in the design, and maybe even worse, if you accidentally screw up the design, not only do the positive externalities vanish, but the negative externalities grow in scale and scope.> Here are two different takes on how cities subsidize suburbs and rural areas
Rural, perhaps, but not suburbs. Most of those studies play fast-and-loose with the term 'metropolitan area'. Most metros include inner-ring suburbs, outer-ring, and generally the exurbs as well. It's only once you start talking about 1.5-2 hours out from a major city does it become 'rural'.
At least with the metro I'm familiar with (Philly), the surrounding counties (suburbs) vastly subsidize the city itself. The wealthy taxpayers live in those 'burbs and commute in to work. The explosion of remote working, and the commiserate loss of city-wage-tax from those that used to commute, is already straining the system. If remote work continues at this level, many downtown areas could implode.
To add a reference:
Suburbia is Subsidized: Here's the Math -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
Essentially urban sprawl/suburbia/single family homes cost more for the city (road upkeep, water/gas pipes, etc.) than what they contribute in taxes, so many cities are in a positive feedback loop of building more houses to get quick money to do maintenance on the previous rounds of growth.
⬐ greedoSimple solution, raise taxes.
Same with highway/Interstate maintenance. Raise the Federal gas tax (which hasn't tracked inflation for ages).
> I'm not sure how we can hope to stop that inertia short of being limited by cheap energy or running out of actual land.
Having the residents of the suburbs paying for their true cost seems like a great way to start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
As the video points out, would people be willing to start paying $9000 in property taxes instead of $1800 to stop operating the city at a loss every year?
⬐ ineedasernameI live in a small ~100k city that is a mix of commercial, light industry, and residential. (both apartments and typical suburban-style). We don't operate at a loss, but I do pay > $10k in property taxes. So, people are willing to pay these prices, the model is not unsustainable.⬐ phil21> Having the residents of the suburbs paying for their true cost seems like a great way to start
I completely agree. I think the point I was trying to convey is that it's not just financial inertia going on here - it's probably the single most cohesive and politically active power bloc there is in the country.
For years, legislation was pushed and successfully passed to "coerce" people to live a suburban lifestyle.
From FHA to single-family home zoning, there are many laws that specifically encouraged sprawl into what were, at the time, rural areas. That became the suburbs.
I've lived in both "sardines in a can" and "sardines scattered all around the room" (less dense) levels of density for significant portions of my life, and I've experienced firsthand the many benefits and downsides of each. I imagine you have, too.
One thing I've only recently learned is suburbs are subsidized by the people living in the denser areas that you seem to strongly dislike.
This video gets into the math behind why that is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Nw6qyyrTeI
⬐ AvocadoPanicWouldn't an alternative be to have these lower density areas spun off into their own towns?
In my low density town of ~4,300 lots of us pay > $9,000 a year in property taxes.⬐ karmelapple⬐ ThunderSizzleAbsolutely!
But can a city “un-annex” land? I imagine the residents in the lower density area would not want to spin off, both because of the schools and other civic institutions they use, but also because of the higher taxes.⬐ AvocadoPanicNot infrequently these areas want to go, Buckhead GA, is an example.One point to make is that suburban is not the same as rural, but suburbia wants to pretend to be both while being neither.
>I sure do understand it, but I also understand that when it comes to comparing the environmental impact of upper middle class urbanites and suburbanites, we're splitting hairs
Yea that is not at all true. You can literally compare the CO2 per capita for an average American/Canadian and someone from Europe and in general they produce 1/3 of the CO2. It is not a negligible difference.
This is largely caused because of the urban designs which don't focus on gas dependent suburbia. Or the benefits from efficiency at scale which can only be achieved in high density living accommodations.
It is also a plain fact that downtown urban blocks are the profit generators for cities whilst suburbia is largely a financial hole.
You looking at a classist angle is I think an internal bias. There are poor/rich in both areas. It's just a straight fact though that suburban design is not sustainable both economically and ecologically.
⬐ tharne> It's just a straight fact though that suburban design is not sustainable both economically and ecologically.
I've never disputed this fact. It's true, the American suburban model is not sustainable. However, the urban lifestyle common in North America or Europe is likewise not sustainable either. So it does become a class/political issue since neither lifestyle actually address the issue at hand. It's just a bunch of people judging each other for their unsustainable lifestyles.⬐ kd913>However, the urban lifestyle common in North America or Europe is likewise not sustainable either.
What do you mean by this? There is a large gulf of difference between the two, and I feel you are more commenting on the consumerist patterns of the above. That pattern is a lot more sustainable model in high density urban environments from a logistics, CO2 perspective.
From a modern quality of living perspective, it is vastly more sustainable both economically and ecologically to have people in high density housing. Hence why it was the traditional form of infrastructure for huge portions of history up until the failed US suburban experiment.
It's much easier to hook up good quality and efficient infrastructure to a high density block than to a suburban neighborhood. The above infrastructure would be better utilization rates, cheaper to install, and easier to offset than what you propose.
On a similar note, the newest video from NotJustBikes focuses on what makes these cities (in)solvent:
⬐ georgia_peachI used to think that, but I was wrong. Bubba milking cows and fixing toilets is value. Finance, media, "the information economy", downloadable content, advertising/marketing, etc, are, for the most part, parasitism. Subsidizing suburban normiedom is a kludge to keep the system operational.
Starve the host, and the parasite will also suffer.⬐ thehappypmThis isn’t rocket science.
If you’re the mayor of a city, build density if you want to maximize incoming tax revenue compared to the costs of maintaining the infrastructure to support it. Of course you don’t want to have 1 Taco Bell when you could have 300 condos!
What this doesn’t mean, though, is that suburbs are inherently bad or insolvent. In fact, most American suburbs are separate tax entities altogether from cities and then do often have higher property tax rates as a necessity to pay for infrastructure.
Mass Suburbanization is bankrupting American cities
⬐ jacobolusThanks, great video!