Thomas Sowell in the National Review on housing in San Francisco

Thomas Sowell has an interesting essay up in this edition of the National Review..

There are a number of things here that I find especially interesting. One: we start with an experiential anecdote about how few black men Sowell encounters in San Francisco. It will be interesting to see if the Census data bear him his experience out empirically.

Two: his association of growth control policies with liberals, and his association of those growth control policies with higher land and housing prices. In theory–in theory–I am told by advocates of growth controls that with infill and higher density, you can create more housing than you restrict with growth controls. However, if political support for one of those strategies (growth controls) bangs up against anti-infill neighbors–or advocates are just plain wrong in believing San Francisco has all this excess capacity in land that could be densified easily–the results will be a cherrypicked policy where growth is controlled and affordable housing gets left by the wayside.

I’m told this problem doesn’t happen in Portland, but I am also told that New Urbanism and growth controls increase real estate values so I have to wonder how affordability and higher prices go together in urban land markets. It’s quite clear what Sowell believes.

Third: I routinely sit through assertions that the New Urbanism and Smart Growth are actually “free market” phenomena because they argue for less restriction on development densities. I suppose. But there are the form-based code people running all over planning, along with those who only read one thing in Don Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking: the fact that you can regulate maximum parking as well as minimum. Required mixed use doesn’t strike me as market based any more than disallowing it does.

Sowell doesn’t buy any of it:it’s all a bunch of envirozealot liberals at work. If he’s right, there’s a lot of fodder for research about what happens to traditionally urban populations, like African Americans, who get pushed out. Whither Harlem in 25 years?

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