The Indisputable Density Dividend

Have you had your morning coffee? Serotonin reuptake inhibitor? Fifth of whiskey? Whatever it is that gets your gears turning? Well, I hope so, because today we’re going to have a look at the latest exercise in mind-bending obfuscation from New Geography’s Wendell Cox.

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the nation's most inventive metros. Ryan Avent argued recently in the New York Times that the regions owes much of its success to its dense urban form. But some disagree -- notably, that guy who's famous for saying sprawl is good: Wendell Cox. Photo: ##http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/04/opinion/sunday/one-path-to-better-jobs-more-density-in-cities.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1##New York Times##

This time, inveterate sprawl apologist Cox has taken issue with an op-ed written by Think Progress’s Ryan Avent for the New York Times. In the piece, Avent, a former Streetsblog contributor, makes the hard-to-dispute claim that density contributes to productivity and economic growth in urban areas. But, Avent continues, anti-density NIMBYism in large coastal cities has contributed to a run-up in real estate prices that limits people’s access to the urban core and threatens continued growth.

Avent’s article is generating a lot of buzz. And every time someone writes something prominent about the usefulness of cities, Cox seems to be contractually obligated to write a response arguing that Phoenix is better than New York on any measurable statistic.

This is no exception. You should really read Cox’s whole post over at New Geography just for the pearls of wisdom like this: “Cities (urban areas) do not get more dense as they add population. They actually become less dense.” And this: “In fact, urban areas grow by dispersing, not densifying.”

However flimsy, Cox’s rebuttal garnered a response from Avent. At The Bellows, Avent writes:

Large portions of the United States — including economically critical areas — do get more dense as they add population. New York City didn’t get any bigger between 2000 and 2010, but it did add over 200,000 people. As a result, it got considerably denser. Had it been easier to build in New York City, the rising demand to live there would have translated into even more population growth in the core, and correspondingly less growth in housing costs. It’s funny that Cox understands that building regulations are a problem but doesn’t connect onerous restrictions in the core with growth on metropolitan peripheries.

Cox also misunderstands another critical point of the piece, and of the book from which it’s adapted. He implies that higher incomes in dense, productive areas don’t count because they’re canceled out by higher living costs. That’s true; the point I’m making is that people are moving from more productive cities to less productive cities because of the impact of housing costs on real earnings. What Cox neglects is the importance of the fact that businesses in expensive cities are willing and able to pay high nominal incomes. Why would they do that if they didn’t have to? A tradable good or service produced in Silicon Valley will fetch the same price in an export market as a similar good or service produced in Houston. You don’t get to charge more for a widget just because you chose to make it in an expensive city. That’s a big reason why lots of employers choose not to locate their businesses in Silicon Valley, or indeed in the United States. But many of them do choose to locate in the expensive city and pay the high wage, and as I point out in my book, expensive places like Silicon Valley employ a larger share of American workers in high value, export industries than do cheap places like Houston.

They do this because it’s worth it to them to locate in the expensive city. Firms in Silicon Valley enjoy higher productivity levels and informational spillovers — facilitated by density — that simply can’t be duplicated in other, cheaper cities. If they could be, they would be, and the high cost Silicon Valley economy would quickly implode.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Decatur Metro writes that the Atlanta region’s well-documented auto-centrism should be blamed for many regional active transportation failures, rather than the convenient scapegoat that is MARTA. Biking in Dallas shares one woman’s joyful journey from cycling neophyte to living nearly car-free. And the Philadelphia Bicycle Journal carries an update on the continuing controversy over the city’s plan to install a bike lane through Philly’s Chinatown neighborhood.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Silicon Valley is dense???  Maybe compared with Houston.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Avent makes a couple of obvious errors in his initial article. 

    He confuses density with total population, saying:

    “Consider a simple example. Suppose that within a population one
    person in 100 develops a taste for Vietnamese cuisine, and suppose that a
    Vietnamese restaurant needs a customer base of 1,000 people to operate
    profitably. In a city of 10,000 residents, there aren’t enough people to
    support a Vietnamese restaurant. The only restaurants that can operate
    profitably are those appealing to considerably more than one in 100
    people — restaurants offering less daring fare. In a city of 10,000
    people, there is little room for specialization, and less for
    experimentation.
    A city of one million people, by contrast, can support multiple Vietnamese restaurants.”

    This is an effect of total population, not of density.  That city of 10,000 people would not be able to support a Vietnamese restaurant, even if it were built on 100 acres at 100 people per acre, the same density as Paris.

    He claims that: “Rapid urban growth would mean denser neighborhoods, which makes many Americans uncomfortable.”

    That is not necessarily true.  There was rapid growth in the population of many American metropolitan areas during the 1950s and 1960s, but overall density of those metropolitan areas declined, as population moved to the suburbs. 

    I myself am in favor of high densities, and I would like to see American cities rebuilt so they are more like European cities.  But Avent’s arguments are sloppy, and I also think his fundamental bias is wrong:

    “And when it comes to economic growth and the creation of jobs, the denser the city the better.”

    Do streetsblog readers really believe that the reason density is good is because it causes more rapid economic growth?  I would think that readers would question the value of consumerism and growth.

  • Bolwerk

    [Cox] implies that higher incomes in dense, productive areas don’t count
    because they’re canceled out by higher living costs. That’s true…

    Is it true? I got into a somewhat heated debate with some angry little knuckledragger on SecondAvenueSagas about this. With apologies to the truthiness crowd, “cost of living” arguments in favor of suburbs and exurbs are hard to support in the real world.  Discount Manhattan (particularly below 96th St.) and an urban, transit-oriented setting in New York City does not translate into a ridiculously higher cost of living unless you insist on driving a car. The biggest problem here is people perceive a negative trade-off when they give up the car; that is, they think they give up mobility when they stop driving. Make the argument that the trade-off is positive, that is they trade traffic and car costs for a $104 metrocard and car-free mobility in exchange for no net gain in living costs, and city living is favorable.

    Cox is simply a charlatan. If there is any use for his “scholarship,” it would be in handing it out to first-year undergrads to deconstruct in the interest of teaching critical thinking skills – which are woefully lacking even in the post-undergrad world, I’m sorry to say.

  • Resident

    The productivity of US cities is canceled out by a political system that redistributes money away from center cities to sprawl and edge cities, and pays neither the current nor external costs of an unaffordable form of transportation and land use. The net is that city and state governments are drowning inincurred debt incurred while building vast low density infrastructures that is relatively unproductive. Doubly unfortunately, our political economy is essentially based on appeasing voters who do not want to pay the true cost of their lifestyle, including in the form of higher gas taxes. Unfortunately, because the true cost of infrastructure and local government service are not being charged in many places, it is often much cheaper for businesses to locate in places that are more costly to society as a whole. One way to think about cities is as places where more externality costs are internalized. This is because the political energy to counteract externalities is much higher In cities where people are closer together and more people are affected by a given negative impact. Thus, you will always have more regulation and higher costs of doing business in cities. You will also have fewer negative externalities per economic output. In other words, it’s a lot cheaper to build a noxious oil refinery in the middle of nowhere than in a city.

  • Guest

    Bolwerk,

    If you seriously think the higher cost of living in dense cities is completely offset by higher salaries, please show us the data supporting that assertion.  The fact that dense cities keep losing people to sprawl cities and suburbs strongly suggests that you are wrong. 

    As for driving, the fact that you personally do not attach much value to having a car doesn’t mean other people don’t value it highly.  What matters is the value of driving to most people, to people in general, not to one particular individual…

    And Cox’s point about productivity is entirely correct.  Wage comparisons alone tell us nothing useful about productivity.  If a worker in a dense city produces $20,000 more in widgets for his employer, but the employer has to pay him $20,000 more in wages to offset the higher cost of living in that city, then neither employer nor employee is any better off. 

  • Guest:

    ‘Fraid I have to disagree with your reasoning on that last comment. Even if as you claim, the cost of living increases in a dense city correspond exactly to increased pay it is not a wash because said employee is able to live in a nicer community. The nicer community is expressed through high demand, ie high prices. If living in San Francisco was equally attractive as living in X Houston suburb, they would have an equal cost. People in San Francisco have a higher quality of life and people are willing to pay for it, hence the higher cost of living. So the San Francisco worker is better off, even if their increased wages are fully consumed by the increased cost of living.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Wage comparisons alone tell us nothing useful about productivity.  If a
    worker in a dense city produces $20,000 more in widgets for his
    employer, but the employer has to pay him $20,000 more in wages to
    offset the higher cost of living in that city, then neither employer nor
    employee is any better off.”

    Economists use the word “productivity” to mean output per worker hour.  In your example, the worker who produces more widgets has higher productivity – as that word is used by people who know something about economics.

  • Todd

    Let’s also not forget that boundary definitions for metropolitan areas have changed since 1950. Comparing the New York metropolitan area as defined in 1950 to that defined in 2000 may not be an equal comparison. Most likely, additional low density counties have also been added, which would likely reduce the overall density.

  • Guest

     Angie

    Even if as you claim, the cost of living increases in a dense city correspond exactly to increased pay it is not a wash because said employee is able to live in a nicer community. I don’t think they always correspond exactly. In general, the higher wages in dense cities don’t seem to make up for the higher cost of living. That’s why dense, expensive cities have been losing so many people to sprawly, cheaper cities. But even in cases where they do correspond exactly, you cannot assume the higher cost means a “nicer community.” It may just be the result of the fact that things cost more to supply in dense cities. Housing costs more to supply, for example, because construction costs are higher. According to Ed Glaeser, the construction cost of adding a floor to a New York high-rise is around $400 per square foot. The construction cost of suburban housing is only around $80 per square foot. So high-rise housing in New York has to be priced higher per square foot than suburban housing just to cover the higher cost of construction. That doesn’t mean it’s “nicer.”

  • Anonymous

    @10177a8e2eea07aed2f9592e07915276:disqus wrote: ” What matters is the value of driving to most people, to people in general, not to one particular individual…”

    Is that really what matters? I think what should matter is the cars *actual* value, not its *perceived* value, even if the majority of people think it’s value is higher than it actually is. The car is given more value by most people than it is actually worth because its true costs are externalized. If we put the true cost on cars, you can bet the amount of people that value then will decrease drastically. And that’s at the essence of the issue with dense urban living, as cars allow for the opposite.

  • Guest

    Large portions of the United States — including economically critical areas — do get more dense as they add population. New York City didn’t get any bigger between 2000 and 2010, but it did add over 200,000 people. As a result, it got considerably denser. Had it been easier to build in New York City, the rising demand to live there would have translated into even more population growth in the coreWhat Avent fails to mention here is that the rising demand to live in NYC came from immigrants, not from people already living in the United States. I don’t have the numbers for the period 2000-2010 to hand, but between 2000 and 2006, NYC is estimated to have lost almost 800,000 people to net domestic migration. That is, 800,000 more people moved out of NYC to some other part of the country than moved into NYC from some other part of the country. Why did New York lose so many domestic migrants when it gained so many immigrants? Because the kind of features that make a city attractive to immigrants (large existing immigrant community, lots of public services geared towards low-income people, lots of low-skill service jobs, etc.) are generally not the kind of things that make a city attractive to middle-class Americans.

  • Bolwerk

    Your first paragraph isn’t responding to anything I said. I didn’t say anything about high incomes offsetting cost of living in dense cities. That may be true (probably is), but I was saying that costs of living in cities aren’t as high as people say.  Even in NYC, housing costs are mitigated by significantly lower transportation costs. That is pretty undeniable. Because of that, I’m left having to conclude that some other factor makes people leave dense cities – probably lack of opportunity brought on by macroeconomic policies.

    Your second paragraph barely touches on what I said. You must learn the difference between value and costs.   I was only talking about costs, not how much people value something.  I can value driving at $2000, but not be able to afford it if it *costs* more than $200. An unlimited metrocard costs $104, while a car costs potentially hundreds or thousands of dollars more.

    I’m not even sure what your point in your third paragraph is. There isn’t a net loss either.

  • Bolwerk

    Why would you think it’s more expensive to supply things in big cities?  If anything, it should be cheaper because of reduced servicing distances and higher revenue per unit of distance.  For instance, a mile of road with ten thousand taxpayers supporting is cheaper per person than a mile of road with ten taxpayers. It should be quite obviously cheaper to support a dense electric grid than one that’s spread out over vast areas. (This is likely why New Yorkers end up subsidizing transportation costs in other states.)

    Price v. cost: New York real estate prices are mostly a matter of supply and demand. Construction costs are probably marginally higher because of unions and regulatory influences. In the case of construction, IIRC construction costs go up after three
    or four stories, but that’s not a question of whether or not you’re in
    New York, and nothing prevents low- and medium-rise construction in New
    York – indeed, most of New York seems zoned for it.

  • Andrew

    Perhaps this is news to you, but NYC – and Manhattan especially – has plenty of high-skill jobs.  Have you ever ridden the subway (pick any line) at 8 in the morning?  Where do you think all those people are going, Wal-Mart?

    People move out of NYC because housing is very expensive in NYC, especially in the denser parts, and as families grow, many people find it difficult to afford the space they need.

    Why is housing in NYC so expensive, especially in the denser parts?  Largely because there is a severe imbalance of supply and demand, with far less dense housing than the free market would provide.  Even the parts of the city and region that aren’t so dense benefit from the density of the core.

    Avent is absolutely correct.

  • I don’t find this argument useful because both sides are based on a series of false assumptions.
     
    Assumption 1: The amount energy it takes to drill/pump/mine/process/derive our energy is not increasing every year.  This sets the stage for:
    Assumption 2: The cheap energy that directly made sprawl possible will continue.  Which leads to:
    Assumption 3: We will have a choice as to whether to reduce our energy consumption and make far more efficient use of the energy we have.  Which segues into:
    Assumption 4: The average American will have a choice whether to drive a car 40 miles to work every day. And the granddaddy of all:
    Assumption 5:  Any kind of economic “growth” as we currently know it is going to be possible whatever we do.

    Decreasing energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) means energy will get more expensive. In the US in 1930 it took one barrel of oil to produce 100 barrels. Today in the US a barrel of oil will produce 15. EROEI inevitably drops because we exploit the easiest resources first. The EROEI of our imported oil is 30:1 and headed down. The EROEI for tar sands and deep water oil is around 4:1. The EROEI of wind is around 20:1. The EROEI for solar PV is about 8:1. Even the EROEI of coal is dropping. If you look at the trends and look at our energy options, we are in for a lengthy period of energy becoming more expensive solely due to EROEI. (This does not even take into account that we might sensibly choose to stop using certain forms of energy that emit high levels of greenhouse gases before we permanently change our climate and significantly reduce the amount of arable land on the planet. But I digress.) Communities, regions and countries whose populations use the least energy per capita per economic output per capita will have an economic advantage as world EROEI continues to decline.

    Peak oil means the energy we use to run our transportation systems is contracting.  The cost of oil will either increase to depress demand or shortages will occur. In the U.S. heavily subsidized corn ethanol (EROEI 1:1) has been used as a substitute masks some of the economic impact of decreased oil production. Also, US economic contraction has served to reduce demand. (Some predict will see continued economic contraction that largely parallels the contraction of oil supply.) Peak oil does not mean that oil instantly runs out. It means that the rate of production plateaus and then begins to decline. It happens to every oil field individually, then every country as a whole, and then the world in total.

    Sprawl is only possible with cheap energy, therefore, unless someone finds a magic energy bean currently unknown to humanity, sprawl as we know it will go away, one way or another. There are also many lines of thought that “growth” as economists currently define it is only possible with an expanding energy supply like that kind we enjoyed for the past 150 years but no longer. This is not to say that if we adapt intelligently and with foresight to our energetic predicament that our quality of life can’t continue to improve along many measures of well-being and life satisfaction. But intelligent foresight does not seem our strong suit this century (or much of the last.)

    The irony of Silicon Valley at present is that while tech companies want the cheap, often subsidized land suburbia offers for their office parks, their employees find their quality of life is higher in the urban areas. So in order to attract the top talent the companies resort to busing their employees from the cities to the suburbs.

  • Guest

    Why would you think it’s more expensive to supply things in big cities?

    I said dense cities, not big cities, although the latter is also probably true. I just gave you a clear example: housing construction costs. $400 per square foot for a New York high-rise vs. $80 per square foot for a single family home in the suburbs. That’s not a small difference. It’s an enormous difference. It’s much more expensive to build vertically than horizontally. Materials costs are much higher. Labor costs are much higher. Design costs are much higher. Equipment costs are much higher.

    And land costs also tend to increase with density, because there are more people competing for each square foot of land.

    and nothing prevents low- and medium-rise construction in New
    York – indeed, most of New York seems zoned for it.

    Nothing may “prevent” it, but land costs make it much more expensive than low- and medium-rise construction in less dense cities and suburbs. New York has about 6 times as many people per acre as a typical sprawl city like Houston or Phoenix. Manhattan has about 15 times as many people per acre. The more people there are competing for each acre of land, the higher the price per acre. It’s Economics 101. Higher demand per unit of supply means a higher unit price.

  • Guest

    Andrew,

    Why is housing in NYC so expensive, especially in the denser parts?

    Because land prices are very high and construction costs are very high.  Both of these are the result of high density. 

    Largely because there is a severe imbalance of supply and demand, with far less dense housing than the free market would provide. 

    I don’t know what you mean by “imbalance of supply and demand.”  I seriously doubt you want a completely free market in housing.  So which regulations that limit the supply of housing do you want to get rid of, and why those particular regulations but not all the others? 

  • Guest

    Charles Siegel

    Economists use the word “productivity” to mean output per worker hour. In your example, the worker who produces more widgets has higher productivity – as that word is used by people who know something about economics.

    The studies Avent cites to support his claim that dense cities are more productive measure productivity as income or wages, not output per worker hour. 

  • Guest

    Bolwerk,

    Your first paragraph isn’t responding to anything I said. I didn’t say anything about high incomes offsetting cost of living in dense cities. That may be true (probably is), but I was saying that costs of living in cities aren’t as high as people say. Even in NYC, housing costs are mitigated by significantly lower transportation costs.

    But you’re not comparing the same things. A transit pass in NYC is not the same as having a car in the suburbs. You may think the transit pass is just as good, but I doubt many other people would. I certainly don’t. If I lived in New York, not only would I have to pay much higher housing costs, but because driving is so difficult and expensive there I’d be forced to rely on mass transit for most of my local transportation. I think that would suck.  And I think most people feel the same way. Hence the mass exodus of Americans out of New York and into cities where housing is so much cheaper and getting around by car is so much easier.

  • Guest

    Silicon Valley has about 6,000 people per square mile.  A bit denser than Houston, but not much.  It’s way, way less dense than New York City.

    I too am mystified as to why Avent thinks Silicon Valley is “dense.”

  • PRE

    Silicon Valley isn’t “dense” – that’s why all those techie tewntysomethings are taking the train home from Mountain View to somewhat more “dense” San Francisco.

    On another note, it seems to me that using New York in general or Manhattan in particular as an American example of anything is risky business as it ought to be pretty clear that that little island is a singular phenomenon.  I’d be much more interested in comparisons using downtown Denver for example.

  • Bolwerk

    I’m just going to condense all my responses to “Guest” into one post.

    I said dense cities, not big cities, although the latter is also probably true.

    Then, dense cities.  Same question.

    I just gave you a clear example: housing construction costs. $400 per square foot for a New York high-rise vs. $80 per square foot for a single family home in the suburbs. That’s not a small difference. It’s an enormous difference.

    It’s also not a meaningful comparison.  Most of New York does not necessitate high-rise construction, and nothing prevents high-rise construction outside of New York.

    Nothing may “prevent” it, but land costs make it much more expensive than low- and medium-rise construction in less dense cities and suburbs.

    Those are land acquisition prices.  You were talking about construction costs. I suppose you can factor those into the construction costs, but that still doesn’t mean it’s the density inherently making the land acquisition prices or the consequent construction costs higher. You can just as easily flip that argument, and point to the fact that more land needs to be consumed in non-dense cities per unit of construction, thanks to land use regulations, and argue that it’s actually density that could save on construction costs, particularly if cheaper land were available for denser projects. Densely-developed land can get pretty shit cheap in places like Baltimore or Buffalo – or even crappier parts of Houston, for that matter.

    Either way, nobody is trying to argue New York has unusually cheap real estate prices. The point is real estate prices aren’t the only factor to consider.

    New York has about 6 times as many people per acre as a typical sprawl city like Houston or Phoenix. Manhattan has about 15 times as many people per acre. The more people there are competing for each acre of land, the higher the price per acre. It’s Economics 101. Higher demand per unit of supply means a higher unit price.

    And that probably explains why high rises do make economic sense, even if they’re more costly to construct.   Bonus points: they save on energy costs and are pretty affordable to maintain. With a smart transportation network, they can even save on transportation costs.

    Your first paragraph isn’t responding to anything I said. I didn’t say anything about high incomes offsetting cost of living in dense cities. That may be true (probably is), but I was saying that costs of living in cities aren’t as high as people say. Even in NYC, housing costs are mitigated by significantly lower transportation costs.

    But you’re not comparing the same things. A transit pass in NYC is not the same as having a car in the suburbs. You may think the transit pass is just as good, but I doubt many other people would. I certainly don’t.

    I’m aware that transit passes and cars are not what economists call perfect substitutes for each other, but they are alternatives to each other, and they’re better alternatives to each other in New York than they are in Phoenix. Regardless, (housing costs + transportation costs) in New York are competitive with (housing costs + trnasportation costs) in numerous other metro areas.  Try getting around most of Phoenix on $104/month in a car.

    Of course, I’m not sure why this matters either, but a $104/mo. transit pass is better value for many people too, particularly if it saves them money or gets them where they’re going faster over a car.

    If I lived in New York, not only would I have to pay much higher housing costs, but because driving is so difficult and expensive there I’d be forced to rely on mass transit for most of my local transportation. I think that would suck.  And I think most people feel the same way. Hence the mass exodus of Americans out of New York and into cities where housing is so much cheaper and getting around by car is so much easier.

    What is this, bait ‘n switch night? You may think that would suck, but what I said has nothing to do with you.  Many (most?) rational people would consider the evidence and realize that added mobility and reduced stress of a good transit network, especially one where you can live car-free, is worth a few hundred dollars more a month in housing costs because it results in less money spent on transportation. That, by itself, doesn’t translate into a case for packing your bags and moving to New York,* but it is a perfectly legitimate, largely indisputable point about the nature of housing and transportation costs.

    And if transit really sucks so badly for you, AFAIK nobody is stopping you if you really prefer automobiles and the attendant costs of traffic jams, car payments, pump prices, and maintenance costs.

    * Maybe that plus a really awesome job would, but I digress….

    Why is housing in NYC so expensive, especially in the denser parts?

    Because land prices are very high and construction costs are very high.  Both of these are the result of high density.

    Suddenly the guy who wrote, “The more people there are competing for each acre of land, the higher the price per acre It’s Economics 101,” doesn’t think it’s about the supply/demand equalibrium anymore? In Manhattan and other places in NYC, quite high-income people demand housing – they can and do pay a lot for it. In parts of NYC’s outer boroughs, housing prices can approach mainstream major American metropolitan prices, although arguably you get less space for the same amount of money.

    I seriously doubt you want a completely free market in housing.  So which regulations that limit the supply of housing do you want to get rid of, and why those particular regulations but not all the others?

    I know this wasn’t aimed at me, but who does? Just about everywhere in the USA heavily regulates real estate, where you can put it, how you build it, what and what you cannot do with it, and even who can live in it.  It’s arguably less regulated, albeit more economically constrained, in New York.  Even randroids don’t seem to care that much about land use regulations. Liberalize land use and de-subsidize transportation costs along the lines Alon Levy mentioned tonight, and the result probably really would be denser construction and more transit-oriented transportation – not to mention generally cheaper real estate and transportation prices.

  • Bolwerk

    Agreed, but I think the outer boroughs of New York can be pretty instructive. They’re safe, offer mobility, and housing costs aren’t stratospheric. Transportation costs are downright cheap.

    Manhattan is indeed sui generis.

  • Alex D.

    To guest: Can you please explain to me what it is about cars that are so special to you (and admittedly, many many Americans)?  Because I honestly do not understand what makes car travel better than transit.

  • Guest

    Bolwerk,I have no idea what point you’re trying to make about density and prices. You asked: “Why would you think it’s more expensive to supply things in big cities?” I answered that higher density increases the price of housing (and other buildings) in two ways: it increases land costs (because more people are competing for each square foot) and it increases construction costs (because it’s more expensive to build vertically than horizontally).Do you dispute either of these points? If so, please explain why. You say, “most of New York does not necessitate high-rise construction” as if that somehow challenges what I said. If high-rise construction is used, then it increases construction costs in the ways I described (more expensive materials, labor, equipment, etc.). If low-rise or mid-rise construction is used, then it consumes more land than hi-rise construction, so land costs are higher. Either way, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing. New York is particularly dense, so its housing and other buildings are particularly expensive.Regarding transportation, the point is that although using transit in NYC is cheaper than running a car in the suburbs, most people seem to think that the benefits of cars more than offset their higher cost. Cars are just so much faster, more comfortable, more convenient, more private etc., than even “good” public transportation that it’s not even a close call. That’s one reason why most people choose to live in low-density, car-oriented urban environments rather than in high-density, transit-oriented environments like New York. If you personally prefer a transit-based lifestyle, good for you. But you seem to be part of a shrinking minority.

  • Guest

    Bolwerk,I have no idea what point you’re trying to make about density and prices. You asked: “Why would you think it’s more expensive to supply things in big cities?” I answered that higher density increases the price of housing (and other buildings) in two ways: it increases land costs (because more people are competing for each square foot) and it increases construction costs (because it’s more expensive to build vertically than horizontally).Do you dispute either of these points? If so, please explain why. You say, “most of New York does not necessitate high-rise construction” as if that somehow challenges what I said. If high-rise construction is used, then it increases construction costs in the ways I described (more expensive materials, labor, equipment, etc.). If low-rise or mid-rise construction is used, then it consumes more land than hi-rise construction, so land costs are higher. Either way, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing. New York is particularly dense, so its housing and other buildings are particularly expensive.Regarding transportation, the point is that although using transit in NYC is cheaper than running a car in the suburbs, most people seem to think that the benefits of cars more than offset their higher cost. Cars are just so much faster, more comfortable, more convenient, more private etc., than even “good” public transportation that it’s not even a close call. That’s one reason why most people choose to live in low-density, car-oriented urban environments rather than in high-density, transit-oriented environments like New York. If you personally prefer a transit-based lifestyle, good for you. But you seem to be part of a shrinking minority.

  • Guest

    Right, Silicon Valley isn’t dense.  But it is very innovative and productive.  So I’m not sure why Ryan Avent thinks it supports rather than refutes his claim about the link between density and productivity.

  • Guest

    Alex D,

    Why are cars so much better than transit?  Speed, comfort, convenience, privacy, flexibility, the ability to carry cargo, the ability to travel more easily with others, especially children…

  • Guest, are you arguing that it’s more expensive to live in midtown manhattan than suburban houston because of costs? Maybe marginally but they build high rise housing for seniors here in Cleveland and it doesn’t break the bank. High real estate prices in new York and San francisco reflect high demand that is a nearly perfect measure of their desirability.

  • Bolwerk

    Bolwerk,I have no idea what point you’re trying to make about density and prices. You asked: “Why would you think it’s more expensive to supply things in big cities?” I answered that higher density increases the price of housing (and other buildings) in two ways: it increases land costs (because more people are competing for each square foot) and it increases construction costs (because it’s more expensive to build vertically than horizontally).

    Even if I were to grant you that, it doesn’t mean density doesn’t bring tremendous advantages to other activities, key among them would be infrastructure maintenance costs.

    Do you dispute either of these points? If so, please explain why.

    Somewhat, and I did.  Land prices are a function of supply and demand for the land, not how dense construction is.  In the U.S. real world, the densest properties are largely the most sought-after, and land use regulations generally constrict the ability to develop new high-density developments. Quite frankly, you can fit more dense construction on an acre of property than you can fit non-dense construction.  Density itself should save on construction costs from that perspective, except land use regulations generally make it illegal.

    You say, “most of New York does not necessitate high-rise construction” as if that somehow challenges what I said. If high-rise construction is used, then it increases construction costs in the ways I described (more expensive materials, labor, equipment, etc.).

    Then what is with this non-sequitur about highrise development? Since it’s not necessary to dense construction practice, even in New York, and you acknowledge that, it sounds like you are pushing it for no reason.

    If low-rise or mid-rise construction is used, then it consumes more land than hi-rise construction, so land costs are higher.

    No, land acquisition costs are the same regardless of the type of construction goes on the land. It is only land use politics that necessarily changes what kind of construction is permitted.  If one 25’x75′ building at one story costs x dollars to construct + y dollars/acre in land acquisition costs, fitting ten units on an acre costs 10x+y dollars and fitting one unit costs x+y dollars. Average price of land per unit (y/x) decreases. As density goes up, construction costs go down if land acquisition costs are factored into the construction costs – that is, until the acre is full and you need to buy another acre to continue construction. If that happens, then you weigh whether the cost to add a story to the 25’x75′ lot is cheaper than the cost of an additional acre. Or, to throw a real wrench into this model, you consider what your buyers want and are willing to pay for.

    High density is not the same thing as high-rise.  Do you consider this a high-rise development? It consumes less land than a handful of these, and no doubt costs less to heat, power, and maintain too. At six units to a building, it houses a lot more people, and best of all something like it size-wise is probably cheaper per square foot to construct on the same land.

    The real-world difference is construction of the first variety is illegal where construction of the second variety exists.

    Either way, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing.

    That can be argued only if you admit that it’s thanks to policy. It doesn’t make sense from an engineering standpoint.

    New York is particularly dense, so its housing and other buildings are particularly expensive.

    New York has a particularly contrained housing supply, and largely discourages new construction.  Again, a political “problem” – and some people don’t see it as a problem (I do).

    Regarding transportation, the point is that although using transit in NYC is cheaper than running a car in the suburbs, most people seem to think that the benefits of cars more than offset their higher cost.

    Do they?  Most people happen to live where there is car-dependency thanks to a 60-year political push to impose car-dependency. Many would take transit if reliable transit were offered to them, as more than a half a million people in the car-dependent DC metro area can attest to. No matter what happens, most people are not going to be able to live in New York for reasons that have nothing do with transportation and housing costs.

    Cars are just so much faster, more comfortable, more convenient, more private etc., than even “good” public transportation that it’s not even a close call.

    There is no way to even meaningfully make that comparison.  The only valid point of comparison is how well they do their respective jobs.  The major problem with automobile-dependency is it usually means being stuck in traffic frequently.  It’s nice if you can go 70mph, but if you must go 70mph for an hour to make it to work, you have a crappier commute than most New Yorkers within 10 train stops from Manhattan. Never you mind the lack of punctuality that comes with being trapped in traffic for hours every day.

    Transit generally falls short when distances get too long – hence the importance of density to a proper transit network.

    That’s one reason why most people choose to live in low-density, car-oriented urban environments rather than in high-density, transit-oriented environments like New York. If you personally prefer a transit-based lifestyle, good for you. But you seem to be part of a shrinking minority.

    A bigger reason is no doubt how much car-dependency gets in government subsidies. New York, at least Manhattan, is rather sui generis and not instructive here, but let’s see how long artificially low-density is a draw if people living in low-density environments actually had to pay the full costs of doing so.

    Of course, the up side for those who could still afford to drive is at least driving might be comfortable-ish again.

  • Alex D.

    Guest: Well, taking the perspective of a single person or couple sans kids (or even with one or two kids) in an urban area with comprehensive transit (like NY), cars are not faster; they are not more comfortable if you include the stress of driving in traffic; they are certainly not more convenient when considering parking (and traffic); and in the very rare case when most people have cargo, they can take a taxi or sign up for ZipCar.

    Many people (proof: 10 million people live in expensive, crowded new york, and the vast majority take transit for most of their trips) prefer this, so please chikidy-chikidy check yourself when you say “People/Americans like cars!”

    (Oh, and ps, cars are ruining the planet.)

  • icarus12

    I wish I had faith that peak oil and oil prices in general would spiral ever upwards.  That way we could rely more on market forces to push us towards renewables and also into denser living/less driving lifestyles.

    Unfortunately, the Norwegians just discovered another oil bonanza belt in the North Sea.  Seems like they have at least another 30 years of oil. And this find is much bigger than their last that has enriched that country over the past generation.  My wife just heard this from an Norwegian consultant to the oil industry there.

    This find, along with the Brazilian drilling the heck out of deep sea oil, and other countries’ willingness to go after tar sands (to hell with the environment), shows us we will need to artificially increase the cost of gasoline and oil and automobile purchases and road use (through European-style taxes) in order both to fund transit alternatives and make transit more cost competitive.

  • Guest

    Alex D,Cars are faster than mass transit for the vast majority of urban trips. There are certainly some trips for which mass transit is faster. Rush hour commutes into lower Manhattan, for example. But those are just a small share of the total number of urban trips. The average commute time by car is about half the average commute time by transit.I’m not attacking your personal choice. If you prefer living in New York and getting around mostly by transit, good for you. But most people don’t want to live like that.

  • Guest

    Guest, are you arguing that it’s more expensive to live in midtown
    manhattan than suburban houston because of costs?

    Yes.

    Maybe marginally but
    they build high rise housing for seniors here in Cleveland and it
    doesn’t break the bank.

    It’s not marginal.  It’s enormous.  Around $400 per square foot for high-rise construction in New York vs. only around $80 per square foot for single family homes in the typical suburb.  This obviously sets a floor on market prices.  Developers have to charge at least as much as it costs them to build if they are to break even, let alone make a profit.

    High real estate prices in new York and San francisco reflect high
    demand that is a nearly perfect measure of their desirability.

    You cannot measure desirability from prices alone.  If New York was so desirable, it wouldn’t have lost a million people to other parts of the country over the past decade.

  • Ok, Guest. If Manhattan costs so much more than suburban Houston but it is also no more desirable, why in God’s name would anyone live there at all?

  • Guest

    it doesn’t mean density doesn’t bring tremendous advantages to other activities, key among them would be infrastructure maintenance costs.

    No, but you haven’t presented any evidence of any such tremendous advantages.

    Somewhat, and I did.  Land prices are a function of supply and demand for the land, not how dense construction is.

    You missed the point. Higher density BY DEFINITION means that there are more people per square foot of land.  Higher demand per unit of supply means a higher unit price.  This is why land prices, and hence housing prices, tend to rise with density, irrespective of other factors that affect prices.

    In the U.S. real world, the densest properties are largely the most sought-after, and land use regulations generally constrict the ability to develop new high-density developments.

    You haven’t presented any evidence that the densest properties are largely the most sought-after.  People want regulations that limit density because density has negative externalities — noise, congestion, crowding, pollution, loss of privacy, etc.

    Then what is with this non-sequitur about highrise development? Since it’s not necessary to dense construction practice, even in New York, and you acknowledge that, it sounds like you are pushing it for no reason.

    I don’t understand why you keep calling it a nonsequitur.  New York has a lot of high-rise development because land in New York is very expensive, so there is a strong economic incentive to conserve it. But high-rise construction is also very expensive, because it requires much more expensive materials, labor, construction equipment, building standards, etc. than low-rise development.   So either way, whether you use a lot of land and low-rise construction, or only a little land and high-rise construction, the cost of building in New York is very high.  Hence, housing prices are very high.

    If one 25’x75′ building at one story costs x dollars to construct + y dollars/acre in land acquisition costs, fitting ten units on an acre costs 10x+y dollars and fitting one unit costs x+y dollars. Average price of land per unit (y/x) decreases. As density goes up, construction costs go down if land acquisition costs are factored into the construction costs – that is, until the acre is full and you need to buy another acre to continue construction.

    But assuming each unit has the same number of occupants, each occupant has a lot more land if there’s only one unit than if there’s ten units.  So I don’t know what point you think you’re making.  Yes, the cost of land per unit goes down as the number of units rises, assuming a fixed total land cost and size.  But so does the amount of land per unit.  They’re paying less because they’re getting less.

  • Guest

    Most people happen to live where there is car-dependency thanks to a 60-year political push to impose car-dependency.

    For 60 years voters have favored car-oriented laws and policies.  If people had wanted transit-oriented policies, they would have voted for them instead.  If people wanted more transit-oriented policies today, they’d vote for them now.  They don’t want them.  They’re willing to support SOME transit, just not very much.

    There is no way to even meaningfully make that comparison.

    Of course there is.  Speed is empirically verifiable.  The value people attach to the comfort, convenience, etc. of cars is reflected in their favorable behavior towards cars as voters and consumers.

     The major problem with automobile-dependency is it usually means being stuck in traffic frequently. 

    No, it doesn’t usually mean that.  Most roads are uncongested most of the time.  Studies of travel times show that travel times by car are generally much shorter than travel times by mass transit.  The fundamental problem of transit with respect to travel time is that transit users have to spend so much time getting to and from stops/stations, waiting for transit vehicles to arrive (multiple waits if the trip involves transfers), and waiting again as the transit vehicle stops at all the intermediate stations before it gets to the user’s destination station.  This is why even for commuting, when transit is at its most competitive, it’s still much slower on average than driving.

    A bigger reason is no doubt how much car-dependency gets in government subsidies.

    Road subsidies: ~ 1 cent per passenger-mile
    Transit subsidies: ~ 75 cents per passenger-mile

  • Guest

    Manhattan is obviously more desirable to some people.  That’s why they’re willing to pay its exorbitant housing prices.  But for people in general, other parts of the country are more desirable.  That’s why Houston has been gaining so many migrants and New York has been losing so many.

    You still seem to think that higher price means higher demand.  It does not.  Suppose a farmer grows apples and oranges. It costs him $1 to produce each apple but $1.50 to produce each orange.  So at the Farmer’s Market, he has to charge at least $1.50 per orange to cover his costs, but only $1 per apple.  This has nothing to do with demand. It’s purely a consequence of the cost of supply.  It doesn’t mean there’s more demand for oranges than apples.  It doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of oranges.  It doesn’t mean that oranges are undersupplied.  Housing is the same way.  New York housing is expensive to buy because it is expensive to produce.

  • Bolwerk

    For 60 years voters have favored car-oriented laws and policies.  If people had wanted transit-oriented policies, they would have voted for them instead.  If people wanted more transit-oriented policies today, they’d vote for them now.  They don’t want them.  They’re willing to support SOME transit, just not very much.

    As if American government agencies especially care what voters want.  Other than the odd local bond referendum, voters have had virtually no direct say over transportation policies.

    Speed is empirically verifiable.  The value people attach to the comfort, convenience, etc. of cars is reflected in their favorable behavior towards cars as voters and consumers.

    The “value” people attach to cars only reflects their dependency on cars.  Speed may be empirically verifiable, but so is the color of the car. So what?

    Most roads are uncongested most of the time.

    Most roads aren’t especially useful to anyone but the few people living on them. When you start dealing even with suburban densities typical anywhere from Cumberland to Compton, traffic is quite clearly a problem already.  

    Studies of travel times show that travel times by car are generally much shorter than travel times by mass transit.  The fundamental problem of transit with respect to travel time is that transit users have to spend so much time getting to and from stops/stations, waiting for transit vehicles to arrive (multiple waits if the trip involves transfers), and waiting again as the transit vehicle stops at all the intermediate stations before it gets to the user’s destination station.  This is why even for commuting, when transit is at its most competitive, it’s still much slower on average than driving.

    It damn well better be slower than driving.  If it’s not, you’re missing stations and leaving people without a means to work.  Good transit is slow and brings people to nearby destinations quickly.

    As for travel time, that’s entirely a function of speed and distance. It isn’t an inherent shortcoming of transit or inherent advantage to cars.

    Road subsidies: ~ 1 cent per passenger-mile
    Transit subsidies: ~ 75 cents per passenger-mile

    I don’t even want to know whose ass you pulled those numbers out of.  But what makes you think a transit passenger-mile is the same thing as a car passenger-mile?  You’re comparing ice cream and t-bones again.

    No, but you haven’t presented any evidence of any such tremendous advantages.

    Not that I really care to go into it again, but I mentioned it and gave an example about roads several posts ago.

    You missed the point. Higher density BY DEFINITION means that there are more people per square foot of land.  Higher demand per unit of supply means a higher unit price.  This is why land prices, and hence housing prices, tend to rise with density, irrespective of other factors that affect prices.

    Huh? Now you’re saying density automatically is in higher demand now?

    You haven’t presented any evidence that the densest properties are largely the most sought-after.

    Housing rental and purchasing prices (not costs) for denser properties are sufficient to do that. If people didn’t want them, they wouldn’t be expensive.

    People want regulations that limit density because density has negative externalities — noise, congestion, crowding, pollution, loss of privacy, etc.

    It’s those very things that limit density that cause most of those “negative externalities,” particularly when you throw automobile dependency into the mix.  Try again.

    I don’t understand why you keep calling it a nonsequitur.  New York has a lot of high-rise development because land in New York is very expensive, so there is a strong economic incentive to conserve it.

    Okay, I can buy that, but…

    But high-rise construction is also very expensive, because it requires much more expensive materials, labor, construction equipment, building standards, etc. than low-rise development.   So either way, whether you use a lot of land and low-rise construction, or only a little land and high-rise construction, the cost of building in New York is very high.  Hence, housing prices are very high.

    …it doesn’t follow that New York is nothing but expensive-to-build high-rises, and there is no reason that the non-highrise properties would be anymore expensive than elsewhere without supply/demand pressure. I don’t know what percentage of New York is made up of high-rises, or what defintiion of high-rise you prefer, but but if I had to guess I’d go with the vast majority of housing stock is well under the four stories or so that drives construction costs up.

    As for price, you really can’t possibily be quoting me platitudes about economics and then go and think the costs of construction are what drives prices up to several times the costs of that construction.

    If one 25’x75′ building at one story costs x dollars to construct + y dollars/acre in land acquisition costs, fitting ten units on an acre costs 10x+y dollars and fitting one unit costs x+y dollars. Average price of land per unit (y/x) decreases. As density goes up, construction costs go down if land acquisition costs are factored into the construction costs – that is, until the acre is full and you need to buy another acre to continue construction.

    But assuming each unit has the same number of occupants, each occupant has a lot more land if there’s only one unit than if there’s ten units.  So I don’t know what point you think you’re making.  Yes, the cost of land per unit goes down as the number of units rises, assuming a fixed total land cost and size.  But so does the amount of land per unit.  They’re paying less because they’re getting less.

    See, I didn’t say anything about what anybody is paying here – that is a function of the market.  I was talking strictly about acquisition costs and construction costs, same as you’ve been going on about.

    But now that you mention it, the downside to more land is higher costs of maintaining it – another advantage to density. That could, in theory, drive a valuation down because costs would be higher without any offsetting benefit.

    You cannot measure desirability from prices alone.  If New York was so desirable, it wouldn’t have lost a million people to other parts of the country over the past decade.

    Uh, haven’t you been arguing yourself that prices drive people out? You don’t think it’s feasible that many people who would love to live in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc., choose not to because they can’t afford it?

    You still seem to think that higher price means higher demand.  It does not.  Suppose a farmer grows apples and oranges. It costs him $1 to produce each apple but $1.50 to produce each orange.  So at the Farmer’s Market, he has to charge at least $1.50 per orange to cover his costs, but only $1 per apple.  This has nothing to do with demand. It’s purely a consequence of the cost of supply.  It doesn’t mean there’s more demand for oranges than apples.  It doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of oranges.  It doesn’t mean that oranges are undersupplied.  Housing is the same way.  New York housing is expensive to buy because it is expensive to produce.

    God, I hate to be rude, but you need to retake economics 101. If it costs $1 to produce an apple, a rational farmer would exit the market if he can’t sell each apple for more (probably significantly more) than $1; he may keep selling sutff, but he’d sell bacon or meth or something. If he can sell the apples for $1.75 and chooses to sell them for $1.00 just to cover his costs, he’s a nicer farmer to his customers than I would be. Production cost says nothing about whether people will buy something.  What people will buy, and how many people will buy at a certain price, is a function of demand. Demand for a good can be below the cost to produce it, which is clearly not the case with New York City housing. It’s why price ceilings usually aren’t the best economic policy unless the state is actively trying to destroy a market (e.g., railroads) or drive it underground (drugs?).

    Anyway, as my old real estate valuation professor said, it can get difficult to apply conventional economics to real estate.  Every property represents its own mini-market, with one seller and sometimes only one buyer. There is little fungibility, particularly in a place like New York City.

  • Icarus, though Norway is to be much credited with their prudent exploitation of their oil reserves (both in their conservative rate of pumping and reducing their internal dependency on the stuff so they have more to sell, the exact opposite of most oil-producing countries) this new “giant” find is not particularly giant and will make almost no effect on how Peak Oil hits us. The “giant” find at best will add 0.3 million barrels of oil a day to the world oil supply.  This may sound like a lot, until you put in the context of world consumption. The U.S. alone consumes 21 million barrels/day (m b/d). The world consumes 86.8 m b/d.  China has raised its consumption every year, and this year, even in the midst of a world recession, is no exception (Chinese consumption:  2009–8 m b/d, 2010–8.64 m b/d, July 2011–9.05 m b/d). So you see adding a measly 0.3 m b/d is not going to hold off the deluge.  Mexican oil exports alone have fallen by more than that much in the last three years. Tar sands has been able to make up some of that difference but at great cost, increasing the price structure for world oil.

    I fully agree we should tax oil to reduce our consumption. But beware all the hype about new discoveries of both oil and gas.  It is put out primary to make people believe the supply of both is much greater than fact.

  • Guest

    As if American government agencies especially care what voters want. Other than the odd local bond referendum, voters have had virtually no direct say over transportation policies.

    There are virtually no policies over which voters have a “direct” say.  Like all modern democracies, the U.S. creates policy mostly through elected representatives.  If you think this is some kind of fundamental flaw in our political system, then transportation policy should be the least of your worries.

    The “value” people attach to cars only reflects their dependency on cars. Speed may be empirically verifiable, but so is the color of the car. So what?

    No, the value people attach to cars is why they have been making pro-car choices as voters and consumers for the past 60 years.
     
    Most roads aren’t especially useful to anyone but the few people living on them.

    Americans travel over 4 trillion miles a year on the nation’s roads.  It appears that they find roads very useful indeed.

    Good transit is slow

    Um, ok.  You’re the person I’ve ever seen make that strange claim.

    As for travel time, that’s entirely a function of speed and distance. It isn’t an inherent shortcoming of transit or inherent advantage to cars.

    Yes, it is an inherent advantage of cars.  Cars provide direct, on-demand, door-to-door transportation.  This is inherently faster than a transportation mechanism that follows fixed routes on fixed schedules with fixed stops.  Transit is faster only for a very small fraction of trips.

    I don’t even want to know whose ass you pulled those numbers out of.

    The road subsidy number comes from FHWA data on road user revenues and road spending.  The transit subsidy number comes from the National Transit Database.

    Huh? Now you’re saying density automatically is in higher demand now?

    No, I’m saying, for the umpteenth time, that higher density means more demand per unit area of land.  This does not mean more demand for higher density than for lower density.

    Housing rental and purchasing prices (not costs) for denser properties are sufficient to do that. If people didn’t want them, they wouldn’t be expensive.

    No, this is completely wrong, as I just explained to Angie.  Price comparisons alone tell you nothing about demand.  The cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price.  A supplier must set a price at least as high as the cost of supply to cover his costs.

    It’s those very things that limit density that cause most of those “negative externalities,”

    No, it’s not.  The externalities I listed INCREASE with density.  The more people per unit area of land, the greater the level of noise, crowding,
    congestion, and so on.

  • Guest

    See, I didn’t say anything about what anybody is paying here – that is a function of the market.

    Yes, we’re talking about the relationship between density and market prices.  As density increases, the number of people competing for each square foot of land increases.  That means the market price of each square foot increases. Higher demand per unit of supply means a higher unit price.  That is why land in Manhattan, with 70,000 people per square mile, is so much more expensive than land in Houston, with only about 3,000 people per square mile.

    Uh, haven’t you been arguing yourself that prices drive people out? You don’t think it’s feasible that many people who would love to live in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc., choose not to because they can’t afford it?

    You seem to have missed the point.  The low cost of living in Phoenix and Houston is one of the things that makes those cities so much more desirable to domestic migrants than New York, etc.  If New York offered advantages that compensated for its exorbitant cost of living, domestic migrants would have been streaming into New York instead of away from it.

    God, I hate to be rude, but you need to retake economics 101. If it costs $1 to produce an apple, a rational farmer would exit the market if he can’t sell each apple for more (probably significantly more) than $1;

    I think you’re the one who needs to retake Economics 101.  For the reasons I have explained, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing.  That cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price (the price at which supply and demand are in balance). It is precisely because there are so few people willing to pay the higher price of high-density housing that the supply is so limited. 

  • Bolwerk

    There are virtually no policies over which voters have a “direct” say.  Like all modern democracies, the U.S. creates policy mostly through elected representatives.  If you think this is some kind of fundamental flaw in our political system, then transportation policy should be the least of your worries.

    That may be, but it doesn’t allow you to turn around and attribute transportation policies directly to voters.  Particularly in the U.S., where a two-party oligopoly of connected interest groups controls most policy.  In more democratic countries, transportation certainly tends to strike what can at worst be described as a better modal balance – and transit users aren’t left to pay for drivers in other states, at least not as much. In fact, “covering your own costs” is probably closer to a norm than an exception – which is why driving is expensive in western Europe, not artificially cheap. (Suspiciously, they tend to be better-maintained too.)

    No, the value people attach to cars is why they have been making pro-car choices as voters and consumers for the past 60 years.

    I’m sure that effect exists to some extent, but it quite clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.

    Americans travel over 4 trillion miles a year on the nation’s roads.  It appears that they find roads very useful indeed.

    That doesn’t tell me anything.  You need to answer: what are they doing, why are they doing it, and what are their alternatives? Otherwise, that statement is as good as useless.

    Good transit is slow

    Um, ok.  You’re the person I’ve ever seen make that strange claim.

    There’s nothing strange about it if you’ll spend a minute to put some thought into it, and for some reason you even clipped the explanation. Really, think this through: why should transit average speeds be the same as average speeds between Boston and Chicago? Transit isn’t the same thing as driving, submarines, airplanes, or HSR.

    Yes, it is an inherent advantage of cars.  Cars provide direct, on-demand, door-to-door transportation.  This is inherently faster than a transportation mechanism that follows fixed routes on fixed schedules with fixed stops.  Transit is faster only for a very small fraction of trips.

    It’s a useless “advantage” in and of itself.  Being able to drive 70mph for an hour is really cool if you have a boner for driving 70mph, but it doesn’t say anything about the trip’s necessity, purpose, or economic utility. When we’re talking about transit-competitive trips, transit is faster and more reliable for a lot more than a “small fraction.” Even when transit isn’t “faster,” it doesn’t mean it’s not viable, more affordable, or more reliable.

    The road subsidy number comes from FHWA data on road user revenues and road spending.  The transit subsidy number comes from the National Transit Database.

    You realize that FHWA data only accounts for a fraction of the total costs of public road spending, right?  It doesn’t account for things like parking, lost tax revenue on condemned property (that “socialized” road system), policing, accident response, heavy maintenance, pollution, lost economic activity, and IIRC local streets and roads that need to be locally funded – all that on top of a massive personal expenditure. 

    As for transit, I don’t see any data on NTD even suggesting that 75 cents number is common. Hell, the operating expense per passenger-mile for an NJTransit bus is $0.77.  Do you really want to try telling me that NJTransit passengers are only covering 2.6% of their bus trips? And rail does a lot better than buses, in general.

    And regardless, that doesn’t take into account distances or trip utility, which once again makes the ratio kind of useless.

    No, I’m saying, for the umpteenth time, that higher density means more demand per unit area of land.  This does not mean more demand for higher density than for lower density.

    From the standpoint of economic demand, that’s precisely what it means. From the standpoint of what people can or cannot buy, density is probably not much of a factor in decision-making anyway.  People need space to live and will rent or buy it.

    If you want to be precise about it, there is probably a rainbow-shaped curve that would describe demand for density. It goes up to a certain density per acre and then goes down again.  

    No, this is completely wrong, as I just explained to Angie.  Price comparisons alone tell you nothing about demand.  The cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price.  A supplier must set a price at least as high as the cost of supply to cover his costs.

    You “explained” wrong to Angie. The cost of supply does no such thing. It simply sends a cue to the seller that he should exit the market if he can’t meet costs – and then, only if there is no prospect of future recovery.

    Anyway, you can try to argue that Manhattan apartments are luxury or even Giffen goods, if you want – in the least, that could mean they’re things that few people want but that those people are willing to pay a huge price for them.  However, that’s a hard argument to cut, with potentially millions of people showing signs of economic demand for Manhattan apartments. Compare that all the subdivisions in the USA that can’t even get people to look at them.

    No, it’s not.  The externalities I listed INCREASE with density.  The more people per unit area of land, the greater the level of noise, crowding, congestion, and so on.

    I can buy correlation, but causation is just plain ridiculous.

    Crowding isn’t even a bad thing below a certain point.  Excessive noise is hardly a necessity of density; hell, I’d say my 10,000 people/sq. mile neighborhood is quieter than most properties unfortunate enough to be located near a highway – and I live near a frequented elevated railroad line. Congestion doesn’t have to increase either, and automobile congestion is mainly a product of lower-density auto-dependency. This causes overflow to denser areas of course; you can’t blame Manhattan’s congestion on the 30% of Manhattanites who even keep cars.

    And, of course, higher density is more environmentally friendly precisely because externalities per person tend to go down as density goes up.

    You seem to have missed the point.  The low cost of living in Phoenix and Houston is one of the things that makes those cities so much more desirable to domestic migrants than New York, etc.  If New York offered advantages that compensated for its exorbitant cost of living, domestic migrants would have been streaming into New York instead of away from it.

    That is exactly the point I was making – except it’s not desirability, it’s necessity.  In fact, New York does offer such advantages.  It is precisely why much of the 2000s was spent with higher-income people driving lower-income people out of New York. Supply of housing has only ticked up a little, and politics is partly to blame for that.

    I think you’re the one who needs to retake Economics 101.  For the reasons I have explained, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing.

    If you’re going to “explain” something, the explanation could at least make sense. You have to be dealing with quite high densities before that construction costs above the land start going up because of density, and even with remarkably high densities there are huge cost advantages that you keep deliberately ignoring.

    That cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price (the price at which supply and demand are in balance). It is precisely because there are so few people willing to pay the higher price of high-density housing that the supply is so limited.

    Great theory, except it ignores both construction cost reality and practice. Higher-density housing isn’t being supplied in most places because it’s simply quasi-illegal. Get rid of the regulatory hurdles of building higher-density and transit-oriented housing, and people would buy them up quickly, as they spent much of the 2000s doing in large and medium-sized cities.

  • Bolwerk

    There are virtually no policies over which voters have a “direct” say.  Like all modern democracies, the U.S. creates policy mostly through elected representatives.  If you think this is some kind of fundamental flaw in our political system, then transportation policy should be the least of your worries.

    That may be, but it doesn’t allow you to turn around and attribute transportation policies directly to voters.  Particularly in the U.S., where a two-party oligopoly of connected interest groups controls most policy.  In more democratic countries, transportation certainly tends to strike what can at worst be described as a better modal balance – and transit users aren’t left to pay for drivers in other states, at least not as much. In fact, “covering your own costs” is probably closer to a norm than an exception – which is why driving is expensive in western Europe, not artificially cheap. (Suspiciously, they tend to be better-maintained too.)

    No, the value people attach to cars is why they have been making pro-car choices as voters and consumers for the past 60 years.

    I’m sure that effect exists to some extent, but it quite clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.

    Americans travel over 4 trillion miles a year on the nation’s roads.  It appears that they find roads very useful indeed.

    That doesn’t tell me anything.  You need to answer: what are they doing, why are they doing it, and what are their alternatives? Otherwise, that statement is as good as useless.

    Good transit is slow

    Um, ok.  You’re the person I’ve ever seen make that strange claim.

    There’s nothing strange about it if you’ll spend a minute to put some thought into it, and for some reason you even clipped the explanation. Really, think this through: why should transit average speeds be the same as average speeds between Boston and Chicago? Transit isn’t the same thing as driving, submarines, airplanes, or HSR.

    Yes, it is an inherent advantage of cars.  Cars provide direct, on-demand, door-to-door transportation.  This is inherently faster than a transportation mechanism that follows fixed routes on fixed schedules with fixed stops.  Transit is faster only for a very small fraction of trips.

    It’s a useless “advantage” in and of itself.  Being able to drive 70mph for an hour is really cool if you have a boner for driving 70mph, but it doesn’t say anything about the trip’s necessity, purpose, or economic utility. When we’re talking about transit-competitive trips, transit is faster and more reliable for a lot more than a “small fraction.” Even when transit isn’t “faster,” it doesn’t mean it’s not viable, more affordable, or more reliable.

    The road subsidy number comes from FHWA data on road user revenues and road spending.  The transit subsidy number comes from the National Transit Database.

    You realize that FHWA data only accounts for a fraction of the total costs of public road spending, right?  It doesn’t account for things like parking, lost tax revenue on condemned property (that “socialized” road system), policing, accident response, heavy maintenance, pollution, lost economic activity, and IIRC local streets and roads that need to be locally funded – all that on top of a massive personal expenditure. 

    As for transit, I don’t see any data on NTD even suggesting that 75 cents number is common. Hell, the operating expense per passenger-mile for an NJTransit bus is $0.77.  Do you really want to try telling me that NJTransit passengers are only covering 2.6% of their bus trips? And rail does a lot better than buses, in general.

    And regardless, that doesn’t take into account distances or trip utility, which once again makes the ratio kind of useless.

    No, I’m saying, for the umpteenth time, that higher density means more demand per unit area of land.  This does not mean more demand for higher density than for lower density.

    From the standpoint of economic demand, that’s precisely what it means. From the standpoint of what people can or cannot buy, density is probably not much of a factor in decision-making anyway.  People need space to live and will rent or buy it.

    If you want to be precise about it, there is probably a rainbow-shaped curve that would describe demand for density. It goes up to a certain density per acre and then goes down again.  

    No, this is completely wrong, as I just explained to Angie.  Price comparisons alone tell you nothing about demand.  The cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price.  A supplier must set a price at least as high as the cost of supply to cover his costs.

    You “explained” wrong to Angie. The cost of supply does no such thing. It simply sends a cue to the seller that he should exit the market if he can’t meet costs – and then, only if there is no prospect of future recovery.

    Anyway, you can try to argue that Manhattan apartments are luxury or even Giffen goods, if you want – in the least, that could mean they’re things that few people want but that those people are willing to pay a huge price for them.  However, that’s a hard argument to cut, with potentially millions of people showing signs of economic demand for Manhattan apartments. Compare that all the subdivisions in the USA that can’t even get people to look at them.

    No, it’s not.  The externalities I listed INCREASE with density.  The more people per unit area of land, the greater the level of noise, crowding, congestion, and so on.

    I can buy correlation, but causation is just plain ridiculous.

    Crowding isn’t even a bad thing below a certain point.  Excessive noise is hardly a necessity of density; hell, I’d say my 10,000 people/sq. mile neighborhood is quieter than most properties unfortunate enough to be located near a highway – and I live near a frequented elevated railroad line. Congestion doesn’t have to increase either, and automobile congestion is mainly a product of lower-density auto-dependency. This causes overflow to denser areas of course; you can’t blame Manhattan’s congestion on the 30% of Manhattanites who even keep cars.

    And, of course, higher density is more environmentally friendly precisely because externalities per person tend to go down as density goes up.

    You seem to have missed the point.  The low cost of living in Phoenix and Houston is one of the things that makes those cities so much more desirable to domestic migrants than New York, etc.  If New York offered advantages that compensated for its exorbitant cost of living, domestic migrants would have been streaming into New York instead of away from it.

    That is exactly the point I was making – except it’s not desirability, it’s necessity.  In fact, New York does offer such advantages.  It is precisely why much of the 2000s was spent with higher-income people driving lower-income people out of New York. Supply of housing has only ticked up a little, and politics is partly to blame for that.

    I think you’re the one who needs to retake Economics 101.  For the reasons I have explained, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing.

    If you’re going to “explain” something, the explanation could at least make sense. You have to be dealing with quite high densities before that construction costs above the land start going up because of density, and even with remarkably high densities there are huge cost advantages that you keep deliberately ignoring.

    That cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price (the price at which supply and demand are in balance). It is precisely because there are so few people willing to pay the higher price of high-density housing that the supply is so limited.

    Great theory, except it ignores both construction cost reality and practice. Higher-density housing isn’t being supplied in most places because it’s simply quasi-illegal. Get rid of the regulatory hurdles of building higher-density and transit-oriented housing, and people would buy them up quickly, as they spent much of the 2000s doing in large and medium-sized cities.

  • Bolwerk

    There are virtually no policies over which voters have a “direct” say.  Like all modern democracies, the U.S. creates policy mostly through elected representatives.  If you think this is some kind of fundamental flaw in our political system, then transportation policy should be the least of your worries.

    That may be, but it doesn’t allow you to turn around and attribute transportation policies directly to voters.  Particularly in the U.S., where a two-party oligopoly of connected interest groups controls most policy.  In more democratic countries, transportation certainly tends to strike what can at worst be described as a better modal balance – and transit users aren’t left to pay for drivers in other states, at least not as much. In fact, “covering your own costs” is probably closer to a norm than an exception – which is why driving is expensive in western Europe, not artificially cheap. (Suspiciously, they tend to be better-maintained too.)

    No, the value people attach to cars is why they have been making pro-car choices as voters and consumers for the past 60 years.

    I’m sure that effect exists to some extent, but it quite clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.

    Americans travel over 4 trillion miles a year on the nation’s roads.  It appears that they find roads very useful indeed.

    That doesn’t tell me anything.  You need to answer: what are they doing, why are they doing it, and what are their alternatives? Otherwise, that statement is as good as useless.

    Good transit is slow

    Um, ok.  You’re the person I’ve ever seen make that strange claim.

    There’s nothing strange about it if you’ll spend a minute to put some thought into it, and for some reason you even clipped the explanation. Really, think this through: why should transit average speeds be the same as average speeds between Boston and Chicago? Transit isn’t the same thing as driving, submarines, airplanes, or HSR.

    Yes, it is an inherent advantage of cars.  Cars provide direct, on-demand, door-to-door transportation.  This is inherently faster than a transportation mechanism that follows fixed routes on fixed schedules with fixed stops.  Transit is faster only for a very small fraction of trips.

    It’s a useless “advantage” in and of itself.  Being able to drive 70mph for an hour is really cool if you have a boner for driving 70mph, but it doesn’t say anything about the trip’s necessity, purpose, or economic utility. When we’re talking about transit-competitive trips, transit is faster and more reliable for a lot more than a “small fraction.” Even when transit isn’t “faster,” it doesn’t mean it’s not viable, more affordable, or more reliable.

    The road subsidy number comes from FHWA data on road user revenues and road spending.  The transit subsidy number comes from the National Transit Database.

    You realize that FHWA data only accounts for a fraction of the total costs of public road spending, right?  It doesn’t account for things like parking, lost tax revenue on condemned property (that “socialized” road system), policing, accident response, heavy maintenance, pollution, lost economic activity, and IIRC local streets and roads that need to be locally funded – all that on top of a massive personal expenditure. 

    As for transit, I don’t see any data on NTD even suggesting that 75 cents number is common. Hell, the operating expense per passenger-mile for an NJTransit bus is $0.77.  Do you really want to try telling me that NJTransit passengers are only covering 2.6% of their bus trips? And rail does a lot better than buses, in general.

    And regardless, that doesn’t take into account distances or trip utility, which once again makes the ratio kind of useless.

    No, I’m saying, for the umpteenth time, that higher density means more demand per unit area of land.  This does not mean more demand for higher density than for lower density.

    From the standpoint of economic demand, that’s precisely what it means. From the standpoint of what people can or cannot buy, density is probably not much of a factor in decision-making anyway.  People need space to live and will rent or buy it.

    If you want to be precise about it, there is probably a rainbow-shaped curve that would describe demand for density. It goes up to a certain density per acre and then goes down again.  

    No, this is completely wrong, as I just explained to Angie.  Price comparisons alone tell you nothing about demand.  The cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price.  A supplier must set a price at least as high as the cost of supply to cover his costs.

    You “explained” wrong to Angie. The cost of supply does no such thing. It simply sends a cue to the seller that he should exit the market if he can’t meet costs – and then, only if there is no prospect of future recovery.

    Anyway, you can try to argue that Manhattan apartments are luxury or even Giffen goods, if you want – in the least, that could mean they’re things that few people want but that those people are willing to pay a huge price for them.  However, that’s a hard argument to cut, with potentially millions of people showing signs of economic demand for Manhattan apartments. Compare that all the subdivisions in the USA that can’t even get people to look at them.

    No, it’s not.  The externalities I listed INCREASE with density.  The more people per unit area of land, the greater the level of noise, crowding, congestion, and so on.

    I can buy correlation, but causation is just plain ridiculous.

    Crowding isn’t even a bad thing below a certain point.  Excessive noise is hardly a necessity of density; hell, I’d say my 10,000 people/sq. mile neighborhood is quieter than most properties unfortunate enough to be located near a highway – and I live near a frequented elevated railroad line. Congestion doesn’t have to increase either, and automobile congestion is mainly a product of lower-density auto-dependency. This causes overflow to denser areas of course; you can’t blame Manhattan’s congestion on the 30% of Manhattanites who even keep cars.

    And, of course, higher density is more environmentally friendly precisely because externalities per person tend to go down as density goes up.

    You seem to have missed the point.  The low cost of living in Phoenix and Houston is one of the things that makes those cities so much more desirable to domestic migrants than New York, etc.  If New York offered advantages that compensated for its exorbitant cost of living, domestic migrants would have been streaming into New York instead of away from it.

    That is exactly the point I was making – except it’s not desirability, it’s necessity.  In fact, New York does offer such advantages.  It is precisely why much of the 2000s was spent with higher-income people driving lower-income people out of New York. Supply of housing has only ticked up a little, and politics is partly to blame for that.

    I think you’re the one who needs to retake Economics 101.  For the reasons I have explained, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing.

    If you’re going to “explain” something, the explanation could at least make sense. You have to be dealing with quite high densities before that construction costs above the land start going up because of density, and even with remarkably high densities there are huge cost advantages that you keep deliberately ignoring.

    That cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price (the price at which supply and demand are in balance). It is precisely because there are so few people willing to pay the higher price of high-density housing that the supply is so limited.

    Great theory, except it ignores both construction cost reality and practice. Higher-density housing isn’t being supplied in most places because it’s simply quasi-illegal. Get rid of the regulatory hurdles of building higher-density and transit-oriented housing, and people would buy them up quickly, as they spent much of the 2000s doing in large and medium-sized cities.

  • Bolwerk

    There are virtually no policies over which voters have a “direct” say.  Like all modern democracies, the U.S. creates policy mostly through elected representatives.  If you think this is some kind of fundamental flaw in our political system, then transportation policy should be the least of your worries.

    That may be, but it doesn’t allow you to turn around and attribute transportation policies directly to voters.  Particularly in the U.S., where a two-party oligopoly of connected interest groups controls most policy.  In more democratic countries, transportation certainly tends to strike what can at worst be described as a better modal balance – and transit users aren’t left to pay for drivers in other states, at least not as much. In fact, “covering your own costs” is probably closer to a norm than an exception – which is why driving is expensive in western Europe, not artificially cheap. (Suspiciously, they tend to be better-maintained too.)

    No, the value people attach to cars is why they have been making pro-car choices as voters and consumers for the past 60 years.

    I’m sure that effect exists to some extent, but it quite clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.

    Americans travel over 4 trillion miles a year on the nation’s roads.  It appears that they find roads very useful indeed.

    That doesn’t tell me anything.  You need to answer: what are they doing, why are they doing it, and what are their alternatives? Otherwise, that statement is as good as useless.

    Good transit is slow

    Um, ok.  You’re the person I’ve ever seen make that strange claim.

    There’s nothing strange about it if you’ll spend a minute to put some thought into it, and for some reason you even clipped the explanation. Really, think this through: why should transit average speeds be the same as average speeds between Boston and Chicago? Transit isn’t the same thing as driving, submarines, airplanes, or HSR.

    Yes, it is an inherent advantage of cars.  Cars provide direct, on-demand, door-to-door transportation.  This is inherently faster than a transportation mechanism that follows fixed routes on fixed schedules with fixed stops.  Transit is faster only for a very small fraction of trips.

    It’s a useless “advantage” in and of itself.  Being able to drive 70mph for an hour is really cool if you have a boner for driving 70mph, but it doesn’t say anything about the trip’s necessity, purpose, or economic utility. When we’re talking about transit-competitive trips, transit is faster and more reliable for a lot more than a “small fraction.” Even when transit isn’t “faster,” it doesn’t mean it’s not viable, more affordable, or more reliable.

    The road subsidy number comes from FHWA data on road user revenues and road spending.  The transit subsidy number comes from the National Transit Database.

    You realize that FHWA data only accounts for a fraction of the total costs of public road spending, right?  It doesn’t account for things like parking, lost tax revenue on condemned property (that “socialized” road system), policing, accident response, heavy maintenance, pollution, lost economic activity, and IIRC local streets and roads that need to be locally funded – all that on top of a massive personal expenditure. 

    As for transit, I don’t see any data on NTD even suggesting that 75 cents number is common. Hell, the operating expense per passenger-mile for an NJTransit bus is $0.77.  Do you really want to try telling me that NJTransit passengers are only covering 2.6% of their bus trips? And rail does a lot better than buses, in general.

    And regardless, that doesn’t take into account distances or trip utility, which once again makes the ratio kind of useless.

    No, I’m saying, for the umpteenth time, that higher density means more demand per unit area of land.  This does not mean more demand for higher density than for lower density.

    From the standpoint of economic demand, that’s precisely what it means. From the standpoint of what people can or cannot buy, density is probably not much of a factor in decision-making anyway.  People need space to live and will rent or buy it.

    If you want to be precise about it, there is probably a rainbow-shaped curve that would describe demand for density. It goes up to a certain density per acre and then goes down again.  

    No, this is completely wrong, as I just explained to Angie.  Price comparisons alone tell you nothing about demand.  The cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price.  A supplier must set a price at least as high as the cost of supply to cover his costs.

    You “explained” wrong to Angie. The cost of supply does no such thing. It simply sends a cue to the seller that he should exit the market if he can’t meet costs – and then, only if there is no prospect of future recovery.

    Anyway, you can try to argue that Manhattan apartments are luxury or even Giffen goods, if you want – in the least, that could mean they’re things that few people want but that those people are willing to pay a huge price for them.  However, that’s a hard argument to cut, with potentially millions of people showing signs of economic demand for Manhattan apartments. Compare that all the subdivisions in the USA that can’t even get people to look at them.

    No, it’s not.  The externalities I listed INCREASE with density.  The more people per unit area of land, the greater the level of noise, crowding, congestion, and so on.

    I can buy correlation, but causation is just plain ridiculous.

    Crowding isn’t even a bad thing below a certain point.  Excessive noise is hardly a necessity of density; hell, I’d say my 10,000 people/sq. mile neighborhood is quieter than most properties unfortunate enough to be located near a highway – and I live near a frequented elevated railroad line. Congestion doesn’t have to increase either, and automobile congestion is mainly a product of lower-density auto-dependency. This causes overflow to denser areas of course; you can’t blame Manhattan’s congestion on the 30% of Manhattanites who even keep cars.

    And, of course, higher density is more environmentally friendly precisely because externalities per person tend to go down as density goes up.

    You seem to have missed the point.  The low cost of living in Phoenix and Houston is one of the things that makes those cities so much more desirable to domestic migrants than New York, etc.  If New York offered advantages that compensated for its exorbitant cost of living, domestic migrants would have been streaming into New York instead of away from it.

    That is exactly the point I was making – except it’s not desirability, it’s necessity.  In fact, New York does offer such advantages.  It is precisely why much of the 2000s was spent with higher-income people driving lower-income people out of New York. Supply of housing has only ticked up a little, and politics is partly to blame for that.

    I think you’re the one who needs to retake Economics 101.  For the reasons I have explained, high-density housing costs more to supply than low-density housing.

    If you’re going to “explain” something, the explanation could at least make sense. You have to be dealing with quite high densities before that construction costs above the land start going up because of density, and even with remarkably high densities there are huge cost advantages that you keep deliberately ignoring.

    That cost of supply sets a floor on the market equilibrium price (the price at which supply and demand are in balance). It is precisely because there are so few people willing to pay the higher price of high-density housing that the supply is so limited.

    Great theory, except it ignores both construction cost reality and practice. Higher-density housing isn’t being supplied in most places because it’s simply quasi-illegal. Get rid of the regulatory hurdles of building higher-density and transit-oriented housing, and people would buy them up quickly, as they spent much of the 2000s doing in large and medium-sized cities.

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