Skip to Content
Streetsblog USA home
Streetsblog USA home
Log In
high_rise.jpg

The Atlantic Monthly's Matthew Yglesias argues that high-density living is a key strategy to fight climate change. Yglesias takes issue with fellow Atlantic Online blogger Ross Douthat and author Joel Kotkin, who defend suburban sprawl -- what James Kunstler has famously called "the most destructive development pattern the world has ever seen, and perhaps the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known." Reporting on a recent talk by Kotkin, Douthat writes:

The notion that Americans are moving back to downtowns in large numbers is a myth, Kotkin announced; instead, they're moving ever outward, into new exurbs and rural areas. The traditional unipolar urban downtown isn't going to make a comeback: Young couples with families can't afford to live there, and aging Baby Boomers don't want to. The American city of the future will be more of an archipelago of suburbs than the kind of one-downtown organism bred by the Industrial Revolution: "We aren't creating more New Yorks and Chicagos; we're creating more Los Angeleses."

Yglesias counters:

There's the paradox. The urbanist proposal isn't "hey, jerks, why don't you all move to dense downtowns." Rather, the proposal is something like "why don't we impose carbon taxes so that things like driving long distances and heating or cooling large detached structures are priced in accordance with their social cost? Why don't we stop having the federal government heavily subsidize driving cars as the preferred mode of transportation? Why don't we have more areas that allow for high-density zoning, thus reducing the cost of urban housing?" It's not that we urbanists are unaware that many people live in low density areas because its cheaper, it's precisely that we are aware of this fact that makes us believe that the "traditional unipolar downtown" could make a comeback.

Quite naturally, the combination of cars being invented, cars being massively subsidized, and governments being successfully lobbied by car companies to dismantle mass transit systems led to a massive shift in the direction of sprawl. But by that same token, if we step away from those policies to some extent we'll see a rebalancing in the direction of urbanism.


Photo: telesle17/Flickr

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog USA

What a Surprise! Hochul’s Congestion Pricing Pause Helps Rich Suburban Drivers

Gov. Hochul's "little guys" certainly have big wallets. Meanwhile, the rest of us suffer with declining subway service and buses that are slower than walking. Thanks, Kathy.

July 22, 2024

Philadelphia Demands More Than ‘Flex-Post’ Protected Bike Lanes After Motorist Kills Cyclist

Pediatric oncologist Barbara Friedes was struck while biking on a "protected" path. Now, advocates are arguing that flex posts should be replaced with something far better.

July 22, 2024

Monday’s Headlines Switch Tracks

President Joe Biden dropped out of the race Sunday and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris. So what does this mean for transportation?

July 22, 2024

Friday’s Headlines Go Back to the Future

If you liked the first Trump administration's transportation policies, you're going to love the second Trump administration's transportation policies.

July 19, 2024

Advocates Share What It Takes to Fight Highway Expansions in Court 

What does it take to sue your state DOT? Time, money, the right partners, and a little creativity, a recent survey of activists found.

July 19, 2024
See all posts