Didn’t we read this book already? Only last time it was called The Triumph of the City and it was written by Edward Glaeser, a fine economist whose view of cities is slightly shaded by the fact that he grew up in Manhattan. Avent’s bio doesn’t say whether he grew up in New York [AC: Raleigh, NC], but he did go to school in London and currently lives in Washington. I can’t help but feel he is another city boy who loves cities so much he wants to impose them on everyone else.
The Antiplanner would never step into another city again if I didn’t have to as a part of my work. But I don’t think everyone would be better off living my lifestyle; I just think people ought to have a choice. Avent’s book simply stimulates the smart-growth advocates who want to impose all sorts of policies on urbanites and suburbanites to force them to live in denser communities.
I infer from this that (i) O'Toole didn't read the book; (ii) he didn't read the book carefully, or (iii) he did read the book carefully but is misrepresenting the conclusion. Ryan does not advocate any coercive policies in The Gated City. He asks that the housing market be allowed to function like it's supposed to: the market should be allowed to supply more housing when and where there is demand for more housing which means -- gasp -- places should be allowed to grow denser when there is demand for it. It's sad that it takes an economics-laden, research-intensive book to justify this principle, and even sadder that so many self-described libertarians denounce this principle, but such is the state of land-use policy in the United States today.
Like O'Toole, "I just think people ought to have a choice." People do have different preferences. Some people like dense, bustling, noisy places. And some people -- including, by his own admission, O'Toole -- hate them. The problem is that the people who hate cities try to impose their preference on the places where cities want to be.
After all, only a small portion of even the densest metropolitan area is genuinely urban. Most "city" dwellers actually live in places that are relatively sparesely populated. This would still be true even if the law allowed the demand for urban places to be fully satiated, even in places like San Francisco and San Jose. People who hate dense environments have and will always have thousands of suburbs and small towns to choose from. If you don't like dense places, don't live in dense or densifying places.
The libertarian position accordingly ought to be that we should allow the market to provide density where and when people want it; the people who don't like that particular product can buy a different product. That occasionally might require a density-hating libertarian to accept change to his own neighborhood. It occasionally might require him to move to another neighborhood if he finds the change too uncongenial. But libertarians are supposed to embrace dynamic markets. They deride people who fight market-driven change as "statists." Don't preach creative destruction for me but not for thee.
The view that we should accommodate density ought to be the progressive position, too. Allowing housing to keep up with demand keeps home prices low, which certainly is more equitable and egalitarian than propping them up. Allowing housing to keep up with demand lets people move freely from low-opportunity cities to high-opportunity cities. Allowing housing to keep up with demand facilitates the density necessary to support transit, preserves open space on the city's periphery, and probably reduces VMT and the other things that environmentalists should care about. Fighting to preserve a neighborhood just because you happen to live there and like it the way it is is not only statist, it's selfish, even if you can't identify the specific people who will be hurt.
I've always thought that the libertarian position and the progressive position on land-use policy ought to be approximately the same. Thus it is not surprising per se that so many "libertarians" and "progressives" agree on land-use policy. What is strange is that so many "libertarians" and "progressives" agree because the libertarians turn into command-and-control statists and the progressives into regressive elitists.