A Bigger City is a Better City

There’s a tendency among a number of important American YIMBYs that bothers me – they speak of development as a bad thing, a great burden that must be shared equally across neighborhoods. I’ve even seen this take regarding immigration, portraying it as such a terrible burden that Germany must undertake to redeem itself after the Holocaust. The underlying assumption is that growth is bad, and the ideal world is static and has people living in small communities.

But what if growth is good? What if more urban development is good? What if immigration is good, and immigrants are good people individually and collectively?

Growth is good

There’s a “growth for its own sake is the ideology of the cancer cell” meme out there. Well, no. Growth is not for its own sake. It’s for the sake of the things you can do in a society that produces more stuff: live longer, own refrigerators and other appliances, travel beyond walking range, communicate with people beyond travel range, get your own room, eat more interesting food than whatever scraps concentration camp prisoners fight over, wear more interesting clothes than concentration camp prisoner uniform, play interesting games, etc.

What is true is that no single element of these is in perfect correlation with wealth. You can even devise a large subset of these that aren’t, and focus on places that are exceptional relative to their income levels; Kerala is popular for its high literacy and life expectancy relative to its wealth. But usually these early investments then pay off in growth – this was the case in 1960s and 70s’ Korea, which was approaching universal literacy at the start of this period with astonishingly low incomes, and then used its advantage in relatively skilled, low-wage work to industrialize.

Urban development is good

The ability to access more stuff easily is a good thing and there’s a reason both employers and residents pay extra to have it. More and bigger buildings stimulate this kind of access. On the production side, this means thicker social networks for people who work in related industries and can come up with new innovations – this is why the tech industry sticks in San Francisco and environs, and not the bay view or the state of California’s public services. This, in turn, raises wages. On the consumption side, this means more variety in what to buy.

Moreover, this is true down to the neighborhood level. A denser neighborhood has more amenities, because more people is a good thing, because new people stimulate new social events, new consumption, and new opportunities for job access. If more people move to your neighborhood, that means first of all that employers are more likely to site jobs where convenient for you, and second of all that the city is likelier to want to build more subway lines in your direction.

A corollary of this is that private developers, as a class, are good, because they convert factors of production like labor and capital into finished, habitable apartments and offices. Yes, they can individually be terrible people. But collectively as a class their effect is good and the state needs to stop treating them as a source of loot to be doled to sympathetic neighborhood groups.

The most frustrating thing about it is that New York specifically likes to extol its own size as a reason for its supposed greatness. But then the idea that an even bigger city is a better city makes the political system there wince, and therefore the city permitted not many more than 20,000 housing units per year at the peak of the pre-virus economy, about one quarter the per capita rate of the Seoul metropolitan region or Tokyo (the city proper, but I think the suburbs have similar housing growth), and one third that of Ile-de-France.

Immigrants are good

Vancouver is a racist city, and I say this having lived in Israel. I somehow found myself in a room at a meetup where an all-white group of people were talking about black men’s penis size. Anti-Semitism, anti-black racism, Sinophobia, hate for indigenous people: you name it, I saw it there, used casually, by people who didn’t even think they were saying something controversial. The representatives of the people of that city have come across the realization that there is extensive immigration to their city and therefore it may be prudent to choke housing development because it’s all for immigrants anyway.

There’s a weird kind of defensiveness about immigration, even in societies where it’s fairly popular. Germany and Sweden both think they’re shouldering a great burden by taking in refugees, and even Germans who identify as left-wing and antiracist seem scared of diverse neighborhoods that immigrants of all social classes don’t find anything wrong with. But Germans at least have the excuse of not being used to diversity, and I think they’re slowly learning to be more tolerant. Vancouverites are used to diversity and decided they prefer racial purity to growth. Housing growth in Vancouver was healthy before the crisis but a lot of political forces in the city seem intent on making sure this doesn’t happen again, and with the transit-oriented development sites filling fast, the region will soon have to make tough decisions on upzoning single-family neighborhoods 600 meters from the train rather than 100 meters.

For the same reason a bigger city is a better city, the movement of immigrants into a country is an unalloyed good for the recipient country, unless perhaps that country is extremely dependent on primary resources, which Germany isn’t and even British Columbia isn’t.

Developers may be individually bad people but collectively good as a class; with immigrants, the good is both individual and collective. Immigrants as individuals are good, and it’s better for a country to have more of them (us, really): if anyone wants me to babble about all the statistics about employment (even for refugees in Germany), lower crime rates, cultural emphasis on skills and education, etc., I’ll be happy to do so in comments. Immigrants as a collective are likewise good, through introducing more cultural variety to a place and promoting cultural and social ties to parts of the world this place may not have thought to learn much from.


  1. SB

    “[New York] city permitted not many more than 20,000 housing units per year ”
    You are looking at this number and the number of total units and calculating the percentage of growth. And then comparing that growth to housing growth in other major cities.
    But most people see 20k as large number and conclude that NYC is building a lot (Also people suck at comprehending big numbers in the first place)

    • Herbert

      Compare to that the city of Erlangen which has set a MINIMUM of AT LEAST 4000 housing units over the 2020-2026 period – of which 1500 are to be affordable units.

      Erlangen has roughly 100 000 inhabitants, NYC has roughly eight and a bit million. So if we take 4000 divided by six times 80 (the number of units promised per year, normalized to poulation) NYC would have to build over 50 000 units per year to keep up with Erlangen’s promised pace…

  2. bbqroast

    Came for the good analysis of construction, staying for the covid era ideological rants.

    I’d like to add that the left wing xenophobia is real here in New Zealand, the Labour government is not at all the racist party the international press sometimes pictures it as, but a lot of soft-lefties in cities like Auckland routinely run into the xenophobic discussion points re growth.

    The problem with being anti growth and anti private development is it inevitably leads to this exclusionary thought. Anti growth means people can’t move to better themselves, anti private development inevitably means that housing development is limited to that social housing ringfenced for existing residents.

    • Herbert

      New Zealand has an entire island (the bigger one in fact) where next to nobody lives…

  3. Gok (@Gok)

    Haven’t loved your last few posts, but this is spot on. You can go further: it’s utterly nonsensical to be YIMBY and anti-growth/development.

    You’ll find racism anywhere. You’d hear the same things in Seoul, Tokyo, or Singapore if you looked and spoke like the locals. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Now, the “development is for immigrants” problem is a real issue. Just like it’s critical that transit projects seem to be not for minorities, development needs to be seen as a win for everyone.

    I’m curious what cities you think have high levels of immigration and a good relationship with immigration and development.

    • yuuka

      I predict it’s going to get a lot worse here in Singapore with all the economic migration from Hong Kong, already I see rumblings about property prices going up. Thanks, Emperor Pooh!

      Urbanism is viewed around here more as a necessary evil and byproduct of being a city-state. It’s why property developers up in Johor have gotten quite a fair bit of mileage from taglines such as “own an actual house with your own plot of land!”. That might also explain why all the massive high rises they’re building nearer to the border have such low takeup rates among Singaporeans – all the bad parts about living in Singapore, and you still have to navigate the border anyway? No thank you..

      • michaelrjames

        I guess you are referring to Forest City in Jahor Bahru? I assumed that the prices would be very good compared to Singapore, so you could get much more space for the same spend. True, it would have to be significant (and no funny tax implications) to be worth the inconvenience. Are they mostly being bought by Chinese ie. mainlanders? I believe the developer is a mainland Chinese company.

        Re fleeing Hong Kongers I hope we (Australia) take plenty (though, ahem, native-born-and-raised Hong Kongers not opportunistic mainlanders …). What is happening there is deeply sad.

        • yuuka

          Forest City is just one of them, albeit the most infamous. Yep, after Singapore proved nonviable they targeted mainlanders, but Pooh’s capital controls put an end to that too.

          Apparently a few of them ended up on Airbnb or other short term rentals, they’re not that spacious from the few I’ve been to.

  4. michaelrjames

    The point about developers is extremely conditional, ie. dependent on the legal and social context in which they operate. I’m sure they aren’t embraced as a wonderful class in France but because their activities are extremely tightly regulated they can’t get up to all the quasi-legal or anti-social stuff they get away with elsewhere. And yes, the Anglosphere is among the worst in the developed world. The kind of people drawn to property development are get-rich quick merchants who have fewer qualms about what it takes to make their first million, then their first billion etc. I give you Donald Trump and his father and grandfather as examples. Most of the housing affordability crises around the rich world (NYC, London, HK, Sydney) are due to the developers unwilling to build the housing most needed, and instead build purely to maximise their profit often beginning with special deals (tax breaks etc) to provide a fraction of their apartments to be affordable but inevitably welching on the promises when the project is complete. One might say that they couldn’t be expected to do anything else in the context of the legal and financial systems but the reality is that in these places the developers have a toxic hold over the politicians to get the laws they want. Also even when they break the law they usually get away with it, or get a wrist-slap. Equally suspect is the nonsense that they only build “what the market wants”.

    • michaelrjames

      After posting my comment above, I turned to browse the Guardian and found a perfect example, below.

      Call for inquiry into why senior Tory helped donor avoid £40m tax
      Cabinet Office asked to look into Robert Jenrick’s unlawful approval of property project
      Henry McDonald, 30 May 2020

      Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, knew that the former media tycoon Richard Desmond had only 24 hours to have an East End property development approved before hefty community charges were imposed on the billionaire’s project. The imposition of Tower Hamlets council’s community infrastructure levy (CIL) would have cost Desmond at least £40m.
      Documents disclosed earlier this week from the consent order for the development showed Jenrick was aware that the council-imposed CIL would have been introduced on 15 January this year. Against the advice of his own planning inspector, he gave the go-ahead for the construction of more than 1,500 apartments in a 44-storey complex on 14 January.
      CILs were to be used to tax large property developments at £280 per sq metre, with the money raised being used to build schools and health clinics in the council area.
      Desmond sold his Express and Star titles two years ago. The 68-year-old’s company Northern & Shell, which is behind the Isle of Dogs development, donated £10,000 to the Conservatives in 2017 and £1m to Ukip in 2015.

    • Onux

      Property development is anything but a “get rich quick” activity. Even in permissive jurisdictions it takes years to design, permit, build and then sell/rent a project. In restrictive areas or for very large projects it can take over a decade.

    • Alon Levy

      The Trumps are unusual – Fred was the only big developer in late 1950s New York who supported the 1961 zoning code, while the other developers were against it on the grounds that it would make it harder to make money, and then in the 1970s there were plans to downzone the Upper East Side that Donald supported and no other developer did (those plans did not happen).

    • Kenny

      “unwilling to build the housing most needed, and instead build purely to maximise their profit”

      This seems like a strange double-standard to ask developers to build according to some objective need rather than profit, when we allow that other individuals might be permitted to do the work they profit from, rather than asking everyone to do the work that is most needed.

      • michaelrjames

        Also, how exactly would SB50 allow developers to be ruthlessly abusive?

        Because SB50 would designate almost all of SF and much of the peninsula as zones which could be transformed. It’s too all-encompassing. Brutal realism requires more limitation on what can be subjected to such zoning changes, ie. if they want any chance of getting some bill thru. Also, the law needs to be very tight on regulating the sort of development so that creep doesn’t happen–and again, realise that developers always want to optimise their own little few hectares development to the max with zero concern for the wider community they are building in. Naturally, after a century of abuse of these things the electorate remains very sceptical about such changes. We can see the conflicts and tension in the different notions of density on this page: too many still stubbornly believe high density can only be achieved by building hi-rise, concrete and glass hideosity. I or Herbert can prove the opposite any number of times but people–even acclaimed rational urbanists here-will stubbornly and stupidly disbelieve the evidence. As usual the worst enemy of good planning are some of the very urbanists …
        In addition, the (my) alternative to an all-encompassing SB50 regulation that really would unleash developers on every bit of city, is city planning and weirdly, stubbornly, ideologically the Anglosphere is utterly against the very notion of planning. A direct consequence is that planning such as it is done at all, is determined by developers. We’ve had that for, well, centuries, and has it solved housing affordability? Has it created efficient cities, or beautiful cities that its residents value?

        • Car(e)-Free LA

          I have absolutely no problem with that transformation and I certainly don’t see any ethical problem with developers building what they wish on property that they own. What does seem abusive to me is local politicians and small interest groups telling developers what they can and can’t built arbitrarily because they think they know better. The fact is, price signals provide much better information on what a community truly needs then whatever the random views of suburban city council members are.

          Regardless, you still haven’t clarified why SB50 allows developers to be ruthlessly abusive. Transforming almost all of SF and much of the peninsula is desperately needed, and authorizing new development in shamefully underbuilt areas does not necessarily authorize immoral behavior on the part of developers. Of course developers maximize their own benefit by building as many units as possible which in turn benefits society. That’s how the market works, and it’s to everyone’s benefit.

          You claim communities have been abused by developers for years. What horrible wound have developers inflicted? Built four story apartment buildings in San Mateo? I would remind you we all live in a building developers put where there once wasn’t one, and characterizing developers doing their job as abuse is absurd.

          By bringing up my earlier advocacy in this thread for awesome looking glass supertalls (which the world should obviously have more of), you mischaracterize what SB 50 does–it authorizes low to mid rise apartments along the busiest transit corridors–which even the most timid of urbanists can agree on as a good idea. You do understand, I hope, that SB50 literally is the planning you claim to advocate for–for future growth, density and prosperity.

          Unless you think all construction should be done by the public sector (which is dumb) then developers will of course be responsible for providing the actual housing within whatever zoning we lay out for them. When we actually allow them to do this, then the type of cities you are striving for will be built. Housing unaffordability is a recent phenomenon, created by micro-managerial governments who have artificially suppressed new housing production and made it impossible for private developers to meet market demand. Markets work, and in places where governments have had the sense to let them–Tokyo today, New York in the first half of the 20th century, and so on–efficient, beautiful, affordable cities have been created. Or were the great neighborhoods of the world built top-down?

          • michaelrjames

            By bringing up my earlier advocacy in this thread for awesome looking glass supertalls (which the world should obviously have more of), you mischaracterize what SB 50 does–it authorizes low to mid rise apartments along the busiest transit corridors–which even the most timid of urbanists can agree on as a good idea. You do understand, I hope, that SB50 literally is the planning you claim to advocate for–for future growth, density and prosperity.

            The problem is that the rule would authorize destruction of most of SF. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily be against the 124 km2 of SF city turning into the Paris of California but there is a case for retaining some of, maybe a lot of, its historic areas. And no, one cannot compare what Haussmann did in 1850-1870 to what SB50 might permit developers to do at their own whim. Besides what you or I might prefer, read what I wrote: it is to get some kind of bill thru the CA legislature that allows some zoning changes. At this rate it is going to be like Prop-13 with zero change for another half century. I am simply being more pragmatic and suggesting that an actual plan be created which would aim to fulfil densification, of course around transit, plus in a controlled bit of good urbanism with genuine walkable neighbourhoods etc. It is a bit like with HSR: build it and they will come; ie. once people can experience with their own eyes and walk the walk of a real built walkable commune, then you’ll bring more with you.

            Further, as I have shown before on this blog, one only needs a few relatively small such TODs to make a really big impact on both housing availability and affordability: with radius of 800m and at half the density of Manhattan and Paris it would hold 30,000 residents; extend to radius of 1.2km it is 68,000 residents. This latter is 4.5km2 which is 3.6% of SF’s area.

            Incidentally what needs to be guarded against IMO, is strip development along transit lines. That is exactly what developers would do–because they don’t give a shit about urbanism and would build it if allowed. It needs to be “pearls on a string” not a canyon of medium-rise just 100m either side of a BART line or whatever.

            But here’s the problem: already, even urbanists like you and Alon versus me and Herbert disagree as to what should be built. I want it to be Haussmannian, which is to say no more than 7 floors (in fact I argue that SB50 is wrong in their 5 floors which is a half measure) that we all know for a certified fact can create and support a world’s best urban environment, namely Paris and all those densest (and most expensive) cores of those European cities that Herbert posted a link to the aerial pictorial (and discussion by Feargus O’Sullivan in CityLab):

            Prof Alasdair Rae at the University of Sheffield has crunched data from the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) to locate the densest square kilometre in every European country – the top 15 are shown below
            Alasdair Rae, Thu 22 Mar 2018

            Lessons From Europe’s Densest Neighborhoods
            Feargus O’Sullivan, 27 March 2018.

            In the sprawl of a contemporary North American city, it can be tempting to envy urban Europe for its density. For the most part, historic European cities are far more densely populated—their streets, by comparison, appear to be hives of vibrant activity, with compact but handsome apartments that model healthy, sustainable metropolitan living.

            I know that you and others on this blog and elsewhere (funny enough you share this with the most rabid right-wing commentators on CL) but this kind of urbanism is what even Americans, even whitebread Americans, but especially San Franciscans or Bay Area types, appreciate. But what they reveal in survey after survey is “opponents of S.B. 50 use the term “Manhattanization” to describe the kind of places they do not want their neighborhoods to become”. I agree with them when they don’t trust politicians and most of all developers and starchitects to create anything acceptable.

            And of course my point, which again you and others with presumably a bit above average numeracy should understand, is that high density ≠ hi-rise. If you allow hi-rise, as the developers want to build in SF (eg. Millennium Tower, sinking into the bay mud) you’ll truly destroy San Francisco and turn it into an identikit American city, just as surely as it would have destroyed Paris. In fact exactly as it has destroyed London (which admittedly was pretty grotty even before the recent phallus obsession). What I’m saying is that you can actually have it all ways: density plus urbanism plus a beautiful environment.

          • Alon Levy

            [I fixed the formatting.]

            SB 50 is not about high-rises. The original SB 827 proposal was to allow Haussmannian density near train stations. This has since been watered down to 4- and 5-story buildings.

          • michaelrjames

            Thanks for fixing that.

            I know that. In fact SB827 was about 5-floor limits. My points were twofold:
            (1) I think 5 is too low; you can see that Paris evolved from that height (in the 17th century, like on Ile St Louis) to the Haussmannian limit of 7 to 8 floors (but anything above 6 is mansard; actually the last regulatory change was after Haussmann, 1896 IIRC). This is because of the impact on density and the smaller footprint required for a very functional TOD (with enough space for community functions like schools, clinics etc and green space –see my diatribe posted a few minutes ago here). Plus almost no one can argue that Haussmannian heights are incompatible with excellent urbanism.

            (2) I was arguing that the strongest possible guards must be written into any bill to try to reassure those who voted or lobbied against SB827 and SB50 that Manhattanisation won’t be possible. Ever. None of the kind of bullshit we get here in which years and years of community consultation is swept away after a plan is approved and developers bring in modifications for whatever the hell they want, and their proxy politicians wave it all thru. But it also comes back to that Haussmannian limit because I think 5 floors will be found inadequate by everyone, from developers trying to make money, the city and the occupants. I believe there is a quality change that occurs when you go just that bit higher, without it being oppressive. And no, there is a clear limit; if you go to 10 or twelve floors they produce an oppressive effect at street level–there really is a Goldilocks height and no accident that Paris ended up at it, by natural selection and convergence.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            SB50 wouldn’t touch historically significant buildings, just saying. And I don’t see a lot of historic merit in San Francisco’s Sunset or Outer Richmond districts which would probably be impacted the most. Replacing all the 2 story houses with 5 story condos (ideally taller) is fine by me.

            I don’t quite see your Haussmann comparison because that was an infrastructure project more than anything, but I would remind you that the buildings you so love along his boulevards were all privately built by developers authorized to do so–no urban planner designed them or told people exactly what to build. Developers came up with it on their own.

            It seems to me like what you want is SB 50 but in fewer places because reasons. You do understand, I hope, that California probably needs to build 4-5 million new homes in the next 10 years and SB50 doesn’t even allow that. A few TODs adding maybe 30k new units to SF per year just isn’t going to cut it. San Francisco needs to get from 19k people/square mile to about 25k people per square mile to hit these targets. SB50 seeks to do this in a way which you would seem to like–namely upzoning the most connected parts of the city to allow 5 story apartment blocks. Of course, you could impact less of the city if you built 300 Millennium towers instead of 2,000 5 story apartment blocks (plus whatever housing gets torn down), but that’s a matter of preference. I think the greatest urban environments in the world are Midtown Manhattan and Hong Kong Island. You prefer Paris.

            Either way, we need massive, state-mandated upzoning, and SB-50 seems like the best way to get your Paris-style San Francisco or you’ll have people like me who want to replace Dogpatch with 75 story blocks instead. SB-50 is Haussmannian.

            Finally, what’s your issue with strip-style development? Lining Geary with 8 story condos and leaving the blocks to its north and south seems like a solution anyone could get behind.

          • michaelrjames

            We are destined to disagree on most issues.

            I don’t quite see your Haussmann comparison because that was an infrastructure project more than anything, but I would remind you that the buildings you so love along his boulevards were all privately built by developers authorized to do so–no urban planner designed them or told people exactly what to build. Developers came up with it on their own.

            That is seriously wrong. Haussmann compulsorily purchased buildings he wanted to demolish at market rates (often scammed by the property owning class at the time) and after he did his street building etc. he sold it back. It was how he managed the finances (well it still cost Louis-Napoleon a lot). But no one was free to build as they wished. In fact many regulations date to the 17th century let alone the 18th and 19th. That’s why so much of Paris has a pleasing cohesion in design and appearance, both in the ‘modern’ Haussmann and post-Haussmann eras, but also between that 19th century stuff and the 17th century (eg. Ile St Louis which was mostly complete as you see it today but 1660). And also much more modern stuff like Belle Epoque and Art Deco, because they all had to satisfy certain strict design and build requirements. It’s only where they relaxed these rules that awful outcomes happened, like the hideous Annex to the 4th Marie, or the hi-rise in the 13th. That kind of experimentation was over by the 80s and the remainder of redevelopment of the huge brownfield sites in the eastern-13th reverted to Haussmannian in a modern guise.

            It seems to me like what you want is SB 50 but in fewer places because reasons. You do understand, I hope, that California probably needs to build 4-5 million new homes in the next 10 years and SB50 doesn’t even allow that. A few TODs adding maybe 30k new units to SF per year just isn’t going to cut it.

            That is simply and mathematically wrong. SF doesn’t need millions of new homes. One TOD of 3.5% of land area would produce housing for 68,000 residents (along with schools, retail etc); five would be 300-400k which is a 50% increase but using only 17.5% of land. Similar TODs should be built around selected BART stations around the bay.

            Of course, you could impact less of the city if you built 300 Millennium towers instead of 2,000 5 story apartment blocks (plus whatever housing gets torn down), but that’s a matter of preference. I think the greatest urban environments in the world are Midtown Manhattan and Hong Kong Island. You prefer Paris.

            Nothing could be further from reality. In fact I partly agree about Hong Kong (and am on record about that on this site) however I suspect it might get a bit tiring after a while, especially as I doubt I would have ever been able to afford to live in the kind of situation you (and I) might fantasise about; you know, halfway up midlevels etc. Further, the Asians are able to make great urbanism out of such unpromising material, though HK is a bit exceptional. I can’t think of any western hi-rise residential district that is at all comparable, including your midtown–the nicer areas of Manhattan are lower overall like Upper-West Side or of course the now unaffordable bits where Jane lived and evolved her urbanist philosophy.

            Either way, we need massive, state-mandated upzoning, and SB-50 seems like the best way to get your Paris-style San Francisco or you’ll have people like me who want to replace Dogpatch with 75 story blocks instead. SB-50 is Haussmannian.

            Indeed, SB-50 is neo-Haussmannian. (It really needs to be 6-8 floors! BTW, just as in Paris the top 2-3 floors must be setback to avoid oppressive effects at ground level.) My point has been that it needs to be more restricted to get any kind of community or political support. My own view is that once a successful TOD is built, many other San Franciscans would be converted. But unlike your apparent willingness to include hi-rise in the mix, I would make it impossible for developers to sneak it in. For reasons of securing votes for SB-50 as much as my dislike of hi-rise (residential in a residential context; I’m not against hi-rise for modern CBDs or even some residential in that mix.

            Finally, what’s your issue with strip-style development? Lining Geary with 8 story condos and leaving the blocks to its north and south seems like a solution anyone could get behind.

            Groan. It would be hideous. And it doesn’t create walkable neighbourhoods but fatiguing because stuff that would be in a compact zone is now stretched out over kilometres. I don’t think you quite get density and how it works. You seem to believe putting 30,000 residents in a single giant skyscraper produces the same result as when they are in Haussmannian style over 2km2. That’s not actually how Hong Kong urbanism works either.

          • Herbert

            I happen to live in a high rise. Not by choice, mind you, it’s the only thing within my budget thanks in part to anti development forces in power for far too long and politicians selling off public housing (the building I live in was privatized a few years ago by then Bavarian minister of finance Markus Söder).

            It is an incredibly wasteful use of land. I’d say at least a quarter of the space inside the walls isn’t habitable (stairs, corridors, elevators) and the utterly useless greenspace and parking lots between the houses is so large, the city recently approved redensification. It’s also ugly as hell despite the coat of paint applied to it.

            Compare to that the utterly beautiful low car Huguenot town dating largely to 300 years ago which is eminently cycleable due to the narrow streets being closed to cars in one direction, but open to bikes in both.

            Heck, the grime of the years actually makes the facades prettier.

            Now why can’t we simply copy-paste that? I mean people could build like that centuries ago with much less mechanization, often relying on sub-par material because everything had to be sourced locally.

            Now you might argue that stuff like that is too expensive to build, but then the law forces new builds to build expensive parking which wastes space and money. Imagine what we could do without parking mandates but with “build pretty” mandates…

          • michaelrjames

            Now why can’t we simply copy-paste that?

            Because almost everyone believes, contrary to all the evidence, that it can’t be done in the so-called modern world. Either they believe the Haussmannian housing they admire in Paris, Barcelona, Munich, even NYC, can’t achieve the density required (even numerate people turn into imbeciles when it comes to assumptions about hi-rise), or they buy the false argument that it is uneconomic to build, and developers would refuse to build it because they would lose money blah, blah. There is also a false argument about hi-rise allowing more space for “green and open” space; but we’ve had close to a century of building towers-in-a-park with their horrible dead zones and dysfunction to have comprehensively demolished that one. Except some persist with that idiot paradigm.

          • Alon Levy

            I’d say at least a quarter of the space inside the walls isn’t habitable (stairs, corridors, elevators)

            That sounds incredibly inefficient by high-rise standards. An engineer comparing high-rise construction in Los Angeles and Vancouver criticized Los Angeles for having building design standards that have only ~83% of floor area habitable, compared with about 88% in Vancouver.

          • Herbert

            We should build so much of it that its affordable for everyone who wants it…

          • michaelrjames

            We should build so much of it that its affordable for everyone who wants it…

            Another feature of building Haussmannian or SB50 type housing is that it is much more affordable than any of the other extreme alternatives, namely SFH or hi-rise like Millennium Tower. The reasons are both economic and psycho-social. Such low-rise is both cheaper construction and because it is so fast to build, the financing and risk insurance costs are a lot lower than hi-rise. For whatever peculiar reasoning has evolved that such typology is not associated with luxe, at least in the Anglosphere. (Try buying something on Avenue Montaigne or Ave Foch in Paris!) This is good because it is a natural force for keeping it affordable. The top end of the market can go chase their luxe in those ridiculous hi-rise or supertalls that will continue to be built in the CBDs. In fact it will involve a different type of developer/builder because the type who build Millenium Towers aren’t interested. Good. Another ridiculous thing that is used to inflate “value” is the claim about views from hi-rise. Seriously, it is mostly meaningless, especially in most cities, and outside the very wealthy most people will optimise more relevant factors that genuinely impact liveability.
            As you say, Herbert, it really is win-win so is incredibly frustrating to see all the toxic forces going in the opposite direction in our cities.

          • Herbert

            Well parking mandates work against it.

            And I often hear it repeated (tho I doubt it is actually true) that “building like in the olden days” is unaffordable because the manual labor costs too much. I mean, maybe stucco cannot be automated, but surely a similar grade of automation can be had for building a timber skeleton and pouring clay as can for building a steel skeleton and pouring concrete…

          • michaelrjames

            surely a similar grade of automation can be had for building a timber skeleton and pouring clay as can for building a steel skeleton and pouring concrete…

            I think a promising construction method that would be near-perfect for modern Haussmannian 6-8 floors is CLT and engineered timber in general. The foundations and first floor may remain similar, ie. masonry and concrete (though because the structure is much lighter apparently the foundations can be less immense and thus less expensive) but the rest is very quick construction because it is pre-assembled in a factory. I know this sounds too much like those concrete-panel project housing that had a habit of collapsing in the 60s (Ronan Point etc) but it’s not like that. In fact the leader, Herbert, are those dang Prussians again (Austrians in this case) and it’s a premium product.

          • michaelrjames

            Here’s another article (link at bottom) on timber construction, focussing on high-rise which I find is a typical starchitecture fad and fetish. But how about this:

            In France, President Macron has decreed that all buildings funded by the state must be at least 50% wood. All buildings for the Paris 2024 Olympics must be all-timber if they are under eight storeys high.

            That’s obviously Haussmannian, though one of the early examples–and holder of the world height record in 2012 for a timber building–is the ten storey Forte apartment building in Melbourne Docklands.
            Perhaps this is a clue for the supporters of SB50 …

            Do you want beautiful, sustainable and safe tall buildings? Use wood
            A ban on constructing with timber is one of the more misguided responses to Grenfell
            Rowan Moore, 7 Jun 2020

            This is the engineering of timber so that it can act as an alternative to steel and concrete, such that large and tall structures can be built with it. Its environmental benefits are compelling: whereas concrete is a particularly devastating material, said to account for 4%-8% of the world’s CO2,timber locks up the carbon absorbed by the growth of trees. While construction is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, building in wood has the potential to reduce them.
            There are other advantages. Current techniques mean that timber structures can be made into components away from building sites and then assembled there, which has benefits for quality, precision and speed of construction. It is lighter and easier to transport than its alternatives. It is versatile and can be used to make walls and floors as well as the frames that hold buildings up. Wood is an inherently pleasing material, both visually and acoustically.

          • Eric2

            Wood is flammable. That’s why it’s pretty common for under construction 5-story condo projects to go up in flames and have to be rebuilt from scratch. But that only happens during construction. Modern fire safety codes, with sprinklers everywhere, prevent this from happening once the building is occupied. During construction the sprinklers are not yet in place.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            There is that problem with it being flammable

            Whoa! That was a close call.


            Too close.

            Nobody, anywhere in the global construction industry, nay, the global fraternity of constructivistist, at any point in human history, was able to apprehend this point. THIS point. This crucial point. This one, this critial, this key, this keystone, the totemic point. This crucial, the oh-so-obvious-in-hindsight-you-fools, but never-contempraneously-apprehended point. The veritable tippy-tippy-top cruciferous topmost pointiest point. Oh, if only they had known what we know now! Oh, if only. If only.

            Fortunately we have an anonymous blog commenter to step in, perhaps at the very last moment, at the darkest instant before doom crushes the final dying hopes of humanity in a wood-fuelled Götterdammerung conflagration, to step in an douse the flames in … a endless, an unending, an unbounded, an unending logorrheic stream of …

  5. ckrueger99

    Thank you, Alon. It’s all pretty obvious stuff, but so many of “us” persist in believing the opposite. In my own home city of Philadelphia, inward immigration of “immigrants” was all that saved us from a Detroit-like demise in the late ’90s. Fortunately, many of the most vocal nimbys had, by then, left town.

  6. Herbert

    Numerous towns were “put on the map” because they received Huguenot refugees from France.

    To be an immigrant, one needs to be a risk-taker. To be a political refugee, one needs to believe in certain things enough to get the ire of the Powers that Be…

    Of course immigrants are a net benefit to the receiving nation…

    • electricangel

      “Of course?” https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/trump-clinton-immigration-economy-unemployment-jobs-214216

      “Here’s the problem with the current immigration debate: Neither side is revealing the whole picture. Trump might cite my work, but he overlooks my findings that the influx of immigrants can potentially be a net good for the nation, increasing the total wealth of the population. Clinton ignores the hard truth that not everyone benefits when immigrants arrive. For many Americans, the influx of immigrants hurts their prospects significantly.

      This second message might be hard for many Americans to process, but anyone who tells you that immigration doesn’t have any negative effects doesn’t understand how it really works. When the supply of workers goes up, the price that firms have to pay to hire workers goes down. Wage trends over the past half-century suggest that a 10 percent increase in the number of workers with a particular set of skills probably lowers the wage of that group by at least 3 percent. Even after the economy has fully adjusted, those skill groups that received the most immigrants will still offer lower pay relative to those that received fewer immigrants.

      But that’s only one side of the story. Somebody’s lower wage is always somebody else’s higher profit. In this case, immigration redistributes wealth from those who compete with immigrants to those who use immigrants—from the employee to the employer. And the additional profits are so large that the economic pie accruing to all natives actually grows. I estimate the current “immigration surplus”—the net increase in the total wealth of the native population—to be about$50 billion annually. But behind that calculation is a much larger shift from one group of Americans to another: The total wealth redistribution from the native losers to the native winners is enormous, roughly a half-trillion dollars a year. ”

      Nice to know you don’t consider yourself one of the people who will be a net loser from immigration. Concealed in this calculation, also, is the question: though net wealth rises, does per-capita wealth? I’d be interested to learn that.

      • Alon Levy

        “Of course” is correct. The story of immigration and inequality slides in so many incorrect assumptions:

        1. That immigrants are always employees, not employers (false pretty much everywhere in the first world I know of, where immigrants are especially likely to enter the petite bourgeoise).
        2. That the native winners are generally richer than the native losers (immigrants have pretty high education levels, esp. in the Anglosphere, e.g. in the US immigrants are overrepresented in medicine and tech, and in Germany I think immigrants are still overrepresented in tech).
        3. That when immigrants enter a working-class profession, it causes a labor glut that reduces wages rather than filling a labor shortage caused by increasing native education levels (Germany was having a shortage of labor in the trades, and the US has had a construction labor shortage in the last ~10 years as Mexicans moved back to Mexico, raising American apartment building housing construction costs).

        So no, not everyone benefits from immigration. The racist who feels sad at the prospect of seeing children of different ethnic groups play together is deeply emotionally disturbed by immigration. The member of the labor aristocracy who through various barriers to entry earns $250,000 a year doing a job that in a freer market could be done for $80,000 definitely loses out economically. The coyote who earns a living extorting refugees loses out economically from any arrangement regularizing humanitarian immigration. And so on.

        • Herbert

          We could just tax the owners of the means of production and use the money gained for useful stuff…

        • michaelrjames

          1. Correct in Australia. I forget the exact figure but it’s something like two to three times the likelihood of running their own business relative to the native-born.
          2. Yes, and there are grumbles about the locals being competed out! (It’s more complicated due to our higher-ed contingency-based student loans, and huge foreign student numbers.)
          3. ” labor glut that reduces wages”. This is the big one and not at all simple, but Australia has (or had) some of the highest labour costs across the board and the historic power of unions has meant equal wages for immigrants though this doesn’t remove the “suppression” argument. Over the period of large immigration the unions have declined a lot, and inflation-adjusted a lot of middle-to-low end wages have been stagnant.

          This is a hot topic now because of the likely impact of covid-19 on unemployment, ie. in the recovery period. Australia’s situation is complicated by having so many Kiwis (who don’t need work visas, thus at times 10% of the NZ popn lives in Oz) and so many on student visas (many end up staying). Discussion heated up a few weeks back when Labor federal Senator Kristina Keneally wrote an OpEd on the subject. She is herself an immigrant, from Toledo Ohio, (retaining her American accent) who became Premier of New South Wales and whose political rise continues. But this is not a case of a recent immigrant-done-well who wants to pull up the ladder behind them but genuine concern for Australia’s peculiar employment arrangements–a very large rise in the new millennium of more precarious employment and very high dependence on short-stay students and others. Those on student visas are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week but this is known to be widely flaunted with the hospitality industry very dependent on them.
          Not mentioned is another common complaint, with at least some basis in reality, of high immigration being part of our Ponzi scheme to boost house prices. Even those hundreds of thousands of Chinese students often have an apartment or house (but only permitted to buy “new build”, previously widely flaunted but now cracked down hard) bought by their parents.

          A chance to do better for migrants, and for the economy
          Covid-19 has exposed the flaws in Australia’s treatment of temporary migrants. Fortunately, a blueprint for change already exists
          Annabel Brown, Caitlin McCaffrie, 25 May 2020.

          Public discussion about migration to Australia tends to simplify a complicated and nuanced reality. Annual permanent migration to Australia stood at 179,085 in 2018–19, made up of approximately 62 per cent in the skilled stream, 27 per cent in the family stream and 11 per cent in the humanitarian stream, which includes refugees. As of 4 April 2020, around 2.17 million people were living in Australia on temporary visas, including roughly 672,000 New Zealanders, 565,000 international students, 203,000 international tourists, 118,000 on working holiday visas, 139,000 temporary skilled visa holders and about 90,000 on temporary graduate visas. This total also includes more than 280,000 on bridging visas but not the estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people without a visa.
          Temporary migrants also support some of our largest industries. The Victorian government estimates that just one group — the 250,000 international students who came to the state last year — contributed $12.6 billion to state revenue. And, while there have been calls to put Australian workers first, studies show migrants don’t disadvantage local workers, and can actually lift their participation in the workforce.

          and …

          Is slowing Australia’s population growth really the best way out of this crisis?
          Gabriela D’Souza, 05 May 2020.
          Affiliate, Monash department of business statistics and econometrics, Monash U

          Keneally says Australia’s migration program has “hurt many Australian workers, contributing to unemployment, underemployment and low wage growth”.
          Australian research finds this to be untrue.
          Research I conducted for the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia updating research conducted by Robert Breunig, Nathan Deutscher and Hang Thi To for the Productivity Commission found that the impact of recent migrants (post 1996) on the employment prospects of Australian-born workers was close to zero.

          and …

          Labor’s mixed migration message
          Kristina Keneally has confused an important debate
          Peter Mares, 06 May 2020.
          In one sense, Kristina Keneally’s article in Sunday’s Age and Sydney Morning Herald was a timely reminder that Australia’s migration rules need to be reassessed — just as the pandemic should prompt a review of the tax system, welfare arrangements and our fragmented approach to housing and homelessness. I’m among those who have long argued that Australia has undergone a “permanent shift to temporary migration” without much parliamentary scrutiny or public buy-in, and this is a good time to take a close look at that trend.
          But there are only 139,000 skilled visa holders in Australia — and this figure includes partners and dependent children, which means the number of these people who are active in the labour market is likely to be fewer than 100,000. And more than half the 65,000 primary visa holders present in Australia as temporary skilled workers in December 2019 held a bachelor degree or higher qualification, so they don’t really fit the “unskilled” profile of “cheap… temporary labour that undercuts wages for Australian workers and takes jobs Australians could do.”
          The senator’s warnings about the exploitation of temporary migrants are well founded, as we know from numerous reports and inquiries. Keneally puts a refreshing emphasis on permanent migration as a nation-building exercise, and she emphasises the importance of skills. She writes, for example, that in industries like cybersecurity “we can’t quickly skill up enough Australians to meet demand.”

          The article that sparked it:

          Do we want migrants to return in the same numbers? The answer is no
          Kristina Keneally, 03 May 2020
          Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe told us last month: “We need to remember that once the virus is satisfactorily contained, all those factors that have made Australia such a successful and prosperous country will still be there.”
          Maybe. What about migration? More than half the nation’s population growth since 2005 has come from overseas migration. High levels of immigration, especially skilled migration, helped sustain Australia’s 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth.
          … While Australia’s high level of migration played a key role in our economic prosperity, in recent years the shape and size of our intake has hurt many Australian workers, contributing to unemployment, underemployment and low wage growth.
          …. under John Howard, Australia started to favour temporary migration over permanent settlement, resembling more and more a guest worker nation. … Unlike permanent visas, temporary visas are uncapped. As at June 2019 there were 2.1 million temporary visa holders here. Australia hosts the second largest migrant workforce in the OECD, second in total number only to the US. … Temporary migrants make up a larger part of the labour market than most Australians might realise. Migrant workers don’t just pick fruit: one in five chefs, one in four cooks, one in six hospitality workers, and one in 10 nursing support and personal care workers in Australia hold a temporary visa.
          As economist Stephen Koukoulas pointed out before the crisis, there are 725,000 unemployed and 1,150,000 underemployed Australians who, with the right training, would love to have these roles. “It explains why wages growth is dead – too many temporary work visas for this stage of the economic cycle,” Koukoulas said.

          • michaelrjames

            Oops, got a bit carried away with the citations. I was hoping to show that it is very complicated, both in social effects and economic effects. And though small-ish, Australia does provide a model for others to consider, both economically (this covid recession will be the first in 28 years) and socially as probably the world’s most successful multicultural society. It isn’t perfect but equally don’t believe what you may read about in media since the noisy minority always gets more attention than warranted. I’d say many or most have been surprised that we could cope with such high levels of immigration and growth. The main stress it has produced is not social but on infrastructure, housing affordability and these employment issues.
            For myself, while I am unapologetic about wanting a so-called Big Australia (which is not all that big really, 40m-60m for one of the biggest countries in the world) I agree with Keneally and others that there are issues re unemployment, under-employment and the degradation of conditions that accompanies casualisation: creeping Americanisation: no sick pay, no holidays, insecure employment, forget about getting a mortgage; also institutional abuse of those on temporary work visas. Due to covid, all immigration has ground to a halt and so it is an opportunity to reassess it.

          • Herbert

            During the “Belle Epoque” there was an idea to produce “100 million Frenchmen” to beat the Germans. As birth rates had already tanked by then (compared to Germany at least) the idea was to “civilize” enough colonial citizens to reach that number…

          • michaelrjames

            During the “Belle Epoque” there was an idea to produce “100 million Frenchmen” to beat the Germans. As birth rates had already tanked by then …

            Not a bad plan!
            No offence Herbert, but there are too many Germans in the world. Do you know that the single biggest ethnic origin group in the US is German? Most imagine it would be British or Irish (who are #2) but nope, some 80m of them are Germans in their ancestry. I have long held the theory that this heritage contributed to the peculiar mix of puritanism mixed with rather hard-edged literalism and produced the profound conservatism married with their version of über alles. Look no further than who is sitting in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

            At some point the French succeeded in having the EU’s highest birth rate and still do, and are still due to overtake Germany’s population in the following few decades IIRC. I’m sure there’s a German, French, British in-a-bar joke here somewhere … possibly about the Australian wine industry which owes a lot to German settlers though with the oddity that our most famous awarded wine, Penfolds Grange (Hermitage) was founded by Dr Penfold from Brighton, UK. Those Brit medics liked their Bordeaux and he thought Adelaide could be fertile ground for something similar, and he was right. With blind tastings even those French master wine tasters awarded Grange their highest honour, many times. However is that the winemaker who created Grange was … Max Schubert:-) But in fact Max said the French wine makers in Bordeaux were very generous with their knowledge when he did an extensive work-study tour there, having convinced Penfold to attempt a classic in the Bordeaux style. (Another miracle with this wine is that after the first few vintages–of a wine deliberately made to last and last and improve in the bottle–management told him to abandon it. Obviously he ignored them and secretly kept making it.) So, in the end (and I suppose the punchline of the bar joke) is that Australia’s most famous wine owes to all three, British, German and French. In fact if only that was the outcome of the EU instead of Brexshit. And alas, on that subject, I do lay more blame for the EU maladies at the feet of the Germans and the Brits. Biased? Moi? Pas du tout!

          • Sarapen

            Uh, Australia puts refugees in prison camps so hellish they commit suicide in droves – and worse, supporting this policy is a mainstream political position. This is not at all a country that has a successful multicultural society.

          • michaelrjames

            The so-called Pacific Solution (offshoring boat arrivals in Pacific island nations so they don’t have legal recourse to claim asylum in Australia) has been a shameful episode. It was entirely party-political in origin, first by the toxic John Howard and then ramped up beyond anything rational by Tony Abbott. It was never quite bi-partisan though Labor did crumble due to panic at the polls. It was designed to avoid exactly what one sees in the Mediterranean countries that are both overwhelmed by refugees and we see a high death toll at sea as those desperate people try to escape awfu conditions.
            In fact the Gillard government held a non-partisan cross-party enquiry on the issue and promised to enact whatever the committee suggested. They came up with the Malaysian Solution which would have created (and funded) a processing system in Malaysia where boat people would be returned but would be “penalised” by moving back in the queue of asylum processing (a carrot and stick strategy). Malaysia is the main intermediate country for the boat people (mostly from Afghanistan, middle-east, Sri Lanka) partly because it is a Islam-majority nation and because it doesn’t have a requirement for arrivals to have a visa to enter from most of the dysfunctional Islamic countries including Afghanistan and Iran etc. Pretty stupid and irresponsible because it’s not as if they treat these arrivals very well, in fact they get subjected to terrible abuse. Many thought the plan was both humane (the camps in Malaysia would be funded and much better than current treatment these people receive in either Malaysia or Indonesia) and had a good chance to deter people setting out in boats for the dangerous sea voyage to northern Australia. But Abbott (then opposition leader) totally and viciously opposed it–and remember that he was backed by the power of the rabid Murdoch press and Sky broadcasting who control most media in Oz. Years later, after his disastrous few years as PM and deposing by his own party, Abbott admitted he should have allowed the Malaysian Solution:

            Abbott revisits debate over free speech law
            James Massola, 13 August 2016.

            Mr Abbott also lamented Australia’s “hyper-partisan” politics and surprisingly suggested that while opposition leader in 2011, he should have allowed Julia Gillard’s government to implement its so-called Malaysian solution and send up to 800 asylum seekers to that country, to deter the flow of asylum seeker boats.
            However, “I wonder, though, about the former government’s people-swap with Malaysia…I doubt it would have worked”. “Letting it stand would have been an acknowledgment of the government-of-the-day’s mandate to do the best it could, by its own lights, to meet our nation’s challenges. It would have been a step back from the hyper-partisanship that now poisons our public life.”

            The paradox is that Australia rates fairly well on accepting (so-called “legal”) asylum seekers:

            In 2018, just 92,424 refugees were resettled from one country to another, less than 0.4% of the total refugee population. Australia’s resettlement of 12,706 refugees during the 2018 calendar year saw the country ranked third overall for resettlement (behind Canada and USA) – second per capita and relative to national GDP (behind Canada).
            In 2018, 1.65 million people had their refugee status recognised or were resettled. By this measure, Australia recognised or resettled 23,002 refugees in 2018 (1.39% of the global total), being ranked 14th overall, 20th per capita and 60th relative to national GDP.
            As numbers vary considerably across different countries from year to year, it is more useful to look at these statistics over a 10-year period. Between January 2009 and December 2018, Australia recognised or resettled 180,790 refugees.
            This represented 0.89% of the 20.3 million refugees recognised globally over that period. Australia’s total contribution for the decade is ranked 25th overall, 29th per capita and 54th relative to national GDP.

            People like me (liberal snowflakes, Greens supporters) always opposed the policy, not least because the whole thing was largely a beat-up by conservatives and the Murdoch media purely to create partisan advantage and based on the false notion of us being overwhelmed. The rhetoric was that in the period of Labor government (who relaxed Howard’s draconian laws) there were over 50,000 “illegal” boat arrivals, which simple maths shows is no more than our official intake, and even the conservatives agreed to double that. Second, the vast ocean between Java and northern Australia is not like the Mediterranean and there would have always been protection by this “tyranny of distance”. Third, it turns out there is a dirty little secret of more than 50,000 arrivals during the same period, arriving by air! There are also more than 100,000 visa overstayers at any one time which doesn’t create the same panic in Murdoch et al (because, you know they’re mostly Europeans).

            Anyway, shameful as it was–and increasingly recognised by a majority of Australians (they should be as ashamed of being duped by conservatives and Murdoch as much as by their response)–it doesn’t change the reality on the ground in Australia that we are in fact one of, if not the most successful multicultural societies.

          • Herbert

            French birth rates seem to have been the first to undergo “demographic transition”

            The French Revolutionary armies were not only fueled by levee en masse but also by a “youth bulge” that is a result of high birth rates trailing low death rates. Subsequently birth rates plummeted and throughout the Third Republic the political right blamed female emancipation (one of the reasons France only introduced equal suffrage after WW2 was the hypothesis that voting somehow inhibited the uterus).

            But now France has had enough time to inch back up towards replacement fertility, thanks in no small part to certain groups having more kids than others.

            Of course east Germany had a far wilder ride in birth rate than the west. After the pill shock birth rates in the west remained remarkably steady at 1.3-1.4 for the next five decades – west German population growth was almost entirely due to population momentum (even when birth rates are sub replacement it can take a while before the grandparents die while new kids are still born) and immigration.

            East Germany always had net emigration but pro birth policies (married couples got preference for public housing, couples with kids even more so, when married, the state would give a low interest loan that was deemed “paid back” after the birth of enough kids) and superb kindergarten infrastructure led the birth rate to climb to 1.8-1.9…

            Until it tanked to below 1 in the years of the Fall…

            Nowadays east and west have birth rates converging towards each other and there is a bit of hope that it’ll be more than 1.4 soon…

        • df1982

          Well, there are a bunch of incorrect assumptions in the points you make:
          1. Immigrants may be over-represented as small business owners, but the vast majority of them are going to be wage-earners (and the ones that are small business owners are usually sole traders or employ very few people, often family members).
          2. They often have high educational levels, but these tend to go unrecognised by the country they migrate to, so you have PhDs driving taxis, etc.
          3. Even if they fill a labour shortage, this can still have a tendency to reduce wages (which may be above “market value” but that’s not how the worker in question would see things).

          Point 3 is more complex because immigration can often cause enough of an economic boost that it raises overall prosperity, but how equally this is apportioned out is another question. The issue is not immigration but whether or not it’s used as part of a broader drive to crack down on the comparatively high wages and working conditions of First World workers, which were once seen as politically necessary (to prevent communism) but are now viewed as an unwelcome block to the full realisation of profits. Making the world a more equal place shouldn’t mean cutting the wages of someone on $50k a year while billionaires remain a protected species.

          Your example of a worker on $250k is totally unrealistic. Apart from a select few positions (workers in remote mining locations, for instance), people on that kind of salary are white-collar professionals, and are not the source of the simmering rage about globalisation. It’s the blue-collar worker who had a full-time, unionised factory job making $20 an hour plus health care and pension benefits reduced to working casually at a Walmart for $7 an hour. The elephant curve is a very real phenomenon.

          There is also an issue with the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics. Economists often say, for instance, that labour outsourcing produces a net economic benefit, and it may well do, in the form of 100 million people getting cheaper T-shirts. But on a microeconomic level that is an almost imperceptible benefit, and it comes at the cost of 100,000 people losing their jobs and having their lives destroyed. When those 100,000 people are clustered in a particular area, the knock-on effects can be brutal (see the rust belts in most industrialised countries).

          • Alon Levy

            My example of a $250,000 worker includes a lot of people in the trades in New York, where apprenticeship rules make it difficult for people who are not family members of existing members to join. The sandhogs in New York earn that much, which is very much not market wage elsewhere. The trades also remain extremely white – look at the sandhogs, again. The contrast with the diversity of American doctors and engineers (or European tech workers) is vast, and that’s despite the fact that the US is bad at recognizing foreign medical credentials.

            The simmering rage about globalization is mostly people looking for excuses and converging on a scapegoat who it’s okay to beat up. The Jews are not why the grandchildren of the Milice can’t find jobs, but the Gilets Jaunes made violent threats against Jews anyway. The refugees are not why they can’t find jobs, but they beat up dark-skinned people and narced suspected illegal immigrants to the police. The gays are not why they can’t find jobs, but they demanded to repeal gay marriage. The racists are certain that Everybody Knows Certain Things, regarding crime, unemployment, etc., and sometimes native-born elites even accept these things uncritically, but it doesn’t make any of these things correct.

          • df1982

            How many sandhogs are there? A couple of hundred? In a labour market of 200 million. It’s an utterly exceptional situation. Blue-collar workers almost never make more than six figures in the US. Plumbers and the like are usually sole traders (and therefore business owners) rather than wage-earners.

            Rage about globalisation can go in two directions: a left-wing opposition to capitalism (or at least its worst features), or right-wing xenophobia. I think it’s better to channel it in the former direction, rather than tell people who have lost their jobs or live in towns with mass unemployment that they’ve never had it so good, and if they think otherwise then they’re just looking for excuses.

          • Alon Levy

            There aren’t a lot of people earning $250,000 a year in an economy where the average wage is something like $60,000, no shit.

            Rage about globalization is pretty uniformly reactionary. Sometimes it’s dressed in left-wing language but it always boils down to “as a leftist, I think the Jews, um, I meant Zionists, are engaging in a global conspiracy.” (Mélenchon doesn’t even bother with saying Zionists instead of Jews nowadays.) Monolingual Italians and French who are annoyed that people who learned English have better jobs than they do soon end up throwing rocks at kebab shops, and maybe they shout slogans about inequality but the actual actions they take are racist violence.

          • df1982

            Which proves my original point that talking about people on $250k a year is unrealistic!

            And it’s bit rich to dismiss a highly developed 40-year critique of neoliberal globalisation by various forces on the left as reactionary politics dressed up in left-wing language. It’s really the opposite: it’s the far-right that seeks to channel grievances about economic precariousness into xenophobia. At the same time, you’re straying into territory that basically says white workers are all a bunch of racists who get what they deserve. This is class contempt dressed up as liberal tolerance.

          • Alon Levy

            I’m dismissing much of this critique as eco-fascist and red-brown, yes, at least in the form you’re channeling it. It’s a critique by people who think of immigrants as a social problem rather than as people, who are good, because people are good. That people identify as leftists matters little to me if their reaction to people who engage in mob violence against minorities is “they have a point.” It’s telling that in France, anti-racist organizations did not have this take but rather directly confronted the racism of the Gilets Jaunes, and this includes both umbrella orgs (CRIF) and explicitly leftist ones (SOS Racism), while Piketty was trying to make economic excuses about an issue that was nowhere near either the politics or the demographics of the movement, namely investment in non-selective universities.

            It’s equally telling that the racists are very clear about what they want – namely, more racism. Austerity doesn’t make them more racist, because evidently anti-austerity parties that either wink at them (as Die Linke did in the last federal election) or explicitly embrace them (as Mélenchon did) do not manage to appeal to them or even more broadly to working-class whites. Poverty doesn’t make people more racist, because evidently Poland manages to be unsafe for minorities and for queers even after a generation of fast economic growth. Racism makes people more racist.

          • adirondacker12800

            Median not average and the median in New York City is lower than $60,000. It’s $60-ish median per household. That can be two adults working full time for $15 bucks an hour.

          • Alon Levy

            I think the average (not median) salary in the US per worker (not per person or per household) starts with a 6, but don’t quote me on that.

          • Benjamin Turon

            I almost (well did…) made $15 bucks an hour, was up to about $14.50 in the hospitality industry (14 years on the job) as a hotel houseman. With overtime added, and annual salary divided by the standard 24-hour week (55 hours was my standard, highest was 75 hours a week in the summer) was a little over $15 per hour, about $31,000 annual. Unemployment with the extra $600 has tripled my weekly income, and of course I lost all the deductions for insurance and retirement. Of course this won’t last (save and pay off debt!) and neither is my job coming back anytime soon.

            Big problem in USA was that the biggest job growth has been in the service industry which pays low wages with expensive or non-existent benefits. I don’t think that immigration has had a big effect, where I live there is a labor shortage of quality workers — those who actually show up for work, and not drugged or drunk. Immigrants are some the best most reliable workers. Too many native-born white and black people can’t hold a job by doing the minimum basic, by showing up. Too much drugs, alcohol, and despair.

          • adirondacker12800

            then I give up. People who know how this all works use median because the average includes people like Bill Gate and Paris Hiltion.

          • df1982

            Well the vast majority of the far left has always taken precisely the stance you call for (thinking of immigrants “as people, who are good”), and been principled on the question of immigration, while refusing to conflate it with neoliberal globalisation. It’s only a tiny fringe that has tried to pander to anti-immigrant sentiment (e.g. Wagenknecht, who was marginalised within Die Linke for adopting this strategy).

            The Gilets jaunes was a politically heterogeneous movement that precisely did not come from the traditional left, but involved individuals from across the political spectrum (and mostly people without any political background at all). So the left should have engaged with it while rejecting any expressions of racism, which is mostly what happened as far as I could tell (not living in France at the time).

            By contrast, the liberal centre has generally been very happy to pander to or co-opt the rhetoric and policies of the anti-immigrant right. See Blair, Clinton, Biden, Hollande, Macron etc., etc., etc. The “red-brown” thesis just doesn’t hold up to ay scrutiny.

          • Alon Levy

            1. Mélenchon is serially anti-Semitic. This has gotten worse recently, but even in 2017 he was winking at collaboration denialism, because he sells a traditional French nationalism and traditional European culture is an arc from the Rhineland Massacres to Treblinka.

            2. So is Corbyn, which is why British Jews kept abandoning Labour even as other middle-class pro-Remain London demographics moved the other way in opposition to Boris.

            3. Among the Gilets Jaunes members who voted in 2017, about half voted Le Pen first round, and a quarter voted Mélenchon. I did live in France at the time, and saw an exclusively white movement in areas that are diverse, like Nation; other people who paid attention to such things saw the same, e.g. Manu Saadia’s report of being harassed for being brown-skinned. These white people sometimes had vaguely left-wing messaging, like “à bas l’état,” but nothing explicitly anti-racist in a movement steeped in racism, nor anything prioritizing unemployment as a concern (the GJs were full of anti-inflation slogans, i.e. Thatcherite macroeconomics). The correct thing for the left to do was to call for mass arrests and say “à bas la pollution,” but it didn’t, because the remaining French left consists of people who prefer shouting to governing.

            4. Macron is pro-immigration, in contrast with just about every other PS moderate. Manuel Valls was happy with Estrosi sending municipal police to strip women of their burkinis on the beach; Macron was not.

          • Benjamin Turon

            I would have voted Conservative as the lesser of two evils if I was British because I could not vote for Corbyn and his party. His support for Hugo Chavez and the anti-Semiticism of many of his followers is just reprehensible. Voting for the Liberal-Dems seems like a way to waste your vote sadly, too bad more in Labour did not flip parties, like the Liberals did in the 1920s. I thought “The Economist” cover “The Nightmare Before Christmas” summed up well the election choice in last December’s general election.

            Nightmare Before Christmas

          • Benjamin Turon

            Labour also never took a strong pro-EU/anti-Brexit potion, that I think hurt them a lot, they stood for nothing on the key issue, and once again Corbyn is to blame.

          • adirondacker12800

            Too many native-born white and black people can’t hold a job by doing the minimum basic, by showing up.

            People who have their act together enough to show up for work and perform adequately when they are there, go for the full time year round jobs.

          • Benjamin Turon

            The jobs at my hotel are full time year round jobs, Saratoga Springs is only slow in January. Conventions, weddings, Skidmore keep things going well for big hotels.

          • df1982

            I can’t comment much on Mélenchon, but the only accusations of anti-semitism I have heard of come from his defence of Corbyn, and if you’re saying that harking back to “traditional European culture” is akin to Holocaust denial then you’re basically describing almost every politician in Europe. I was living in France during the Je suis Charlie protests and they also could have been mistaken for a white supremacist march given their racial composition.

            The Corbyn thing was indisputably a beat-up engineered by the right-wing of Labour, who preferred to see their party destroyed than fall to the left (the evidence for this has now become public knowledge). Opposition to him from Israel supporters stemmed entirely from his advocacy for the Palestinian cause rather than any non-existent anti-semitism. And he was the most consistently anti-Islamophobic and pro-immigration major political figure in recent UK history.

            He also initially had a pretty clear position on Brexit, which was to respect the vote but do so on a social-democratic basis (the programme he took to the electorate in 2017 which saw Labour’s vote go up by 10 points). This then became muddied by the pro-EU wing of the party into a vague promise of a re-vote in 2019, with the results we all know. The problem for the left with Brexit is that between British nationalism and a fantasy project of pan-European chauvinism it doesn’t really have a horse in the race, but for three years the UK media was absolutely obsessed with the question.

            I didn’t mention Macron who clearly is a true-believer in Hayek-style libertarian capitalism (free markets + open borders). But for all the rhetoric he hasn’t really done anything concretely to reform France’s immigration system, which is one of the most oppressive in Europe. Things that are absolutely scandalous when proposed in the US (random ID checks, expulsions, etc.) have been routine policy in France for 30 years and that hasn’t changed under Macron.

            Anyway, I don’t want to get too carried away. I come to this blog for discussion of transit rather than politics.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Sorry, I meant that if you divided by annual income by the standard 40-hour week, you get about $15 per hour. But of course that includes a lot of overtime, and some down time in the winter when I worked about 35 to 40 hours. In the last year a lack of staffing led to lots of overtime year round as the fewer employees did more work. For example in addition to being a jack-of-all-trades porter I also did the laundry. Hotel just couldn’t hire anyone who stayed. They made hires that last a few days before failing to show up, lost other hires to people moving out-of-state. Then the pandemic came, business collapse first week of March, and I was let go at the end of the month, with paid-leave vacation time running out by the end of April.

          • fjod

            doncha hate it when the labour right engineer you into praising obviously anti-semitic murals and claiming jews don’t understand ‘english irony’

          • df1982

            So in forty years of political life, this “serial anti-semitic” has had precisely two accusations levelled against him: one about remarks he made about two activists abusing a Palestinian speaker which were then taken out of context, and the other a Facebook post about a mural which he didn’t check to see if any of the bankers had hooked noses (and thus apologised for). Yeah, OK, that’s clearly a new Hitler.

          • Alon Levy

            He laid wreaths on the graves of the Munich 1972 Olympics terrorists. And no, not the new Hitler – a wannabe Stalin, plans for deportation of all Jews to Siberia and all (it didn’t happen, but only because he died).

            P.S. the term “rootless cosmopolitan” began as a Stalinist anti-Semitic slur meant to prepare the Soviet public to accept said deportation of the Jews. It is of course adopted by various left- and right-populists all over.

          • Herbert

            The only country whose far left doesn’t have a huge antisemitism problem that I know of is ironically Germany thanks to the Antideutsche…

          • df1982

            He attended a wreath-laying ceremony for the victims of an act of state terrorism that was condemned by the UN Security Council, this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Wooden_Leg

            Solidarity with Palestinians doesn’t make one an anti-semite. And bringing up Stalin is completely disingenuous. As if Corbyn had secret plans to deport Jews to Cornwall.

          • Alon Levy

            Those victims were terrorists who had murdered Israeli sportsmen at Munich; Israel killed them, just as it dabbled in Nazi hunting. There are ways to display solidarity with Palestinians that do not involve anti-Semitism; Corbyn and Mélenchon do not engage in them, and their parties follow their lead and harass Jewish members, leading to predictable condemnations by British and French Jewish organizations, which such leaders then use to argue that the Jews are part of some global Zionist conspiracy.

          • Nilo

            Amazing that somehow far leftists default to believing the oppressed when they say they’re being discriminated against, but when it comes to Jews and Corbyn, the Jews of Britain are engaged in a deep collective delusion of his anti-semitism. The fact the vast majority of Jews perceive him as anti-Semitic should require some sort of overwhelming evidence to otherwise exonerate him, which does not exist. The fact that Alon and most other Jews collectively view him as an anti-Semite is IMO wonderful evidence that Corbyn is in fact an anti-Semite.

          • Benjamin Turon

            Mr. Corbyn has long supported vocally the brutal dictatorship in Venezuela that has impoverished that country, sending millions of refuges fleeing into neighboring countries or the United States and Europe. He also failed to support the Remain movement, helping to ensure the UK’s exit from the EU, putting the unity of the British political union at stake. Don’t see anything good about him as a political leader. He is no democratic “Scandinavian Socialist” like Bernie Sanders.

          • Herbert

            I for one express my deep solidarity with Palestinians who wish to have a quiet beer with friends or the right to love across whichever gender lines they choose or don’t choose or to go skinny dipping or to have free elections.

            In short I say to the Hamas-Fatah conflict: a pic on both their houses.

            And as for Palestinians being held in camps in numerous Arab states as non-citizens or second class citizens, I say “enough”. Give them citizenship and the right to leave the camps and seek jobs and opportunities.

            In short, I am in solidarity with Palestinians without mentioning Jews once, because the vast majority of Palestinian oppression had nothing to do with Jews…

          • df1982

            Alon has more than once fulminated about human rights violations in China, and even done so with inflammatory rhetoric (making allusions to Nazi Germany and so on). I’m sure there would be pro-PRC Han Chinese who would claim that this is evidence of sinophobia. They would, of course, be wrong, and they don’t get to arbitrarily decide what is and isn’t anti-Chinese racism, or assimilate it with expressions of opposition to the actions of the Chinese state.

            In fact (I assume), Alon is motivated by a deep sense of concern for the fate of the Uighur people, despite having no personal connection to that community. It’s a very commendable stance. Maybe, just maybe, those who oppose the Israeli occupation such as Corbyn (who, by the way, has not once ascribed the actions of the Israeli state to “Jews”) are motivated by the same principles, rather than some hidden anti-semitism?

          • Alon Levy

            Excuse me, but no. Not in the slightest. I criticize the PRC constantly, and simultaneously highlight anti-Chinese racism in Western countries (and occasionally in Korea, where the right-wing press blamed the virus on the Chinese minority). I constantly point out the way various right-wing forces in Canada use PRC crimes as an excuse to oppress Chinese-Canadians, e.g. through NIMBY opposition to new housing on the grounds that it would mostly go to Chinese immigrants, through verbal harassment and the occasional violent hate crime, and through laws banning the public use of the Chinese language; of note, I brought up racism in Vancouver in the text of this post, for a reason. For the same reason, I’ve had not-nice things to say about Tom Cotton and his “ban Chinese students” hot take.

            Note that politicians who distinguish Israel and the Jews do exist. This distinction is quite common at Jewish Voice for Peace, which draws a line at collaboration with anti-Semites like Alison Weir or at spraying “free Palestine” graffiti on synagogues. It’s extremely common among democratic Palestinian politicians – Raed Saleh periodically highlights and criticizes anti-Semitism much like other respectable German politicians. The difference is, these groups do not celebrate the Munich terrorists, nor constantly probe every Jew they encounter for their opinion on Zionism before letting this Jews into their space the way Momentum and Dyke March do. Nor do they permit opposition to Israel on human rights ground to stray into nationalist territory the way Mélenchon does (it’s in his party’s name, even!).

            Of note, when I work with Chinese people, I do not ask “What do you think of Xi?”. Sometimes Chinese people volunteer this information to me, but I don’t ask more than I ask Israelis what they think of Netanyahu, Turks what they think of Erdogan, or even Germans what they think of Merkel. Sometimes this comes out of conversation, but I don’t probe, because it’s not usually relevant.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            Sometimes Chinese people volunteer this information to me, but I don’t ask more than I ask Israelis what they think of Netanyahu, Turks what they think of Erdogan, or even Germans what they think of Merkel.

            Whao, that sure went all comparative slippery slidey quickly.

            Xi? Authoritarian criminal racist fascist, no question.
            Netanyahu? Authoritarian criminal racist fascist, with hundreds of billions of dollars of US dollars greenwashed as “anti-semitism”. And who wants to be an “anti-semite”?
            Erdogan? Authoritarian criminal racist fascist.
            Merkel? Very uncomfortably right-wing. Or, at least, “very uncomfortably” by early 2000 standards. ie almost before you were born.

            ¡¡¡TOPIC DRIFT ALERT!!!

          • df1982

            “Note that politicians who distinguish Israel and the Jews do exist.” Yep, and Corbyn has always rigorously done so, just as you have always distinguished between Chinese people and the CCP. Please show me an instance where he ascribed the actions of Israel to Jews! He has never celebrated the Munich kidnapping (attending a ceremony mourning the victims of an illegal air strike on Tunisian soil in which large numbers of innocent civilians died, and which was condemned by virtually every government in the world, including staunch Israel allies such as the US under Reagan, cannot be equated to that), has consistently vocally condemned anti-semitism, and has worked together with plenty of Jewish organisations that are opposed to the occupation. Momentum has never “probed every Jew they encounter for their opinion on Zionism before letting them into their space” (you do know that it was founded by Jon Lansman, right?). Any claims that Corbyn is an anti-semite are pure slander with laughably thin evidence, and were invented with the singular goal of bringing him down politically. During his leadership everything was tried against him: supporting the IRA, not singing the national anthem, being a Russian spy, deliberately sabotaging the anti-Brexit campaign, etc. Anti-semitism was just the next thing on the list of defamations.

          • Herbert

            I have yet to hear anybody in this blog bring up Morocco, Sudan or Myanmar which are all well-known for human rights abuses against Western Sahara, Darfur/South Sudan and the Rohingya respectively…

            While I do understand why China and the U.S. would matter – after all, they are the two super powers of our era – I never quite understood what the importance of a small beleaguered nation the size of Hesse can possibly be. I mean, I get that it is important that Jews have a place that gives them safe harbor in light of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89vian_Conference this historic failure of the rest of the world… But why are Palestinians so interesting? And why is it never interesting when bad stuff happens to Palestinians unrelated to Israeli actions? I have yet to hear of people boycotting Egyptian goods over the closure of the Rafah border. Or people boycotting Syria specifically over the massacre in the Palestinian camps…

            Anyway, this is a blog about public transit, not one about the rather basic fact that bigotry exists on all sides of the political spectrum and fascists don’t have a monopoly on antisemitism – after all, who helped the Nazis in murdering the Jews if not “ordinary people” in the occupied countries?

          • michaelrjames

            Are you sure you aren’t being a tad disingenuous?
            Yes, different standards are applied to Israel because it is considered part of the modern developed world, an inheritor of the same enlightenment values as Europe (being an historian I’m sure you can name some Jewish contributors to it, not to forget Marx and Einstein and a big rollcall of contributors to modern science and arts). This is not simply “double” standards. We expect more of them, especially after the cause of their own creation. Yet they seem to be doing to the Palestinians what was done to them. (Gaza=Warsaw ghetto?) They make lofty claims for themselves–the only true democracy in the ME, rule of law etc–so it sometimes seems anomalous if not hypocritical. Apparently there is a community of Israelis in Berlin who are there because they are too disillusioned with their own country to bear it anymore.
            Also, Israel is made up of immigrants from all over Europe and many other developed nations, and equally there is a Jewish diaspora in all the developed countries.
            Then there is the fact that the US gives them billions and billions in military aid every year, and perhaps worse, is a total block on any chance of resolution of the Palestinian stalemate. So, it adds to the impression it is serious bullying by the local bully backed up by the biggest bully on the planet.

            As far as Corbyn goes, I had no time for him at all and was in despair with Labour and UK politics in general that they chose such a person. But I was never convinced by the antisemitic charges and saw it as pure partisan muck-raking of the worst kind. Re his long-standing politics of the underdog (Irish, Palestinian, Venezuela etc) I think it is fine and necessary that our politicians have a position on such things but Corbyn represents a type who is more obsessed with it than local and national issues. As they say, he lurked in the background of Labor and UK parliament for >30 years without achieving a single thing for his constituents or nation. And then he was clearly a Brexiteer which for me was the final straw. Perhaps he should have pursued a life in international aid where he could have indulged such concerns more productively (probably not), and it would have been more honest too.

          • df1982

            It might have something to do with the vast amounts of military aid Western governments give to Israel, which is then used to drop bombs on the Gaza Strip every couple of years.

            Alon was the one who brought up spurious allegations of anti-semitism against Corbyn in order to support an untenable “red-brown” thesis, which needed to be rebutted. I’d much rather talk about transit, personally.

            And those other causes you mentioned have always been supported by the far left. Indeed, in some cases (Western Sahara), left-wing activists have been the only ones to show any interest in the matter, with the Western political establishment happy to prop up the Moroccan occupation. The same goes for Sri Lanka’s treatment of the Tamils: the only ones to have come to the latter’s defence are from the left, whereas the centre and right essentially consider the entire population to be terrorist sympathisers.

          • Herbert

            Saying “Israel is just as bad as the Nazis” or “Gaza is a ghetto/camp/whatever” (a claim, btw, Hamas strenuously denies in its Arab language propaganda https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeRlfcLAUII such as this) – and now I’ve probably gotten my rather secular roommate on some wacthlist by googling that video…

            Anyway, equating Israel to the Nazis is considered Antisemitism by many experts on the topic of antisemitism… But what do I know?

            At any rate, I wish for the better of all in the region that Gaza will soon make world headlines for construction of a world class subway network and all peoples of the Middle East – Arab, Druze, Maronite, Assyrian, Kurd, Jew, Yazidi and so on and so forth can share together at the table of brotherhood. Unrealistic? Well, if you don’t believe in miracles, you are not a realist in the Middle East…

          • Herbert

            And if https://www.memri.org/reports/gaza-need-qatars-aid MEMRI is to be trusted on this, Hamas is actually not lying as outrageously as they are on some other issues – when the weapons are quiet, Gaza seems to be an okay enough place to be, if you’re not gay, non-muslim, a connoisseur of fine booze or fall into any other category of wrongthink according to Hamas…

        • michaelrjames

          You are probably right about Mélenchon but I don’t think it is quite accurate to label him or his party as the left. I’m not even sure I accept “far left” as an adequate description. And the most important thing to remember is that in the 2017 elections he won 17 of 577 Assembly seats, ie. 2.95%, which means he really speaks for almost no one in France.

          • Alon Levy

            In the EU elections, EELV did pretty well, if not nearly so well as the German Greens. But EELV was pro-Gilets Jaunes, coming up with this dopey Gilets Verts brand that did not address the racism, did not argue explicitly in favor of diesel taxes, and seemed to mostly exist to tell people “it’s okay to protest in favor of lower diesel taxes and still self-ID as green.” Same way German queer spaces tell people “it’s okay to have a 97% white space in a city that’s 17% not white and still self-ID as antiracist.”

  7. Benjamin Turon

    Well if your the city mayor or head of the local chamber of commerce of a place like Buffalo, Utica, or Schenectady then both immigration and urban growth are very good thinks. I have heard both policy makers talk positively of immigration and read positive press reports about the benefits of immigration and urban renewal (which is growth when empty buildings are redeveloped or new structures built). It is the very big reason I became actively involved in rail, and I always highlight the urban development and population growth benefits of rail as a catalysis for growth.

    • Benjamin Turon

      They should have replace LaGuardia Airport with Steward and MacArthur, extended the subway, raised the land 30-feet, and build an entirely new neighborhood. Go a long way to adding more housing units. The Sunnyside Yard is also a big opportunity.

      • Herbert

        LaGuardia should be shut down without replacement. All those flights under 500 miles will be replaced by HSR anyway…

        • SB

          Busiest destination from LGA: Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Miami.
          Only first two are in (just barely) HSR range.

          • Alon Levy

            LGA flights to Chicago and Miami run mainline jets; LGA has a lot more flights to Toronto and such running 60-seat regional jets.

          • adirondacker12800

            There is lot of puddle jumpers coming in to connect with the other puddle jumpers and all those people could just be getting on a train.

          • Herbert

            All of them are hubs through which people connect, so it’s quite conceivable those represent travelers who’d rather have a six hour train ride than what they currently get…

  8. electricangel

    I assume you’ve read the book Scale, by Geoffrey West, Alon? It puts the science very strongly behind your words here. In a nutshell, cities are the only things humans build that benefit from fractal scaling, so that a doubling of population (100% growth) requires only 85% more infrastructure. When a city doubles in size, incomes go up 115%.

    So, of course, does crime. The challenge in running a city is to get the positive effects of scale without the negative ones.

    • Eric2

      Is it true that crime increases? NYC is known for having the low crime rates compared to other US cities in recent decades, for example.

      • electricangel

        Everything scales superlinearly, good and bad (related to the fractal dimension of a city.). This is where city leadership makes a difference. NYC has been able to capture the increased wealth of scale by focusing on controlling crime, which if left out of control would cause a population collapse and decrease in wealth from scale. Detroit has not, and is now about 1/3rd of its peak population; Detroit, also, was the wealthiest per-capita large city in the USA in 1960.

        By contrast, as Alon has pointed out, NYC has had miserable leadership on controlling disease, another thing that scales superlinearly, compared to Hong Kong. The math shows that cities scale because of fractal effects, but leadership is also key. NYC would never, for example, have achieved its current size without building its water system.

    • Herbert

      Crime doesn’t correlate with population.

      Frankfurt for example is Germany’s leading city for white collar crime but only its fifth by population…

      • Jacob Manaker

        On the contrary, although individual cities may deviate quite substantially from the general trend, on average, when population doubles, crime increases by the same rate of 115% as incomes. See here, although note that this is not an independent verification; it’s from the same think-tank as West, and almost certainly is cited in Scale.

        • electricangel

          Yes, the “on average” is the key difference in a lot of these issues. West’s book shows that San Francisco benefits from a larger increase in income due to scale than NYC does.

          • Herbert

            American cities have far more crime than European cities. Why is that?

          • Alon Levy

            They don’t, though… they have far more murder. But the overall violent crime rates are pretty similar on surveys, at least as of 2004 (source).

          • Herbert

            Murder is the only crime for which accurate statistics which are comparable across time and place exist.

      • keaswaran

        No one is saying that anything correlates literally 100% with population size. If the #1 city at white collar crime is in the top 5 by population, and if the top 5 in white collar crime are all in the top 10 by population, then that’s a pretty good correlation. (I’m guessing that white collar crime correlates greatly with white collar activity generally, though maybe it’s more concentrated in places where you get top level white collar activity, which is likely to be even more concentrated in the biggest cities.)

  9. df1982

    There are a couple of flagrant problems with your argument here, Alon (and this is not to mention the pointless rhetorical provocations like talking about concentration camp rations). One is that you conflate population size, population growth and urban density in order to argue for all three, when they are not necessarily linked. I’m generally a big city (and pro-growth) guy, but I would much rather live in, say, Vienna (which is smaller now than it was in 1915), than Phoenix, which is twice the size and growing rapidly, but almost all of it in the form of endless low-density sprawl. You can have a well-functioning, dense urban form with decent infrastructure provision while retaining a small, stable population.

    The other is the idea that “developers” are good as a class. Just because they are involved in the provision of a social need (housing) doesn’t mean that the owners of real estate development companies aren’t exploitative and parasitic. They’re not the ones actually building the housing (that would be the construction workers), nor do they do any of the planning or infrastructure needed for it to take place (that would be the municipality). They are only a “necessary” part of this process under a capitalist economy. There are of course other models for providing the same need: i.e. public housing. You’re living in a city that has a lot of it, and where the historically high level of publicly-owned housing stock has kept rents affordable for a lot longer than its peer cities.

    Building housing for the maximisation of private profit also has a couple of bad outcomes: one is the inevitable rise in rents (please show me a recent example of a city where high levels of private construction have led to lower rents!), and the other is that, unless constrained by local planning, the housing built will tend to be cheap and shoddy, and without any consideration for the surrounding urban fabric. I wish this wasn’t the case because I do want to see significantly higher density in Anglosphere cities, but the reality of most new developments is extremely disappointing. Of course the track record of public housing is also very poor in this regard, but there is at least the theoretical possibility for democratic input to change things, which is absent in a purely free-market system.

    • michaelrjames

      I agree with all your points.
      The problem really is the toxic arrangement between financialisation of property taken to its extreme in the Anglosphere, where the developers make so much money and have so much political influence (via legal, quasi-legal and often outright illegal contributions) that not just social housing is suppressed but the system get trapped into constant inflation. The banks are a big party of the collusion in maintaining what is ultimately unsustainable, not to mention unproductive economically speaking. The government is addicted because a huge hunk of new money in the economy enters via mortgages which is why everyone pretended not to see the lo-doc mortgages and CDOs in the US that ultimately brought on the GFC when it collapsed like the house of cards it was. The UK has the world’s third largest private debt per capita and Australia is up there too, and it’s almost all mortgages on grotesquely over-valued housing.
      It is this interlocking of the economy with housing and politics that makes it so difficult to change. And the delusion by house owners and so-called “investors” are getting rich by intrinsic cleverness when it is simple speculation and at the expense of others–lower SES or people in the future; ie. there is a shocking entitlement mentality to this prosperous demographic and governments are very reluctant to suggest change. Any change will have to involve a very significant correction and covid just may deliver it. Then it would require a courageous government to take advantage of that crisis to institute real change.

      • Eric2

        This is just stupid. Those supposedly all-powerful developers are in reality helpless against zoning regulations which nearly outlaw development in most existing cities.

        • df1982

          Where exactly is that true? Perhaps a few historical European city-cores (which are already quite dense to begin with, and where redevelopment has major heritage implications), and American suburbia that mandates single-family housing (but here developers profiteer from opening greenfield areas up for new tract housing). It’s certainly not true for places like London, New York, Berlin, Sydney. Making money from real estate development does not require any particular skill set or rare genius, rather just existing capital and the degree of sociopathy required to expel existing land-users so you can turn a buck (hence why the Trumps of this world are in that business).

          You can be pro-density without being overly favourable to the semi-criminal class of developers who might profit from it, or to the real estate bubbles that mean large swathes of the population are being priced out of their own cities.

          • Eric2

            In 1961 zoning in NYC was massively restricted. All the major real estate developers were against it – except, curiously, Fred Trump – but it happened anyway.

            Right now NYC and London have minimal housing construction relative to population. That is bad for the developers and also bad for the population at large.

            Zoning restrictions mean that real estate success comes down to manipulating government officials and customers – a fundamentally corrupt skill set. In the absence of zoning regulations, manipulation is a much less valuable skill for a developer, and understanding customer needs and the ability to coordinate between groups such as contractors and architects become more valuable skills.

            You seem be so blinded by hate the current crop of developers you are willing to forever screw the population with unaffordable housing (except for a lucky or politically connected minority which get public housing) just in order to get back at the developers.

          • Herbert

            The biggest cost driver and development inhibitor is the mandate to build parking lots…

        • michaelrjames

          Eric2, no one is arguing that the zoning system the Americans inflict on themselves isn’t stupid, but equally to go to the other extreme–as several on this blog are recommending–would be as stupid. In fact it would be worse, and of course is largely why the original strict zone separation of function was created. Again, in urbanism as in so many aspects of life, one sees hyperpolarisation with most adopting one extreme or the other. Neither extreme works.

  10. Reedman Bassoon

    In 1950, Detroit was the city with the worlds highest per-capita income. It had 1.8 million people, tied with LA for 4th largest US city. Big doesn’t work out well a lot of the time ….

      • Nilo

        In 1950? What’s your evidence for that?

        Anyways Detroit is globally unique in the collapse of its population. It’s lost the largest portion of its population in the world of any city to hit 1.8 million, and even then the metro area remained largely stagnant as much of the loss was due to suburban flight.

        • Eric2

          Municipal boundaries are artificial. The Detroit area suburbanized, it didn’t lose population. That is not really decline.

          Similarly when the residents of Lower East Side tenements move to more spacious housing elsewhere, it didn’t mean that NYC was declining.

          • Herbert

            Downtown Detroit certainly did decline…

            And there’s another city whose population tanked after having reached a million: Glasgow.

  11. df1982

    It’s hardly minimal: both London and NYC have significant amounts of housing construction, considering both are already built out within their city boundaries. The problem is it is almost all targetted at the high-end market, except for some token publicly-mandated “social” housing, and this is turning those cities into playgrounds for the rich.

    And I seriously doubt that developers in cities without zoning restrictions (like Houston) are significantly less corrupt.

    Moreover, I don’t see any real-world evidence to indicate that giving developers open-slather actually leads to more affordable housing. The opposite almost always seems to be the case (by the way, this is an argument against NIMBY’s who think that higher density will lead to their property becoming less valuable, when in fact they usually see increases to property values).

    I’m not against higher densities or more housing construction – quite the opposite. I just think the present profit-oriented method of doing so is socially destructive.

    • Alon Levy

      In what way is New York built out within its boundary that Tokyo isn’t? Not to mention London, a city with golf courses next to Underground stations…

      • df1982

        Where exactly are the wide open spaces ripe for new development in NYC? There aren’t any, with very few exceptions. So development either means brownfields, or re-developing neighbourhoods that are already quite densely populated. The latter is not easy at it means mass displacement of long-term residents.

        In London (and Sydney too), I would very gladly cover every single square meter of golf courses with residential development at Paris-level densities. But that would require taking on exactly the same wealthy vested interests who are in control of the present system (I’m sure there are private developers who insist on the need to raze council housing while also playing golf in these courses on the weekend).

        Tokyo is very different because Japanese housing is built to only last a few decades and so there is a much greater level of churn in housing stock. I don’t think this disposable model is particularly good for the environment, or something that other countries should adopt.

        • Alon Levy

          Razing New York brownstones and replacing them with modern high-rises is good for the environment – these old buildings have terrible insulation and often end up overheated, so that in winter people open the windows because there’s too much heating. The Japanese way produces more affordable housing, higher housing quality because people aren’t stuck in decaying Old Law tenements, and lower energy consumption.

          • df1982

            Brownstones are actually well-insulated, that’s why they overheat during the winter (because they’re very good at keeping the heat in). They’re much more solidly built than most new constructions, and less prone to Grenfell-like disasters.

            The simple fix is to modernise the heating systems of these buildings, which is much cheaper than demolishing them and building high-rises, and that’s not to mention the aesthetic and historical implications. Arguing that there would be environmental benefits from doing so is spurious.

          • Alon Levy

            I think housing affordability is more important than indulging people who think modern buildings are unaesthetic, but what do I know.

            And the problem with trying to modernize is that modernizing everything – the windows (slide windows are worse-insulated than hinge windows), the fire standards, the heating system, central air – means you’re pretty much rebuilding the structure all over again, at similar cost to new construction of the same size. Historical preservation then raises the cost further, because e.g. in New York, slide windows are considered more historic and therefore hinge windows have to look like slide windows to get LPC approval. Gut renos are therefore uncommon in countries where it’s legal to spend the same amount of money on a new structure – then you can scale up and build something bigger that houses more people.

          • df1982

            You don’t need a gut renovation to increase energy efficiency, simple fixes like double-glazing or replacing the furnace can go a long way.

            I don’t think there’s an evidence that doing what you propose would improve housing affordability. Sydney and Melbourne have been in a decade-long redevelopment frenzy, and real estate prices have skyrocketed in that time frame. Vancouver has a similar urban model to what you’re proposing, and is the most expensive city in Canada. (Vancouver is infinitely preferable to low-density sprawl, however.)

            It’s a genuine tragedy that places like the East Village or Park Slope have been gentrified beyond recognition, but the solution isn’t to raze them to the ground and replace them with some Le Corbusier fantasy of 20-storey towers. The fact that they’re so expensive probably says something about the desirability of true medium-density walkable neighbourhoods, which are otherwise close to non-existent in the US.

          • Eric2

            Grenfell was public housing – exactly what you are recommending to build more of! I can’t recall any comparable disaster in a private housing unit.

          • Eric2

            “Sydney and Melbourne have been in a decade-long redevelopment frenzy”

            Just one rail stop south of downtown Sydney (Redfern), the eight-track station is right next to lots of single family housing. That doesn’t speak to excessive building… Similarly in Melbourne. Much of these cities is still limited by zoning laws not demand, and therefore excessively priced.

          • Alon Levy

            At least as of a few years ago, housing production numbers in NSW and Victoria were fairly high, something like 7-8 per 1,000 people per year (same as Ile-de-France, but on a faster growing population). I don’t know the details but it could be like Vancouver, where a) housing production is high, at 11/1,000, b) housing production is high in the city and not just in the outer suburbs, and c) a number of rich neighborhoods like North Van and Shaughnessy remain restrictively zoned and underbuilt for their location. Already 10 years ago, Jarrett was warning that it was not politically possible to upzone West Point Grey and therefore the Broadway subway should probably only go as far as Arbutus rather than all the way to UBC.

          • Eric2

            Also needs to be mentioned that Sydney, Melbourne, Vancouver are growing fast in population while Ile-de-France is not. So what looks like a high level of construction in terms of cranes is not necessarily high in terms of meeting demand.

          • df1982

            Well, I wouldn’t use Redfern to prove your point, because it has a unique history as the country’s largest urban aboriginal settlement, although in the last ten years it has also been gentrified, and there are a number of new developments happening there. It’s also a part of Sydney that is dominated by Victorian terrace houses, which are a reasonably dense urban form (Redfern itself has a density of 11,000 people per km2, which is not that much lower than inner Berlin), and which are rightly historically protected.

            The issue with Sydney and Melbourne is that after WWII they followed a North American model of low-density suburban development rather than retaining the mid-level density of their pre-war neighbourhoods. Now they are trying to densify having recognised the drawbacks of the suburban model, but are doing so through cowboy real estate developments rather than a more rationally planned approach to densification, which has poisoned the political dynamic, turning a lot of people into knee-jerk NIMBYs. So it is possible to have rapid housing growth in existing areas and overall low density at one and the same time.

            In fact, Alon’s description of Vancouver maps pretty well on to Sydney and Melbourne, except that there’s not such a clear demarcation between city and suburbs (“city” in Australia refers to the downtown).

          • michaelrjames

            Now they [Sydney, Melbourne] are trying to densify having recognised the drawbacks of the suburban model, but are doing so through cowboy real estate developments rather than a more rationally planned approach to densification, which has poisoned the political dynamic, turning a lot of people into knee-jerk NIMBYs.

            Yes, it is why getting acceptable densification in the Anglosphere is so difficult. There is a justified complete distrust of both developers and the politicians who are their proxies. One cannot blame them (citizens) even as they won’t listen to reasoned argument. It’s why California’s SB50 and earlier SB827 bills failed, because in the hands of developers it would have been abused ruthlessly.
            In Australia the recent flammable cladding farago on hi-rise, and the shoddy building of hi-rise with minimalist regulation of building–self-regulation gone to its logical conclusion–represents a tiny chink in the armour of this circle-jerk between developers, politicians and banks (and citizen property “investors” with their absurd tax welfare).
            But then even on a urbanist blog as this one, I regularly get attacked for talking about the alternative to these extremes (exurban sprawl versus hi-rise) which of course is “Parisian” style low-rise that nevertheless produces much higher density than either of these forms while maintaining/creating great urbanism. Even Alon is against such an approach and prefers hi-rise despite all the contrary evidence, as if brownstones would ever be replaced by affordable housing if the natural course (developers) had their way. As if supertalls (to take one extreme) solve any housing issue at all. Hyper-polarisation is the norme.

          • Herbert

            The densest square kilometer of most European countries was built in the late nineteenth century.

            I see no reason to tear stuff from that era down.

            If anything, we need to think about aging reinforced concrete structures and how to replace them with something denser that isn’t an eyesore – i.e. Blockrandbebauung

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            High-rise development is denser, greener, and better urbanism IMO than the whole Parisian-style thing. Manhattan and Hong Kong are objectively denser than Paris, and are efficiently “spiky” in their design. Also, how exactly would SB50 allow developers to be ruthlessly abusive?

          • Herbert

            A tower in a park is not dense. And if you remove the park, it is not green.

            Concrete is a wonderful material. But it has a huge downside: It is ugly.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            A tower next to another tower next to another tower creating whole neighborhoods of skyscraper canyons is very dense. And because of that density, it’s green.

            Glass is a wonderful material with a big upside: it is pretty.

          • Eric2

            If cities like Paris and Barcelona were growing quickly, then tearing down the central district for development of higher FAR would be a good idea. But given that these cities are not growing much, and the central district already has very high density (though not the highest possible by any means), as well as massive cultural and historical significance, it is better to leave them as they are.

            In Paris’ case, the entire peninsula containing La Defense (from Saint-Cloud northward) should be upzoned, and honestly, have no zoning limitations whatsoever. This area is adjacent to Paris’s existing high rise district, is currently low density, and has little of cultural or historic value. A couple million people extra could easily live there with virtually no collateral harm.

            London should do the same thing surrounding Canary Wharf. A little streetviewing suggests that some other neighborhoods such as Chelsea could use the same treatment (central location, low grade short housing, not too much history).

            In smaller cities than these, the need for building is less pressing (prices and likely population growth are both lower) so Blockrandbebauung is a good model.

          • michaelrjames

            In Paris’ case, the entire peninsula containing La Defense (from Saint-Cloud northward) should be upzoned, and honestly, have no zoning limitations whatsoever. This area is adjacent to Paris’s existing high rise district, is currently low density, and has little of cultural or historic value. A couple million people extra could easily live there with virtually no collateral harm.

            That’s because Eric2 lives in a shit city while Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. I wonder is it envy or resentment that drives such people to bring all other cities down to their level of identikit dreariness.
            OK, with my insults out of the way early let me address some of the issues and misunderstandings.
            First, the “entire peninsula”, in fact both sides of the river, already have a residential density greater than anything in the US outside of Manhattan, or with one exception anything in Australia. See my table below (tx Eric for forcing me to assemble this data!). These are all the communes that adjoin La Defense including two across the river Boulogne-Billancourt and Neuilly-sur-Seine (both of which are stockbroker territory and among the richest communes in Paris, France and in fact Europe; B-B claims that distinction and if you walk across Paris 16th arrondissement into it, you will barely notice the change because it is very Haussmannian with just some of the old industrial vehicle plants along the river and on Ile de Sequin being newly built. But note, luckily the development of the brownfield sites has been done in a Haussmannian mode not in hi-rise. (The French learnt their lessons; more later.) Note also, that Boulogne-Billancourt has the second highest density in this list and is close to the intramuros Paris average.

            One can see how the density declines in a east-to-west fashion, at least on the leftbank. This does reflect the transition from old light-industrial areas (Courbevoie, Asniéres) to those leafy prosperous suburbs of Puteaux (containing La Defense), Suresnes and Saint-Cloud, all among the highest average household income in France & Europe. Note that these densities will be underestimates because I haven’t attempted to calculate “developable land”, except in the case of Saint-Cloud where Parc St-Cloud plus the famous racetrack occupy 75% of the commune and distorted the calculation too much.

            La Defense and adjoining communes:
            Courbevoie……….4.17 km2…..81,719 (2017)…..20,000/km2
            Asniéres-s-S……..4.82 km2…..85,973 (2016)…..18,000/km2
            Puteaux…………….3.19 km2….44,645 (2017)……14,000/km2
            Suresnes…………..3.8 km2……48,264 (2017)…….13,000/km2
            St-Cloud (-park)….2.6 km2……29,973 (2017)…….11,500/km2
            Boul-Billancourt…..6.17 km2…120,071 (2017)……19,000/km2
            Neuilly-s-S………….3.73 km2…..60,361 (2017)……16,000/km2
            Nanterre……………12.19 km2….95,105 (2017)……..7,800/km2
            Total: ……………….38.67 km2…566,111………..14,270/km2

            Nanterre is by far the biggest commune and the lowest density but this is because a lot of it is industrial from the giant Port de Paris zone and the old industrial zone stretching north-west from the edge of La Defense, ie. from Nanterre-la-Folie (future RER-E station). In the near-term this zone, called Les Groues, is under redevelopment into both residential and extension of La Defense. Medium- and longer-term all the zone will extend further out from La Defense and certainly represent densification.

            So, in fact, what you want is already underway.
            However, south of this zone and just a few hundred metres west-sw of the Grande Arche is a famous/infamous housing estate, a “Grands Ensembles” called Tours Aillaud. It was built in 1976 and typifies the towers-in-a-park aesthetic though one of the later ones built, and with an attempt to alleviate the problems apparent from prior efforts. It consists of 18 towers, 2 of 39 floors, 8 of 20 floors and 8 of 13 floors. Yet it has only 1, 607 apartments with about 4,500 residents. It is well known of its type and gets pictorial coverage because of its facades of nuages (clouds, see here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tours_Aillaud#/media/File:Tours_Aillaud.jpg). I’m not sure it quite deserves my esteemed countryman critic Robert Hughes gave it (citation further below) because it seems materially better than most other notorious social housing estates and is in a good location transit-wise and though having that curious sterility on-site is walkable to both lots of jobs (La Defense) and shopping etc (both La Defense & Nanterre, and a quick two stop ride on RER-A to the centre of Paris). It’s not exactly clear what the residents think, and the critics focus on the evil social planning by the elites–as Hughes not long after it was built and Owen Hatherley more recently in his Trans-Europe Express. Nevertheless it suffers from familiar problems:

            It currently costs between €500,000 and €800,000 per year to maintain the buildings. Water seepage through the concrete walls and through the uniquely shaped windows is a persistent cost as is the maintenance of the pate de verre frescos. As the buildings age the maintenance costs increase.

            It is also now considered an inefficient use of land, and a redevelopment is under consideration. Some of the towers may be demolished and other low-level (Haussmannian?) residential built, probably with attempts to both house more people and create more acceptable urbanism at ground level.

            At any rate, is this the kind of thing you had in mind, Eric2? Cos it doesn’t work well. Again, to repeat what I wrote in another post here, outside of Asia (and plenty enough inside Asia too) high-rise residential doesn’t produce good urbanism. I don’t think we’ve learnt as much as we should have from these experiments in the post-war era. Here is a photo feature on Tours Aillaud and other starchitect-created similar Grands Ensembles. It shows how hectares of concrete does not make a human-friendly environment; some of it is positively Blade Runnerish except devoid of all the people that animated that fictitious ground level.

            [Tours Aillaud] The buildings were famously derided by art critic Robert Hughes in his 1980 BBC documentary series The Shock of the New:
            Without respect for the body as it is, social memory as it stands, there is no such thing as a workable or humane architecture. And that’s why a place like this – La Defence outside Paris, is experienced by everybody, including those who live in it, as a piece of social scar tissue, gimmicky, condescending alphaville modernism. Stick ‘em in concrete boxes and give them some concrete to play on, and then paint it all bright colours because that’s what the kiddies like, and if the kiddies don’t like it, they can write to the minister!

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            I completely agree, although I’d add that in London’s case really this entire area from Kings Cross/St Pancras to the City to Canary Wharf could become Midtown Manhattan 2.0 without losing any valuable historic heritage. My point is that as a broader model, building replicas of Manhattan, Hong Kong Island, and Shinjuku is better than trying to replicate the Eixample.

          • fjod

            Chelsea!? Low grade? I don’t think you can actually buy a house in Chelsea for less than £1 million; it’s got to be one of the most expensive areas in Europe.

          • Sascha Claus

            »Concrete is a wonderful material. But it has a huge downside: It is ugly.«
            It has an even bigger downside: the CO2 footprint of making the cement for the concrete. The greenest brick is the one already in the wall, so tearing down existing buildings ought to be weighed against the benefit of the new ones to replace them.

          • Eric2

            fjod: exactly. It is full of unremarkable and probably non-historic buildings like this, while at the same time being extremely expensive. That calls for tearing it down and building it much more densely. It also has the existing subway density to support this.

          • Herbert

            Plus we’re running out of sand, which is needed for concrete…

            I’ve yet to hear of shortage of the kind of clay needed for bricks… And you can build plenty dense with bricks…

          • fjod

            Eric2: There’s actually nothing stopping a developer proposing tearing down those houses and replacing them with a high-rise; the UK doesn’t have zoning regulations and the closest thing to them are conservation areas (which are fairly meaningless, and either way the precise area you’ve given isn’t one). Public transport access there is pretty poor too. Although the problem with most of Chelsea is not that it’s not built densely (it is almost all 3+ stories), but that it is full of houses which aren’t lived in, bought either as a London base by rich people who live elsewhere, or as investment properties. In fact Kensington & Chelsea’s population has fallen over the last 20 years as houses previously subdivided into multiple flats have been reunited into whole houses by offshore and/or very wealthy owners. Fix that and you gain thousands more dwellings without moving a brick.

          • Eric2

            “That’s because Eric2 lives in a shit city while Paris is the most beautiful city in the world. I wonder is it envy or resentment that drives such people to bring all other cities down to their level of identikit dreariness.”

            It’s funny you accuse me of wanting to destroy Paris’ beauty, when the area I suggest developing is not even in Paris, but rather a suburban edge city. Nothing historical value or famed beauty would get destroyed. BTW, the city I live in is quite beautiful, though not on the level of Paris.

            “a famous/infamous housing estate, a “Grands Ensembles” called Tours Aillaud”

            I propose construction to the height preferred by the free market, you respond with a public housing project for the poor. What’s the connection? Yes it is well known that public housing high-rises can quickly deteriorate into horrible slums. Yet I cannot think of a single privately built high-rise in the world that later became undesirable. You constantly criticize “towers in parks” (and I sympathize) – but private builders rarely build towers in parks, it is a waste of land that could be used to build more units for more profit. High-rise developments with low overall density are a feature of public housing, not private housing.

          • michaelrjames

            I was just getting your attention. (It worked:-)
            I don’t exactly care if most cities want to turn themselves into identikit hi-rise ugliness. But I do object to the irrationality of it, and the seemingly unstoppable forces doing it to places I would rather it didn’t. I’m not against high-rise per se, obviously it serves a valuable function in CBDs, but today there is a mindless view that it is the solution to every urban problem.
            The thing about that zone from Asniéres to Saint-Cloud, that you declined to respond to in your latest post–or perhaps you are like so many who are blind to it–is that it already achieves high residential density. Yet you continue to believe it can only be achieved by building high-rise. You see the kind of affliction you have? You want to destroy the village to save the village!

            OK, along with that is the notion that the kind of urbanism generated by high-rise is somehow better than Haussmanian. I think you are just confusing the coincidence of what density (and prosperity etc) has produced, eg. in midtown-Manhattan. I don’t think the fact it is high-rise has anything to do with it, and in fact detracts from it (see below). Though it also needs diversity (a la Jacobs, in everything including or especially, social) and it is at severe risk of losing this. It is interesting and exciting because of what is there, not its particular format. I think it is significant that most people’s preference would be Greenwich village, and not necessarily those cute and now unaffordable townhouses but the kind of 5 floor walk-up that architect, architectural critic and urbanist Michael Sorkin lived and died (26 March 2020) in; built in 1892 (Haussmannian!; not my opinion but of Stern who describes the history of the NYC apartment building with its Parisian antecedents). As he describes (in Twenty minutes in Manhattan; his walk from his home to his studio).

            As to the free market, that is pure delusion. And the bigger the structures, the more it is a product of developer and/or corporate interests and manipulation. If there is a market in operation it is of the speculator who either barely lives there or just to flip it for profit. You may shrug and say, bah, it works. But increasingly it doesn’t and the simplistic notion of building more hi-rise residential (always 100% unaffordable almost by definition) especially doesn’t work. Here’s Sorkin:

            A big struggle at the moment concerns our local waterfront, specifically several soft sites that are in danger of being developed with very large buildings that the preservation community might describe as “out of character.” The poster children for this threat are three adjacent and widely hated 14-storey apartment buildings on the river, all designed, in his typically crisp and elegant style, by Richard Meier. They are held inappropriate because they are of larger scale than the predominantly low-rise character of the neighborhood, because they are unabashed in their white steel and glass modernism and because they tip the balance of waterfront development away form an irregular, predominantly low-rise, scale and rhythm into a version of Riverside or Lakeshore Drives or Copacabana, driven by the logic of their views rather than by the neighborhoods behind them.
            Although this is less openly expressed (and has no legal standing in any of the planning hearing that will influence the future of our waterfront), there’s a giant subterranean sentiment that the buildings are also out of synch with the idea of the Village as raffish, diverse, progressive, and a bastion against the remorseless trendiness and fashionability that has the city (and more and more, the Village itself) in a stranglehold. This reading has surely been helped by the raft of A-list celebrities (among them Martha Stewart and heather Mills) who have flocked to Meier’s buildings and paid the astronomical prices that have helped to push the cost of everything else–from real estate to yogurt–into the stratosphere.
            The Meier buildings and several others nearby (including a funky, over-scaled and under-detailed pink number built by the artist Julian Schnabel packed with a changing roster of stars, many of whom flip their digs for millions after a brief stay) beg the primary question of historic preservation: should physical objects be the only focus?

            He goes on to talk about how New York has endlessly reformulated the reconciliation of private rights and public interest but which today has devolved increasingly into narrow sectional and purely economic performance criteria personified by Bloomberg:

            Here, too, the progress of the city is gauged by strictly economic criteria. The Mayor frequently cites the zooming rise of real-estate prices as the index of our success. This is Republican logic, the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats, trickledown theory of general benefit. Increased property values will produce–along with increased consumption by those with vastly expanded incomes–increased revenue for the city via taxes which, in turn, can be used to benefit the large segments of the population left out of the upward spiral of development. Here’s the vision: Manhattan becomes the gigantic gated community with a narrowing range of economic activities and a growing inhospitality toward those without the pelf to buy into its increasingly fabulous lifestyle. It’s a simple but invidious fallacy: there’s nowhere to trickle down to if there’s no one but millionaires left.

            One more quote from Sorkin’s Twenty Minutes, that addresses another relevant issue in this discussion though it has been almost entirely absent: community. I realise that walking in Manhattan is less enjoyable than it should be, because it really is a bit harsh and impersonal, and frankly a lot at ground level is shabby as if its residents don’t value it or care enough for it. Some people sneer that Paris (and some of these other dense cores of old Euro cities) is too pimped and nannied by the state, but well, that’s just bullshit isn’t it? American cities are simply held in neglect, and woe-be-tide a slight change in econo- or social history (as right at this time) and some could slip into the next Detroit or East St Louis (I went to both on my first trip to the US in my youth and was shocked at how such a rich nation could allow entire cities to slide into such a condition.) And hi-rise residential is entirely concordant with this decline or neglect of a wider civic responsibility, or care about local urbanism; indeed by overselling the nonsense of those “glorious views from the 80th floor” it devalues the street-level, because it needs to as it doesn’t contribute to it at all and in fact detracts from it.

            The rent system is one that largely bypasses the idea of the civic or of citizenship, of duties uncoerced. Thus, our landlord–like so many in the city, including the largest–takes no real responsibility for the participation of his property in the larger urban ensemble. That our building has long been one of the shabbiest on an otherwise lovely block has only recently come to concern him, the result of a sudden impulse to make improvements that can be passed along in higher rents and of a raft of violations issued by the Building Department. Likewise, while the sidewalk out front is in reasonable repair–the owner’s obligation in a city in which sidewalks are legally private, not public, property–the tree that shades it is a matter of complete indifference.
            The devolution of civic responsibility for trees and sidewalks into the hands of adjoining landlords results in the ridiculous absence of trees on even the city’s most prosperous thoroughfares. My bile rises when I pass the unshaded sidewalks of the corporate skyscrapers of midtown because even these entities–worth billions of dollars–are as indifferent as my landlord to the public realm Contrast this with well-bowered cities like Paris or Hanoi (influenced, happily, by the colonizer in this particular). The missing tees in midtown have the same source as the cracked sidewalks of Bushwick: the landlord doesn’t give a damn and the city doesn’t think the matter important enough to make him.

            OK, I won’t disappoint you and post one too many a long citation! No accident that the most pleasant part of Shanghai is the French Quarter with its avenues of plane trees. It’s the Neuilly-sur-Seine and Chelsea of Shanghai! It’s why the hyper-kewl (perhaps now gone out the other side and anti-cool?) Xintiandi which at least preserves some of those Shikumen (which are the Shanghai version of what Sorkin calls longtang houses).

            The mews house is a rarity in New York (there are several rows in the Village, including one nearby that formerly housed stables) but the type is superb. I’ve long been especially enamoured of the so-called longtang houses found in Shanghai and other Chinese cities. These are complexes of two- and three-story row houses on networks of pedestrian lanes, entered off major streets. Not only are they islands of calm, they are brilliant social condensers where a walk through can find islands of kids at play old folks clacking Mah Jong counters, potted plants on the sidewalk, birdcages and drying fish hanging from the eaves. The type originated in the nineteenth century as a composite of European and Chinese styles and can be found in a wide variety of architectural expressions. Unfortunately, they now tend to be both overcrowded and centrally located and re being demolished at a tragic clip.
            … That the type doesn’t appear in New York is the product of the prohibitive economics of scale, of the hegemony of road traffic in figuring architectural morphologies, of a lack of a vibrant tradition of such building, and of the precedence of other spatial prototypes. To introduce them now in our neighborhood would be to reinforce the kind of uneven development that makes the Village so great but would flaunt the ethos of the maxed-out building envelope. And sites of suitable scale for anything but the most miniature versions have ceased to be available. But the type is brilliant and desperately needs to be reborn as part of the global housing repertoire. It might still have a life in Hew York as part of a densifying retrofit of more loosely developed parts of the city.

            The point of all this (other than being my obit to Sorkin who died a few months back) is that urbanism matters, even to those who think it doesn’t matter to them. My biggest complaint or argument to you Eric2 is that you claim (by implication) that it doesn’t or that–vigorous handwaving towards midtown (!) or HK–it autogenerates with enough density. No, it doesn’t. I think Manhattan has been on a downward trend for two decades and it is accelerating. Maybe it will just shift across to kewl parts of Brooklyn. San Francisco, another rare American city I care about, is on a similar trajectory and seems helpless to do anything about it. Assuredly building more Millennium Towers, or supertalls, is not going to reverse it but actually speed it up.

          • Eric2

            “the UK doesn’t have zoning regulations”

            Even without formal zoning, NIMBYs have the power to block almost any new development, which has the same effect.

            “Although the problem with most of Chelsea is not that it’s not built densely (it is almost all 3+ stories), but that it is full of houses which aren’t lived in”

            Even if every single house were lived in, those 3 stories would only have 3 stories worth of people in them. If it was built to Blockrandbebauung standards, there would be 6-8 stories of people in them (and the buildings would have a bigger footprint than at present, so even more people). And if you built higher, like in parts of the Upper East Side, density would be even higher…

            “Public transport access there is pretty poor too.”

            Not really. Nearly the whole neighborhood is within a 10 minute walk of South Kensington station, which has below-capacity subways to Kings Cross, Heathrow, and the city.

          • fjod

            If it was built to Blockrandbebauung standards, there would be 6-8 stories of people in them (and the buildings would have a bigger footprint than at present, so even more people).

            I’m not sure this is necessarily true (remember I said 3+ stories; most are in the range of 3 to 7). Let’s take Friedenau in Berlin as an archetype of such construction; it’s Berlin’s densest quarter. Friedenau reaches a density of 17200/km². Chelsea is around 14000/km². Not a huge difference, and entirely solvable by subdividing some of Chelsea’s large houses. To broaden the comparison slightly, the residential areas of inner Berlin and Munich are basically the same density as inner London; Warsaw is considerably less dense, and Vienna is a little denser. There are definitely ways to get denser cityscapes than London’s – and London should seriously investigate how to do this – but “just build Blockrandbebauung” isn’t it.

            Nearly the whole neighborhood is within a 10 minute walk of South Kensington station

            That’s not true; have a look on Google Maps. And the buildings that are within 10 mins walk of South Ken all have 5-10 stories. In fact, some of Chelsea is pretty much the only (populated) area in central London north of the river over 1km from any tube or train station.

          • Eric2

            14000/km is nothing. In Barcelona there are multiple neighborhoods over 50000 with no high rises.

            I did look on Google Maps. 10 minutes walk is roughly 1km. Nearly the entire neighborhood is within 1km of South Kensington or Sloan Square. This is as the bird flies, but the numbers don’t change too much with walking distance.

          • michaelrjames

            14000/km is nothing. In Barcelona there are multiple neighborhoods over 50000 with no high rises.

            Not sure about that. One mustn’t choose a very small unit, eg. the footprint of a skyscraper or cluster of them, and claim a super-high density as if it could be replicated across a proper city. The Eixample has a density of 36,000/km2 over its 7.5km2 which is due to its high uniformity and little space given over to other non-residential types or parks etc. In that sense it is very similar to Paris 11th which is the densest arrondissement at 41,600/km2 over its 3.7km2. In fact, I believe it helps define upper limits of desirable density: I think it is no accident that Barcelona is trying to remedy some of the outcomes of that plan with the Superblock system which is effectively (re)creating new open space for pedestrians: Cerda’s original concept of chamfered blocks had been lost (effectively not physically) due to traffic and general congestion. It recreates a much more people-friendly environment. However I believe it does point to a bit of a weakness in Cerda’s plan and that really needs more diversity of functional space, of the type you see in Paris or in adjoining areas of Barcelona, eg. the Ramblas (not in Eixample) is so popular because it is effectively a linear park, and coincidentally the only true parkland in Paris-11 is something very similar, the park above Canal St Martin and bordered by Boulevard Richard Lenoir (and for example it hosts the weekend market known for its organic “biologique” produce).

            The point here is that these very high densities are in fact a bit too much and they are acceptable or less noticeable because they are relatively small zones within a bigger city. They aren’t exactly viable over a whole functional city. It’s why I have come to the conclusion that a workable density is between 20-25k (and without tiny chambres-de-bonnes, even lower, 15-20k). Yes, like the Paris average (over 89km2). The exceptional thing about living in Paris–including living in the 11th (I lived in the 4th and 10th just off the canal)–is that you really don’t feel oppressed. The dimensions and light & air, and the diversity of spaces, squares, parks, plazas, wide boulevards versus narrow streets, not to mention huge variety of building topology from churches, ecoles, universities, hospitals, administrative, ceremonial, grand hôtels etc., keeps it at bay. Apparently this is not true in Barcelona-Eixample and it will be interesting to follow their superblock attempt to get it back. Of course Hidalgo and Bertrand Delanöe felt Paris did need something similar to ameliorate the oppressiveness of domination by vehicles (I kind of agree but also heed Jane Jacobs rules about keeping streets busy, ie. be careful of quietening it down too much).

            Neither do I believe midtown Manhattan fulfils these conditions: it is somewhat oppressive, not only from the high-rise but also the unrelenting nature of it over a significant area; you really have to walk a long way to find any relief. The high-rise definitely doesn’t help neither does the absence of trees on even wide streets (I have a comment by Michael Sorkin on this on another comment I will post shortly). It’s another big reason why people prefer the Village etc or around Washington Sq Park even though it is now crowded with the high-rise of NYU it is relieved by the park and the smallness of the park helps. When I walk north-south in Manhattan I find it a bit fatiguing, and this isn’t physical but the well known psychological effect from the surroundings. I can walk all day in Paris and frequently did. No accident it is where the flaneur and flaneuring were invented, and couldn’t and doesn’t occur in Manhattan.

            Likewise parts of Hong Kong can be a bit oppressive and one definitely needs to escape it from time to time, which again is rescued by the diversity–largely imposed by the challenging terrain and which means you are never far from a walk thru its many natural areas on those steep hills. If Hong Kong had 89km2 (intramuros-Paris size) of non-stop zone like its densest in Kowloon around Nathan road it would be a nightmare a bit like what apparently inspired Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner street scenes. And it is a bit/lot like that but luckily you can quickly escape to the wonderful Kowloon park (which was only created as a respite in the 70s-80s) or the harbour-front.
            Re Chelsea, compared to most of (inner) London it is a bit of a transit desert and can be a bit of a trek (not arduous but when you are coming home late at night in a miserable damp cold English winter (or “summer”!) ….). Fjod said: but “just build Blockrandbebauung” isn’t it. But it is! Just that the Blockrandbebauung needs to be 5-7 floors to achieve better density. Yes, Haussmannian!! You’ve both just proved my points. It’s the Goldilocks height (and resulting density) and big cities (unlike say Amsterdam, a small cozy city) benefit from it, as Berlin or Chelsea might. However, Chelsea is Chelsea because it is very exclusive with many SFH, with a certain spaciousness that lends it its particular grace and filled with Sloane Rangers etc. and we know it is not going to change materially, and I wouldn’t force it to change. Big cities need their different zones, and in fact it is not that Paris doesn’t have such zones: if you impose a map of inner-Paris on inner London, Chelsea is not in it. So it more closely resembles, say Neuilly-sur-Seine in which it can also be a bit of a trek to the nearest Metro station. Neuilly also like Chelsea has ambassadorial residences, some grand SFH and the American Hospital etc. Or Saint-Cloud which is a (former) royal suburb and even ritzier. No accident that it has very similar density, 11,500/km2, as Chelsea!

          • Mikel

            @Eric2, michaelrjames: The super-dense neighborhoods of Barcelona, with 50,000 or even 60,000/km, are not in the city proper but on working-class parts of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat like Torrassa, Collblanc and La Florida, built in the mid-20th century. Those places have a different urban form (example) from the Eixample (example), with a weaker grid, much narrower streets, somewhat lower buildings (typically 3-5 stories rather than 5-8) and presumably a lot more overcrowding. The L’Hospitalet municipality averages 21,000/km but that includes some industrial and agricultural areas, as well as the big Can Tunis railyards where the AVEs go for maintenance.

            I’m not sure the Ramblas are very popular with the locals; they’re mostly a tourist trap now. They exist in Barcelona (and many other coastal cities in the area) because they’re riverbeds prone to flash floods so they can’t be built over.

            I agree that the Eixample, while very nice, does have too much uniformity, and the older the city gets, the more difficult it becomes to redevelop it – Gaudí’s plan for the Sagrada Familia included demolishing the block in front of the main portico to create a park, but good luck buying up that real estate now! However, besides the superblocks, some progress has been made, like the ongoing rebuidling of Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes from highway abomination to urban park served by trams – it will hopefully be finished at some point in this century.

          • michaelrjames

            I agree with what you wrote.
            Except I remain sceptical about zones of 50-60k/km2. Usually, when examined closely they aren’t really–because of a kind of cherry-picking of a few blocks etc and omitting streets etc. (Or someone has confused with sq. miles.) Also old areas of 3-4 floors hardly ever approach Haussmannian density for obvious reasons. For example the Ciutat Vella, which is just one to two floors lower, is 25,000/km2. I see that my favourite area, Gracia has an average of 29,620/km2 which is higher than I’d have imagined but is due to two of its 5 districts, one of which (Camp d’en Grassot i Gràcia Nova) has 34,838 residents on 65Ha for 53,640/km2 –so maybe you are correct? but I don’t know the different neighbourhoods to see what accounts for this big diff. Might checkout on Streetview later. The view you linked to, has buildings of 5 floors but I suppose if the district is unrelenting residential like that and narrow streets and small apartments with big (immigrant) families, the density would be high. But of course it is no one’s idea of best practice even if providing fairly good conditions and convenience for the lower SES.

            Doesn’t the Sagrada Familia have that park in front of it? Maybe it was intended to be much bigger?

          • Benjamin Turon

            Also better, faster rail service can open up land further from the city proper for development.

          • adirondacker12800

            But those silly people in metro New York do things like eating and need places for food distrubution and make garbage which has to be hauled somewhere and expect there to be stuff in department stores and get their smartphone repaired. Silly silly people. Willets Point is a ghetto of automobile repair. Convert that to housing where is all of that going to go? Ohio?

          • michaelrjames

            adirondacker, what is currently occupying that great red blotch in the middle of Queens + Brooklyn on Care(free)’s map? Is it light industry? Some railyards?

          • Alon Levy

            The northernmost part is railyards that people are discussing decking (which I blogged about eons ago). The rest is light industry, mostly warehouses, self-storage, and the occasional manufacturing concern that lives off of city subsidies because manufacturing workers are more moral than all other workers.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            There is no need for industrial areas in the NYC core. Put that stuff in Middlesex County or something. The land is way too valuable for that.

          • adirondacker12800

            Well I suppose if all the food/dry goods distribution that goes on in Hunts Point in the Bronx evaporates it will make the trip to Pennsylvania to use a toilet a bit easier. On a steam train because the electrical and steam generation that goes on in the blob north of Astoria goes away. They can haul their garbage as a carry-on. And pick up their mail, UPS and FedEx after they have dropped the garbage off and used the toilet. Where the fuel for the steam trains will come from is a good question because coal distribution was eliminated a long time ago and the blobs cover the petroleum distribution. I know Amazon drones can fly it all in and out from West Virginia!

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Literally all these services can happen further out in the suburbs.

          • adirondacker12800

            No it can’t or it would. And the people in the suburbs would take a dim view of having their houses razed to find the space to do it in.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Or maybe there is a lot of inertia in New York politics and real estate but there isn’t anything actually stopping relocating Hunts Point’s distribution facilities to some undeveloped chunk of Linden or Cartaret.

          • adirondacker12800

            Linden and Cateret are easier to get to from Midtown or Wall Street than Hunts Point. And there are no undeveloped chunks of land in either. Having the retailers stay on their side of the Hudson has it’s charms too. Instead of hundreds of small trucks there are dozens of big trucks going to supply the distributors.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Just build over the Hawk Rise Sanctuary or something. Or if you want to be east of the Hudson then use JFK long term parking.or Cunningham Park. There is really no excuse for industrial land inside the loop formed by the Staten Island Expressway, I-95, I-678, or the Belt Parkway.

          • adirondacker12800

            Swamp that floods during high tides? You definitely aren’t going top alienate parkland. Or close parking lots at the airport.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            It isn’t that hard to raise land up and mitigate it elsewhere. And I’ll take my chances building over some unimpressive parkland that is slashed through by a freeway or replacing surface parking with a parking garage. You always think pretty straightforward projects that annoy a fairly small number of people like building on a small chunk of forest or a closing a surface parking lot or tearing down 100 homes in Fairfield County are politically impossible and then propose outlandish ideas like a bridge over the Long Island Sound. Seriously, be consistent.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s technically feasible to fill in swamps. It used to quite popular in metro New York. It’s a lot cheaper to dump the garbage there than ship it to the Midwest. There is a passage in the book “The Great Gatsby” about what they were doing to Flushing Bay to make it into Flushing Meadow Park. But we’ve decided that it’s better to ship garbage to the Midwest. Or swamps in other places. The reduction in flooding around them is quite nice. Or do you want to dyke the west side of Arthur Kill too? And all around Newark Bay?
            The people near Cunningham Park like it quite a lot. And will be a bit peeved that someone wants to move Hunts Point market there when Hunts Point market already functions quite well. Adding rail access to the park would be quite tricky. Stuff gets to Hunts Point by rail in addition to being trucked there. Wouldn’t be easier to just build whatever you plan for Hunts Point, in Queens?
            The people who built the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel didn’t ask your opinion and went ahead and built it anyway. And then expanded it. PIty they didn’t ask you first

          • Herbert

            Shut down La Garbage Airport and build Paris-style housing in its stead…

          • michaelrjames

            Shut down La Garbage Airport and build Paris-style housing in its stead…

            I said exactly the same thing for Berlin. Here is an extract of something I posted in CityLab:

            At Parisian (Haussmannian) style and densities (6-7 floors, 25,000 residents/km2) they only need 8km2 (800 Hectares in total, including streets, schools etc) which is not really that much. Tempelhof (386 ha) and Tegel (466 Ha) airports should have been partly used for this, but obviously there needs to be a lot of affordable housing amongst it. Already 221 Ha + 80 Ha of Tegel have been reserved for tech and industrial parks. Of Tempelhof, 355 Ha is Tempelhofer Field.

            But Berliners, at least those who have already found their comfortable niche, want the entire Templehof site kept “wild”. I think it is very misguided and in a way very selfish. Such huge parks or bois are little used the majority of the time. The people that currently use it (I’ve seen a doco with skateboarders etc) in fact only use a tiny little bit of it. I reckon they could keep about one quarter of it (≈100 Ha) as green space but not in big lump, divided into, say, one major park of about the size of Jardin du Luxembourg (23Ha) and a whole series of smaller ones like Parc Monceau (8Ha) plus a whole lot of even smaller treed squares or plazas like the delightful Square des Batignolles (1.6Ha). Maybe with green allies connecting the whole district’s green spaces. Unfortunately too many people and it seems especially planners and politicians are obsessed by giant green-coloured acreage on their urban plans, nevermind that it hardly gets used and effectively deprives more people of actual day-to-day access and benefits of useable green space. IMO NYC’s Central Park is such a waste; of course in a city of almost 9m there will always be some people using it but if you could do a honest study, say accessing the GPS tracker on their phones, you discover the vast majority of New Yorkers barely use it. But if you lived within say 5 blocks of Washington Square Park (4 Ha) you’d probably walk thru it several times a week if not every day. We use the stuff close to our daily lives and tend to walk thru parks that are small enough to walk thru, not bothering to enter a gigantic park for which a walk across is barely a consideration. Of course if the choice is between having Central Park or not having it, I’d choose to keep it but if I had a magic wand I would distribute it evenly across Manhattan as 90 (ninety) Wash Sq parks!

          • michaelrjames

            Unfortunately the voting public of Berlin does not want that

            Yes, I know. I argued with them on CityLab. I put them in the categories of “vested interests” (they’re not the ones seeking affordable housing) and “ignorance”. They need a Haussmann, a benign dictator (though as I wrote earlier, he paid–often overpaid–for everything he demolished). The only mitigating factor in their favour is what I have said many times here: distrust of what the usual suspects of developers, politicians and so-called urbanists and elites would inflict on them.
            At the least there needs to be some enlightened planners and urbanists who put forward a solid plan of the kind of scheme I described. Not one with the usual garbage of high-rise, giant useless alienating green spaces etc. Gehl and Sorkin (who died during covid), not Yglesias or Glaser (in fact both are economists which tells you who runs our world).

          • Herbert

            If handled properly the old-new Siemens area in Berlin could become something interesting…

            Especially if they do manage to extend the S-Bahn even beyond the extent it had pre 1980 in that area…

          • Herbert

            One of the reasons Japanese tourists love Rothenburg ob der Tauber is that it has more “old stuff” in one place than can be found in much of Japan…

            Of course Rothenburg managed to retain this “old stuff” by dodging two bullets 1618-1648 & 1939-1945 and the latter largely by being irrelevant at the time…

        • Herbert

          Glass facades have all sorts of problems, including glare and greenhouse effect.

          And again the densest square kilometers are not skyscrapers.

          https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2018/mar/22/most-densely-populated-square-kilometres-europe-mapped this article seems to think density is bad ™ due to having a headline of “overstretched cities” but you can see the aerial images of the densest square km in several European cities – none of them is glass facade concrete towers with steel reinforcement…

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            That’s because a lot of skyscraper districts have offices and hotels, which have to go somewhere. Nothing approaches the daytime population density of skyscraper districts, and the residential ones are denser than mid-rise areas. These mid-rise areas you linked to top out at about 135,000 people per square mile. Meanwhile, the residential high rises of Hong Kong’s Ap Lei Chau pack in about 170,000 people per square mile. It just isn’t comparable.

          • Herbert

            Wait, when did places that are empty half of the day become desirable?

            The strict separation of functions is exactly the car-centric urban planning that got us into this mess in the first place.

            The more people that have a stair-commute, the better.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Uh, that’s not going to work in a big labor market and centralizing jobs is good from a transportation perspective. The fact is, in a 20 million person metropolis, the best job for a person is rarely going to be one within walking distance. Besides, if you pushed office jobs out to residential neighborhoods, then offices would take up a bigger portion of buildings and there would be fewer residential units in these mid-rise areas. My point is that high rise districts provide about 50% more usable floor space then mid rise areas, and that’s the most relevant metric.

          • Herbert

            First of all, Covid 19 has shown that many office jobs needn’t be in offices. At least not all the time.

            Second, the price for a 50% higher floor area ratio (if that) is that you get buildings that don’t last as long (properly built traditional materials or unreinforced concrete have a proven track record of centuries) reinforced concrete – which is the only feasible way above a certain height – has a ticking clock. Just look at the rusted rebar sticking out at odd angles in “old” reinforced concrete structures. And we’re not talking centuries here, we’re talking post WW1.

            In addition to that, high rises (I.e. Anything beyond the reach of the ladder of fire trucks) need MUCH stricter fire protection because “just get out in case it burns” won’t work. And you’re spending much more money to build the stuff.

            And if you’re required to build parking or maintain distances between the towers you aren’t even gaining density.

            Instead of trying to make a single square kilometer filled with ever higher towers, why not convert the seas of parking and oceans of cul-de-sucks into nice ten floor Blockrandbebauung?

          • Eric2

            Herbert, your points contradict each other. A 10 story building needs concrete just as a 40 story one does. Both are out of reach of fire trucks. If the building were only 6 stories it would probably be build nowadays of wood for cheaper, but then you lose 40% of the floor space of a 10 story building.

          • Alon Levy

            For what it’s worth, infra-lightweight concrete is good up to about 9 stories and has something like 1/3 the carbon footprint of regular concrete per unit of built-up area.

          • Nilo

            Chicago’s Loop is incredibly transit centric, yet until maybe the past five years if you entered it after 10 PM you’d think civilization had more or less ended. It’s also the second largest business district tin America.

          • Herbert

            The German “Hochhausrichtlinie” (“high building law”) applies starting from 22 meters (as measured by the floor of the highest occupied story) but different regulations start getting tighter above that height (e.g. the requirement of firefighter lifts above 30 meters) . And as the Romans were building with concrete but without steel reinforcement (the biggest unreinforced concrete cupola is still that of the Pantheon in Rome) we can take their “insulae” as the basis for what relatively “primitive” building technology can achieve – insulae were built on the cheap, after all. Augustus limited their height to 20 meters at most, no doubt because of fire protection and collapse concerns and maybe even aesthetic ideas…

            But why would anybody want or need to build residential buildings for the mass market much higher than that?

    • Nilo

      In what world does NYC proper have significant amounts of new housing construction? It produces fewer new units per capita than SF proper.

  12. johndmuller

    There is a lot of potential in this topic for good discussion material.

    Inasmuch as taking full advantage of existing infrastructure is a primary driver of growth, how does one build in a means of maintaining/replacing that infrastructure?

    Many of our worst problems seem to involve striking a balance point somewhere short of taking a philosophy 100% to the max. For example, world economic efficiency is optimized by comparative advantage globalization, but blowback from local dislocations apparently limits its application to something less than 100%. How do we find the appropriate balance points besides fighting (perhaps literally) over them?

    Do the current residents of any particular location have the final say in what goes on there? If not, then who? and why them? If so then sez who?

    What’s the correct number of outside ethnicities / higher or lower income people to move into our neighborhood, how do we calculate it and how/who is going to make it so.

    Does anyone want to make the case for negative growth?

    • Eric2

      “Extremes are alone logical, but they are always absurd” -Samuel Butler

      I think there is plenty to say about the proper balance between the needs of your community and of humanity as a whole – but the discussion would go far afield of this blog…

  13. hudincomeexclusions

    Well written post. “A denser neighborhood has more amenities, because more people is a good thing, because new people stimulate new social events, new consumption, and new opportunities for job access.” Dense neighborhoods and housing have been hardest hit by COVID. By density, do you mean overcrowded as in 1960’s America “projects”? That never quite worked out here in Los Angeles, Newark, New York. By density do you mean like Japan? People that support plans like yours rarely answer the question of where will the middle income, low income, very low income, and seniors live? Hitler called such groups the “useless eaters”. The Los Angeles TOC (transit area) are over 75% market rate, so that is the plan of what to do with the low and middle income, just drive them out.

    • Herbert

      Contrary to what you’ve been told, “towers in a park” are not dense.

      The densest housing is 19th century Blockrandbebauung in most of Europe.

      And that, incidentally, is also the most in demand housing…

    • Joseph

      As Alon has written density does not correlate with covid. New York’s suburbs were hit harder than the city (and Manhattan was less effected than the outer boroughs). Also why should building more housing push out low/middle/no income people? NYC builds very little housing and people are getting pushed out.

  14. df1982

    100% correct. Being such a huge advocate of regional rail in NY, I’m surprised Alon doesn’t see it as an anchor to turn suburban parts of the NY metro into medium-density areas to accommodate population growth, rather than dynamiting already dense neighbourhoods.

    Hell, there is one tiny change that could trigger this process in a large area ridiculously close to Manhattan: merge PATH with the subway (so integrated fares, full representation on subway maps, even giving the PATH lines their own alphanumeric codes). This would turn Newark into a new Brooklyn practically overnight.

    • df1982

      It’s also very frustrating that despite being such a desirable urban form in the 21st century, Blockrandbebauung is either expressly forbidden by planning codes or looked down upon by planners – largely, I assume, due to the difficulties it presents for parking and traffic (but this is precisely what is good about it!). The tyranny of automobile access lives on.

      • Eric2

        It doesn’t actually present any problems for parking or traffic. It is easy to build a parking garage underneath the building. (Then you can eliminate street parking too)

        • Herbert

          Underground parking is insanely expensive…

          The easiest way is to simply eliminate parking mandates altogether…

    • adirondacker12800

      Newark went and turned itself into Brooklyn around the same time Brooklyn was turning itself into Brooklyn.

      • df1982

        At the same time that rents were exploding in Brooklyn, Newark was literally giving houses away to people willing to live there.

        Take a look at the area around the Harrison PATH station, which is only a 23min ride from Downtown Manhattan (less time than Crown Heights or Sunset Park). Decrepit industrial land and low-density housing. That’s somewhere ripe for upzoning.

    • Eric2

      Those “already dense neighbourhoods” are not really dense. Most of Brooklyn and Queens are single family houses (including many row houses). Two stories high when Blockrandbebauung would allow for 6-8 stories. Density could easily be multiplied severalfold there while maintaining everyone’s favorite urban form.

      Given that there are 17 subway lines into Manhattan and only 5 regional rail lines (and less if you leave room for intercity traffic), the bulk of development has to be within the city, otherwise regional rail will not be able to handle the traffic.

      As for Manhattan, the mind-boggling thing is that there are 2-3 story buildings on the corner opposite Penn Station. There is no excuse not to have 40+ story buildings here whether office or residential. In fact all of Manhattan south of about 80th street is more or less walkable – not even transit, walkable – to either Midtown or Lower Manhattan. The economic value of such proximity to huge job centers is extremely high, and for a lot of people it would outweigh the lack of light and parks that come with living there.

      My proposal is that all of Brooklyn, plus those parts of Queen near under-capacity subway lines, be upzoned to Blockrandbebauung densities. And Manhattan be upzoned to any height desired, for either office or residential use as desired. The only exceptions to this would be historic districts, which mostly are not excessive in size.

  15. Pingback: The Week Observed, June 19, 2020 | City Observatory

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