I Voted, but There’s no YIMBY Politics in Germany

It’s the first time in my life I’m eligible to vote in a national election. I thought it would be faster than it was; the line took 1:10, of which the first 10 minutes were taken standing in the wrong line – there were two precincts at the same physical location. It felt weird, feeling out of place and yet knowing, approximately for the first time in my life (unless one counts the European Parliament election), that I had a right to be there no matter what.

I voted Green, up and down the ballot, which is a vote for prioritizing public transportation over cars and climate protection over coal jobs and cheap Russian natural gas, but is not a YIMBY vote. And there’s the rub: a YIMBY political party does not exist here, and neither does even a YIMBY movement.

YIMBY is not exactly a movement about more development. It’s specifically about development in the most in-demand urban areas, through infill. It’s about aggressive transit-oriented development; when YIMBYs cite a success case, it’s the TOD of Tokyo and Seoul, and to a lesser extent what’s happening in Stockholm (where the term YIMBY originates) and the Paris suburbs, and not the equally fast but exclusively suburban and auto-oriented development in the Austin area.

And this does not exist here. SPD supports building housing in Tempelhofer Feld; the Greens are against it, treating it as common parkland, where in reality the treeless field makes a poor park and is adjacent to actual wooded parks in Kreuzberg and Neukölln. So in that sense SPD is the YIMBYer party – but SPD also built a freeway cutting through Neukölln last decade, going into coalition with CDU rather than with the Greens in order to build it. The Greens, in contrast, oppose freeways and support bike lanes and road diets – but they oppose new housing, want to downscope a proposed high-rise building in Alexanderplatz, and prefer bike lanes and city center tram expansion to extending the U- and S-Bahn.

And there’s the rub. The central tenet of YIMBYism is that cities are predominantly loci of production, and people choose where to move based on work more than anything else; building more housing is the central policy proposal, in recognition that economic production is done predominantly in city centers. And this does not exist, because every political faction that wants to build more housing pairs this with more roads and more peripheral locations for new development. The idea that post-car cities represent growth rather than stagnation does not exist in German politics, at least not yet. People still think of cars as the industrial future, rather than as what people thought the future would be 70 years ago, about as relevant to the world of tomorrow as what people thought of agriculture in the 19th century was in the middle of the 20th. The Greens just want to slow that industrial future down instead of building the information future – and nobody in German politics wants to build that future, the right preferring more cars and more gas.

I suspect there’s room for such YIMBY politics in Germany, cobbled together from the most left-wing fringes of FDP, the younger and less NIMBY Greens, and sundry SPD members. Already, most Green voters in Berlin support Tempelhof redevelopment, albeit at much narrower margins than SPD, FDP, and CDU voters. At the climate march two years ago, I saw a single anti-nuclear sign carried by two older people; new nuclear is out of the question here due to costs, but it matters that younger Greens aren’t animated by Green boomers’ anti-nuclear activism. There was a bigger sign carried by a few people opposing urban development, but it was one sign, not the thousands of generic signs about climate change and many hundreds opposing coal power, oil, and cars. Up the Elbe, younger G/EFA parties like the Czech Pirates are pro-digital.


  1. Herbert

    I know the Berlin civil service is famously overworked and understaffed and stuff that should be fast and easy are anything but, but you can ask for postal voting (“Briefwahl”) without citing a reason in Germany at government offices (or in Berlin I think even via scanning a QR code) and you can even drop off the ballot right then and there (in case you don’t trust the postal service, it being privatized and all). It is a very painless process and I can’t remember an election I didn’t do it nor one where I had to cue more than a quarter hour to do so…

  2. Herbert

    By the way, Berlin has a pretty extensive (for a German state anyway) set of questions which can be asked in a referendum (including “bindingly non-binding” like on TXL airport) so you might explore that option… Currently there are attempts to expropriate a lot of housing owned by big private companies as well as attempts to ban (most) car travel inside the Ringbahn making their way thru various stages of the referendum process and the “mobility law” originated as a referendum in favor of bikes which has since been copied throughout the country (ironically, the initiator of the referendum is a CDU member who criticizes the Greens for being “soft on climate”)

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, there’s the DW Enteignen demagogy, based on a pretense they can legally expropriate at a fraction of market value and a promise to idle small-time landlords that they won’t be touched. Says a lot that they do referendums here on petty questions (like Tempelhof, where the polling six years out is completely different from the 2015 referendum) or populist bullshit (like a pretense that the city can pay 6-9b€ for property worth around 36b€), and not on tangible spending priorities with fixed budgets.

      • Herbert

        The constitution (written at a time shortly after CDU campaign posters mentioning “antifascism” and “socialism” in a positive way and written by a group including two members of the Communist party) actually provides for expropriation as a legitimate measure of achieving “Vergesellschaftung”… That particular provision has never been challenged, but it’s still good law and the BVerfG has been quite willing to rule in unexpected ways in the past.

        Furthermore, the price proposed is still more than those kinds of capital based concerns paid in the neoliberal era when those housing units were privatized… If those sales were simply declared ex tunc null and void…

          • Herbert

            I don’t quite follow. What’s the connection between private housing companies extracting wealth and unemployment?

          • Alon Levy

            The value of housing in the Berlin of 2000 was lower than that in the Berlin of 2021. They didn’t extract wealth: they invested at a profit and renovated the apartments, and if they’d bought housing in a place in net decline they would have lost money.

          • Herbert

            I have lived in privatized public housing. The company that bought up the housing did not “invest” in the housing. They still extracted wealth… Are you saying that privatizing public housing well below even the inflation adjusted price of its construction is “good actually”?

          • Alon Levy

            No, I’m saying that in Berlin specifically a) there have been extensive renovations, and b) the measure is not about reacquiring social housing but about expropriating by size of landlord in order to protect idle gentry.

          • Herbert

            Which “idle gentry” is being protected and by whom?

            And citation very much needed on the “renovations” and their actual use for renters (as opposed to just being excuses for rent extractors to jack up housing costs even further even faster)

            Also, the referendum is in part a reaction to the Berlin rent control law being squashed by the Constitutional Court…

          • Alon Levy

            People who inherited a few apartments, live in one, rent the others out, and do nothing. The DW Enteignen campaign specifically exempts them from expropriation out of the modern populist view that everyone except the petite bourgeoisie and petite gentry should be liquidated.

            The renovations are very real if you compare pre- and post-renovated apartments. The quality of those old buildings is low – missing elevators, bad appliances, etc.

  3. adirondacker12800

    …..Tempelhofer Feld… where in reality the treeless field makes a poor park

    … Plant some trees? They could do something more sophisticated like use the perimeter for new housing, the old buildings for art spaces and auditoriums and along with the trees plant some vines and shrubs? Park a DC-3 and Boeing 707 to High Line-fy it. It seems everybody and their brother want’s to make everything into another High Line.

    • Alon Levy

      “Use the perimeter for new housing” is exactly the plan; the main of the field, including the still-paved runway, would remain as parade space. But the NIMBYs are against this because ZOMG new buildings.

      • Herbert

        I mean I kinda get their “slippery slope” argument – I don’t necessarily share it, but I do get it… Namely, what is the rim today once it’s built on creates a new rim and thus new demands to build on it… and so on…

        Also: You seem to be dismissive of parks without trees, but both ecologically and in their use for humans, parks without trees are not necessarily inferior to wooded areas – especially since there is virtually no such thing as a “natural forest” in Germany (even the “national tree” of Germany, the oak, is not what would be the “natural” vegetation in most German forests if left undistrubed for arbitrary amounts of time)

  4. adirondacker12800

    about as relevant to the world of tomorrow as what people thought of agriculture in the 19th century was in the middle of the 20th.

    In the early 19th century the place where Chicago is now was a malarial swamp. So was Washington D.C. Silicon Valley was a few subsidence farms. Denver was open prairie. We didn’t pack everybody into Philadelphia.You don’t have to pack everybody into a few places. You can encourage them to go yuppify someplace else.

    • Alon Levy

      California was one of the richest parts of the US starting around the Gold Rush. In the early 20th century, the richest states were if I remember correctly NY, CA, IL, MA, NJ, in that order. That’s why immigrants went to New York and Chicago and not to New Orleans and other basket cases.

      • Herbert

        Immigrants went to NYC because that’s where they got off the boat and getting on the boat was expensive enough, thank you very much…

        • Sassy

          But immigrants continue to go to the NYC region and California, even though with the way flight pricing works out, it can actually be more expensive to fly to NYC/LA/SF than it is to less popular destinations. It’s not just a US-specific thing either. Immigrants to most countries tend to move to expensive areas, because that’s where the opportunity is.

          In any case, failure to pack people into just a few sufficiently big cities is a major source of car dependence and environmental destruction, and failure to pack people tightly enough within otherwise sufficiently big cities is a major source of car dependence and environmental destruction. You do have to pack everybody into a few places.

          The idea that you don’t, is a delusion of the mid-20th century. We never got the nuclear fusion autonomous flying cars that would make spreading people out more viable. Even with nuclear fusion autonomous flying cars, the viability of spreading people out is far from certain.

          • Herbert

            Immigrants tend to go where they already have friends/relatives or other sorts of connections. By sheer probability, that’s mostly in big cities. Only in the absence of such connections do immigrants value other factors enough to matter…

            Of course if an immigrant is guaranteed a job somewhere, that’s where they’ll go, but then again, that’s mostly in big cosmopolitan cities…

        • Alon Levy

          A few did. The overwhelming majority did not, especially in the early 20c when it was more Eastern and Southern Europeans than Germans and Irish. In the 1910s, New York was 40% immigrants and the US writ large was 15%.

          • Herbert

            Historically immigration into rural areas almost always had to be “bought” with at least the promise of favorable treatment – be it exemption from the draft (Mennonites), tax breaks (too many examples to count), religious toleration (ditto) or – in the case of the U.S. cheap or even essentially free land… Once the free land had run out, immigration to back of beyondistan seemed much less enticing…

            Cities never really needed such incentives, yet many historically provided them (especially on the “marginally more tolerant” front) and some continue to provide them – in a way “sanctuary city” is the 21st century equivalent of “Stadtluft macht frei“ only that it takes more than the traditional “year and day” for those out to get you for violating some made up line to stop bothering…

  5. Reedman Bassoon

    California just passed two bills to eliminate restrictive zoning in order to fight the “housing crisis”. The problems (as I understand it) are:
    1) there is no provision for “affordable housing”. More “market rate housing” is not going to provide much relief.
    2) there is no provision for “by law” permitting. The process to get a building permit in San Francisco literally takes years for even small efforts, and a project of any size typically requires hiring (bribing) former SF building inspectors to grease the procedures through back channels.

    • Alon Levy

      3) Duplex zoning provides homeopathic quantities of housing; the demand is for the 50th floor in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley suburbs more than for the 2nd floor in a random suburban single-family zone. SB 827 recognized this but got whittled down to nothing because Los Angeles is a NIMBYville where much of the community organizing is paid by a NIMBY who became a billionaire off of a Medicaid con.

      • Herbert

        The problem is that when people hear “density” they think “Märkisches Viertel” and not “Kreuzberg” even tho that’s exactly backwards from reality.

        Otherwise how could the minority of those who own expensive homes in areas to be redensified wag with the dog of everybody else?

        • Nilo

          Nobody in California has any idea what either of those places are. Angelenos are against more housing due to traffic. The Bay Area just has a bit better transit so people can see the non-car future.

      • Tom the first and best

        Yet another point to add to the long list of reasons why California:

        1. Should not have been admitted as a single state.

        2. Should be subdivided into multiple states.

        • Herbert

          The only reason splitting up California even further (remember “Baja California” is just as much part of the historical reason as the land the Americans stole) was ever seriously considered is to maintain the antebellum balance of slave and free states…

          • Tom the first and best

            California is just too big to be a US state. It messes up the Senate too much. Texas is also a bit big but at least possibly has the ability to self-subdivide because of pre-approved state expansion included in its admission as a state.

          • Herbert

            And North Rhine Westphalia has a higher share of the country’s population than California…

          • Tom the first and best

            Alaska has a small population, so much so it only has one House of Reps seat.

            The Bundesrat has a population varied number of representatives for each state, unlike the U.S. Senate.

          • Eric2

            Even if TX and CA are both broken up into a multitude of little states, FL and NY will still have ~40x the population of Wyoming, yet equal representation in the Senate.

            Basically, the Senate is irretrievably screwed up. The only solution is a constitutional amendment to remove its powers to make it a ceremonial body like the House of Lords. (The Constitution specific forbids an amendment to change the number of Senate members per state based on relative population)

          • Herbert

            That’s what you get when to have slavers entrench their power thru political maneuvering…

            Chile’s effed up constitution for example was a product of Pinochet trying to entrench him and his ilk forever. The protests sparked by a subway fare hike (“no son treinta pesos, ¡son treinta años!”) Have forced a process for the creation of a new constitution…

            But then America will never willingly adopt a new constitution…

          • Tom the first and best

            Senate disempowerment is almost as unlikely as abolishing equal representation for each state. More than a quarter of states are likely to refuse to pass an amendment to disempower the Senate.

            The Senate was originally for the small states, then mainly in the north, to reduce the domination by large states, which then included most of the South.

          • Herbert

            The Free States (or at least those in which slavery as exceedingly rare and not politically or economically dominant) always had a higher population than the slave states. Otherwise the slave states would not have insisted on always admitting a slave and a free state until 1850 (when California was admitted as a free state, the idea was that it would elect one “pro-slavery senator” and thus maintain the balance – of course the addition Minnesota and Oregon (the state that banned all black people, free or slave) as Free States ended that “balance”…

            If we look at the 1790 census then even at the time when slave states were the most relatively numerous they were ever going to get (and the closest to the passing of the constitution which brought us the whole Senate mess) then unambiguously free states (Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island) make up roughly 36.7% of the total population of the US, unambiguously slave states (Virginia being the biggest at 18.9% but also North Carolina, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and the state that somehow didn’t get around to abolishing slavery until after the Civil War – Delaware at 1.5%) account for roughly 48.7% of the population (all figures “roughly” due to rounding issues) whereas the states of New York and New Jersey which had slavery on the books in theory but were on their way of abolishing it and could not be relied on for crucial votes bring up roughly 13.2%. So if we (as probably many fire-eaters back then did) count NY and NJ as “allies of the Free States” we have that coalition at roughly 49.9% edging out the slave states at roughly 48.7% (with a further 0.9% in “Southwest Territory” which would become the state of Tennessee and the remainder being accounted by compounding rounding errors) if we move Delaware over from the “Slave State” column to the “Allies of the Free States” column, the picture shifts even more.

            And of course that does not even account for the fact that the enslaved population of roughly 700 000 and thus roughly seventeen and a half percent of the overall US population and thereby almost thirty five percent of the population of the Slave States (slightly lower due to slaves also living in the Southwest Territory and the Census listing slaves in Free States would only count for three fifths of a person so the electoral weight of the Southern States was proportionally lower than if they had been counted fully, but of course a single white vote counted more in the South than in the North… That, incidentally, was also the purpose of the “White Only Primary” the Dixiecrats held during Jim Crowe and it is an undeniable outcome of the increasingly white Republican “coalition” in the South, especially if one looks at primary voters in safe seats who force the party ever further rightward by electing the likes of Taylor Greene

          • Eric2

            So Republicans have essentially a permanent lock on the future Senate, and thus a permanent veto on the legislature as a whole, as well as total control of the Supreme Court. That’s 2/3 branches of government under their total control (given that the demographic “sorting” which makes small states Republican will continue in future decades). Luckily, the third branch has more power than the other two put together. If Texas flips Democrat (likely unless Democrats manage to screw it up with too much identity politics), then they will have a virtual lock on the presidency for some time. The president can block legislature, print money, and even overrule the Supreme Court by declaring that the power of judicial review rests with the executive branch. It would obviously be an unhealthy situation for the president to exercise this much power, but the threat of such a situation could be enough of a stick to get a constitutional amendment passed limiting the president’s powers while also cutting the Senate down to size (and making whatever other institutional reforms are needed to a 250 year old system of government, I am sure there are many).

            BTW @Herbert I did not read your comment all the way through but I am impressed by your knowledge of US history despite presumably being a non-American 🙂

          • Herbert

            Members of my family are American citizens, but I am not and have spent only a few weeks in the US…

            By the way, one party controlling the presidency despite being virtually shut out electorally in part of the country has precedent in U.S. history… Between the Civil War and FDR the only times the Republican Party lost the White House were two non-consecutive instances of Grover Cleveland and when Theodore Roosevelt and the party bigwigs clashed, throwing the office to Woodrow Wilson in a three-way contest (Wilson won reelection in 1916 mostly on foreign policy, but a few thousand votes in California going the other way could’ve flipped the election)

            Of course during that half century the Republicans were the slightly less racist party but after 1876 they never tried imposing civil rights earnestly and forcefully enough to make them stick (there *were* attempts, but they were about as effective as Biden’s reaction to the Texas abortion thing)

            I am not sure decades of Democratic White House control while the Republican Party entrenches Jim Crowe 2.0 is all that desirable…

            But then there is hardly a scenario for the future of that country that sounds both realistic and desirable…

      • Reedman Bassoon

        There is a fundamental economic problem of housing in California. San Francisco has the worlds most expensive construction costs. To build a two bedroom “affordable housing” apartment costs an average of $750,000 (about one-quarter of that is government fees, demolition and construction permits, consultants, years of community meetings with neighbors and activists who object, zoning fights, etc). It is a direct parallel to the long-running commentary about the high cost of building transit (in California and other US locales Coming up: $6+ billion for a two-mile connection of Caltrain/HSR to the already built Salesforce Tower.). From 2000 to 2020, the average cost of housing in San Francisco went up ~160%. In Tokyo (which has few development roadblocks), it went up ~0%, because Tokyo allowed its housing supply to increase by ~2% per year over those years.

        There is also the economics of government. Commercial development pays nice property taxes, but requires almost no additional schools, police, fire, etc. It is free money for higher civil servant salaries, pensions, and benefits compared to residential. So, Menlo Park (CA, next to Palo Alto) gave the green light for Facebook to build its headquarters with 10,000+ jobs, it was a no-brainer (Menlo Park added about 50 housing units to “compensate”.) The assumption in Silicon Valley is always that San Jose will provide the housing and shoulder its expenses while the other cities grab the jobs gravy train.

        • Tom the first and best

          Having so many expensive services (schools, police, etc.) funded by municipal taxation (of any sort) is a recipe for such mismatches. Funding of such services at state level would be fairer, provided equal distribution.

          • Lee Ratner

            California does mainly provided funding for education at state level equally. Local school get around this by asking for donations from parents per kid in school or holding fundraising galas.

        • Herbert

          How much can buying a parking lot and putting a Hausmannian block on it possibly cost?

          • michaelrjames

            The problem, which I think you know Herbert, is that the relevant powers (property developers and their proxies in government at most levels) don’t want Haussmannian housing. By its very nature that would be ‘affordable’ and not give opportunities for excess profits like building a 58-storey Millennium Tower that they can sell to the one-percenters. Haussmannian blocks don’t need Big Developers, Big Constructors or Big Financiers, so it’s a non-starter. SB837 was an attempt to overcome that but failed because it is very easy to scare people against such things even though it is far superior and friendly in an urbanist sense than what the developers want to build; and of course developers control too many legislators. I’m unclear on what SB8 & SB10 (?) achieve.

            On a vaguely-related issue, I read yesterday that Kristen Senema, a nominal Democrat, will block attempts to control drug costs in the US; no accident that she received $750k in donations from Big Pharma. As they say, always follow the money. It is as bad in the property development game (and worse in some way because plenty of developers actually become politicians …).

          • Alon Levy

            The plans for Tempelhofer Feld redevelopment are all Haussmannian. Nobody uses the term here because we have our own tradition of urban planning, contemporary with Haussmann and similar in layout; the main difference is that the inner wings were demolished in most neighborhoods after the war, which together with bigger apartments means the density is lower than in Paris.

            The plan for 12,000 apartments is for mid-rise apartments at the southern periphery of the park, and the FDP I-wish-it-were-serious proposal to replace the entire grounds with housing is also mid-rise: 40-something,000 apartments in 3.55 km^2 is a bit higher than the norm for mid-rise Berlin neighborhoods but perfectly normal by Parisian standards. The only high-rises proposed (and built) here are in or near city center for commercial purposes, maybe hotels; mass residential construction is either mid-rise or a legacy postwar social housing block, and the latter are often received positively, like Gropiusstadt.

            The situation in California isn’t about developers. SB 827, which was Haussmannian to a T, failed because of opposition from homeowners, and then the weaker version of SB 50 failed because of opposition from fewer homeowners but still enough to deliver a majority for no. SB 9 and 10 are a retreat from anything remotely recognizable as European density in favor of duplexes, which American and Canadian urbanists have convinced themselves are an inherently moral form of housing, using the term “missing middle.” Developers aren’t particularly empowered in this system – just as they weren’t in 1950s’ New York, where nearly all developers opposed the proposed zoning plan, so the city dredged the one developer who supported it, Fred Trump, and used him as a showcase that clearly the real estate community wasn’t against this.

          • michaelrjames

            But that is the kind of extremism I’m talking about, ie. the FDP’s plan to turn 100% of it into housing. Even if there is a case for it, the fact is that it won’t get approval. But if you retain a ≈20Ha park plus lots of smaller ones, it might have a chance. From the little I know it seems the usual story of complete extremes both unwilling to compromise. Greens wanting 100% retention as parkland (grotesquely underutilised as it will be) or 100% as housing. FDP seems the worst on most issues. It’s good if Berlin retains the low-rise aspect but I’d bet the FDP have other dreams on that score, and developers are relentless. They deploy the housing shortage as a lever even though the kind of thing they prefer to build is never affordable housing. Here (in the Anglosphere) the common trick is to submit a planning application for one thing then, once approved, apply for ‘exceptions’ etc. Or their first application is for something outrageous, like 60 floors which they will haggle down to 30 floors, which they planned all along (and their proxies in government are aware of; of course we’ve outsourced planning assessment too so it is even easier for them to get what they want).

            Anyway, 40k housing seems low for the 3.55km2; Paris-11 is 3.7km2 and has 152,000 residents. As I said, one could build those more modest parks and still house very large numbers. It really could be a win-win.

            Incidentally NYC Central Park is 3.57km2 and I don’t consider that is an argument in its favour as a big park for Templehof. I don’t think much was demolished for it, as most of it was barren, rocky and the parts that weren’t were swampy and unhealthy. There were mostly shanties with the exception of Seneca village which had some African-Americans, some low-status German & Irish immigrants. If there was anything more substantial it would never have been created. The most prominent housing was in fact the Dakota Apartments built in 1891 as the park was still being completed (there were still shanties in front of the Dakota), and no accident right on its western edge. Not exactly affordable housing …

          • Alon Levy

            Paris-11 is overcrowded… don’t forget, we average ~44 m^2/person, Paris 31 and Eastern Paris less than Western Paris. So 40,000 units, let’s say 80,000 people, is a bit below the Parisian average, but ends up matching the city in built-up density.

            FDP has not so far been a particularly YIMBY party, nor a pro-high rise one. Remember, German right-liberals != Australian right-liberals or w/e. The traditional voter base of the party is as climate denialist as any CSU and AfD voter (which is also true of the LP), and also has a big petit-bourgeois (“Mittelstand”) streak. Lindner is trying to rebrand as tech-libertarian, but this is a party that’s rebranded 95068016.3 times in the last 20 years; the same party is also the most corona denialist mainstream party.

            We also don’t have the haggling bit of British land use planning. There are zoning laws, mostly for mid-rise (much of inner Berlin is zoned for FAR 3), and then some special commercial high-rise projects, like Sony Center or the Treptowers or the under-construction Amazon tower that’s being built over NIMBY objections.

          • Sassy

            The relevant powers actually want to build 5+1 fake Euroblocks, which are much shorter than classic Paris, not taller, though still aping the general shape. Any new build housing in the SF Bay Area is going to be extremely expensive, so if you can cut costs as much as possible, all that money saved just goes into your bank account, so it’s in the best interests to build as affordably as possible. The cost of building sets a minimum on the price that a profit interested party can charge, however it does not set a maximum.

          • michaelrjames

            @Sassy: “The relevant powers actually want to build 5+1 fake Euroblocks, which are much shorter than classic Paris, not taller, though still aping the general shape. ”

            Yes, the original SB827 was for 4 to 5 floors which I have commented previously is too low; going to 7 to 8 gives up to 50% more housing while not threatening the urbanism. Indeed improving it by providing both density and more affordable apartments to the kind of people who create that urbanism (ie. not rich techies but the kind who service them). But it is better than status quo, and the sheer cost of land would force all new devo to that maximum allowable height, which is a good thing. Fake Euroblocks sounds pretty good to me, compared to the alternative (in the Anglosphere).

            As to affordability, surely this should make an impact even in SF? First through supply and demand rules. The market might get flooded, and this could actually cause a downward price adjustment as greedy dreams get punctured. They are also much quicker to build. Second, big developers will be out of the picture: this kind of structure doesn’t need them or the big constructors etc. This should bring a lot more diversity to the market instead of the ridiculously inappropriate vision of the current mob of developers. Third, by supporting such developments near SF, in places with reasonable transit, that will both relieve pressure on SF and bring real competition to SF prices.

          • Sassy

            Compared to the alternative, a lot of things sound pretty good if you could pull it off in the SF Bay Area. The problem with fake Euroblocks is that only very big property developers can build them, because unlike real Euroblocks, a fake Euroblock is a single building that has to be built at once. In addition, fake Euroblocks are either owned by a single big owner or in joint by a group of owners that will almost certainly make bad decisions due to the collective action problem, as opposed to real Euroblocks where multiple smaller owners have more independence over the section they own. I’d prefer real Euroblocks, but I’d agree that fake Euroblocks sounds a lot better than what the SF Bay Area ended up getting.

            SB827 could have significantly improved California, which is why all the homeowners came out against it. Unfortunately the people with greedy dreams is probably the most powerful political block in California (and the US, and the Anglosphere as a whole).

          • michaelrjames


            Sadly, that confirms what I said about developers always getting what they want. And even then they would probably try to turn fake-Euroblocks into high-rise. They will probably end up owned by giant corporations as landlords extracting maximum rents possible, and leaving apartments empty if they can’t get ‘suitable’ tenants. This is late-stage capitalism and it really is destroying us.

          • Sassy

            The developers definitely didn’t get what they want. They wanted fake Euroblocks, and they got Duplexes and ADUs. The homeowners got what they wanted, which is a continuation of the housing crisis, with an option to make even more money off of it by renting out their backyard shed on Craigslist, but legally.

            Fake Euroblocks inherently top out at about 6 stories, because that is the limit of the technology they use (basic wooden tower on top of concrete pedestal). They can’t be turned in to high rise, because that would be expensive, cutting in to profits. High rise is only chosen by a greedy profit seeking entity in the most extremely convenient land (e.g., right next to a major train station in Tokyo) or when getting permission to get literally anything built is so difficult that you have to go big or go home (e.g., major Anglosphere cities).

          • michaelrjames

            Sassy: “The developers definitely didn’t get what they want. They wanted fake Euroblocks, and they got Duplexes and ADUs.”

            We were talking about SB827. I mentioned earlier I wasn’t yet familiar with SB8, 9, 10.
            I’m curious about what part of SB827 favoured big developers? I agree that that aspect would have been terrible, though perhaps better than the current situation; but like I said, confirms my worst fears about the industry. As it happens there is an article in today’s CityLab (alas behind paywall these days) on the industry’s malign influence back in the 60s onwards:

            When Real Estate Agents Led the Fight Against Fair Housing
            The new book Freedom to Discriminate argues that the real estate industry’s campaign to defend housing segregation still echoes in today’s politics.
            Patrick Sisson, 28 Sep 2021,

          • Herbert

            I mean Haussmann was a literal government employee with blue blood and the support of an honest to ha-shem emperor behind him… Doesn’t get much more powerful than that, does it?

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert: “I mean Haussmann was a literal government employee with blue blood and the support of an honest to ha-shem emperor behind him …”

            What your modesty may prevent you from saying is that his blue blood was German, though he was born in Paris, and then educated at the top schools in Paris (Henri IV, same as Emmanuel Macron and countless other illustrious alumni; and Lycée Condorcet).
            Don’t forget that Louis Napoleon (future Napoleon III) was the first elected president of France (of the Second Republic) in which he won 74% of the vote, and that he also used plebiscites, which he won, to guide public policy. OK, he went a bit Trumpy at the end of his first term because the constitution didn’t permit him to stand for a second term, but he really did work for the nation and the people.

          • Herbert

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Modernism_Housing_Estates prewar social housing in Berlin is more than just “positively received” it is even World Heritage (by the by, the city of Berlin has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than the country of Nicaragua… I don’t think that’s an accurate summation of the cultural heritage of those places)

            The Weimar Republic had “housing” as the biggest single block of Reich level discretionary spending even when the SPD wasn’t in government… Then the Nazis came and redirected that funding to highways and war (and engaging in so much defecit spending that those in the know about the financial situation knew a war was coming because plunder was the only possible way to stabilize the budget without defaulting)

            Germany is sometimes said to be a “nation of renters” due to the war depleting the housing stock, but the germanophone social housing tradition was on evidence before the war…

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Housing_cooperative Wohnungsbaugenossenschaften are even older than that and many of them were traditionally worker-owned…

            And then there are of course the big employers who built housing for their workers, including of course the railway…

          • Herbert

            The technology to build a high-rise mostly out of wood exists and has for quite a while. The question is whether it is needed.

            In general, high rises don’t achieve high densities. They could, in theory, if built close enough together, but that virtually never happens…

            We all know, after all, that Kreuzberg has higher population density than Märkisches Viertel – and that even tho there’s barely anything but housing in the latter and quite a bit of small retail, bars and so on in the former…

          • Herbert

            I don’t think there’s ever been a Bonapartist plebiscite that wasn’t rigged to hell and back…

          • Herbert

            It a) wasn’t a plebiscite and b) over half of France couldn’t vote in it…

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert: “It a) wasn’t a plebiscite and b) over half of France couldn’t vote in it…”

            I’m not sure what you mean. As far as I can tell the many plebiscites he held were pretty much ”free and open”. In the Wiki extract (below) note that Gambetta was complaining that he crushed them (politicians) in the election, not that “we wuz robbed”.
            Sure, he was a populist but a genuinely popular populist. Of course women still didn’t have the vote but he started the ball rolling by opening up education to women, admission to the Sorbonne and high-school education in the Lycées etc. Eugenie played a role, the way modern FLOTUSes do.
            And despite appointing himself Emperor he actually improved access and accountability in parliament, eg. by making (his) ministers account for their actions by questioning by the elected deputies, introducing the equivalent of Hansard etc etc. Things that carried over into the Third Republic. The massive changes he brought to all the major cities of France (not just Paris) naturally made him less popular with many city dwellers–but note that this was reflected in the votes, which suggests they weren’t manipulated etc. This bit from Wiki gives the flavour:

            In the legislative elections of 31 May 1863, the pro-government candidates received 5,308,000 votes, while the opposition received 1,954,000 votes, three times more than in the previous elections. The rural departments still voted for Napoleon III’s candidates, but in Paris, 63 percent of the votes went to anti-government republican candidates, with similar numbers in all the large cities. The new Assembly contained a large opposition block ranging from Catholics outraged by the Papal policies to Legitimists, Orléanists, protectionists and republicans, armed with new powers given to them by the Emperor himself.[121][122]
            Despite the opposition in the legislature, Napoleon III’s reforms remained popular in the rest of the country. A new plebiscite was held in 1870, on this text: “The people approve the liberal reforms added to the Constitution since 1860 by the Emperor, with the agreement of the legislative bodies and ratified by the Senate on April 20, 1870.” Napoleon III saw this as a referendum on his rule as Emperor: “By voting yes,” he wrote, “you will chase away the threat of revolution; you will place the nation on a solid base of order and liberty, and you will make it easier to pass on the Crown to my son.” When the votes were counted, Napoleon III had lost Paris and the other big cities but decisively won the rest of the country. The final vote was 7,336,434 votes yes, 1,560,709 votes no, and 1,900,000 abstentions. Léon Gambetta, the leader of the republican opposition, wrote in despair, “We were crushed. The Emperor is more popular than ever.”[123]

            None of that suggests election rigging. That one in 1970 right at the end of his rule (Wiki):

            A constitutional referendum was held in France on 8 May 1870.[1] Voters were asked whether they approved of the liberal reforms made to the constitution since 1860 and passed by the Sénatus-consulte on 20 April 1870. The changes were approved by 82.7% of voters with an 81.3% turnout.[2]

          • Sassy

            > I’m curious about what part of SB827 favoured big developers?

            It doesn’t favor big developers, however, big developers would have benefitted the most in absolute terms even if the benefit less in relative terms. As it stands, big developers are extremely heavily favored, as they are the ones with the resources to manipulate politics/government to get stuff approved, however, it’s still very difficult for them to build what they want. Making building easier actually favors small developers, however, a rising tide lifts all boats, and big developers would have been printing money if SB827 worked.

            The thing big developers want to build the most are 5+1 fake Euroblocks, as they are the cheapest type of housing to build (ignoring land acquisition and political costs). The 4-5 stories allowed by SB827 was slightly short of optimal height for those buildings, but it’s still generally the same.

            Imagine if Toyota had a monopoly on cars sold in the US, but was only allowed to sell 100 cars per year (the US would be a much better place, but ignore that). Toyota would be very happy if the law changed such that anyone could sell cars, up to any amount. In the long term losing the monopoly could be bad, but in the short term they’d be laughing all the way to the bank. And shareholders tend to like short term thinking. Similar idea with SB827.

          • michaelrjames


            I guess I am surprised if 4-5 storeys favours big developers. These days, at least here in Australia, they want to build at least 15 floors and in the last decade the average has really ..err .. skyrocketed. In the giant brownfield development site next to where I live (inner-city fringe) the masterplan was of 8-storey buildings and the first buildings were like that, including two exclusive riverside apartment buildings (one with the price record at the time for an apartment, at $16m) and some green-glass office buildings on the main arterial that borders the site. This was to harmonize with the old heritage-protected Woolstore district next door which tops out at 6-storey equivalent.
            But the GFC happened and paused things briefly which the developers exploited to demand a modification to the agreed plan; on the basis that 8 floors were no longer economically viable (unlikely) the next building was 16 floors, and then shortly after that they got 25 floors and all the long-argued planning was thrown out the window. Now this is what they build in the suburbs.

            Buildings of 4-5 or even up to 7 floors (let’s call it Haussmannian though it predates him by a century or more) can be built without much sophisticated engineering etc. As the buildings on Ile St Louis in Paris where I lived demonstrate: built in the 1650s. For this kind of thing to be workable there needs to be strong building regulations that ensure that a whole street of separate developments, each of a vertical slice built at different times even in different materials and styles, works together both structurally and aesthetically. It is not that difficult though perhaps the Anglosphere objects to it on philosophical grounds? It is really just the next logical extension, a minor tweak, to those endless 2-3 storey terraces (row houses) the Brits prefer; or even NYC’s brownstones?

            In my naivety I thought developers hated this type because it didn’t need the same level of capital or management, or even architectural/engineering resources because the type can be easily templated. And of course cannot generate profits like hi-rise can, in proportion to cost of land acquisition. In even greater naivety I reckon this would be open to co-operative building. And certainly to build-to-rent by medium-size entities, ie. not necessarily giants like MetLife–because the cost of building is proportionally less than even medium-rise, let alone hi-rise, it is the right size of truly affordable housing.

          • Herbert

            And yet in 1870 he felt the need to start a very ill advised war to maintain his popularity…

            And then he lost that war and was overthrown and Bonapartism never quite got a foot on the ground again (the first parliament of the Third Republic had a monarchist majority, but it was composed of Orleanists and Bourbonists and their restoration attempts failed because “the Royal who saved the Republic” refused to be King under the Tricolore flag…)

            Of course general deGaulle had a pretty “Bonapartist” style of rule and notably his time in office was ended by losing a plebiscite on something most voters didn’t care about one way or the other (but everyone knew it was *actually* a plebiscite on deGaulle)

            Of course both the o.g. Napoleon and deGaulle owed their political career to their reputations as military men…

      • Eric2

        “3) Duplex zoning provides homeopathic quantities of housing; the demand is for the 50th floor in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley suburbs more than for the 2nd floor in a random suburban single-family zone.”

        This is nonsense. Duplex zoning (theoretically) allows the population of nearly this entire region to double, or in numerical terms, the addition of 5-7 million new residents. (It’s hard to imagine any zoning change creating 5-7 million new residents just within San Francisco.) Real estate prices are stratospheric anywhere within an hour’s drive of downtown San Francisco, so nearly all the newly legalized units will be economically viable (though many owners will decide they prefer living in their lot as is to splitting it into multiple units). The addition of millions of new Bay Area residents would likely have a massive braking effect on housing prices. Since building new freeway lanes in the Bay Area is impractical, and the freeways are already pretty full, this also means a massively increased ridership for BART/Caltrain.

        • Jason

          Yes theoretically. That’s rather useless as very few new duplex units will materialize. If we are talking about theoretical maximums rather than practical ones there are easy zoning changes that can add 5M new residents to San Francisco: upzone the entirety of San Francisco to 7 floor euroblocks and eliminate requirements on parking, setback, lot coverage, etc.

          Examples abound in the world on how to cram people into not very high rises. For example here is one from my home town: a quarter of SF population in 5% of the land:

  6. Omer

    Alon to your point about building over Tempelhofer Feld- I just been there about two weeks ago. It was my first time seeing it, as I have visited Berlin maybe 2015 when it was still an airport. I heard about it as a urban success story, yes- there is this nonsense of a city reckoning with its Nazi past… yeah OK, but what I could see on the Sunday I was cycling on the runways was many youngsters, but there were especially families, big migrant families, really enjoying this huge park. I later visited Plänterwald, an emerging suburb. There, close to the 9 S-Bahn, 30 minutes from Mitte there are huge opportunities to densify, and you could see signs of protests opposing development everywhere. I would think densifying the Planterwalds is more smart than building on Tempelhofer.

    • michaelrjames

      The Templehofer site is 386 Ha (T. feld is 355 Ha of it). Tegel is 466 Ha. This is a lot of land and is more than enough to create a tonne of housing while retaining plenty of parkland. Just not of the huge park types which are very much underuitilised. That activity you observed in Templehofer Feld was restricted to a quite small zone and would be easily accommodated with dedicating a small fraction of it in any redevelopment. Indeed, it would be better because–as I have written previously on this blog–big parks in the middle of cities are dead zones and don’t serve the function that many people mistakenly assume. I don’t know Berlin well enough but, like Paris (or Copenhagen, Amsterdam etc), I am confident that their best-loved and most-used urban parks are of the order of Jardin du Luxembourg at about 20Ha. And, as Alon wrote (below) it doesn’t seem Berlin is not really short of such space.

      Alon wrote:

      SPD supports building housing in Tempelhofer Feld; the Greens are against it, treating it as common parkland, where in reality the treeless field makes a poor park and is adjacent to actual wooded parks in Kreuzberg and Neukölln. So in that sense SPD is the YIMBYer party …

      It seems the German Greens are still stuck in old notions of what is good and ‘green’ for a big city.
      Having said that, like Alon, I may have voted Green though perhaps I may have considered a tactical vote for SPD to ensure a change. As it turns out such votes might have been critical with only 1.6% giving SPD majority party status. They will have to negotiate with the Greens (and I suppose FDP) so in principle that should take care of sensible balance in such policies …. maybe.

      • Herbert

        It is quite possible that it was the Saar wut won it for the SPD…

        The greens were too dumb to present a properly certified party list for Saarland ahead of the deadlines and thus the greens didn’t show up on ballots in Saarland – the SPD won over 37% of the vote in Saarland, more than in any other state and perhaps (i haven’t done the math) part of their slight lead on the federal level – especially since the CSU is getting “free seats” by virtue of running the score up with first past the post seats in Bavaria…

  7. Benjamin Turon

    “It’s the first time in my life I’m eligible to vote in a national election”

    Really? My first national election I voted in was in 2000 for Al Gore. Is this because of frequent moves between nations? Where I vote in Upstate NY it takes about 5 minutes first thing in the morning. The results of the election in Germany will be interesting.

    • Herbert

      As has been the case in a lot of recent German elections (including the previous federal one) “just” having the result actually doesn’t tell us what we need to know…

      What seems clear, however, is that despite all the brouhaha surrounding Scholz and Baerbock, left wing parties have failed to win a collective plurality over right wing parties the second time in a row and the third time since the first federal left wing majority in 1998 (federal right wing majorities have occurred in every election before 1998 and in 2009&2017)

    • Eric2

      Since he hasn’t answered I will hazard a guess: that his only citizenship is Israeli (maybe now German too), that his adult life has been spent as an expat, and that Israel does not have absentee ballots for expats.

  8. ericson2314

    > New nuclear is out of the question here due to costs

    I feel like this was covered elsewhere, but how are those Korean nuclaer costs?

    • Herbert

      Even if new nuclear could be built cheaply in Germany and even if it weren’t political suicide to even try, it also takes way too long from political decision to the first megawatts in the grid…

  9. CA

    Fun fact on Tempelhofer Feld: It’s larger than Central Park. You could build nice houses AND create a nice park with lots of room for all kinds of activities, and it would still be huge.

    • Herbert

      To create Central Park, they had to tear down a neighborhood. If Tempelhofer Feld is gone, it’s gone – nobody will tear down a neighborhood to recreate it. And a lot of people are more concerned about the loss of this place than they believe the benefits of whatever would be built “on the perimeter” to be real…

      • michaelrjames

        You’re right but it just confirms the lack of mature debate. It comes down to that kind of all-or-nothing shouting match. I might have imagined something better from Germans or Berliners. No one actually needs, or what actually use those almost 400 Ha of ‘urban park’. It’s total nuts.
        And you know what I think of Central Park–it’s better to have it than not, but Manhattan would be much better served by even half its area being spread across the island in smaller, vastly more useful green space; there’s enough space in Templehof for 20x Jardin du Luxembourgs, etc. They should have a world competition for a design for all that space to incorporate new housing–Haussmannian of course in dense configuration, not the modernist towers-in-park bullshit–with, say, 50 to max 100 Ha as multiple green space spread throughout (with green ‘highways’ linking them all) etc. Then put the best plans to referendum.

        In the end, due to the pseudo-green bullshit (approaching BANANAs)*, the developers get what they want–which is usually overbuilt unaffordable crap high-rise. Putting housing around the periphery of Templehof cannot possibly provide much housing and in all likelihood it will be the opposite of ‘affordable’. If the developers get their way it will turn into Central Park with a wall of high-rise (and now supertalls) with those park views but only an aspiration for multi-millionaires etc. But the Greens can congratulate themselves on ‘saving’ all that green space that actually hardly anyone uses, and will become a rich ghetto due to no affordable housing.

        *Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

      • Alon Levy

        Yes, and those people are nuts, there are actually pleasant parks adjacent to that space, and if the entire field is turned into housing (which only FDP has spoken about and I don’t believe they’re that YIMBY) it’s 40,000+ housing units. That’s the problem with letting a local neighborhood decide on a policy whose main beneficiaries don’t live in the city yet but would like to move here if rents were a little bit lower and they could escape their abusive homophobic parents in Saxony/Brandenburg/Poland. (The ones escaping homophobic parents in Bavaria end up in Munich, I imagine.)

        • Herbert

          Have you seen rents in Munich?

          I mean, yes Munich is as cosmopolitan and multicultural as Bavaria can possibly get, but given that even the Bavarian Forest has elected an openly gay social Democrat mayor and Landrat in recent memory (him being a “red” was probably “worse” than him being a “queer”) I think a surprising number of gay Bavarian youth rather deal with small town homophobia than with Munich rents…

          • df1982

            Serious question: has a city ever YIMBYed itself out of high rents? And more specifically through private development, rather than through mass construction of public housing with state-imposed rent caps, etc.

            Because any time I see a city opening up to free market development, rents always seem to go up, no matter how many new dwellings are built. Outstripping demand with supply should work to drive down the price of a commodity, but I think it’s well established now that property obeys very different economic laws to other sectors.

            Densifying a city can end up simply making it even more of a magnet for people to want to live there, which has many benefits, but decreasing rents is not one of them.

          • michaelrjames


            You are being unnecessarily restrictive in the way to alleviate the problems.
            For example, in that paper by Jonah Freemark he describes how social housing (>30,000 units per year) in the Ile de France filled the need of those least able to afford housing while leaving the private sector to cater to those who can afford it. It has meant the region has not suffered anything like its peer cities, London, NYC or even Berlin. In inner-Paris which is the exceptional market re demand, and for which there are very limited opportunities for new builds (though there has been some on state-owned land like old rail marshalling yards like in Batignolles and the Martin Luther King Parc development) he writes:

            The city of Paris, fulfilling the ambitions of socialist councils, took the goal particularly seriously, funding 100,000 units from 2001 to 2019 and increasing the permanently affordable share of units from 13.4 to an estimated 22.2% between 2001 and 2020 (Paris, 2019). This broad increase in social-housing construction contrasts dramatically with global trends of privatisation and reduced social support (Fields & Hodkinson, 2018).

            Some of this was mayor Hidalgo’s scheme that bought up apartments scattered around the city, using mandatory purchase but paying market rates, then renting them out to below-median wage essential workers (hospital, transit, police, teachers etc). These have become a permanent part of the housing solution in inner Paris and is remarkable at 22%. I was a bit sceptical but it seems to have put a floor on gentrification. And this housing stock is just a part of all the regular housing throughout Paris (though I presume not so much in the 16th or 8th … it is, I suspect, why she threatened to convert all that outrageously ‘wasted’ space on Avenue Foch into social housing if they objected to her purchase scheme too much).

            Earlier you can see the success of “build-to-rent” schemes like the NYC’s Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village which houses 25,000 (mostly middle-class) residents that alleviated the housing problems then. This is private housing not project housing, though it is a project of sorts. It was built in 1940 by agreement between MetLife and the city. Paris’ HLMs and HBMs were similar, from the Belle Epoque to pre-WW2 in which the big insurance companies were induced to invest in more modest housing for lower and middle SES workers in Paris. These were Haussmannian structures and you can’t really pick them from the rest of Paris, though they tend to be multi-buildings in groups (a bit like Stuy-Cooper only not as big and nicer) and a lot better than the horror hi-rise HLMs of the post-war era. A lot were built on the newly liberated land previously occupied by the Thiers Wall (now also containing the Boulevard Peripherique and playing fields, Cité Universitaire etc). Here’s a good example:

          • Sassy

            YIMBYism was starting to make a dent on rents in Seattle right before the pandemic hit, though unfortunately the pandemic muddies what the data more recently.

          • Herbert

            Why, of course, private developers want to make money. The purpose of housing is not to make money. The purpose of housing is for people to live in it.

            Therefore the vast majority of housing stock should be out of the hands of capital and in the hand of We The People – as in Vienna, for example…

          • df1982

            @michaelrjames, thanks for the information reply about Paris, but I think you misunderstood my premise. My view is that the only serious way to reduce rents in major cities is through public intervention into the market. But that’s not Alon’s or most other YIMBYists’ view, who think that getting rid of zoning restrictions will lead to developers being able to build more units and this will reduce rents via the old supply-demand dynamic, and that this is the only path to housing affordability.

            The only thing is, I’ve never seen this actually work in practice. You build and build, and rents just get keep going up. Partly because developers aim their product at the upper end of the market, partly because densifying tends to create more demand, so the tortoise of demand always stays ahead of the hare of supply. But if there are counter-examples out there it would be good to hear about them. Someone mentioned Seattle but rents there are still insanely high.

          • Borners

            @df1982 You have to be careful about “affordable”, generally successful Yimby cities still have rising house prices/rents because of inflation and economic growth. People tend to consume better quality housing as our technology and income improves too.

            Its interesting that Piketty’s data (he’s too obtuse to notice) shows that the egalitarian first world golden age of 1920-1980 saw collapse in wealth vs income ratios almost completely based on a relative fall in urban housing prices. It makes sense technologically as cars, electric railways, concrete etc made the technological constraints on housing for the masses. So much so it created homeowner NIMBY constituencies who then got governments to implement an industrial policy that prioritized housing values since the 1980. This is worst in the Anglosphere but exists to some degree in most Western countries.

            At the extreme level, we know that megacities across the first world have very divergent housing outcomes despite access to the same basic technologies. Megacities are hardest to build affordable housing for because you need to get transit and density right to make them work, so you need high rises and heavy rail. In that case the Japanese Yimby approach is clearly better at building affordable housing at most layers of settlement, Osaka is more affordable than LA or Chicago, Nagoya more than London or Toronto, and nowhere in the Western World has a city matched Tokyo’s scale and few match its amenities. And publicly owned non-profit housing is less than 5% of the housing stock. Rents have fallen and quality has improved in context of population growth as they worked through a backlog of decades breakneck urbanization. Korea is having its end-of-high-growth-real-estate-bubble on prices but rents have stabilized with a lot of new housing and rail infrastructure in the pipeline. The situation is screwing their macroeconomic policy but on basic housing they doing quite well.

            People talk about Seattle I think Minnesota and Texas are better examples of Yimby frameworks in action in the Anglosphere. And in the UK the fastest growing and most affordable towns are the less restrictive Milton Keynes and Peterborough (Thatcher forgot to greenbelt them).

            For once I’ll agree with Michael James that France is doing pretty well at national level in keeping housing level population.

          • michaelrjames

            Borners: “For once I’ll agree with Michael James that France is doing pretty well at national level in keeping housing level population.”

            Except you don’t really. I mean, after all my careful lessons and evidence you continue:

            Megacities are hardest to build affordable housing for because you need to get transit and density right to make them work, so you need high rises and heavy rail.

            Paris, including greater Paris, is absolute proof that you don’t need high-rises to achieve the highest sustained residential densities. I would say Tokyo might prove the same though I don’t know what the split is between high-rise residential and that endless exurban carpet of SFH. Outside the centre, surely it is overwhelmingly the latter?

            And of course I am not going to agree that Tokyo ‘solves’ any urbanist problems, not least the proximity issue. I am not sure it is fundamentally different to Houston/Dallas/Atlanta/Phoenix, with the admittedly large exception of transit versus roads. I am too lazy and uninterested to check it out but don’t Texans boast about their cheap land and cheap houses for the masses? They just pay for them by a car-dependent life. Austin is trying to add 8 new lanes to the existing 12 lanes of I-35 at a mere $8bn! Tokyo may have high rail connectivity but you’ll still spend your life getting around unless you can afford to live in the centre (which afaik is no less expensive than its peer world cities).

            I’ll begin to even consider Tokyo as a worthwhile model when Yonah Freemark writes a paper claiming it (not that I’ll believe it unless there is some hitherto secret revelation).

          • Alon Levy

            I mean, Tokyo (37 million) is about the same size as Paris (13), Dallas (8), Houston (7), Atlanta (7), and Phoenix (5) combined. No shit, it takes a while to get from one side to the other.

            And at this point Tokyo proper has overtaken Paris proper in apartment size, as has Seoul. Those 12 m^2 studettes are shit.

          • michaelrjames


            Exactly. It strongly suggests that allowing a “single” city to reach such a size, especially by such unplanned sprawl and especially a unipolar one, is not such a good idea. Remember that in the 50s-60s French planners were horrified and driven by the trend suggesting it might reach 20 million, and they took a whole series of strategies to change the trajectory. TGVs to provincial cities, the overall devolution supported by serious money to improve their major provincial cities which has worked. OK there were many factors causing a natural slowdown from the 70s. Then transport planning with the RER, tramways, now GPX. It’s doesn’t approach Germany’s multipole cities but a reasonable outcome.

            By contrast the kind of laissez-faire in Tokyo led to legendary inefficiencies which are mostly paid by the residents, in unsewered and unserviced blocks in the middle of nowhere (and which are very hard to service properly when the state finally tries to catch up–there’s usually no minimum standard legal right of way in those places). And the transit system may be awesome but again the planning is minimal and the users pay the price. We’ve just discussed the difficulty, maybe unwillingness, to alleviate crowding and long travel times by multi-tracking for express, or even the dreaded duplex regional trains.

            I believe many people are dazzled by the centre of Tokyo but would have a different opinion if they lived the life of an average Tokyo resident, especially the ones not upper-middle SES who can afford to live somewhere more convenient. When I worked for that brief period in Tokyo (Otsuka, northern edge of Yamanote line) it was great because someone was paying for a hotel within walking distance for the whole 5 weeks whatever. But none of the Japanese in that lab, not just techs but scientists and MD-Phds, lived anywhere convenient and half a dozen were doing the sleeping-in-the-lab during-the-week thing.

            Very big cities have a autocatalytic creative energy but perhaps there is a threshold beyond which they become hell for too many residents. For some people Paris may be too big, and London is definitely too big due to its lack of planning (for affordable housing and transit that can cope; Crossrail is 40+ years behind the RER). But it is also why GPX is so fascinating, to see if it can really improve these things in a city of such a size. Berlin may well be at a sweetspot and no accident that it often wins most-livable city (especially outside the executive salaried). Even at smaller size, many American (Sunbelt) cities are worse because they refuse to build transit. As to the developing world, mostly nightmares like Djakarta, Delhi, Lagos etc. Weirdly for a nation obsessed with planning, China seems to be falling into the same traps. Building giant transit systems but ones that seem to ignore the hapless commuter’s crowded and very long rides. (Though Changsha’s Maglev Express city transit is an interesting experiment, and maybe Tokyo should take an interest in it.) Perhaps they looked at Tokyo …
            Tokyo is no model for anyone else to follow in properly planning a mega-city. Seriously, is anyone here suggesting that big western cities with these problems (housing affordability, mobility issues) should follow the Tokyo model and just deregulate everything to do with development?

          • michaelrjames

            Alon: “And at this point Tokyo proper has overtaken Paris proper in apartment size, as has Seoul. Those 12 m^2 studettes are shit.”

            Vous exagérez. Those are former chambre-de-bonne and are only on the top floor, usually mansardé, with shared kitchen & bathroom etc. No more have been built, at least since WW2, possibly WW1. We might sneer at them now but in the 18th-19th century they were pretty good for people in those jobs. In fact their modern equivalent in your old home town, Singapore (and across East Asia, Hong Kong etc), they are now an equally small, or smaller, room within the employer’s house–sometimes it is a multipurpose room such as the laundry. But again for the people in those jobs, Filipinos etc, it is not so bad. Without them they would be most likely living in rented hovels and commuting too. (The horror stories of some Filipino houseworkers has nothing to do with their rooms.) I reckon those people sleeping in the Tokyo lab would have welcomed such an alternative; indeed I thought there was a case of the employer supply proper facilities instead of the nightmare occurring under their watch.

            Then there is the happy consequence that those tiny rooms provide lots of accommodation in the heart of the city for students and others on very low incomes. I don’t know the statistics but it certainly must help with overall affordability and anti-gentrification. Most people only live in those things for short periods of their lives and so they provide a useful alternative mode. It wasn’t a chambre-de-bonn or mansardé (hot in summer, cold in winter) but I lived in a 18m2 studio for many years in Paris and it was great, if a bit cabin-feverish by the end. It did have its own bathroom and kitchen. It allowed me to live on Ile St Louis. In fact many of those rooms/studettes were owned by provincials who liked to have their pied-a-terre for occasional overnight stays/visits to Paris. I wish I had one now!

            I don’t know what you are comparing by “proper”. Independent rentable space like that is not allowed to be built anymore and there is very little of it outside inner-Paris, so I would be a bit sceptical on comparisons of say Petit Couronne versus Greater Tokyo. Though again, the difference is that most of the Petit Couronne is within 20 minutes or less of central Paris.

            Are you saying old Berlin apartment blocks don’t have those kind of spaces?

          • Eric2

            “generally successful Yimby cities still have rising house prices/rents because of inflation and economic growth”

            Also because YIMBY cities (like Seattle) are still in the small minority. As such they have to absorb the housing demand from entire countries (over the medium-long term people everywhere will tend to move to where both urban job opportunities and cheap housing are available). No matter how much housing Seattle builds, it won’t be enough to house the entire US. But it has been enough to make housing prices noticeably slow compared to other coastal cities.

          • df1982

            AS I understand it though, YIMBYism is primarily about densifying existing neighbourhoods to alleviate demand, and not simply building endless swathes of suburban tract houses, which are the examples you’re talking about Borners (Minnesota, Texas, Milton Keynes, much of the west in the mid-20th century). This approach may well improve affordability, but I think nearly everyone on this blog agrees it’s an atrociously bad urban form (the main arguments here are about whether Blockrandbebauung or towers in the park are better ways to achieve density).

            I don’t know enough about Japan to tell if it is a good case study, although off the top of my head I would say its declining population would be factor in keeping rents low (this was also a reason for Berlin’s low rents up until about 2010).

          • Alon Levy

            Tokyo’s population is increasing.

            And historically, real New York housing costs were in the long term flat until the 1961 downzoning (although the subsequent rise wasn’t seen until the recovery from the 1970s’ downturn).

          • df1982

            Both the city and the greater metro area of Tokyo have basically been flatlining for more than a decade.

            And there was a lot of other stuff going on in New York that would me make skeptical that a 1961 zoning decision led to rent increases twenty years later.

            The comment was more about the other way around: has loosening up zoning laws led to decreases in housing costs anywhere?

          • Herbert

            I mean slumlords don’t exactly have “affordable” housing built, but their gamble is always to extract as much wealth as possible at the lower end of the wage scale…

            And while it is hard to believe with the rents those apartments fetch after rennovation (and not being filled with twelve kids per room plus people literally sleeping in shifts) but virtually all of the ca. 1870-1914 urban housing was built on the premise of being the cheapest possible option to get as many renters as possible on the smallest possible land area (during Berlin’s industrialization there were “Millionenbauern” – “millionaire farmers” who sold their land now adjacent to or inside a major world city to housing developers for millions of goldmark – so even “cheap” real estate was expensive in Berlin)…

            Now it may in fact be true that “off the shelf” construction with concrete is the cheapest option for a ten story house or whatnot. But this is in part because some construction techniques have been optimized for building with concrete and it’s easiest to find trained workers familiar with concrete.

            You could just as well standardize and industrialize brick construction – bricks can be mass produced in standard shapes and could easily be assembled Lego-style by dedicated machines if those innovations were invested in. Brick also has the advantage of generally being considered “pretty” (can you imagine tearing down a mid 20th century suburban factory being as beloved a landmark as some brick built factories?) and producing less CO2 (I’m not sure if you could produce carbon neutral bricks by firing the kilns with renewable fuels, but concrete cannot be produced without carbon emissions [you could sequester them afterwards, but they are still produced] for reasons of chemistry – at least what is commonly understood as “concrete”)

            And then there is structural lumber which has centuries of tradition (urban centers only stopped containing half timbered houses in Germany after allied firebombing) and certainly modern technology and automation could be used there as well – wood as a material has the very obvious benefit of actually representing a carbon sink… We could turn construction from a major headache on the path to decarbonization to an ally in the fight against climate catastrophe

  10. Herbert

    Would you propose “redeveloping” Großer Garten in Dresden as a way to “solve” a housing crisis caused by neoliberal policy mistakes? Or rather Dresdner Heide?

    And before you suggest shutting down Klotzsche airport, the runway at the very least is needed for https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbe_Flugzeugwerke these nice people to fly their work in and out and Dresdners would very much not appreciate having such a proud industrial heritage snuffed out and the jobs lost…

    • michaelrjames

      Herbert: “Would you propose “redeveloping” Großer Garten in Dresden as a way to “solve” a housing crisis caused by neoliberal policy mistakes? ”

      I think you are being mischievous.
      First Großer Garten is 180Ha, half the size of Templehof.
      Second, it is a well established part of the city, from 1676! It also contains the city zoo and botanical gardens. So, a completely different situation. If there was some derelict, barren industrial site like it that came vacant, sure then I would not be supporting it being made into a Großer Garten equivalent–but I might recommend creating a approx. 20Ha park similar to Jardin du Luxembourg etc along with housing for ≈60,000 residents.
      Third, I don’t know Dresden but it was originally outside the city so I am guessing a bit like the relationship of Bois de Boulogne to inner Paris, or maybe one of the innumerable old royal chateau in the Paris region that are now public spaces.

      • Herbert

        For most of its existence the Großer Garten was off-limits to commoners…

        What about Dresdner Heide, tho? It’s mostly forest and the soils are generally too poor for agriculture (the German term “Heide” is ill defined, especially in place names but it usually means “soils too poor for agriculture” in the case of the “prototypical” Lüneburger Heide in North Germany that soil poverty is the result of medieval unsustainable farming practices)

  11. Eric2

    All of Central Park is within ~500m of very dense housing. Parts of Templehofer are >800m away from any housing and much of that housing isn’t particularly dense either. So Central Park is much better used than Templehofer, and Templehofer can spare much more land for development.

    Yes in theory Central Park would be more useful as a number of distributed smaller parks. But a lot of Manhattan is within walking or quick subway distance to Central Park anyway. And other large parks exist in Manhattan, like Riverside and Fort Tryon. So Central Park’s park space would not be that much more helpful say, anywhere north of 50th St.

  12. michaelrjames


    All of Central Park is within ~500m of very dense housing. Parts of Templehofer are >800m away from any housing and much of that housing isn’t particularly dense either.

    Templehof is at the same stage as Central Park was in the mid-19th century. Now it is no longer an airport, the adjoining zone is sure to densify no matter what happens to the vacant space.

    But a lot of Manhattan is within walking or quick subway distance to Central Park anyway.

    Not really. While UWS and UES are the densest residential districts and (mostly) within easy walk of the park, Manhattan is very long and thin. The whole southern part of the island is poor on parks. I believe the biggest is Tompkins Sq Park at 6Ha, then perhaps Washington Sq Park at 4Ha and the few others are even smaller. Even a lot of Stuy-Cooper and East Village is further than ten minutes from Tompkins Sq. A quite high percentage of Manhattan residents are not within the ten minutes walk of useful green space that Louis Napoleon demanded of Haussmann/Alphand in their Paris remodelling.
    If you take the fictional Friends and their non-fictional apartment block on Bedford/Grove streets in Greenwich Village, they were 4.5km from the park which is a 45 minute brisk walk. Maybe you could halve the time by using the subway but it’s a slog.

    Anyway, my point is simply to say that NYC’s Central Park is not the model anyone should use (but they do of course!). Berlin has plenty of green space and should put a lot of Templehof and Tegel to other urban purposes, especially more affordable housing, while reserving maybe 50 Ha for parkland. But not in one big lump, instead, say one ≈25Ha park like Jardin du Luxembourg and a bunch of much smaller spaces scattered throughout. With dense but historic form (low-rise) buildings and in tight not-wide streets etc, combined with densification around its periphery, this scheme could probably add housing for 200,000 residents. Not to mention highly desirable urbanism.

    • Eric2

      “Now it is no longer an airport, the adjoining zone is sure to densify no matter what happens to the vacant space.”

      Unlikely, given modern zoning constraints

    • Alon Levy

      the adjoining zone is sure to densify no matter what happens to the vacant space.

      Wait, why? Other than the actually useful wooded parks nearby, everything nearby is at Wilhelmine density and Berlin doesn’t really permit going higher (and even if it did, the last place to do it would be Wilhelmine buildings – start with single-family houses near train stations).

      • michaelrjames

        “everything nearby is at Wilhelmine density”

        OK, if it really is like that. Areas around airports tend to be pretty scrappy with lots of low light industrial, and service industries related to the airport etc and often scrappy housing, if any, too.

        • Herbert

          The airport was the main airport of Berlin in the 1920s when “civil” aviation was mainly an excuse to sneakily train military pilots.

          It was not built the way airports are built in the 21st century and consequently it was put into a neighborhood few people would “saddle” with an airport today. That and the fact that its traffic was basically a rounding error by modern standards made it being shut down the logical choice come reunification – West Berlin nostalgics starting a doomed plebiscite notwithstanding…

  13. adirondacker12800

    Maybe you could halve the time by using the subway but it’s a slog.
    If you don’t want to take the local train a few blocks away there is an express train a few more blocks away. Either of them are faster than 22 minutes. Though why you’d schlep up to Central Park when Washington Square Park or the Hudson River Greenway is closer is a good question. There’s even a quarter of billion dollar recreation pier, that styles itself as Little Island, on 13th and the Hudson.

    • michaelrjames

      @adirondacker: “Though why you’d schlep up to Central Park when Washington Square Park or the Hudson River Greenway is closer is a good question. ”

      So it seems you agree it is a schlep (slog) up there. Those other closer parks are a lot smaller and fairly limited in utilities, such as the long jogging path around the reservoir (or any number of routes in the park), cycling paths, tennis courts, even horse riding trails, kyaking or pedalos, ice-skating rinks, swimming pools, rock climbing. Cafes, restaurants. Space to have a picnic. Elaborate gardens and walks, statuary and fountains etc. Children’s playgrounds. I’m not sure you’d even want to use a frisbee in those small parks, or fly a kite or a ball game and probably no place to let the dog off the leash. BTW, you can do almost all those things in the 23Ha Jardin du Luxembourg (pony rides for kids on weekends, 6 tennis courts, various other games and the main basin (pond) famously used for toy sail boats, cafes (kiosks) etc).

      But I agree with you that you don’t really want to schlep anywhere most of the time. Mostly you want it to be within about ten minutes walk.

  14. Matthew da Silva

    You see this on an individual level in big liberal US cities, where many of the best local politicians on transportation and clean energy have a soft NIMBY bent to their housing politics. Meanwhile, mainstream neoliberal politicians are often the best folks for housing, but are all too comfortable with cars and fossil fuels.

    Of course in the US paradigm all of these people are Democrats, since the GOP has been completely captured by reactionaries, nationalists, and racists.

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