Urban Sociopaths


Sociopaths are people who “have no regard for others’ rights or feelings, lack empathy and remorse for wrongdoings, and have the need to exploit and manipulate others.” That definition perfectly fits New Urban planners and the environmentalists who support them.

I could be referring to planners eager to inflict congestion on commuters in order to persuade a few of them to take transit. But today I’m referring to planners eager to drive up housing prices in order to force more people to live in multifamily housing.

Surveys have consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans of every generation prefer a single-family home with a yard over living in a condo or apartment. These preferences have only been strengthened by the pandemic.

Yet planners and planning advocates openly seek to thwart those preferences and increase the share of Americans living in multifamily housing. The chief tool they use is to limit the supply of land for single-family homes, thus driving up housing costs. But that isn’t enough: they also want to construct more multifamily housing in the existing urban footprint, which in many cases means tearing down single-family homes and replacing them with apartments or condos.

New Urbanist David Larson, writing in the Federalist, argues that “more Americans could live in beautiful neighborhoods if the Right stopped propping up suburbia.” What he means is that the suburbs should be forced to discard single-family zoning so that high-density housing projects can be built in their midst. One of the reasons we should do this, he says, is that “suburbia is undeniably ugly.” Wait a minute — I thought the suburbs were beautiful? He can’t seem to get his story straight.

But the real problem is his assumption that low-income people want to live in multifamily housing. In fact, they don’t want to live in second-class housing any more than they want to use second-class transportation (meaning transit). Moreover, single-family housing can be built that is much more affordable than multifamily, which tends to cost far more per square foot.

Then there was an article on the San Francisco Chronicle claiming that single-family zoning is costing San Franciscans hundreds of thousands of dollars per home. The writer bases this conclusion on a paper by Wharton Business School researchers Joseph Gyourko and Jacob Krimmel.

However, nowhere in that paper do the researchers blame high housing prices on single-family zoning. In fact, the words “single-family zoning” don’t even appear in the paper. Instead, they blame high housing prices on “supply constraints.” The chief supply constraints in the San Francisco Bay Area are the urban-growth boundaries that confine development to the existing urbanized area, which occupies just 30 percent of the region.

Thanks to those growth boundaries, less than 45 percent of Bay Area households live in single-family detached homes. In many urban areas that don’t have such constraints, the share is greater than 70 percent. So more than a quarter of Bay Area residents are prevented from achieving their dream of living in a single-family home, and the Chronicle wants to make it even more by replacing existing single-family homes with apartments.

Read the rest of this piece at The Antiplanner.

Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.