Friday, April 11, 2008

Planning type just can't seem to get behind suburbs

Yesterday I gave a presentation at a World Bank workshop in Pretoria on urban spatial structure and housing (yeah, I'm a lucky SOB). My job was to talk about successful models of housing development for low income workers, and I gave praise to the evolution of housing development in Hong Kong, Singapore and the post WWII United States. No one complained about the first two examples, but a planner complained that I would praise "sprawl" development.

But the fact is that houses in places like the Levittowns offered veterans returning home from war inexpensive, sanitary housing that could be modified and upgraded as their incomes rose. Density patterns in South Africa are also more similar to the largest American cities than to East Asian cities, and I met a group of women who were developing detached single family 40 square meter houses for around $4000 in construction costs, so to rule the detached house model out of hand does not make sense to me. I do think some Americans are needlessly fearful of density at times, but there is nothing wrong per se with constructing lower density houses in places with relatively ample land. And the snobbery some planning types show toward suburbs is just as disturbing to me as the fear some suburban types show toward dense cities.


Anonymous said...

Yes, that's what the below median income people need today. Levitt homes sold for the inflation adjusted equivalent of $60,000. Homes in that price range would be readily affordable, safe, and clean.

Will Green said...

I am glad you wrote the comment. In Milwaukee one of the main problems I see is a lack of good affordable housing for people in the true median income range. Many are paying much to high a percentage of Gross Income for a house, even before Libor adjustments in the A.R.Ms so many of my clients have. I see this a lot as a debtor's bankruptcy attorney.

Amazingly, at the same time, I find myself representing builders who are going bust because they only wanted to build high end housing with a higher profit margin. Since they didn't even look at building for the median income market, I originally had little empathy. Many suburbs here don't zone for mixed income housing, however, making it harder to be a builder on the land that is available.

I think legislation to force affordable housing into the suburbs is actually required to make suburban affordable housing available.

Of course, if you live where I do(West Allis, WI)it is hard to redevelop, and do tear down, because building regs are drafted to discourage it and then the inspectors take them to the letter.
Funny that if you want to build condo's, and you know the mayor you have no problems.

Condos don't seem to attract young families of median income. Especially when they cost upwards of $250,000.00

Even with higher gas prices, i am willing to bet that cheap land, and affordable housing would be relative to gas prices, and would end up being cost effective for people in the median income range. Especially if car purchases were adjusted for better gas mileage.

I am Richard's Brother, I confess I get a little wordy at times.

Will Green
Milwaukee, WI

Anonymous said...

I would think that simply removing all non safety zoning regulations (at a national level) would force market competition to supply the size/cost homes that people really want.

I can understand people's desire to store deferred consumption in a stable form (that cannot be inflated away), but find a storage medium that doesn't prevent the less well to do from having a safe, affordable place to live. For example, eliminating inflation would allow people to safely store deferred consumption in bank savings account, like in the old days.

Anonymous said...

You gloss over transportation like it's a non-issue. It's the only issue when it comes to building affordable suburban housing. The suburbs do not offer a viable transportation option, outside of the car, which is quickly becoming un-affordable for low skilled workers. These gas prices are not a fluke -- they are here to stay and to grow.

I have some snobbery about the "look" of the suburbs, but it is irrelevant given the total impracticality of the suburbs. It's not a sustainable lifestyle for low and moderate income people and will only continue to be less so.

Philadelphia, PA

Anonymous said...

The less skilled can car pool to their jobs. One car, several families. Smaller lots would further reduce mileage. Doable, if all resources are not swallowed up by housing. The lower middle class can generally afford one small car per family, but not McMansions.

The problem is not just in the burbs though. Large homes are going up in inner cities, next to smaller old homes. I have no idea who they think will move into them.