In an essay recently published in the New York Times, Economist correspondent and author Ryan Avent argues that Denser Cities mean more and better paying jobs. The opinion piece is entitled One Path to Better Jobs: More Density in Cities, and is adapted from his Kindle “Single,” The Gated City. He states that various studies and economists conclude that productivity increases between 6% and 50% as a result of a doubling of urban density. The increased density comes from increased increased interaction and exchange of ideas, increased inter-job mobility, and increased availability and variety of goods, services, and manpower. Oddly one of the most cited reasons for promoting density, increased transportation efficiency, isn’t directly mentioned in the essay.
Additionally, Mr. Avent probably over-reaches in drawing a direct correlation between “‘Not In My Backyard’ philosophy” and the high cost of housing in places like the San Francisco Bay Area, resulting in a loss of people and jobs in the last decade. In turn, he lauds Phoenix Arizona for granting “permits for two to three times as many new homes as did the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas combined” between 1992 and 2009. However, San Francisco is already one of the most densely populated urban areas in the country, and Phoenix is one of the most sprawling. Additionally, many of the growth management policies, resulting from the concerns he terms as NIMBYism, encourage increased density to preserve open space, and discourage spot zoning, which may increase density on one lot but blight another. Ironically, U.S. cities tend to have far taller buildings than their European counterparts yet have much lower overall densities.
In sum, its an interesting and provocative essay, but some of the conclusions sound more like sound bites from a Tea Party rally than the dispassionate deductions of a scholar.
Photo: San Francisco skyline from Potrero Hill by Andreas Praefcke, Wikimedia Commons