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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 15, 2023

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Re. Condo owners: it depends on the legal structure. Some (many?) are set up so that the condo owners have a pro-rata share in the land the condo complex is built on.

No. The location is also highly valuable. If a condo building stays completely unchanged but a major city springs up around it, the building values will massively appreciate. The low density of the condo building just implies slightly higher carrying costs.

Also, demolishing condos isn't that hard outside of CA. NYC rebuilds old skyscrapers all the time.

None of this really deals with what generates such a need for suburbia: being physically separated from the criminal element and the dirty elements that have been allowed to dominate cities.

I am old enough to remember why suburbia was built, as I grew up in a country where it happened later than in the US. People used to live in tenements - entire families in single rooms in large buildings that were either fancy family homes or industrial buildings. These were hideous places to live. The new estates were built, with modest, by American standards, semi-detached (which means two houses share a wall) homes with small gardens. People did hot have cars, of course, but needing to walk a mile to get to things was far better than living in decaying 18th-century buildings (for strange reasons, all buildings stopped in 1800, so almost all the built environment dated from then).

The new estates were great but would tend to go through a rough patch 14 years after they were first built when the children of the first inhabitants became teens (and were bad). Once this patch ended, they turned into lovely places. The houses were built by the corporation, so people got them at a very large discount. The system broke down later, as the number of decent people declined, and the later estates never became acceptable places to live. A bad element arose that made the estates unlivable, drugs were commonplace, and no one in their right mind would want to live there. Strangely, the newer estates have better quality houses than the old ones. As far as I can tell, the corporation gave decent people houses first.

I had held out hope that these estates would turn around, but that is not going to happen unless the new immigrants do it. It may have been the 70s, or it may be that the later residents were worse, or it may be something else, but the glory that was public housing ended and can not return because enough of the people who are being housed are too antisocial to allow the estates to thrive.

Sure it does.

This is fundamentally a problem of supply. Clean and bring order to the cities, and they’ll still be more expensive per square foot than the suburbs, because building out is still cheaper than building up, and building up will always imply multi-family units. Anyone who wants their white picket fence has no choice but to move out.

How is it a supply problem? There are, in most cities, particularly places like Chicago and Detroit, places that were once dense(ish) full of single, or multifamily (but not skyscrapers) housing that was cheap and close(ish) to the urban core and could easily get their via public transit. These places now look like warzones. The supply is still there (kinda, you'd probably want to demolish and rebuild basically the same thing). Just the people aren't they were replaced by bad people who did bad things, and then even most of the bad people left so there are just a handful of bad and sad people.

I’m not clear on how the timeline looks for those. I was thinking the urban cores didn’t really get hollowed out until the 60s, long after suburbia became popular. Then again this article suggests the decline started in the ‘20s. I don’t even know what to think for my own city.

Some of urban hollowing out earlier on was because the urban core was so shitty. There was pollution, literal shit, poorly constructed dense (and tall) housing structures, etc. That is fixed in most cities nowadays. The true urban commercial hub areas like Manhattan, The Loop, etc are dense, almost fully utilized, and extremely expensive.

"Streetcar suburbs" were the early original suburbs, and as the name suggests date back to when streetcars existed but automobiles didn't. The city core was dirty, smelly, loud, polluted and generally a miserable place to live, so people started living outside them as soon as reliable, affordable transportation existed. The history of city vs. suburb growth is also greatly confounded by the fact that many large cities annexed their inner-ring suburbs during the 20th century, "growing" in population but reducing in density.

So, what happens to people who want a truly suburban lifestyle? The current outer-ring suburbs and exurbs are where the suburban lifestyle can remain and thrive under this scheme.

Except, this isn't actually true in your proposed system. It has an urban growth boundary. Inside, development is promoted. Outside, development is forbidden. So the idea is to push density out until it hits the boundary, then keep densifying, with rural land outside the border.

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Why do people always want to build towers?

Sometimes I wonder if this is largely aesthetics. Some people like open spaces and trees. Others like brutalist dystopias the hustle and bustle of good urban planning, which needs big towers for the correct feel and density.

You obviously do not know where Coyote Valley is. It is six or so miles from the center of San Jose. It has a light rail line going to within a mile of it. It is not Livermore, which is over a mountain. It is right there, and people will not build because they are BANANAS (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone.) It is actually really near San Jose.

Coyote valley is nowhere near six miles from downtown San Jose. It's more like 19 miles. It's actually closer to Gilroy (18 miles).

It's also in a fairly narrow mountain pass that's about four miles wide (eyeballing the map).

Livermore by contrast is located on a huge open space, although access to the cities on the bay itself is limited (especially with the demise of the bart extension).

Claiming Cupertino is the center of the bay area is an, uh, interesting claim as well.

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I first learned about Japanese zoning from urban kchoze. It seemed reasonable enough. Can’t tell if there’s some cultural reason it would fall apart here, or if we’re just in an awkward equilibrium with vested interests in keeping our messed-up system. But until proven otherwise, I’m vaguely in favor of adopting it.

Do you think this is the kind of policy which can be implemented starting small, like electoral reform? A town or county or state can adopt approval voting without issues, proving the concept and making it more visible to the larger populace. I’m not sure whether a municipality adopting Japanese zoning gives it a competitive advantage against others of its same size.

Finally, what would be an effective way to advocate for such a change? This is kind of a detour, but I’ve always wondered where lobbyists come from. Somehow I doubt I can just show up to city council with a five-step plan to phase out our zoning law…or can I?