Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier Triumph of the City discussion

Which is a greater virtue?

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Brad VanAuken As I was reading this book, I kept asking myself this question: which is the greater virtue, creating a place that is affordable for the largest number of people (especially middle class people) based on little regulation (like Houston) or creating a place that is only affordable to higher income people because zoning restrictions and historic preservation have created a demand that far exceeds supply (like Boston, New York or San Francisco)? I by far prefer the latter but places that provide affordable homes and more disposal income for the masses can be argued to provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people. I have spent a great deal of time in almost every US city and I have to say that I much more enjoy places that are the result of some planning and restrictions, even if they are more expensive. What do you think?

David Freeland I think this question points to one of the biggest flaws of this book, in my opinion, which is that the author seems to believe that limiting regulations on historic preservation will automatically lead to the creation of more affordable housing. In the case of Manhattan, which the author comes back to often to make his points, it would be silly to assume that fewer regulations on preservation would bring costs down. In fact, what we've seen in areas that have undergone the most rampant and insensitive development in recent years - for example, parts of the Lower East Side - has been just the opposite. The ceiling keeps moving higher. Manhattan today is both more "developed" and less affordable than it has ever been.

In short, this book is based upon an economist's perspective, whereby something that is taken away in one part of the chart will reappear and be accounted for in another. But this formula makes no provision for qualities related to human nature. Historic preservation does not staunch the growth of affordable cities; greed does.

Christian There ought to be a happy medium between a regulation-free zone and a historical/preservation development lock down. In that regard I think Jane Jacobs book works well in that it lays down some basic precepts and suggests some urban design elements to ensure cities encourage social dynamism and prosperity. Given the fact that gas will never be cheap again, the emphasis should be on walkability and relatively dense clusters.

I take the author's point that areas excessively zoned as historical preserve can stifle new housing and drive up the cost. My thought was perhaps to also curtail rent control. I understand this has a huge impact on new development. I don't actually live in New York so I am not really familiar with this.

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