Thursday, September 06, 2007

Land use reforms

Ed Mills is always a joy to read because he is smart and clear and also blunt. His "The Attrition of Urban Real-Property Rights" in the Fall 2007 issue of The Independent Review is must reading.

He ends with "What to Do?"
"The first step in remedying the situation should be to cease
making the controls more stringent: place a moratorium on further
controls. Second, many minor controls can and should be abolished
immdeiately with a few strokes of a few pnes. Third, the city [most of the
piece is about Chicago] should undertake a citizens' education program to confirm the
errors of its ways and to promise reform. Fourth, the city should begin to
relax density controls selectively. Permission might be granted for
immediate high-desnity development near highway interchanges, public transit
stops and commercial land uses. The result would be not only to intorduce
obviously desriable reforms, but also to make possible reductions in
commuting. Fifth, the city should abolish the requirements that a
residential building be brought to full compliance with current controls if the
owner modifies it significantly in any way. Finally and most important,
the city should commit itself to a series of five-year reforms to abolish almost
all land use controls."

Mills admits that these are "pipe dreams". I would add that, rather than criticizing planners' bias in favor of low densities, which does exist in many places, it is more generally the case that planners think they know where there should be high and where there should be low densities. And they are usually wrong on both counts because, absent markets, this is all too complex -- and just plain unknowable.