JVH Writes, Shoup Responds

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JVH Writes, Shoup Responds

I love it when Don Shoup responds to one of my blogs, and he did so yesterday. I felt his response was important enough to bring it out from the “comments” section and into the light of day. It refers to my blog of August 11 and my concerns that urban planners are sitting in ivory towers and deciding just what is best for us. Don doesn’t think so. His response:

I think you are too hard on urban planners. I agree with your suspicion that “our betters” are telling us what to do, and that zoning is what they use to tell us. But I disagree on what “our betters” have been telling us. I think zoning does the opposite of what you imply.

Zoning only restricts density, and it never requires density. About 40% of the land in Los Angeles is zoned for single-family housing, which means that “our betters” are telling us that no one can live at a higher density even if the market would provide it.

For example, zoning prohibits duplex houses on land zoned for single-family homes, suggesting that “our betters” have decided that duplexes wouldn’t be good for us. Zoning also prohibits high-rise housing in most of the city, which suggests that “our betters” will not let the market supply high-rise apartments even where there is a demand. Developers will build at higher density only if the market demands higher density.

Zoning sets limits on what the market can supply. The only thing that zoning requires is, of course, parking. “Our betters” have decided that we must have two parking spaces per dwelling unit, regardless of the cost of providing the parking and regardless of whether we own a car.

So it seems that a market-oriented policy would be to reduce the restrictions on density and remove the requirements for parking. Then we wouldn’t all have to live the life that “our betters” have zoned for us.

Donald Shoup
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Professors

I don’t want Don to feel that I am Cruel to professors, but far too often we find that those of us who actually live in the community are left out of the planning process. Meetings are held downtown with little or no notice. Developers and builders are sitting on the front row. And suddenly a new high rise is going  up across the street.

Or maybe its more subtle. Someone wants a bike lane. Not a bad idea. Then construction starts and an avenue is turned into a “Great Street”.  Traffic moves to surrounding neighborhoods, people decide that maybe a transit station surrounded by apartments two blocks away would relieve traffic caused by the bike lanes, and voila…

No question that zoning is one problem, but my point is that the alternative that is posited by current planners is wrong too. No one has ever asked me, nor anyone I know, just what we want in our urban setting. We are told what it will be, like it or not. Of course Don is right that demanding parking requirements is wrong, but is the ongoing drum beat for dense urban cores better?

Is somewhere in the middle of all this an undercurrent that says “cars are bad” and we have to remake society so they are unnecessary? Funny, it does seem that way, doesn’t it?

Is it possible that folks who paid top dollar for their single family homes are concerned that the value of their property will fall if an apartment is built next door. And why did they pay that top dollar anyway?

Unfortunately there are two sides to every coin, but ‘our betters’ often get to call which side is the winner.

JVH

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John Van Horn

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