Robert Stark and co-host Rabbit talk to Adam Hengels.
Adam is SVP and Director of Development of PAD, a real estate development start-up that builds communities for young professionals. PAD’s developments will feature micro-apartments and other product innovations.
From Mega-Projects to Micro-Apartments, Adam has brought his development expertise to several high profile projects such as the $5B Barclays Center Arena and Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, New York . Adam earned his Masters in Real Estate Development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and has a BS and MS in Structural Engineering.
Adam is passionate about urbanism, and is known as a pioneer in the Market Urbanism movement. His mission is to improve the urban experience, and overcoming obstacles that prevent aspiring city dwellers from living where they want. He considers the conventional apartment layout to be stale. Product innovations such as micro-apartments are a key part of the next wave in urbanism.
Why Adam advocates for the liberalization of zoning laws
The debate between absolute private property rights vs. the argument that regulations are necessary to prevent landowners from harming their communities
Zoning laws that contribute to suburban sprawl(ex. parking requirements, limits on density in suburbs, and government subsidies of roads and highways)
How demographic and economic changes are leading to the decline of suburbia
How to attract middle class families back to cities by improving education and increasing housing supply
How zoning laws can prevent bad developments, but can also lead to increases in costs of living
Whether zoning laws are necessary to preserve the aesthetic and historic character of cities
How original mixed use communities declined due to zoning regulation and the rise of the automobile
Robert Stark’s point that even though he supports historic preservation and wilderness conservation, he acknowledges that many zoning laws have negative affects on cities and encourage sprawl
How the Lack of New Housing On The Westside of LA Is Causing Gentrification Of East And South LA
Height limit restrictions in cities
Minimum lot size requirements, and how they stifle creativity in urbanism
Whether highrises can provide housing for the middle class, and Adam’s point that new highrises are expensive but over time they decline in cost and eases the overall demand for housing
Whether mass transit can function in a free market, and how New York City’s Subway System started out as private, and Tokyo’s Subway System is semi private
Adam’s development of micro apartments and how they can address the housing crisis for young people
How zoning laws make it difficult to create micro apartments
The role that Zoning and Urban planning plays in income inequality
Check out Robert Stark’s Artwork
Transcript of interview:
Robert: This is Robert Stark. I’m joined here with Adam Hengels. He runs the site Market Urbanism. Adam it’s great talking to you.
Adam: Hi Robert. Great to be on.
Robert: Also my co-host Rabbit. He will be joining us latter on in the show. Adam, can you tell us about yourself? How you got started with Market Urbanism and what got you interested in a lot of these issues?
Adam: Sure. Yeah, I’m a real estate developer. I’m currently based in Chicago, Illinois and when I started getting into real estate development; understanding the economics of real estate. I started to realize there was some dynamic at play due to regulation and government intervention that was making matters worse. Basically what I saw was over regulation of land use and zoning, and over subsidization of transportation, basically a socialized highway system. And I wanted to put my ideas together on a website so I launched marketubanism.com, and the idea of starting to see if other people were thinking along the same lines, to communicate my point. And I really wasn’t finding anyone else, even in libertarian or free market circles who were saying similar things. So I felt like it was a point of view that needed to be put out there and so that was about, oh 9 years ago. 8 or 9 years ago. And since then it’s grown to several authors. It’s becoming more of an accepted point of view.
Robert: Do you advocate abolishing zoning laws all together or reforming them?
Adam: Well, my preference would be to abolish them all together, but we do advocate for the liberalization of zoning laws.
Robert: Do you think that each community should get to decide what their zoning laws should be? Say one community wants to abolish them, one community wants to have very strict zoning laws. Like for instance where I live in Santa Barbara, California. That’s a city that has very strict zoning laws.
Adam: Right. I’m against strict zoning laws in general. I don’t think any sort of local government should have the right to have that much control over it’s citizens land in general. I believe in private property and property rights of individuals. So I would prefer the city to not use zoning or have pretty light zoning.
Robert: Well there’s sort of the debate. One debate is that if someone has private property they should be able to do what ever they want with it and and that’s kind of your basic Libertarian argument. Then there’s also the argument that if someone wants to do something with their property that’s say harmful to their community or to the environment that they are making an impact on their community so there should be limitations on what someone should do. If they are going to do something that is harmful. How would you respond to someone who makes that argument in favor of zoning laws?
Adam: Well I would say if someone is doing something that is harming someone else then they should be accountable but to implement a zoning code is almost assuming someone is going to
commit a crime before it’s even been committed. To basically say that you cannot do something with your property that might cause problems for your neighbors. I don’t think is an appropriate approach. If a property is causing problems for it’s neighbors that property owner should be held accountable for those problems.
Robert: Well the one argument I heard put out is that zoning laws are necessary to prevent suburban sprawl but you could also make the case, are their regulations that encourage sprawl? For instance a lot of suburban communities. They have strict laws preventing mixed use developments. Like say someone wants to transform a strip mall into a into something like, more like New Urbanism, and then those restrictions encourage further sprawl. You could also make that argument.
Adam: Yeah, that’s the argument I make. I don’t think zoning does much of anything to prevent sprawl, if anything it encourages sprawl. Because if your not allowed to meet the market demand in one area then the demand will have to be met somewhere else. That basically means that development is going to occur in another location. Usually further out. So if anything zoning actually encourages sprawl.
Robert: What are your thoughts on cities having a green belt?
Adam: Yeah I think that it’s kind of unfortunate that basically this sprawl is a symptom. The sprawl that cities are having is a symptom of the cities land use policies and their transportation subsidization. And as a result they are treating the symptom instead of the cause. So I’m not in favor of what they call urban growth boundaries and greenbelts. I’m not in favor using that approach. I’d rather them deal with the actual cause of the problem instead of the symptom.
Robert: Another issue is I know is height limits. Like one city for instance is Washington DC. I know Washington DC has a that’s been there. It was passed by Congress in 1910. I’m sure that encourages a lot of sprawl into places like Virginia.
Adam: Yeah, I assume it does. That’s been around for a long time. And they really can’t build anything, I believe it’s taller than the Washington Monument. And as a result you don’t have very tall buildings in Washington DC. As a result you do see the taller buildings in in nearby suburbs.
Robert: I’ll give you some examples. Where I live in Santa Barbara there’s very strict zoning laws so it can prevent bad projects from happening. Santa Barbara’s a city that is surrounded by a lot of Wilderness. And a lot of those aspects are what make it a nice place to live but on the other hand it’s also extremely expensive, and it can also stifle creativity. It’s very difficult to build anything higher then maybe 4 stories. A lot of the original buildings that were built in the 1920’s would be impossible to build today.
Adam: Yeah, I think in one regard it is protecting a certain quality but there are side effects to that. And that being, that pushes demand into other areas and it ends up being an exclusive area there in Santa Barbara.
Robert: I also noticed on your site one of your other writers wrote an article about LA. I’m from the Westside of LA so I’m kind of familiar with this. What’s happening is the wealthier cities like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have very strict zoning laws so that’s forcing further gentrification into working class cities in LA.
Adam: Right, Yeah I think in some ways if you want to live in a wealthy isolated area that there’s nothing wrong with that but you should do so with private means. Basically you shouldn’t use zoning as a way to prevent people from coming to an area or building something out of character. You should actually, maybe collectively own the land or use private mechanisms. To use zoning it pushes the cost of that protectionism onto other people instead of yourself.
Robert: Are there any examples of cities that have loose zoning laws but have still managed to have strong historic preservation? I’m observation of places I’ve been to is that. I think you make an excellent point that those places become really expensive but most of the places….Small cities like where I live in Santa Barbara or larger cities like San Francisco. They are extremely expensive but at the same time those strict zoning laws. It does preserve a lot of the historic architecture. If you didn’t have that would you think it would be possible that a lot of that historic architecture could of been demolished?
Adam: Yeah, I think it’s certainly possible. I guess there’s two different things; historic preservation and there’s zoning. I think even if you abolish zoning you can still have some sort of historic preservation program where if a certain building has historic significance it could be preserved from being demolished. Unfortunate what a lot of cities have done is that they have created historic preservation district where an entire neighborhood falls under this historic district and it subjects the entire neighborhood to very strict environments…the size, the and the aesthetics of what ever is built in that neighborhood. For example Manhattan, I think. I forget the exact percentage but something like 30% of Manhattan is within a historic district of some sort which makes it really hard to build in a lot of neighborhoods.
Robert: I personally support historic preservation if it’s a building that has a lot of aesthetically and to history but one other issue is there’s new projects and say you have a city like San Francisco and I know you posted that article about housing cost in San Francisco. There the historic preservation issue but then there’s new projects and there’s very strict height limits on new projects. There was a massive development in San Francisco called Mission Bay and because of a lot of the backlash from…People who that it would be to big it ended up being more like a suburban office park than urbanism.
Adam: Right, and unfortunately that was a pretty large…That was an industrial zone right by the water there. Yeah and I don’t think there was much of a rationale for downsizing that development other than this fear of people who live nearby that would change the character of their neighborhood or possibly bring new people into the neighborhood that they didn’t want around. And unfortunately many 100’s of units were not allowed to come to market, those people had to look elsewhere for their housing.
Robert: Do you think high-rises can provide housing for the middle class? I’ve heard the argument that because of maintenance costs they are only a luxury item. Do you see high-rise developments as being able to provide middle class housing in urban areas?
Adam: Well maybe not so much the new high-rises projects because the construction costs are so high. But what happens is that over time the desirability of a building decreases and therefore over time the building becomes more affordable to middle class people. So the new developments aren’t necessarily affordable but they basically provide two benefits to middle class people; one is it’s easing the demand from high end purchasers and renters which is easing the demand for less expensive…over time that will become more affordable housing.
Robert: As far as mass transit goes to you think it is necessary to have the government invest in mass transit or do you think mass transit could function in a free market?
Adam: Well, I think it could function in a free market. The government has done a pretty bad job at running mass transit. The construction costs, their union requirements….are just outrageously expensive. The operating costs for similar reasons are outrageously expensive. So the governments are typically doing pretty bad jobs running transit. A lot of the transit infrastructure we have were originally built by private companies. For example the New York Subway system was built through a franchise of the city, but it was built by two private companies. Unfortunately the city of New York recently forced them to change a five cent fare, a nickel. Even as the operational costs are increasing. As a results they are having trouble making their bond payments and the city buyed them out. So historically there is a strong case that transit could be operated privately. And of course you can look at cities like Tokyo where it’s very close to fully privately operated.
Robert: What are your thoughts on New Urbanism in general and can suburbs be retrofitted and turned into walkable communities?
Adam: I like New Urbanism. Is some ways it inspired me early on in my formative years in College when I started out in architecture school. And New Urbanism started to bring to light the problems with zoning. That was preventing developers from building something that was more conceptually aligned with historic patterns. So I have a soft spot for New Urbanism. At the same time it’s a little bit too focused on a certain, one particular way of doing things in having 2 to 4 story buildings with storefronts on the ground. I think it’s nice but it isn’t always the best, the best way to build. Sometimes it should be in other forms of development. I think a lot of aspects of the suburbs are going to be pretty easy to retrofitted. Maybe not all of them. I think a lot of about the suburban shopping malls and these really large parking lots. I think as we start to see these driverless cars and other autonomous forms of transportation. These parking lots are going to become obsolete. And as a result these suburbs are going to be smart to redevelop these parking lots into higher density developments. So I am not optimistic about all locations, all suburban locations. I think there’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic that the suburbs can be retrofitted.
Robert: The thing is I think what you said is that a strip mall could be retrofitted or a lot of these massive parking lots and even Walmarts. I think what’s a lot more tricky to retrofit is a track housing development of single family homes.
Adam: Sure, yeah that’s not going to be easy but as those homes become less desirable hopefully they will be replaced by something that’s a little more appropriate. Yeah it’s harder to be optimistic about suburban track homes.
Robert: And the way people live in the 19th Century and prior to that, you had people living above their shops, and you had these kind of mixed use communities that evolved organically. Did zoning laws play a role in getting rid of that or was it more the rise of the automobile?
Adam: Well, it’s both. They went hand in hand. And basically during the Progressive Era there was this mind set that uses should be segregated from each other and there was no good reason to have commercial uses close to residential uses. They saw it as an illogical miss match of uses. And along came the automobile and all a sudden they started designing new suburbs from scratch and subsidizing transportation. So it kind went hand in hand. The Progressives of the early 20th Century, they saw themselves as reforming. They saw cities and densities as breading grounds for disease and a lot of undesirable aspects of society and they thought that if everyone had a lawn of their own and could drive to work that it would get us closer to a Progressive Utopia. And so as the automobile came along they were happy to subsidize new roads and highways and use zoning to basically bring this type of living pattern to society.
Robert: My co-host Rabbit just joined us. Rabbit just to fill you in.we are talking about zoning laws and the impacts that they have. Rabbit it’s great having you on. Do you want to comment on the general topic?
Rabbit: Yeah, thanks for having back. Just go ahead and I’ll I try to pick up.
Robert: I know Rabbit you were interested in talking about the micro apartments and Adam you have been involved in creating a lot of these micro apartments.
Adam: Ah, right. Yes. Yeah, I’ve been over the past few years looking at the development of micro apartments. I see it as something that I would of wanted as a young professional. I really, when I came out of college did not need a lot of space. Really just wanted a bed to sleep on and a bathroom to use. I ate all of my meals out with friends or in the neighborhood and I didn’t really feel the need to have a lot more space than just my bedroom and bathroom. And I’m seeing as apartments become more expensive in urban areas there’s a real unmet need for more modest living for young professionals.
Rabbit: Yeah, I completely agree and I felt the same way. I was surprised when I wanted to move Seattle there was so many affordable options there. You could get apartments there for $600, $650 a month in these micro apartments. And I don’t need a lot of space, basically just a place to shower. When I used to live in West Hollywood I would sacrifice space in order to live in the best part of town. So that’s something that I think is very important. One thing that I think is interesting when you look at some of these micro apartments in other cities like the city I live in Phoenix, the micro apartments that they’re building defeat the purpose because some of them are more expensive than much larger apartments. It’s like there kind of creating them as these weird luxury apartments where they’re $12 or $13 hundred a month which is a lot for Phoenix when you can get them for $7 or $800 in Seattle which is a much more expensive city.
Adam: Yeah I think it’s unfortunate that for a long time cities really haven’t allowed small units. Most cities basically abolished what most cities call SRO’s since maybe the 60’s are there really hasn’t been any expansion of market rate small apartments as a results. Seattle has seen quite a bit of that type of….but I think over the past few decades if smaller apartments would of been built you’d see a lot more at a reasonable price. I guess new construction ends up being more expensive and even a micro apartment, a micro apartment might be as expensive as a maybe a ten year old one bedroom apartment.
Rabbit: Yeah, has there been any initiative to instead of build in these major cities to create a new micro dwelling community or city because you could almost give something a big city feel to it? You could create it with these micro apartments with in these tiny housing developments that would happen in a small area that would give it a sort of urban feel that was just created from scratch.
Adam: Yeah you could put up these micro or tiny home communities. I haven’t really….but yeah I guess you could in more remote places build communities from scratch. I’m just not as familiar with them as I could be, but I guess they’re out there.
Robert: What types of projects with the micro apartments do you mostly work on?
Adam: Well, originally because of the zoning requirements. This is similar to what Seattle has done, where you might have four bedrooms that are clustered together that share a kitchen and perhaps they share a bathroom. And this would be a more affordable, the most affordable approach. The problem that I ran into with that is that investors and lenders were really nervous about that in cities like New York and Chicago. So I changed my approach to basically building very small studio apartments with each one containing a small kitchenette and bathroom. Lately I’ve been looking at mixing these four bedroom units, clustered micro apartments in with the small studio apartments and providing a shared space where people could gather communally and either use that space to gather on a regular basis or entertain friends. When you only have 350 square feet there’s not a lot of spare room to have parents over for dinner or invite a few friends over. So having that communal space is really important on each floor. And I’ve been involved with another concept that basically you have an entire floor of small, or very small….up to 300 square feet of bedrooms and bathrooms, and on each floor you would have a shared kitchen and other communal space. Something like 16 to 25 people that would all share that common area.
Robert: Do you see a lot of these issues involving city planning as one of the key factors behind income inequality?
Adam: Income inequality, you mean at a national level?
Robert: Yeah, national level and at a local level.
Adam: Yeah, I think it certainly does, especially when you look at cities like New York and San Francisco. Really the middle class is basically almost priced out. But it doesn’t really hurt the wealthy that much to restrict the supply of housing and it ends up hurting the middle and lower
classes the most and as a result the cities that are the most productive such as San Francisco and New York, they’re making it really hard to…for people to make it in the most productive cities where they really should be contributing to…and at the same time you see a lot these…the value increases of high end homes have gone up quite a bit, so a lot of that appreciation of home value has basically gone to the richest people of society.
Rabbit: Yeah, I also think it’s a good point a lot of artist are now starting to shy away from those cities because they’re just so unaffordable you know so artist are moving to places like Austin and Portland and some of these other cities that are more affordable than Chicago or San Francisco and those places because it’s just not as feasible to live there anymore and to work as an artist.
Adam: Yeah, I’m hearing a lot people, especially artist and creative people looking at Detroit as an option. I’m hearing a lot of people talk about Detroit as possibly the next Brooklyn. I don’t know. It’s hard to be optimistic about Detroit but it’s interesting to see people considering Detroit.
Rabbit: Well, with the internet being so prevalent now one doesn’t necessarily have to be in those hub cities anymore. You see a lot of artist that are working out of more rural areas and whatnot because they can build up a following through social media and other networking opportunities. That’s kind of changed a little bit. It used to be you absolutely could not make a living unless you lived in these certain areas but it’s not so much the case.
Adam: Right, yeah I think there is a lot of value, especially for creative people and young people too, to be within close proximity, like physical proximity to other creative people. Just so that ideas and social networks form, and ideas form and circulate.
Robert: You worked on this project in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Yards, and this was over an existing rail-yard. Can you talk about that project?
Adam: Sure, yeah I worked for the development company that developed that project, It’s called Atlantic Yards. Currently they changed the branding and it’s called Pacific Park. That was a project with a new basketball arena for the Brooklyn Mets. And they moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn by building them a new arena in Brooklyn and 15 high-rise buildings. It’s a 22 acre site and a good portion of that was planned to be built above an existing rail road. And it is a really interesting project where you can see the worst ends of everything as far as the political corruption involved with these public private partnerships and the worst of the neighborhood opposition that you would have to these types of projects. So yeah, it is an amazing project but at the same time there is a lot of ugly features as to how this project was put together.
Robert: In a place like New York City, where New York City is very built up. Like in LA for instance there’s still a lot of room to build on say parking lots. Does New York still have potential to increase it’s housing supply?
Adam: Yeah, absolutely. There’s not a whole lot of vacant lots but that doesn’t mean we can’t tear down a smaller building to build a much taller building. I think the room to grow is basically up, and New York needs to be a lot bigger and taller than it currently is, but a lot of the zoning regulations prevent the city from growing bigger. Stephen Smith at Market Urbanism; he did a study that was published in the New York times where he looked at how many of the buildings in New York City or Manhattan in particular could be built today under the current zoning, and I forget how much. So it is actually only a small fraction of Manhattan that could actually be built today.
Robert: That’s one of the things. The arguments with NIMBY’s that oppose projects that often seem to have a strong obsession with height limits rather than the quality of the building. I mean some of the most beautiful buildings in the world in places like New York are very tall, and a lot of the buildings that were built in the 20’s and 30’s. On the other hand there’s smaller buildings that are going up that are maybe three stories that are mediocre. Why do you think NIMBY’s are more obsessed with the height of the building rather than the quality and the aesthetic?
Adam: I think they are really driven by fear of change. So a bigger building means more people coming into their neighborhood, it means higher density, it possibly means higher traffic, it means more people fighting over the same limited pie of parking spaces, and overall it’s more or less a fear of change. And they see more people coming into the neighborhood as being that change. So they are really more interested in the people that are coming into the neighborhood and the problems that they think these people are going to bring than they are of the buildings themselves.
Rabbit: Yeah I agree. I think also in some cases it’s just a matter of view obstruction. Like when my grandparents lived in Phoenix, they retired here and they had this view, really like this beautiful view of the open desert, the mountains, and the sunset, and all of that. And like three or four years later after they bought this place a complete like giant subdivision was built right there and it completely wiped out their entire view of anything. This place they just retired to. So I think that some people are just very like, they don’t want anything to obstruct their view. I think what’s interesting though is that you have those on the right wing and the left wing have these same kind of people that come together to oppose these types of projects, just for kind of different reasons. Like a lot of people on the right wing will oppose these buildings because they want something that’s more traditional, more family oriented than this kind of young urban professional development. They want to encourage families. On the left you have people who oppose gentrification and you know historical preservation. They want to keep these new developments out and they don’t want old stuff torn down. So it’s interesting that you see different sides become aligned on this issue.
Robert: And I think basically where I’m coming from. I would probably say that with what Adam is saying I would probably agree about 50%. I personally support zoning laws and historic and environmental preservation, but at the same time I can still acknowledged that he makes a lot of valid and excellent points about how zoning….. Like for example he said earlier in the show that zoning laws encourage sprawl. Rabbit you were pointing out that development in Phoenix. Do you think there should be a limitation on something like that development in Phoenix you pointed out that obstructed the view of the desert?
Rabbit: Well it’s not so much a limitation. I support you know zoning laws to the extent they that the entire community has to live there so. It’s just hodge podge of what ever and it affects the way the whole community looks and the way people interact with each other. I support a lot of these developments because a lot of them are very forward thinking and meet a certain need within the community that isn’t being addressed.
Robert : I know Phoenix has historically had a reputation for track housing and sprawl. Have you noticed a lot of changes with urbanism in Phoenix?
Rabbit: Yeah, probably over the last 10 years or so. There’s an increase substantially. The old forces that have been guarding against that have been broken down.
Robert: One trend I’ve noticed….I remember as a kid in the 90’s I would drive down to San Diego and see wall to wall track housing going up. I’ve noticed that it is still going on but there has been a decline. Adam, what have been some of the factors? Suburban sprawl is still happening but not to the same degree as the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
Adam: Right, I think part of it has to do with the demographics. We see the millennial generation still struggling to buy a new home. They may chose to rent or they may be putting off buying their first home maybe because they have too much student debt or other various reasons and so you’re not seeing a lot of new household formations. The type that would typically buy new homes in the exurbs. I think that has a lot to do with it. But I don’t know. There’s some people who think once these millennials have families you’ll start to see them move out to the suburbs and some people argue well this generation is different, they want to live in the cities. I think there’s probably both of those. I think a lot of the young people who prefer cities are more likely to stay in cities if the schools weren’t so bad but a lot of people choose the suburbs because of the school system.
Robert: Do you think there are ways to make cities more livable so you could have middle class families thriving in urban areas?
Adam: Oh sure, yeah. I think with cities there are two issues. One is allowing it to be more affordable just because families choose to leave cities because they can no longer afford it. So I’d like to see a lot more supply on the market so the housing price pressure starts to ease. But the other aspect when it comes to families is the school system. When I lived in Brooklyn I couldn’t imagine a better place to live but now that I’m in Chicago the school system in the city is in such bad shape that my son goes to a suburban school. And it is a problem for a lot of people who prefer to live in cities. Unless we fix the school system this will be a problem for a lot of people.
Robert: What are your thoughts on education reform movements? One of them is breaking up the school system so that each school is localized. And then there is also school vouchers.
Adam: Yeah, I think it is really hard to say what’s the best idea. Vouchers would be a better solution. It is probably beyond my expertise. This is my own personal thought on the matter. The public school system as we know it. Schooling as we know it is going to be obsolete through digital forms of education. So maybe the classroom as we knew it is not going to be anything like it was. In that regard I’m kind of optimistic. Maybe you can live in the city and you can give your children a good education through virtual reality. So I think in the course of the next couple of decades there is going to be a real paradigm shift.
Robert: I’m looking at an article you wrote about zoning. One thing is interesting is that you write about minimum lot sizes and how for a lot of developments they are required to be within a certain size. I’ve noticed one thing that makes a lot of older buildings interesting from the 19th and early 20th Century. You see them in New York, San Francisco, even parts of Downtown LA. You see them in Europe. Tall narrow buildings on small lot sizes as opposed to these large short squat buildings. I think that creates a lot of interesting architecture. How much of an issue is the minimum lot size requirement in urbanism?
Adam: Well, I think the issue with the minimum lot area typically is dictating the number of units that can be built on a lot and these type of requirements came about in the 50’s and 60’s in a response to people beginning to move out to the suburbs and basically cities trying to compete with the suburbs. Basically saying these suburbs are building larger homes for people so cities should stop allowing for people to build smaller homes so that we can compete with the suburbs as far as attracting people. Unfortunately this backfired on cities when you have a shortage of affordable housing at a market rate.
Robert: One trend I have noticed is that there used to be a very clear dividing line between cities and suburbs but in some ways they are starting to blur together. Suburbs are becoming urbanized but at the same time cities are becoming more like suburbs as well. One example of this is the urban big box store like Targets. They are sort of bringing the suburbs to the city but they are built differently, at street level as opposed to behind a massive parking lot.
Adam: Yeah, I think there are certain products that become prevalent in the suburbs and people in the city desire them as well. I myself shop at an urban Target and I might go out of my way to go to that Target. In suburbs you are starting to see around rail stations more urban developments. Denser, more compact, that are within walking distance. So you see a little bit of borrowing of ideas among the cities and suburbs and it is probably a good thing.
Robert : What do you think about using transit to implement the urbanization of suburbs?
Adam: I don’t know. I like transit but at the same time I acknowledge that they tend not to be cost effective. Cities that already have the transit infrastructure. Running a new transit line to the suburbs might not make fiscal sense. It might not work. But in a city like Chicago where there is already strong rail infrastructure it makes sense for the suburbs that are along those rail lines to urbanize. But it’s hard for me to advocate new transit lines out to the suburbs. As much as I’d like to see it happen it’s really hard to make it happen.
Rabbit: Yeah, he brings up an interesting point about the demographics. Especially out west, the demographics are changing. A lot of the people who came to retire or pioneer are slowly being replaced by these transplants from Chicago or these other cities. And when they come here they want the subway and all of this other stuff. Even though they may of moved here originally because there was low property taxes or low taxes and things like that as soon as they get here they start wanting to bring in all this other stuff that existed in the place they migrated from. You see that pretty frequently here in Phoenix with people from Chicago or these places in the Mid West.
Robert: What are your thoughts on parking requirements? Do they also play a major role in encouraging sprawl?
Adam: I think that is one of the problems of zoning. Where developers are required to provide more parking than the market actually demands. There’s a lot of consequences. It acts as a tax on the developers themselves. They are burdened, especially in cities where you have to add structured parking. Those parking spaces will cost the developer something like 30 thousand each space. So it forces the developer to provide more parking than the tenant actually desires. It is really burdening on the developer and they are providing less housing as a result. They may walk away from or not pursue a certain project because the parking requirement might be too burdensome. For example in Chicago in some areas you are required to provide a parking space for every residential unit but when these projects are filling up they are finding that only 40% of their residents are actually using them. So they are being forced to provide a lot more parking than demanded. And then you have your retail projects that are required to provide a lot more parking for their customers than the customer actually desires and a lot of these factors combine and what happens is you end up by forcing the developers to subsidize the parking it puts more cars on the road and it actually causes congestion. A lot of these requirements are intended to ease the parking but it actually backfires and causes more cars to be on the road.
Robert: I know in LA this is even a problem with developments going up along rail lines. Even though they are along transit lines they still have these parking requirements.
Adam: I think cities are starting to smarten up. Chicago has recently, and it is similar in Seattle. Basically what they call transit oriented development which basically is if you are within a certain distance of a transit stop the parking requirements are loosened up. In the case of Chicago it was loosened up. In the case of Seattle they are looking at implementing within a certain distance of transit stations you are not required to provide any parking what so ever. So I think cities are going in the right direction.
Robert: Adam is there anything else you would like to add about these topics for our audience? And recommend some resources to check out if they are interested.
Adam: It’s a topic people are not looking at. And even myself. I grew up in a suburb so I assumed I was in a free market so I assumed the suburbs were a manifestation of the free market. Even though I preferred city life over suburbs I still felt this was the free market. When I came to realize the amount of regulation that existed in both the cities and suburbs it was far from a free market and then when you throw on the fact that our transportation system is almost completely socialized that makes matters even worse. A lot of this stuff is not on the forefront of a lot of peoples minds and I really want to encourage people to look at their own city zoning. Look at the extent at how rigorous these resections on use of land is. So that’s my encouragement. Take a look at your own zoning code to see what a mess it is. As far as resources go our website is marketurbanism.com. Stephen Smith is pretty active on Twitter. We have a pretty active Facebook page and I think you guys are on that. And people can feel free to reach me at [email protected] I guess as other resources go. As far as parking Professor Shoup at UCLA wrote the High Cost of Free Parking and that’s one of the best books out there about the problems with how parking is regulated. And if people want other recommendations I’d be happy to give them. Email me or reach out to me through social media.