Medium-density housing in suburban Wellington

Partly in the cause of research, and partly because I have a bit more time these days, last night I went to my first ever Wellington City Council public consultative meeting.  The Council is keen to promote more medium-density housing in Island Bay (and several other suburbs).  To their credit, they have gone beyond the formal requirements of the RMA and are undertaking an informal community consultation, with information delivered to every household, very early in a process that they hope will eventually lead to a change in the district plan. I think I recall seeing a comment in the recent Productivity Commission report commending this WCC initiative.

The meeting wasn’t an edifying experience, but then I’m not sure that was a surprise.

It doesn’t help that the Council doesn’t have a great reputation in Island Bay at present, despite (or perhaps even because of ) the Mayor being a local resident.  There has been a sense of them ignoring community opinion –  the seawall, severely damaged in a storm almost 2.5 years ago, still not repaired, and a hugely acrimonious debate over a rather expensive new cycle-way which can’t pass any conceivable cost-benefit test.   All that makes for a degree of cynicism –  vocally expressed last night – about the genuineness of any consultative process.  (And all that is before one considers the folly and hubris of an organisation that wants to put tens of millions of dollars into an uneconomic airport runway extension. )

There is also a degree of hostility to the local Special Housing Area. I don’t fully understand that hostility.  The moribund buildings of a former Catholic school (closed by the church 35 years ago) are less than a couple of hundred metres from our place, and I have long looked forward to them being replaced with houses or apartments[1].   Island Bay is a popular place to live, and this private land is not currently being used at all.  If someone is keen, at last, to develop it, it might be small step towards keeping housing only moderately unaffordable.

But that is all by way of background to the medium-density housing consultation, which continues to puzzle me.  Question 1 on the WCC consultation form says “Where should medium-density housing development happen in your suburb?”, which on the one hand presumes that people agree that such development should happen at all, and on the other leaves me scratching my head thinking “well, surely on any site where someone finds it worthwhile to do so”.   And then “what standards of design should the medium-density housing meet?”, and I’m thinking “whatever works best for developers and willing buyers”.   But I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the room last night thinking anything remotely along those lines.  Not that I would be any more sympathetic if it was, but Island Bay is not some olde worlde place with uniform Edwardian architecture.  It is a pleasant mix of the old and new, where the number of dwellings per square kilometre has increased enormously in the 37 years since I first came here (through some mix of infill, new streets further up hills, and medium-density developments on several larger existing sites).

Instead, it was a case of the regulatory state run rampant (from both the supply and demand side).  The Council staff had a Powerpoint presentation which started well –  headed “Housing Supply and Choice”- but it was pretty much downhill from there.  Instead of a focus on facilitating landowner rights, consumer choice, and competition, the whole thing flow from a central planner’s identification that Island Bay is one of those places with a strong “town centre” and hence a candidate to promote medium-density dwelling.  I was trying to work out why Island Bay is identified and not, say Seatoun –  similar public transport, similar vintage houses –  and I can only conclude that it is because the latter lacks a supermarket, an anchor of the “town centre”.  It puzzles me what happens to the Council’s logic if the(small by modern standards) supermarket were to close –  or if the Council were, for once, to do a hard-headed cost-benefit analysis and close the small local library.    The local identities who have run a stationery and children’s bookshop for the last 40 years are just about to retire, and the chances of that business continuing can’t be strong.

But part of the consultation is about preparing a “plan to guide development in Island Bay town centre”.  The so-called “town centre” is perhaps 15 private shops, in a higgledy-piggledy variety of styles, several of which are threatened by the Council/government earthquake-strengthening requirements.  But why do we need bureaucrats “planning” a “town centre” to “ensure coherency across different developments and help contribute to a more attractive and vibrant centre”?    At the meeting, the bureaucrats talked of checking to ensure that “we have located the town centre in  the right place” –  to which one response might be that the market already resolved that one more than 100 years ago.  Sometimes I think I must be missing something important, but then I think it is just bureaucrats and local politicians run amok.

And the Council draws on some demographic projections for the next thirty years to argue that they need to facilitate housing for older people who will want to downsize but stay in the neighbourhood.  Quite possibly there will be such a demand –  I expect to be one of the older people, although I don’t intend going anywhere  – but when you rely on such projections, and especially when you can’t even adequately explain how they are done, you are on a hiding to nothing.  Council staff drew a lot of fire for those numbers.  Much of it was quite ill-informed, but it was hard to have much sympathy.  Inevitably, holes appear the moment you prod, ever so gently, a projection of that sort. Choice and flexibility etc should be the watchword not “we wise bureaucrats have identified this specific need 25 years hence and want to change the law now to meet it”.

And then Council staff talk of undertaking a “character assessment of the suburb”, and burble on about wanting to “make sure that all new development is high quality, the design and appearance fits in with the surrounding environment, and it can stand the test of time”.    Just like the IMF the other day, the Council is keen on only “high quality” housing, but why is that something for them to decide, rather than willing buyers and sellers?

And so it goes on.  Bureaucrats talk of a desire to “decrease private motor vehicle use” and “encourage more walking”  (and hence medium-density housing might be encouraged five minutes walk from the town centre but not seven).  What happened to facilitating choice I wondered?  Oh, and fixated on accommodating possible demands from old people, the chief planner present commented that the Council wanted to encourage medium density housing in which the core living facilities were on the ground floor.  It gets tedious to say it, but isn’t there a market test in these matters?  Dwellings that meet market demand will sell better than those that don’t.  And aren’t maximum site coverage rules one of those things that work against single storey dwellings?

So the Council staff were bad, but they met their match in the residents.  There was a strongly negative reaction to the notion that anyone outside Island Bay should have any say on the proposed changes – forcing staff to downplay the very suggestion.  There was a great deal of concern about protecting people’s house prices (up), but no apparent sense that allowing land to be used more intensively would, all else equal, make it more valuable not less.  There was concern about what sort of socially-undesirable people might move into these new dwellings (and this is one of the more left wing suburbs around), and so many demands for controls and restrictions that –  briefly – the Council staff were forced to defend the ideas of choice and private property rights.  One person was appalled at the idea of three storey dwellings – this is a suburb surrounded by, and partly built on, high hills. And not a mention from the floor – although it was hard to get a word in – of the idea that people should be able to use their own land as they liked, or of the attractions of helping keep places only moderately-unaffordable so that perhaps one day our children might be able to buy here.

Council officers were reduced to plaintive observations that “the city is growing and people have to live somewhere” (downtown high rises appeared to be the response from the floor), which I might have sympathised with were it not for the historical evidence that as cities get richer they tend to get less dense not more dense –  something the planners are no doubt oblivious to, and perhaps disapproving of.  Harder to encourage walking I suppose, as if technological change had not given us options.  The invention of the tram helped open up places like Island Bay in the first place –  otherwise it was a bit far to walk to work.

I recently criticised the Productivity Commission for the bits of its land supply report that appeared to endorse the way some (most?) Councils were setting out to promote compact urban forms (rather than to facilitate choice and respond to individual preferences).  I came away from last night confirmed in that view.  I’m all for allowing more intensive development, not just in individual suburbs but across Wellington (and all other areas for that matter).  But the pressures to do so, and the sorts of vocal clashes I witnessed last night, arise largely because Councils are reluctant to see the physical size of the city grow.  Wellington might not have much flat land –  although most people probably don’t live on flat land in Wellington anyway –  but any time I fly in or out of the place I’m reminded that it is not short of land.   Regulatory restrictions –  and perhaps at the margin the rating system –  combine to make it optimal for developers to release land only slowly, and that helps keep the price of all urban land high.  For landowners in existing suburbs part of the appeal of more intensive housing (eg infill on existing rules) is realising the value that regulatory restrictions had artificially added to land prices.  If a section on our main (flat) street, The Parade, is worth $500000 or more, subdivision and more intensive development must be attractive.  If it were worth $150000 –  which it might well be if  new building opportunities were readily available on the periphery (or in greater Wellington’s case, most actually between Wellington on the one hand and Porirua and Lower Hutt on the other)), more people would probably prefer to keep a decent-sized backyard or front lawn.  I’d probably still favour allowing more intensive development, but I don’t think we’d see much of it, especially this far from the centre of town.  Space appears to be a normal good.

As it is, the confrontations will go on.  I don’t like to predict how our one will end, but whatever the outcome the process is a pretty unedifying, and unnecessary, one.

[1] There is a beautiful chapel in the buildings, and I would be sorry to see it go. But I’d also be reluctant to see my rates used to save it, especially if doing so compromised the development opportunities of the site.

28 thoughts on “Medium-density housing in suburban Wellington

  1. A very sad story.

    Couple of comments. One, I think there is a role for government to make a decision, not necessarily for a planned town centre, but where key infrastructure will go (e.g. transport and water lines). Alex Tabarrok’s report on Gurgaon showed the private sector is not able to successfully negotiate all these aspects for itself, and a lot of basic infrastructure never got built as a result. But beyond that, central planning is madness and we have seen countless examples of it.

    What do you think of a German-style right-to-build law, at the national level, which would guarantee the freedom to develop one’s own land, inviolate of council rules? ( I think Policy Exchange has proposed something similar for the UK).

    Liked by 1 person

      • Germany is accepting 800000 “refugees” because a Prime Minister in a fit of absence of mind ignored the wishes and preferences of her own people. As a result her own political position is much weakened now. But, yes, I agree that the absence of population pressure has played a big part in Germany avoiding much house price inflation in recent decades.

        Like

  2. Thanks. Yes, I probably don’t disagree on the infrastructure point – altho it might be a facilitation role rather than a determinative one, and needs to responsive to demand (correctly priced) not council officers’ preferences. Setting standards (for disposal of sewerage etc) is quite legitimate public health issue.

    In general, I do favour a right to build law, perhaps subject to restrictions if the land is seriously geologically unstable. All that said, the political economy probably makes it impossible, in a way that might not be if the population were not growing so rapidly (would be right to build law in, say, Hastings or Timaru cause practical tensions? Not clear it would.

    Like

  3. That was an enjoyable read – as I felt your observations of both sides of the hall to be very fair/balanced. This was the comment that made me smile the most;

    “.. and so many demands for controls and restrictions [from the public] that – briefly – the Council staff were forced to defend the ideas of choice and private property rights.”

    One of the dilemmas with respect to public participation in planning is that it is a different audience that participate in an informational-type evening about broader planning theory/practice with, say, Alain Bertaud versus those members of the public that respond to more direct discussion about proposed changes in their local neighbourhood. And fair enough.

    But, you are right – the Council should be applauded for going beyond the statutory requirements to consult, however consultation by way of a public meeting presenting what is perceived to be a fait accompli (in planning terms we refer to it as a DAD – decide, announce, defend – approach) by the local community isn’t the way to go.

    Just curious, was there any information provided about knowledge they had gained prior from survey of local residents, discussion with local focus groups, or business owners, school administrators etc. etc.? If you can, as a planner, go into these community hall/public meetings with information about ideas and thoughts gained from earlier wider canvassing of local opinion, it really helps attendees on the night to understand the community is a bigger and more diverse place than just those attending such a meeting.

    Like

  4. Michael
    Im curious about the information you are drawing on to say “the folly and hubris of an organisation that wants to put tens of millions of dollars into an uneconomic airport runway extension.” I’m the Chair of one of the two organisations that are each investing $3 million in gathering the information and consents required to allow an informed decision about this investment project. For the avoidance of doubt, absolutely no one (you included) yet knows if the runway extension is economic or not. And absolutely no one has made any commitment to spend money on construction. As at right now the information is not available and the analysis has not yet been done.
    It is incredibly frustrating to read comments like yours, because I earnestly hope that commentators like you do engage with the facts and do provide reviews for wider consumption. But to shoot from the hip? If you have already made up your mind, sans facts, can people who read your commentary have confidence in your engagement from here?
    Tim

    Like

    • Wellington sitting dead center on a massive fault line is a high risk city. The last shake in 2013 with little damage still sent the insurance industry into a tailspin with most insurers suspending any new insurance policies for Wellington. It is a brave business person that would risk major infrastructure spend on this level of uncertainty.

      In 2013, insurance companies were refusing policies to new customers in central New Zealand after 6.5 earthquake.

      http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10901723

      Like

  5. TIm

    I’m certainly looking forward to reading the cost-benefit analysis etc – and may well write something about it when I do – but nothing I’ve seen so far gives me reason for any great confidence, and nor does the track record of the WCC for spending money wisely.

    Michael

    Like

  6. Tim hi

    I am sure you didn’t intend, and I don’t, to hijack this blog subject to focus on the runway extension issue. I hope Michael might have some time to write separately about it. I and many others I know, who have looked at the ‘macro facts’ of the proposal, regard the proponents of spending the Council’s share of $6million on ‘the facts’ as acting in a quite disingenuous manner. There have been some knowledgeable people writing seriously about how this proposal is not remotely an economic one, able to say this because of their industry experience and knowledge of other like situations, ex ante spending money on willing consultants for ‘the facts’. I am with Michael on this one and would not characterise what he had to say as shooting from the hip.

    Like

  7. Michael
    Notwithstanding what looks like a degree of predisposition, I hope you take the time to take in the facts once they are available. One point that you should note, while Councils may have a poor record with their commercial decisions in this case there are two things in favour of the right decision being made. One is that the data will be entirely available, this will not be a decision made in a back room. Two, there will probably be 3 capital providers and at least one (Infratil) has a good decision making record.
    I realise that a lot of people will reaching for their keypads to say “but of course, Infratil will be privatising the profits and socialising the costs”. (Ive saved you the trouble). The reality is that Infratil’s investment will be very closely and expertly scrutinised by its capital providers and their representatives. And most of their conclusions and calculations will be public.
    A final point. Remember this situation has 4 decision/outcome combinations:
    1. We could say yes to a good project
    2. We could say yes to a bad project
    3. We could say no to a good project
    4. We could say no to a bad project
    It is apparent that many of the opponents to this initiative have an attitude which can be summed up as “Id rather say no to a good project than yes to a bad one”.
    In fact. Saying no to a good project is the combination which the highest negative value (on a probability basis)
    Tim

    Like

  8. Thanks Tim.

    I certainly have a degree of predisposition, but will look forward to working thru the material when it is available. I’m not really into slogans like “privatising the profits and socialising the losses”, altho I am uneasy about a fifth possible outcome, in which the Council is keen enough to go ahead, regardless of the economics, and a deal is done in which Infratil does ok (since as you say, you have private disciplines), in the sense of a normal expected rate of return, and the Council or central government have a very low expected return. I’m not expecting further comment at this point, since this is just a hypothetical and I am open to being persuaded when the material is available.

    Michael

    Like

  9. I think this blog post gives a bit too much credence to “the market” and its ability to solve problems. For example, you say that developers should be able to build medium density housing wherever it is appropriate. This would be fine if they also had to pay for consequences of that building, such as the impact on roads and other infrastructure. By injecting a little bit of top-down planning into things like this, it’s possible to give developers the ability to get returns by filling a need in the market without socialising the costs of those effects.

    For example, it would make sense to have five developments along one road then next to five roads, as you can simply upgrade that one road if necessary rather than five smaller upgrades to five smaller roads.

    Having said that, I do generally agree that people should be able to use their land in much wider ways than they are currently allowed, especially as pertains to medium density housing. But I also think that this use needs to be guided a little bit in order to get the best use out of ratepayer-funded infrastructure.

    Like

    • Thanks.

      I deliberately didn’t use the post to offer my detailed solution (and actually I am interested in the housing associations that exist in the US that allow residents more say, in some respects, than they generally have in NZ now). But, in general, I think that if Councils were not so resistant to the physical area of the city expanding there wouldn’t be much pressure for medium-density housing in places like Island Bay. Based on what the Council was discussing, and the amount of infill and medium-density development there has already been, I’d be a bit surprised if this proposal had huge implications for infrastructure. (I also don’t have a particular problem in designating commercial zones – in the Island Bay case, it is just that it happened 100 or more years ago, and doesn’t really need bureaucrats assessing it now).

      Like

      • I think that you can get a lot more bang for your buck infrastructure-wise by intensifying through medium density housing, though. Otherwise you end up with a big sprawling mess that disenfranchises anyone who can’t afford/doesn’t want a car.

        Agree that it is absolutely ridiculous to say “the town center is in the wrong place.” This isn’t SimCity. The town center is where it is. Work with it.

        Like

  10. maybe, but councils should be there to facilitate choices, and I suspect most people (not all) would prefer more spacious suburbs. So long as the costs of the two options are appropriately assigned, I don’t really see that councils should have much say or be able to stamp their vision on what a city should look like.

    Like

  11. Excellent post on an important topic.

    I am from Johnsonville which is one of the two suburbs that already has a Medium Density Residential Area (MDRA). I am also a member of the Johnsonville Community Association that not only strongly objected to the WCC imposing this onto Jville but also took the WCC to the Environment Court to impose it on us (but note that I comment here as an individual).

    Richard, you are right that the correct way to deal with an expanding population is to let the market decide what goes where and open up more land. But the WCC urban planners (and most Councillors) see this as “uncontrolled sprawl” which is always bad, bad, bad. Instead, in pursuit of higher density housing, WCC urban planners/councillors have decided it is better to direct developers into established suburbs where they will be permitted to tear-down the stand-alone house next door and build 6 – 10 3-story complexes.

    Most cities have housing densification grow out from the CBD (where the jobs are) but not in Wellington. Ironically, the WCC has actually prohibits MDRA-type residential densification within walking distance of the CBD because it would impact the “heritage value” … in fact the same 2009 plan change that introduced MDRAs also expanded “pre-1930 demolition controls” that protect low density housing areas close to the CBD on the grounds that they “contained significant concentrations of prominent buildings built prior to 1930, and contributed to the ‘sense of place’ of the wider city”.

    As someone who has been through it, everyone needs to understand that a District Plan Change consultation is done under different rules than a “normal” consultation. This is because when the WCC decides to ram the change through, residents do not go to the High Court for a judicial review (like the CoC is doing for the “Living Wage” decision), but to the Environment Court to challenge the District Plan Change.

    As I understand things, in an Environment Court challenge, the PROCESS of the District Plan Change is far more important than the CONTENT of the Plan Change. Content is always arguable and it’s very hard to overturn council evidence about moise, traffic, lack of infrastructure (and the Environment Court only recognises evidence from experts which makes it very expensive to put this evidence before them). So, in practice, it is really only on process failure grounds that the court will likely overturn a District Plan Change.

    This leads to your positive comment about the WCC consultation:
    To their credit, they have gone beyond the formal requirements of the RMA and are undertaking an informal community consultation, with information delivered to every household, very early in a process that they hope will eventually lead to a change in the district plan. I think I recall seeing a comment in the recent Productivity Commission report commending this WCC initiative.

    Well, again as someone who has been through an Environment Court challenge to a District Plan Change, I have to say all this extra community consultation by the WCC is not just them “trying extra hard” to engage with residents. As I outlined above, the WCC needs evidence they followed a good community consultation PROCESS and this “extra” consultation is the strongest type of evidence they have to refute any future Environment Court challenge from residents that the community did not agree with the WCC.

    The WCC can already point to a number of “successful” consultations on higher density housing and MDRA approach starting from their 2006 “Urban Development Strategy” (now the “Wellington Urban Growth Plan”) through to the 2009 District Plan Change 72 that imposed MDRAs into the suburbs of Johnsonville & Kilbernie. The WCC counts all these previous consultations as community support for MDRA in Island Bay (and other suburbs) because significant numbers of residents did not object them.

    And don’t be fooled by the lack of specific details and WCC comments like “This informal round of initial consultation is designed to provide very early feedback from residents …“. THIS is the round of consultation where residents need to say IF they want to have an MDRA, THIS is your last chance to say NO !

    I outline the above because this is what they did when the WCC imposed an MDRA on the Johnsonville over strong community objections (including a 140 page petition). The WCC urban planners are very determined to get their MDRAs so, even if you object, I only give you a 50/50 chance of stopping this … less if you are the only suburb to object in a serious way.

    So please don’t give them ANY credit for “going the extra mile” … they are just buying themselves insurance against a future court challenge.

    Like

  12. I think you have hit the nail on the head, Michael, though not perhaps in the way you intended.

    I get a little tired of the council-bashing that tends to attend any blog discussions about housing supply. As you indeed admit, “the council staff were bad, but they met their match in the residents”. While you rightly excoriate the residents for their myopic selfishness and special pleading, it is interesting that the tenor of their arguments can be reduced to classic individual property rights tropes. Bleats about property prices and undesirable incomers are understandable reactions from people for whom their property is their major lifelong investment. They are merely seeking to protect their investment.

    And as you rightly point out, why Island Bay? Why not Seatoun? Why not Seatoun indeed; the reason is surely that if Island Bay residents can kick up this much fuss, think what the entitled denizens of Seatoun might argue to ‘preserve their suburb’s character’. The fact is that the Council knows damn well its ‘consultation’ is a sham and its whizzy powerpoints are bullshit. But it has to resort to lying and sales pitches because the truth would aggravate resident voters even more. Do you really think that a powerpoint which focused on “facilitating landowner rights, consumer choice, and competition” would have gone down better with the audience?

    NIMBYism drives council inertia and their need to control the whole shebang, and not the other way round. An elected councillor would be disinclined to support development in his ward if he thought it might annoy sufficient voters and lead to an anti-development candidate standing against him and defeating him. I can’t speak for professional planners, who are probably a breed apart, but most local government politicians would be secretly delighted if they never had any responsibility for housing decisions ever again. It is utterly vexed and brings out the worst hypocrisy in people who berate ‘dirigiste’ councils for stifling supply, but abhor any suggestion that a fresh supply might happen in their neighbourhood. Any notion that building responsibly in an existing suburb would save a fortune for ratepayers, because much of the infrastructure would already be there, is often dismissed.

    And where is the evidence for the idea that developers would rather build out, not up? If location is king in property decisions, logically a developer would prefer to take new properties to market (with the most confidence of a decent ROI) in an established, sought-after suburb, rather than a completely new area on the city fringe, even if the sections were larger. Let market forces decide, I say: the result might not be what many advocates of that approach would expect.

    Like

    • Thanks Robert. I might respond more fully later, but for now on your Seatoun point, be aware that the Council is consulting on the same proposal for Khandallah. There is apparently a public meeting there tonight. SOmewhat to my surprise, I’ve been told that a National Party MP is going to tell the meeting that the medium-density proposal is not government policy. Quite what that means I don’t know – I suspect the govt will be delighted if it happens, but doesn’t want to take any direct responsibility for the specifics (while for the Council staff the govt is a convenient villain to point public discontent towards.

      Like

  13. Tony above says:

    “Richard, you are right that the correct way to deal with an expanding population is to let the market decide what goes where and open up more land.”

    Doesn’t the proposed relaxation of current restrictions that prohibit medium-density housing fall within the ambit of letting the market decide? As I understand it, all that is being proposed is that it would become permissible to develop to a (slightly) higher level of intensity; I can’t see that the Council would be compelling or imposing anything.

    That said, if there are town planning restrictions on extending the urban area, I acknowledge that those, indirectly, will be forcing a degree of intensification. Those restrictions, too, need to be relaxed – although I am not sure how binding they are in Wellington. Churton Park and the Woodridge area adjacent to Newlands seem to be expanding – although I have no idea whether as fast as the developers would wish, whether some ‘land banking’ is going on, or whether, in Wellington, the reach of the urban area already is mostly market-determined.

    Auckland, though, may be a different proposition. The housing shortage there seems to be so acute that it’s difficult to see it being significantly eased without concerted efforts to enable Auckland to go all of ‘out’, ‘up’ and ‘in’ (intensification).

    Like

  14. 1. As you observed at the meeting there is a vocal group of people who believe that nothing should ever change in their neighbourhood and that owning a home entitles them to permanent veto rights over their neighbour’s properties.

    2. The council plan for intensification in this centre involves a liberalisation of the rules in comparison to the restrictive status quo (something . But this is being done in the context of a public expectation of no change noted above. As a result Council needs to use language like a “creating a vibrant centre” and consult on how the centre should grow in order to sell this liberalisation of rules to these people.

    3. Infrastructure is not properly priced in NZ and councils are responsible for providing it. Therefore they have an incentive to only allow growth where they can afford to provide infrastructure. I agree it would be better if infrastructure was priced properly and people were free to choose where to live but this is not the case currently. It is pointless therefore to talk about unrestricted land release without a mechanism for providing infrastructure and for people to pay its true cost.

    4. I agree with many of your criticisms of the planning professions ‘sim city’ tendencies and penchant for control but the behaviour of council planners needs to be viewed in light of a widespread public expectation of no change and council being responsible for infrastructure provision.

    My inkling is that if restrictions were removed on growth both out and up and infrastructure was priced properly we would see a lot more people choosing to live in central suburbs like Island Bay particularly if people had to pay the true costs of their transport choices.

    You have noted a 150 year old trend of decreasing density which coincided with the invention of modern transport and low-density suburbia. From this trend you have concluded that it is a universal law of human nature that people will choose lower densities as they get richer.

    Yes space is a normal good but so is proximity. People will generally choose to live as close to things as they can afford and are willing to trade off space for proximity. The increasing popularity of central London and New York among the world’s wealthy elite seems to contradict your universal law of preference for low density.

    Like

    • Thanks. On your final para, I’m not sure I take that as evidence of anything. The super-rich like their Park Avenue or Mayfair mansions (and have for many many years), along with their private islands, country estates etc etc. Remember that the things people want to be close to also evolve and develop – Mayfair and Knightsbridge themselves were once in the country.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s