Back to the Future on Housing? Not in Our Lifetime.

If you are a person of that certain age like your faithful servant, you remember things and memory enables you to put events in perspective. In the good old days, we were told by planners that the American way to live was to buy a suburban home, ditch the city, and head out to suburbia where life was easier, schools were better and safer, and the kids could walk and play without fear of being robbed of their lunch money, or worse. Both ends of the political spectrum were in favor of this, including Herbert Hoover and FDR’s greenbelt czar Rexford Tugwell. This, we were told, was the benign future. And Uncle Sam lent a hand by insuring home mortgages and building highways to the suburbs with federal funds.

But things didn’t quite work out. The departing population left behind shells of cities, some of which more resembled bombed-out cityscapes that middle-class habitats. Add to that the negative factors that drove people out of cities, like riots, rising crime, drugs and above all the catastrophic decline in the quality and safety of urban schools, and you get an insights into the motivation of urban dwellers heading out to the suburbs. Thus it became a no-brainer for urban dwellers to pack their stuff and head out to the suburbs.

But now, the message from our betters has been flipped on its head. Now, we are told, we should pack our stuff and head back into cities, there to live in mid-rise, mass transit oriented apartment buildings. That’s the word from on high (from a Calififornia State Senator to be exact), who sees this vision of the urban future as the way to go to reduce the dreaded carbon footprint by elimination of long car commutes. See Conor Dougherty and Brad Plumer, In California, a Green Split Over a Density Push, N.Y. Times, March 16, 2018, at p. A1.

Predictably, this proposal has met with controversy and resistance from inter alia the Sierra Club, which is a real surprise. Will it succeed? We doubt it. “[R]esearchers studying public opinion have found that, as one survey from 2000 put it, Americans will support action in climate change ‘as long as these initiatives do not demand a significant alteration in lifestyles,’ such as driving less.”

So will Californina abandon their cars en masse and walk to the subway in Southern California’ 90-degree summer heat? Maybe some will. But not many.

Stay tuned.

Follow up: The proposed bill died in Committee, and appears dead as a doornail.