Urbs in Horta

Matthew Yglesias writes about trees and city living:

I grew up in an apartment in Manhattan and didn’t actually realize how much I like to have a little greenery around until I moved to a rowhouse neighborhood in DC and got my hands on a small backyard. Now I live in an apartment that has a largish internal courtyard, and precisely because I put a high value on that kind of thing I was glad to be able to get a unit that has a door which opens directly on the courtyard. Which is to say that a certain level of appreciation for green space is by no means incompatible with a preference for city living.

I think that it goes beyond mere preference—there are broader reasons for cities to have trees. Wasn’t it Eldridge Cleaver who noted that the reason that St. Louis didn’t have major racial violence during the 1960’s was that St. Louis had trees?

He goes on to muse about the policy implications:

Getting planning policy right isn’t about saying that there’s one kind of neighborhood that people ought to live in. Indeed, just the reverse. It’s about saying that public policy shouldn’t be aimed at exclusively promoting a particular vision of car-only suburbanism. If we had the mirror-image of our current policies—it’s illegal to build parking lots or garages, there’s no money available for work on roads, no structure can occupy less than 90 percent of its lot, no building can be shorter than six stories, no home can have more than 2,000 square feet—that would be stupid and bad.

IMO the correct policy is that government shouldn’t be showing a preference one way or the other for suburban or urban lifestyles but that people should be deciding for themselves on the economic and other merits. That means among other things that we’d eliminate the subsidies on home ownership and commuting.

Consequently, ceteris paribus a good policy choice would be one in that moved us closer to that condition while a bad one moved us farther away. From that I think you might see why I’m skeptical about road and bridge-building as a component of a stimulus package. It doesn’t suit my idea of good policy.

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