A 2014 Op-Ed by Glaeser:
The writer clearly did not look at housing trends in Manhattan (where I live), Boston, DC, Seattle, SF, or (parts of) LA.
If he had domain expertise or actually read something by a domain expert like Glaeser, the author had the opportunity to communicate correct information.
That information is that because of Democratic City Councils (NYC, Boston, DC, Seattle, SF, LA), that have artificially created in scarcity of land primarily through zoning density restrictions but also through overuse of historic landmark status, overregulation, and more that cost of housing is very high.
Japan solved the problem by having federal laws that override zoning density restrictions in Tokyo.
The result: in 2014, 20,000 housing units built in NYC, about 90,000 for all of California, and 140,000 for Tokyo.
Honestly, it takes little time to read domain experts like Glaeser and to report the law in Japan used to fix the housing shortages caused by local government.
Yet, for reasons that I don't understand, people (I guess are too lazy) to actually spend a short time investigating the problem.
The short version is this: Property owners now have shocking amounts of control over what their neighbors do with property. Owners, especially of single-family houses, elect officials who restrict development through zoning and similar means. Height limits and parking requirements effectively mandate single, detached housing in most of the U.S.
This only really got started in the 70s (see http://jakeseliger.com/2013/07/03/jane-jacobs-is-everywhere-...), and it didn't get really bad until the 2000s, when the shift back to cities ran into insane urban zoning rules to produce huge affordability crises. By now, most developers who dare to build condos or apartments have to build luxury apartments: http://www.wsj.com/articles/rents-rise-faster-for-midtier-ap... because that's the only way to make the economics work.
In the meantime, much of the population growth has shifted to Sun Belt cities in Texas, Arizona, Georgia, and Florida where development is easier and/or simply sprawls more.
This is absolutely true and some of the daughter comments are missing the point; see Edward Glaeser's The Triumph of the City (http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health...) for more details, but people in urban environments tend to drive less and drive shorter distances; they're less likely to own cars in general and more likely to take mass transportation or bike; and their overall energy usage for heating and cooling is much lower because they share those costs (and walls) with neighbors.
Everyone has to live somewhere, and every time a five to fifty story building gets blocked in a city, dozens or hundreds of high-energy-cost, detached single-family houses get built in Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta.
It's really not that hard: remove height limits and parking minimums, per Yglesias in The Rent Is Too Damn High: http://www.amazon.com/Rent-Too-Damn-High-Matters-ebook/dp/B0.... Glaeser's The Triumph of the City is also good on this subject and discusses the UK more: http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health.... This is a simple issue of supply and demand: rising demand in the face of limited supply means higher prices. Want lower prices? You need more housing or fewer people who want it. The former is easy to accomplish with century-old technologies, like steel and elevators.
Not necessarily. Rising prices in desirable cities is not a law of nature; it's a political principle, because most Western cities restrict development, leading to supply shortfalls and price rises. Edward Glaeser's The Triumph of the City describes both the political dynamics and their problems well: http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health...
You're being sarcastic but it's actually true, per Triumph of the City (http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health...)
we should be encouraging people to drive fewer miles
To do this we basically need denser neighborhoods, as Edward Glaeser points out in The Triumph of the City (http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health... he points out, as does Matt Yglesias in The Rent is Too Damn High, that the big problems are with local zoning requirements, which by and large forbid density increases.
There are lots of local battles going on regarding density, and I agree that these are good things: "living closer to where you work, using mass transit, biking, and walking more," but they can all be encourage or discouraged by zoning. In most of America they're discouraged.
In the meantime better mileage is at least an improvement.
The Gated City - Ryan Avent (on how restrictive zoning and NIMBY policy has ruined San Francisco, Washington D.C. and other American cities)
The Rent Is Too Damn High - Matt Yglesias,
(Similar to the Gated City in content)
Triumph of the City - Edward Glaeser (on how cities are better than suburbs for their inhabitants, how cities foster innovation, how slums are not as terrible a thing as they seem, etc.)
The High Cost of Free Parking - Don Shoup (on how free parking (and free roads) distorts the market, causing an excess of driving and distorts the construction of cities. It also goes into other market distortions such as mandatory garage spaces, which end up as car subsidies, which ruin the layout of cities in the long run.)
The problem is that the playing field isn't level: as Edward Glaeser points out in his book, The Triumph of the City (highly recommended; http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health...), there are numerous institutional barriers to urban living, including, in no particular order:
1) Mortgage interest tax deduction; since urban life favors multi-unit dwellings but condos have externalities single-family houses don't (it's hard to deal with a noisy upstairs neighbor when you both own), this favors suburbs.
2) Substantial car-based infrastructure investment that means car owners pay around half of the "total" or social cost of their driving.
3) Barriers to entry in urban areas, especially in the form of zoning height limits.
4) Tying education and education funding to geographic location.
I believe there are a couple others I've forgotten.
It's pretty obvious that a lot of people want density—if they didn't, housing prices in NYC, DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and others wouldn't be so high. Hold supply relatively constant while demand increases, and you get prices that zoom up. I would, in many ways, draw the opposite conclusion from yours.
Cities are great, but suburbs have their place (in large part because of a) building codes that prevent tall buildings and b) how schools are funded), which the author gets to some extent. If you're interested in the issue, try Edward Glaeser's book The Triumph of the City: http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-City-Greatest-Invention-Health... .
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