CITY NOTES

April 24, 2018

Over at Bloomberg View, Conor Sen looks at the relative growth of midsized inland cities such as Boise, Idaho, and contrasts them with the coastal metros, which are as inflexible as ever when it comes to allowing the housing stock that is needed to accommodate continued growth. Sen concludes that hopes of an urban renaissance have been dashed, and that the more likely answer in a country where there is so much available land and so much resistance to upzoning in major cities, is that cities like Boise continue to add population, reflecting patterns typically associated with Atlanta and Houston.

Sen somewhat overplays his case: the populations of the coastal giants continue to grow at a high rate, and looking beyond the Bay Area, metros such as Seattle are decidedly more pro-growth.  But it’s certainly true, especially coming off the failure of SB827, that the loud anti-development forces are ensuring that the “return of cities” remain the domain of a lucky fewer and fewer.

But there’s a third option for Boise and Omaha – rather than stretching further out and adding more lanes, America’s heartland cities embrace dynamism and reject the spending and regulatory dominance that sprawl has enjoyed, becoming urbanized centers of their own.

This would not be a small feat, considering that horizontal growth has been the rule in these cities, but it’s not as implausible as it may sound. Thanks in part to the lifting ofanti-townhouse regulations and improved permitting, Houston has witnessed a renaissance in dense, walkable development, and for all the talk of its dependence on highways, much of it justified, it has introduced market mechanisms for road use.

Boise is not going to turn into Manhattan or the Embarcadero. But it doesn’t need to become Atlanta either. Middle America has an opportunity to create the environments where entrepreneurship and economic activity can thrive – and give the coasts a run for their money.

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