Matt Yglesias, who writes the Moneybox blog at Slate (here), spoke and answered questions in the backroom of the downtown restaurant Lotus. His visit was jointly sponsored by The Bus Project and 1000 Friends of Oregon. He blogs on economic issues and had given a presentation on monetary issues to the Bus Project. At this gathering, he spoke mostly about urban economic issues, like housing, transit and parking.
Yglesias has a new ebook out and his talk covered some of its themes (here):
You should buy my new e-book original The Rent Is Too Damn High and read it today. It's about the high cost of housing in America's coastal metropolises and downtowns everywhere, but more broadly it's about the crucial role that dense urban development and barriers to its creation matter in a service economy. If you've ever read me on housing and wondered "why does this guy think this is so important" or read me on manufacturing and thought "yeah, but what's his answer" then you will find the answers herein. Andrew Chesley has been reading his copy and liked this line:
Lots of people buy RVs, but nobody “invests” in them. And what’s a house but a giant RV with no wheels?
He also spoke about urban parking in terms similar to his older blog post (here):
The building I live in is two years old. Directly to its north is a vacant lot. To its south is a vacant lot. And to its west is a vacant lot. But it’s actually a very walkable area—only five blocks from the corner of 7th and H which is probably the most vibrant spot in the whole city. So a person moving into the building could get by without a car, but also might plausibly want to have one. If the developer had been required to build more than one parking space in the garage per unit in the building then a couple of things would have followed from that. One is that the building would have had to have been shorter, and thus contain fewer units, since it’s not feasible to dig the garage any deeper than its current depth. The other is that parking spaces in the building would have been “free” to anyone who bought a condo. Making it cheaper to buy a parking space would, at the margin, increase the proportion of residents who own cars.
So now you’ve got fewer people, a larger proportion of whom own cars. And what does that mean? Well, it means the neighborhood will support fewer walking-distance retail options. So what does that mean when the apartment under construction on the lot to the north is completed? Well, it means that car ownership is more desirable than it otherwise would have been. Which means a higher proportion of people will own cars. Which, again, means less pedestrian-oriented retail. And you can lather, rinse, and repeat.
It’s perfectly appropriate that some places are built around this dynamic. Everyone owns cars so all the retail facilities assume car ownership so anyone who moves there buys a car. But it’s pernicious that in many metro areas all places are like that. And mandatory parking regulations essentially make their emergence inevitable. There are tipping points where you either have a critical mass of retail that’s meant to be accessed on foot, or else you don’t.
And a recent video with his views on monetary policy.