Welcome to Desire for Density!

Political controversies over building new homes, shops, and offices have revolved for years around an axis of “neighborhood vs developer.” Depending on your perspective, the “neighborhood” side was either the feisty underdogs looking to maintain the character of the neighborhood they love or the exclusionary elitists looking to keep newcomers out. But in recent years, a third force has entered the discussion: YIMBYs who don’t say “not in my backyard” but “yes in my backyard.”

YIMBYs are hardly in power across the country, but YIMBY influence is growing. In Cambridge, MA and Austin, TX, YIMBY principles have been put into action to relax land use restrictions to allow more subsidized housing. Minneapolis has passed a bold plan to allow triplexes anywhere a single family house can be built. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has identified zoning rules like minimum parking regulations and minimum lot sizes as culprits behind high housing costs. And that’s not even counting the avalanche of YIMBY activity in California.

The YIMBYs movement initially centered on supporting individual development projects—as the acronym implies, YIMBYs sought to counteract NIMBYs’ influence at City Hall. But the movement has grown more ambitious, and now includes elected officials capable of actually changing the rules. But how do we know what we want? When the question is “do we allow this particular building to be built,” the YIMBY answer is easy. But when a Council Member asks you “what’s your one biggest ask for this year?” Do we suggest upzoning corridors to ten stories or allowing more ADUs on side streets (or both)? How do we advocate for triplexes in Minneapolis and skyscrapers in Manhattan, for ADUs in California and mid-rise mixed use buildings in Austin, beyond simply urging that more is better?

Photo credit Alan Stanton CC-by-SA 2.0Photo credit Alan Stanton

Desire for Density is a simple framework for answering these questions and more, produced by two Austin bloggers searching for the answers themselves. We are not trained economists and our analysis is not the stuff of PhD courses. Nevertheless, we have found that tried and true basic economics yields valuable insights beyond the simplistic notion that more housing supply always leads to lower housing prices. The core of our answer is that even within a regulated market, market prices are a sort of desire path, revealing where the market could deliver more affordable housing than it presently is.

The website is organized into two main sections: first, a “Learn” category which explains our take on housing economics, including our attempt to answer the question, “Where should a city allow more density?” We examine a collection of solutions toward achieving that density, both others’ proposals as well as some novel proposals of our own. This section includes a collection of maps based on the metrics we establish. Second is this blog, on which we’ll tease out thoughts on ideas that are not quite ready for the “Learn” section, talk about how our ideas relate to current events, and introduce updates to the site.

So, please, take a look around. Let us know what you think, whether it’s positive or negative. If you think we’re wrong, let us know! If you want to make maps for your own city, let us know! If there are subjects you want to see covered, let us know! 🙂 And even if there’s nothing you have to say to us, follow the blog and our twitter because we have much more coming!