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Virginia Postrel

Cities Don’t Need High-Rises to Become Affordable

The housing crisis in places like Los Angeles can only be solved by more population density. That needn’t mean sacrificing light and elbow room.

Look, no driveways.

Look, no driveways.

Photographer: DenisTangneyJr/iStockphoto

“Density” is a word only an urban planner could love. To normal people it’s a synonym for “crowded.” It calls to mind canyons of high-rise apartment buildings that block the light and traffic jams that block the roads. It’s the furthest thing from the California dream of a place in the sunshine with a little outdoor space to call your own.

That’s why 75% of the residential lots in Los Angeles are zoned for single-family, detached homes, with an even higher percentage in the San Fernando Valley and on the jobs-rich Westside. For L.A. to become affordable to people who don’t already own homes or make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, the city needs to put more places to live on that land. It needs to increase the density of its housing. Fortunately, it can do that without giving up sunshine and elbow room.