A Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser, got some press recently for a report he has written about the connection between land-use rules in Massachusetts towns and housing prices. It’s really not much of a surprise that many towns, like Lincoln and Weston (among the richest towns in the Commonwealth) use land restrictions to keep their towns small and expensive.
But Glaeser’s focus on what for Boston are somewhat distant suburbs seems odd. There’s a housing crisis in Boston - why is the solution to build in Lincoln, which is not only somewhat distant but also has terrible highway access to Boston? The end of the article compares Glaeser’s suggestions to a Massachusetts law, 40R, which gives incentives for communities to build housing around transit stops and on brownfields.
But Glaeser notes that no town has opted for 40R yet, though state officials say about a dozen are currently considering it. He says the state should be wary of building its housing strategy around the appeal of public transportation, and that it shouldn’t ignore Americans’ appetite for single-family houses and yards.
“It is foolish to overestimate the latent demand for public transportation. Americans are enormously fond of their cars, for good or ill,” he said. “In terms of reducing housing prices, you have to think about car-based living. You just have to do it in an intelligent, livable way.”
Glaeser’s response sounds a lot like he really would love Boston’s western suburbs to look more like Nassau County, America’s original sprawl. I can’t figure out whether Glaeser is a total hack or just misguided. The Globe says his organization collaborated with a conservative think tank and was funded by home builders.
It’s not clear what Glaeser really is proposing:
“I’m certainly not advocating the Houston solution—I’m not advocating unfettered growth with no attention to the environment or to Boston’s historic character,” Glaeser said. But “we’re hurting the region, we’re hurting the country, by not letting the region develop to its economic potential.” …
“The region needs to find out how it’s going to accommodate new housing, and it also has to realize that citizens of Lincoln or Weston, or homeowners in any community, don’t have an incentive to create affordable housing.”
Actually, it looks to me like the the region is doing just that, with a government agency for development that was created by a Republican governor but looks to be pretty darn supportive of smart growth, and operates under what looks to me like a surprisingly nice set of principles. Hey Bloomberg Administration, why can’t you guys talk like this?