If you’re searching for an organizing principle that unites the Left, density ideology should be at or near the top of your list. Far from being a sideshow, density ideology is behind the leftist drive to cram America’s rising population into the footprint of existing cities. It fulfills the agenda of every big player on the Left. Environmentalists get to preserve open space. Social justice warriors get to experiment with forced ethnic and economic integration via mandatory “inclusionary zoning,” and investors—and this, above all, is critical—get to make a killing as the price of real estate skyrockets inside the areas where building is still allowed.
Every premise that the densification gang advocates is flawed. In particular, as I argued in “The Density Delusion,” there is no shortage of open land available to host new suburbs, and there is no compelling argument that suburbs cause more per capita greenhouse gas emissions than crowded cities do. And the consequences, unaffordable housing through politically contrived scarcity, rolls its way across the nation as the density advocates fly under the radar, and convert city after city.
As might be expected, ground zero for density ideology is California. Hiding behind innocuous labels such as “smart growth,” “infill,” “greenbelts,” and “new urbanism,” this process of urban containment is one of the primary reasons housing in California is beyond the reach of middle-income families.
Urban geographer Joel Kotkin recently offered a chilling summary of how everything California’s legislature is doing to “solve” the state’s housing crisis is only making the problem worse. He cites new laws that will further “block development in outlying areas, where land costs are cheaper, in favor of dense development in already expensive urban areas.”
One of these laws is Senate Bill 743, which attempts to reduce “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT), is now being used to tie new housing permits to the developer’s ability to minimize or mitigate the additional VMT totals logged by the new homeowners. This will penalize developments that aren’t within the confines of existing cities. But SB 743 has a synergistic value to the greens: it makes war on single-family dwellings at the same time it makes war on the family car.
A significant new piece of proposed legislation, favored by the oligarchs, the greens, and the bureaucrats, but bitterly opposed by literally everyone else, is Senate Bill 50. The bill would allow “neighborhood multi-family areas,” i.e., it would permit developers to buy out your neighbor or entire blocks, demolishing single-family homes and replacing them with a patchwork of apartment buildings, often with subsidized units.
Senate Bill 50 would wipe out tranquil suburbs up and down the state and is the preferred alternative to simply allowing cities to geographically expand. And while the coalition of oligarchs, greens, and bureaucrats possesses awesome political strength, they propose to exempt from this law select wealthy counties such as Marin and Santa Barbara, to ensure its passage.
Density Ideology’s Partner: Inclusive Zoning
It’s bad enough that the affected residents will have to endure the consequences, as tax-subsidized investors purchase and demolish homes at random and replace them with apartment buildings, but that’s only half the story.
As Howard Husock recently explained in City Journal, “The term ‘fair housing’ sounds straightforward, predicated on ensuring that no one who can afford to rent or buy is turned away based on race or other discriminatory criteria. The Obama administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, however, took things much further, using fair-housing law ‘affirmatively’ to push localities not only to bar discrimination but also to change the broad socioeconomic makeups of American communities.”
While the Trump Administration now has HUD pulling back somewhat from the Obama era’s move toward socially engineering America’s suburbs, where the Feds have faltered, the density ideologues are stepping up. “Inclusive zoning” is an integral part of density ideology. In practice, it means that guaranteeing economic and ethnic diversity must be a condition of acquiring building permits and building subsidies, as well as rent subsidies after the projects are completed.
It’s important to address the most common and most effective accusation that is leveled against anyone who objects to inclusionary zoning, which is that they are motivated by racism. Like the epithet “denier,” which is used to silence anyone who objects to densification, “racist” is deployed to silence anyone who doesn’t want a subsidized fourplex dropped onto the property next to their single-family home, and filled up with rent-subsidized economic migrants who overwhelm the resources of local school systems, emergency rooms, and county welfare offices.
Most Americans aren’t racist. But they rightly have an aversion to spending their life’s savings to purchase a home in a neighborhood with a certain ambiance, only to then have their taxes increased so people who could never earn enough money to live in their neighborhood come in and live there anyway.
It is impossible to overstate the impact of inclusive zoning laws. They are a frontal assault on everything that motivates Americans to work and strive. Why should anyone work hard their entire life, creating generational wealth, if the neighborhoods where they’ve fought so hard to be able to live are suddenly filled with people who in many cases didn’t have to work at all to live there?
The Big Lie
Economic segregation and racial segregation are entirely distinct notions that the Left, and their corporate partners, have successfully sold as inseparable. This is a lie and a big one.
Racial segregation is wrong. But economic segregation is the inevitable and desirable consequence of a meritocracy where competitive incentives are preserved. For the government to try to forcibly eliminate economic segregation invalidates all the hard work that people perform in order to provide a safe, pleasant lifestyle for their families. If so-called white neighborhoods were racially integrated, but the nonwhites in these neighborhoods were economic equals through hard work and competitive achievement, the overwhelming majority of whites would welcome them.
The Left has already strained the natural process of ethnic integration by stacking the economic deck in favor of minorities through institutionalized reverse-racism via affirmative action, race-based hiring quotas, and race-based preferences in government contract awards.
Even if one accepts, as historical redress, the necessity for affirmative action, these new inclusionary zoning laws go well beyond that. Imposing forced economic integration on any middle-class neighborhood would alarm all existing residents, regardless of their ethnicity, because everything they worked to escape would suddenly be right back in their faces. That is the cold reality to which the Left is utterly indifferent.
All of this is being done in the name of saving the climate and enforcing “climate justice”—mass immigration of the unskilled and unassimilable, rationed land, energy, and water, and forced economic and ethnic integration. It is a comprehensive formula for the expansion of government, and enrichment of a very wealthy few.
Pay attention to zoning decisions in your cities and counties. At all levels, densification and “inclusionary” zoning laws are rolling across the nation. Stopping this is a prerequisite to preserving American freedom.