The Limitations Of Infill Development In The Bay Area

A home builder points to the "no-growth, anti-housing environmental alliance" that restricts greenfield development as the primary reason the Bay Area is unable to house its growing population.

"The Association of Bay Area Governments projects that the nine-county Bay Area region will add nearly 1.5 million residents by 2030. The question is: How and where is the Bay Area going to house its additional 1.5 million residents?"

To date, only one of the nine counties has kept pace with population and job growth, and "not one county met the needs of its moderate- and lower-income residents, and only six of the Bay Area's 101 cities did so."

"The real reason (the area) has failed to produce sufficient housing to accommodate its growing populations is because the Bay Area, with its excessive land-use regulations, is arguably the nation's least hospitable region in which to build housing.

Indeed, the past 30 years of no-growth, anti-housing activism, led by Bay Area environmental groups, has resulted in counties and cities designating more than 1 million acres of land as permanent open space - perhaps more than any other metropolitan area in the world.

Yet the no-growth, anti-housing environmental alliance continues to agitate for even further land-use restrictions, arguing that the Bay Area is 'built out'."

"Bay Area environmental groups argue that most of the home building and development that occurs between now and 2030 ought to be confined to the 16 percent of the region's land area that already is developed.

They suggest that most of 1.5 million additional residents expected in the Bay Area over the next quarter century can be accommodated by smaller-scale, infill housing development."

"If housing were built on every single one of these infill parcels they would yield only a quarter of the new housing needed to keep pace with population growth. So even under the most optimistic scenario, three-quarters of the Bay Area's future housing need is going to have to come from green field development."

"Bay Area environmentalists refuse to accept this reality. A consortium of local environmental groups actually proposes that the region add an additional 1 million acres of land to the inventory of permanent space over the next three decades - about the same time the Bay Area will be adding those 1.5 million new residents."

Thanks to Steve Levy

Full Story: Bay Area needs to rethink rules on land use, zoning



How's that?

If housing for the next 1.5 million were developed at a San Francisco style density (and even accounting for a more generous park system) and all of it was built on greenfields then the developed land in the region would only need to increase by 8% (64,000 acres). Even if you dropped the density by 1/3 you would still only need to increase the amount of developed land by about 12% (96,000 acres)

Start the infill!

The 1.5 million to be added to the Bay Area is about twice the population of San Francisco. According to the U.C. Berkeley paper above under "related links," the Bay Area has an infill capacity of 120,000 acres, or about four times the land area of San Francisco. Therefore all the new people could be housed in available infill area at half the density of San Francisco (which is not all that dense of a city).

What Bay Area cities should REALLY be criticized about is making it almost impossible to achieve this type of infill with their Nimbyism. In the vast majority of cases, they have their heads stuck in the sand and continue to only approve low density greenfield development. They should not be criticized simply for having land use planning, as the authors of the above article do, but for doing the WRONG KIND of land use planning.

Seems like wishful thinking.

Seems like wishful thinking. There's no way all new development will occur at San Francisco densities. Cities like that don't get built anymore... show me a Manhattan or SF built after the invention of the car.

Instead you'll see more exurb development at the fringes (like inland towards Stockton and Tracy) with the commensurate commute times increased.

Density In the Bay Area

At some BART stations, they are building housing that is denser than SF's average density - for example, near the Oakland colliseum station and at the Dublin/Pleasanton station. Way out at the fringes, at Dublin/Pleasanton BART, there are ads saying "Live at Elan [a new 5-story housing development] and walk everywhere" (which is not really true with the limited amount of infill there now, but which could be true in the future).

Oakland's uptown is the largest example of dense infill development in the Bay Area that I know of, in a location that was semi-abandoned for many years.

If this trend toward infill continues - and particularly if it accelerates because of controls on global warming - we could have the equivalent of whole new cities at SF densities or higher.

Charles Siegel

It's wishful, but not too wild

It's wishful thinking to believe that Bay Area cities will start approving infill development on a large scale, but the density I was proposing isn't too unusual. The overall density of San Francisco is only 16,000 people per square mile (less than 1/4 the density of Manhattan - so those two are not interchangeable for these kind of comparisons). To develop at half that density, which is all that is needed to fit all projected Bay Area growth into available infill sites, would be just 8,000 per square mile, or about the same as the average density of Los Angeles. That's just 12.5 people per acre, which is less than 7 units per acre if you assume 2-per-household occupancy. In other words, the density required is so low that it wouldn't support decent transit service. This shows that there could easily be a range of compatible infill development types from high to medium to low density throughout the Bay Area.

Read the Study Yourself

I'm with isoquinophlex. Read the IURD study for yourself. It doesn't say what the editorial claims (at least, not if I'm reading it right). Download the full study (Volume 2) at the bottom here and then go to the chart on page 58.

The study says that (under a moderate definition of what counts as "infill"), over 650,000 new homes could be built on infill parcels. The growth projections for the region show we will only need to house 476,000 new households between 2005 and 2025.

Am I reading this wrong somehow? If not, then we could easily build the amount of homes we need in existing cities and towns. Good news for me -- then we won't have to build on the vineyards and hillsides that make me love the Bay Area so much.

I was going to come down

I was going to come down hard on the author of this article but I see that others have already done a real good job of beating him up. Good work! Let me just say that Mr. Perkins' ideas make as much sense as selling the farm in order to house some of the workers.

John Zeger

San Francisco Growth

Why should any city, much less SanFrancisco, sacrifice mature, functionng, neighborhoods to the growth and development gods?

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