Los Angeles' Brawl With Sprawl

Officials in Los Angeles were successful in implementing high-density growth policies to curb sprawl. However, a disconnect between culture, transportation policy, and the real estate market may have disastrous consequences.

Los Angeles real estate developers are pursuing high-density transit-oriented developments, similar to efforts in urban areas across the United States. However, the widespread availability of free parking, and lack of political momentum or support of public transportation, may cause these well-intentioned developments to create a city-wide traffic meltdown, instead of easing the region's long standing transportation woes.

"Six miles (10km) west of North Hollywood, a four-storey building is rising next to a car-wash on Ventura Boulevard. When finished, it will contain about 130 apartments and an underground car park. To an outsider it seems innocuous. To local residents, schooled by almost a century of strict zoning to believe that bedrooms must be separated from shops, it is anathema."

"Urban planners intone phrases like "transport-oriented development" and "elegant density". Yet nowhere has the dream of a house and a sun-drenched garden been so central to a city's identity for so long as in Los Angeles. So nowhere does the change come as such a shock."

"A big reason Angelenos drive everywhere is that they can park everywhere, generally free. Businesses must provide parking spaces according to a strict schedule. This raises the cost of doing business and hugely lowers the cost of driving."

Full Story: Tackling the hydra



Fighting sprawl is a losing battle

"To local residents, schooled by almost a century of strict zoning to believe that bedrooms must be separated from shops, it is anathema."

Such a condescending statement! Does it not occur to writers and to planners that most families simply do not want mixed-use, high density development? It's not because that's what they "learned" to desire. It's because separation of residence from commercial activity is just more peaceful and safe and private. Furthermore, most families see nothing wrong with detached, suburban living.

Only in the minds of a few.

Does it not occur to writers and to planners that most families simply do not want mixed-use, high density development?

Of course it occurs to planners.

Does it not occur to adherents of unpopular ideologies that families represent much less than half of all US households?




Households 111,617,402
Families 74,564,066
Average family size 3.20

I just wish Dano would reveal himself so that we can give credit where credit is due. Oh yes, ACS 2006 data.

"Dano" you just got caught lying. No, not making a mistake, lying. Clearly using the reference source and the latest data you are not even within reasonable distance of making just a mistake. You said "families represent much less than half of all US households." Not only that but you used that lie to reach out and insult John Dewey with some nasty personal invectives. Who here is the zealot and or ideologue?

% HHs with children.

"Dano" you just got caught lying.

Robt, you didn't look at the numbers for Family households (families) with own children under 18 years (that is: traditional HHs with children**. While you're there, add all the HHs without children and get back to us with that %, if you'd be so kind. This is, of course, the presumptive boilerplate ideological argument for why some people live where the ideology says _all_ people want to live - schools, kids, etc. - HHs with children are the majority, see. Well, no see. That's not the case and one size fits all housing doesn't cut it as an argument.

Surely these oversights, however, are simply haste/ignorance/incompetence and not lying on your part. Right, Robt?



**o Currently, slightly more than half of American families
have no children under age 18 living at home; by 2010,
3 of 5 families may have no children under 18 present. [as we
see in the 2006 ACS survey - D]

o Although the number of families with children is projected
to remain near 1995 levels, the number of families
with no children under 18 is projected to increase by 28
percent (from 36 million to 46 million) by 2010.

o The number of married couples with no children is
expected to grow by 7 million; all of the increase would
occur in the 45 and over age groups, burgeoning with
aging cohorts of empty-nest Baby Boomers.

o The average size of households is projected to slowly
decline from 2.62 persons per household in 1995 to 2.53
by 2010. The average family size is also expected to
decline from 3.15 to 3.05. Two major factors contribute to
these declines in average household and family sizes:
increases in households and families with no children
under 18, and increases in persons living alone.

o Currently, about one-quarter of households are maintained
by a person living alone; this proportion is expected
to increase slightly from 25 to 27 percent between 1995
to 2010. The number of persons living alone is projected
to increase from 24 million to 31 million. Most of this
increase in the population living alone would be between
the ages of 45 and 64 due to the influx of Baby Boomers
in these age groups.

Lame revisionism

Lame revisionism. Little wonder you refuse to identify yourself.


I've revised nothing, merely used the same argumentation about choice as some ideologies.

Nonetheless, I'm glad to see the best you can do, Robt, is complain about personal invectives when none were given and use of anonymity.

Do complain to the pragmatist about his anonymity next time you comment, will you? Thank you so much.



Families - with or without children - choose low density

Dano, my statement said nothing about families with children, so please do not change my argument to build your case.

My wife and I make up a family. So do the other 30% of households on my block which have no children. We all have the opportunity to buy high density, mixed use housing closer to our jobs. We all have rejected such housing.

I have discussed high density housing with my neighbors, as proposals for such housing are proposed frequently in our town. We do not want such housing for oursewlves, and do not want to live near such housing.



Extrapolating what everybody else wants based on what you (and your neighbors) want does not mean that everybody else has those same wants and desires. By your admittance there is demand out there for multi-family or townhome type development in your neighborhood (as proposals have been proposed frequently in your town). So, by your own account, the demand does exist. You don't want to live in such housing, nor do you want to live by it...that's fine by me and it's your perogative, but by your own admittance the demand does exist. And more likely, should one of those projects get built, it would fill up with other folks who want to live there. The reason (at least in California, where I live) many of these projects aren't built is because they're not allowed by zoning laws, and even when they are they are challenged by residents who don't want them there for whatever reason. So they don't get built in the numbers that the actual demand would dictate... which kind of refutes the argument that builders would be building them if people really wanted them. People do want such housing types or there wouldn't even be any proposals in towns such as yours. Now, to the questions of how many and how much, that's a different story.

households vote for low density - over and over

Ricardo, I do not extrapolate from what I and my neighbors want. I was just showing Dano that his implied assumption - that families without children have different desires than do families with children - is not supported by at least one neighborhood's evidence. Dano didn't supply any evidence to support his implied claim, and I see no reason to supply any more data than my neighborhood to support my opinion.

I have not denied demand for high density housing in my suburban town. Our school district is top-notch, supported by our property taxes. I am sure that lower income residences would love to take advantage of our public schools while paying a third what we pay in property taxes. (Through tax sharing, we do provide heavy support for schools in lower income school districts.)

Plenty of high density housing is available in adjacent communities of Lewisville, Grapevine, Coppell, and Irving. So much so that most apartments, rental townhome, and patio home communities have relatively high (for Dallas) vacancies. Plenty of high density housing is available for those who want it, near my town and throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

The demand for single-family detached housing far outstrips the demand for high density housing. There's no significant constraint on either, anywhere other than the towns of Flower Mound, Colleyville, Southlake, and McKinney, a small portion of the entire metro area.

I've discussed high vs low density housing with local realtors (friends), the folks who truly know what homebuyers want. They've all told me not to invest in high density housing, as it is the most difficult type for them to sell.

Again, you folks are deceiving yourselves - probably with the help of loaded surveys - if you think Americans are going to reject low density housing any time soon.

Different Markets

I seriously doubt Americans will reject low-density housing as their housing type of choice, nor would I want to restrict them from being able to have that choice. But we are talking about two fundamentally different market here as I was using my experience in California where there is a lot of demand from folks who would like higher-density, semi-urban type housing that is not met because of regulatory restrictions or neighborhood opposition... apples to oranges I guess. So yeah, I think that more high-density housing should get built where demand supports it, but I'm also for the continuation of suburban development as well (with the proper amount of demand supplied)... as out here, the demand for any type of affordable housing is pushing single-family homes into areas where there wouldn't be anything more than rural farmbelts without the growth restrictions inherent in the urbanized areas.

my hopes for planners

Well, we actually agree, Ricardo.

The demand for high-density housing probably varies across the country, as do the restrictions on its construction. In areas with very high land costs, high density housing is probably the only feasible alternative for typical households.

I hope that planners will acknowledge that many, if not most, homeowners desire to live apart from both commercial property and high density housing. Here in Texas, homeowners for whom this is an important requirement have moved into suburbs where such separation is supported by laws.

I also wish planners would recognize that geographic dispersion of workplaces allows many more households to live both close to their jobs and in the affordable single-family detached housing they desire. That's what I see happening all over the nation. Some planners call it sprawl. But it is not the same type sprawl as the outdated model of central business district surrounded by bedroom suburbs.

Finally, and I acknowledge this is a hopeless desire, I wish that planners would consider that rail transit is an expensive and ineffective means of transport in modern cities.

Rail transit is an expensive

Rail transit is an expensive and ineffective means of transport in modern cities compared to what? Where did you come to this conclusion? Maybe it isn't effective for you (yes, running a light rail line out to your single-family neighborhood is not an effective or cheap way to transport you and your neighbors), but we all need someway to get to work and run our errands. Ask people in NY, SF, Chicago if rail transit is an effective means of transport. Since the majority of people probably don't live within walking distance of work and errands, there needs to be a way to get there and back. For you and your neighbors, its 60' of pavement every 600' and a car per person. For some residents in the cities I mentioned before, its rail transit. Why would you deny them their mode of moving about?

Bus transit is much cheaper than rail

Wes: "Why would you deny them their mode of moving about?"

Where did you ever get the idea I would deny mass transit to anyone?

My statement was "rail transit is an expensive and ineffective means of transport in modern cities."

By modern cities I meant those which developed after 1910 or so - the post-automobile, low-density cities.

Wes: "Rail transit is an expensive and ineffective means of transport in modern cities compared to what?'

Bus transit is much cheaper and much more flexible than rail transit. In cities such as Dallas, which has an extensive HOV lane network, bus transit is faster than light rail. And buses can go everywhere.

Light rail is ineffective because of its extremely low usage relative to its costs. Modern cities are just not concentrated enough to allow for high rail utilization. Sure, high speed rail can work in New York or Chicago, and even in Washington, DC, which has a high percentage of visitor usage. But not in Atlanta or Dallas or Kansas City or Phoenix.

Thanks for your response

Thanks for your response John.
I assumed you would deny people mass transit because, I am assuming from your statement that, you want planners to completely ditch rail transit as a mode of transportation. As I said before, light rail is probably not the best mode to trail out into the surrounding suburbs (though a heavy rail system isn't too far fetched), but what about the folks within the urban core of the cities you mentioned? I do not know those cities first hand, but surely there is housing within the core with residents who could benefit from light rail transit separated from the thick traffic that is most likely present in these cities.
You mention the HOV lane network as the reason why bus transit is faster than light rail but mention the flexibility of buses as a main benefit of that mode. If you keep the buses strictly in the HOV lanes, you lose your flexibility. If you regain your flexibility and take your bus out of the HOV lane and onto city streets, you lose your speed.
As for the cost argument, if you want to exclude the cost of roads from the cost of bus transit I will give you that one (though, where I live, the road infrastructure is a mess and the notion of funding the continued maintenance necessary to retain a good network of roads is laughable, I assume the same for everywhere else). You still have other costs that start to chip away at your assumption that buses are cheaper: electricity is cheaper than gas (and will only become more so), buses require more maintenance, less passengers per driver equals a higher payroll, etc. Sorry, got to get back to work so I won't spend time looking for studies for you to read...plus, I'm not going to win the cost of bus vs. light rail argument anyway.

Michael Lewyn's picture

The problem with flexibility

The much-touted "flexibility" of bus transit is more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Precisely because bus transit is so "flexible", politicians can cut bus service to shreds at the drop of a hat.

To draw an analogy: suppose that there was a type of road that, although cheaper to build, would also be cheaper to dismantle. Every time the economy headed south or taxes were cut, the government would dismantle the least crowded 10 or 20 percent of roads, leaving the people living near those roads without service. Would any driver want the government to invest in these kind of roads as opposed to the current road system? Would any driver want to live near these roads?

Good call. I agree that

Good call. I agree that flexibility is not an advantage, but never thought of it in that way. Always looked at flexibility as not necessarily good because transportation is what spurs development. Transportation should be permanent fixtures around which development can sprout (the bedroom communities that developed thanks to the highway system). Why on earth would we want bus lines to move? Never quite figured out that argument.
But, I never thought about the ability to easily dismantle service when the economy tanks.

HHs vote for low prices - over and over.

Again, you folks are deceiving yourselves - probably with the help of loaded surveys - if you think Americans are going to reject low density housing any time soon.

Evidence please, showing where the planning community thinks this.

No projection essays from Cato/Heritage/Reason/FF, please, but actual words from practitioners.



Michael Lewyn's picture

flip flop

On the one hand:

I have not denied demand for high density housing in my suburban town.

On the other:

The demand for single-family detached housing far outstrips the demand for high density housing.

Isn't there a slight inconsistency there?

No inconsistency, but perhaps you misunderstood

Michael Lewyn: "Isn't there a slight inconsistency there?"

I don't think so, Michael. There is some demand for high density housing, and builders are meeting that demand in Dallas and in most of its suburbs. But that demand is small relative to the demand for single-family detached housing. There is no inconsistency in those statements.

There is great demand for low cost housing of all types. In the Dallas - Fort Worth area, families can choose apartments and condos very close to most workplaces or single family detached homes farther away. They continue to choose single family detached homes, even when that means a 30 minute commute instead of a five minute one.

NIMBYs Vs. Consumer Demand

Gerald Silver, a local homeowner, predicts epic traffic jams from this and similar developments nearby.

This proves my point that political opposition has nothing to do with consumer demand. There is consumer demand for those apartment buildings, but the NIMBYs want to stop them from being built - they want to stop people from "voting with their dollars" for walkable neighborhoods.

Note that Dewey started out by saying "If that's what the average person on the street wanted, that's what homebuilders would be building.

In Los Angeles, they are loosening the zoning laws to allow it, and homebuilders are rushing to build it.

Charles Siegel

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