Should the Bay Area Have Four Million More Residents?

Noting the Bay Area's relatively slow growth rate over the past two decades, Timothy B. Lee argues that the area's "bad housing policies" are harming business growth and investment opportunities in Silicon Valley.

Commenting on a recent article in Wired exploring the increasingly unfavorable market for investment in Silicon Valley, Lee ponders what is responsible for suppressing the "natural resources of the startup world" - people, real estate, and support services - noted in the article. He locates the root of the problem in the area's growth management policies.

"Probably the most important reason, as Ryan Avent has pointed out, is that housing regulations make it impossible to build a significant number of new housing units. A variety of regulations-minimum lot sizes, maximum building heights, parking mandates, restrictions on renting out basements, and so forth-place an upper bound on the number of units of housing that can be built in any given municipality in the Bay Area. And developers have simply run out of new places to build that are within a reasonable commuting distance of Silicon Valley or San Francisco"

Noting that since 1990, the population of the Bay Area has grown by less than 20 percent (less than the growth rate for the country as a whole), Lee argues that based on "more reasonable" benchmarks for growth ("Atlanta, Phoenix, or Las Vegas, all of which roughly doubled in size in the last 20 years"), the Bay Area should have 11 million residents, rather than its current 7 million population.

"Among those extra 4 million people would likely have been hundreds of thousands of additional engineers starting new firms or expanding the Google and Facebook workforces. In short, the reason there's too much money chasing too few businesses isn't that the country is running out of people with good technology ideas. It's just that bad housing policies mean that there's nowhere for additional people to live"

Full Story: Why The Bay Area Should Have 11 Million Residents Today



Irvin Dawid's picture

Where are Kotkin and Cox when we need them?

According to Forbes' writer Timothy B. Lee, "the root of the problem (lies) in the area's growth management policies." (per Planetizen summary above).

Now isn't that the arch enemy of Wendell Cox - those regional planners and their restrictive growth management policies - you know, everyone has to live in a high-rise and you can't build single family homes anymore - the so-called 'war on suburbia'?

Lee and Ryan Avent show how many Silicon Valley cities restrict new housing, ensuring that whatever is built will be out-of-bounds for many middle-income wage earners, yet hardly a peep from the libertarian anti-planners.

Hats-off to those who take on the overly-restrictive (also known as 'exclusive') housing policies of affluent Peninsula communities.

Heads-up on one success that may be in the media soon from Public Advocates:
"Tentative Deal to Settle Menlo Park Housing Lawsuit Announced:
The City of Menlo Park today announced a tentative settlement with a coalition of community groups and affordable housing advocates to meet its share of future housing growth. The settlement will come before the Menlo Park City Council for approval at its Tuesday, May 22, meeting...."

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

4 million more.

The original question was: can we support 4m more people in the Bay Area.

The answer is no.

The ecosystems are past capacity already.

This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Complex Questions.



Density bad for the environment? And not suburban sprawl?

What about all that suburban sprawl, Dano? You don't seem too worried about the far greater harm it does to the environment, as well as to the economy, from habitat destruction to wasteful infrastructure spending, and from oil wars to air pollution.

Compact, walkable, bicycle-friendly, mass transit-rich, high-density urbanism is, indeed, the most efficient and sustainable way for large, growing numbers of people to organize themselves.

Heavily consumptive people are even worse than sprawl.

What about all that suburban sprawl, Dano? You don't seem too worried about the far greater harm it does to the environment, as well as to the economy, from habitat destruction to wasteful infrastructure spending, and from oil wars to air pollution. [emphasis added]

I have no idea why you would make that claim. It is preposterous.

Nevertheless, the entire state of California has far too many people at current or foreseeable consumption levels. The ecosystems of CA cannot support so many people.

You can build as many TODs and bike racks and walkable neighborhoods with farmers markets selling local honey as you wish, but it won't matter. No planning idea will fix the utterly basic fact that there are way too many people in California.

There are way too many people on the planet, period, and walkable neighborhoods won't fix that either, but that is a topic for another thread.



What's the solution?

Those who oppose urban density and cling to their highly-subsidized suburban lifestyle should offer a solution to the inevitable growth in population.

Outlaw procreation perhaps?

Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.
Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 4th Edition

Thinking about Grad School?

The Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs is the only comprehensive ranking and listing of graduate urban planning programs available.
Starting at $24.95
Rome grey gold tie

Tie one on to celebrate your city!

Choose from over 20 styles imprinted with detailed city or transit maps.