Los Colimas area and exurbs beyond Irving, Texas

Strong Towns is a Weird Urbanist Cult

Strong Towns is a weird urbanist cult that can’t produce hard numbers to back up their assertions suburbia is financially unsustainable (how many suburban municipality bankruptcies have you heard of?). If you really think about it, every suburban home has a few tens of thousands of dollars of city infrastructure that go with it (some pavement and pipes), a very reasonable replacement burden from property taxes spread over 30+ years on a multi-$100k home (and most infrastructure will not need to be replaced that often).

That said, this author is not wrong describing what’s happening in Houston with the adapting, densification, and wearing away of deed restrictions. But I would call the statement below a gross over-exaggeration:

“A municipality deep in decline, facing decaying infrastructure and accelerating poverty can hardly afford lengthy legal battles.”

The metro is booming. The City has challenges but is doing ok, especially vs. many other similar-sized municipalities. The accelerating poverty comment is flat-out wrong – immigrants move here, make a life, and move up and out to the suburbs to be replaced by a new wave of immigrants. And many parts of town are positively booming. Property values move up every year and the City laments the tax cap forcing them to cut the tax rate to keep overall revenue at inflation + population growth – does that sound like “accelerating poverty”? 🙄

A couple of interesting pieces on Tokyo this week along with some excerpts I pulled.

Insider: The sure-fire way to save America’s cities? Do what Tokyo does. Hat tip to Judah.

“The median Japanese tenant spends about 20% of their disposable income on rent (in America it’s 30%). Rent for a studio or one-bedroom apartment in Tokyo, which Americans are fawning over as “the new Paris,” is a quarter of what it is in New York.

In September, when New York City Mayor Eric Adams unveiled his plan to build 100,000 new homes, he pointed enviously to Tokyo’s ability to keep “housing costs down by increasing the supply of housing.” “How are we allowing Tokyo to do things better than us?” he asked.”

“Most American consumers probably wouldn’t want to live in the studio or one-bedroom apartments that Japanese people just sort of take for granted,” Schuetz said. But, she added, we shouldn’t have many of the minimum size regulations we have. Instead, we should let consumers decide what tradeoffs they’re willing to make. “Allow the market to build stuff, and the market will figure out what people are willing to pay for,” she says.

Just like Houston does…

NYT: The Big City Where Housing Is Still Affordable

“As housing prices have soared in major cities across the United States and throughout much of the developed world, it has become normal for people to move away from the places with the strongest economies and best jobs because those places are unaffordable. Prosperous cities increasingly operate like private clubs, auctioning off a limited number of homes to the highest bidders.

Tokyo is different.

In the past half century, by investing in transit and allowing development, the city has added more housing units than the total number of units in New York City. It has remained affordable by becoming the world’s largest city. It has become the world’s largest city by remaining affordable.

But the benefits are profound. Those who want to live in Tokyo generally can afford to do so. There is little homelessness here. The city remains economically diverse, preserving broad access to urban amenities and opportunities. And because rent consumes a smaller share of income, people have more money for other things — or they can get by on smaller salaries — which helps to preserve the city’s vibrant fabric of small restaurants, businesses and craft workshops. (sound familiar? 😉

In Tokyo, by contrast, there is little public or subsidized housing. Instead, the government has focused on making it easy for developers to build. A national zoning law, for example, sharply limits the ability of local governments to impede development. Instead of allowing the people who live in a neighborhood to prevent others from living there, Japan has shifted decision-making to the representatives of the entire population, allowing a better balance between the interests of current residents and of everyone who might live in that place. Small apartment buildings can be built almost anywhere, and larger structures are allowed on a vast majority of urban land. Even in areas designated for offices, homes are permitted (this is one of my easy recommendations for traditionally zoned cities). After Tokyo’s office market crashed in the 1990s, developers started building apartments on land they had purchased for office buildings.

“In progressive cities we are maybe too critical of private initiative,” said Christian Dimmer, an urban studies professor at Waseda University and a longtime Tokyo resident. “I don’t want to advocate a neoliberal perspective, but in Tokyo, good things have been created through private initiative.”


This piece first appeared at Houston Strategies.

Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Urban Reform Institute and co-authored the original study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. He is also an editor of the Houston Strategies blog.