Over at Patch I have a new column up making the case that increasing transit access to jobs is a good way to improve economic mobility. My prescription is to increase the number of businesses that can fit in the downtown business districts:
It’s true that the Valley’s core cities are already pretty dense, but there’s still a lot more that can be done to increase net density. Surface parking lots and empty lots can be filled in with taller buildings.
Commercial buildings and multi-family homes that get demolished can be replaced with taller ones over time. Cities could uncap height restrictions and tax just the first 4 floors of new buildings in the core business districts as an incentive for developers.
Increased density would make public transportation a practical option for more people across a range of incomes, increasing fare revenues to LANTA that could be used to buy more buses, reduce wait times, and improve service frequency between the cities and the suburbs.
Taxing only the first 4 floors of new commercial buildiings is actually an idea Michael Donovan gave me, and it’s a very good one. The marginal cost of adding additional floors diminishes as the number of floors increases, so it’s likely that a free market for land in the central business district would yield taller buildings organically, even without any tax incentives.
One thing I didn’t get to go into in the column is the politics of this issue.
For Democrats, it’s a policy win for multiple groups in the liberal electoral coalition. Labor gets construction and service-sector jobs. Economically-disadvantaged people get more service-sector job opportunities a short distance from home, and more affordable housing. For climate hawks, it would reduce car trips, reduce commute times, increase ridership on public transportation, and slow sprawl. For seniors, it would mean retaining more independence after they stop driving. For students and young adults, more cultural offerings.
On the Republican side, you’d think the Chamber of Commerce and “business-friendly” politicians would support anything that would produce more robust growth or increase productivity in the region. The theory of change is pretty conservative – the assumption is that the market will produce more job opportunities on its own if we loosen the rules to allow more office space and residents in the central business districts.
But there’s also a strong NIMBY strain within both parties that views these issues not as a technical debate over what land uses will produce the most job growth, but as a culture war issue pitting suburban identity politics against urban identity politics.
This is one issue where I hope we will see the raw coalition politics win out.