Sprawl Is Not a Free Market Outcome

This LVCI post is insane on a number of levels, but all his mistakes basically boil down to his starting proposition – that sprawl is a free market outcome. It most certainly is not. The land market is one of the most heavily regulated distorted markets there is. There is no way for anyone to know what a free market for land looks like, because we’ve never had one.

Low-density development patterns are frequently mandatory, and are certainly heavily subsidized by all levels of government. When you mandate that the minimum lot size for a house is 1 acre or 2 acres, that’s a government mandate, not a response to market demand. When you mandate that developers add the cost of parking to the cost of housing, that’s a government mandate, not a response to market demand.

LVCI is making a terribly weak counterfactual argument that even if there were no low-density mandates and no subsidies, the land market would look exactly the same as it does today. It doesn’t pass the laugh test.

The urbanism agenda is not about forcing anyone to live in urban areas. It’s about making it legal to build urban areas – reducing heavy-handed government intervention in land markets, simplifying the zoning rules so we’re not micromanaging what people can do on their own property, and ending the market-distorting subsidies for sprawl. People should be free to live wherever they want, provided that they’re willing to pay the real market price.

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