Urban planner and Market Urbanism contributor Nolan Gray recently intreviewed Marron scholar Alain Bertaud about his new book, Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities, for The Atlantic's online publication CityLab:
An issue that you spend a lot of time on is housing affordability. It’s a huge problem in many major U.S. cities today. What can New York learn from a city like Jakarta?
In Indonesia, they have small urban enclaves, called kampungs, where local residents set minimum standards for housing. The city doesn’t interfere—they just connect up the infrastructure. In practice, most kampungs allow for a lot of small units, giving more people choice in terms of housing size and proximity to employment centers. Both are important. Residents need to earn an income and eventually find a better job. To do that, they have to have housing that they can afford in a location that is convenient to find jobs.
On the other hand, Western cities typically require a minimum level of housing consumption, requiring that apartments be so large and provide amenities like off-street parking. Those regulations are well intentioned—they see crowding and insist on larger units, for example. But unless the state can provide everyone who cannot afford this level of housing a free or subsidized unit, this only pushes people further away from job centers, making them worse off.
I compare it to food: You can’t solve a famine by simply mandating that everyone eat 2,000 calories a day. That’s absurd. You have to bring in more food. In the same way, cities like San Francisco have to increase the supply of floor area, and let consumers determine the size of units.