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Attention, Joel Kotkin: Urban Residential Construction Is Booming

Posted by: Peter Coy on April 19, 2007

Joel Kotkin is one of the leading exponents of the idea that suburbs are good, sprawl isn’t so bad, and the vast majority of Americans really want to get out or stay out of the city. Kotkin is an urban creature himself, a New York City native who now lives in the Valley Village section of L.A. (He’s an Irvine Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation.)Kotkin.jpg But every time an article announces a return to city living, Kotkin laughs it off as wishful thinking by journalists who are enthralled with taxis, walkups, subways, corner delis, pooper scoopers, and the other paraphernalia of urban living. Today, in fact, he’s at it again with an article in The Wall Street Journal called Suburban Idyll. An excerpt:

Only a small number of those who move, according to a new study from the Research Institute for Housing America, choose to go back to the city. Many more, it appears, either head in to the suburbs, or move even further out.

Isn’t it surprising, then, that New York City—the biggest of the big cities—is experiencing its biggest residential construction boom in decades? And that’s not all.William C. Thompson Jr.jpg
According to a just-released study by the office of New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. (pictured), “An analysis of building permits in the nation’s 25 largest cities shows that the City’s housing construction boom is part of a broader national revival in central-city construction.”

It's not just a matter of central cities rising on the tide of the general housing boom. From 1997 to 2006, the share of nationwide permits that went to the top 25 cities rose from 6.5% to 9.8%, according to the comptroller's report.
Here's another surprise. It's the densest cities (measured by people per square mile) like New York and Chicago that have seen the fastest growth in construction. Some of the numbers are remarkable. Washington, D.C., which issued precisely zero permits for residential construction in 1996, averaged over 2,000 a year from 2004 to 2006.

To be sure, some of New York's boom is due to a an aggressive affordable-housing program under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It's true, too, that these numbers are still a drop in the bucket of housing nationwide. Only a tiny fraction of Kotkin's suburbanites will ever transplant themselves to Michigan Avenue, Broadway, or Wilshire Boulevard. Still, this new report scorches the idea that urban living is some kind of relic of the past.

Reader Comments

James Klobasa

April 19, 2007 7:14 PM

Great site...tons of info...


April 20, 2007 11:40 AM

The rise of dwelling units is because there are more small condos and apartments (rabbit hutches)being built in each permit application. Density not quality of life.


April 20, 2007 5:59 PM

Low density does not equate with quality of life for everybody, nor most people. Oh, I'm sorry, are you claustrophobic?

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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