City “Condos Don’t Force People to Live in Them.”
posted by September 20 at 17:12 PMon
Eric de Place over at Sightline calls attention to an annoying trend in writing about density: The tendency reporters have to treat dense developments, like condos and apartments, as if they, by their mere existence, force people to live in tiny, crowded spaces. One such example, he writes,
comes from today’s Seattle P-I: “Now, condominiums are building upward, packing people into to what used to be inexpensive property.”
Now this is weird. Admittedly, I don’t get out a lot, but I’ve never seen condos roaming the streets, rounding up suburban residents, and stuffing the poor saps into boxes. I’ve always been under the impression that developers build condos in urban neighborhoods because there are lots of people who want to live in them.
A similar usage, de Place writes, is the tendency to as if some outside force is “packing” people together (e.g., “Packing people together creates problems…”). Both usages show contempt for the choice to live in a dense community—as if the people who choose to buy condos instead of single-family houses are subject to some outside force they can’t control. A similar usage, de Place notes, does not exist for those who choose to live in single-family homes.
You rarely hear about ramblers or cape cods “pushing people apart.” Quite the contrary, it’s just assumed that people like me with house-and-yard setups are exercising free will.
Now in fairness to common parlance, let’s also admit that public policies affect housing choice. … But those policies — zoning, lending standards, freeway building, tax policy, and much more — have strongly favored single-family uses that are segregated from businesses and jobs. Still, it is always people who make choices; buildings don’t do that, not even when policies play favorites.
Well put, Eric.