A Short High-Rise Editorial

First, many thanks are owed to this week’s guest author, Tom Steidl, for producing such a great, detailed post about the impact of building codes on high-rise development in Los Angeles. A few follow up thoughts:

Long-time readers will know that this blog has strongly advocated for low-rise and mid-rise density as the key to affordability in LA, since these types of construction can take advantage of lower costs of construction and will pencil out all over the city. However, there clearly is demand for high-rise living in some neighborhoods in LA, and we ought to allow and encourage it in those areas. The more efficient we can make these developments, the more units will pencil out, and the more demand can be accommodated by these projects. That’s a good thing all around: it gives more people the opportunity to live in a high-rise, and it reduces rent pressures on existing low-rise and mid-rise apartments.

The post also serves as a great example of the complexity of land use regulations and of the decisions that private sector actors make. Too often, the popular narrative about development holds that developers build the projects they build because they are excessively greedy, or excessively stupid. This is poor analysis and it leads to poor policy. Solutions that seek to mandate certain actions by developers, without understanding why developers do what they do today, run a large risk of having unexpected effects and exacerbating existing problems. As the post says, developers build chunkier towers in LA due to specific regulatory causes that encourage them to do so. Additional regulation that says “thou shalt build Vancouver-style towers,” without understanding what motivates developers to build the types of projects they do today, might result in no towers being built, rather than Vancouver-style towers.

To give an analogy, mandating that developers build certain types of projects, without addressing the zoning and building code regulatory regime, is like putting up a 25 mph speed limit sign on a road designed for 50 mph, without changing the design of the road. If you design a road for 50 mph and sign it for 25 mph, the drivers who go 50 mph are not foolish, you are. If you want a road where drivers go 25 mph, you need to understand what motivates their decisions and design accordingly.

Likewise, land use planning needs to look beyond the concept of simply mandating what development should be built. We need to look at all the elements of the process, and design the process so that all elements are contributing to making the desired results be the ones that make the most sense to develop.

6 thoughts on “A Short High-Rise Editorial

  1. Build LA

    “We need to look at all the elements of the process, and design the process so that all elements are contributing to making the desired results be the ones that make the most sense to develop”

    Generally agre but when you have so many stakeholders with diverse interests and different perspectives, then it becomes paralysis by analysis. Look at our political system, we have an representative democracy for reason. Our founders made it a system so that our views are represented but not so complicated where direct democracy bogs down our system. Well, that’s where planning in LA is (and has been) heading – a convoluted process were the public scoping process does more to hinder than help urban planners in Los Angeles. It’s been a while since we at least had someone with vision like Calvin Hamilton (Centers Concept).

    Today there is no vision. It’s all about local NIMBYism. I do give credit to Antonio V. for Measure R and Huizar for revitalizing DTLA. However, a better plan is to think regionally and how major goals need to be implemented to improve the overall landscape infrastructure. This has been sorely lacking (if not non-existent).

  2. Pingback: Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Los Angeles

    1. peterpainter

      i kno im not the author, but i read the article and ill say this: density and rapid transit is only half to making a livable city. complete streets, a walking culture, streetside business, and good local (ie bus) transit is the other half.

  3. Wanderer

    They say that Los Angeles lacks “fast and effective public transit and a core with vibrant street life.” The article is from 2010 but these assertions are already somewhat out of date.

    A region with widespread density means that you need buses as well as trains, since destinations are along multiple corridors. Los Angeles has a very extensive bus network, the challenge is to make it fast and reliable.

  4. Purple City

    I’m not sure your speed limit analogy is going to work; arbitrarily slapping 25mph limits on roads that can accommodate 50 seems to be a recurring theme among urbanist types.


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