The other side of higher-density living


I note that the Biden administration is reviving one of the key policies of the Obama administration:  namely, higher density housing in urban areas, at the expense of single-family dwellings.  It’s cited as a measure against past racism in housing allocation and use, but it ignores cold, hard reality in many areas, as we’ll see.

President Joe Biden wants cities to put more apartment buildings and multifamily units, such as converted garages, in areas traditionally zoned for single-family housing. As part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, cities would allow for smaller lots and for apartment buildings with fewer than six units to be built next to a traditional house.

. . .

Biden’s proposal would award grants and tax credits to cities that change zoning laws to bolster more equitable access to affordable housing. A house with a white picket fence and a big backyard for a Fourth of July barbecue may be a staple of the American dream, but experts and local politicians say multifamily zoning is key to combating climate change, racial injustice and the nation’s growing affordable housing crisis.

. . .

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge told USA TODAY that the administration’s plan would support communities looking to undo housing practices that too often discriminate against people of color.

“The result of this sort of investment will be critical to increasing housing options for low- and moderate-income families,” Fudge said.

The push for zoning changes comes as the Biden administration continues to reverse former President Donald Trump’s housing policies aimed at chipping away anti-discrimination and civil rights protections. As part of his re-election push, Trump had accused Democrats of wanting to “abolish the suburbs.”

Under Biden, HUD recently submitted two fair housing rules for review, according to notices posted Tuesday by the Office of Management and Budget. One of the policies would reinstate the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule requiring cities to reverse segregation or risk losing federal funds. The other would restore “disparate impact,” a decades-old legal standard that outlaws discriminatory lending and renting practices.

There’s more at the link.

Trouble is, such an approach ignores the negative effects of greater housing and population density.  There’s abundant material out there demonstrating the latter.  To take just one example, here’s an article titled “Health, Happiness and Density“.

… it is important to consider the results of research on the association with high-density living of mental illness, children’s health, respiratory disease, heart attacks, cancer and human happiness.

A significant health issue relates to the scourge of Mental Illness. There is convincing evidence showing adverse mental health consequences from increasing density . . . [In a Swedish study] the rates for psychosis (such as the major brain disorder schizophrenia) were 70% greater for the denser areas. There was also a 16% greater risk of developing depression. The paper discusses various reasons for this finding but the conclusion states: “A high level of urbanisation is associated with increased risk of psychosis and depression”.

Another analysis, in the prestigious journal Nature, discusses urban neural social stress. It states that the incidence of schizophrenia is twice as high in cities. Brain area activity differences associated with urbanisation have been found. There is evidence of a dose-response relationship that probably reflects causation.

. . .

High-density advocates seem most oblivious to the needs of children. Living in high-density restricts children’s physical activity, independent mobility and active play. Many studies find that child development, mental health and physical health are affected. They also find a likely association of high-rise living with behavioural problems.

An Australian study of bringing up young children in apartments emphasizes resulting activities that are sedentary. It notes there is a lack of safe active play space outside the home – many parks and other public open spaces offer poor security. Frustrated young children falling out of apartment windows can be a tragic consequence. Children enter school with poorly developed social and motor skills. Girls living in high-rise buildings are prone to increased levels of overweight and obesity.

A British study found that 93% of children living in centrally located high-rise flats had behavioural problems and that this percentage was higher than for children living in lower density dwellings. Anti-social behaviour often results. An Austrian study showed disturbances in classroom behaviour higher for children living in multiple-dwelling units compared to those living in lower densities.

There is also evidence of other potential health impacts on children living in higher density housing. These include short-sightedness due to restricted length of vision, and diminished auditory discrimination and reading ability due to exposure to noise.

Air pollution increases with density. This results from higher traffic densities together with less volume of air being available for dilution and dispersion. Nitrogen oxides in this pollution have adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma. There is consistent evidence that proximity to busy roads, high traffic density and increased exposure to pollution are linked to a range of respiratory conditions. These can range from severe conditions (such as a higher incidence of death) to minor irritations. Moreover, these respiratory health impacts affect all age groups.

. . .

Cancer is a major health scourge and a relationship between increased colon cancer, breast cancer and total cancer mortality with population density has been found.

There is an association between overall Human Happiness and density. Professor Cummins’ Australian Unity Wellbeing Index reports that the happiest electorates have a lower population density. A United States study finds the satisfaction of older adults living in higher density social housing reduces as building height increases and as the number of units increases. By contrast, in lower densities there are higher friendship scores, greater housing satisfaction, and more active participation. This does not apply only to single family houses: Residents of garden apartments have a greater sense of community than residents of high-rise dwellings.

. . .

Thus evidence from a variety of sources points to greater human happiness and better health in lower densities — the exact opposite of the theories of the advocates for “cramming” people into ever small places.

Again, more at the link.

Isn’t it odd how proponents of higher-density urban living ignore such realities?  If one considers that the highest-density urban living in the United States is to be found in our inner-city “projects”, and then considers the rates of deprivation, poverty and crime in those areas, one can draw some very obvious conclusions – but they’re never discussed in articles such as that above.  One can only wonder why.

It makes me consider whether those pushing higher-density living are hell-bent on doing so in order to exercise greater control over the people.  After all, in such communities:

  • Private vehicle ownership can be strongly discouraged by making it impossible (or impossibly expensive) to find space to park or garage one’s vehicle, and/or by rendering it more vulnerable to criminals who’ll break into or steal it;
  • People can be made dependent on public transport, which can be shut down if the authorities want to control movement, or sent to some destinations instead of others for the same reason;
  • It’s easier to control the supply of electricity, water and other utilities to apartment blocks and multi-family dwellings rather than individual houses;
  • Police and – dare I say it? – military control of the populace is made easier if they’re already gathered together where they can be contained, rather than having to sweep them up from more widely scattered suburbs and dwellings;
  • It’s easy to keep the population in general, and particular groups and individuals, under surveillance if they’re herded together under the gaze of many neighbors.  If you do something officially classified as “anti-social” or “dangerous” (for example, attending a proscribed religious service, or cleaning a gun, or smoking in public, or whatever), many eyes on and around you will ensure that the authorities are kept informed, and can crack down on you at their convenience.  “If you see something, say something” . . . right?
  • Public pressure on dissent can be more easily focused when people are living cheek-by-jowl.  If those holding certain views, or with certain colors of skin, are to be demonized, it’s easier to do so when those around them can identify them more easily and express (or demonstrate) their displeasure with them, unhampered by distance;
  • In the event of major social unrest, shutting off the supply of food and water to smaller dwellings that have little or no space to store reserve supplies will bring the occupants to heel much faster than if they were living more independently.

Those are just a few of the ways in which higher-density housing assists Big Brother to stay in power.

To put it as simply as possible, higher-density housing makes people more dependent.  Lower-density housing makes people more independent.  Left to themselves, most people, given the opportunity, will gravitate to lower-density, more independent living.  Only if they have few or no other choices will they tolerate higher density living – and that doesn’t mean they’ll like it.  In so many words, it takes coercion (sometimes subtle, sometimes much less so) to force them to do so.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?  And it puts the Biden administration’s urban housing policies in a rather different light.



  1. There's an unwarranted belief that people that pay good money for property want it to devalue 50% so government housing, and inexpensive rent, can be placed in their neighborhoods. They more, or less, forced my hometown to do such, which led to further money problems with the city that needs money. The city is dying, while the petrochemical industry keeps thousands of highly paid people busy. Those that can leave, and those that won't are not what anyone would call model citizens.

  2. So, after a year in which companies learned that most of their white-collar workers can easily work from home, wherever home is, while blue collar/service industry workers learned they were non-essential but required to work anyway, we're going to make cities even more unattractive to people looking for a place to live? Have any of these people SEEN Detroit?

  3. Funny thing:

    After that newly-minted six-unit housing ghetto pops up in a single-residence neighborhood, after the fourth or fifth time it spontaneously burns to the ground, they stop trying that.

    It's almost like wine bottles of half-and-half gasoline and dish soap just fall down from the heavens at 3AM or something.

  4. There's also an associated problem What is to happen to folk who are living in 'under-used' housing? I quite expect an attempt to persuade or force them to move into high-density housing so that more of that can be built.

    Just for the record, I live alone in a three-bedroom terraced house in a row of eight. Of my neighbours two others are like me, alone after their spouses died, and a third has a disabled wife. There are no children in any of these houses, and of we eight housholds there's only one with young adults to use all the bedrooms. So out of eight households only one is using all its bedrooms. Watch and see how long such low density is tolerated by those who want to invoke eminent domain 'for the children' while really more interested in making profits.

  5. they are already doing this in the u.k. if somebody dies and leaves you a farm, land or home in the country, you have to prove you will farm it or they won't let you occupy it. they want everybody in the cities. you bet its about control.

  6. "Police and – dare I say it? – military control of the populace is made easier if they're already gathered together where they can be contained, rather than having to sweep them up from more widely scattered suburbs and dwellings;"

    Disagree on this one. Most cities have ceded their old public housing projects to the gangs that now run them. In Philly at least three cars had to respond to the projects. Four officers to handle the call and two to watch the parked police cars.

    The fix in most east coast cities was to tear their projects down with no replacement.


  7. The driving force behind the American Communist Party has always been to destroy America's blue/white-collar middle class

  8. Living in urban density makes people imitate those around them and to not "stop and think". And as Thomas Sowell said, "It doesn't matter how smart you are if you don't stop and think"

    "Freedom of speech and freedom of thought are catchpenny phrases. There is much of the former, but very little of the latter. Speech is generally the result of automatic thought rather than of ratiocination. Independent thought is of all mental processes the most difficult and the most rare; habit, tradition, and reverence for antiquity unite to forbid it, and these combined influences are strengthened by the law of heredity. The tendency to automatic action of the mind is still further promoted by the environment of modern life. The crowding of populations into cities, and the division and subdivision of labor in the factory and the shop, and even in the so-called learned professions, have a tendency to increase the dependence of the individual upon the mass of society. And this interdependence of the units of society renders them more and more imitative, and hence more and more automatic both mentally and physically."

    —Charles H. Ham, Mind and Hand: manual training, the chief factor in education (1900)

  9. This process is being pushed by Asians here in CA. To them, the immigrants, a single family home is an aberration, and poor utilization of space and land.
    They took control of my local town, and changed the zoning rules to drive out the light industry/high tech businesses. They are being replaced with high density housing, as tall as earthquake rules will allow. I expect them to start replacing single home developments as soon as they eliminate the original industrial base.

  10. Democrats want to control everything and everyone even if the policies they espouse and think are benevolent result in global record low fertility. No people? Just cram them into smaller spaces.

    Unfortunately the GOP whose job it is to check stuff like this only thinks about GDP and not culture so the real solution de-urbanization (basically no tall building and no high density housing with minimum lot sizes and mandatory green spaces even in big cities) and pushing small towns is not on the menu.

    There is also the fact that the tax base is fleeing the shitties , I mean cities at a vast rate which makes efforts to try and spread the rot all the more urgent.

  11. My comment made it to the wrong post.

    THIS is where it belongd:

    "Skinner Boxes. Too many rats in the box. As they increase the density in Skinner Boxes things get violent. Pretty easily.'

    The3 reference is to B. F. Skinner and his density living experiments.
    At a specific density rats start killing. And IIRC Skinner has a predictive formula that appears to work for both rats and people. Some of Skinner's ,ore interesting research.

    night driver

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