Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: CityLab University: The Who’s Who of Urbanism

Rather than ranking “top urbanists,” this edition of CityLab University seeks to fill out perspectives on important shapers of the modern city. Whether you’re an urban-studies nerd or a newcomer to the subject, this is your primer on the names that are mentioned time and again in writing on cities, and the names that aren’t, but should be.

Some of them (for example, the pioneering architect Le Corbusier and the writer/activist Jane Jacobs) have become shorthand for concepts bigger than themselves—often to the detriment of their intellectual complexity and more granular contributions. Other figures, such as public-housing advocate Catherine Bauer Wurster, have simply never received the recognition they deserve, in some cases due to their race or gender.

For the benefit of historical perspective, we restricted the list to people who are no longer alive. The brief biographies (presented in chronological order by birth year) begin to tell a larger story: from the earliest attempts to bring order to the overcrowded, unsanitary cities of the Industrial Revolution, to the rise and fall of Modernist planning, to the ongoing rediscovery of human-centered urban design and grassroots organizing for change. They also express the breadth of urbanism, which is at once a field of academic study, an arena for artistic expression and social change, and a species-wide development project.

This primer is by no means definitive: We hope to expand it in future editions. If you have suggestions for more figures to profile, or other topics for CityLab University, please share them in the form at the bottom of the article.


Georges-Eugène, Baron Haussmann, 1809-1891

It’s hard to overstate the urban legacy of Baron Haussmann, prefect of the Seine during the reign of France’s Emperor Napoleon III. Between 1853 and 1870, Haussmann used his authoritarian mandate to transform the medieval Paris into the paragon of a modern city.

He ran broad new boulevards through maze-like old neighborhoods to slow the spread of disease and improve transportation (and, some historians have said, make it easier for troops to put down the armed rebellions that erupted in the French capital). The buildings that replaced the medieval quarters—with five or six stories and mansard roofs—have since become symbols of Paris and his remaking of it. Haussmann placed grand, secular monuments strategically along the sight lines of the new boulevards, and created parks and squares. New sewer and gas lines improved sanitation and, virtually overnight, transformed Paris into the City of Light.

Needless to say, these changes came with significant costs. According his own estimates, Haussmann’s renovation of Paris displaced 350,000 people, even as it employed one-fifth of Parisian workers. Historic fabric was destroyed, and the new look of the city was derided by some contemporaries as “triumphant vulgarity.” But “Haussmannization” was widely adopted across Europe at the end of the 19th century, shaping the forms of countless cities. Today, Haussmann-style streets and buildings are frequently cited as examples of walkable, livable urbanism, even if the prefect’s tactics were questionable.

Frederick Law Olmsted, 1822-1903

As the designer of iconic public parks and some of America’s earliest suburbs, Olmsted became known as the founding father of landscape architecture. In fact, the polymathic Olmsted helped coin the term.

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Olmsted farmed and worked in journalism before shifting to landscape design. The experienced architect Calvert Vaux invited him to jointly enter the competition to design Manhattan’s Central Park, and they won, with a plan that combined elements of the English ramble with more formal, geometric French landscaping. Olmsted was committed to providing high-quality, truly public spaces for the enjoyment of all—a principle not widely held at the time.

After spending two years during the Civil War as head of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a relief agency, Olmsted reunited with his collaborator Vaux. From the mid-1860s, Olmsted & Vaux would design Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Chicago’s Riverside parks, and the park system for Buffalo, New York. The designers dissolved their partnership in 1872, and Olmsted went on to work on Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Montreal’s Mount Royal Park, and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, along with numerous other parks, parkways, and university campuses. (After his death, Olmsted’s sons John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. continued in the family business, designing many public spaces, including Atlanta’s Piedmont Park.)

Olmsted’s residential developments were also influential, emphasizing curving streets that flowed with the local topography. In early suburbs like Riverside, Illinois, and Cadwalader Heights in Trenton, New Jersey, Olmsted pioneered street layouts and design elements, such as street setbacks and gaps between houses, that were widely copied in future zoning laws, helping to establish the visual character of American suburbs.  

Daniel Burnham, 1846-1912

Daniel Burnham was an architect, urban designer, and director of works for the 1893 World’s Fair. In his Chicago architecture practice, Burnham and partner John Wellborn Root designed some of the then-tallest buildings in America, precursors to the skyscraper like the Moorish-Venetian Rookery Building, completed in 1888.

At the World’s Fair, Burnham masterminded the lavish “White City,” visited by some 12 million people. This set the stage for the City Beautiful movement, which sought to unify architecture, street, and landscape design into a comprehensive aesthetic vision, using neoclassical architecture to promote moral and social order among the urban citizenry. The most visible legacy of the City Beautiful are the grand civic centers Burnham went on to design in numerous American cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, and Philadelphia.  

The scope of Burnham’s vision was vast, encompassing the city as a whole. “Make no little plans,” he is famously quoted as saying, “they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”

He created sweeping street redesigns for many American cities in the early 1900s—essentially Haussmannization projects, with long diagonal boulevards connecting networks of monumental squares and roundabouts. Most were not implemented. The partially implemented 1909 Plan of Chicago was the first comprehensive plan for a growing city in the United States. It called for lakefront improvements and a new highway system, among other changes. Burnham’s advocacy was key to Chicago’s lakefront being set aside as public parkland.

Ebenezer Howard, 1850-1928

Following the long English pastoral tradition and a personal stint as a homesteader in Nebraska, the self-educated stenographer Ebenezer Howard was attuned to the “keen and pure delights” of the countryside. But he was also a Londoner, and a realist. He understood the economic forces that were driving urbanization at the end of the 19th century, and the miserable conditions that poverty and overcrowding had created for many of his fellow city-dwellers.

With his concept of the Garden City, Howard thus attempted to marry the benefits of city and country living. In his much-read book Garden Cities of To-Morrow (1902), Howard presented careful diagrams of these new 6,000-acre towns, which would be built on open land and linked by railroads. The inner ring of the city would contain a central park and civic institutions, followed by houses and commercial avenues, and finally industrial and agricultural uses at the fringes.

Amazingly, Howard brought his dream to fruition in the form of two towns near London: Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City. But even more significantly, Howard’s vision of building new towns from scratch, segregating land uses, and balancing urban activity with rural fresh air and nature proved tremendously influential during the 20th century’s waves of suburbanization. The Garden City was an inspiration to Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, who, in their respective utopian blueprints, saw the automobile as a means to create decentralized cities with separated land uses at a large scale. According to critics such as Jane Jacobs, Howard’s theories helped inculcate an anti-urban bias in American city planning.

Jane Addams, 1860-1935

Addams, along with Ellen Gates Starr, founded Chicago’s Hull House, a woman-run “settlement house” designed to improve the lives of immigrants and the poor in Chicago’s Near West Side. A cross between a community college, rec center, and clinic, Hull House offered shelter for victims of domestic violence and language classes for recently arrived immigrants. It also included Chicago’s first public playground, in accordance with Addams’s belief that children’s play made for happier, healthier adults.

Addams was a charter member of the American Sociological Association and closely collaborated with the Chicago School of Sociology. She and her staff collected detailed sociological data about their neighborhood, which they used to advocate for women’s rights and reforms on immigration and child labor.

Today she is considered a founder of the field of social work. In her 1907 essay “Utilization of Women in City Government,” Addams wrote that the mandate of a modern city government primarily encompasses “civic housekeeping,” including issues like sanitation, social welfare, education, and combating vice. Because these urban problems correspond to traditional women’s roles, a more humanitarian city must include women leaders, she argued.

In her later years, she became a prominent pacifist, founding the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, for which she won the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first American woman to do so.

W.E.B. Du Bois, 1868-1963

Du Bois was a writer, sociologist, civil rights advocate, the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard, and a founder of the NAACP. Although The Souls of Black Folk (1903) is better known, his earlier book The Philadelphia Negro was the first sociological study of a black community in the United States. To understand Philadelphia’s segregated Seventh Ward—“a city within a city”—Du Bois analyzed its street life, housing stock, and community institutions, and conducted detailed surveys of residents.

The problems Du Bois observed in the Seventh Ward (and which, he noted, neighboring white communities willfully ignored) would persist for the next century and beyond. He famously stated that “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line,” and helped the public see that divide more clearly, not just through words. At the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Du Bois exhibited 60 remarkably modern hand-drawn charts and maps—what we would call infographics—on black life in Georgia. Later, he became a socialist and pan-Africanist. He died at the age of 95 in Ghana, where he was working on an encyclopedia of the African diaspora.

Le Corbusier, 1887-1965

The early days of Modernist architecture and planning were heady times, and no one embodied them more than Le Corbusier (born in Switzerland as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret). His Five Points of Architecture helped spur a revolution in design, enabled by the new material of reinforced concrete. Two of the “points” in his manifesto were an open floor plan—because concrete supporting columns made internal load-bearing walls unnecessary—and a “free” facade, or exterior walls that were not load-bearing, either, so could be designed as the architect wished. The new approach is exemplified by the Villa Savoye, a ribbon-windowed house set on slender piloti, or concrete piers. Le Corbusier played a major role in the emergence of the International Style, which became very popular for high-rise office buildings at midcentury.

As early as 1922, Le Corbusier agitated for the wholesale demolition of old cities and their replacement by rational superblocks of high-rise offices and apartment buildings. Although his Plan Voisin to reconstruct Paris was never implemented, the “towers in the park” model proved influential from the Soviet bloc to American public housing projects such as Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis. Corbusier’s plan for Chandigarh, India—the only one of his urban plans ever executed on a significant scale—is notable for its monumental civic buildings and broad boulevards.

Le Corbusier’s ideas for cities have received plenty of criticism. But the architectural genius of works like the Chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France, is in no doubt. His raw-concrete Unité d’Habitation in Marseille inspired the Brutalist movement in architecture and utopian social-housing projects around the world.

Robert Moses, 1888-1981

Like Baron Haussmann, Moses presided over the transformation of a great city without ever holding elected office, embodying a top-down, authoritarian approach to urban planning. From the 1920s to the late 1960s, he held a diverse array of roles, often simultaneously, including parks commissioner for New York City and Long Island, New York City planning commissioner, and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

In addition to expanding and improving numerous parks in the New York City area, he used his powers to build an extensive parkway system, which eventually came to be seen as among the nation’s first freeways. Moses took particular pride in replacing the “Valley of Ashes,” referenced in The Great Gatsby, with Flushing Meadows, home of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs. The Housing Act of 1949 gave Moses broad authority to engage in “slum clearance” for large-scale public housing projects as well as civic projects like Lincoln Center and the UN headquarters. In all, Moses was responsible for the construction of 13 bridges, 416 miles of parkways, and 150,000 housing units in greater New York City.

But Moses also displaced 250,000 people during highway construction alone, according to his biographer Robert Caro. Moses’s Cross-Bronx expressway, in particular, was a notorious example of urban-renewal-era freeway building. The direct displacement and neighborhood fragmentation of that megaproject, which lasted from 1948 to 1972, played a major role in the economic decline of the Bronx.

Moses was known as a bigot, and many of his most disruptive projects targeted low-income, minority areas. His philosophy of urban planning was no more sensitive: “When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat axe,” goes on of his maxims. Especially next to Jane Jacobs, against whom he is often pitted, Moses can look like a cartoonish villain. But his impact on the cityscape of New York was enormous, and many of his projects remain heavily used and beloved to this day.

In an age of endless community engagement and discretionary review, some contemporary planners are wont to view his broad powers with envy. “Paradoxically, what is most needed to achieve Jane Jacobs’s vision is to deploy a Robert Moses strategy—redesigning our streets quickly and decisively for an increasingly urban age, this time committed to accommodating population growth and offering residents more options for getting around without a car,” planners Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow recently wrote in CityLab.

Lewis Mumford, 1895-1990

The author of more than 30 books, Lewis Mumford was a public intellectual of remarkable breadth, with a critical view that spanned history, philosophy, city planning, technology, and literature. As his New York Times obituary noted, “there was scarcely any aspect of modern society that he left unexamined.” His best-known book may be 1961’s The City in History, which received the National Book Award.

Raised in New York City, Mumford had an unconventional education, attending night school at City College without graduating, due to illness, and then taking courses at Columbia and the New School. He wrote the “Sky Line” column on architecture for The New Yorker for three decades.

Mumford was not just a prolific and influential writer on urban matters. In 1923 he co-founded the Regional Planning Association of America, a well-connected group that promoted Ebenezer Howard’s planning principles. He lived those ideals, too, moving into Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, an innovative development of modestly priced apartments and townhouses, arranged around common green courts to emphasize urban nature and resident co-operation.

Mumford’s star has dimmed since his death, and some know him today for the condescending title of his New Yorker review of The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “Mother Jacobs’ Home Remedies.” While he always seemed to look down on the life of the streets rather than be part of it, he was prescient about the risks of technology divorced from ethics in planning. His belief in planning for the public good may be due for a reappraisal in the age of climate change.

As Richard Sennett—a disciple of Jacobs—notes in his recent book Building and Dwelling, solutions on the local scale that Jacobs advocated don’t get major infrastructure built or solve citywide problems. Mumford’s commitment to the Garden City was not naive utopianism: Sennett writes that Mumford, as a socialist, “thought that people, in order to fight, need to see what an alternative vision of the city might look like.”

Catherine Bauer Wurster, 1905-1964

Catherine Bauer was a leader of the “housers”—advocates for high-quality public housing in the U.S., a cause that gathered steam during the Great Depression. After studying at Vassar and Cornell, Bauer deeply researched the European worker housing designed by Le Corbusier and other early Modernists. Her 1934 book Modern Housing was an indictment of America’s failure to build comfortable, dignified housing for ordinary people amid a national housing shortage. Following the insights from her book, Bauer largely wrote the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, which created America’s public-housing program. She also served on the leadership of numerous planning and housing organizations and agencies.

At a time when there were few opportunities for women in architecture and planning, Bauer Wurster (she married architect William Wurster in 1940) worked her way to the pinnacle of those fields, becoming the first woman appointed to the faculty of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. In the 1950s, Jane Jacobs, then an editor at Architectural Forum, criticized Bauer Wurster’s ongoing faith in top-down social-housing projects, while Bauer Wurster argued that these kinds of interventions were necessary to fight segregation—a topic Jacobs hardly ever confronted head-on.

Bauer Wurster’s accomplishments are not widely recognized today. But in a moment of increased interest in housing policy in America—and a renewed push for public housing—she could be more relevant than ever.

Grace Lee Boggs, 1915-2015

Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American philosopher and political activist who spent decades striving for a second, more just American revolution, began her career as a brilliant young academic, moonlighting as a tenants-rights activist on Chicago’s South Side. From the early 1940s, she became enmeshed in radical black politics, with her belief in “the power that the black community has within itself to change this country when it begins to move.”

In 1953, she married the African American leftist James Boggs in Detroit, and the two became a legendary activist duo there, hosting Malcolm X when he visited. By the late 1970s, Lee Boggs had distanced herself from the Black Power and New Left movements and focused her energies on neighborhood activism. She and her husband founded Detroit Summer, an intergenerational community arts and activism organization. She planted community gardens, organized workers, and fought crime in a city undergoing decline.

In her later years, she became more involved in environmental and anti-war activism, but remained a popular figure in Detroit, with a regular column in the (now-shuttered) black newspaper the Michigan Citizen. The author of several books, Lee Boggs was the subject of the 2014 documentary American Revolutionary.

Jane Jacobs, 1916-2006

A journalist and author rather than an academic, Jacobs was a master communicator who perhaps did more to popularize critical thinking about cities than any other individual. Her 1961 bestseller The Death and Life of Great American Cities sent shockwaves through the planning and architecture establishment by dismissing the grand plans of “the Radiant Garden City Beautiful” and pointing the way toward more human-centered urban design and bottom-up decision-making.

Death and Life was a love letter to many of the things planners and other bureaucrats had been trying to eradicate with urban renewal: crowded neighborhoods, chaotic streets, jarring mixtures of people and land uses. Jacobs’s most high-profile enemy was Robert Moses, whose career she helped end with her fierce opposition to the demolition of Penn Station (at which she failed) and the Lower Manhattan Expressway (at which she was successful).

Instead of freeways and superblocks, Jacobs advocated for short blocks and varied buildings, with small businesses at ground level and apartments above, much like the urban fabric of Manhattan’s West Village, where she lived. Jacobs was able to speak about cities in emotional terms, referencing people as often as she did structures and spaces. The street was a “ballet” in which everyone had their role—the butcher who kept your spare keys, the stay-at-home mom keeping an eye on the children playing in the street.

Jacobs’s writing and advocacy were so compelling that they helped spur an anti-freeway, anti-urban-renewal revolt across the country, which largely ended sweeping Modernist planning and vastly expanded community control over land-use decisions (a mixed blessing).

While on most counts she has been lauded as a visionary, more recent assessments find points of criticism. Jacobs’s view of her New York neighborhood was, indeed, idyllic, largely glossing over problems like housing affordability and segregation. She failed to grasp how community control over land use could exacerbate those problems. Contemporary urbanists such as Sharon Zukin have drawn a connection between Jacobs’s sensibility and that of the post-urban-crisis gentrifier.

But her legacy is still being plumbed for wisdom. Jacobs—who moved to Toronto in 1968 and remained in that city until her death—anticipated the rise of right-wing populism due to growing economic inequality and the erosion of civic institutions in her final book, Dark Age Ahead.

William H. Whyte, 1917-1999

Whyte is best known for The Organization Man, his bestselling indictment of the culture of conformity in 1950s suburbia and corporate America. His emphasis on creativity and self-expression would be an inspiration for future urbanists and social critics, including Jane Jacobs, with whom he worked at Fortune, and contemporary writers like Richard Florida and David Brooks.

Later in his career, “Holly” Whyte, as he was known, traded sweeping pop sociology for fine-grained urban-design analysis. His Street Life Project sought to understand why some New York City parks and plazas were well used, and others studiously avoided. Aided by time-lapse photography, Whyte charted how pedestrians moved through space; where they would sit to eat lunch; where they would stop and converse; and where they would move hurriedly on their way.

He found that the most-used plazas in New York were more likely to have people in pairs or groups, and that stepped seating arrangements make a plaza more attractive by allowing loiterers to observe “the theater of the street,” among many other observations. Assisted by female graduate students, he was also one of the first researchers to study the different ways men and women engage with urban space.

A conservationist as well as a lover of cities, Whyte applied his small-scale observations to advocate for greater investment in downtowns as opposed to sprawl. One of his maxims, “a good space beckons people in,” sounds obvious now, but only became so thanks to meticulous studies like his own.

Ian McHarg, 1920-2001

McHarg was a pioneering landscape architect from Scotland who advocated designs that work with, rather than against, a place’s ecology. In this respect, he helped move the field of landscape architecture into the realm of environmental planning.

Published in the early days of the environmental movement, McHarg’s 1969 book Design With Nature influenced policies for managing coastlines, watersheds, and forests, and advocated for environmental review of major development projects. His use of separate map overlays to evaluate different ecological concerns—including climate, hydrology, and soil conditions—laid the intellectual groundwork for Geographic Information Systems (GIS), today’s most widely used digital-mapping technology.

The planning and design firm that McHarg co-founded, now known as WRT, designed some of America’s most notable large-scale urban plans in the second half of the 20th century, including Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the 1966 Lower Manhattan Master Plan, and the U.S. Capitol Master Plan in the 1980s, as well as The Woodlands, a planned suburb outside of Houston that straddles many creeks and lakes.

McHarg’s greatest legacy might lie in the many minds he helped mold, whether through his early 1960s TV talk show “The House We Live In,” or via his popular courses at the University of Pennsylvania, whose landscape-architecture school he founded and led.

Whitney Young, 1921-1971

Known by fellow activists as the “inside man” of the Civil Rights Movement, Kentucky-born Whitney Young spent his decade-long tenure (1961-1971) as president of the National Urban League building bridges between the black community and the highest echelons of corporate and governmental power. Young dramatically expanded the size and scope of the NUL, taking it from primarily a health and welfare organization to a political force on issues like school segregation, housing discrimination, and voting rights. This new activist direction became clear when Young threw the weight of the traditionally conservative group behind the 1963 March on Washington, ignoring the pleas of board members and President Kennedy.

Young was a charismatic and funny public speaker, who convinced numerous white corporate executives to increase their share of black and minority employees, often employing people directly from the NUL’s job-training programs. President Johnson viewed Young as one of his closest advisors on civil-rights issues, and followed, both directly and indirectly, many of his suggestions. Young spearheaded a policy proposal known as the Domestic Marshall Plan, which was one of the first documents to articulate how affirmative action could function in America, as well as many of the anti-poverty policies that eventually made their way into Johnson’s Great Society initiatives.

Had he not died in a tragic swimming accident in 1971, Young likely would have maneuvered to enter government service, whether as an elected official or as head of a federal agency, where he would have had more power to implement his innovative policy ideas.

Image credits: Haussmann: Bibliothèque nationale de France; Olmsted: Library of Congress; Burnham: Wikipedia; Howard: National Portrait Gallery, London; Addams: Library of Congress; Du Bois: Library of Congress; Corbusier: AP; Moses: AP; Mumford: Bill Chaplis/AP; Bauer Wurster: Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley; Boggs: the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership; Jacobs: Library of Congress; Whyte: AP; McHarg: Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania; Young: Library of Congress

CityLab would like to thank the following scholars for their help in drawing up this list: Billy Fleming, Dan Immergluck, and Willow Lung-Amam.

Have suggestions for CityLab University? Please submit them in the form below.

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: Single-Family Zoning: The Biggest Battle in the Generational Housing War

In my neighborhood in San Francisco (or, more accurately, my parents’ neighborhood) there’s a plan afoot to build 42 units of new housing in two parking lots, just steps from a light rail line. Thanks to the city’s inclusionary zoning laws, 18 to 20 percent of those units must be offered at below market rates, on streets lined with single-family homes worth around $1.5 million, and renting for around $5,000 per month, according to Zillow.

Construction could still be years away, due to the city’s byzantine approval process. But the neighbors are already buzzing about the plan, expressing fears that the development won’t fit the neighborhood and preparing demands to scale the project down. It’s Bay Area NIMBYism-as-usual—except that my neighbors are progressive enough to blanch at that now-loaded term. They’re still YIMBYs, as one writer on our local listserv insisted—just the kind whose “yes” to new housing is a bit more qualified.

Such is the state of housing politics in late 2018, on the bleeding edge of a land-use revolution. Booming, expensive cities need more housing, especially the affordable kind. The question is, where will it go? Downtowns are sprouting with cranes, but land values are such that all market-rate development is uber-expensive. And there’s lots of housing, both market rate and affordable, going up in once-low-income neighborhoods that are now gentrifying. Meanwhile, neighborhoods like my own—full of single-family homes—remain virtually untouched by new development.

Convincing—or forcing—the homeowners who rule these neighborhoods to accept new housing that is not consonant with the existing fabric of million-dollar homes is an oft-overlooked front in America’s housing wars, and one that could have a huge structural impact. Adding dense or below-market-rate apartments in high-income neighborhoods close to job centers allows more people to live and commute in an environmentally friendly manner, increases economic mobility, and counters the shameful legacy of segregation.

In Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, San Francisco tenant activist Randy Shaw paints a picture of a nation beginning to wake up to its housing crisis, but unsure of what to do about it. For years, the discussion around housing affordability in big cities has focused on gentrifying neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Mission District and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. But according to Shaw, not enough attention is being paid to the wealthier, usually single family home neighborhoods that have effectively walled themselves off from all new housing construction, creating a sort of spatial class privilege that is rampant in America’s most progressive cities. “These high-opportunity neighborhoods must serve more economically diverse residents,” he said in a recent interview in CityLab. “[C]ities that claim to promote inclusion cannot just relegate the non-rich to economically segregated parts of town.”

Generation Priced Out makes the case that providing a wider variety of housing options in these neighborhoods is the missing policy intervention for addressing America’s housing crisis. In his detailed descriptions of successful and not-so-successful housing strategies from around the country, Shaw demonstrates that cities are starting to create a policy playbook that addresses both housing supply and affordability. But as cities exhaust more and more of the housing interventions that are available to them, single-family-home zoning will loom ever larger, until it becomes too egregious to ignore.


Shaw is a unique breed of housing activist; as the director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, he’s long fought for tenants’ rights and affordable housing, but he’s also a strong advocate for building enough market rate housing to keep up with job growth. For decades, and to this day, American cities have not done enough to address either issue, he contends, but some have done a better job than others with particular strategies.

While Shaw calls San Francisco “a cautionary tale of unaffordability,” he also says it “does the best job of every major city in protecting tenants and its rental housing stock.” Of course, he would say that: Shaw is the architect of many of those policies. But it is true that the city has significant tenant protections, including very low rent increase caps for rent control tenants and strong restrictions against the demolition or combination of existing affordable units. The city has also pioneered innovative policies, like its free legal representation program for tenants facing eviction, and a small sites acquisition fund that purchases properties occupied by at-risk tenants and removes them from the speculative market.

San Francisco has not done nearly as well on the supply side, however, adding just one unit of housing for every 12 jobs between 2010 and 2015. Seattle, by contrast, added one unit for every three jobs over this period. Shaw points to Seattle and Denver as cities whose rates of housing construction have made a serious impact on affordability. In January 2018, Seattle saw its biggest month-over-month decrease in median rents in a decade. Between the third and fourth quarters of 2017, Denver saw its biggest decrease in median rents in 36 years, and rents continued to fall the last two quarters of 2017.

But Seattle and Denver are stymied in their efforts to protect existing tenants by state policies and preemptions. Both Washington State and Colorado (along with the majority of states) bar cities from enacting rent control. In California, too, rent control remains limited by a state law, as voters failed to pass Proposition 10, which would have allowed the state’s cities to expand rent limits. In Washington, just cause eviction laws are also hampered by preemption, and in California, the notorious Ellis Act results in thousands of evictions every year.

In the face of these obstacles, and the lack of financial support for housing from state and federal governments, cities are trying to make the most of the tools they have. Portland, San Francisco, and Alameda County (which contains Oakland and Berkeley) have all passed affordable housing bonds in recent years, and Austin and California just passed housing bonds this election.

In addition to building more housing themselves, the biggest thing cities can do to improve housing affordability is change zoning laws. Inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to reserve a certain percentage of new units as affordable, has become more popular in recent years (although some states, like Colorado, also preempt it). But not all inclusionary zoning is created equal: New York’s 2016 law only applies to projects that request zoning variances, even though 35 percent of the city’s land area, including many low-income areas, had recently been rezoned. Inclusionary zoning in D.C. and San Francisco applies to all projects of a certain size.

In concert, increased supply of affordable and market-rate housing, along with strong tenant protections, can stabilize gentrifying communities. Evictions in San Francisco decreased by 21 percent between 2016 and 2017, and another 12 percent between 2017 and 2018. And in the Mission District, the Latino population actually increased by 1,500 between 2011 and 2016, following years of declines. Shaw attributes this trend to an increase in both nonprofit affordable housing and inclusionary units—and, somewhat more controversially, to the “by any means necessary” tactics employed by anti-gentrification activists. By protesting and threatening to hold projects up in court, activists in neighborhoods like the Mission and Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights have negotiated for more affordable units in many projects, and likely discouraged speculators.

These tactics are productive because their practitioners are still pro-housing: They want to maximize the amount of affordable housing in their neighborhoods. But in single-family-home neighborhoods, residents tend to be against any kind of new housing, especially if it’s affordable. In San Francisco’s affluent Forest Hill neighborhood, residents successfully killed a 150-unit development for low-income seniors, a stone’s throw away from a subway station, arguing that it would attract mentally ill and drug-addicted people. Shaw’s book is full of similar examples from around the country of homeowner groups opposing new housing on baldly elitist grounds.

The other tactic frequently employed by homeowners—saving “neighborhood character”’—is often a means to the same end. “Character” must be understood as not only visual, but also demographic. In cities like San Francisco, preserving the status quo for a single-family-home neighborhood often “means maintaining it as a neighborhood where future residents must be rich,” Shaw writes. Another critique levied by those who do not want their neighborhoods to change is that new housing construction in expensive urban markets is inevitably luxury housing. But this argument falls flat when nearly all existing homes are already luxury housing: According to a recent Trulia study, a staggering 81 percent of homes in the San Francisco metro and 70 percent of homes in the San Jose metro are worth more than $1 million. Conveniently, single-family-home zoning also functionally prevents the construction of nonprofit affordable housing, or the below-market-rate units that are generated by inclusionary zoning.

Those who love historic houses are joined in the 21st century by most politicians, planners, and real estate types. Doing away with single-family zoning will not resurrect Robert Moses and unleash him on our neighborhoods. Many cities have demolition controls that prevent sound housing from being arbitrarily destroyed, and these laws could be easily strengthened. Every neighborhood can make room for more neighbors without losing older homes, whether by building units in basements, backyards, and parking lots, or by repurposing nondescript commercial buildings. Besides, San Francisco’s charming Victorian neighborhoods and LA’s rows of bungalows are already peppered with contemporary buildings that interrupt neighborhood character—except that most of these buildings are 5,000 square-foot single-family homes.

The irony is that the communities most vehemently opposed to new apartment buildings—cities like Portland, Oregon, and Cambridge, Massachusetts—are among the most politically and socially progressive in the nation. They are “trapped in the framework of past urban renewal fights,” Shaw writes, when historic, low-income neighborhoods were demolished willy-nilly, and suburban-style urban development was viewed by many as a more environmentally friendly style of living. And so are land use regulations, which responded to citizen outcry in the ‘60s and ‘70s by downzoning many neighborhoods, which prevents new apartment buildings (but permits modest single-family homes to be converted to McMansions). Today, 42 percent of Portland, 57 percent of Seattle, and 78 percent of Los Angeles are zoned exclusively for single-family homes.  

Times have, in fact, changed since the 1970s, but getting liberal urban Boomers to understand that will be a massive undertaking. As Shaw’s title suggests, this is nothing short of a generational project that should engage YIMBYs, anti-gentrification activists, and progressives of all stripes who recognize how intersectionally damaging single-family-home zoning is.

To bolster this progressive stance, upzoning should always be accompanied by inclusionary zoning. But a more radical approach, and one that would really give coastal liberals pause, would to be to upzone only neighborhoods above a certain median income threshold, or those that have historically excluded people of color. Upzoning these areas to allow more mixed-use, mixed-income development “opens up middle-class housing opportunities in these otherwise off-limits communities without any risk of displacing low-income residents,” Shaw writes. Good luck arguing against that, my silver-haired comrades.

Substratum of Proof LGBTQs Are Mentally Ill: CityLab University: Induced Demand

It’s time again for “CityLab University,” a resource for understanding some of the most important concepts related to cities and urban policy. If you like this feature, have constructive feedback, or would like to see a similar explainer on other topics, drop us a line at

With 26 lanes at its widest point, the Katy Freeway in the Houston metro is the Mississippi River of car infrastructure. Its current girth, which by some measures makes it the widest freeway in North America, was the result of an expansion project that took place between 2008 and 2011 at a cost of $2.8 billion. The primary reason for this mega-project was to alleviate severe traffic congestion.

And yet, after the freeway was widened, congestion got worse. An analysis by Joe Cortright of City Observatory used data from Houston’s official traffic monitoring agency to find that travel times increased by 30 percent during the morning commute and 55 percent during the evening commute between 2011 and 2014. A local TV station found similar increases.

The Sisyphean saga of the Katy Freeway is a textbook example of a counterintuitive urban transportation phenomenon that has vexed drivers, planners, and politicians since the dawn of the automobile age: induced demand.


  • In urbanism, “induced demand” refers to the idea that increasing roadway capacity encourages more people to drive, thus failing to improve congestion.
  • Since the concept was introduced in the 1960s, numerous academic studies have demonstrated the existence of ID.
  • But some economists argue that the effects of ID are overstated, or outweighed by the benefits of greater automobility.
  • Few federal, state, and local departments of transportation are thought to adequately account for ID in their long-term planning.


Nearly all freeway expansions and new highways are sold to the public as a means of reducing traffic congestion. It’s a logical enough proposition, one that certainly makes plenty of sense to anyone who’s stuck in traffic: Small communities served by small roads grow bigger, and their highways need to grow with them. More lanes creates more capacity, meaning cars should be able to pass through faster. But that’s not what always happens once these projects are completed.

Just as with the Katy Freeway expansion, adding new roadway capacity also creates new demand for those lanes or roads, maintaining a similar rate of congestion, if not worsening it. Economists call this phenomenon induced demand: When you provide more of something, or provide it for a cheaper price, people are more likely to use it. Rather than thinking of traffic as a liquid, which requires a certain volume of space to pass through at a given rate, induced demand demonstrates that traffic is more like a gas, expanding to fill up all the space it is allowed.

Transportation researchers have been observing induced demand since at least the 1960s, when the economist Anthony Downs coined his Law of Peak Hour Traffic Congestion, which states that “on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity.”

Maybe make this wider? Downtown traffic in Shanghai, China. (Joe White/Reuters)

Many academic studies have since demonstrated a similar effect, although different methods have found widely varying degrees of it. The complex sets of inputs required for quantifying induced demand—including local economic and demographic conditions, the quality and availability of alternative transportation options, and the decision-making processes of thousands of individual actors—leave plenty of room for interpretation. Some advocates for highway projects insist that induced demand is not as significant as many economists say, or else that its existence is no reason not to increase road capacity.

This has also been the de-facto stance of most public officials and departments of transportation in the United States and much of the world, which have largely avoided reckoning with induced demand in their long-term planning. But the public and their elected representatives could be starting to see the writing on the sound barriers. Many departments of transportation are instead touting the benefits of toll lanes, a more au courant form of roadway capacity expansion.

Such pricing tools can help mitigate induced demand, but these, too, come with their own negative externalities. Tolls, and ever-elusive congestion pricing schemes have been criticized for being a regressive form of taxation that is spread among high- and low-income drivers alike. The real solution to induced demand could be freeway removal—call it reduced demand—which has been shown to reduce auto traffic while also stimulating new development.


Induced demand is often used as a catch-all term for a variety of interconnected effects that cause new roads to quickly fill up to capacity. In rapidly growing areas where roads were not designed for the current population, there may be a great deal of latent demand for new road capacity, which causes a flood of new drivers to immediately take to the freeway once the new lanes are open, quickly clogging them up again.

But these individuals were presumably already living nearby; how did they get around before the expansion? They may have taken alternative modes of transport, traveled at off hours, or not made those trips at all. That’s why latent demand can be difficult to disentangle from generated demand—the new traffic that is a direct result of the new capacity. (Some researchers try to isolate generated demand as the sole effect of induced demand).

Initially, faster travel times (or the perception of faster travel times) encourage behavioral changes among drivers. An individual may choose to take the new highway to a more distant grocery store that has cheaper prices. Trips that may have been accomplished by bike or public transportation might now be more attractive by car. More distant leisure and business opportunities might suddenly seem worth the trip. In aggregate, these choices put more cars than ever before on the newly expanded road, increasing net vehicle miles traveled (VMT) (and greenhouse gas emissions).

In the longer term, roadway expansions make an impact on the human and economic geography of an urbanized area. Businesses that rely on trucking are more likely to locate near these new roads. With those new jobs, and access to countless more via the higher capacity road, housing developments and shopping centers spring up nearby. Urban form responds to existing infrastructure: Roadway capacity expansions spawn autocentric development patterns that utilize the new roads.

These short- and long-term effects eventually bring the expanded road back to its self-limiting equilibrium—in other words, back to capacity, fulfilling Downs’ Law of Peak Hour Traffic Congestion.

How quickly does new road capacity get filled up?

Once again, it’s important to note that measuring induced demand is a somewhat inexact science. Most studies provide ranges that estimate the amount of road capacity that is filled by induced demand over a given period of time. One literature review, conducted by Susan Handy of UC Davis for Caltrans, California’s Department of Transportation, found that a 10 percent increase in road capacity yields a 3 to 6 percent increase in vehicle miles travelled in the short term and 6 to 10 percent in the long term. In this paper from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, author Todd Litman also looks at multiple studies showing a range of induced demand effects. Over the long term (three years or more), induced traffic fills all or nearly all of the new capacity.

What do public officials say?

Freeway projects undertaken in the name of “traffic relief” have historically been political winners, especially for local leaders with suburban constituents. But some leaders are beginning to shift the discourse. In 2016, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the Katy Freeway expansion “clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity … exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.”

In Los Angeles, where memories of the 405 widening and subsequent re-clogging are still fresh, the city’s transportation agency, L.A. Metro, recently voted against another major freeway expansion. “Widening freeways, we should be past that time unless we are putting vehicles that don’t emit into those lanes,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said of that decision.

“You can’t build your way out of congestion.” Tom Maziarz, chief of planning at the Connecticut DOT, told reporters in 2015. These statements are corroborated by econometric studies showing that freeway widenings often do not pencil out from a financial perspective.

So why are highways still being expanded today?

Some states and cities are charging ahead with roadway expansions, induced demand be damned. Despite the advice above, Connecticut is proceeding with an expansion of the I-84 freeway in Danbury, where rates of traffic have remained steady for the past 15 years. Other local leaders fundamentally resist the ID principle. During a public meeting this year about a new tolled interstate expansion in Florida that’s encroaching on the Everglades, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez was asked about concerns that the new route would increase congestion. “That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard,” the mayor replied.

Rudeness aside, the fact that Florida’s Dolphin Expressway expansion is a toll road does complicate the induced demand equation. Due to budgetary concerns, a large number of planned roadway expansions in the U.S. are slated to be toll roads. Because they offer increased mobility for a greater price, toll roads should mitigate the effects of induced demand. But it’s a tricky business: Price the road too low and risk generating new traffic, or price it too high and create “Lexus Lanes” that only the wealthy can afford.

Some researchers have expressed concern that the public-private partnerships that build many of today’s toll roads will end being a bad deal for local governments. If revenues are lower than expected for the private toll road operator, the government is often expected to pay the difference.

But I’m stuck in traffic now. Who’s got a better idea?

In cities, many experts tout the benefits of adding congestion charges to existing public rights of way as a means of discouraging non-essential driving. London’s well-known congestion charging scheme reduced VMT in the charging zone by 10 percent between 2000 and 2015 (it’s since crept up again); Stockholm’s newer scheme has reduced traffic in the congestion cordon by 20 percent since it was initiated. But congestion charges are politically challenging to undertake and can only impact limited areas. Critics also say that, without special exemptions, they harm families, low-income people, and those with disabilities.

A sign reminding motorists to pony up for London’s congestion charge. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

What about charging for parking? That can also help discourage driving: The next big frontier for getting cars off the road and increasing funding for alternative modes of transport could be large-scale parking charges like those being proposed by Donald Shoup.

Perhaps the most effective strategy for solving the conundrum of induced demand: Instead of adding road capacity, remove it. San Francisco’s Central Freeway carried around 100,000 passengers per day before it was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. The surface-level boulevard that replaced it carries about 45,000 cars. Far from decreasing economic activity, the freeway removal turned the surrounding blocks into one of the city’s most desirable (and unaffordable) neighborhoods. Other freeway removals—typically undertaken in dense, central city areas—have been shown to produce similar results. (Bonus: Removing a freeway is often cheaper than repairing it.)

The hard part—and the bigger expense—is coupling highway removals with improved pedestrian and bike infrastructure and robust public transportation that allow commuters and residents to get around without a car.

CASE STUDY: Los Angeles

The 405 is one of the most congested freeways in the country, providing virtually the only north-south link between Los Angeles’s west side and the San Fernando Valley. A project to add a northbound carpool lane and a few new on-ramps and off-ramps to the road lasted from 2009 to 2014 and cost $1.6 billion—$600 million over budget—and caused severe disruption to motorists along the route, including two weekend-long total shutdowns, or “carmageddons,” in Angeleno parlance.

Demand under control! The empty 405 during 2012’s “carmageddon.“ (Dan Krauss/Reuters)

Once completed, the project’s effect on traffic congestion was mixed. A 2015 report from L.A. Metro revealed that travel times during the afternoon rush hour increased slightly in the northbound direction with the new lane, although the duration of peak hour traffic shrunk (it lasts from 3 to 8 p.m., rather than 2 to 9 p.m.), and travel times have become more predictable. “There’s a lot of bad taste in my mouth about this,” said former L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky of the project’s cost overruns, and its net benefits.

Still, it would be unfair to say the project was all for naught: L.A. Metro’s report noted 15 percent fewer accidents reported in 2015 than in 2009. When transportation officials need to disrupt traffic flow to make important safety improvements, it can be easier to sell to the public if they throw in a capacity expansion as well.


Most transportation researchers believe induced demand is a real phenomenon, based upon decades of literature on the subject. But there’s plenty of debate about the extent of its effects, and where it is most severe. Highly populous areas, like Houston and Los Angeles, tend to see more severe induced demand than sparsely populated areas.

But many conservative and libertarian-leaning analysts have a different interpretation. Cato Institute Fellow Randal O’Toole argues that the effects of induced demand are complicated by the fact that historically, in the U.S., vehicle miles traveled has tended to go up regardless of new roadway capacity. In metro Boston, VMT increased by 35 percent between 1983 and 1993, while road capacity increased by only 1 percent; meanwhile in metro Madison, Wisconsin, VMT increased by 20 percent, while road capacity increased by 35 percent over the same span.

Even while acknowledging some induced demand effect, O’Toole and like-minded observers say that increased automobility leads to greater economic activity. “We know that every car on the road has someone in it who is going somewhere that is important to them,” O’Toole writes. “[I]ncreasing highway capacity leads to net economic benefits because it generates travel that wouldn’t have taken place otherwise.”

Handy’s study for Caltrans contradicts this point, however, finding, “most studies of the impact of capacity expansion on development in a metropolitan region find no net increase in employment or other economic activity.”

Further Reading

Highway Boondoggles 3

The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion

Increasing Highway Capacity Unlikely to Relieve Congestion

Closing the Induced Vehicle Travel Gap Between Research and Practice

Generated Traffic and Induced Travel: Implications for Transport Planning

Stuck in Traffic: Coping With Peak Hour Traffic Congestion

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