04 March 2006
High-rise living - fine so long as the state keeps out

A McC ponders housing policy.  He thinks the tower blocks of the 1960s were dreadful but he has doubts about both the affordability, suitability and durability of the “luxury” appartments that seem to be going up all over the place.  He thinks there will come a time when people once again want spacious houses.

My take:

  • like most people I agree with him that the tower blocks of the 1960s were, in the main, dreadful
  • they were dreadful because, in the main, they were built and funded by the state
  • I rather like “luxury” apartments
  • The affordability argument is a red herring
  • I really don’t know if it is true that lots of things are being built to a poor standard these days or indeed to a poorer standard than in the past.  It would be interesting to find out
  • Apartments do not have to be rabbit hutches
  • I don’t know whether people want to live in spacious houses or not (I suspect they do)
  • The way to find out is to abolish planning

So, it’s all the fault of the state?
There are plenty of perfectly nice privately-owned and customer-financed high-rise blocks in the world.  Perhaps not so many in London (I wonder what the status of the Barbican is?) but plenty in North America.  There are also plenty of rotten low-rise estates owned or funded by the state

So, why is state housing so bad?
For much the same reason that most state enterprises are bad

So, why is the “affordability” argument in respect of luxury apartments a red herring?
Because although few can afford luxury apartments by increasing supply they help to reduce prices.

So, apartments do not have to be rabbit hutches?
No, according to a friend, in Singapore the average appartment is the same size as a 3-bed semi over here.  Probably doesn’t have a garden, though.  Even so, Singaporeans seem to find them perfectly adequate for bringing up families

How would abolishing planning help to find out what people want?
Because the abolition of planning would create a market in housing.  Developers would be free to experiment with all types of building in all kinds of places.  The varying profitability of these developments would tell them what was the best compromise between what people want and what they can produce

Why would profitability tell us what people want?
Because profit is good

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