A Victory for Economic Justice and Civil Rights

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  1. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “Most of San Francisco’s tech jobs are located in the suburbs but the suburbs refuse to build housing that is appropriate for young childless twenty-somethings.”

    Well, except for a number of giant new-housing projects going up in South San Jose. “oh, but that’s not the suburbs, that’s not where the jobs are” So what you say is “suburbs”, but what you mean is “right next to the buildings where people work”, and those are two different things.

    And the other thing to remember is that the kind of “affordable” housing being built is high-density, low-property, pack-em-in style buildings; dormitory-style floorplans that cram two bedrooms and two full bathrooms into a thousand square feet (with eight-foot ceilings so that the builders can get an extra floor in but not have to follow high-rise building codes; the inhabitants feel like rats in a crawlspace but hey, this is what “affordable” looks like now.) It’s not happening because builders are greedy jerks, it’s happening because that’s the only way they can afford to do it.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I don’t know what to make of a situation in which a once suburb is larger, and will soon be much larger, than the -urb it was supposed to sub-. Anyway, a city with over a million people and a population density of 5,600 sq/mi is not suburban in any sense of the word.Report

      • I don’t know what to make of a situation in which a once suburb is larger, and will soon be much larger, than the -urb it was supposed to sub-.

        One has space to expand into; the other is the tip of a peninsula. It’s no more complicated than that.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Oh yeah, I get why it’s happening, I just don’t know what to make of it conceptually. It’s a sort of Sorites paradox: when does the suburb stop being a suburb and start being an urb of its own?Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            It was easier back when we had city walls. The suburb was by definition anything outside the walls. (The “sub-” part is especially clear when you recall that cities often were built on hills, also for defensive reasons.)Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              My hometown suburb of NYC is partially on the Nassau and Queens border so I was technically able to walk to NYC in about 15 minutes or so. Though this part of NYC was a very suburban part of Queens.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        Hmm, SJ was never a suburb of SF. It was always a distinct and separate city with its own reasons for existing. Kinda like Knoxville isn’t a suburb of Nashville.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          Well, Knoxville’s 180 miles away, while San Jose is what? 45? But I see your point.

          I do think a lot of people conceived of San Jose as a suburb, though, or at least as a satellite.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          What is interesting about San Francisco-Bay Area to me is how the distance and size of areas makes things both distinct cities and suburbs. A lot of East Bay locations can be suburbs of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland. There are people who commute in all sorts of directions. Is Orinda a suburb of Oakland or San Francisco? Is Walnut Creek a city or a suburb of SF/Oakland?

          The answer is probably all of the above.

          Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville are all different cities with separate governments but they are all right next to each other. Well so are parts of Berkeley/Oakland/Albany/El Cerito I guess.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            We have this here as well. The fastest growing city of any size in the country last year was San Marcos, TX. Part of the reason it’s growing so fast is that it is effectively a suburb of two of the fastest growing large cities in the country, Austin and San Antonio, between which it sits smack dab in the middle. At some point, given the growth of the area between the two cities, they’re just gonna end up being a Super City like Dallas-Ft Worth.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              Right. There is another interesting issue that many American cities might be more accurately described as big suburbs:


              New York (really Manhattan), Chicago, and parts of Boston are really the only places I can think of with a substantial number of high-rise apartment buildings in the United States. There are a few here and there in other cities but San Francisco has a very suburban look in many ways and places. The Tenderloin and Financial District are the most urban neighborhoods.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                You don’t need high rises for urbanity. Seattle, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Portland aren’t high rise cities but they aren’t giant suburbs like many southern and western cities are. To me an urban-suburban neighborhood should be one with strict suburban like zoning, single family homes, and low walkability.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Yeah, high-rise apartment buildings are a pretty damn poor measure of how urban a place is. Population density is probably better, and in that regard, San Fran is second only to New York among major cities.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                Fair points.

                I don’t think @leeesq is completely correct.

                Most American cities are not as walkable as San Francisco and New York. You can walk around certain neighborhoods in most American cities or between certain neighborhoods but not like you can do in New York or SF.

                I still find the giant suburb argument compelling in many ways.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                I travel a lot more than you do. A lot of the old cities in the Northeast and Midwest are pretty damn urban even though they are more low-rise than New York City or Chicago.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Outside of the East Coast and perhaps certain areas of the West Coast, cities are too young to have been planned for walkability or with rational public transit in mind. As a result, they’ve been planned with cars in mind. Now cars are horrible, horrible things for many reasons, but one of them is that it is pretty much impossible to plan well with cars in mind. As a result you have a lot of quite urban areas with walkability scores in the 30s and 40s instead of the 80s.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                I think this is just as wrong as Saul’s post. Lots of cities outside the Northeast and West Coast are plenty old, especially in the Southeast. Their problem was that they were too small population wise for a mass transit system when a New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston were building their mass transit systems. Some were big enough for a mass transit system but decided not to like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Baltimore.

                Most of our big, sprawl filled car oriented cities did exist before the car. They just were small to medium sized cities for the most part. They started to grow as car ownership blossomed and went along with that.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Farther west as well. Kansas City, Omaha/Council Bluffs and Denver all had extensive electric trolley/streetcar systems. All of which declined rather precipitously after WWII for a variety of reasons. Perhaps interesting, one stretch of Denver’s new light-rail system is built on right-of-way from the old trolley system.Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                Parts of Sacramento’s as well.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Nearly every urban area had a trolley or interurban system at some time between 1890 and 1945. These weren’t the same as the mass transit systems built by the biggest cities because they didn’t have their own right of way and got stuck in traffic once cars became widespread.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Does it ever get old, telling everyone that every transit and urban planning decision made since Manhattan circa 1895 was wrong? Especially since there were no other places in the US with Manhattan’s combination of enormous wealth and incredibly fortunate geology?Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                I’d also like to point out that New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia generally built the bulk of their rapid transit systems with private companies that contracted with the cities. The cities didn’t start operating the systems until after World War II. Many other American cities were also wealthy enough at the time even if they were less wealthy than New York.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                That is only true if you conflate “New York City” with “Manhattan”. Oh, and forget that Boston exists.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I try to forget that Boston exists, but it never works.

                I believe the densest cities in the country are all NYC “suburbs,” not NYC itself, which is kind of amusing.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I assume you are referring to a list such as this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population_density

                While technically true that all of these have greater population density than NYC, it isn’t really an apples to apples comparison. Pretty much all of these areas are exclusively or largely residential with the population working in NYC or other less dense nearby cities. They are essentially extensions of NYC but because there is a river in between and a state line to cross, they aren’t considered as such. The geography of the NY metro area is unique in that regard. It’s funny… my hometown (Teaneck, NJ) is closer to many parts of the city both driving and via public transportation than certain parts of the outer boroughs and for all intents and purposes we are part of the city but we would NEVER consider ourselves as such because we live in houses in NJ.

                Similarly, looking at Camden, NJ without considering its relationship to Philly also misses the context.

                But, yes, technically speaking, Guttenberg and Union City are more dense than NYC because they have the tall buildings, multi-family dwellings, and closely packed houses without all the commercial, the universities, the parks, etc.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Right. NYC is a funny place.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                DC and B-more are very urban.
                @saul-degraw @leeesq Lee’s correct. And you CAN walk them. There are just “some” areas that that’s not a good idea.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      *measures height of my bedroom’s ceiling*

      Hey, it’s eight feet. It feels nice and roomy, not at all like “rats in a crawlspace”. Granted, I’m 5’10”, but my brother’s much taller, his room has the same height of ceiling and he’s happy with it. One of his previous places had a ceiling so low he literally couldn’t stand up in it; now that’s a serious problem. But eight feet is fine.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Ah yes, the classic “well I think it’s perfectly okay so I don’t see why you’re complaining” reply, which has been so thoroughly debunked in sexism debates because reasons.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I admit that suburb and Bay Area is harder to determine. I wouldn’t want to commute from Gilroy or Santa Cruz to San Francisco but there are plenty of people who commute from both areas to work in San Jose. People in Marin work in that area or in SF or East Bay, etc.Report

    • Avatar NoPublic says:

      dormitory-style floorplans that cram two bedrooms and two full bathrooms into a thousand square feet (with eight-foot ceilings so that the builders can get an extra floor in but not have to follow high-rise building codes; the inhabitants feel like rats in a crawlspace but hey, this is what “affordable” looks like now.) .

      My 1960’s house in the suburbs “crams” three bedrooms, a kitchen, a full bath, and a living room into 864 square feet.
      With 8 foot ceilings.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        Yes, and does that feel spacious or enjoyable? Or do you make the best of it, learn to live with it, decide to be happy with it, choose not to dislike it?Report

        • Avatar NoPublic says:

          I wouldn’t have bloody well bought the place if I didn’t like it, now would I?

          I have no need for an entrance foyer with vaulted ceilings or a formal dining room. I haven’t entertained a duke in over a decade, though that was in this house as well.

          I don’t understand people who need thousands of square feet of empty space to live in. Perhaps that’s what we’re arguing about. I’m perfectly happy with a room for me, one for guests, and one for my books. I wouldn’t mind a private master bathroom sometimes when my guests are dawdlers but whatever.Report

  2. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    “The simple truth is that a lot of well-to-do people even well-meaning liberals probably have an unconscious bias in favor of lots of forms of housing segregation. This goes beyond racial and class segregation.”

    Oh, absolutely! My wife and I decided to buy when she got pregnant, and our one bedroom apartment clearly wasn’t going to cut it. We chose the neighborhood where we ended up in large part because it matched our demographic needs: a townhouse with a small fenced back yard for privacy; lots of neighborhood kids; who treat the unfenced front yards as de facto community property; on a cul-de-sac with no traffic; within walking distance, once the kids are a little older, of the public library. Everything about this is aimed at being desirable to families with kids. Is this de facto segregation? Of course it is. The neighborhood is also mixed race, with a mixture of lower-middle to middle-middle class families. You pick your criteria.Report

  3. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I think this case is big news, and I’m really glad @saul-degraw wrote about it because I just won’t have time to myself. So I’m promoting the post above the fold.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Agreed with @burt-likko here.

      In fact, I suspect that despite all the attention King is getting today (for all the obvious and very legitimate reasons), I suspect that this case will have far greater implications over time. I think it’s a biggie.

      (And after the way they ruled on things like voter restrictions, I was very surprised how this court ruled on this case.)Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Congrats, the Supreme Court has solved the lawyer un & under employment problem.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I see what you did there.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Just reading the syllabus, I’m at a loss to determine what exactly the controlling standard is. They say ‘don’t just use statistical differences’ and ‘we need to make sure liability is limited’ because, yeah, that’s going to be an impossible standard to meet in an America that’s still mostly segregated in its housing stock. But allowing disparate impact, it seems to me, is going to generate a fairly large swath of claims coast to coast because housing stock is so segregated.

        so lots of money for lawyers, less money for actual housing.

        edit: and the real morissettian irony is that the Supreme Court has basically just ruled ‘be careful about spending too many tax expenditures to poor neighborhoods’.Report

  5. DensityDuck: dormitory-style floorplans that cram two bedrooms and two full bathrooms into a thousand square feet (with eight-foot ceilings so that the builders can get an extra floor in but not have to follow high-rise building codes; the inhabitants feel like rats in a crawlspace but hey, this is what “affordable” looks like now.)

    2 bedrooms + 2 bathrooms (+living room/kitchen/dining room) in 1000 square feet? Sounds comfortable to me (I grew up in a ~1600 square foot 4-bedroom house with an embarrassingly huge living room that my parents eventually subdivided into an office + living room just to reduce the vast open expanses.) eight foot ceilings are a bit low for my taste, but that’s completely irrational because that’s the ceiling height of the bedroom level of my current (built in 1909 as a model for a subdivision) house.

    It’s possible that you might be mistaking your preferences in housing for Universal Truth?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      “You’re not poor. You have 1000 square feet and two bedrooms and two baths.”Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Wait, there are 1000 square from dorms?!Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “I grew up in a ~1600 square foot 4-bedroom house”

      Houses don’t count basements, attics, and garages in their living space, all of which might add up to as much square footage as the entire rest of the house.

      I know that in my place, the ground-floor garage is half again as big as the first floor, and provides a large amount of storage space for things we have but don’t use often (as well as water-treatment and laundry utilities).Report

  6. DensityDuck:
    “I grew up in a ~1600 square foot 4-bedroom house”

    Houses don’t count basements, attics, and garages in their living space, all of which might add up to as much square footage as the entire rest of the house

    That’s a very good point if it’s usable space! Oftimes it isn’t; the house where I grew up, for example, had a small prewar garage that was just barely big enough to fit an automobile in (we could squeeze between the driver side and the kitchen steps without much trouble, but to get that room the other side of the car had to be about 3 inches from the wall) and because it was in Wisconsin the car spent enough time in the garage to make it unusable for anything else.) And in that case it’s not very different from a flat with a (also not listed as square footage) parking spot + storage space in the basement, which I suspect is pretty common in the United States.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      In places where I’ve lived, the basement space counts if it qualifies a finished basement, and doesn’t if it is not. I’ve known people to purposefully keep a basement unfinished to keep the square footage down for property tax purposes. In one place we rented, they merely declined to get the correct window peaks and so a livable basement was classified “unfinished.” (it was advertised as “partially finished”)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        In my area, a ‘certificate of occupancy’ allows spaces not typically considered in square footage to be included. So we were able to get our house listed as 3000 sq. ft. instead of 2000 because we have a fully finished basement with a CO.Report