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Creating jobs through higher density

In an article in Sunday’s New York Times, Ryan Avent sums up the thesis of his new book, “The Gated City,” which argues that greater economic growth and job creation can be achieved through higher-density urban development. Avent cites studies indicating that, all else being equal, doubling density results in productivity increases of anywhere from a 6 to 28 percent, and describes how the entrepreneurial opportunities afforded by large concentrations of people promote innovation, competition, and delivery of higher-quality products.

As Lydia DiPillis points out, none of these arguments are new—where Avent forges new ground is in drawing the connection between these trends and the need for zoning and land use policies that support higher-density development. In the absence of a regulatory environment that allows for greater density, “innovative” cities (Avent gives the example of San Francisco) cannot meet the demand for new homes, leading jobseekers to pursue lower-cost homes in lower-density communities and shortchanging the U.S. of opportunities for growth and prosperity.

All of this comes as the Center for Housing Policy releases a new policy guide on The guide highlights tools that states and localities can use to create or preserve affordable homes in places where transportation costs are likely to be low – generally, higher-density areas where families can walk or bike, use public transit, or drive short distances to meet their daily needs. As Avent points out, communities that allow higher-density growth can accommodate a larger number of workers, who can go on to support a more productive economy. Without additional measures to ensure that the new homes produced in higher-density areas are affordable to households at all income levels, we risk leaving behind low- and moderate-income families. Explore the Promote Sustainable and Equitable Development policy guide to learn more about how this may be achieved.

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