DC Density Beyond The Height Act

A blog about business and economics.
May 14 2012 3:32 PM

DC Density Beyond The Height Act

I enjoy a good Height Act debate as much as the next person, but Ryan Avent points out that increasing housing supply in high-rent DC needn't involve changing that rule or achieving Manhattan-esque levels of population density:

Indeed, the scarcity of land that has so energized residents to question the mayor’s efforts is entirely a product of the District’s laws and regulations. The neighborhoods just west of Reservation 13, like much of the city’s residential land, are zoned R-4. This allows for matter-of-right development of single-family homes on lots with minimum specified widths and maximum specified heights. If Washington wanted to do so, it could substantially increase the available developable area. A zoning area that doubled the District’s population density—essentially creating an entire second city on top of the first—would be achievable without so much as questioning the city’s statutory height limit—and leaving the District at less than a third of the population density of Manhattan.

These are excellent points and I agree with them. Still, I'm a believer that we ought to bring skyscrapers to the city for two main reasons. One is that transit availability is very lumpy. Extra density away from those key nodes in the transportation system doesn't do a great job of compensating for a lack of density in the core of the core. The other is simply that logistically the more density you rezone for when you rezone, the fewer discrete places need to be rezoned.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



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