H.G. + J.J. (One Love)

This post is a follow up to the post about Henry George vs. Jane Jacobs (and to Wyn’s excellent comment). I want to make sure that we all understand that a LOT of Jacobs’ work and ideas meshes very well with George’s.

In Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” she argues (convincingly) that diversity is the key to economically successful and socially vibrant neighbourhoods and cities. She lists the following as the “Four Conditions” for generating diversity:

1.  The [city] district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two. These must insure the presence of people who go outdoors on different schedules and are in the place for different purposes, but who are able to use many facilities in common.

2. Blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.

3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close grained.

4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there. This includes dense concentration in the case of people who are there because of residence.

In the other post I essentially argued that Jacobs may not have mentioned George because his proposals may be counterproductive to a diversity of uses, and for ensuring old buildings are left alone.

On the other hand, Jacobs’ condition #4 (density) is very clearly produced by George’s land tax – no wasting space where there is demand for intensifying it. As well, I believe Jacobs’ condition #2 (short blocks) is produced by George’s land tax. This will need some explaining.

First of all, a lot of the value of a plot of land is based on it’s street frontage. This is why lots tend to be long and narrow, with the narrow end facing the street. This is also why corner lots are so prized, and so highly valued. Now, near my apartment is an interesting situation. See map:


(Source: Mapquest – see original here

One major street, Harbord, ends at Ossington, making a T-junction. Supose someone were to buy up the lots that face Harbord (on Ossington), and the lots behind those that face a smaller street (Concord) parallel to Ossington. They could then remove two buildings (one facing Ossingtion, the other facing Concord) and create either a narrow street or laneway, or a pedestrian/bike path that would in essence be a continueation of Harbord past Ossington.

The reason this could happen is that you could start with 6 mid-block lots, and end up with four corner lots. Depending on the economics, the increase in value of the four lots could more than compensate for the ‘loss’ of two lots. Depending… Now under George’s system a developer / speculator would lose this money through higher taxes, BUT if it was the city doing this, it could make sense for it to do so.

Once this occurs, then the next block facing Ossington could also be divided this way. It is hypothetical, but this could be a mechanism to slowly extend streets, thus making smaller blocks with more corners.

About Jacobs’ condition #1. I think that as an area changes from low intensity to high intensity, Georgist taxes would encourage diversification. Imagine an existing area of low-density, one use, suburban housing has existed for a few decades. A developer has noticed that over time, many of the houses have added basement suites, or become duplexes. This leads to the conjecture that there is demand for cheap housing for low-income households in the area. Thus, higher density housing is developed in an otherwise low-density, pedestrian unfriendly area.

This development encourages a few small retail establishments and a restaurant or two to start up nearby. The concentration of people in the higher density development act as tipping point. These in turn encourage more people from the surrounding area to frequent the shops – even by foot, as they are nearby. This attracts a few more businesses to become established, some of which serve the other shops as well as customers. A concentration of convenient shopping opportunities and restaurants creates a somewhat lively daytime and evening atmosphere, attracting people from a larger area still, thus allowing the establishment of a mass transit line to the area, putting more pedestrians on the street.

Further, all these amenities now create greater demand for housing by people who cannot afford low-density residences, and do not drive. This demand encourages homeowners to add dwelling units and developers to build higher density housing. Thus the cycle continues.

During further ramifications, non-retail commercial businesses would start, perhaps some light manufacturing type businesses would grow from the initial retail etc. These would add still more pedestrians through the employee traffic. This would then tremendously encourage local retailing, as then a steady stream of pedestrian traffic would be generated throughout the day.

So Georgist taxation, by encouraging this virtuous circle, is very good for setting up diversity. However, as I described in the previous post, once diversity has become established, it can destroy itself, and I think that Georgist taxation would similarly encourage that vicious circle.

 However, Jacobs did describe several ways to combat the self-destruction of city diversity, but for that, read the book! Or perhaps I’ll return to it later.

Lastly, about Jacobs’ condition #3 – those old buildings. Not sure yet about what Wyn said about it. I’ll get back to that.

Published in: on September 23, 2006 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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