Let the People Build


Andrés Duany is one of the leading New Urbanists; Randal O'Toole is one of New Urbanism's sharpest critics. But when it comes to rebuilding New Orleans, they're singing similar tunes. From O'Toole's blog:

Many of New Orleans' low-income neighborhoods were built decades ago, when building codes were not as strict as they are today. Rebuilding them to meet modern codes will cost far more than their former occupants can afford….

Duany [writing in Metropolis magazine] has a solution: Create an "an experimental 'opt-out zone': areas where one 'contracts out' of the current American system, which consists of the nanny state raising standards to the point where it is so costly and complicated to build that only the state can provide affordable housing."

"For three centuries Americans built for themselves," adds Duany. "They built well enough, so long as it was theirs. Individual responsibility could be trusted. We must return to this as an option."

O'Toole is actually less eager than Duany to deregulate, arguing that "if homes in the opt-out zone do not meet minimum building codes, banks may not be willing to give their owners home equity loans, which are a major source of funds for small businesses. This poses the danger of a two-tier society: one of poor people who can afford minimal housing but have little upward mobility, and one of wealthy people who can afford housing in highly regulated areas." So instead of a two-zone system, O'Toole calls for a more complex arrangement with

* A totally deregulated area, with no building codes, zoning, or other rules;

* An area of the minimal building codes and other regulations needed to get banks to provide mortgages and home equity loans;

* An area with building codes and simple zoning setting maximum densities and some setbacks but no minimum densities and no other design standards;

* A fully regulated area with strict design standards.

These zones would not be oriented around people's incomes but around their desire for order and planning. Perhaps neighborhoods could vote on which zone they want to be in.

Update: On a related note, Sanford Ikeda says New Orleans could use a little neighborhood secession.