A Community Garden In Seattle
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  • A Community Garden In Seattle

Urban practices and policies that appear to be progressive can easily become their opposite when implemented in an economic environment that has the accumulation of money as its core principle. A great example of this is San Francisco, which is considered to be one of the most liberal cities in the United States. But the political views (democracy) of its citizens are one thing, and the economic realities of rent and home prices (market) are another. Not only can the two coexist, but the latter often employs or adapts policies and programs of the former to further its own interests. This was seen recently when the city of San Francisco decided to offer property owners tax breaks for transforming empty plots into urban farms. The problem with this "progressive" policy is that it makes the situation worse rather than better. And the situation that makes San Francisco the most expensive city in the US (in terms of housing) is it's not growing, not increasing its housing stock...
San Franciscans seem taken with the fact that the city, as it exists, is already the 'second-densest' large city in America. Which is true. But also a bit misleading... Brooklyn is actually twice as dense as San Francisco. San Francisco, in fact, is less densely populated than Queens. For San Francisco to be as dense as Manhattan, it would have to house 3.2 million people instead of 805,000... It's obviously not 'politically realistic' to imagine San Francisco rezoning to allow that kind of density. But uniquely among American cities, I completely believe that 3.2 million people would want to live in a hypothetical much-more-crowded version of the city if they were allowed to.

The rich will not allow that to happen. They want to protect the value of their properties, and bringing in urban farms will help remove and even beatify whatever dead spaces are around. Urban farming enters and affirms the logic of one of the most oppressive housing markets in the country. Corn grows where the poor could live. What this shows again is that without a deep transformation of urban economics, politically progressive policies will always be vulnerable or even empty.

By the way, density in the context of the market is not the last solution. It is a way to the last solution. Density combined with market forces will lead you to another Manhattan. And Seattle is on such a path at this moment.