Minneapolis
Minneapolis, home of weird cheeseburgers and Ilhan Omar. Gian Lorenzo Ferretti Photography/gettyimages.com

Those who live in a big and growing city in the US basically live in the same city. The architecture is much the same, and so are the social problems. The homeless population is increasing, rents are rising, and NIMBYs block every effort to address the housing crisis in the name of preserving this or that neighborhood's "character." Also, as a section in the IMF's report, Global Financial Stability Report April 2018, made clear, real estate markets in these cities are more and more synchronized. And so the risks in one urban market in the national and even global network are now correlated. This means that even a diverse property portfolio basically contains the same assets with the same risks.

But one of the consequences of this homogenization or synchronization is that the proposed solutions to the housing crisis tend to be identical. It's not a matter of new policy tools but their size. For example, the impressive urban development program that Minneapolis is set to pass—it would "upzone nearly the entire city"—can be adopted by Seattle with very few changes. That city's plan for 2040 wants to address the linked housing, homeless, environmental, and racial inequality crises with transit-oriented density. The good news is that the plan is far more ambitious than anything we have in this sleepy Durkan town; the bad news is it still does not go far enough and almost all of its prescriptions are tied to market-directed growth.

As I have explained elsewhere, it's not an accident that, for example, much of the construction during Seattle's long boom was devoted to luxury apartments. The exact same thing happened during Minneapolis's construction boom ("...the city has issued $5 billion in construction permits over the last five years. But much of that has been for luxury developments), and Atlanta's ("90 percent of new Atlanta apartments qualified as ‘luxury’ last year"). This is not coincidental but deeply systemic. There is not one moment in the history of industrial and post-industrial cities that laissez faire urban planning has met the demand for affordable market-rate homes. (Please read Ruth Glass, the British-German sociologist who coined the term gentrification in 1964.)

And so, though Minneapolis's plan for 2040 is undeniably bold, and a step in the right direction, it still needs to include social housing, our housing forms that are not directly driven by market forces, or are funded by low-interest loans that mature over very long periods of time and cannot be captured by speculators. These are policy choices—meaning, it comes down urban political economy. An ambitious development program that can adequately address the present environmental and housing crisis must also recognize that capitalism is not about efficiency. The obvious reason for this is efficiency in housing and transportation actually makes life cheaper (the same goes for health insurance). If expenses fall, so do profits.