Over the weekend, notable urban-issues political wonk Matt Yglesias wrote a passionate and well-meaning argument for greater density in the DC area that got it completely wrong. Yglesias claims that DC is suffering culturally and economically due to its height limitation, which inhibits the extreme density seen in Chicago or Manhattan. It also results in an uninteresting skyline to boot! Alas, he unconsciously bases his speculation in outdated thinking that assumes that commuter town is the optimal configuration of a city.
Yglesias makes three arguments: taller buildings with will increase tax revenue, improve livability, and reduce what he calls “job-sprawl.” In each case, he is partially correct, but also misses broader issues of urban land use and planning. Primarily, he misunderstands the qualities and causes of density, mistaking the unique and exceptional conditions that created metropolises like New York, Chicago, Tokyo, and Paris for natural growth.