Thursday, March 8, 2012

Apartments go boom!

I think we can officially say we’re in the midst of an apartment boom.

Daily Journal of Commerce
Of course, any free market boom should be approached with caution, especially ones involving real estate development (understatement of the decade!) Developers are often like gold-hungry 49ers, all rushing to the same place to do the same thing and make the same fortune, then overdoing it and leaving a wasteland. The 1990s/2000s real estate bubble - based largely on suburban sprawl - left us with not just an economic catastrophe, but also empty subdivisions filled with big houses that require lots of $4 gas to drive to.

Fortunately this time, instead of a sprawl and mortgage boom, we’re talking about a boom of infill rental apartments in dense, urban neighborhoods. While there’s still a risk of overbuilding, shoddy construction and rash bulldozing (old buildings instead of cornfields this time), we are at least experiencing a “smart growth” boom. It’s a boom that meets many urban and regional planning goals: infill development, efficient use of urban land, neighborhood revitalization, transit-oriented development, housing choice, and (hopefully) equity. And for the most part, the free market is providing this boom, without the help of public subsidies. How did we get to this unlikely stage?