Yglesias remarks that “In the future, everyone will live in Texas” and links to a Forbes contributor who states that “When Houston is the only place America can build things, all things will be built in Houston.”
To be sure.
But I’d like to point out that this easy to replicate. Just delete your zoning code. Sure, Houston has a lot of things going for it that aren’t related to land use – strength in multiple sectors of industry and business, the Texas tax and regulatory climate, a highway network that is impressive by national and global standards alike. But Houston is also hot, humid, and the air isn’t exactly what you’d call “clean.”
No zoning allows growth on multiple fronts at once. Outer-periphery sprawl, inner-city high-rises, and mid-rise condos and townhomes in established neighborhoods are all being developed simultaneously. Applies to Washington D.C., this would take the form of office towers going up downtown, mid-rises and tower blocks springing up in neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Van Ness, and a lot of new single-family going up in Montgomery County.
In principle there is no reason why the entire run from Bethesda to Frederick should not be one continuous sprawl. The commuter rail is already in place; it can be double-tracked. The heavy rail is already in place; it could be extended. And a toll road could branch off from the 270-495 interchange complex, parallel to 270 but much closer to the Potomac, rejoining I-70 west of Frederick.
Instead, there is a strict growth limit driven by the notion that large swaths of Montgomery should forever be preserved as estate residential and hobby farms. Hence, while the median person making the median income and paying the traditional 28% in Houston can choose either a new house on the periphery OR a new condo downtown or near the med center OR lots of stuff in between, in Montgomery County that person is herded into garden apartment conversions.
This is where you need to combine the de-restrictionist impulses of Matt Yglesias and the Cato guys. Matt is against restrictions on supply in the core, but only begrudgingly accepts peripheral single-family. O’Toole and friends have no problem with density restrictions to “preserve neighborhood feel,” but don’t get him started on UGBs. Yglesias thinks transit is cool; Cato loves toll roads, and in fact most of their transport policy is just toll roads in disguise. (“HOV lanes… that can also be used as toll lanes! Busways… that cars can also drive on for a small fee!)
Put the two together, and you get downtown density plus suburban sprawl, toll roads plus trains. A solid recipe for growth.