A density gnome in its natural habitat. Despite super-high-density development, Hong Kong still struggles with a housing shortage, affordability issues, and paying for public services (photo provided by Patrick Armstrong).
Have you ever sat through a presentation where someone is selling something, and there’s a big hole in their plan they fill with magical thinking? This dynamic has been called a lot of things, from snake-oil to outside-the-box-thinking to conventional wisdom, but most of it boils down to a salesman skipping over an important part of the details and hoping you don’t notice. Nowhere was this more brilliantly described than in South Park’s examination of “underpants gnomes.” These imaginary creatures sneak into your room in the dark of night with a seemingly simple but effective business plan:
Phase 1: Steal underpants.
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: Profit!
Once you see the problem with plans like this, it is hard to unsee it.
If you pay any attention to land use in New Orleans, you may have come across a similarly simple business plan regarding how many residences should be allowed in your neighborhood. The answer is almost always more than is allowed by zoning law, which is far more than what the neighbors usually want to see. But laws and public opinion are almost irrelevant because to a certain type of magical thinking, Phase 1 of development is almost always the same: Increase Density. Continue reading »