Both Tyler Cowen and Megan McArdle linked to this article on DC real estate. I can’t figure out why.
Here’s the money shot:
Drive along Route 50 in Northern Virginia from revitalized Rosslyn to the glitzy office parks in Falls Church and you’ll think you’ve been transported back to the 1950s as you gaze out on mile after mile of aging strip shopping centers, small brick bungalows and dodgy motels.
Take Route 1 from College Park toward the District and you’ll find an impressive variety of marginal retail stores, fast-food joints and used-car dealerships.
Turn off the Capital Beltway at Pennsylvania Avenue in Prince George’s County, an intersection that must see tens of thousands of cars pass through each day, and you’ll find a motley collection of auto-repair shops, warehouses, long-term storage facilities and aging strip shopping centers.
Or think of Georgia Avenue in the District, Columbia Pike just over the Potomac in Northern Virginia, Route 1 north of Old Town Alexandria or downtown Anacostia. At any of these places, you hardly get the sense that a rational, efficient market has put centrally located, highly accessible land to its “highest and best use.”
Each, of course, has its own story to explain why things are the way they are. But collectively they suggest that the next phase of growth in the Washington region will focus on these underdeveloped areas in the eastern quadrants of the District and some of the region’s older, closer-in suburbs.
Actually the stories of these areas are identical. The former areas are nearly all white, while the latter areas are nearly all black – as can be seen in The Washington Post. The article never mentions this!
This sort of development would be good for me, since I live close to many of these areas, but I’m not exactly holding my breath. Ms McArdle moved to an area that the article mentions as up and coming (the area in which Yglesias got mugged last year). We’ll see. It may work for her, since she has no children, but ultimately people want families and need to send their kids to school. It’s cheaper to drive an hour to area with decent schools than pay for private school.
The article is standard fare until it veers off into the absurd:
Prince George’s County (demographic data) offers the greatest gap between the potential for development and redevelopment in the inner ring and market realities. High crime rates, inferior schools, rampant corruption and sheer ineptitude on the part of local officials have scared away many developers. Racism has been a factor as well. At this point, however, what has long been considered a Prince George’s problem is now a regional problem: If the Washington area is to grow, a lot of that growth is going to have to happen in Prince George’s.
“Racism has been a factor as well.”
That statement is just left there. It is perhaps the purest expression of progressivism that I have read in a long time. It’s passive. Who has been racist? To whom have they been racist? The county is run by black people and populated by black people. Are they racisting themselves? Detroit would like an answer.
Then it calls for government to step in and solve the problem.
Anyway, here’s the only hint that something interesting is going on:
There are natural limits to how much a metropolitan region can expand its economy and its population by expanding its geographic footprint, and Washington is probably getting pretty close to them. The evidence can be found in the horrible commutes, in the divergent trends in land values at the core and at the periphery, and in the extraordinary cost of extending Metrorail to Loudoun County.
Why are people moving an hour outside the city if there is cheaper real estate 10 minutes from their offices? We may never know.
The WSJ – hysterically – has a piece suggesting that Baltimore is worse off than New York, San Francisco and Boston because . . . the latter areas have lower property taxes!
That’s right, you can spend millions on places in New York and San Francisco and pay a relatively lower rate of tax on those places than you’d pay in Baltimore, where comparable space can be had for less than 25% of the price! The article seems to suggest that tax rates matter more than absolute cost when people make business decisions.
I’m sure theirs something different going on in Baltimore, I just can’t figure out what it is . . .