There’s a narrative out there that all developers are uncreative and greedy, and if only they would start being more creative and generous, we could solve the housing affordability problem that is plaguing many (if not all) global cities. In other words, the solution to increasing the supply of low and middle incoming housing is simply a psychological reframing on the part of developers.
The problem with this mental model is that it ignores reality. Development happens on the margin. The market is competitive. It’s difficult to find developable sites. And it’s a challenge to make projects work. More often than not, you have to say no as a developer. No I can’t buy this land. No I can’t build housing here. And no the market will not support new office space here. Sorry, but no. (See cost-plus pricing.)
Development needs to give back. On the blog we usually call this city building. And that’s because it implies a greater sense of civic responsibility. Developers aren’t just building one-off buildings, they’re building a city. I believe wholeheartedly in this. But the belief that projects can be saddled with an endless array of government fees and civic contributions is a problematic one. There are limits — because markets have limits.
If only city building were that easy.