Housing shortages, affordability crises and nimbyism are growing problems in many countries, but it is remarkable how much worse things have gotten in the English-speaking world.
Forty years ago, the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland had about 400 households per 1,000 people, on par with developed countries in Europe continental. Since then, the two groups have diverged, with the Anglosphere remaining flat while Western Europe has come off at 560 to 1,000.
Unsurprisingly, the same trend is reflected in property prices, which have risen further and faster in most English-speaking countries since the global financial crisis than elsewhere.
There seems to be a deep aversion to urban density in English-speaking culture that sets these countries apart from others. Three distinct factors are at work here.
The first is a shared culture that values the privacy of one’s own home – most easily achieved in low-rise single-family homes. The phrase “an Englishman’s home is his castle” dates back centuries. Out of this came the American dream of individual property surrounded by a white picket fence, while Australians and New Zealanders yearned for a “quarter acre”.
A new YouGov survey confirms it: when asked if they would like to live in an apartment in a 3 or 4 storey building – imagine the elegant streets of Paris, Barcelona or Rome – Britons and Americans say ‘no’ by around 40% 100 and 30% respectively, while continental Europeans are strongly in favor of it.
The cumulative impact of centuries of such preferences is enormous. Across the OECD, 40% of people live in apartments, and the EU average is 42%. But this figure drops to 9% in Ireland, 14% in Australia, 15% in New Zealand and 20% in Great Britain.
And it’s not just living in these apartments that Brits don’t like. Nearly half of them declare that they would be opposed to new buildings of 3 or 4 floors in their district, whereas in each European country questioned, a plurality would be in favour.
This brings us to the second common problem: planning systems. It doesn’t matter that the UK has a discretionary approach while the others use zoning – the planning regimes in the six English-speaking countries are united to facilitate objections to individual applications, rather than proactive public engagement at the planning stage. policy development. This preserves the low density status quo.
Finally, we have what I call the Nature Paradox: English-speaking planning frameworks place enormous weight on environmental conservation, but the preference for low-density development fuels car-dependent sprawl and further gnaws away at this dear green and pleasant earth.
Ultimately, whether the goal is to tackle the housing crisis, protect the environment, or boost productivity, the answer to so much woe in the English-speaking world is to unburden ourselves of our anti-apartment exceptionalism.