While Randal O’Toole (“Housing report not credible,” July 4) has clearly been exposed to Economics 101, it appears that perhaps he has not studied much beyond that.

The housing market is not the same as the market for toothpaste. Its operations have impacts that go far beyond Economics 101 and involve what more broadly educated economists call “externalities.”

O’Toole’s example of a choice between a 1,400-square-foot home for $375,000 in a dense neighborhood vs. a 2,400-square-foot home for $295,000 in the “quiet” suburbs should be looked at in more detail. The buyers of the suburban home soon discover that to get to work they must endure 30-40 minutes of traffic congestion each way, so that an hour or more of each wakeful day is pretty much wasted. And, of course, moving in congested traffic at 5-10 miles per hour also burdens the community with significant amounts of air pollution (as well as burning gallons of a nonrenewable resource). As time goes on, the suburban homeowner may have problems with septic systems malfunctioning or flooded basements as water resources become contaminated. In effect, there may be no infrastructure for dealing with the environmental or health impacts of the suburban subdivision.

In short, the preponderance of suburban housing market “externalities” are negative — they do not lead to a better urban community.

I am not a supporter of Arthur C. Nelson’s report to the Metropolitan Council. But the Census Bureau has indeed documented important demographic changes in the Twin Cities that the Met Council has to consider. We cannot assume that the development patterns of the past 50 years can continue for the next 30. The viability of the region requires the Met Council to address the potential for alternative housing and land development patterns. It should indeed be involved with regional housing policy.

It should also go beyond a single report by employing more than one expert and enlisting the counsel of many local stakeholders living here in the Twin Cities.


Richard S. Bolan is professor emeritus of planning and public affairs at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.