Yonah Freemark


I study how local governments shape planning outcomes in the context of political conflict and multi-level governance systems. I engage this subject from the perspectives of transportation projects, land-use policy, and affordable housing development in the United States and Europe. I am integrating these fields through my dissertation project, which is currently under development.

My published peer-reviewed articles and chapters are listed below, and detailed further down on this page:

My long-term research examines the role of metropolitan governments in advancing major transportation and housing investment programs.

Upzoning Chicago: Impacts of a Zoning Reform on Property Values and Housing Construction,” in Urban Affairs Review

“What are the local-level impacts of zoning change? I study recent Chicago upzonings that increased allowed densities and reduced parking requirements in a manner exogenous of development plans and neighborhood characteristics. To evaluate outcomes, I use difference-in-differences tests on property transaction prices and housing-unit construction permits. I detect significant, robust increases in values for transactions on parcels that received a boost in allowed building size. I also identify value increases for residential condominiums, indicating that upzoning increased prices of existing housing units. I find no impacts of the reforms, however, on the number of newly permitted dwellings over five years. As such, I demonstrate that the short-term, local-level impacts of upzoning are higher property prices but no additional new housing construction.”

DOI: 10.1177/1078087418824672

The article on the Urban Affairs Review site. Check out coverage of the paper in CityLabSlate, NBC News, Bloomberg OpinionThe Real DealTalking Headways: A Streetsblog PodcastChicago AgentPlanetizenDJCOregonCrain’s New York, The Sacramento BeeThe UrbanistSlate France, CALMatters, Forbes, Multihousing Pro, The Frisc, The Planning Report, Buildings on Air, The Press-Enterprise, and Minn Post.

Are Cities Prepared for Autonomous Vehicles? Planning for Technological Change by U.S. Local Governments,” with Anne Hudson and Jinhua Zhao, in Journal of the American Planning Association

Problem, research strategy, and findings: Local government policies could affect how autonomous vehicle (AV) technology is deployed. In this study we examine how municipalities are planning for AVs, identify local characteristics that are associated with preparation, and describe what effects bureaucrats expect from the vehicles. We review existing plans of the 25 largest U.S. cities and survey transportation and planning officials from 120 cities, representative of all municipalities with populations larger than 100,000. First, we find that few local governments have begun planning for AVs. Second, cities with larger populations and higher population growth are more likely to be prepared. Third, although local officials are optimistic about the technology and its potential to increase safety while reducing congestion, costs, and pollution, more than a third of respondents worried about AVs increasing vehicle miles traveled and sprawl while reducing transit ridership and local revenues. Those concerns are associated with greater willingness to implement AV regulations, but there is variation among responses depending on political ideology, per capita government expenditures, and population density.

Takeaway for practice: Municipal governments’ future approaches to AV preparation will likely depend on the characteristics of city residents and local resources. Planners can maximize policy advancement if they work with officials in other cities to develop best practices and articulate strategies that overlap with existing priorities, such as reducing pollution and single-occupancy commuting.

DOI: 10.1080/01944363.2019.1603760.

The article on the Journal of the American Planning Association site. Check out coverage of the paper in CityLab, NyTeknik, Telepolis, and KJZZ Phoenix Public Radio.

Challenges in the Creation of Mixed-Use Affordable Housing: Measuring and Explaining Its Limited Prevalence,” in Housing Policy Debate

“Mixed-use affordable housing buildings collocate residences and commercial uses. The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program provides one mechanism to fund such structures. But the literature offers little insight into the frequency of mixed-use LIHTC buildings, partly because of a lack of data identifying them, and it does not pinpoint conditions that facilitate their development. I explore these issues through a Chicago, Illinois, case study. First, I analyze imagery to create the first database of mixed-use LIHTC buildings. I show that only 5% of LIHTC structures incorporate commercial uses, and that these are concentrated in wealthier, whiter, and already retail-heavy neighborhoods. Second, I use stakeholder interviews to explain the low rate and selective location of mixed-use projects; I find that the stiffest barriers are conflicting governmental policies, difficulties securing financing in the context of a perception of weak retail demand and investor desires for reliable returns, and design constraints.”

DOI: 10.1080/10511482.2018.1506813

The article on the Housing Policy Debate site.

Myth #5: Public Housing Ended in Failure during the 1970s,” in Public Housing Myths

“One of the abiding myths of public housing history is that public housing came to an end in direct response to its problems. According to this myth, public housing was so inflexible that it could never be made to work; realizing this, politicians rightly ended the program in the 1970s. Yonah Freemark’s chapter… disputes this myth and uncovers a more complex picture… While opposition to “conventional” public housing founded on the program’s perceived failures did exist in the early 1970s, these criticisms did not play the determining role in the administration’s policy decisions.”

DOI: 10.7591/9780801456268-006

The book on the publisher’s website.

Twin Parks,” in Affordable Housing in New York

This chapter explores the history of Twin Parks, a complex of 2,250 affordable housing units completed in the Bronx in the mid-1970s. The project was constructed by New York State’s Urban Development Corporation and included a series of innovative urban and architectural designs, including contributions from Richard Meier and James Polshek.

The article argues that the projects offered their residents unique living spaces in a mixed-income environment. Now owned by private entities operating with public subsidies, Twin Parks has suffered from poor maintenance, but it remains a desirable place to live for many.

The book on the publisher’s website.

From Public Housing to Public-Private Housing,” in Journal of the American Planning Association

American public housing since 1937 is often viewed as a single failed experiment of architecture, management, and policy. This view masks a much more highly differentiated experience for residents and housing authorities, rooted in a long-term moral and ideological struggle over the place of the poorest residents in American cities. This article reframes public housing history as a succession of informal social experiments: initial public efforts to clear out slum-dwellers and instead accommodate barely poor working-class tenants or the worthy elderly; a 30-year interlude, where public housing authorities consolidated the poorest into welfare housing while gradually shifting responsibility for low-income housing to private landlords, private developers, and private investors; and a series of partnerships since 1990 that reserve more of this public-private housing for a less-poor constituency. Empirically, this article provides an unprecedented graphic glimpse into the ways that the overall mode-share of public housing has shifted and diversified. Ultimately, this article reveals that the reduced role of the public sector has curtailed the growth of deeply subsidized housing provision to the lowest-income Americans.

DOI: 10.1080/01944363.2012.737985

The article on the journal’s website.

Roosevelt Island: Exception to a City in Crisis,” in Journal of Urban History

Today, New York City’s Roosevelt Island stands as living proof that the public sector can produce a mixed-income and mixed-race neighborhood from scratch. Its successes contrast with typical perceptions of government housing failure and indicate that with determined leadership, stable funding, and a good location, the public sector can create healthy, heterogeneous neighborhoods. This article examines the process of designing and constructing Roosevelt Island to illustrate how and why local actors took advantage of favorable conditions and made important political choices to achieve their commitments, even as political and financial support for such developments deteriorated. In light of the often dismal reputation of government housing policy in the United States, Roosevelt Island’s success—unique in its mixed-income legacy—offers lessons about effective city governance in the face of dwindling national support.

DOI: 10.1177/0096144211400378

The article on the journal’s website.