Slate’s Matthew Yglesias wrote an excellent post earlier this week asking an important question: why are yards required by law in most places, rather than controlled by the market?
Yglesias points out that while yards are nice, they’re also an amenity that people would and should theoretically be willing to pay for — like bigger kitchens, closets, or cable TV.
We expect cable channels to sink or swim in the marketplace. Why should backyards be any different? They’re fun and clearly all things considered most people would like to have one. But most people would also enjoy more closet space, a larger kitchen, an extra bathroom, and any of the myriad other forms of inside space that exist. Balancing out how much of your land area should be inside and how much should be outside seems like a decision people can make for themselves.
And yet, most cities, including those in Utah, have vast tracts of land zoned to require yards. Why is that? If yards are so great, Yglesias argues, the market should ensure their existence.
He goes on to point out that if we didn’t require yards, yard-lovers might get bigger outdoor spaces because others wouldn’t want them. He also rightly points out that yards are not ecologically friendly:
The fallacy here perhaps is that because yards are generally full of plants, people think of yard requirements as being in some sense “green.” A small yard, however, is not a wilderness refuge. In fact, water use associated with suburban lawn care can be a substantial source of environmental strain.
Yglesias’ point isn’t that yards should go away or that they’re bad. Neither he nor I are anti yard.
Rather, the point is that it makes no more sense for governments to require yards than it does for them to require people to buy other amenities.
In Utah, yards abound. And what housing does exist without yards actually tends to cost more in some places, such as downtown Salt Lake City, suggesting people are actually willing to pay more to escape burdensome yard requirements. In a place where so many people value the idea of “free agency,” this makes especially little sense. As Yglesias argues, it’d be better to just let people choose for themselves.