Defining Affordability

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, author of the article The Dream of a Middle-Class New York, hits the nail on the head when we writes, “…it’s far from clear whether this coalition of the emotionally disenfranchised-those making $10,000 and those making $100,000 – really does agree on what a better city looks like, or even on a definition of affordable.”

The meaning of affordable differs from person to person. Moving from the Midwest to the West Coast my definition of affordable is likely much different than a West Coast native (even with the knowledge that income levels tend to be higher on the West Coast). While it may be difficult to get everyone on the same page for the definition of affordability I believe there are some elements that could be agreed upon that strive towards the same goal: making everyday life necessities relatively inexpensive for all people.

Many of these items are outlined by Wallace-Wells. One that sticks out is “Build new subways,” which would seem like common sense – direct and simple transit means less money spent on personal automobiles – but of course a lot of capitol investment is required for mass transit expansions. RadPad, an app that allows people to search for rentable apartments, condos, or houses, recently published a few articles to their blog highlighting the cost of 1-bedrom apartments near transit lines. The correlation between being in the city center verses the outskirts is evident in the infographics that display 1-bedroom apartment prices along San Francisco’s BART (image below), Chicago’s L, and Washington D.C.’s Metro.

map_san_franWhat the infographic provides is an easy way to find an area within your price range and understand the level of ease and distance it would take you to travel to your workplace, school, or a friend or family member’s house. Instead of defining affordable 1-bedroom apartments, the individual is left to decide what is affordable to them. And they can begin to take in other factors, such as transportation. Here affordability becomes a range and choice instead of a set definition.


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