Don't be misled by the construction cranes that punctuate city skylines. The number of housing units completed in the United States last year, adjusted for the size of the population, was lower than in any year between 1968 and 2008. And the problem is most acute in major urban areas along the east and west coasts. Housing prices, and homelessness, are rising across the country because there is not enough housing.

Increasing the supply of urban housing would help to address a number of the problems plaguing the United States. Construction could increase economic growth and create blue-collar jobs. Allowing more people to live in cities could mitigate inequality and reduce carbon emissions. Yet in most places, housing construction remains wildly unpopular. People who think of themselves as progressives, environmentalists and egalitarians fight fiercely against urban development, complaining about traffic and shadows and the sanctity of lawns.


What went right in Minneapolis? The story begins with a crop of young politicians who want more housing: The city is conducting an early experiment in government by and for millennials. For the first time in the city's modern history, more than half of its residents are renters, including Mayor Frey. Many residents -- again, younger people in particular -- also describe density as a necessary response to climate change. Environmentalism, which began as an effort to protect people from cities, is increasingly embracing cities as the best way to protect the planet from people.


All of this deserves wide emulation by other American cities. But Minneapolis has an important advantage: Its housing prices still are relatively modest, so its population includes a lot of middle-class families. Housing debates in coastal cities pit the wealthy against the poor, and middle ground has been hard to find.

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