Fast Company's Ben Schiller takes a look at the two ways American cities create housing: by expanding their geographic footprint, or by densifying, which aims to fill in all vacant and usable land.

According to real estate website BuildZoom, U.S. cities have done more expanding than densfying over the past few decades, as almost 90% of new homes built in American cities have put down foundations on developed or suburban land. Cities who have stopped sprawling (like San Francisco) have produced decreasing housing supply and higher housing prices. In contrast, cities like Atlanta that have allowed expansion have managed to keep housing increases more modest.

Cities have three options going forward, says Issi Romem, BuildZoom's chief economist. They can expand "with gusto": building out suburbs, laying long freeways, and lengthening commute times (and end up looking like, say, San Antonio, Texas). Or they can give up on affordability, crowding out the less affluent and altering their "social character" (like, say, San Francisco). Or they can take a new approach to urbanism: one that embraces not only infilling and high-rises, but also changes to land-use regulations that currently stifle development.

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