The Denver Post ran an article today on the mayoral race and development in the city. (See ā€œWe suck in Denver, huh?ā€)

In a discussion of how new Denver housing development should proceed, one man lamented “I just wish [new housing] wasnā€™t so ugly.” 1

There is absolutely nothing wrong with such a wish, all by itself. A problem arises, however when such a wish is turned into government edict.

If new condominiums or apartments or slot houses are truly ugly, there will be little market for them. This means the builder is not maximizing profit. And builders have every intent on maximizing their profit.

“Ugliness,” in this context, is about as subjective a concept as exists. It is not engineering, where we know for a fact certain materials can only bear so much weight and an attempt to exceed that limit will not work. These limits are objectively measurable.

“Ugliness” is not.

And when local governments attempt to define “ugly,” they are no better at it than anyone else. Why should a planning commission’s subjective belief in “ugly” be imposed, by government force, on everyone? Why should it be imposed on ANYone. 2

It should not.

The only people whose opinion matters are the buyers of a particular building. And builders have every monetary incentive in the world to build things someone will buy. And if you think a building happens to be ugly, do not buy it.
If you drive by it or live next to it, will you look at it? Yes. It will be in your field of vision. Might you wince every time you see it? You might. But in a free society, things you think are ugly are allowed to exist. And you are actually glad about this, even if you do not know it. It allows you to do things that others might think is hideous.

And that is a good trade. Even if the rest of us have to look at it.

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  1. For examples, Westword has a story on the Top 10 Worst 21st Century Buildings in Downtown Denver.
  2. No better argument against government deciding what is or is not ugly can be found in this piece from NPR, “Denver’s Most Reviled Public Art.”