Morning Ed: Cities {2018.06.27.W}

[Ci1] Amenities matter, but maybe not as much as other things.

[Ci2] DC is being sued for gentrification. I’m sure this will become a lot better when Amazon moves in.

[Ci3] Richard Florida (!!) has a good piece on the potential problems of mega-regions.

[Ci4] A look at the square urbanism of Savannah.

[Ci5] No, no, no, this is moving things in the wrong direction. #BanCities #CountiesInstead

[Ci6] According to some new research, segregation comes at a cost.

[Ci7] A lot of people are itching to leave New York City. Also, San Francisco.

[Ci8] Sometimes our preconception of what world cities are “like” are more imaginary than real and the reality is more humdrum. I was watching a TV show that takes place in Berlin recently, and I was struck by the family’s suburban home and how it could have taken place anywhere.

[Ci9] Robert Poole argues that urbanists need to stop trying to get commuters out of their cars.


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Will Truman is the pseudonym of a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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23 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Cities {2018.06.27.W}

  1. [Ci9] I knew where this was going from this point on:

    Fortunately, say these smart growthers, there is an alternative: By piling on regulations and reallocating transportation-related tax money, we can “densify” our urban communities,

    “Piling on regulations” eh? In my city the main challenge to enable densification is removing regulatory barriers – zoning barriers that prevent lot splitting, multi unit buildings, garden suites, etc, minimum parking requirements for homes and businesses of all types, and so on.

    But he’s told himself a story that lefties want density, and lefties are all about regulating everyone’s business, and he’s not going to let reality talk him out of it.

    Also of course he’s using the fact that people in places with mediocre transit mostly don’t use transit to argue against improving transit, because of course he is.

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  2. Ci2: They can always just go for the build more housing solution. Nobody ever seems to try that. I think Saul is right. There are lots of people that still want cities to be the refuge for the down and out in America. They hate the fact that more people seem to want city life for at least a decade or two of their adult lives rather than go straight to suburbia after college. Speaking of this, what did boomers and generation x people did before cities revived? Did they skip their young adult life in the city phase and stay in the burbs or did they spend time in city?

    Ci3: This piece reminds me of some of the more utopian free marketers that want the world to revert back to city-states rather than nation-states. They seem to somehow imagine that this will make us more inclined to accept a no border world or something. I really don’t think that this is going to happen. National identity is still pretty strong. As recent political trends show, the nation-state is remarkably resilient as an idea and institution.

    Ci5: Doesn’t this really contend on the character of the county? You can combine the cities of Los Angeles county into one government because Los Angeles is built up and sprawling urban place. When you have a county with one urban area and lots of small towns that are very rural, consolidating government isn’t going to work out that well.

    Ci8: This is because movies don’t depict the every day parts of the cities if they aren’t meant for home consumption.

    Ci9: Libertarians are weird on urbanism. You have the Market Urban faction that seems to view suburban sprawl as part of government planning. Than you have the part that highly identifies car oriented suburbia with libertarianism and sees cities and transit as socialist beasts.

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    • Re suburban libertarians – maybe it’s because of their definition of preferred government as the maintainer of roads and sewers and little else (certainly not any meaningful number of the vehicles that travel upon the roads). By which definition, building auto-centric suburbs is “natural” because it involves their preferred level of government contribution.

      Many governments see that they can save considerable amounts of road construction money by running a good transit network at a fraction of the cost of trying to stay on the induced demand treadmill of road construction.

      But that means the government is trying to save money by offering (shudder) services not just infrastructure!

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      • What I’ve noticed is that many people really like driving. They tend to see any spending on transit as a threat against their driving their cars. Its all a conspiracy to force them out of their cars and into busses and trains. They don’t want that so the argue against it. You have a similar thing with housing. There are people that want to make the single family home the only form of housing available so that they don’t face the slightest possibility of ever having to live in an apartment.

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    • Cities really are artificial creations. They can only arise with the existence of a stable government, and benefit from all sorts of centralized, socialized functions.

      So the uniquely 20th century political theory of markets as naturally occurring artifacts founders on this reality.

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      • Also, I think a certain degree of accepted social contract. E.g., those who build apartments don’t cheap out and put in paper-thin walls that won’t deaden sound but also those who live in apartments don’t have loud parties late at night every night of the week, even knowing their neighbors have school-aged children or some such.

        (And yes. I once had a situation of having a loud neighbor who would have late-night parties several nights a week – until like 3 am, even mid-week – and when I asked him politely if he could tone it down a bit, seeing as I had to be at work by 8 am, his response was “Sucks to be you, then” and he kept on partying. Luckily he got evicted for another reason after a few months, but that was a miserable and hellish couple of months. And I was in a house I owned so moving would have been an issue, and I had no apartment management to back me up – not that I expect most apartment managements WOULD in that situation)

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        • As you say lot of the challenges with accepted social contact are pretty addressable with building technique. My old apartment was in a renovated housing project built in the early 50s. The bones of the place were great. I had 18 inches of solid concrete between me and the people above and below and firewalls separating the units to my sides. It wasn’t soundproof and you heard some muffled stuff once in awhile but never anything that bothered me. My condo on the other hand is in 60’s era construction with a cheap hardwood flooring renovation. You hear EVERYTHING to the point its actually hard to live there. It really sucks because it doesn’t have to be that way.

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          • And the problems come because builders/landlords want to cheap out, and tenants won’t notice that soundproofing is too little after they already live there and it’s really too late to do anything.

            I lived in a concrete apartment block once but I could STILL hear my neighbor’s alarm clock radio when she went away on weekends and forgot to turn it off. At least that was only a few times and she was embarrassed when I mentioned it to her.

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        • a lot of people, me included, grew up in apartments. The “children only grow up in single family houses” concept might be very anglo-saxon, but it’s not the standard all over the world, quite the contrary

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    • Denver is booming. There are zip code areas that have seen 40% year-over-year appreciation of housing prices. My bicycle rides sometimes take me through a different area, one where northwest Denver, two of the big inner ring suburbs, and some unincorporated county area are all mushed together. It is, to be polite, underdeveloped. And it does have some historical strikes against it.

      But there are now two new rail transit stations, both 12 minutes from Union Station downtown (two different lines). Easy access to the interstate highways that cross Denver. Housing in the area is largely shabby single-family dwellings and trailer parks, Hispanic working class families, with water and sanitation provided by a small utility district. As the old industrial and commercial businesses get pushed out, it seems an ideal place for affordable housing to go.

      I’m not holding my breath. The only development that has started so far is near one of the train stations: some very nifty row houses, priced at $600K-800K.

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  3. [Ci4] The point in the piece about Savannah’s wards (blocks) being too small is mainly experienced by the pedestrian frequently being forced to cross streets. This is not just created by the design of the squares, but also the occasional divided boulevard. I was there a couple of weeks ago, and while I (once again) enjoyed walking around the historic district, its reputation for walkability was overstated and its attractive features owe more to non-replicable 19th century houses displayed well by the squares.

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    • I wonder if changes in household size have something to do with that.

      When a single family household contained a family of 8 and (if wealthy) several slaves or servants, that would have meant a lot more people to patronize the businesses and churches facing each square, compared to current household sizes. Hence more likely that the kind of business you needed to visit was close by, hence more walkability.

      I’m not sure whether it would have made walkability better or worse as the main hazard of crossing the street shifted from dodging horse poop to dodging cars…

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      • I think part of the issue unmentioned in the linked piece is that the original layout was based upon the design for military camps because of competing claims to the area by the Spanish. The squares served in part as militia training grounds, and its the streets connecting the squares, which served a military function then, that seem most superfluous to my eye today.

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  4. Ci9 – Robert Poole is gonna Robert Poole; it would have been nice if over the past twenty to thirty years transit systems would have been run in sych a way not to give him ample ammunition.

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      • We had transit. At some point people decided cars were preferable and voted accordingly.

        Now there’s a significant sunk cost in pavement that took decades to accrue, and it will take decades to fade away. Except I expect it won’t, since autonomous cars will become reliable enough much faster than mass transit can become attractive.

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  5. Ci7: There is a difference between saying and doing. This is a failure of renters not voting and lots of people not understanding the law of supply and demand.

    Plus I wonder how many people move to cities/certain areas during their 20s and 30s and move back home. The view among usually white, middle-class America is that you live in cities when you are young and then you move back home.

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  6. Re Florida: Singapore is an odd choice here because it is a city-state. A lot of the cities.regions listed tend to be hubs of finance and/or some other very important industry. I am not sure what is to be done here. I think the decline in many areas is because of improved transportation destroying the need to make goods locally. You used to have local department stores selling a lot of relatively locally made goods.

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