Morning Ed: Cities {2018.07.16.M}

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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25 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    C1: There are lots of big tech companies that move certain parts of their operations to LOC cities. LinkedIn has an office in Omaha. Big Law firms did this as well during the recession when I was in law school. The problem of satellite offices is that communication is often bad.

    Ci3: The problem here is that NIMBY cities are often really desirable to lots of people and no one has come up with good alternatives yet to make people give up on them. The Bay Area is still home to the big venture capitalists and people who want to make it big in tech want to be close to v.c. Plus there are cultural considerations on attracting talent. Making 150K or more as an engineer in SF is still better than making 60k as an engineer in a deep-red area for many NIMBY or not.Report

  2. LTL FTC says:

    Ci8: it’s tempting to write this off as so much “won’t somebody pleeeeease think of the incumbents!” but there may be more to it.

    The loss of a vote on one a rinky-dink trolley in a sprawling city isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Absent a massive plan to build out a system that can do more than take a small slice of commuters from the periphery to downtown during the weekday rush, it’s just another huge fixed cost that will be at best a boon only during large events downtown and at worst a rolling homeless shelter.

    To really change transport patterns, there needs to be a system that works for secondary trips – like picking up dinner on the way home from work, visiting a friend on the weekend or going to a job that isn’t within a few blocks of the city center.

    So yes, alternatives like rideshare and bikeshare cut transit use, but the important question is whether it improves mobility for regular people. And if you can improve mobility for regular people going about their day, perhaps spending the transportation budget on limited light rail started lines that crawl along at-grade stretches may not be the best solution in every case.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to LTL FTC says:

      This. A bus or train is great for getting massive amounts of people from Hub A to Hub B, but suck for moving people along the spokes. Yes, you can use the bus to go grocery shopping after work, but it’s a pain to figure out the schedule and often a massive time sink (even when the buses are on time and not missing, and you make every transfer), not to mention a serious limit on how many groceries you can purchase and take home per trip. Do it with kids in tow, and.. well yeah, you can do it, but no one wants to.Report

      • LTL FTC in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        It strikes me that a main motivation for rail investment is forcing commitment. It’s a lot easier to make a bus line disappear than rip
        out train tracks (the 1950s notwithstanding). So if you’re a transit advocate, it’s tempting to get that commitment whether or not it’s the best use of resources. It comes from a bunker mentality that’s understandable but unhealthy.

        Even in transit-heavy cities, there has not been a successful transition into a transit model that recognizes a multipolar metro area. So many people in places like Chicago and NYC work in office parks in the near-periphery, and the links between, say, NJ transit commuter rail and corporate campuses in Bergen County, kind of suck. A daily $4 share on an Uber Pool doesn’t sound so bad in those circumstances.Report

      • Maribou in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


        “Yes, you can use the bus to go grocery shopping after work, but it’s a pain to figure out the schedule and often a massive time sink (even when the buses are on time and not missing, and you make every transfer), not to mention a serious limit on how many groceries you can purchase and take home per trip. ”

        This depends on the city, a lot. When I lived in Montreal, there were bus lines that ran every 5-15 minutes and hooked up well with metros (this was immaterial for getting groceries but it meant you could get all over town, not just to neighborhood places). So I never thought about the schedule, nor was it much of a timesink.

        The annoying part of getting groceries by bus was mostly reduced to having to wrangle all those bags on the way home (something I could’ve fixed with a little rolly cart if I bought groceries more often instead of my usual stop-at-the-nicer-markets-on-the-way-home-for-fresh-produce-and-meat approach – the bus often had 5 or 6 people with little rolly carts on it). I can imagine that being an impossible task with kids, but I saw couples and singles with kids doing the same thing I was doing, regularly.Report

  3. LeeEsq says:

    Ci2: It turns out that besides their crank promoters, few people are intrigued enough by the city of the future to build them. Ordinary people do not seem to want to live in them, preferring either traditional cities, suburbs, or rural areas. Government officials and developers have little to know interest in building them, especially after the Brasilia debacle.

    Ci3: Either solution is going to require coercion. Either you force private businesses to build jobs in non-NIMBY cities or you make NIMBY cities build houses. Since most businesses prefer NIMBY or NIMBY leaning cities for a host of reasons, the later seems more probable and possible. This is because the state legislatures could theoretically place zoning above the municipal level.

    Ci8: There is an argument that we should be focusing on getting more people to use public transit than find essentially private vehicle alternatives to mass car-use. Increased public transit will decrease congestions will self-driving cars might not really change congestion or even how cities are designed that much.

    Ci9: The designs seem a bit sprawling and the street width too generous for the city to be car free.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think it’s more a matter of providing incentives rather than forcing them to locate to low cost areas. I’m… still not on board with it, for the most part. Eventually something is going to break. All bleeding stops eventually. (I’ve considered that as a temporary motto for the site, though maybe a bit too dark.)Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

        The Red States have been trying to provide tax incentives for a long time but the problem is that the only incentives they provide are tax incentives. Otherwise, they seem not to be providing Blue State urban amenities or turn down the culture wars. in fact Red State legislatures have a nasty habit of cancelling out the plans of Democratic voting cities when they don’t like them both in terms of urban amenities like transit systems or cultural stuff like LGBT rights. Incentives are going to have to include we will let you run Charlotte as Portland, Oregon if your in the majority.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

          Red states and blue states both provide incentives, though importantly not usually the blue places we’re talking about here. It’s true that the effects are limited, but not nil. Could be that a national incentive program could have more effect, but I’m not sure what it would look like. The Kansas City Plan could help, but that doesn’t really apply to especially high-skill workers and jobs and the mid-level on down are already branching out.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

          As someone who watched his job be outsourced overseas multiple times, I *STILL* wonder why “homesourcing” isn’t a thing.

          Yeah, yeah. *YOU* want to go out every night and shake your ass on the dance floor in a new club that wasn’t open a month ago and won’t be open two months from now, but I suspect that there is a real arbitrage opportunity here for a company willing to offer someone less money to do work remotely.

          I found this site that said that $130,000/year in Portland was the equivalent of about $90,000/year in Charlotte. That’s a savings of $40k! So if we cheat and assume that the company would be willing to split that with the worker 75-25, the guy in Charlotte making $100,000/year is actually making *MORE* than the guy making $130,000 in Portland.Report

        • Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq says:

          …they [Red States] seem not to be providing Blue State urban amenities or turn down the culture wars.

          On the culture wars, sure. Dallas — to pick an example — might take exception to a flat statement that they’re not providing a growing set of urban amenities. It’s not going to be the same as “old city” amenities built a hundred years ago. But being a “new city” has infrastructure advantages — eg, a newer airport, and no multi-billion-dollar sewer system upgrade hanging over their heads.

          I’m looking forward to Amazon’s HQ2 decision. I don’t expect to see them pick a blue city in a red state, but they might surprise me.Report

  4. Aaron David says:

    Ci2 – Mmmm, Utopia. One of the problems with “designed’ cities such as these tends to be that they don’t account for how people prefer to live. Once again, I recommend Seeing Like a State for a further explanation of this.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    Freddie DeBoer recently wrote an essay about new construction near (I think it’s near?) where he lives. New construction would end up casting large amounts of nearby open space into shadow during much of the day.

    He opposes this new construction and resents his opposition being called NIMBYism.Report

    • fillyjonk in reply to Jaybird says:

      In my parents’ town, the little old downtown (which now the developers are insisting people call “uptown” because apparently that’s swankier?) went through a phase of the older buildings being knocked down and three-story buildings being replaced with relative behemoths of five or six stories. The town looks *very* different from when I lived there, and a couple of long-term merchants apparently wound up either being subtly forced to move or priced out of the new, more expensive downtown. (And I would guess that many of the students and most of the faculty at the nearby university are probably priced out of many of the new downtown amenities, if the posted menu for one of the new restaurants is any guide)

      Anyway, it’s led to the downtown being much more shaded during most of the day. My whole family is classic Simpsons fans, so I commented once that it was like that episode where Monty Burns built a thing to block the sun from getting to Springfield – it does feel very much like that.

      Also given how the economy in that state has gone, building big fancy hotels and the like seems like….not the wisest choice.Report

      • LTL FTC in reply to fillyjonk says:

        The development DeBoer is talking about specifically casts shade on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is a major attraction and economic driver for that neighborhood. As much as I’m anti-NIMBY and I don’t think incumbent homeowners are entitled to unobstructed views at the expense of everyone else, there are special cases worth considering.Report

        • fillyjonk in reply to LTL FTC says:

          Yeah, shading a botanic garden seems like a bad plan.

          Though I will say the downtown in my parents’ town now feels less inviting to pedestrians and the like with the giant buildings. They also didn’t plan adequately for things like parking, though I guess there is a $$$ parking deck, but in that part of the world, people say stuff like “Why are you making me pay to park if you want me spending money in your downtown”Report

  6. Mark Kruger says:

    Ci1- My company in Omaha NE (a city of 450k) employs 35 folks. Around 6 work here in Omaha (management), with the rest, software engineers, living all over the country. I have literally never physically met more than half the people that work for me.

    Moreover, some of the best engineers live where they want to because they can. Will the best developers leave his home of origin and his family and friends to go work in your cube farm? Maybe – for the right amount of money. It’s more likely you are going to collect mediocre or young, unproven talent. And it’s not about the money. The dirty secret is that most folks are not compensation driven. They are looking to build a life – and that means choices.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Mark Kruger says:

      I would guess, from talking to a friend who did a career change, that they will move to get that initial experience, something solid to put on a resume. Once they hit a certain point, then they are free to move about the country. But that is just from talking to one person.Report

  7. Chip Daniels says:

    Ci2: Utopian cities lack the one thing they need to succeed, which is citizens who are as well ordered as the buildings.

    Ci6: Seasteading has always seemed like a uniquely poor choice for the libertarian vision, since seagoing living is perhaps the most collectivist living imaginable. You are, literally, all in the same boat.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      citizens who are as well ordered as the buildings

      Should cities have open borders?Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Utopian projects always had this problem. From Andrew Marr’s A History of Modern Britain. pg. 80.

      “Back in the forties, Labour’s idea of Britain was beginning to take shape. This would be a well-disciplined, austere country, organized from London by dedicated public servants, who in turn directed a citizenry that was dignified and restrained. Sanitation, reason, officialdom, and fairness; it was a Roundhead vision, without the compulsory Psalms or military dictatorship. Unfortunately for Labour, the real country was nothing like this. It was (and is) a more disordered, self-pleasuring, individualistic place.” The passage goes on to describe how the Attlee government and Labour party distrusted consumerism, etc. but the British people loved it.Report