Livable For Whom?


Will Truman

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

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24 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    This reminds of of the liberal and leftist complaint about free marketers believing we are becoming wealthier because people have access to more, better, and cheaper consumer goods and services that our ancestors couldn’t imagine like iPhones or streaming video services. People on the left tend to see affluence in terms of security like always having a roof over your head, access to medical care, not being made to stay in an emotionally abusive relationship, etc. They see the current prosperity as illusory because people, especially in the groups they care about the most, as not being secure.

    Livability lists tend to focus on what well-educated upper middle class people value rather than what most people may really want, which tends to be more suburban for lack of a better word. World class museums and restaurants might be nice on occasion but aren’t really that big in the scheme of things for most people. World class sports and big single family house with highway access is great though.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      That’s conflating two things that are relatively unrelated.

      In the end, when it comes to affordability of housing in a given market, DavidTC has it right. Policy decisions at multiple levels of government encouraged people to use their primary residences as a high end investment vehicle. Don’t put your money in 401Ks or IRAs, lump it into your home (and pay interest to others, rather than have interest paid to you). Now you have a huge group of middle class people with way too much of their wealth anchored in their home, and the political clout to protect it.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        PS Cities encouraged a lot of this because it’s easier to increase property tax revenue on a $30K home if the value goes up to $100K, than it is to raise the tax rates on a $30K home.

        Sure, it’s biting them in the butt now, because clearing away a handful of expensive single family homes for a residential tower gets you way more tax revenue, but again, political clout…Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    An interesting thing about the article is that it shows that NIMBY problems are universal. People generally try to protect their treasured lifestyle even if that means attempting to implement a household register system in all but name to keep others out and freeze things in amber.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      It’s interesting to compare the behavior around people’s two most expensive purchases, a house and a car. The house is looked at as an investment, and all the homeowners in a community such as San Francisco have an incentive to massively increase their net worth by throwing the supply and demand completely out of kilter, so that a home that might be worth $150K in middle America will sell for $1.5 million. Due to turnover and taxes, working class renters can’t afford to get move there unless they bunk three to a room, and even Google employees have to live four to an apartment.

      In contrast, these same homeowners are given no say in how many new cars Ford or Toyota produces, so they can’t game that system by throwing the supply and demand for automobiles out of kilter. Were that supply to get as out of wack as the real estate market in certain affluent cities, it would be a Mad Max type world where the supercharged Ford is most “rich” people’s entire net worth.

      That doesn’t happen because car owners don’t elect a city council that can ban new car sales, otherwise we’d probably do that to ourselves, too. Of course real-estate always acts somewhat differently because we can’t just manufacture choice locations (well, those with vision do it all the time, especially along undeveloped beaches). I sometimes point this out to Star Trek geeks who think that in the future, we won’t need money because we’ll live in a post-scarcity society. “Oh, so everyone gets a huge estate overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and the Star Fleet Academy? How does that work, exactly?”Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        all the homeowners in a community such as San Francisco have an incentive to massively increase their net worth by throwing the supply and demand completely out of kilter, so that a home that might be worth $150K in middle America will sell for $1.5 million.

        Ouch. Really well put, that’s a good summation of the situation. And it’s also a really good observation on what’s happening/happened in most large cities. Of course we can add the economically ignorant trying to “help” by imposing rent control and various other unhelpful things, but maybe those are just fig leaves.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I think assuming straight and white is not necessary. We can just assume affluent at this point. I alson don’t necessarily assume that someone with a fancy item of clothing or eating at a on the expensive side restaurant is rich. They could have just saved up for something they wanted or merely be living beyond their means.

    That being said, the entire thing is pretty tricky and involves aesthetic preferences which are always trickier. There are lots of middle-class or above folks who bemoan that cities are becoming “bland” and “corporate” and that every other store is some kind of bank branch or mid-sized chain of some sort. These are people who read Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York and rue that they were not old enough (or possibly born) to experience New York in the 70s to early 80s? Was the City more dangerous then? Yes. Was it nearly bankrupt? Also yes. But it is was still affordable, early pioneers of gentrification bought brownstones on the cheap in Park Slope (you could get a real fixer upper for 20-30K), legendary music venues were in their prime like Danceteria, Mudd Club, and CBGBs, artists whose prices are astronomical today were just starting out. But would all these wishers really be part of these scenes if back in the past or would they find it out of reach still? Chip once mentioned that there is as an imaginary city that exists in the heart of many a middle-class English major. A place that is both edgy and safe at the same time. Filled with people from all classes yet classless.

    But the thing about CostCo being in the city is that it might make Jeremiah sad but lots of working-class people use it and love it.

    I don’t know what the answer is here. Ideally cities would be for everyone.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      How about “straight and/or white”?Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “I think assuming straight and white is not necessary. We can just assume affluent at this point.”

      So we’ve reached the point where homosexuals and blacks have enough money that they can stop being Downtrodden Minorities and start being Dirty Gentrifying Bastards?

      Remind me again how capitalism sucks and America is the worst country ever?

      “I also don’t necessarily assume that someone with a fancy item of clothing or eating at a restaurant on the expensive side is rich. They could have just saved up for something they wanted or merely be living beyond their means.”

      Careful now, you’ll get Chip Daniels angry at you and he’ll start telling us about Welfare Queens and Strapping Young Bucks.Report

  4. Avatar Mark says:

    Objective parameters to measure livability that 85% of the population agree with could be established. These parameters would include things like crime rates, housing affordability, commuting times, etc. Someone could write up an index which would be imperfect but a decent rough guide. Of course, this would miss the realities of human life. When I was 22, I was dating a very beautiful woman who was manipulative; I was very unhappy, and my locale didn’t matter. When I was 29, I became a father, and the day I drove my wife and child home was the happiest day of my life, and again the city didn’t matter.Report

  5. Avatar pillsy says:

    Yeah I think the point about Seattle is pretty legit. But then again, “Living in this city would be a luxury that I can’t afford (or think would be nice, but not that nice,” is not really a strong argument that it’s somehow not a desirable place to live.

    On the other hand, “If I had more money I’d move out of the Cheapsville, Big Square State metro area,” is not really a strong argument that Cheapsvillle is not a desirable place to live.Report

  6. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    I think sometimes time pressures and time issues are under-considered as well: things like commute time, for example.

    When I first moved to where I live (which is a very small city), people kept telling me to buy a house/get an apartment in a larger city about 1/2 hour away. I thought about this. Their argument was that there would be more social and cultural opportunities. Perhaps they were right on that. But for me, the sticking point was having to drive a full hour every day I worked (and it would be driving; there was bus service briefly but they went bankrupt). And I decided: yeah, there might be more cultural stuff, but would I have the energy after driving an hour up and an hour back to, I don’t know, go to a concert? I decided the answer was no. (And also: I am just forgetful enough that I might leave some essential thing I needed at home/at the office, and then where would I be). And I can drive down there on weekends if there’s something I want to do.

    I ultimately wound up buying a house about 2 miles from my workplace. I have a five-minute commute. In the summer when I don’t teach, or during the semesters on days when I don’t have afternoon labs, I can go home for lunch, and this is a remarkably valuable thing to me.

    By some other “objective” measures, maybe my town is not all that livable:Economically depressed, feels smaller than it actually is, not a lot of social stuff. But the trade off is a lower cost of living and not having to drive a long way every single day.

    But also: I can afford a house on a low-ish end professor’s salary. I’m able to live alone (don’t have to have a roommate, which would likely increase my misery unless it were a SO or close friend). I can afford what I need and much of what I want.

    Time is the biggest thing for me right now. I am incredibly grateful I didn’t listen to the people who pushed for me to buy in the next state over; the thought of losing an entire hour of my day, every day, to a commute is something I would not want now.

    I suspect every person would have a different “livability index.” I know people who recoil in horror when they learn what my town is like and who see no issue with driving an hour or more for a commute to live somewhere “posher.” For me, it’s the reverse…Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      “I suspect every person would have a different ‘livability index.'”

      Ding ding ding ding ding!

      First off, we probably have different criteria. Secondly, we weight them differently. In some cases, a particular criterion could be a deal-breaker, which is impossible to translate into an index. And some of our criteria, like “distance away from Dad”, can’t possibly be agreed upon.

      If we could all agree on a set of criteria, and their weighting, the statistic would still be questionable, because of the level of aggregation. I live outside DC. Crime rates vary mile by mile. And going a mile can take you 50 seconds or 50 minutes, depending on where you are and where you’re going.Report

  7. Avatar Pinky says:

    The Citylab article implies that crime is a matter of concern primarily to the wealthy. That’s nonsense. I mean, when you get to South Africa levels of murder targeting landowners, then yes. But for the most part, as long as gates exist, the wealthy can manage. The impact of crime falls primarily on the people the author is most concerned about: the poor, often immigrants and minorities.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      This is correct, but isn’t it also correct to say that the impact of policing falls mainly on these very same people?

      So they are terrorized not just by criminal gangs, but by the police who are supposed to defend them?Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        So they are terrorized not just by criminal gangs, but by the police who are supposed to defend them?

        Depends on the purpose of the police. If it’s to stop crime, then no. If it’s to prevent those who live behind gates from needing to deal with those who don’t, then yes.Report

    • Avatar Blomster says:

      Not that this is the main point of your post but I just do have to note that, as much as South African landowners, and especially farmer landowners, suffer crime and murder – the South African poor are still exposed to more danger than them.Report

  8. Avatar Silver Wolf says:

    I would much rather see an exhaustive list of metrics for each city. This could be put into a database that allows someone to select their priorities and weights for each. In this way, if I think that “livability” means affordability, safety, restaurants, greenspace and bike paths, then I would have a list that is of value to me. If some other person wants good primary and secondary education, safety, local amateur sports, and shopping then their list would be very different.

    Long story short, give me the data and I’ll decide.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Aren’t more people moving out of NYC than moving in at this point? You can’t exactly judge by price. One of the beauties of these highly financialized housing markets is you can have more people moving out of a city than moving in and rents still keep rising because the properties are such nice investments. I can drive you past brand new luxury condos in Toronto that are 100% sold, at, say, 8 o’clock at night and at best 30% will have their lights on. I mean, really do we intend people to live in places like London or New York anymore? Or is that old school thinking?Report

  10. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    I’m more interested in the notion of “livability” applied within a metro area rather than between metro areas. So often, the livability standard is applied to a small portion of the metro area.

    I looked at Brisbane on Google Maps. There are some areas that no doubt look like those shown in the video clip; what aren’t shown in the clip are the vast areas of single family homes surrounding those touristy/young urban professional places. Nor the areas full of warehouses that supply those central locations with goods and services. Is the entire 3.6M people Southeast Queensland metropolitan region livable? Or the entire 2.5M Brisbane metropolitan area? The entire 1.1M City of Brisbane? Or just selected areas here and there within the city?Report