How the Tobacco Companies Should Spend Their Money

Once again, in the debate over California’s Proposition 29, the tobacco companies seem to have all the money in the world, even though relatively few people smoke nowadays. Under the circumstances, I don’t shed much of a tear for them.

  1. They could put on their packs, in type as large as the health warning, “DISPOSE OF PROPERLY – PUT BUTT BACK IN PACK”. Or, they could include a little plastic bag with each pack, of the kind that we insist dog walkers carry – no one crusades against dogs as a health hazard, and the way we deal with solid dog waste is the way we should deal with cigarette waste. It’s amazing, in a society where so few people supposedly smoke, how much litter is composed of butts. In fact, one reason I took up smoking cigarettes at the advanced age of 59 is precisely that I wanted to be able to practice what I preach, and show that it could be done. A stupid reason for starting smoking? Well, is there an intelligent reason for starting smoking? I don’t think so. I mean, if the beer companies can put on their cans “Dispose of Properly” so can Altria, or whatever it’s called.
  2. They could take back filters and recycle them into something, paying us a penny per filter, like we already do with certain kinds of glass bottles and cans. Surely all those filters can be used for something. And surely the tobacco companies have enough money to be able to support some research on this subject. And, for those who wish to keep the penny in circulation (the Canadians are phasing out theirs, and no coin in common use in Europe is worth that little) here’s a use for it.
  3. Tobacco taxes could be used to support the supplemental health insurance system, for those who have trouble affording health insurance, because their product does burden the health care system. I’m not in favor of a “public option,” necessarily, so I don’t know how it is to be worked out. Maybe an “assigned risk pool” like with auto insurance. Anyhow, tobacco should not be the cash cow for everybody’s favorite cause, as it seems to be now. Cigarette smokers and rich people – not much overlap between the two nowadays – are the “other people” or “not me” whom we feel free to tax heavily.
  4. I never want to go back to the days of indoor smoking, with the possible exception of some bars (not restaurants) in colder or more extreme climates. (I still find the idea of smoking with food, or with anything but water, beer, coffee, or bourbon, disgusting.) The companies could chart and promote “smoking patios,” which are places where you can have your alcoholic drink and smoke at the same time, as people like to do. Amusing to British people are the restrictions on taking one’s drink outside; if you can’t smoke inside, and can’t drink outside, only on these patios do the two universes intersect. Here in my own community, the individual bars are allowed to choose whether their “patios” (which you have to enter from inside, not from the street) allow smoking, or not; some do, some don’t, depending on their clientele.) And, apartment complexes that ban smoking in their apartments could have an outdoor space in the courtyard, where you can also take your drink. It encourages certain people to leave their rooms and their video games and come out into the courtyard or street and be reasonably social. Another reason why I don’t want to return to indoor smoking. Public and street life is encouraged by banning it. The New Urbanists ought to take a note of this. And if people are trained to not drop their butts on the ground, the aesthetic and litter aspects of the vice can be minimized. Smoking cigarettes, given the hazards, is something of an extreme sport; I have no problems with it being mainly an outdoor one.

Thoughts on High-speed Rail and Buses

I’m back from a California trip – beautiful state, beautiful weather, completely dysfunctional government.  For example, even with massive fiscal problems it’s still trying to build a vastly expensive high-speed rail line from San Francisco to San Diego. On a related note, a private group is exploring building a Houston-Dallas HSR line with no subsidies of any kind. I’m totally okay with private efforts.  I’m probably even okay with a little eminent domain to get the right of way at a fair price. I hope they can make it work.

Here’s a great alternate perspective on HSR: a TED talk on the value of perception and psychology vs. economics and technology.  Go to the 6:12 point to see a great example of the Eurostar train, where they spend a vast amount of money to reduce travel times by 40 mins, when for 90% or 99% less money they could have improved the experience instead and actually gotten higher rider satisfaction.  I believe the absolute same principle applies to bus vs. rail, whether intra- or inter-city: spend 1% or 10% of the same money improving the bus service and get higher customer satisfaction than the rail line would generate.  (hat tip to Karl)

And Greyhound is doing just that, learning from Megabus and upgrading their service with wifi, power plugs, and nicer seats with more leg room.  With that kind of service option available at say $30 one-way within the Texas Triangle, how many people do you think would pay $150+ to go on HSR?  On second thought, maybe nobody should mention this possibility to the Texas HSR group…  ;-)

Architecture Critic Paul Goldberger on Silicon Valley, San Jose, and Apple

Last week Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic for the New Yorker and Vanity Fair, sat down with Allison Arief of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) in downtown San Jose to discuss the state of 21st Century urbanism with a focus on Silicon Valley. Though admired the world over as the preeminent center for technological innovation, Silicon Valley has never been known for its great architecture. Goldberger suggested that this reputation could’ve improved had Apple not missed the mark with the design of their proposed Apple Campus 2 building in Cupertino.

While acknowledging that Apple is probably the best design company at the moment, Goldberger asserted that the company’s design abilities end with small consumer gadgets and fail spectacularly at the urban level. Calling the Norman Foster designed building for the new Apple Campus a ‘beautifully designed donut or spaceship’, he lamented the lack of context and connection to anything around it. Speaking to an audience that included members of San Jose’s city government, Goldberger suggested that Apple missed the opportunity to take the reins to help transform San Jose by relocating at least some of its operations to help its long struggling (and subsidized) downtown.

The reality is that most of the big tech companies in the Valley, not just Apple, have an extreme indifference to place-choosing to locate operations in suburban office parks. This has much to do with the history of Silicon Valley planning as it does with the nature of tech companies, which tend to employ legions of introverted computer engineering types and go to great lengths to remain insular and secretive (Apple taking this to the extreme). Perhaps it also makes perfect sense that rather than even acknowledging the true urban environment, companies whose primary business is creating the virtual world in which we increasingly experience public life take an active stance on turning their backs on the city.

Yet for those still interested in experiencing the delights of pre-Information Era, pre-21 Century urbanism, there is always San Francisco not far up the road.  Goldberger made the point that the handful of tech companies who do choose to locate their operations in the city probably have a different mindset than those that stay in the Valley. Twitter being the prime example of the moment- the micro blogging site just leased 400,000 square feet of space on a long-maligned section of Market Street. Up in Seattle, Amazon recently announced its plan to build three new 37-story towers in the downtown area, which the proposal’s architect said is “not about building a corporate campus, it’s about building a neighborhood.”

So even though not every tech company is averse to the city, the Richard Florida argument that high urban density is a prerequisite for innovation and creativity is a bit of a stretch, as the economic success of suburban Silicon Valley continually disproves. Near the end of the discussion, Goldberger suggested that deliberately designing space for innovation might be a bit too self-conscious. This implies that rather than design, factors such as human resources, access to capital and a culture with openness to trial-and-error matter more than the traditional urban hardware of cities.

Adam Nathaniel Mayer is an American architectural design professional currently based in China and California. In addition to his job designing buildings he writes the China Urban Development Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @AdamNMayer.

84% of 18-to-34-Year-Olds Want To Own Homes

A survey by TD Bank indicates that 84 percent of people 18 to 34 years old intend to buy homes in the future. This runs counter to thinking that has been expressed by some, indicating that renting would become more popular in the future. Much of the "home ownership is dead or dying” comes from short sighted trend analysis in which home ownership data begins with the start of the housing bubble in the late 1990s. The latest data from the Bureau of the Census indicates that the home ownership rate in the first quarter was 65.4 percent, the lowest rate since 1997. In fact, however, before the housing bubble, homeownership hovered generally at 65 percent or below, after having increased strongly from 44 percent in 1940 to 61 percent in 1960. The increase in homeownership during the bubble was the result of profligate lending policies that were not sustainable. The decline from the artificially high housing bubble peak in no way diminishes the successful expansion of homeownership in the nation during the decades that reason prevailed in home lending.

Sydney's Long and Lengthening Commute Times

The New South Wales Department of Transport Housing and Transportation Survey reports that the average one way work trip in the Sydney metropolitan area (statistical division) reached 34.3 minutes in 2010. As a result, Sydney now has the longest reported commute time in the New World (United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), except for the New York City metropolitan area (34.6 minutes).

Longer Commutes than in Dallas-Fort Worth or Los Angeles: Sydney's average work trip travel time has increased approximately 10 percent since 2002. The 34.3 minute one way travel time is approximately 30 percent higher than that of larger Dallas-Fort Worth, which about half as dense. Part of the reason for the longer commute time in Sydney is its far greater transit dependence. Approximately 24 percent of work trip travel is on transit (which is slower for most trips). This compares to approximately 2 percent of travel in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Even Los Angeles, with its reputation for "gridlock" has a shorter average commute time, at 28.1 minutes. This is made possible by the extensive Los Angeles freeway system, greater use of automobiles and more dispersed employment patterns (despite the higher density of Los Angeles relative to Sydney). The average Sydney commuter spends nearly an hour longer traveling to work each week than the average Los Angeles commuter.

Even Longer Commutes Ahead? Sydney's densification policies (urban consolidation policies) seem likely to lengthen commute times even more in the future, given the association between higher densities and greater traffic congestion.

A Free Range Life

Some may have never heard of the term exurbia before now. According to the free on-line dictionary it means: The exurbs collectively; the region beyond the suburbs.

Exurbia to me is an expression that defines a free range lifestyle. Where I live there is space, nature surrounds my house, I can play music as loudly as I care to, trails connect me to beautiful places, when a recipe calls for lemons or rosemary, I can walk outside and collect whatever I need, and a seasonal garden provides all the abundance I require to make healthy and organic meals.

Getting around town is easy and I usually find everything I need in one trip. I used to live in an urban area and now feel grateful that I don’t have to cope with the inconveniences of that lifestyle any more. More on that later!

It takes about 20 minutes for my husband to commute to work every day. When the day is over and he comes home, he looks forward to propping up his legs, reading and smoking a cigar. We have neighbors and we like waving to them from across the way. Recently, we have been getting together to make wine.

We did not always have the privilege to live in this atmosphere of peaceful, quiet living. When we lived in the city, we were constantly fighting for parking spaces, we had to traipse up and down stairs to do laundry and then dry clothes on a line outside and risk icicles on the sleeves of our shirts and the bottom of our pants.  The traffic was exhausting and the noise from the neighbors below us, behind us, and on top of us was annoying and distracting. Raising kids in this environment was tedious and kept us constantly vigilant.

The day we finally moved into our house in the exurbs was a great day! Unfortunately, our dream of retiring in this home, developing the orchard and the garden, and enjoying our new quality of life, may be directly impacted by a new trend in planning called sustainable development and smart growth.

As I research these new planning trends I have learned that what this force of change really means is a whole life plan. Sustainable development seeks to change the way we live, how we interact with nature, how we choose to use our land and our property (all property–even your own person!!), where we live and how we live! It is a massive propaganda piece to change our behavior and how we think.

We must educate ourselves about the truth behind the ‘green’ agenda, the urban consolidation agenda, the livability agenda, and any and all agendas having to do with sustainable development.

In order to recognize this whole life plan when you see it, you must understand the words they are using and the methods they are using to implement it. The planners, environmentalists, social activists, city, state and federal officials, media, and public relations firms are telling us what these plans are. We are not educated yet.

I want to share my exurban quality of life.

Check out Mary Baker’s new blog, Exurbia Chronicles.

Manila Shantytown Fire: 800 Homes Destroyed, 10,000 Homeless

London's Daily Mail reports upon a May 11 fire in a shantytown (informal, illegal settlement) destroyed 800 dwellings and left 10,000 people homeless. The Mail article included 17 photographs of the fire, the ruins  people looking for belongings in ash suffused waters and man who has rescued a cat in debris filled waters. The fire occured in the Tondo district, which is two miles from downtown Manila on Manila Bay and two miles from the Doroteo Jose station on the Manila urban rail system as well as the principal commuter rail station.

More than 4,000,000 – more than one-third – of Manila's (National Capital Region) residents live in slums, shantytowns and informal settlements. Government projections indicate that the slum population will rise to 9,000,000 by 2050. More than one-half of Manila's population will be in slums.


Observations on Exurban Trends

Getting the Migration Story Straight: Analysts continue to misunderstand the recent metropolitan area census estimates. Much of the misunderstanding arises from a misinterpretation of a chart produced by the Brookings Institution, which indicates that the rate of population growth has fallen in exurban counties and was, last year, less than the rate of growth in what Brookings calls emerging suburbs and "city/high density suburbs." However, the Brookings chart characterizes  only total population growth, which is the combination of the natural growth rate, net international migration and net domestic migration. In other words, the Brookings Institution chart includes both people who move between areas of the United States and the net of those who move from outside the United States, are born or died.

Perhaps the most befuddled was the Arch Daily, which says that "people are leaving the suburbs and once again flocking to the cities..."  In fact exurban and suburban areas continue to grow, though their growth rates have fallen. The highly touted decline in exurban growth rates is for one year only (2010-2011) and represents only the first year in the last 20 that the exurban has trailed that of the "city/high density suburbs." It is also the first year out of the last 20 that the "city/high density suburbs" did not trail both the suburbs and exurbs.

However, aggregate growth rates say nothing about moving to or from cities. Only one of the components of population change, domestic migration, can possibility indicate movement from the suburbs and exurbs to the cities. People who migrate from outside the nation, for example, are not moving from suburbs to the city (the suburbs of Paris don't count). People who are born or die are not migrating from the suburbs to the cities (where they might come from or are going has been the source of endless debate through history). The only people who can possibly be moving from suburbs and exurbs to the city are domestic migrants ---people who move within the United states.

Figure 1 indicates the components of population change in the core counties of the nation's 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population (there are no city level migration data).

  • There was a net gain in natural growth of 556,000 (births minus deaths)
  • There was a net gain in international migration of 295,000 (people who moved from outside the nation to the core counties.
  • There was a net loss in domestic migrants of 67,000. These US residents moved  away from the core counties.

As we indicated in Still Moving to the Suburbs and Exurbs: The 2011 Census Estimates, there was net domestic migration to the suburbs and exurbs between 2010 and 2011. There was net domestic migration out of the central counties (there is no "city" migration data). This is illustrated in Figure 2, which has been annotated to make the actual moving of people clear.

If it should ever occur, it will be very clear when people are moving to the cores from the suburbs and exurbs. There will be PLUS domestic migration numbers to the core counties and MINUS domestic migration numbers from the suburbs and exurbs. Until that time any flocking (though that is too strong a word for current trends) will be away from the cores and to the suburbs and exurbs.

Of course, in the greatest economic downturn in more than 75 years, domestic migration has slowed considerably. It is not surprising, therefore that population growth rates in the exurbs and suburbs have fallen, since far fewer people are moving.

All Domestic Migration was to the Suburbs: Finally, all of the net domestic migration in the nation was to the suburbs and exurbs of the nation's major metropolitan areas (Also see Figure 2).

On the Health of Exurban Housing Markets

On a related subject, University of South Florida Professor Steven Polzin offered an interesting comment on the Planetizen site:

While I have not explicitly researched the distribution of home foreclosures as a function of the transportation costs of residents, I would caution analysts to more fully explore the nature of the housing foreclosure trend before jumping to the assumption that transportation costs were a significant contributor to geographically differential rates of foreclosure. Foreclosures were more prominent in homes purchased more recently relative to the housing crash. These new home purchasers were more often highly leveraged, had little equity in their home, and in many cases younger workers with less job seniority and more susceptible to layoffs. In addition, in fringe areas that had been growing there was a high concentration of homes all purchased recently. Thus, new growth areas were more susceptible to both foreclosures and the cascading effect of home depreciation spreading based on nearby foreclosed properties.

In a new suburb a young financially extended family may lose their job, have no equity in the house and quickly lose their house. Its depreciated value is soon reflected in adjacent appraisals cascading the stress throughout relatively fragile neighborhoods. On the other hand in established neighborhoods only a relatively small share of the homes changed hands near the peak of the building bubble. Thus, many of those homeowners had far more equity in their home and perhaps more job seniority and security enabling them to whether a housing downturn. In addition, the diversity of home ages and types and the less frequent occurrence of foreclosed properties will control the pace at which home value depreciation will cascade through the neighborhood.

If commuting cost was as big a contributor to suburban fringe foreclosure rates then one would have expected downtown condominiums to weather the housing bubble. In many locations like Florida large clusters of new downtown residential properties suffered the same rapid depreciation as did suburban fringe areas. The concentration of new units seemed to be more critical than the location.

Similar sentiments have been posted on these pages from time to time, such as here and here.

Infographic: Growth of All Occupations by Industry & Education, 2001-2011

We recently partnered with Catherine Mulbrandon at to create a series of treemaps that illustrate important aspects of the labor market. In this post we provide a sneak peek at two of the graphics she created. The remainder will be posted in An Illustrated Guide to Income in the United States, a booklet from Catherine set to be released this summer.

These two graphics are based on EMSI’s labor market database, which is a combination of over 80 public and private data sources. More specifically, the first table shows job change for all occupations by industry (based on 2-digit supersectors, as defined by the North America Industry Classification System) and the second shows occupation change by education level. The data is from 2001-2011.

Red indicates decline and blue indicates growth.

Each square on the graphic indicates a specific 5-digit occupation classified by the Standard Occupational Classification system. There are over 800 unique squares present on the charts. Large squares, like the ones on the upper right and in the retail trade sector, indicate a lot of jobs for the specific occupation code. Smaller squares indicate occupations with less jobs.

In the graphic above we have pulled together occupation data related to all 20 NAICS supersectors. Government, health care, and retail trade have the largest employment. Utilities, mining, and management of companies have the fewest jobs. Also note the size of the squares within each industry sector. Here are a few observations:

  • Broad momentum. It is interesting to note how each broad industry sector tended to either be dominated by growth or decline. For instance, with very few exceptions, almost every occupation within the manufacturing sector declined from 2001-2011. The same holds true for construction, information, agriculture, and, to a certain extent, retail trade. Conversely, sectors like health care, educational services, professional/scientific/technical services, accommodation and even arts tended to show occupational growth.
  • Mixed sectors. Other industry sectors like finance, administrative, real estate, wholesale trade, and government were much more mixed.

The graphic above shows the distribution of jobs across all levels of educational attainment. We use the same 5-digit SOC codes and group them according to what their typical educational attainment is. Where possible, occupation titles are included so you can get a sense of where certain jobs fall. Here are a few quick observations:

  • The OJT sectors (on-the-job training) are huge. This includes short-term OJT (lower right), moderate-term OJT (upper left), long-term OJT (middle right), and work experience in a related field (center). Also notice how the occupations in these sectors are less stable than the others. This is consistent with what was observed in the latest recession — jobs with higher education levels tend to perform better in tough economic times.
  • Advanced degrees showed growth. Over the past 10 years, every occupation associated with a more advanced degree (master’s, doctoral, professional) showed some sort of growth.
  • The other sectors have mixed results. Bachelor’s degrees showed more stability over the past 10 years, but there are a handful of occupations that declined since 2001. The same holds true for associate’s, postsecondary vocational awards, and degrees plus work experience.

Attack on the Suburbs: California Senate Republican Caucus Report

Differing views on the future of California urban areas are the subject of a California Senate Republican Caucus report (Briefing Report: Attack On The Suburbs: SB 375 And Its Effects On The Housing Market).

The report details differing views on the future of California urban areas as described by University of Utah Professor Arthur C. Nelson in a report for the Urban Land Institute with those of authors Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox in recent editions of The Wall Street Journal.

Nelson's view is largely that the market for detached housing in California is in decline. Senate Bill 375's planning mandates are being interpreted to virtually ban further construction of detached housing in the state's metropolitan areas.

However, if Nelson's analysis were right, there would be no need for legislative intervention since people would not buy detached housing. In fact, however, the demand for detached housing remains strong. Between 2000 and 2010, detached housing accounted for 80 percent of new housing additions in California's major metropolitan areas.

Critics of Senate Bill 375 market interventions that would seek to steer the market toward hyper density housing (20 to 40 and more housing units to the acre) would increase traffic congestion, increase the intensity of air pollution and make California and encumber an already laggard economy.

The report concludes: "Clearly, before the California Legislature decides to take over the community planning duties of local governments and engage in social experimentation with the housing market, it should perhaps look at both sides of the argument to see if the experiment will be successful."