New York City Backyards

There's a very pretty slide show in this recent article in the New York Times showing different backyards throughout the city's boroughs. No matter how small the area, there resides an amazing level of appreciation for having one's own area of greenery.

Though many planners call for increased density, many neighborhoods are in favor of "down-zoning." You flip through this slide show and it's easy to see why.

Los Angeles & Chicago's Summer Homicide Numbers

With 84 homicides, Los Angeles just recorded its lowest number of summer homicides since 1967. Overall, numbers are down this year compared to last year - which saw the fewest homicides in the city in 40 years. Made infamous by Rodney King just over 15 years ago, the LAPD is rising to the task of stemming violent crime.

Contrast this with Chicago, a city with a million fewer people than LA, which saw 123 murders this summer. What gives?

Asian Pollution Hitting West Coast

Looks like there is a cost to all those cheap industrial goods made in China after all. This article from McClatchy discusses the problem of pollution from Asia hitting the West Coast:

"By some estimates more than 10 billion pounds of airborne pollutants from Asia — ranging from soot to mercury to carbon dioxide to ozone — reach the U.S. annually."

That's a hard number to visualize. It does, however, bring home the global problem of pollution.


The new political donor class

Do you know who is funding your local candidate? Most of them are probably not from your district, as Lee Drutman at Miller-McCune points out after looking at the results of new report by two University of Maryland professors. Lee writes:

Increasingly, they’re not bothering to ask the folks whom they are actually paid to represent for campaign cash. Instead, they are flocking to a handful of super-wealthy ZIP codes in places like Hollywood; the Upper East Side of Manhattan; Greenwich, Conn.; and suburban Washington, D.C. - the "political ATM's" of the campaign trial.

Moreover, as of 2004, only 1 in 5 congressional districts provided the majority of contributions for the candidates seeking to represent that district. And in 18 percent of congressional districts, more than 90 percent of money now comes from out of district.

The professors write in their analysis that the new donor class is “disproportionately wealthy, urban, highly educated, and employed in elite occupations.”

If you're interested in where the small donors are coming from in the presidential race, check out the interactive map at Huffington Post's Fundrace. It's a great tool to use as a proxy to visualize which way your state or metro area might lean, or maybe you just want to spy on your neighbors.

For instance, it's pretty easy to see instantly which parts of the Los Angeles may be pockets of Republican influence, or to see Obama's fund raising success in the Chicago region.

Perhaps the Republicans should move this week's convention out to the western Minneapolis suburbs for a warmer reception?

Miller-McCune link via NewsAlert.


Silicon Valley's Working Class Walks Tightrope

It may be home to Google, Cisco, Oracle and the other gleaming companies of the New Economy, but times are tough for the Silicon Valley's working class.

"Working people in Silicon Valley are walking an economic tightrope, and any unexpected medical bill or even a car breakdown can push them over the edge."

What happens to a community like this when the working class can no longer afford to live there?

Forget the Crackerjacks: $2,500 to See Yankees at New Stadium

Baseball and football, America's great everyman sport, won't be that way much longer for fans in the Big Apple. Glittering new stadiums for the Yankees, Mets and one which the Jets and Giants will share aren't exactly meant for the "dollar dogs" crowd.

The Giants have said they will charge from $1,000 to $20,000 a seat for their personal seat licenses; once fans buy the seat licenses, they will still have to pay from $85 to $700 a ticket... Tickets for the best seats at the 85-year-old Yankee Stadium, which sold for $1,000 a seat this season, will jump at the new ballpark to $2,500; in other areas of the stadium, they will range from $135 to $500 for season tickets.

Never mind the fact that the $3.7 billion being spent on the three new stadiums means that New York's pressing infrastructure needs - particularly in wastewater -will be parried away for a while (Center for an Urban Future has a piece on all of New York's infrastructure needs).

There's also a wonderful segment about increasing ticket sales on "HBO Real Sports" this week. Bryant Gumbel interviews long-time New York sports fans refusing to go along with the ticket increases out of "self-respect."

250 Square Feet Condos in San Francisco

In this famously expensive city, one developer has a plan: Build 250 square-feet condos for singles who can then move on up. The 98 units will sell from $279,000 to $330,000.

Yes, it sounds like a glorified closet, but you have to admire Hauser Architects' sense of practicality for these Hong Kong-style apartments. The huge towers going up on Rincon Hill and South of Market are only meant for those earning well into six figures. It's refreshing that someone is actually building housing not meant for the super-wealthy. It could also serve as a harbinger of housing to come for single middle-class urban dwellers.

"It's Like Christmas in here": Tourists Propping up the U.S. Luxury Market

One interesting thing about the luxury economy today in the U.S. is how much of it is being driven by tourists and non-residents. Another salient point: how the very wealthy have been largely immune to the current downturn.

An article in the LA Times about the shopping habits on Rodeo Drive brings both these points home. "Business has been crazy-great," said a manager of the Christofle shop just off of Rodeo Drive in LA - a purveyor of silver flatware and other furnishings. "It's like Christmas in here."

Apparently, the famed street of tony boutiques and celebrities has been annexed for the time being by flush foreigners. "Saudi princesses," confided a saleswoman at one Rodeo Drive clothing store. "That's who's doing all the buying." Where's US Weekly's article about how those poor starlets are feeling marginalized by all this?

And today, an article in the New York Sun reveals that a full third of New York condo sales are being grabbed up by Europeans who now constitute 15 percent of the entire market.

- Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who's new column in the SF Chronicle I am thoroughly enjoying, had this vignette about walking around the shops at Union Square:

"At Bloomingdale's - packed and nobody speaking English. Neiman Marcus - no English. And nobody, but nobody, was speaking English in Prada.
It's all Italian, Dutch, French, German and heavy, heavy Russian.

The Europeans are absolutely the biggest retail customers these days downtown, and they are spending like crazy."

But this could change, the dollar rose eight percent against the euro in the last month. Better grab those $10,000 silverware sets while you can.

But nativist shoppers, fear not - I heard nary a foreign tongue as I flipped through the sales rack at Gap.

Portland and L.A: Not Exactly Long-Lost Brothers

One of these cities is the perennial Cinderella to urban planners; the other the ugly sister who always crashes the party. One is the well-planned "City of Roses" (no, not Pasadena), a bastion of mass-transit and controlled development along the Columbia River while its gargantuan sister to the south eschews all such enlightened principles.

That's the gist at least from this paean to Portland in the LA Times today about what the city could learn from its lithe Northern cousin.

A few key differences between these two:

• The vast majority (90%) of job growth in Portland has been in the suburbs

• Portland is actually far less dense than LA

• It has a tiny population of immigrants and poor vis-a-vis LA

• The city is losing families and children and rivals San Francisco for having the lowest percentage of its population under the age of 18 of any major U.S. city.

And he doesn't mention Portland's greatest comparative advantage to LA: amazing beer!

One thing both cities have in common right now: two of the most dynamic music scenes in the country.


Here's Joel Kotkin's piece about Portland a few years ago.

Chicago Condo Market Inertia

New home sales went down by a whopping 73 percent in the Windy City during the first six months of this year. But developers, anticipating high demand - especially for the condo market - have committed to keep building them. From the article in Crain's Chicago:

"Developers are building at a record pace, with 9,528 units scheduled to be finished by the end of next year, Appraisal Research says. Nearly 33% of those remain unsold, a high percentage but slightly better than the first quarter's 35%."