Ryerson University Research Cites Urban Containment Policy as Major Factor in Toronto House Price Escalation

A Globe and Mail article on April 25 cites Ryerson University research found that Ontario's urban containment based growth controls have "spurred soaring increases in house prices in the Toronto region by limiting construction of new low-rise family homes..." This effect was predicted by a number of analysts when the program was being formulated more than a decade ago and has been associated with huge price increases relative to incomes in such widely distributed metropolitan areas as Vancouver, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Sydney, Auckland, Melbourne and others.

According to reporter Janet McFarland, the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development report identified “'a marked mismatch” between the types of units completed and the types demanded, according to the report from the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development at Ryerson University in Toronto." The report concludes that "The public discussion on the fundamental causes behind the rise in prices of ground-related housing (singles, semis and townhouses) in the GTA over the past decade by ignoring or downplaying the role played by the shortfall of serviced sites available to build new homes misses the only viable solution to dealing with deteriorating longer-term affordability – significantly increasing the number of new ground-related housing units built."

Over the 13 years of the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, Toronto's housing affordability has substantially worsened, with median prices at 3.8 times median incomes in 2004 (before the growth controls were fully implemented) to 7.7 times in 2016. This measure, the "median multiple," had changed little between 1970 and 2004, when land use regulations were more liberal in the Toronto area.

Without liberalization of the housing market to permit supply that meets demand (not only in numbers but also in preferred type of housing), Toronto can expect its house prices to rise even more. Already, Vancouver and Sydney, for example are more than 50 percent higher (at median multiples of 11.8 and 12.2 respectively).


Former Hawaii Democratic Governor Urges Trump to Stop Funds for Honolulu Rail

A full page ad in today’s Washington Post (April 21, 2017) featured former Democratic Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano asking President Trump to stop further funding for the Honolulu rail project. The project has ballooned in cost from $5 billion to $10 billion, with most of the funding coming from local sources. There are serious concerns about the ability of Honolulu or Hawaii to afford completion of the project. Cayetano says that the line will be the most costly in the world. A proof of the ad is below and a pdf is available here.

Several articles have followed this issue:

rail-ad-wapo-broadsheet-7-princess.pdf144.73 KB

Transportation Game-changers

Here is the L.A. Times noting that LA Metro ridership is still falling -- even though billions have been (mis)spent on extra capacity over the last 30+ years. By my count that's the second time this year that the Times has broached this tender topic. As a member in good standing of the LA "good government" (googoo) establishment, the paper had for many years chosen to tip-toe around the bad news.

Readers may know that some of us began flogging the dead horse in the mid-1970s. Go to the attached proceedings and read the contribution by the late UCLA Prof. George Hilton. He was among the first to write sensibly and clearly that LA is not NY -- and trying to make it so would be a phenomenal waste. But even LA Times coverage will be for naught. Billions more will be spent. Pouring good money after bad is what the great and the good in city hall do for a living.

We are in the the early years Uber/Lyft and all manner of ICT information sharing.  These are the game-changers. For the past two months, my wife and I have graduated from a two-car household to a one-car-plus-Uber-plus-walkable-neighborhood HH. The game-changers are here. Conventional transit was never a game-changer.

Visualizing Houston’s Population Density

Population density may sound like the most mundane of metrics, a column heading in a city planner’s spreadsheet, but in cities across the U.S. it’s been a source of cultural controversy, guiding where people move and why.

To those seeking a more urban lifestyle, “density” implies walkability, car-free transit, and cosmopolitan culture. To others, “density” equates to crowds, cramped quarters, and the inability to find parking. The debate arises around nearly every planning decision under consideration in cities like Charlotte, often devolving into vicious debate.

Where these debates often breakdown is when it comes to the relative nature of population density: How dense is ‘dense’? Is Houston dense? We should all be able to agree that New York is dense, right? Well, not compared to Paris, let alone Manila.

In order to put Houston’s density in perspective, we put together a series of visualizations showing how large Houston would be if it were as dense as other cities.

If Houston’s population lived as close together as New York’s does, how much space would they take up? Compared to cities like Mumbai, or even Los Angeles, Houston is a sprawl, while compared with Jacksonville and Anchorage, Houston is practically Manhattan.

Note that Houston’s city limits were used for this visualization, not the metro area. While some readers may object to the exclusion of surrounding locales, metro areas are not as well defined as city limits and that is often a matter of debate itself.


Uber! Regulations Mean San Francisco Loses While Phoenix and Pittsburgh Win

Any business person who has dealt with California's frustrating laws, regulations and bureaucrats was nonetheless surprised to see the story headlined, "Uber Ships Self-Driving Cars to Arizona After California Ban."

Really? A state ban on Uber? The poster child of the billion-dollar-plus startup, tech-guru, market-disruptor club? Why would Sacramento give Uber, of all people, a bad time?

Reuters said Uber Technologies Inc. pulled its fleet of self-driving cars from the streets of San Francisco and sent them to Arizona's friendlier territory:

The California Department of Motor Vehicles banned Uber’s self-driving cars from San Francisco just days after they first deployed. In response, Uber picked up and moved out. "Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck, Uber said... . We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey."

Gov. Doug Ducey wooed Uber on social media the evening when the ride-hailing company pulled its self-driving test from San Francisco. “California may not want you; but AZ does!” he wrote on Twitter. The next morning, Uber’s fleet was headed his way.

California moved to revoke registrations for Uber's automobiles, but Uber said its vehicles require oversight by a human driver and shouldn’t qualify under California’s autonomous-driving rules. Nonetheless, the state Attorney General and soon-to-be Senator, Kamala Harris (loyal to unions and hostile to business interests), threatened legal action if the company continued operating automobiles without a permit.

Uber in Arizona

Anthony Levandowski, the head of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, argued that because the company's self-driving system is an early prototype and requires test drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times. It's no different from driver-assist systems already on the market -- and those are exempt from the requirement for a California permit.

Levandowski said that it isn't clear why the DMV is requiring a permit now when they’ve known that Ubers have been on the streets of San Francisco over a month and have been operating safely for months in Pittsburgh, "where policymakers and regulators are supportive of our efforts."

Last year, Uber opened its Center for Excellence in Phoenix, where it serves U.S. customers and Uber users worldwide. Now, it seems that more development work will occur in Phoenix. That's what happens when a state is friendly to business interests.

Uber in Pittsburgh

Uber has been successfully testing autonomous-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh for some time. An extensive Wall Street Journal story in September -- Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Debut in Pittsburgh -- described how Uber is turning the city into an "experimental lab" where it will have as many as 100 specially equipped Volvo XC90s operating. Also, reported the WSJ, the city has its quirks – like the "Pittsburgh left turn" – which makes it a great location for testing autonomous vehicles:

It is customary for the first driver at a stoplight who is signaling a left turn to have priority over oncoming traffic when the light turns green. People in the oncoming lanes generally allow that leftward dash and are puzzled or even angry if it doesn’t occur. Uber has programmed its cars to allow other cars to make the 'Pittsburgh left' but not to make it themselves. The city is also notoriously difficult to drive through with steep hills and three rivers that make streets twist and turn unpredictably... . “If you can drive successfully in Pittsburgh, you’re pretty much done,” said Ragunathan Rajkumar, a professor at [Carnegie Mellon University] who specializes in autonomous vehicles.

Last year Uber opened an Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh and this year is developing its second research facility there, which will be part of a massive brownfield redevelopment site. Uber says it likes Pittsburgh's “world-class research universities and engineers and a thriving technology community.”

Uber entered into a strategic partnership with Carnegie Mellon University to help create its new technology center and also to rely on the university's National Robotics Engineering Center to do R&D in mapping, vehicle safety and autonomy technology. Safety is one of Uber's major concerns.

Uber also selected Pittsburgh because of the clustering of robotics companies such as Carnegie Robotics and RedZone Robotics.

Although California prides itself on the pool of technical talent found in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Uber has found justification to praise Phoenix and Pittsburgh for the talent available from local universities and the community support of technology and innovation.

Uber's experience in San Francisco shows that venture capitalists, Ph.Ds in robotics and software engineers are no match for an all-knowing California bureaucracy.

Joseph Vranich is the Principal of Spectrum Location Solutions, an Irvine-based Site Selection firm that helps companies identify optimum locations to accommodate growth or to improve competitiveness. On such projects he conducts an in-depth analysis of business taxes, the regulatory climate, labor rates, logistics options and lifestyle factors.

An Open Letter To The Democratic National Committee From A Rural Democrat

Dear Democratic National Committee,

I’m writing you as a recently defeated Democratic State Senator in the “Red State” of North Dakota to talk about rural America. I’ve heard you may be interested in learning about us after the results of the 2016 election. Some of you have taken to the national airwaves to talk about reconnecting with our life styles here in the heartland. I’m glad it seems we finally have your attention.

Here in the heartland of America, Democrats have been forced to fight against the odds you’ve unwittingly built against us to win elections. Unfortunately after the past couple of election cycles, there are only a handful of rural Democrats left who have been successful at overcoming those odds. One of them I’m proud to call my United States Senator.

You should know that since the election, many of the North Dakota Democrats I visit with have done a lot of serious soul searching. “Where do we go from here?” “Has the national party shifted in such a way that I no longer identify with it?” “How do we reclaim what it means to be a Democrat in rural America?” All of those questions are complex and will take time to resolve. The answers may come differently for each of those individuals, especially for those who have felt abandoned out here. One thing I know for sure, none of them plan to quit and walk away from their drive to improve the community around them. It is the path to successfully have an impact that is the question.

We’ve witnessed good, solid, moderate candidates get abandoned here in the Midwest; financial help stripped from promising campaigns and a separation in policy priorities between North Dakota and the coastal states. This only furthers the difficulty of finding great candidates who are willing to put their name on the ballot under your brand. Believe me; there are elected officials from the other side of the ticket whose priorities do not align with the average North Dakotan. Some of them have their eyes set on higher office. And as you know, Senator Heidi Heitkamp is up for reelection in 2018. We are willing to do all we can locally to get her reelected, but we need the assurance we aren’t going it alone.

It is not just North Dakota Democrats either. A poll done by the Pew Research Center finds Democrats are less optimistic about their party’s future. This is a swift change from the pre-election talk of Trump being the death of the Republican Party as many of your pundits boasted. We also see how party leaders are trying to rationalize this year’s drumming. It was the FBI, it was fake news on Facebook, it was Jill Stein, and the list goes on. Bullshit. All of those likely had an impact, but I fear there is a more fundamental failing in the national Democratic Party.

You’ve forgotten about who we are in rural America, and how many of us live our lives.

I’m afraid you may have learned nothing from the November 8th election. While you talked about us in rural America, Congressional Democrats decided to stick with Rep. Nancy Pelosi as their leader over the other option, Rep. Tim Ryan from rural America. Staying the course with the same leadership that has overseen the decimation of the Democratic Party in the Midwest doesn’t bode well for us in the heartland.

North Dakota Democrats have been in a precarious position for at least a decade. We are an energy-producing state with family and friends in the industry. Some of our towns are built for, and sustained by, energy workers. We understand how vital these resources are to our country while we build new technologies to diversify. We’re also proud farmers who take pride in caring for our land and feeding the world. We hunt, we fish, we own guns, and we have closets full of camouflage, blaze orange, and Carhartts. We’re the crowd at a small town street dance where live music is played on the back of a flatbed trailer. We are community driven individuals who know we all do better when we all do better.

When you push an agenda where at the top you aim to hamper fossil fuels or add foolish rules on farmland, it boxes local Democrats in, here in North Dakota. It has become easy for the local political opposition to simply say, “Those Democrats are out-of-touch. They’re the party of Pelosi!” and they do it effectively. Here, we know how our homes are heated in the cold winter months, what fuels our trucks to drive down our gravel roads, and where our food comes from. That seems like a stark contrast from the rhetoric we hear from many national Democratic leaders who seemingly want to alter our way of life.

So after laying that out, this is often where my more liberal friends ask if there is even a difference between a Republican and us rural, moderate Democrats. You’re damn right there is. To understand this, I welcome you to look at the North Dakota Legislature. Democrats pushed for sales tax exemptions on clothing for families. We reasoned for renters’ relief. We fought for family leave. We defended services for senior citizens, veterans, and people with disabilities. Meanwhile, what was passed by the Republican majority was an oil tax cut, a weakening of insurance for injured workers, corporate income tax cuts that go out-of-state, and threatening a reduction in services for senior citizens and children with disabilities. If people think there isn’t a difference between Democratic and Republican priorities in North Dakota, they haven’t been paying attention. It is on the Democratic Party to do a better job of telling that story and remind the average, hard working American that our values and priorities align with theirs.

While you’ve been focused on the White House and maintaining Congressional seats, you’ve surrendered the fight for us in the heartland. We are now left clinging on to the hope that we can recapture the trust of our local electorate. We hear from the national Democratic Party about how important connecting with rural America is to them now. Here is the problem:

You keep talking about us, but nobody is talking with us.

The first step to understanding us is listening to us. The first step to winning is showing up. There is still time. If you’re interested, I know a lot of small town diners, bar counter tops, gas stations, and locally owned businesses that would welcome you if anyone were interested in engaging and talking with us here in the heartland.

Tyler Axness

Former North Dakota Democratic State Senator

This piece first appeared at, a site discussiong ND and national politics.

The ABC of Making Housing Unaffordable

On 12 December, ABC Radio National’s Breakfast Program aired another group discussion on “Australia’s housing market”. Presenter Hamish Macdonald was joined by an “expert panel” made up of Ken Morrison, CEO of the Property Council, John Daley, CEO of progressive think tank the Grattan Institute, and Tom Whitty, managing editor of The Project, a television show pitched to the youth demographic. The conversation ran along predictable lines.

All three panelists agreed that housing affordability was a real problem, especially in Sydney. But they took up positions on various sides of the issue. Generally speaking, Morrison argued for a supply-solution and dismissed demand-management or tax reform. Daley supported a supply-solution, but insisted that some demand-management and tax reform was essential. Whitty rejected a supply-solution altogether, and thought it was all about demand-management in the form of abolishing the tax concessions for negative gearing and capital gains. "We're manipuating demand", he said.

Neither Morrison nor Daley acknowledged that greenfield development offered any advantages relative to inner-ring infill. Daley repeated his blinkered point that jobs growth is all in the centre. There was no mention of the land value impacts of limiting peripheral supply, a near universal policy across the country. Daley seemed to think all new housing should be concentrated within a few kilometres of the CBD. Bizarrely, he held up Vancouver and Portland (Oregon) as cities that got their housing location right, failing to mention that they are amongst the least affordable places on earth. Morrison made no objection to any of this.

In terms of the system of interests set out in our last article, “Sydney lurches to housing affordability disaster”, Morrison expressed the position commonly held by the Big Projects coalition, while Daley and Whitty repeated views popular with the knowledge-welfare elite. Typically for the ABC, nobody argued for suburbanisation and greenfield expansion, policies of particular benefit to the worker-trader class of industrial and routine service workers and small traders.

A striking feature of the discussion was how the demand-management crowd are utterly impervious to evidence. Morrison cited estimates by Grattan and the McKell Institute that abolishing the tax concessions would lower prices a puny 0.49 or 2 percent. Despite failing to offer any counter-evidence, Daley and Whitty were unmoved. Daley shifted onto the different point of whether the cost to the federal budget is equitable, and then started talking about the rental market. Whitty just fell back on anecdotes about the type of bidders succeeding at auction sales. Macdonald’s sympathies were clear all along, at one point becoming testy with Morrison for refusing to concede that the concessions are central.

This feeds into the false narrative being built up by the ABC and other media outlets, particularly catering to a younger audience. It’s all the fault of greedy oldies or wealthy investors with their snouts in the trough. The impulse is to slap taxes on the scapegoats. In the meantime, the real causes go undiscussed and the problem keeps getting worse.

This piece originally appeared at The New City Journal.

Caltrain and Blended High Speed Rail Promise Peninsula Traffic Paralysis

The following notice was issued by the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Paul Jones, a mechanical and industrial engineer who was an Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and who was the principal engineer in charge of the high-speed rail design study for the high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona, Spain, has analyzed the traffic impacts that can be expected if the High-Speed Rail Authority (partnering with Caltrain) actually constructs its proposed "Blended System" project on the Peninsula.

What is Mr. Jones' bottom line conclusion? The following quotation is from the "Abstract" of his November 7, 2016 report, "Potential Traffic Paralysis Throughout the Peninsula: Blended Caltrain/High Speed Rail Impact on Street Traffic."

(End of notice)

The report is available at:

Note: The California High Speed Rail project, of which this work is a part, has been evaluated in reports by Joseph Vranich and Wendell Cox, who predicted substantial cost escalation ( This prediction turned out to be low. This was shown in a subsequent report, with an analysis indicating that the system is likely to require substantial subsidies to operate ( A later report by Wendell Cox and Adrian Moore found that the high speed rail line that the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) from passengers transferring from planes and cars would cost up to nearly $19,000 per metric tonne ( This is more than 1,000 times the market price.

Toronto Area Housing Market Rigged Against Millennials

In a Globe and Mail column, Margaret Wente accurately describes Toronto’s housing affordability crisis and its principal cause. The Toronto area’s house prices have escalated strongly relative to incomes since the province enacted its “Places to Grow” urban planning regime. The resulting destruction of the competitive market for new residential has driven prices up, just as oil prices rise when OPEC implements strong supply restrictions.

Wente concluded her article:

“The solution to the affordability crisis isn’t high-density housing and mass transit in the burbs. It’s to give people what they want – by getting the ideologues out of the way and restoring a sensible balance between supply and demand. Can we do that and be environmentally responsible too? Central planners who think we can’t should be required to raise their families in an apartment block in Oshawa and take the bus to work. They’d find a better way soon enough.”

It’s no wonder that international researchers are increasingly pointing to house price escalation as a leading driver of rising inequality. Nor should it be surprising that a new Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report will issue its first “red warning” on Canada’s housing market, principally due to out of control house price escalation in the Vancouver and Toronto metropolitan areas.

Zoning and Urban Containment: The Need for Clarity

It is a terrible mistake to be confusing ALL zoning rules with the single true determinant of inequity in housing and economic mobility.

That is, can rural land at rural land prices, be converted to urban use?

This suppresses the price of all urban land to the extent that it is such a small input into “housing costs” relative to the cost of structures, it is very hard to push “house prices” up into unaffordable territory.

There is absolutely no city in the UK that does not have “house prices” at least double the price of the affordable, median-multiple-3 cities of the USA, in spite of the UK cities being 4 to 10 times denser than the US examples.

As long as you have urban planning or proxies for it, that rations the overall land supply, site values are highly elastic to allowed density, so much so that density correlates the wrong way with “affordability”.

This is a very important lesson that needs to be understood, fast, or there will be years or even decades of wrong policy made.