Working Age Population Around the World 1960-2050

A fast growing economy usually requires a growing working-age population.  It is informative in this regard to look at the size of the working-age population (wap) for different regions and countries of the world.

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This data, compiled from the UN’s World Population Prospects – the 2015 Revision, tells us the following:

  • The wap of Europe, the US and Japan experienced healthy growth between 1960 and 1990. After 1990, it started to decline in Japan and to stagnate in Europe but it continued to grow in the US.
  • Based on the UN’s ‘medium variant’ forecast, the wap of Europe will decline steadily for the rest of this century, from 492 million in 2015 to 405 million in 2050. Barring a massive inflow of immigrants or a sharp rise in the birth rate, France’s wap will flatline and Germany’s will fall by 23% in 2015-2050.
  • The US wap will grow for the rest of the century, but at a much lower rate than in the years 1960-2015. See this table for average annual growth rates:

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  • The wap of the BRIC countries experienced strong growth until 2015, but it will be flat from hereon. Only India’s wap will continue to grow. Brazil’s will be flat while China’s and Russia’s fall sharply.
  • Last but certainly not least, the wap of sub-Saharan Africa will continue to boom, adding 800 million people in the next 35 years.
  • Looking at the entire world picture, the wap will grow by 1.27 billion in 2015-2050, which is a slower rate of growth than in the past. The vast bulk of this addition will come from sub-Saharan Africa, India and a few other Asian countries.

Version 2

In the 25 year interval 1990-2015, the wap of BRIC countries grew by 650 million, driven by India, China and to a lesser extent Brazil. The question now is whether sub-Saharan Africa and India can translate their own booming wap into rapid and sustainable economic growth. With developed and BRIC countries slowing down, the world economy depends on it.

This piece first appeared at


How To Develop Detroit

Detroit's downtown is gentrifying— or, to be more accurate, a very small portion of the 139 square miles that make up the city is doing so, as it becomes populated by a new generation of workers. But the city's vast, remaining area is mostly blighted. A massive effort has been made to remove substandard and neglected homes, creating large sections ripe for redevelopment. We believe that a model community for families could be built within that devastated area, and we've launched a kickstarter campaign to get development going. You can look at this idea in detail on our new video, too: A minimum land area of fifty acres would be a significant enough mass to provide a sustainable approach to growth. Here's what we would like to see:

At Rick Harrison Site Design Studio our redevelopment model is vastly different from existing models that either want to turn Detroit into farmland, or to place the existing population into high-rise projects. Both those approaches would need subsidies to be achieved. Our model takes a 'market focused' approach that is competitive with the cookie-cutter housing of the surrounding suburbs.

The plans we've developed at well over 900 sites during the past twenty-five years have averaged a 25 percent reduction of infrastructure, compared to conventional design. This reduction of street paving and utility mains has translated into increased green space per resident. For Detroit, our goal is to eliminate 60 percent or more of the existing infrastructure, and recapture the right-of-ways for residents. That will enable us to increase density while also increasing space.

We will start from scratch and design the main trails first. The street system will reduce both time and energy, compared with designs in the surrounding suburbs. All the homes will have interior floor plans and living spaces that coordinate with adjacent open spaces and views. And every home will have an energy savings HERS rating of 50 or better, so more of the resident funds can be used for better living, rather than going towards energy that escapes from a chimney. Elegant, meandering walkways will connect every home to the main trail system.

A half-century ago Detroit was America’s model city. Then, segregation and racial tensions led to the riots of 1967, which created a mass exodus to the suburbs. Those residents and businesses that could afford a new home on a large lot left the city. I began my planning career in 1968, designing those Detroit suburban subdivisions.

Let’s make Detroit a leader again by increasing living standards, connectivity, property values, tax base, open space, density, and safety while significantly decreasing construction costs, environmental impacts, energy usage, and the enormous infrastructure that currently plague the city. Detroit was once an inspiration for other cities. We'd like to make it an inspiration again.

Australian Treasurer Given Primer on Housing Economics

Wodonga (Victoria) mother of two Mel Wilson has made headlines across Australia with an open letter to Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey on housing affordability. In commenting on Australia's housing affordability crisis, the Treasurer has told a press conference "The starting point for a first home buyer is to get a good job that pays good money."

Australia has a severe housing affordability problem. As the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey showed in January, Sydney median house prices had reached 9.8 times median household incomes of by the third quarter of 2014. In the intervening months house prices have escalated so much that some say the median price will soon pass $1 million.

It was not that long ago that house prices were far more reasonable in Australia. Nationally, in the early 1990s, house prices averaged around three times incomes. Since that time, house prices have more than doubled relative to incomes. This is placed a considerable burden on purchasing households, especially first home buyers.

Ms. Wilson incredulously took Treasurer Hockey through the economics of buying a first house in Sydney. She reminded him that it would take all of the average wage earner's take home pay for four years to save the down-payment on the median house, now priced at A$915,000 (approximately US$700,000.  The entire letter is published below.

In a later statement, the Treasurer, to his credit, indicated the need for strong lobbying of the states to make more land available to increase supply. The problem in Sydney and Australia is not unique. Similar house cost crises have developed from London to Toronto and San Francisco, where governments have severely limited the land that can be used for new residences, with the wholly predictable result that prices escalate out of control.

Ms. Wilson, and other concerned (or baffled, as Ms. Wilson puts it) Australians should hope that Treasurer Hockey's "strong lobbying" is successful. The economic reality is that until there is liberalization of the land use restrictions responsible for much of the housing cost escalation, there will be no relief, other things being equal. Indeed, house prices are likely to just keep going skyward. This requires a mid-course correction toward policies that place improving the standards of living and reducing poverty at a higher priority than urban design.


Letter from Ms. Mel Wilson to Treasurer Joe Hockey:

Dear Joe,

I just wanted to touch base with you regarding your comment that young people are able to enter the property market if they just “get a good job that pays good money.”

I just wanted to ask you how one might go about this?

Are you going to be reviewing all the current Awards that are in place to ensure that most jobs pay “good money”?

Are you going to be creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs that, under your Awards, pay over $100,000 per year?

Apologies if I have missed this fantastic news, but as someone working in 2 senior HR roles, I believe I would have known about this so that I could pass the message on to some very tired, over qualified employees who currently fall under various Federal and State awards and are being paid between $18 to $25 per hour.

Are you aware of what the average Australian wage is?

Are you aware of what the average Australian mortgage in Sydney is?

Are you aware of the first-home buying process?

Just in case these facts and figures aren’t available to you, I thought you might be interested.

The average weekly wage according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics on 1st January 2015 was $1,128.70, or $58,692.40 before tax. This means a take home amount of about $904.00 per week.

The median house price in Sydney, according to the Domain Group Housing Price Report, as of March 2015, was $914,056.

Not sure if you know how first home buying works at the moment, but you normally need a deposit of about 20%. This is to pay for the Stamp Duty (which is a State Tax you must pay every time you buy a property), and also to assist in the approval process so that you don’t need to pay Lenders Mortgage Insurance.

So in this instance, the first home buyer would need about $182,811.00 saved to purchase a house that is the average price in Sydney.

So to go out and get one of these “good jobs that pay good money” I assume these young people you speak of would need to go to university first.

On average, it takes about 3 -4 years to get a degree, so if a young person goes to University straight out of school, they can expect to finish their course and be ready for the workforce at about 21, with a HECS-HELP debt of over $20,000. To make this a bit easier for you to understand, let's say there is a young person named Joe Junior who has done just this.

If Joe Junior is extremely lucky, and is up there with the best of the graduates from that course and that year, he will get a job straight out of University paying usually under the average wage.

However, lets just be extremely generous here and say that Joe Junior got a job and was on the national weekly take home wage of $904 per week.

Joe Junior needs to only save every single dollar worked for about 4 years to save his $182,811 deposit for their first home. Thank you, Mr Hockey, for throwing in that $7,000 first home owner grant too – that meant Joe Junior could get into his first home 8 weeks earlier!

Just a quick side note, this example does not take into consideration the rising house prices, or Joe Junior’s HECS-HELP debt that he obtained from getting his degree to get one of your so-called “good jobs”.

Joe Junior is now 25 (not so junior anymore), has been living at home with his parents this entire time and has not been able to spend a single dollar on any bills, board or holidays or public transportation. He also can’t afford a car or petrol for a car but then again “poor people don’t drive cars”. Oh wait, Joe Junior isn’t a poor person – he has a “good job that pays good money.”

Luckily Joe Junior’s parents have been happy to drive their little Joe Junior to and from work every day and provide free housing, clothing, medical expenses and also provide the food for his breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.

So finally Joe Junior has saved his $182,811 deposit (of which only about half will go towards his mortgage due to the stamp duty cost), and can now purchase his first home, with a mortgage of about $822,650.00.

According to the Commonwealth Bank’s online mortgage estimator, the repayments for a mortgage of this amount are $1,073.00 per week over 30 years.

So hopefully Joe Junior’s average weekly wage of $904.00 has gone up enough to cover the cost of the mortgage.

Joe Junior has been applying for these “good jobs hat pay good money" that you speak of (I assume by "good money" you mean more than the average wage as you have just seen it is not even enough to cover the cost of the average house prices' mortgage in Sydney), but hasn’t had any luck as yet. He needed to stay in the same job post university to demonstrate to the bank job stability so that he could purchase his first home. So he only has a degree, and experience in the one job, one industry, and there are just not that many jobs out there paying “good money.”

Joe Junior now also can’t wash his clothes, eat food, or get to and from work as he no longer lives with his parents, so getting one of these “good jobs” is even more difficult.

So Joe Senior, are you really aware of all the facts and figures when you says things like buying your first home is “readily affordable” to young people?

Just slightly confused as to what you were thinking when you said these words at the media conference in Sydney.

Looking forward to another one of your politically correct, direct and well thought out responses.


Another baffled Australian

US Population Estimate Accuracy: 2010

Intercensal population estimates, while generally reliable, are prone to substantial variation in some cases. This is especially so with municipal population estimates.

Between 2000 and 2010, the average discrepancy between the US Census Bureau 2010 estimates and the 2010 census counts at the county level was 3.1% (absolute value). By comparison, among the 50 largest municipalities and census designated places, the average discrepancy was more than one-half higher, at 4.7 using the 2000 to 2009 estimates (there were no 2010 sub-county population estimates). The variations, however, can be substantial in sub-county population estimates. Between 2000 and 2010, the Census Bureau estimated that New York had added more than 410,000 residents. However, the 2010 census count showed a much smaller gain, at approximately 165,000 (2010 estimates are available for New York because it is composed of whole counties).

There were even more substantial variations. The 2009 population estimates for Atlanta and Detroit were more than 25% higher than the 2010 census count. In the case of Atlanta, the 2000 to 2009 population growth estimate was more than 120,000, more than 100 times the actual increase of approximately 1,000. The discrepancies in Atlanta and Detroit were greater than in all but a three of the nation's more than 3,000 counties and each of the counties with larger discrepancies had populations of less than 1,000 in 2010.


Piketty's Wealth Driven Inequality: Virtually All in Housing?

The Economist headline reads: "Through the roof: Rising house prices may be chiefly responsible for rising inequality"

This is no surprise to those of us who have been chronicling the loss of destruction of middle income housing affordability where urban containment policy has been implemented from Australia to Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Matthew Rognlie, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has critiqued the highly publicized work of Thomas Piketty (Capital in the 21st Century) to suggest that rising inequality is largely due to the accumulation of wealth in housing.

House prices have doubled, tripled or more relative to incomes, as regulators have banned or seriously limited new housing on the urban periphery. Younger households have been unable to afford houses as older households have watched their wealth increase.

The "writing" has long been on the wall. Legendary urbanist Sir Peter Hall lamented the potential abandonment of the "ideal of a property owning democracy" (see The Costs of Smart Growth Revisited: A 40 Year Perspective) under urban containment policy.

Rognlie suggests that a better title for Piketty's book would have been Housing in the Twenty-First Century. According to Rognlie: "the literature studying markets with high housing costs finds that these costs are driven in large part by artificial scarcity through land use regulation .... A natural first step to combat the increasing role of housing wealth would be to reexamine these regulations and expand the housing supply."


California Dreamin’ or California Nightmare?

Our recent report on “California Social Priorities” — released by Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy and the topic of the first meeting of the Houston based Center for Opportunity Urbanism — stirred up some controversy. A largely negative response came from Josh Stephens from the California Planning and Development Report.

As a lifelong Democrat, granddaughter/daughter/sister/aunt of union members working in the steel and construction trades, major contributor and multi-decade Board member of several California environmental advocacy organizations, top-ranked California environmental and land use lawyer and recipient of the California Lawyer of the Year award for environment and land use work, and Latina asthma-sufferer who grew up in Pittsburg, California amidst factories that belched pollution into our air and waters, I need to first take exception to the author’s apparent assumption that anyone publishing a thoughtful report with accurate data about California’s acute social needs (income inequality, middle-class job loss, educational non-attainment) is a “conservative” with a “hate on CEQA in much more vague ways.” (Indeed, none of the individuals cited by the author fit the derisive (in much of California) “conservative” label: Both David Friedman and Joel Kotkin worked at the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank for the Democratic Leadership Council when Bill Clinton was at the helm.) Dismissing uncomfortable demographic facts with politicized name-calling seems more about deflecting, rather than engaging, in what I believe is an entirely appropriate – and necessary – debate about how to address California’s social equity challenges in tandem with California’s environmental policies.

I do agree with the author’s characterization that I am “an astute observer of, and enthusiastic participant in, the evolution of CEQA caselaw.” Defending CEQA litigation abuse, on behalf of our public and private sector clients, has been and continues to allow me – and a legion of other lawyers and consultants – to earn a generous income.

I am also delighted that the California Planning & Development Report reported on our demographic analysis at all, because I believe those of us dealing with land use planning uses are long past due for a frank conversation about how the web we have created – the “we” being pro-environment, pro-labor Democrats of a certain age – has without question improved air and water quality, and protected California’s most valuable natural areas, but has also without question managed to dramatically and adversely affect the upward mobility and economic health of many millions of Californians. I believe we are still young enough, still energetic enough, and still creative enough, to work together to improve social equity and economic opportunity – without sacrificing our hard-won environmental improvements.

I believe that part of the necessary solution, as acknowledged by scores of commenters and impartial observers including last week’s report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office explaining why California housing costs are so high, is modernizing CEQA. I have written extensively about CEQA. In an analysis of 15 years of reported appellate court EIR cases, for example, we learned that the vast majority of CEQA lawsuits challenged non-industrial “infill” projects, renewable energy projects, and transit projects – precisely the types of projects that improve public health and environmental quality, and combat climate change.  This and related work – including widespread media reports of CEQA litigation abuse – calls into question whether CEQA is advancing, or obstructing, progress on today’s environmental challenges. I have too much personal experience as a lawyer with 30 years of experience with CEQA, and now as a researcher and CEQA reform advocate, to pretend that CEQA – and specifically CEQA’s litigation abuse – isn’t a major hurdle we need to discuss, and modernize.

The author also criticizes this demographic report as failing to recommend specific CEQA reforms, but neither CEQA generally nor CEQA reforms specifically were the primary subjects of this Report. As many of CPDR’s readers well know, I have and continue to advocate for sensible and moderate CEQA reforms, like better integrating this 1970 statute into California’s panoply of modern environmental, public health and planning laws, prohibiting secrecy in CEQA lawsuits that try to conceal abuse of this great statute for non-environmental purposes, and extending to all projects – not just politically favored, donor-rich Sacramento basketball arenas – the right to cure minor errors in CEQA studies with a corrected study (and where appropriate more mitigation) rather than derailing a project approval entirely because a judge decided to grade an EIR addressing more than 100 mandatory study topics with an “A-“ rather than an “A+”.

One final note: I am not an expert on Prop 13, nor do I understand why curtailing then-skyrocketing property taxes on the elderly and poor – those losing their homes when Prop 13 was enacted – contributes to today’s income inequality or middle-class job loss challenges. CEQA litigation abuse for non-environmental purposes, in contrast, has earned widespread recognition – by the Governor, by Bill Fulton's (CPDR’s publisher) CPDR blog, and by every editorial page of every major newspaper in California, to name just a few – as a problem. Notwithstanding Mr. Fulton’s pessimistic assessment that special interests are too wedded to CEQA abuse to ever permit Legislative reform, I believe land planners and environmental advocates have a moral obligation to improve what we know (including CEQA) to address the terrible social inequality that has grown so pervasive in California.

Lobbying Pays Off 500-to-1

I suppose we should not be shocked: businesses that spend money for lobbying and campaign contributions get more favors from government than those that do not. I spent the weekend at Creighton University in a seminar sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. I asked Creighton Associate Professor of Economics Diana Thomas about her research on the unintended consequences of regulation. One thing led to another and the next day I downloaded her 2013 paper “Corporate Lobbying, Political Connections, and the Bailout of Banks.” Here is a summary of what can be supported with scientific (statistical) evidence about the influence of big money on big government:

  • Campaign contributions and lobbying influence the voting behavior of politicians.
  • Campaign contributions and lobbying have a positive effect on wealth for the shareholders of the companies that spend.
  • Businesses that pay lobbyists before committing fraud are 38% less likely to get caught; even when they get caught they are able to evade detection almost 4 months longer than those that do not pay for lobbying.
  • Firms with political connections are more likely to receive government bailouts in times of economic distress.

The US government has a long history of bailing out private industry. In 1970, the Federal Reserve provided financial support to commercial banks after Penn Central Railroad declared bankruptcy. Throughout that decade federal financial support was provided to private companies, banks and municipal governments: Lockheed, ($1.4 billion) Franklin National Bank ($7.8 billion) and New York City ($9.4 billion) were all recipients Uncle Sam’s largess. In the1980s, it was Chrysler Motors ($4.0 billion), Continental Illinois National Bank ($9.5 billion) and the savings and loan industry ($293.3 billion). The data available at doesn’t go back further than 1990, but last year the finance industry spent nearly half a billion dollars on lobbying and campaigns – the most of any industry sector. Just after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the airline industry received $5 billion in compensation and $10 billion in federal credit. For these favors, the airlines spent barely $15 million in 1996-2000.

These are all pittances in comparison to the money handed out in 2008 and 2009. NewGeography readers know that the average member of Congress who voted in favor of the $700 billion Bank Bailout received 51% more campaign money from Wall Street than those who voted no – Republicans and Democrats alike. The main finding in Dr. Thomas’ paper is that banks that paid lobbyists and made political campaign contributions were more likely to receive TARP money. To put a fine point on it, for every dollar spent lobbying in the 5 years before the bailout, banks averaged $535.71 in TARP bailout money! We knew the bank bailout was rigged, but that is a better rate of return than even Warren Buffett got for his contribution to the bailout of Goldman Sachs.

The only good news is that spending – at least the spending that can be tracked – was down in 2014 from 2013. Spending by most industry categories has been in general decline since 2010. Between Congress and the Federal Reserve, businesses benefited from an estimated $16 trillion in government assistance since 2008. They are either having a “why bother” moment or the 2016 Presidential election will be another record breaking year for campaign spending.


Short Film: Emigrate

Emigrate tells the story of Jacob, a South-Asian teenager who has just graduated high school in the United States. His parents are immigrants and thus far he has kept his family life and his personal life clearly delineated. However, when his worlds collide he is forced to confront his own dishonesty or lose the relationships that matter most to him. 

The film was independently produced in the fall of 2014 by a collaboration of filmmakers from Chapman University. 

EMIGRATE from Ijaaz Noohu on Vimeo.

Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Los Angeles, Ijaaz Noohu has spent the last four years studying Economics, English, and Television at Chapman University in Orange County. As an aspiring filmmaker, he hopes to use his unique perspective to tell stories of humanity, identity and hope. More of his work can be found at:

A Lifetime of Financial Advice for 2015

When household savings falls and household debt rises, “most people” are spending more than they make. When people find out I’m an economist, they often ask if I can explain why “most people” can’t figure out how to handle their money. The New York Fed recently reported the end of deleveraging: American households are borrowing again. When you get paid, you can do one of two things with your money: save it or spend it. If you aren’t saving AND you are borrowing, then clearly you are spending more than you make.

There are a lot of people in America who are young, struggling and without inheritance or some initial endowment to get started in life. The Census Bureau reports a 17.5% rise in the number of 25 to 34 year olds living with their parents (from 2007 to 2010). This increase cuts across all socio-economic lines. Regardless of the demographics that impact the way the economy grows, we all go through life-cycles. I did it, you did it and “most people” will do it, too. If you are smart, you’ll engage the economy throughout the cycles of your life. Here’s how it works. The six cycles correspond roughly to the decades from your 20s to your 70s.

CYCLE 1 (20s): Without an initial endowment, we all struggle in the first decade after we leave our parents home (or foster care, or whatever situation it was that brought you to adulthood). Your skill set is very low and you may or may not have gotten a college education. You are an unknown quantity in the job market, untried and unproven, so your wages will be quite low. You also have no secondary source of income (no endowment, remember, means no investment income). If you are smart and lucky, you’ll figure out that you have nothing and so you will spend nothing that you don’t have. Focus on keeping a good job, building some skills, try to get a little more education and keep your nose clean. That’s enough for the first decade.

CYCLE 2 (30s): By now, you’ve got a resume built up so you can expect to be promoted or to look for a better job that pays more, maybe has some benefits like health insurance and some kind of a savings plan. Put something into that employer-matched 401k plan: sure, you probably won’t be able to wait until age 65 to dip into it, but it will be money that you won’t otherwise have. The match means that you earn an instant 100% on your money. Even if the penalty for early withdrawal is about 25%, you will still be ahead by 75% even if you can’t wait for retirement. If you have some financial assistance (from family or a grant of some kind), you’ll probably acquire some sort of property at this point. Maybe it’s a small business or a home but it’s the grown-up thing to do. Stay away from making a big investment in some depreciable asset, like a sports car, at this point. These are the beginning of the years in which you will build capital for the future: financial capital (investments), human capital (skills and education), and social capital (a good network of contacts, both social and business). Focus on moving up in your career a couple of times so that you can begin to put money into savings and investment on a regular basis. Avoid the trap of building up a lot of debt during this stage and be sure to stay within your means.

CYCLE 3 (40s): These are the real building years. You should be well-established in your field of work and hopefully you have built strong and stable social connections, too. It’s time to start thinking about giving back to the community that supports you. You can volunteer, start making larger cash donations to charities, attend some charity balls or even run for office (or get active in the campaign of a candidate you support). Some of these social and charitable contacts will be helpful to you in business and some will just be the kind that makes living in a community more pleasant. Your focus now is to set achievable life-goals. Whatever your ambition was in your 20s, by now you will have a clear vision of what you can realistically attain. With that idea in mind, set goals for your career, your finances, when you want to retire from work, etc. Make them realistic for now, based on what you know. You’ll get a chance to adjust them only once more in your lifetime.

CYCLE 4 (50s): Now’s the time to begin planning for the culmination of your work life. It could be another 20 years off, but you need to think through how you will sustain that longer career, or to plan to stop working altogether. If you wait till the next cycle, when you are in your 60’s, it may be too late to make any changes that will be necessary for you to achieve your goal. Your earnings will peak in this decade so if you haven’t saved enough along the way, this is the last chance to start to bring your savings in line with your goals.

CYCLE 5: (60s): By now, if you’ve followed through with planning and budgeting, you should be able to take it easier. A lot easier (retire from working) or a little easier (work part-time or in your own business). If you’ve been able to get some education, you may be able to support yourself fully as a knowledge-worker. Knowledge workers have longer work lives because they won’t have limitations on endurance or other physical job requirements. Even if your job was physically demanding, it is possible that an employer will need your advice as a manager or consultant on a project that will benefit from your years of experience.

CYCLE 6 (70s): Average life expectancy in the US is in the low- to mid-80s for both men and women. That means that, on average, this will be the penultimate decade of your life. Depending on your early choices, you may find yourself now at the pinnacle of your profession. Try to pass along as much of your knowledge as you can to the next generation, both what you learned in your career and what you learned from your life experiences.

If it seems they aren’t listening, keep talking. Maybe something will sink in and when they read in the news that “most people” spend more than they make, they will be able to count themselves among the unusual. Have a safe and prosperous 2015!


Voting on Public Art in St. Petersburg Florida

Public art may soon get a boost in St. Petersburg, Florida when citizens cast ballots for a new design proposal to redevelop the 1971 St. Pete Pier.  After a 4-year process involving two design competitions (citizens roundly rejected the first competition results), this Florida coastal city will, in 2015, implement a design.

This time around, city officials are taking no chances and building consensus with the public step by step, keeping this $33 million public project at the top of voters’ awareness.  Seven design proposals are being considered, and after presentations in mid February, it appears that the field is narrowed.

While several schemes radically erase or change the city’s infrastructure, one scheme nicknamed “Discover Bay Life ” by Orlando-based VOA Associates seems to stand out.   All things being equal, this scheme’s monumental-scale transformable art by cutting-edge artist Chuck Hoberman can be had for the least capital investment by the city.  The team chose to keep the modernistic “Inverted Pyramid” at the end of the pier, shoo cars off of the over-water deck, and move restaurants and retail – which always struggled in such a remote location – from the end of the 1,400 foot pier back onto land.

Hoberman, who designed U2’s “Claw” for their 2011 album tour, is no stranger to moveable structures.  “It’s really very simple,” he stated during the presentation.  “There are a couple of motors, pulleys, and bearings.  We have structures like this in place that have lasted for decades.”  St. Petersburg, home to the world’s largest collection of 20th century surrealist Salvador Dali’s work, seems to have an affinity for cutting edge art, and this commitment could result in a grand, lasting civic space.

A popular vote will decide the scheme by March 20.  City leaders, anxious to proceed, have stayed neutral about the results and will ratify their decision afterward.  The lesson in urban studies is to proceed with caution when you are considering changes to civic space.  Far from being a lost cause, the public realm is very much alive and emotionally connected to its citizens, at least in St. Petersburg, Florida.