Housing

Focusing on People, Not Sprawl

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For seven decades urban planners have been seeking to force higher urban population densities through urban containment policies. The object is to combat "urban sprawl," which is the theological (or ideological) term applied to the organic phenomenon of urban expansion. This has come at considerable cost, as house prices have materially increased relative to incomes, which is to be expected from urban containment strategies that ration land (and thus raise its price, all things being equal).  read more »

City of Villages

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Los Angeles is unique among the big, world-class American cities. Unlike New York, Boston, or Chicago, L.A. lacks a clearly defined core. It is instead a sprawling region made up of numerous poly-ethnic neighborhoods, few exhibiting the style and grace of a Paris arrondissement, Greenwich Village, or southwest London. In the 1920s, the region’s huge dispersion was contemptuously described—in a quotation alternately attributed to Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley, or H. L. Mencken—as “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Los Angeles’s lack of urbane charm led William Faulkner to dub it “the plastic asshole of the world.” But to those of us who inhabit this expansive and varied place, the lack of conventional urbanity is exactly what makes Los Angeles so interesting.  read more »

'Lone Eagle' Cities: Where The Most People Work From Home

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In an era of high unemployment and limited opportunity, more Americans are taking matters into their own hands and going to work for themselves out of their homes.  read more »

We Had To Destroy the City In Order to Save It

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As housing prices and rents soar out of control in tightly regulated cities like San Francisco and New York, many people have called for a significant loosening of zoning rules to permit greater densification. Many policies contribute to unaffordable housing, including rent control, historic districts, eminent domain abuse, and building codes, but zoning puts an absolute cap on dwelling units per acre thus is generally part of any solution to the supply problem.  read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: Suburbanizing Mexico

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There is an increasing recognition – at least outside the academy, planning organization and urban core developer groups – that the spatial expansion of cities or suburbanization represents the evolving urban form of not only the United States and virtually all of the high income world but also across the developing world, whether middle income or third world.  read more »

San Francisco Photo Essay: I Used to Live Here

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This is my old apartment in SF’s Mission District from way back when Mrs. UpintheValley and I were just dating.  My waystation before cohabitation and matrimony. I notice the curtains haven’t changed.  Flea market bedspreads and pillowcases were the order of the day then, and apparently still are.  Which means P. has kept the lease on the place and presumably lived in uninterrupted squalor with a revolving cast of characters from Roommate Finders all these years.  At the prices we were paying then, why would you ever leave?  read more »

The Illusions of Charles Montgomery's Happy City (Part 2)

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This is the second of a two-part series discussing Charles Mongomery's Happy City. Read part one here.

‘The system that built sprawl’

Montgomery faces the hurdle of explaining why, if low-density suburbs cause unhappiness, so many millions of people, over so many decades, across several countries, flocked to that way of life. As he writes, ‘since 1940, almost all urban growth has actually been suburban.’ He must account for this fact, even though it means little to him personally. For the green-tinged intelligentsia, working and middle-class people are pawns who rarely think for themselves.        read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: The San Francisco Bay Area

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Despite planning efforts to restrict it, the Bay Area  continues to disperse. For decades, nearly all population and employment growth in the San Jose-San Francisco Combined Statistical Area has been in the suburbs, rather than in the core cities of San Francisco and Oakland. The CSA (Note) is composed of seven adjacent metropolitan areas (San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, Napa, and Stockton). A similar expansion also occurred in the New York CSA.  read more »

Correcting Priorities: The 10th Annual Demographia Housing Affordability Survey

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Alain Bertaud of the Stern School of Business at New York University and former principal planner of the World Bank introduces the 10th Annual  Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey by urging planners to abandon:

"...abstract objectives and to focus their efforts on two measurable outcomes that have always mattered since the growth of large cities during the 19th century’s industrial revolution: workers’ spatial mobility and housing affordability".  read more »

Britain's Planning Laws: Of Houses, Chickens and Poverty

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Perhaps for the first time in nearly seven decades a serious debate on housing affordability appears to be developing in the United Kingdom. There is no more appropriate location for such an exchange, given that it was the urban containment policies of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 that helped drive Britain's prices through the roof. Further, massive damage has been done in countries where these polices were adopted, such as in Australia and New Zealand (now scurrying to reverse things) as well as metropolitan areas from Vancouver to San Francisco, Dublin, and Seoul.  read more »