Planning

American Cities May Have Hit 'Peak Office'

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Despite some hype and a few regional exceptions, the construction of office towers and suburban office parks has not made a significant resurgence in the current recovery. After a century in which office space expanded nationally with every uptick in the economy, we may have reached something close to “peak office” in most markets.  read more »

Bridges Boondoggle, Portland Edition

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A couple weeks ago I outlined how the Ohio River Bridges Project in Louisville had gone from tragedy to farce. Basically none of the traffic assumptions from the Environmental Impact Statements that got the project approved are true anymore. According to the investment grade toll study recently performed to set toll rates and sell bonds, total cross river traffic will be 78,000 cars (21.5%) less than projected in the original FEIS.  read more »

Cities and Sustainability: Is Intensification Good Policy?

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This post examines the idea that we can promote sustainability by increasing the densities of large cities around their centres.  This compact city paradigm presumes that we can reshape the consumption of citizens in environmentally benign ways by reshaping the cities they live in.    read more »

You Say You Want A (Metropolitan) Revolution?

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[Book Review] The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy, by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley. 2013, Brookings Focus Book

It's now decades after deindustrialization, and several years since the Great Recession supposedly ended. Yet too many American cities are still struggling to recover from the losses of jobs, population, taxes, and identities. Detroit’s declaration of bankruptcy in July drew new attention to the problem, and it helped fuel the extensive marketing campaign  read more »

“Unblocking Constipated Planning” in New Zealand

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One of the National Party’s principal objectives since coming to power in New Zealand has been to address that nation’s terribly deteriorated housing affordability problem.  Deputy Prime Minister Bill English explained the problem in his Introduction to the 9th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey:  read more »

Health, Happiness, and Density

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The proponents of currently fashionable planning doctrines favouring density promulgate a variety of baseless assertions to support their beliefs. These doctrines, which they group under the label of “Smart Growth”, claim, among other things, that from a health and sustainability perspective, the need to increase population densities is imperative.

With regard to health these high-density advocates have seized upon the obesity epidemic as a reason to advocate squeezing the population into high-density. This is based on a supposition that living in higher densities promotes greater physical activity and thus lower levels of obesity.  They quote studies that show associations between suburban living and higher weight with its adverse health implications. But the weight differences found are minor – in the region of 1 to 3 pounds. Nor do the studies show it is suburban living that has caused this.  read more »

City Leaders Are in Love With Density but Most City Dwellers Disagree

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People care deeply about where they live. If you ever doubt that, remember this: they staged massive protests over a park in Istanbul. Gezi Park near Taksim Square is one of that ancient city’s most beloved spots.  read more »

The Consequences of Urban Containment

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Recently published research by Brian N. Jansen and Edwin S. Mills represents notable addition to the already rich academic literature that associates more stringent land use regulation with higher house prices. The analysis is unusually comprehensive and its conclusions indicate greater consequences than is usually cited. Mills is Professor Emeritus of Real Estate and Finance at Northwestern University and is renowned for his contributions to urban economics over more than five decades.  read more »

Book Review: 'The End of the Suburbs,' by Leigh Gallagher

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Suburbia has been a favorite whipping boy of urbane intellectuals, who have foretold its decline for decades. Leigh Gallagher's "The End of the Suburbs" is the latest addition to this tired but tireless genre. The book lacks the sparkling prose and original insights one could find in the works of, say, Jane Jacobs or Lewis Mumford. Indeed, Ms. Gallagher's book is little more than a distillation of the conventional wisdom that prevails at Sunday brunch in Manhattan.

The author restages many of the old anti-suburban claims, and her introduction's section headings easily give away the gist of the argument: "Millennials hate the burbs"; "Our households are shrinking"; "We are eco-obsessed"; "The suburbs are poorly designed to begin with"; and so on.  read more »

Cities Don’t Consume Resources, People Do

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Urban form or urban consumers? If we want to reduce the environmental impacts of modern society let’s prioritize consumption, not city form.  The evidence suggests that large cities (and especially city centres) are associated with a bigger environmental footprint than modest cities or suburbs. 

This post looks at incomes and consumption, especially the consumption of housing and transport services, asking how far can local regulation really influence environmental impacts?  read more »