Policy

The Illusions of Charles Montgomery's Happy City

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This is part one of a two-part series. Read part two here.

Striking a pose of defiance, contemporary urbanists see themselves as the last champions of happiness in a world plunged into quiet despair, and Canadian writer and journalist Charles Montgomery is no exception. Drawing on the emerging ‘science of happiness’, his new book Happy City, subtitled ‘transforming our lives through urban design’, joins a wave of anti-suburban literature spurred on by climate fears and the financial crisis. ‘As a system’, writes Montgomery, the dispersed city ‘has begun to endanger both the health of the planet and the well-being of our descendants.’     read more »

The Changing Face of European Economics: Liberalism Moves North

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Where do we find the nations with the highest tax levels? In the mid-90s the answer was quite clear: in Western Europe. Both Denmark and Sweden had a tax rate of 49 percent of GDP in 1996, followed closely by Finland with a 47 percent level. The tax burden was somewhat lower in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy, where rates ranged from 42 to 44 percent of GDP. Thanks to its oil-wealth Norway could afford a Nordic welfare model with 41 percent taxes, the same level as the Netherlands which had recently slimmed down its welfare system considerably. These Western European welfare states were the nine OECD countries with the highest tax rates. The tenth country was Eastern European Hungary with a rate of 40 percent.  read more »

Why State Economic Development Strategies Should Be Metro-Centric

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Globalization, technology, productivity improvements, and the resulting restructuring of the world economy have led to fundamental changes that have destroyed the old paradigms of doing business. Whether these changes are on the whole good or bad, or who or what is responsible for bringing them into being, they simply are. Most cities, regions, and US states have extremely limited leverage in this marketplace and thus to a great extent are market takers more than market makers. They have to adapt to new realities, but a lack of willingness to face up to the truth, combined with geo-political conditions, mean this has seldom been done.  read more »

California's Potholed Road to Recovery

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California's economy may be on the mend, but prospects for continued growth are severely constrained by the increasing obsolescence of the state's basic infrastructure. Once an unquestioned leader in constructing new roads, water systems, power generation and building our human capital, California is relentlessly slipping behind other states, including some with much lower tax and regulatory burdens.

The indications of California's incipient senility can be found in a host of reports, including a recent one from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the state a “C” grade.  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 »

How Houston’s Missing Media Gene Hobbles Its Global City Ambitions

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In an upcoming study I am working on with Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy, we show that San Francisco and Houston are North America’s “emerging” global cities. They are also rival representative champions and exemplars of two models of civic development. San Francisco is the world’s technology capital; focused on the highest levels of the economic food chain; paragon of the new, intangible economy; and promoter environmental values and compact development.  Houston is the closest thing to American laissez-faire; unabashed embracer of the old economy of tangible stuff, including unfashionable, but highly profitable, industries like oil, chemicals, and shipping.  read more »

How Silicon Valley Could Destabilize The Democratic Party

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Much has been written, often with considerable glee, about the worsening divide in the Republican Party between its corporate and Tea Party wings. Yet Democrats may soon face their own schism as a result of the growing power in the party of high-tech business interests.  read more »

Some Implications of Detroit’s Bankruptcy

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There’s been so much ink spilled over Detroit’s bankruptcy that I haven’t felt the need to add much to it. But this week the judge overseeing the case ruled that the city of Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy. He also went ahead and ruled that pensions can be cut for the city’s retirees. Meanwhile, the city has received an appraisal of less than $2 billion for the most famous paintings in the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

A couple of thoughts on this:  read more »

Political, Economic Power Grow More Concentrated

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Generally speaking, we associate the quest for central government control to be very much a product of the extremes of left and right. But increasingly, the lobby for ever-greater concentration of power – both economically and politically – comes not from the fringes, but from established centers of both parties and media power.

Recently, for example, an article by Francis Fukuyama, a conservative-leaning intellectual, called for greater consolidation of federal power, most particularly, the Executive Branch. Ironically, Fukuyama's call for greater central power follows a line most often adopted by “progressive” Democrats, who seek to use federal power to enforce their views on a host of environmental, economic and social issues even on reluctant parts of the country.  read more »