Small Cities

Why the Great Plains are Great Once Again

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On a drizzly, warm June night, the bars, galleries, and restaurants along Broadway are packed with young revelers. Traffic moves slowly, as drivers look for parking. The bar at the Donaldson, a boutique hotel, is so packed with stylish patrons that I can’t get a drink. My friend, a local, and I head over to Monte’s, a trendy Italian place down the street. We watch a group of attractive 30-something blondes share a table and gossip. They look like the cast of the latest Housewives series.  read more »

The Declining Human Footprint

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There are few more bankrupt arguments against suburbanization than the claim that it consumes too much agricultural land. The data is so compelling that even the United States Department of Agriculture says that "our Nation's ability to produce food and fiber is not threatened" by urbanization. There is no doubt that agricultural production takes up less of the country's land than it did before. But urban “sprawl” is not the primary cause. The real reason lies in the growing productivity of American farms.

Since 1950, an area the size of Texas plus Oklahoma (or an area almost as large as France plus Great Britain) has been taken out of agricultural production in the United States, not including any agricultural land taken by new urbanization (Note 1). That is enough land to house all of the world's urban population at the urban density level of the United Kingdom.  read more »

Energy's Other Side

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The BP oil spill disaster likely spells the slowing down, or even curtailing, of offshore oil drilling for the foreseeable future. You can take California, Florida and much of the east coast off the energy-drilling map for years, perhaps decades.

But if the oil, gas and coal industries are widely detested on the coasts, people in Bismarck, N.D., have little incentive to join an anti-energy jihad. Like other interior energy centers, people in this small Missouri river city of over 100,000 see their rising oil-, gas- and coal-based economy as the key to a far more lucrative future.  read more »

Subdivisions: The Lots-Per-Minute Race

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When you get that morning cup of Java, do you desire the minimal flavor? How about your career, do you desire the most minimal pay check or profits or the most mundane of positions? Let’s assume for some reason that you said 'No, you would always want to strive for something better than the minimum'.

You now have three hats in front of you, one says “planner” on it, one says “engineer,” and the last one says “developer”. When you put on the “planner” hat, your job is to develop and enforce a set of rules that will guide the development of a city. You suggest to the council a set of standards that recommend the minimum dimensions and areas for residential or commercial projects that are brought in for approvals.  read more »

The Limits Of The Green Machine

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Environmentalism is strangely detached from the public's economic goals.

The awful oil spill in the Gulf--as well as the recent coal mine disaster in West Virginia--has added spring to the step of America's hugely influential environmental lobby. After years of hand-wringing over global warming (aka climate change), the greens now have an issue that will play to legitimate public concerns for weeks and months ahead.

This is as it should be. Strong support for environmental regulation--starting particularly under our original "green president," Richard Nixon--has been based on the protection of public health and safety, as well as the preservation of America's wild spaces.  read more »

Santa Fe-ing of the World, Bridging the Digital Divide

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This is the second of a two-part piece. Read part one.

If we accept that many rich people are going to find attractive this scenario of dramatically different settlement patterns that feature new aggregation – widely dispersed – the question then becomes whether information technology will ever become a global influence on the built environment, shaping the way the middle class and even the working class live, the way railroads, jets, and automobiles did.  read more »

Santa Fe-ing of the World

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This is part one of a two-part piece. Read Part two.

Human settlements are always shaped by whatever is the state of the art transportation device of the time. Shoe-leather and donkeys enabled the Jerusalem known by Jesus. Sixteen centuries later, when critical transportation has become horse-drawn wagons and ocean-going sail, you get places like Boston. Railroads yield Chicago – both the area around the “L” (intraurban rail) and the area that processed wealth from the hinterlands (the stockyards). The automobile results in places with multiple urban cores like Los Angeles. The jet passenger plane allows more places with such “edge cities” to rise in such hitherto inconvenient locations as Dallas, Houston, Seattle and Atlanta and now Sydney, Lagos, Cairo, Bangkok, Djakarta, and Kuala Lumpur.  read more »

The Real State of Metropolitan America

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The week opened with an important report on metropolitan demographics by the Brookings Institution, only to be followed by the Census Bureau's annual report on migration, which contained a different message than the Brookings report. We offer yet a third analysis, since both the Brookings and the Census Bureau reports classify up to one-sixth of suburban population as not being in the suburbs.  read more »

The New E.D. -- Environmental Density

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Developers often have an E.D. problem and are not even aware of it. No, not the type of E.D. temporarily cured with Viagra. Environmental Density — E.D. — is the measurement of the impact of man made construction on a site. In simple terms, E.D. is the average per acre volume of impervious surface due to land development construction. It has two very important impacts, one environmental, and one financial. One acre of land is 43,560 square feet. The lower the E.D. — square foot of impervious surface area divided by 43,560 — the lower the surface area of manmade structures that divert rain run-off, and the less environmental damage.  read more »

Growing America: Demographics and Destiny

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Over the next four decades, American governments will oversee a much larger and far more diverse population. As we gain upward of 100 million people, America will inevitably become a more complex, crowded and competitive place, but it will continue to remain highly dependent on its people's innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.  read more »