The Declining Human Footprint


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 »

The Suburban Exodus: Are We There Yet?


For many years, critics of the suburban lifestyles that most Americans (not to mention Europeans, Japanese, Canadians and Australians) prefer have claimed that high-density housing is under-supplied by the market. This based on an implication that the people increasingly seek to abandon detached suburban housing for higher density multi-family housing.

The Suburbs: Slums of the 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 »

Twenty-first Century Electorate’s Heart is in the Suburbs


Even as the nation conducts its critically important decennial census, a demographic picture of the rapidly changing population of the United States is emerging. It underlines how suburban living has become the dominant experience for all key groups in America’s 21st Century Electorate.

While suburban living was once seen as the almost exclusive preserve of the white upper-middle class, a majority of all major American racial and ethnic groups now live in suburbia, according to the newest report on the state of metropolitan America from the Brookings Institute.  read more »

The Limits Of The Green Machine


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


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


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 »

Livable Communities and the DOT

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“Fostering livable a transformative policy shift for U.S. DOT,” announced grandiloquently the Draft U.S. DOT Strategic Plan released for public comment on April 15, 2010. But what exactly does the Administration mean by “livability” and how does it intend to translate this vague rhetorical abstraction into a practical reality?  read more »

Houston: Model City


Do cities have a future? Pessimists point to industrial-era holdovers like Detroit and Cleveland. Urban boosters point to dense, expensive cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco. Yet if you want to see successful 21st-century urbanism, hop on down to Houston and the Lone Star State.

You won't be alone: Last year Houston added 141,000 residents, more than any region in the U.S. save the city's similarly sprawling rival, Dallas-Fort Worth. Over the past decade Houston's population has grown by 24%--five times the rate of San Francisco, Boston and New York. In that time it has attracted 244,000 new residents from other parts of the U.S., while older cities experienced high rates of out-migration.  read more »

Is It Game Over for Atlanta?


With growth slowing, a lack of infrastructure investment catching up with it, and rising competition in the neighborhood, the Capital of the New South is looking vulnerable.

Atlanta is arguably the greatest American urban growth story of the 20th century. In 1950, it was a sleepy state capital in a region of about a million people, not much different from Indianapolis or Columbus, Ohio. Today, it's a teeming region of 5.5 million, the 9th largest in America, home to the world's busiest airport, a major subway system, and numerous corporations. Critically, it also has established itself as the country's premier African American hub at a time of black empowerment.  read more »