A Return to the City or a New Divide in the Nation's Capital Region?


Census data continue to suggest that fringe areas still grow faster than cities, but some have continued to argue that the flight to the suburbs has ended, or at least slowed, and that we are experiencing a resurgence of urban living. In a 2005 article for the Journal of the American Planning Association, Robert Fishman predicts a new pattern of migration – a so-called Fifth Migration – that will revitalize inner core neighborhoods that were depopulated through decades of suburbanization. In a 2004 study of the New York region, James W. Hughes and Joseph J.  read more »

The Infrastructure Canard


One of the principal arguments used against suburbanization is that its infrastructure is too expensive to provide. As a result, planners around the high income world have sought to draw boundaries around growing urban areas, claiming that this approach is less costly and that it allows current infrastructure to be more efficiently used.

Like so many of the arguments (a more appropriate term would be “excuse”) used to frustrate the clear preferences about where people want to live and work, the infrastructure canard holds little water upon examination.  read more »

So Much for Evidence-Based Planning


Has evidence-based planning fallen from grace in favour of catchy slogans and untested assumptions? In the case of urban planning, arguably that is just what’s happened. The evidence, in Australia at least, is worrying.

“We must get people out of cars and onto public transport.” “We must stop urban sprawl and the consumption of valuable land.” “We must build higher density communities to achieve sustainable environmental outcomes.” Phrases like this are now de rigueur across many discussions about urban planning in the media, in politics and in regulatory circles in Australia. They are rarely challenged on the basis of what the actual social, economic or scientific evidence is really saying.  read more »

It's A Mall World After All


If Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants a taste of home during his visit to Washington this week, he might consider a trip to McLean, Va., home to the region's largest indoor mall, Tysons Corner Center. After all, there are few groups more mall-crazy than India's expanding affluent class.

Back here in the U.S., urban boosters and planners like to predict that malls are "vanishing." But while consumer-deflated America may suffer from mall fatigue and a hangover from overbuilding, much of the developing world has experienced no such malaise. In 2000, for example, India was virtually mall-less. Today it has several hundred, with scores of new ones on the drawing boards.  read more »

Migration: Geographies In Conflict


It's an interesting puzzle. The “cool cities”, the ones that are supposedly doing the best, the ones with the hottest downtowns, the biggest buzz, leading-edge new companies, smart shops, swank restaurants and hip hotels – the ones that are supposed to be magnets for talent – are often among those with the highest levels of net domestic outmigration. New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Miami and Chicago – all were big losers in the 2000s. Seattle, Denver, and Minneapolis more or less broke even.  read more »

When the Fat Lady Sings: The Fate of Commercial Real Estate


During the first ten days of October 2008, the Dow Jones dropped 2,399.47 points, losing trillions of investor equity. The Federal Government pushed TARP, a $700 billion bail-out, through Congress to rescue the beleaguered financial institutions. The collapse of the financial system was likened to an earthquake. In reality, what happened was more like a shift of tectonic plates.

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Bowling Alone or Bowling Along?


It has long been cultural sport to mock or to misunderstand the social life of suburbs. More recently, however, sport itself has been identified as a major arena for social decline in suburbia.

In his Bowling Alone, published with an almost apocalyptic sense of timing at the beginning of the present century, the esteemed social scientist Robert Putnam focused upon the decline of the American bowling leagues as symptomatic of a lost America.  read more »

Obama Still Can Save His Presidency


A good friend of mine, a Democratic mayor here in California, describes the Obama administration as " run by the Chicago machine." This combination may have been good enough to beat John McCain in 2008, but it is proving a damned poor way to run a country or build a strong, effective political majority. And while the president's charismatic talent – and the lack of such among his opposition – may keep him in office, it will be largely as a kind of permanent lame duck unable to make any of the transformative changes he promised as a candidate.  read more »

Congress and the Administration Take Aim at Local Democracy


Local democracy has been a mainstay of the US political system. This is evident from the town hall governments in New England to the small towns that the majority of Americans choose to live in today.

In most states and metropolitan areas, substantial policy issues – such as zoning and land use decisions – are largely under the control of those who have a principal interest: local voters who actually live in the nation’s cities, towns, villages, townships and unincorporated county areas. This may be about to change.  read more »

Detroit: Urban Laboratory and the New American Frontier


The troubles of Detroit are well-publicized. Its economy is in free fall, people are streaming for the exits, it has the worst racial polarization and city-suburb divide in America, its government is feckless and corrupt (though I should hasten to add that new Mayor Bing seems like a basically good guy and we ought to give him a chance), and its civic boosters, even ones that are extremely knowledgeable, refuse to acknowledge the depth of the problems, instead ginning up stats and anecdotes to prove all is not so bad.  read more »