Urban Issues

What is a City For?

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The attached report is derived from a speech given last spring in Singapore at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. The notion here is to lay out a new, more humanistic urban future, not one shaped primarily by large developers, speculators and transient global workers. Singapore was a particularly difficult case to look at since it has no room to spread out, something we still have in much of the rest of the world. Yet the city has been very innovative in the development of open space, and its public housing agency, the Housing Development Board, has worked hard to accommodate the needs of families.  read more »

Where Working-Age Americans Are Moving

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Barrels of ink and money have been devoted to predictions of where Americans will migrate, particularly younger ones. If you listen to big developer front groups such as the Urban Land Institute or pundits like Richard Florida, you would believe that smart companies that want to improve their chances of cadging skilled workers should head to such places as downtown Chicago, Manhattan and San Francisco, leaving their suburban office parks deserted like relics of a bygone era.  read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: Greater New York Expands

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The term “Greater New York” was applied, unofficially, to the 1898 consolidation that produced the present city of New York, which brought together the present five boroughs (counties). The term “Greater” did not stick, at least for the city. When consolidated, much of the city of New York was agricultural. As time went on, the term "Greater" came to apply to virtually any large city and its environs, not just New York and implied a metropolitan area or an urban area extending beyond city limits.  read more »

Suburban Corporate Wasteland

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I was a guest on the show “Where We Live” on WNPR radio in Connecticut this week. The theme was “Suburban Corporate Wasteland” – the increasing numbers of white elephant office campuses in suburbs. Apparently Connecticut has several of these and some buildings are actually being demolished because there’s no demand for them.

The entire program is worth a listen, particularly if you are someone trying to figure out how to redevelop one of these things. Several local officials join to talk about efforts to do that in their towns. If you want to just hear Yours Truly, I’m on for about 10 minutes starting at 38:30. Follow this link to listen to the show.  read more »

Downsizing the American Dream

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At this time of year, with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, there's a tendency to look back at our lives and those of our families. We should be thankful for the blessings of living in an America where small dreams could be fulfilled.

For many, this promise has been epitomized by owning a house, with a touch of green in the back and a taste of private paradise. Those most grateful for this opportunity were my mother's generation, which grew up in the Great Depression. In her life, she was able to make the move from the tenements of Brownsville, Brooklyn, first to the garden apartments of Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, and, eventually, to a mass-produced suburban house on Long Island.  read more »

Suburban End Games

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Are America’s suburbs facing end times? That’s what a host of recent authors would have you believe.  The declaration comes in variety of guises, from Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Great Inversion (2012), to “the peaking of sprawl” pronounced by urban planner  Christopher Leinberger to, most recently, to Leigh Gallagher’s The End of Suburbs(2013).  Suburbs and sprawl have joined the ranks of “history” and “nature” as fixtures of our lives that teeter on the verge of demise—if we’re to lend credence to this latest clamor from journalists, planners, and academics.   read more »

Rural Character in America’s Metropolitan Areas

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Looking at a map of the metropolitan areas of the United States, it would be easy to get the impression that “urban sprawl” had consumed most of the nation. Indeed, as Figure 1 indicates, one could drive from Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco to the Arizona-New Mexico border without ever leaving a metropolitan area. This more than 1,000 mile trip (1,600 kilometers) would take nearly 15 hours, according to Google Maps. New Jersey is shown as all-metropolitan, as well as Delaware. But looks can be deceiving.  read more »

The Geography Of Aging: Why Millennials Are Headed To The Suburbs

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One supposed trend, much celebrated in the media, is that younger people are moving back to the city, and plan to stay there for the rest of their lives. Retirees are reportedly following suit.

Urban theorists such as Peter Katz have maintained that millennials (the generation born after 1983) show little interest in “returning to the cul-de-sacs of their teenage years.” Manhattanite Leigh Gallagher, author of the dismally predictable book The Death of Suburbs, asserts with certitude that “millennials hate the suburbs” and prefer more eco-friendly, singleton-dominated urban environments.  read more »

China Failing its Families

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China's recent decision to reverse – at least in part – its policy limiting most couples to one child marks a watershed in thinking about demographics. Yet, this reversal of the 30-year policy may prove unavailing due to reasons – notably dense urbanization and high property prices – that work against people having more children.

China already faces a demographic crisis unprecedented for a still-poor country. By 2050, China will have 60 million fewer people under 15 years of age, while the over-65 population grows by 190 million, approximately the population of Pakistan, the world's sixth-most populous country. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that China's population will peak in 2026, and then will age faster than any country besides Japan; most of the world's decline in children and workers ages 15-19 over the next two decades will take place in China.  read more »

Are Special Service Districts a Boon or a Bane?

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America’s cities have been under fiscal pressure for an extended period of time. To cope with this, and better manage assets, they’ve increasingly turned to various forms of special purpose districts or entities for service delivery. Traditional independent service districts such as sewer districts or transit districts were often designed to circumvent bonding limits or to deliver services regionally, so were larger in scale. These newer service districts are much smaller in scope. They consist of two basic components:  read more »