Urban Issues

Playing with the Big Boys: The Costs of Fruitless Passenger Rail Tours


In these hard times the New Zealand public is somewhat excited about the travel costs incurred by our Government Ministers and MPs. Overseas travel attracts particular rage and fury.

A particularly galling example is a proposal by Christchurch City Mayor Bob Parker, his CEO Tony Marryat, and an urban planner, to visit the US to investigate the performance of light rail in Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Vancouver.  read more »

Online Neighborhood: The Front Porch Forum

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Last summer, Sharon Owens had a problem. The Burlington, VT mother of three was trying to satisfy the wishes of her soon-to-be 14-year old daughter who wanted to celebrate her birthday with a canoe outing with friends. The problem was that renting the necessary canoes would have cost hundreds of dollars. Interestingly, it seemed that nearly ever other house in Sharon’s neighborhood had a canoe in the backyard, or parked under a tarp next to a garage. But Sharon, like many of us, did not know her neighbors, and felt uncomfortable asking them.  read more »

The New Industrial City


Most American urban economic development and revitalization initiatives seek to position communities to attract high wage jobs in the knowledge economy. This usually involves programs to attract and retain the college educated, and efforts to lure corporate headquarters or target industries such as life sciences, high tech, or cutting edge green industries. Almost everything, whether it be recreational trails, public art programs, stadiums and convention centers, or corporate incentives, is justified by reference to this goal, often with phrases like “stopping brain drain” and “luring the creative class”.

The future vision underpinning this is a decidedly post-industrial one. This city of tomorrow is made up of people living upscale in town condos, riding a light rail line to work at a smartly designed modern office, and spending enormous sums – with the requisite sales tax benefits – entertaining themselves in cafes, restaurants, swanky shops, or artistic events.  read more »

Nice Houses for Ducks


During the long hot summer of the expenses scandal in British politics, one of the most bizarre stories concerned a Conservative MP who claimed from the public purse for a second home: a place for his ducks. It wasn’t any old duck house, however, but a ‘Stockholm’ floating model, valued at over £1,500. It is over 5 feet high.  read more »

Glimpsing the Good in Police Chief Bratton’s Goodbye to L.A.


Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief William Bratton’s pending departure makes now a good time to give him credit for a habit that draws scant attention amid talk of his traveling ways and unapologetic ego: The guy works very hard at every aspect of his duties.  read more »

California Wastes Its Public Space


California’s favorable climate makes it a haven for outdoor activity. Enlightened and forward-looking planning has largely preserved the waterfronts for public access and set aside a lot of space for public use and activity. Yet despite this, there are few great urban gathering spaces. This is most obvious in the two largest population centers – Los Angeles and San Francisco.  read more »

Is the Stage Set for Another Housing Bubble?


Both the world and the nation remain in the midst of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. But with all the talk of “green shoots” and a recovery housing market, we may in fact be about to witness another devastating bubble.

As we well know, the Great Recession was set off the by the bursting of the housing bubble in the United States. The results have been devastating. The value of the US housing stock has fallen 9 quarters in a row, which compares to the previous modern record of one (Note). This decline has been a driving force in a 25 percent or a $145,000 average decline (inflation adjusted) in net worth per household in less than two years (Figure 1). The Great Recession has fallen particularly hard on middle-income households, through the erosion of both house prices and pension fund values.  read more »

Immigrants Are ‘Greening’ our Cities, How About Giving them a Break?


Debate about immigration and the more than 38 million foreign born residents who have arrived since 1980 has become something of a national pastime. Although the positive impact of this population on the economy has been questioned in many quarters, self-employment and new labor growth statistics illustrate the increasingly important role immigrants play in our national economy.  read more »

Why The 'Livable Cities' Rankings Are Wrong


Few topics stir more controversy between urbanists and civic boosters than city rankings. What truly makes a city "great," or even "livable"? The answers, and how these surveys determine them, are often subjective, narrow or even misguided. What makes a "great" city on one list can serve as a detriment on another.

Recent rankings of the "best" cities around the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Monocle magazine and the Mercer quality of life surveys settled on a remarkably similar list. For the most part, the top ranks are dominated by well-manicured older European cities such as Zurich, Geneva, Vienna, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Munich, as well as New World metropolises like Vancouver and Toronto; Auckland, New Zealand; and Perth and Melbourne in Australia.  read more »

Origins and Growth of Al Capone’s Outfit: Chicago’s First Ward Democratic Organization and its Aftermath


Barack Obama ran for President with his headquarters in downtown Chicago. Obama's election night victory speech was just blocks away in Chicago's Grant Park. To historians of organized crime both locations are located in a significant place: Chicago's old First Ward. This valuable plot of land is where Chicago's Democratic Machine and Al Capone's criminal organization both began. The connection between the two is of great historical significance. Why? Because the Chicago Mob is nothing but an outgrowth of Chicago's old First Ward Democratic Organization.  read more »