Urban Issues

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 »

It's the Jobs, Stupid: Infrastructure Matters


It may surprise you to know that some policy makers and academics believe that “nothing matters” when it comes to infrastructure -- the physical structures that make water, energy, broadband and transportation work -- and economic prosperity. The thrust of the idea that infrastructure doesn’t matter may have started with Larry Summers, appointed by President Obama as Director of the National Economic Council in 2009. The New York Times says he is “the only top economic adviser with a West Wing office” – meaning he is very powerful in Washington terms.  read more »

Livable Communities and the DOT

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“Fostering livable communities...is 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 »

Mr. Rudd’s Unproductive Ideas on Urban Productivity


For urban planners, the compact city is a central dogma. All else hangs off it. There can be no planning without urban growth boundaries, the iron curtains beyond which urbanisation must cease.  read more »

The Real State of Metropolitan America


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 »

City Rankings: An Alternative View

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Why is Austin, Texas the inevitable winner or runner-up on every ranking of the most “livable” cities in the United States? The downtown is a wasteland, the hip barbecue joints are dismal, and the bookstores, despite the population's admirable intellectual mix, are heavy with espresso westerns.

If Austin were in Europe, its place in the power rankings would be just ahead Bratislava but behind Faro, which, in turn, would be way down the list of great European cities.  read more »