Urban Issues

The Unrise of the Creative Working Class

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Scarcity leads to creativity out of necessity. That’s the pop culture meme at least. Think “starving artist,” or the survivors in Survivor. The thinking has penetrated the business culture as well. For example, in the shadow of the 2008 recession, Google founder Sergey Brin, in a letter to his shareholders, writes: “I am optimistic about the future, because I believe scarcity breeds clarity: it focuses minds, forcing people to think creatively and rise to the challenge.”  read more »

The Growing Public Safety Inequality Gap in Chicago

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Take a look at the two maps below. Like the captions say, the one on the left shows homicide rates in Chicago by police district in the early 90s, when crime was at its peak, and the one on the right shows the same thing, but about two decades later.* The areas in dark green are the safest; the ones in dark pink are the most dangerous. The colors are calibrated so that green areas are safer than average for the early 90s, and pink ones are more dangerous than average for the early 90s.  read more »

Canada: Suburban, Automobile Oriented Nation

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Canada is even more a suburban nation than generally thought, according to new research that digs deeper than the usual core city versus suburbs distinctions. Researchers at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario have announced groundbreaking research that disaggregates 33 census metropolitan areas into four classifications: (1) urban core, (2) transit oriented suburban, (3) automobile oriented suburban and (4) exurban lifestyles, which are also automobile oriented.  read more »

The Promise and the Peril of Rust Belt Chic

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What do you do when you’re a post-industrial city fallen on hard times? There’s a sort of default answer in the marketplace that I’ll call for want of a better term the “Standard Model.” The Standard Model more or less tells cities to try to be more like Portland. That is, focus on things like local food, bicycles, public transit, the arts, New Urbanist type real estate development, upscale shopping, microbreweries, coffee shops, etc., etc. The idea seems to be that the Rust Belt city model is a failure and should be chucked in favor of something better. In this model the publicly subsidized real estate project is the preferred economic development strategy.  read more »

America's Fastest-Growing Counties: The 'Burbs Are Back

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For nearly a half century, the death of suburbs and exurbs has been prophesied by pundits, urban real-estate interests and their media allies, and they ratcheted up the volume after the housing crash of 2007. The urban periphery was destined to become “the next slums,” Christopher Leinberger wrote in The Atlantic in 2008, while a recent book by Fortune’s Leigh Gallagher, The End of Suburbsclaimed that suburbs and exurbs were on the verge of extinction as people flocked back to dense cities such as New York.  read more »

“Unblocking Constipated Planning” in New Zealand

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One of the National Party’s principal objectives since coming to power in New Zealand has been to address that nation’s terribly deteriorated housing affordability problem.  Deputy Prime Minister Bill English explained the problem in his Introduction to the 9th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey:  read more »

Thinking Outside the Rails on Transit

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To many in the transit business – that is, people who seek to profit from the development and growth of buses, trains and streetcars – Southern California is often seen as a paradise lost, a former bastion of streetcar lines that crossed the region and sparked much of its early development. Today, billions are being spent to revive the region’s transit legacy.  read more »

The Next Urban Crisis, And How We Might Be Able To Avoid It

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Urban boosters are rightly proud of the progress American cities have made since their nadir in the 1970s; Harvard economist Ed Glaeser has gone so far as to proclaim “the triumph of the city.” Yet recent events — notably Detroit’s bankruptcy and the victory of left-wing populist Bill de Blasio in the Democratic primary of the New York mayoral election — suggest that the urban future may prove far more problematic than commonly acknowledged.  read more »

Health, Happiness, and Density

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The proponents of currently fashionable planning doctrines favouring density promulgate a variety of baseless assertions to support their beliefs. These doctrines, which they group under the label of “Smart Growth”, claim, among other things, that from a health and sustainability perspective, the need to increase population densities is imperative.

With regard to health these high-density advocates have seized upon the obesity epidemic as a reason to advocate squeezing the population into high-density. This is based on a supposition that living in higher densities promotes greater physical activity and thus lower levels of obesity.  They quote studies that show associations between suburban living and higher weight with its adverse health implications. But the weight differences found are minor – in the region of 1 to 3 pounds. Nor do the studies show it is suburban living that has caused this.  read more »

City Leaders Are in Love With Density but Most City Dwellers Disagree

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People care deeply about where they live. If you ever doubt that, remember this: they staged massive protests over a park in Istanbul. Gezi Park near Taksim Square is one of that ancient city’s most beloved spots.  read more »