Urban Issues

Evaluating Urban Rail

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For more than 40 years, US cities have rushed to build new rail systems (indeed I was part of such an effort, see Los Angeles: Rail for Others). This article examines the trend in transit and driving alone work trip market share in 23 cities (metropolitan areas) that have built new rail systems that have represented material expansions of regional transit systems. These new rail systems include Metros ("heavy rail"), light rail (not streetcars) and commuter rail (suburban rail).  read more »

Voting With Your Feet: Aaron Renn’s New Donut


Growing up I remember the adults talking about the old neighborhood in Brooklyn where my grandparents lived during the Great Depression and World War II. In spite of the hardships of the era it was described as a great place full of life and colorful characters and extended family all on the same block. But by the time I was born no one we knew lived there anymore. My family was part of the great suburban migration away from cities. By 1967 (the year of my birth) New York, like most cities, had begun to fail.  read more »

Las Vegas: The Once and Future Downtown Project


There’s been a lot in the news lately about the troubles plaguing Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project in Las Vegas. The latest is a longish report in the Guardian, which notes:

Yet by late September of this year, the press – especially the technology press – had begun asking some serious questions, as the Downtown Project suddenly laid off 30 people – 10% of the total it then directly employed. Alongside portentous headlines announcing this “bloodletting” appeared claims that Hsieh had “stepped down” from his position of leadership of the project. A damning open letter from the Downtown Project’s former “director of imagination”, David Gould, called the operation from which he had just resigned “a collage of decadence, greed and missing leadership … There were heroes among us,” he added, “and it is for them that my soul weeps.”

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The Curious Comeback Of U.S. Downtowns

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Perhaps nothing better illustrates the notion of urban revival in America than the comeback of many downtown districts. Yet if these areas have recovered some of their vigor, they are doing so in a manner that hardly suggests a return to their glory days in the first half of the 20th Century.

Instead what’s emerging is a very different conceptualization of downtown, as a residential alternative that appeals to the young and childless couples, and that is not so much a dominant economic hub, but one of numerous poles in the metropolitan archipelago, usually with an outsized presence of financial institutions, government offices and business service firms.  read more »

Southern California Stuck in Drive

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Southern California has long been a nurturer of dreams that, while widely anticipated, often are never quite achieved. One particularly strong fantasy involves Los Angeles abandoning what one enthusiast calls its “car habit” and converting into an ever-denser, transit-oriented region.  read more »

The Three Generations of Black Mayors in America


A select group of cities elected black mayors during the brief and tumultuous Black Power Era, seeking to implement an activist social justice platform.  These cities – notably Cleveland, Gary, Newark and Detroit among large cities — became stigmatized in a way that few have been able to recover from.   A negative narrative was developed about most of them that stuck, despite considerable efforts to dispel them.  Cities that elected “first black mayors” after the Black Power Era, during a period of relative calm, were able to adapt as the political skill set grew in the  read more »

Planning a Trip to China


Recently concluded agreements between the United States and China have led to easing of visa restrictions, which is expected to lead to tourist volume increases in both directions. As a frequent traveler to China, I have found that organized groups – the simplest way to travel in China – far too confining and have avoided their use with the exception of travel to a Great Wall site in the Beijing area.  read more »


Urbanists Need to Face the Full Implications of Peak Car


As traffic levels decline nationally in defiance of the usual state DOT forecasts projecting major increases, a number of commentators have claimed that we’ve reached “peak car” – the point at which the seemingly inexorable rise in vehicle miles traveled in America finally comes to an end.   But while this has been celebrated, with some justification in the urbanist world as vitiating plans for more roads, the implications for public policy haven’t been fully faced up to.  read more »

The Other Side of the Tracks


I tend to fixate on certain places – sometimes because I love them, other times because I can’t help but stare at twisted wreckage. Lancaster, California has always been 30/70 leaning toward wreckage, although it does show signs of ongoing reinvention so I keep going back. Lancaster is highly representative of most places in suburban America. If Lancaster can successfully adapt to changing circumstances then there’s hope for the rest of the country.  read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: Tianjin


Tianjin is located on Bohai Gulf, approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Beijing. It was the imperial port of China, by virtue of that proximity. Tianjin also served as one of the most important "treaty ports" occupied and/or controlled by western nations and Japan for various years before 1950.  read more »