Urban Issues

The biggest issue remains undecided


Unless something completely unexpected occurs, the presidential election has been settled, with Barack Obama the clear winner. Yet, except for the Republican Party’s demise, the most important issue of this era — the future of the middle class — remains largely unaddressed.

Indeed, even as social polarization has diminished — a change that is reflected in Obama’s electoral success — economic polarization has intensified. Globalization and the securitization of almost everything have created arguably the greatest concentration of wealth since before the Great Depression.  read more »

The middle class is key to any city’s future


What are your favorite cities in the US and abroad? Chances are you like cities for their vibrancy, diversity, people, foods, smells, sights, sounds, and opportunities for work, learning, play and life.

These cities can only exist with vibrant middle classes to do the work, pay the taxes, and sustain life (including birthing the kids that are the city’s future).  read more »

Turns Out There's Good News on Main St.


As the financial crisis takes down Wall Street, the regular folks on Main Street are biting their nails, watching the toxic tsunami head their way. But for all our nightmares of drowning in a sea of bad mortgages, foreclosed homes and shrunken retirement plans, the truth is that the effects of this meltdown won't be all bad in the long run. In one regard, it could offer our society a net positive: Forced into belt-tightening, Americans are likely to strengthen our family and community ties and to center our lives more closely on the places where we live.  read more »

A Twice-Told Tale of Black, Brown & LAPD Blue


This is a story of heartbreak and hope – and neither end of the tale made the news.

A curious combination of factors recently led me to these events on a street in South Los Angeles, where worn houses and skinny palm trees can sometimes trick you into seeing nothing much.

Then a crumpled baby bottle near a truck’s tire caught my eye and kicked me in the gut.

The bottle belonged to a toddler who had just been crushed to death.

The mother lost track of the baby. The baby crawled behind the wheel of a neighbor’s truck. The neighbor didn’t notice the child there.  read more »

“The Not So Big House” Ten Years Later


It has been ten years since The Not So Big House became a surprise best seller, elevating a successful but unknown Minneapolis-based architect, Sarah Susanka, to the couch of Oprah Winfrey. Shortly after its release, the book became number one on Amazon.com, the force of which wasn’t fully understood or appreciated back in 1998. Since then she’s published five more books in the Not So Big series, but none have benefited as much from pitch-perfect timing.  read more »

Beyond The Bailout: What’s Next in the Housing Market?


The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (we’ll call it the “Bail Out”) was signed into law on October 3rd. This, combined with the new reality in capital markets and current economic conditions, will result in some major shifts in the outlook for housing over the next few years. It is always possible that the federal government will try to do even more to fix what will be an agonizing housing problem over the next few years, but seems unlikely even Bernake, Paulson or their appointed successors will be able to change the basic story line.  read more »

The Geography of Inequality


The global financial crisis has drawn greater attention to the world of the super rich and to the astounding increases in inequality since 1980, returning the country to a degree of inequality last seen in 1929 or perhaps even 1913. In the year 2006 alone, Wall Street executives received bonuses of $62 billion. Financial services increased from 10 percent of all business profits in 1980 to 40 percent in 2007, an obscene and indefensible development that now threatens the rest of the ‘real economy’.

Here’s what happened to income and wealth between 1970 and 2005  read more »

Gentrification from the inside out in Brooklyn's Ditmas Park


Twenty some years ago my husband, 2 young sons and I moved from our cramped 16-foot wide attached row house in Brooklyn’s trendy Park Slope to a free-standing, 7-bedroom Victorian house in the Ditmas Park section of Flatbush with stained glass windows, pocket doors, original wood paneling, a back yard, front porch, driveway and 2-car garage in a little-known, tree-lined neighborhood about 10 minutes away – on the other, high-crime side of Prospect Park. Friends thought we’d taken leave of our senses!  read more »

Sprawl is ubiquitous, even in my beloved Copenhagen


The year I attended the University of Copenhagen as an undergraduate, I lived in a suburb north of the city and commuted to the central city via bus and rail (the famous S-trains). What a great system, I remember thinking as an impressionable ingénue (you could go anywhere, and trains were on time to the second!). When I returned as a graduate student I lived right in the city center and discovered that great public transit did not obviate the need for extensive walking (I must have worn out five pairs of shoes that year).  read more »

The American Dream: Alive and Well (Some Places)


Even after the burst of the housing bubble, the American Dream of home ownership has remained alive in some places. As it turns out the “bubble” was far from pervasive, and as Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman indicated in The New York Times, the housing price increases were largely limited to the areas of the nation with stronger land use regulation.

In all, at the peak of the housing bubble, 46 of 129 US markets had house prices at or below the historic ceiling of three times household incomes (see 4th International Demographia Housing Affordability Survey. Before the bubble, nearly all markets were at or below that norm, but many have risen to double, triple or even more than three times the standard.  read more »