Urban Issues

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 »

The Consequences of Urban Containment

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Recently published research by Brian N. Jansen and Edwin S. Mills represents notable addition to the already rich academic literature that associates more stringent land use regulation with higher house prices. The analysis is unusually comprehensive and its conclusions indicate greater consequences than is usually cited. Mills is Professor Emeritus of Real Estate and Finance at Northwestern University and is renowned for his contributions to urban economics over more than five decades.  read more »

What Triggers a Civic Turnaround?

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Lots of cities in America are struggling with low population growth and sluggish economies. Poor demographics and economics lead to fiscal problems that result in more people and businesses leaving, perpetuating a downward spiral. Detroit, which recently filed bankruptcy, is an extreme case, but many cities and states find themselves in similar straits, including much of New England and especially most of Rhode Island.  read more »

Inequality of the Largest U.S. Metropolitan Areas

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We earlier mapped inequality of the US states. Now I show the geography of inequality for metropolitan areas over 1,000,000.  These measures of inequality are gini coefficients, calculated by the US Census Bureau for 2005-2009. These indicate how amazingly severe inequality, or the concentration of income and wealth at the top, has become.  The gini is a measure of the departure of a curve of accumulated income, ranking from the poorest to the richest.  read more »

Book Review: 'The End of the Suburbs,' by Leigh Gallagher

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Suburbia has been a favorite whipping boy of urbane intellectuals, who have foretold its decline for decades. Leigh Gallagher's "The End of the Suburbs" is the latest addition to this tired but tireless genre. The book lacks the sparkling prose and original insights one could find in the works of, say, Jane Jacobs or Lewis Mumford. Indeed, Ms. Gallagher's book is little more than a distillation of the conventional wisdom that prevails at Sunday brunch in Manhattan.

The author restages many of the old anti-suburban claims, and her introduction's section headings easily give away the gist of the argument: "Millennials hate the burbs"; "Our households are shrinking"; "We are eco-obsessed"; "The suburbs are poorly designed to begin with"; and so on.  read more »

History, Landscape, Beauty on the American Freeway

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Freeways, particularly urban freeways, have had a bad press for several decades now.  They are accused of despoiling scenery, destroying habitat and causing urban sprawl.  Many observers report with glee on the latest news of a small segment of urban freeway being dismantled.  read more »

Suburb Hating is Anti-Child

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Sure, suburbs have big problems. Their designs force their inhabitants to drive in cars, instead of walking and bicycling. This diminishes face-to-face interactions, physical health, and the quality of the environment. Aesthetically, many of them, particularly those dreaded “planned communities,” are quite boring. People who live there tend not to have much contact with people who aren’t like them, so suburbs reinforce racial, religious, and class segregation.  read more »

A Map Of America's Future: Where Growth Will Be Over The Next Decade

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The world’s biggest and most dynamic economy derives its strength and resilience from its geographic diversity. Economically, at least, America is not a single country. It is a collection of seven nations and three quasi-independent city-states, each with its own tastes, proclivities, resources and problems. These nations compete with one another – the Great Lakes loses factories to the Southeast, and talent flees the brutal winters and high taxes of the city-state New York for gentler climes – but, more important, they develop synergies, albeit unintentionally.  read more »

The Emerging Geography of Inequality

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Since the 1970s there has been a well-documented and persistent increase in income inequality in the United States. As the country slowly emerges out of a deep recession, it is instructive to seek out the geographic variation by states in the degree of inequality and the variation in both median and mean incomes.  read more »