Urban Issues

Suburban. Comma. Transit.

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I explored the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that runs for eighteen miles across the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. The Valley is a profoundly suburban city-within-a-city and home to 1.8 million people spread out over 260 square miles. Attempts to upgrade public transit by the central authorities in LA proper have been fought tooth and nail by folks in the Valley and illustrate why transit just doesn’t work when the local culture doesn’t want it. I’m not sure why LA keeps pushing on this particular string.  read more »

Corporate Mustard Showroom Helps Explain New York’s Retail Rent Crisis

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The story of skyrocketing rents has two components: residential and commercial.

My New York neighborhood, the Upper West Side, features fairly stable residential rents, but commercial rents seem to have been soaring. This has caused the familiar angst over the loss of neighborhood businesses to the ubiquitous bank branches and drug stores.  read more »

Can California Transition to Next Tech Wave?

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The consumer technology boom, largely responsible for a resurgence in California’s economy after the tech wreck of 2001, seems to be coming to an end. The signs are widespread: slowing employment, layoffs from bell-weather social media companies, the almost embarrassing difficulty of finding buyers for Twitter, the absorption of Yahoo by Verizon and the acquisition by Microsoft of LinkedIn.  read more »

Today’s Orange County: Not Right Wing—and Kinda Hip

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What comes to mind when you think about Orange County? Probably, images of lascivious housewives and blonde surfers. And certainly, at least if you know your political history, crazed right-wing activists, riding around with anti-UN slogans on their bumpers in this county that served as a crucial birthplace of modern movement conservatism in the 1950s.  read more »

Two Cheers for NIMBYism

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Politicians, housing advocates, planners and developers often blame the NIMBY — “not in my backyard” — lobby for the state’s housing crisis. And it’s true that some locals overreact with unrealistic growth limits that cut off any new housing supply and have blocked reasonable ways to boost supply.

But the biggest impediment to solving our housing crisis lies not principally with neighbors protecting their local neighborhoods, but rather with central governments determined to limit, and make ever more expensive, single-family housing. Economist Issi Romem notes that, based on the past, “failing to expand cities [to allow sprawl] will come at a cost” to the housing market.  read more »

America's Next Great Metropolis Is Taking Shape In Texas

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If you drive south from Dallas, or west from Houston, a subtle shift takes place. The monotonous, flat prairie that dominates much of Texas gives way to a landscape that rises and ebbs.  read more »

The Rival Future Visions of Peter Thiel and Scott Adams

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Our mental model of the world shapes our behavior at fundamental levels in ways we often can’t even recognize. I was struck by this when reading two books almost back to back, Scott Adams’ How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big and Peter Thiel’s Zero to One.

Both authors lay out a schema for modeling the future and how to behave relative to it, but come to very different conclusions.  read more »

Subjects:

Welcome to Rosemont, IL

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Millions of people pass through O'Hare, settle into the adjacent hotels, go to conferences and meetings in the nearby convention centers, shop in the nearby stores or drink and eat in the nearby bars and restaurants, and believe they're in Chicago.  But they're not.  In most cases, they're in the small village of Rosemont, the tiny town that's done more than any community I know to capitalize on its location.  read more »

A Better Way

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My recent post at Granola Shotgun described how a town in Georgia spent an enormous amount of public money on a new civic center and road expansions, but somehow managed to devalue nearby private property in the process. Here’s an example of a neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee that took a different approach that cost a lot less and achieved a radically better set of outcomes.  read more »

Honolulu Rail: From $4.6 B to $8.6 B in Eight Years. Now What?

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With its official cost now having risen to $8.6 billion and a funding gap of $1.8 billion, both of which are certain to rise, Honolulu’s rail project will run out of money before construction reaches the downtown area, perhaps even before it reaches Middle Street.  read more »