Urban Issues

Silicon Valley: Jelly in the Jam


My last post was about how Silicon Valley is evolving into an urban form that’s not quite leafy and open enough to be a suburb anymore, but not really vibrant and compact enough to be a proper city either. “Too thin to be jelly. Too thick to be jam.” The story got an unusually large number of visits. I received some well informed comments that touched on the reality that Silicon Valley is a big place and I shouldn’t generalize. Palo Alto is very different from Fremont and so on.  read more »

Building a New California

california-beach (2).jpg

The Golden State has historically led the United States and the world in technology, quality of life, social innovation, entertainment, and public policy. But in recent decades its lead has ebbed. The reasons for this are various. But there is one area of decay whose story is a parable for California’s other plights—that area is infrastructure.  read more »

America's Mid-Sized Metropolitan Areas


The United States has 53 mid-sized metropolitan areas, with populations from 500,000 to 1 million. These metropolitan areas together had a population of nearly 38 million in 2014, according to the most recent Census Bureau population estimates (Table). In number, they match the 53 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population), though they have only one fifth of the population (178 million).  read more »

Global Cities in the 21st Century: a Chicago Model?


As America’s “third” city, Chicago competes for international attention against the usual rivals: New York and Los Angeles. Even San Francisco, next to Silicon Valley, claims prominence for its cutting-edge industries and progressive culture. Ultimately, though, Chicago’s domestic peers have global status through definitive leadership in industries with visibility and impact (New York in finance, Los Angeles in entertainment, Houston in energy, and San Francisco in technology and innovation). Chicago has dim prospects of replicating such undisputable competitive advantages, but it may not need to.  read more »

Growth and the Suburban Chassis


I tend to explore what happens to suburbs as they age and begin to decline. But this time I’m going to explore what happens to suburbs that thrive and continue to grow and work their way up the value chain. It isn’t exactly what many people expect. “Be careful what you wish for.”

A friend moved from San Francisco to San Jose this winter. Now that I’ve been visiting her on a regular basis I have an excuse to poke around. It’s actually pretty fascinating.  read more »

The French housing Bubble also has Roots in Excessive Land Use Regulations


Despite the claim to uniqueness that is quintessentially French, the housing bubble shares the same root as we see in the Anglo-Saxon world. To be sure, some analysts blame it only on low interest rates: they made the households more solvent, and thus drove home prices up. This rise in purchasing power might have been enhanced by some specific subsidies to new rental units. Some also y point to normative constraints on new buildings have added to production costs.  read more »

China's Shifting Population Growth Patterns


As demographers have projected for some time, China's population growth is slowing. The nation gained population at a rate of 0.49% between 2010 and 2013, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. This is a reduction from the rate of 0.57% between 2000 and 2010. Further growth rate declines are expected until the 2030s when the total population, according to United Nations projections, will actually begin to decline.  read more »

Southern California Housing Figures to Get Tighter, Pricier


What kind of urban future is in the offing for Southern California? Well, if you look at both what planners want and current market trends, here’s the best forecast: congested, with higher prices and an ever more degraded quality of life. As the acerbic author of the “Dr. Housing Bubble” blog puts it, we are looking at becoming “los sardines” with a future marked by both relentless cramming and out-of-sight prices.  read more »

Iran's Urban Future: Tehran and Beyond

Tehran at night.jpg

With Iranian-American nuclear relations back on the front burner — make that front and center — I was able to secure a visa and travel counter-clockwise by train around Iran, covering more than a thousand miles. In American headlines and Congressional outbursts, Iran is thought only to be grappling with its nuclear dilemma. But I came to the conclusion that Iran’s future is tied more closely to its cities, where some 60 percent of the population lives, than it is to its nuclear capabilities or its revolutionary doctrines.  read more »


The Big Idea: California Is So Over


California has met the future, and it really doesn’t work. As the mounting panic surrounding the drought suggests, the Golden State, once renowned for meeting human and geographic challenges, is losing its ability to cope with crises. As a result, the great American land of opportunity is devolving into something that resembles feudalism, a society dominated by rich and poor, with little opportunity for upward mobility for the state’s middle- and working classes.   read more »