Urban Issues

The Illusions of Charles Montgomery's Happy City

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This is part one of a two-part series. Read part two here.

Striking a pose of defiance, contemporary urbanists see themselves as the last champions of happiness in a world plunged into quiet despair, and Canadian writer and journalist Charles Montgomery is no exception. Drawing on the emerging ‘science of happiness’, his new book Happy City, subtitled ‘transforming our lives through urban design’, joins a wave of anti-suburban literature spurred on by climate fears and the financial crisis. ‘As a system’, writes Montgomery, the dispersed city ‘has begun to endanger both the health of the planet and the well-being of our descendants.’     read more »

The Changing Face of European Economics: Liberalism Moves North

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Where do we find the nations with the highest tax levels? In the mid-90s the answer was quite clear: in Western Europe. Both Denmark and Sweden had a tax rate of 49 percent of GDP in 1996, followed closely by Finland with a 47 percent level. The tax burden was somewhat lower in France, Belgium, Austria and Italy, where rates ranged from 42 to 44 percent of GDP. Thanks to its oil-wealth Norway could afford a Nordic welfare model with 41 percent taxes, the same level as the Netherlands which had recently slimmed down its welfare system considerably. These Western European welfare states were the nine OECD countries with the highest tax rates. The tenth country was Eastern European Hungary with a rate of 40 percent.  read more »

Why State Economic Development Strategies Should Be Metro-Centric

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Globalization, technology, productivity improvements, and the resulting restructuring of the world economy have led to fundamental changes that have destroyed the old paradigms of doing business. Whether these changes are on the whole good or bad, or who or what is responsible for bringing them into being, they simply are. Most cities, regions, and US states have extremely limited leverage in this marketplace and thus to a great extent are market takers more than market makers. They have to adapt to new realities, but a lack of willingness to face up to the truth, combined with geo-political conditions, mean this has seldom been done.  read more »

California's Potholed Road to Recovery

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California's economy may be on the mend, but prospects for continued growth are severely constrained by the increasing obsolescence of the state's basic infrastructure. Once an unquestioned leader in constructing new roads, water systems, power generation and building our human capital, California is relentlessly slipping behind other states, including some with much lower tax and regulatory burdens.

The indications of California's incipient senility can be found in a host of reports, including a recent one from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the state a “C” grade.  read more »

Correcting Priorities: The 10th Annual Demographia Housing Affordability Survey

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Alain Bertaud of the Stern School of Business at New York University and former principal planner of the World Bank introduces the 10th Annual  Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey by urging planners to abandon:

"...abstract objectives and to focus their efforts on two measurable outcomes that have always mattered since the growth of large cities during the 19th century’s industrial revolution: workers’ spatial mobility and housing affordability".  read more »

The Story of How Marin Was Ruined

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Marin County is a a picturesque area across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco of quaint walkable towns, with homes perched on rolling hills and a low rise, unspoiled feel. People typically move to Marin to escape the more urbanized South and East Bay and San Francisco. Eighty-three percent of Marin cannot be built on as the land is agricultural and protected open space.   read more »

Britain's Planning Laws: Of Houses, Chickens and Poverty

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Perhaps for the first time in nearly seven decades a serious debate on housing affordability appears to be developing in the United Kingdom. There is no more appropriate location for such an exchange, given that it was the urban containment policies of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 that helped drive Britain's prices through the roof. Further, massive damage has been done in countries where these polices were adopted, such as in Australia and New Zealand (now scurrying to reverse things) as well as metropolitan areas from Vancouver to San Francisco, Dublin, and Seoul.  read more »

How Houston’s Missing Media Gene Hobbles Its Global City Ambitions

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In an upcoming study I am working on with Chapman University’s Center for Demographics and Policy, we show that San Francisco and Houston are North America’s “emerging” global cities. They are also rival representative champions and exemplars of two models of civic development. San Francisco is the world’s technology capital; focused on the highest levels of the economic food chain; paragon of the new, intangible economy; and promoter environmental values and compact development.  Houston is the closest thing to American laissez-faire; unabashed embracer of the old economy of tangible stuff, including unfashionable, but highly profitable, industries like oil, chemicals, and shipping.  read more »

Build It, Even Though They Won't Come

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The recent decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman to reject as “fatally flawed” the densification plans for downtown Hollywood could shake the foundations of California's “smart growth” planning clerisy. By dismissing Los Angeles' Hollywood plan, the judge also assaulted the logic behind plans throughout the region to construct substantial high-rise development in “transit-oriented developments” adjacent to rail stations.  read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: Charlotte

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There may be no better example of the post World War II urban form than Charlotte, North Carolina (a metropolitan area and urban area that stretches into South Carolina). Indeed, among the approximately 470 urban areas with more than 1 million population, Charlotte ranks last in urban population density in the United States (Figure 1) and last in the world. According to the United States Census Bureau, Charlotte's built-up urban area population density was 1685 per square mile (650 per square kilometer) in 2010.  read more »