Urban Issues

Looking Down Under for a California Turnaround

Brisbane Wheel.jpg

At a time when government in California faces an existential crisis, it’s telling to observe a starkly different picture in Australia. Forty years ago, local officials in fast-growing suburban communities in Queensland, Australia looked to their colleagues in fast-growing suburban communities in California as kindred spirits. They began a tradition of trading annual exchange visits to compare notes. Last month I had the opportunity to participate in that exchange. This year’s gathering took place on the “Sunshine Coast” north of Brisbane.  read more »

Stuck in the Station: The High-Speed Rail "Low Ball Express"


You know that something is up when a Washington Post editorial advises that the Obama Administration do a "reality check" on its plans for high speed rail. From the beginning, there was more slow-speed than high speed rail, however both components of the plan could be in trouble.  read more »

Love and the City


It has been said that the modern city is soulless, that it is heartless, and that it is brutal. The modern city represents in its scale and complexity one of the most extraordinary of human inventions, but there is also no doubt that everywhere in the world it is also one of our biggest failures.

The dysfunction of a city in the past was an inconvenience. The dysfunction of a city in the future will be a profound disaster for that city and, ironically, a profound opportunity for another city, of a smarter city. It will be an opportunity for a city that has found out how to position itself better in the world of cities, but more importantly in the eyes and hearts of its citizens.  read more »

The Rise of the Efficient City


Smaller, more nimble urban regions promise a better life than the congested megalopolis.

Most of the world's population now lives in cities. To many academics, planners and developers, that means that the future will be dominated by what urban theorist Saskia Sassen calls "new geographies of centrality." According to this view, dense, urban centers with populations in excess of 20 million—such as metropolitan Tokyo, New Delhi, Sao Paolo and New York—are best suited to control the commanding heights of global economics and culture in the coming epoch.  read more »

Toronto Election Highlights Failure of Amalgamation


In my pre-election piece on the Toronto election, I discussed the city’s lingering malaise. It developed slowly but its roots can be traced to the 1998 amalgamation that swallowed up five suburban municipalities. This led to a six folds expansion of city boundaries and a tripling the population base. This amalgamation was initiated by the province of Ontario as a cost saving measure and faced major local opposition.  read more »

Amtrak Fails To Weather The Storms

Amtrak - Keystone in snowstorm; Wayne PA.JPG

Why do I persist in riding Amtrak, the short name for the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a company originally owned by the freight railways, but now subsidized by Congress and run like a Russian bureaucracy, complete with late trains, sullen employees, myriad petty regulations, budget deficits, cold coffee, feather bedding, broken seats, clogged toilets, rail cars that feel like buses, and a schedule that serves the interests of congressmen, lobbyists, unions, budget stimulators, and small-town mayors, but rarely passengers?  read more »

The Overdue Debate: Smart Growth Versus Housing Affordability


American households face daunting financial challenges. Even those lucky enough not to have suffered huge savings and retirement fund losses in the Great Recession seem likely to pay more of their incomes in taxes in the years to come, as governments attempt pay bills beyond their reasonable financial ability. Beyond that, America's declining international competitiveness and the easy money policies of the Federal Reserve Board could well set off inflation that could discount further the wealth of households.  read more »

The Other Chambers of Commerce


The recent political conflict between the Obama Administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has thrown a new spotlight on an old communication problem. Local chambers of commerce, although they predate the U.S. Chamber by nearly a century and a half, often are assumed to be part of the U.S. Chamber, or otherwise under its direction. They aren’t. They are independent.  read more »

Car Wars: Should Autos Rule The Road? Part II

Rick Harrison's Car.jpg

We have a severe drug problem, we've been told, that mostly affects suburbanites. The dangerous drug is not taken by mouth, nor by injection, yet it is used daily by every family member and must be stopped before we, as a nation, are utterly destroyed. According to many experts, our “dependence” on cars must stop.  read more »

Car Wars: Should Autos Rule The Road? Part I

Scott's Denver Street.JPG

We've decided to become a one car family. Denver has proven to be the ideal locale for this experiment, of sorts. The "Mile High City," and particularly our new neighborhood, provide a range of mobility options beyond the four-wheel variety for trekking from place to place.

The metropolitan area is naturally blessed with a mobility-favorable landscape. It is approximately 10 miles by 10 miles. More importantly, our neighborhood possesses what I affectionately refer to as “accessible proximity” to local amenities such as grocery stores, coffee houses, parks, and specialty shopping centers. The immediate area is not only safe, it's engaging in its physical and social makeup, with stately homes and troves of dog-walkers along suburban style streets.  read more »