GM, Business, and The Age of Small

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At its peak, General Motors employed 350,000 people and operated 150 assembly plants. It defined “big business” for America and the world.

But GM was not always big. It grew through the acquisitions that it made in the early decades of the twentieth century. In those days, the automotive industry was populated by entrepreneurial small businesses led by people like Ransom Olds and Henry Ford. There were more than 200 automobile companies in the United States in 1920. By 1940, only 17 had survived.  read more »

On Our Knees: Prince Charles vs. Lord Rogers

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It is no wonder that architect Richard Rogers is feeling a bit peeved at Prince Charles. This month, the heir to the British throne scuppered plans for a £1 billion development putting 552 apartments on the 12.8-acre site of the old Chelsea Barracks. Rogers was most offended that the Prince used his Royalty to by-pass the usual planning law consultation, by speaking direct to the Qatari royalty who owned the site.  read more »

How Can Cities with Unaffordable Housing be Ranked Among the Most Livable Cities in the World?

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The Economist magazine's "Economic Intelligence Unit" (EIU) has published its most recent survey of the most livable cities in the world.

Vancouver, Canada, ranks number one, Vienna, Austria number two, Perth, Australia number five, Geneva number 8, Zurich, number 9, (both in Switzerland) and Auckland, New Zealand, number twelve.  read more »

Sustaining Localism in the English Suburban Context

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Localism, a longstanding agenda of the Green Party in the context of the UK economy, is gaining ground in the current economic crisis. In a recent edition of the London-based Daily Telegraph, a striking contrast is made between Chester in north-west England – which is suffering from the decline of its relatively narrow economic base and Totnes in south-west England, which with its longstanding interest in alternative living, and more localised economy, seems to be weathering the situation much better. The underlying message from the article is that small is good – particularly for businesses not overextended in their borrowing, and familiar enough with their immediate context to be able to adapt to a changing economy.  read more »

The Geography of Class in Greater Seattle

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Most readers may not be initially very interested in the detailed geography of “class” in Seattle, but it actually matters not only for our area but for the whole debate over the shape of the urban future. Academics, perhaps Americans in general, are loath to admit to class differences, yet they remain very crucial to the understanding of how cities and regions evolve.

Seattle is a great example of the transformation of a 20th century model of the American metropolis to a 21st century-cum-19th century “old World” model of metropolis. It is often held up as one of the role models for other cities, so its experiences should be considered seriously not only for American cities but for regions throughout the advanced world.  read more »

Europe: No Longer A Role Model For America

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For decades many in the American political and policy establishment--including close supporters of President Obama--have looked enviously at the bureaucratic powerhouse of the European Union. In everything from climate change to civil liberties to land use regulation, Europe long has charmed those visionaries, particularly on the left, who wish to remake America in its image.  read more »

Special Report: Infill in US Urban Areas

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One of the favored strategies of current urban planning is “infill” development. This is development that occurs within the existing urban footprint, as opposed that taking place on the fringe of the urban footprint (suburbanization). For the first time, the United States Bureau of the Census is producing data that readily reveals infill, as measured by population growth, in the nation’s urban areas.

2000 Urban Footprint Populations  read more »

Kauai, Hawaii: Local Merchants Make Waves

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Many have by now heard or read the story of the plucky group of Hawaiians on the island of Kauai who, when faced with the loss of their businesses due to the state government’s inability to open park roads to a popular beach and camping area, took care of it themselves for a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time. How very Tocquevellian. Or, better, how very American.  read more »

Federal Highway Trust Fund: Problem Solving, Government Style

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News Flash: The Federal Highway Trust Fund will go broke in August.

It went broke last year, and Congress needed an emergency transfer of $8 billion to keep it solvent. There was very little concern last year, but this year we find ourselves in a post-modernist political environment where managing a crisis is good politics, although actually all we do is talk about it.  read more »

Farmland Prices: The Cost of Growing A Suburb

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Summer in Minnesota – land of 10,000 lakes — is, for many families, about boating, with the Harley the preferred mode of ground transportation. In winter, snow mobiles are popular. Hunting and fishing replace the corner coffee shops as hangouts. Three car garages are considered a minimum – four even better!

So how did it come to pass that out-of-control land prices would destroy the economics of housing in this small-town region? And why was the pattern repeated in markets like Las Vegas and Phoenix?  read more »