New Climate Report Misses Point on US Cities

The doubtful claim that low density US cities impose a cost to the economy of $400 billion is countered by their being the most affluent in the world. Nine of the top 10 cities in GDP per capita are in the US and more than 70% of the top 50. The highest GDP per capita city in the world is one of the least compact, Hartford, with an urban population density among the bottom 10 out of more the than 900 urban areas larger than 500,000 (See here and here).

Mobility is an important driver of economic performance. US cities have less traffic congestion, and shorter work trip travel times than their international peers (Los Angeles has the shortest work trip travel times of any megacity for which there is data). The key to this productivity is more dispersed residential and employment locations (less than 10% of jobs are downtown) and the less intense traffic congestion that is associated with such development. In the US, just as in Western Europe, commuting by car is much faster than by transit. The coming fuel efficiency improvements will narrow or eliminate the gap between personal vehicle and transit GHG emissions per passenger kilometer. US fuel efficiency standards are projected to reduce gross car GHG emissions by more than a quarter by 2040, according to the US Department of Energy. That's before any de-carbonization.

The US has some of the best housing affordability in the world (excluding cities like San Francisco and Portland, where politically correct policies raise prices, lowering the standard of living and increasing poverty). The miniscule reductions from favored urban policies are exceedingly expensive per tonne and incapable of making a serious contribution to GHG emission reduction.

Maintaining the standard of living and reducing poverty requires cities that are mobile and affordable. It is important that GHG emissions reductions be chosen for their cost effectiveness, rather than consistency with expensive academic theories that long predate GHG emissions reduction concerns.

This piece was posted to comments at The Economist.

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New Climate is really bad

New Climate is really bad thing because it will be more warmer then ever. I don't like it.

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Positive corelation between Density and Lower Standard of Living

This is a mere comment and cannot exhaustively cover the entire subject of density and a reduced standard of living.

The experience of Hollywood, CA, however shows that more TODs, subways and mixed-use projects can CAUSE a lower standard of living.

The standard of living in council district 13 of Hollywood significantly deteriorated between 2010 and 2010, and the same people who were advising of the decline in 2005 are presently observing a worsening of the situation as increasingly more Millennials move into the super dorm rooms in the hordes of mixed-use projects, La Bea Avenue.

In phase one of the decline, the population dropped drastically, and as Patrick McDonald showed in 2013 in LA Weekly, the TODs were driving out families.

The subsequent data shows that the remaining population in CD 13 in 2010 had less education, less training, and higher crime. Those who have to use the subway, but thankfully not very many people do, have to spend about 3x as much time to go to a fro than those who use cars.

In speaking with managers of some of these mixed-use projects, many have 2, 3 or 4 Millennials sharing a studio or 1 bedroom. They have a so-your-wild-oats mentality which causes older, more stable people to move away.

Because the City promote fewer and fewer off-street parking space while data shows that car ownership per apartment has increased by 30% in the last decade, they have to park many blocks away from their "dorm rooms" in the nearby R-1 neighborhoods, which are now moving to Restricted Parking.

While the next census may show more people in Hollywood, their standard of living will be substantially lower than Hollywoodians had in 1990 or 2000 or even in 2010.

Traffic is a nightmare which makes living in Hollywood more expensive. Time is Money and when it takes 3 times as long to go anywhere, one is loosing money. Even when one does not monetize time, those our hours not spend with family.

Income-related sorting and demeaning people

This is often the way as cities evolve, when part of their evolution is constraints (mostly intentional, but sometimes not) on fringe growth. This always results in an explosion in land values and it also always distorts the urban land rent in the direction of upzoning and building up = higher site rents, not lower floor rents, which is what planners mistakenly assume.

They are unable to explain, of course, why people in Hong Kong live at 66,000 people to the square kilometer and people in Houston live at 1200 to the square kilometer; and people in Hong Kong have 1/5 the space per housing unit and these are stacked up vertically for dozens of floors; and yet Hong Kong's median multiple is 15 and Houston's is 3.

As you do this to a city's land market - i.e. make it rent-extractive rather than a democratizer of property, of course many people at the bottom of the income distribution, particularly those who do menial work, will be demeaned in the choices of housing they can afford. Frequently recent immigrants will set up little replicas of the overcrowding in which they existed in their countries of origin.

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Re: New Climate Report...logic?

One would hope that logic is a consideration the editor uses when choosing articles. While transportation efficiency is one factor that favors the economy of an area, it is far, far from being the only determinant of GDP per capita. There are plenty of places with low commuting drive time and low per capita income. More to the author's main point, Mr. Cox should realize that the cost of inefficiencies naturally go up with affluence of an area -- not necessarily the rate of inefficiency, but its value, and here it is stated in value. Affluence in his argument doesn't counter anything. The geographic model of the United States, that Mr. Cox lauds, is closer to Russia than to Japan. Therefore, he should conclude that Russian cities should have a higher GDP per capita than Japanese cities. There are many other determinants of more importance.