Last week, the United Nations conference on housing and sustainable development, Habitat III, adopted the New Urban Agenda. Is this a new version of Agenda 21 aimed at controlling how we live and use our land?
Yes and no. Yes, it is an update to Agenda 21. No, it won’t control how we live any more than the original. If you are worried about such control, look to the city planners on your local government’s staff rather than to some United Nations document.
A close reading of the New Urban Agenda suggests it was heavily influenced by first-world urban planners. But it is filled with so many fudge words and modifiers that it ends up with no meaning at all. Certainly, the United Nations is more interested in eliminating poverty and improving sanitation in developing countries than in interfering with the daily lives of people in developed countries.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says it has found the best Seattle homes for Millennials. Judging by the paper’s suggestions, Seattle Millennials should move to Houston. Houston may not have Mt. Rainier, but it has beautiful lakes, a sea coast that is just about as nice as Washington’s (though not as nice as Oregon’s), and most important, it doesn’t have urban-growth boundaries which means it has much more affordable housing.
Click any photo to go to the listing for that property.
The P-I‘s first suggestion is a 720-square foot, two-bedroom, one-bath home on a 5,000-square-foot lot. On the plus side, the living room has hardwood floors. On the minus side, the asking price is $259,950–and if Seattle’s housing market is anything like Portland’s, it will go for more than that. At the asking price, the cost is $361 per square foot.
Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability is following the White House’s advice by proposing to increase the densities of nearly two-thirds of the city’s single-family neighborhoods. Under the proposal, duplexes, triplexes, and accessory dwelling units would be allowed in single-family areas.
The plan also proposes to limit the size of a home to about half the square footage of the lot it is on, while at the same time allowing buildings to cover a larger area of the lot. That’s supposedly to prevent McMansions, but it also just happens to encourage people to build two separate homes on one lot (one of which would be called an “accessory” unit).
Portland’s current mayor, Charlie Hales, is a strong advocate of densification–so long as it isn’t in his backyard. When the city proposed to increase densities in Eastmoreland, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods on the city’s east side, residents strongly protested. Hales, who just happens to live there, backed them up. Judging from the map on page 14 of the proposal, neither Eastmoreland nor the wealthy Tualatin Hills neighborhoods are among those that would be rezoned. Continue reading
“President Obama promised to fight corporate concentration,” says public interest journalist Justin Elliott. “Eight years later, the airline industry is dominated by just four companies.” It’s true that what were seven major airlines in 2008 have merged into four today. The Antiplanner isn’t sure, however, that this is a bad thing.
According to Wikipedia, in 2008, those seven major airlines (American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, U.S. Air, and United) had 88.0 percent of the domestic air market. As of fiscal 2016, that’s dropped to 84.5 percent.
Meanwhile, Alaska has increased its market share by 65 percent and JetBlue has increased its share by 43 percent. Hawaiian’s share has increased by 15 percent. Two major new airlines have appeared, Allegiant and Spirit, giving travelers more choices particularly since they have different pricing models.
If you think the presidential election is stupid, just get a look at all of the cities that are voting on stupid rail transit projects. Los Angeles wants $120 billion; Seattle $54 billion; San Diego, $7.5 billion; San Francisco, $3.5 billion; San Jose, $3 billion; Atlanta, $2.5 billion, Kansas City, $2 billion; Virginia Beach, $310 million; and Tigard, Oregon, which has the chance to kill a $2 billion project in Portland. That’s nearly $200 billion worth of stupidity that has rail contractors salivating.
Voters from these cities should look at the experiences other cities have had with rail. Portland opened a new light-rail project a year ago that was supposed to carry 17,000 people a day in its first year. Actual ridership is more like 11,000. Rail apologist Jarrett Walker says he isn’t surprised as rail lines “are designed to encourage denser and more sustainable development in addition to serving people who are there now,” so initial ridership is “almost always disappointing.” C’mon, Jarrett: planners took this into account when they made their projections (or if they didn’t they should have). By the way, the article also says the project came in “under budget,” but it doesn’t say that the budget was almost twice as much as the original projected cost, just one more way transit agencies lie about rail transit.
Speaking of cost overruns, Honolulu is the smallest urban area in America to be building rail transit, and its project, which was originally projected to cost less than $3 billion, is now up to $8 billion and possibly more than $10 billion, which would be more than $10,000 for every resident of Oahu. The city is stuck because it doesn’t have enough money to finish it, but if it doesn’t finish it, the Federal Transit Administration says it will demand that the city return the federal share of the cost.
Urban-growth boundaries and other forms of growth management make housing expensive, housing prices volatile, and particularly harm low-income people. They slow regional growth, are a primary if not the primary cause of wealth inequality, and cost the nation nearly $2 trillion a year in economic productivity. These and other problems are documented in a new paper that the Cato Institute will publish tomorrow. Antiplanner readers can get a preview of the paper today.
Titled The New Feudalism, the paper points out, as the Antiplanner has previously noted, that strict government control of land uses resembles feudalism in every way but whose names are on the land titles. You may own land in California, but your ability to use that land the way you see fit can be restricted just as heavily as faced by occupants of land in Africa or other places where the government or a few oligarchs hold title to most land.
The paper also argues that regions that practice strict growth management aren’t going to solve their housing affordability problems by building to higher densities. Higher land costs, higher construction costs (at least for mid-rise and high-rise housing), and higher permitting costs can all add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of a single housing unit.
The Washington Post is publishing a series of opinion pieces on what housing policies the next president should adopt. The first, by Urban Institute fellow Erika Poethig, argues that federal rental assistance should target the most vulnerable populations instead of, as is done today, simply anyone who makes a certain percentage below median incomes. The second, by University of Virginia economist Edgar Olsen, goes further and argues that all low-income housing subsidies should be in the form of rental assistance, not construction of low-income housing, which he says is not cost effective.
The most recent article is by the Antiplanner, and readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that it focuses on land-use regulation. One point that I didn’t make in the article for lack of room (I was given a 500-word limit) was that land-use restrictions that make housing more expensive impose higher costs on taxpayers who are expected to provide low-income housing.
On the same day, Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute published a paper arguing that Oregon land-use regulation violates the Fair Housing Act just as much as if Oregon put up a sign saying, “No blacks allowed.” This is similar to a paper previously published by Hawaii’s Grassroot Institute, but of course with more of a focus on Oregon law.
Sex scandals have drowned out the real scandal of 2016, which is the slow economic growth experienced since the 2008 financial crisis. This is the slowest recovery from a recession in history, and that has hurt tens of millions of Americans. Recent articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have asked why the economy is growing so slowly, but neither answered the question.
The answer seems obvious to the Antiplanner: the economy is growing slowly because it is being stifled by a government doing the same thing the government did during the Great Depression (as described by Amity Shlaes), which is encumbering businesses with regulation while spending federal dollars on “stimulus” projects that aren’t very stimulating.
Here’s a true story. During the Depression, the railroads complained that they were heavily regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission while the airlines, truckers, and bus companies were not. President Roosevelt named Joseph Eastman, a long-time member of the Interstate Commerce Commission, his “transportation czar” (formally, the “federal coordinator of transportation”). Eastman realized he had two alternatives: deregulate the railroads or overregulate everyone else. As someone comfortable with regulation, he choose the latter.
With 560 murders this year and counting, Chicago has become known as the murder capital of the nation. Some take issue with this, noting that Chicago’s murder rate per 100,000 people is much lower than many other cities including Baltimore, New Orleans, and Newark. Yet the moniker has stuck, leading many to ask why Chicago violence is so bad.
According to Atlantic‘s CityLab and Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the answer is urban sprawl. Both say there is a strong correlation between declining city populations and rising crime.
Of “the six U.S. cities that have earned the dubious distinction of official ‘murder capital'” over the past 30 years, says CityLab, four have had declining populations. The Metropolitan Planning Council points to a study that found, “almost all of the crime-related population decline is attributable to increased outmigration rather than a decrease in arrivals.” The solution, both CityLab and the MPO argue, is to promote gentrification and immigration.
The National Transportation Safety Board hasn’t made any final determinations, but it’s looking more like the September 29 New Jersey train crash could have been prevented by positive train control (PTC) systems that Congress has mandated but the railroads have failed to install. This is going to lead to a spate of articles accusing New Jersey Transit and other railroads and transit agencies of dragging their feet in installing PTC. Yet the Antiplanner isn’t positive that positive train control is the best way to make rail lines safer.
According to National Transportation Statistics table 2-39, since 1990 an average of 8 passengers and 26 railroad employees have been killed per year in accidents, many of which could have been prevented by positive train control. Meanwhile, an average of 416 people per year have been killed when struck by trains at grade crossings and another 354 have been killed when struck by trains because they were trespassing on tracks. None of those deaths could have been prevented by positive train control.
That suggests that positive train control, which the Association of American Railroads says is likely to cost $10 billion, may not be the most cost-effective way of making railroads safer. Every death is tragic, but if the $10 billion the railroads have to spend to save 34 lives a year could have been spent improving grade crossings and fencing off railroad rights of way, it might be able to save hundreds of lives per year instead.