Category Archives: Follow up

Antiplanner’s Library: Who Owns the World

While doing research for my map of the New Feudalism, I found this 2010 book by Irish journalist Kevin Cahill. Despite the shrill cover rhetoric, the book is basically a nation-by-nation (and, in the United States, state-by-state) inventory of land ownership patterns. There are a lot of question marks about some countries, but it helps to fill in some of the blanks in Eastern Europe on my map.

Click image to find booksellers offering this book through abebooks.com.

Cahill’s thesis is that “the main cause of most remaining poverty in the world is an excess of landownership in too few hands.” The book is a follow-up to Cahill’s 2002 book, Who Owns Britain? Cahill makes much of Britain’s claim that the crown is the ultimate owner of all the land in the United Kingdom, and goes further and claims the Queen owns all of the land in Canada, Australia, and two-thirds of Antarctica. In fact, 60 to 70 percent of families in Australia, Britain, and Canada have fee-simple title to their land, which is just as valid as the titles Americans have to the land they own.

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APTA Tinkers with the Deck Chairs

Your largest member has just quit, complaining that your organization doesn’t do enough to help it and other large members and that they are underrepresented on your organization’s executive committee. And, oh, by the way, you’re paying your chief executive officer too much.

So what do you do? If you are the American Public Transportation Association, you fire the CEO. That’s not really going to solve any problems, but after 4-1/2 years of getting paid nearly $900,000 per year (see page 17), he probably has enough to retire on. There’s no word yet on whether his replacement will get a similar salary.

A salary and benefits of close to a million dollars a year might make sense for a company that earns billions of dollars in annual revenues. It makes a little less sense for APTA, which uses its $20 million in annual revenues to lobby Congress to get billions of federal dollars funneled to its members. It makes even less sense since the federal funds going to APTA members did not significantly increase during the reign of the newly retired CEO, part of whose qualifications are that he once drove the bus for the Indiana University basketball team coached by Bobby Knight. It is particularly galling to outsiders since taxpayers are the ultimate source of the funds used to pay him.

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2012 Natural Resources Inventory Update

A few weeks ago the Antiplanner posted information about the 2012 Natural Resources Inventory. The post noted that the published documents broke down the amount of developed land in the nation by “large urban and built up” (meaning more than 10 acres of development), “small built up” (meaning more than a quarter but less than 10 acres) and “rural transportation,” but did not include a state-by-state breakdown of these categories.

Since then, the Natural Resources Conservation Service was nice enough to send me a spreadsheet with the state-by-state breakdown (for every state except Alaska). There are no real surprises with it, but I’ve posted it here as may be useful to readers.

One caveat is that the Natural Resources Inventory is a sampling survey, so it is always worthwhile to present it in conjunction with 2010 census data on urbanized lands. The Census Bureau’s definition of “urban” is a little different than the one used in the Natural Resources Inventory, but the two numbers together confirm that, for most states, the vast majority of land remains undeveloped.

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Transit and Congestion

The Antiplanner was apparently exposed to a bad cold when traveling last week and didn’t feel up to writing a timely post for this morning. (Would I have avoided this if I had a driverless car to take me to San Francisco instead flying?)

However, someone emailed me in response to yesterday’s post asking if I was guilty of hyperbole when I said that, outside of New York, transit doesn’t “carry enough people to relieve much congestion.” So I prepared the above chart showing transit’s share of total travel (not just commuting) by urbanized areas. Only urbanized areas in which transit carries more than 2 percent of travel are shown.

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Facts versus Ideology

Debates over smart growth–sometimes known as new urbanism, compact cities, or sustainable urban planning, but always meaning higher urban densities and a higher share of people in multifamily housing–boil down to factual questions. But smart-growth supporters keep trying to twist the arguments into ideological issues.


The choice should be yours: suburbs, or . . .

For example, in response to my Minneapolis Star Tribune article about future housing demand, Thomas Fisher, the dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, writes, “O’Toole, like many conservatives, equates low-density development with personal freedom.” In fact, I equate personal freedom with personal freedom.


. . . New Urbanism. Flickr photo by David Crummey.

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Why Plan Housing?

University of Minnesota planning professor Richard Bolan has responded to the Antiplanner’s critique of the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council’s plan to emphasize high-density housing and discourage large-lot single-family homes. My op ed pointed out that planner Arthur Nelson’s predictions that the demand for single-family homes was declining were based on oversimplified surveys that asked people questions like would they want to live in a “walkable community.”

A lot more factors are at work in people’s housing choices. “Given a choice between a 1,400-square-foot home on a tiny lot in a congested part of town for $375,000 and a 2,400-square-foot home on a large lot in a quiet suburb for $295,000,” my op ed said, “most people would prefer the larger home.” My point was the issues were too complicated for planners to be able to see what people would want 26 years in the future, and since homebuilders can adequately respond to changes in demand, there was no need for central planners to try to predict the unpredictable.

Bolan admits that he’s “not a supporter of Arthur C. Nelson’s report” on future housing demand. But Professor Bolan has his own reasons why central planners should try to determine people’s housing choices in the future: externalities.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in Washington, DC, today attending a conference on mileage-based user fees. When my plane landed in DC at 3:50 pm, I turned my cell phone on and got a voice mail that Lars Larson wanted to interview me on his radio show about yesterday’s transit numbers. We arranged to have the interview begin at 4:20.

That put me in a dilemma. I had a meeting in the city at 5:30 and wanted to drop my luggage off at my hotel in Roslyn. If I waited to the the radio show before leaving the airport, I’d be late for my meeting. So I hustled to take the subway to Arlington and hoped I’d arrive before 4:20, as cell service doesn’t extend underground.

Roslyn is five station stops from National Airport. As I’m thinking about the irony that I’m depending on public transit to get to an interview where I expect to be critical of public transit, our train pulls into the third stop, which is the Pentagon. People stand up to get off the train, but the doors don’t open. The crowd of people outside the train who want to get on grows, but the doors don’t open. I’m afraid I’m going to miss my interview, and the doors won’t open. Finally, the driver makes an incomprehensible announcement and the train leaves–and the doors never opened. I no longer felt that riding transit to criticize transit was so ironic.

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Spitefully Closed

The Antiplanner went for a hike yesterday on a national forest, and nobody tried to keep me out because the government was shut down. National parks, however, are closed to the public during the shutdown.


Flickr photo taken at Saguaro National Park on October 1 by 666ismoney.

Some might argue that national parks have more at stake that shouldn’t be left to the mercies of unsupervised tourists. That may be true in some cases, though not in others. Moreever, when I visit a Forest Service web site, it offers me access to all of the documents and information that were available before the shut down. But when I try to access a Park Service web site, I get a message saying, “Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating.”

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Hyperloop’s Real Problem

Most reviews of Elon Musk‘s hyperloop plan focus on technical questions. Will it cost as little as he estimates? Could it move as fast as he projects? Could the system work at all?

None of these are the real problem with the hyperloop. The real problem is how an infrastructure-heavy, point-to-point system can possibly compete with personal vehicles that can go just about anywhere–the United States has more than 4 million miles of public roads–or with an airline system that requires very little infrastructure and can serve far more destinations than the hyperloop.

Musk promises the hyperloop will be fast. But fast is meaningless if it doesn’t go where you want to go. Musk estimates that people travel about 6 million trips a year between the San Francisco and Los Angeles urban areas, where he wants to build his first hyperloop line. But these urban areas are not points: they are huge, each covering thousands of square miles of land.

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Operation Flower Destruction

Washington Metro trains catch fire. The trains are supposed to be run by computers, but since a June, 2009 crash the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) hasn’t trusted the computers, so it has human drivers who aren’t any more trustworthy.

With numerous elevators and escalators out of service and frequent train breakdowns, WMATA is subject to increasingly harsh criticism from even its usual friends at the Washington Post. Even WMATA’s high-paid general manager admits the agency is only half done with the repairs it has scheduled (which are probably less than it needs).

So what does the agency have its employees do? How about spend a day ripping out all of the flowers that a self-styled Phantom Planter put in at the Dupont Circle subway station? Because it would be horrible if non-agency approved flowers bloomed in red, white, and blue, as the planter expected would happen next month.

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