Category Archives: Book reviews

The Antiplanner’s Library:
Richard Florida’s The New Urban Crisis

In a review of Richard Florida’s recent book, The New Urban Crisis, left-wing writer Sam Wetherell says that cities that have followed Florida’s “creative class” prescriptions “are becoming gated communities” for the rich, “or at least the college-educated children of the rich.” They suffer from increased inequality, gentrification pushing the poor out to the suburbs, and a disappearing middle class.

As a socialist, Wetherell believes the problem is a crisis of capitalism. But really the problem is a crisis of big government. Whatever the source of the problem, Wetherell claims that, in The New Urban Crisis, even Florida “all but admits that he was wrong,” though “he stops just short of saying it.” Continue reading

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Ten Things to Know About Megaprojects

Megaproject expert Bent Flyvbjerg–who is now at Oxford University–has a new book called, coincidentally, the Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management. His introduction, which he was nice enough to make available on line, introduces the Iron Law of Megaprojects along with “ten things you need to know about megaprojects,” at least if you think you are going to try to manage one.

The Iron Law is, simply, “Over budget, over time, under benefits, over and over again.” He says that 90 percent of megaprojects go over budget and most end up under performing. Continue reading

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The Antiplanner’s Library: Bike Battles

University of Wisconsin historian James Longhurst has written a book about the history of conflicts over cyclists’ rights to use the road. As Longhurst points out, cycling has gone through a number of “booms,” starting in the late nineteenth century, then during World War II, later with the growth of environmentalism in the 1970s, and most recently in the last few years. As a cyclist myself, I was familiar with most of this history except for the WWII part, and as near as I can tell Longhurst’s account is accurate.

However, as illustrated in the video below, Longhurst approaches the debate as an environmental issue, which leads him in the wrong direction. Treating cycling as an environmental issue leads to the conclusion that bicycles are morally superior to automobiles because they use less energy and pollute less. That leads to demands that cyclists be allowed special rights, such as the right to unnecessarily block traffic or use the middle of a lane even if it slows auto traffic. Continue reading

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A City Is Not a Fugue

If you want a book demonstrating that smart growth is based on mumbo-jumbo, half-truths, and outright fabrications, there are few better examples than The Well-Tempered City. Jonathan Rose is a real estate developer who happens to be married to the sister of New Urbanist architect Peter Calthorpe. Rose claims to have been at the 1996 meeting where the term “smart growth” was coined, though he doesn’t mention that one of the reasons for choosing the name was so its supporters could tar anyone who disagreed with them for favoring “dumb growth.”

Full disclosure: The publisher gave me a copy of this book on the condition that I write a review in my blog, so anything positive I say about the book should be taken with a grain of salt. I told the publisher my review might not be too positive, but they seemed to think a bad review was better than none at all. As it turned out, the book is far worse than I suspected, as I usually expect a semblance of reason from people I disagree with. I could find none in The Well-Tempered City.

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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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The Antiplanner’s Library: Zoned in the USA

A review of this 2014 book on Amazon says, “Hirt explains that in the early 20th century, pro-zoning interests argued that zoning was a means of increasing homeowners’ property values and excluding lower socio-economic classes.” Since that’s not far from one of the conclusions of American Nightmare, I was intrigued to see if she followed the same line of reasoning as the Antiplanner or reached that conclusion from a different direction.

Click image to go to the book publisher’s web page for this book. Click the link above (“2014 book”) to buy this book from Abehbooks.com.

It turns out the reviewer was wrong; Hirt briefly quotes others who argue that zoning “serves as a local immigration law that protects the rich from the poor” (p. 45), but it is hardly the focus of her book. Instead, her main question as an immigrant from eastern Europe herself is: why do Americans zone for such low densities and a separation of residential from other uses when Europeans seem perfectly happy living above stores and across the street from amusement parks? She also correctly observes that, relative to the rest of the developed world, Americans have moderate homeownership rates but high rates of single-family detached housing (p. 20), and wonders why this is the case as well.

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Housing Apartheid

Smart-growth land-use controls are creating a generation of renters and result in “social and housing apartheid,” say economists Shamubeel and Selena Eaqub. Writing from and about Auckland, New Zealand, they note that, since 1995, the cost of developable land has risen 73 percent faster than incomes (p. 52).

They admit that demand has played a role in housing prices, but not the principle role. “Over time, house prices can fluctuate considerably, but, in the normal scheme of things, only in a transitory way,” they write. “Prices will rise to signal the market to make more houses and then fall back when supply matches demand. But house prices can rise continuously, relative to incomes and rents, if there are physical or regulatory constraints that stop supply” (p. 51).

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Faster, Cheaper, Safer, More Convenient

Smallter Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper, by the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce, argues that human innovation will save the planet from climate change and other projected catastrophes. As the title suggests, most of that innovation has to do with making things smaller, faster, etc., but Bryce especially focuses on power density, that is, the amount of energy produced by a machine per kilogram weight of that machine. Thus, steam engines are more powerful than horses; internal combustion engines more powerful than steam; and jet engines more powerful than internal combustion.

Bryce’s formula, with modifications, applies to transportation and other issues as well. For transportation, the key factors are faster, cheaper, safer, and more convenient (convenienter?). From the beginning of the nineteenth century, every major technological innovation in transportation revolutionized society by improving most or all of these factors. The next major innovation–self-driving cars–will definitely improve all four.

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Not in the Antiplanner’s Library

“We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future,” says philosopher Sarah Conly on the opening page of this book. Based on this, she strongly supports the idea that government should use coercion to prevent people from harming themselves.

The Antiplanner hasn’t read and is not going to buy the book, and only partly because the list price is an outrageous $95. More important, while it might provide some insights into how nanny-state supporters think, this is one book I don’t need to read to know that it is wrong.

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The Antiplanner’s Library: Coming Apart

One of the subthemes of the Antiplanner’s latest book is that there is a growing divide between the middle class (meaning people with white-collar jobs and their families) and the working class (meaning people with blue-collar jobs and their families). Charles Murray‘s latest book, Coming Apart, explores this split in more detail. He bravely proposes a cause of that split and suggests a possible solution.

Part of this book is the next book the Antiplanner wanted to write. Murray provides a great statistical review of growing income inequality leading to frightening conclusion that the United States is turning into a two-class society, one an upper-class elite and the other lower-class drudges who lack economic security or well-being. However, Murray’s explanation of this decline, and his remedy, are both far less persuasive.

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