The Washington Times published an article yesterday charging that “climate crusaders want to phase out the American dream of a house and yard.” Focusing on Plan Bay Area, the article argues that single-family homes are hardly a threat to the planet.
“Phasing out backyards”–that’s a good phrase. Why didn’t I think of that?
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal observes that federal regulators condescend to “approve” of cars that drive themselves” (if the link hits a paywall, search for “Regulators Back Efforts to Develop Cars That Drive Themselves”). The article cautions that such cars won’t be available “until about 2025,” but Forbes is more optimistic, saying they will be available “before the end of the decade.”
The British are more aware of class than Americans. So when Paul Dacre, the editor -in-chief of the working-class Daily Mail, says, “there is an unpleasant intellectual snobbery about the Mail in leftish circles, for whom the word ‘suburban’ is an obscenity,” the Brits know what he means.
While some Brits may be ashamed to admit it, more live in suburbs than central cities, though thanks to highly restrictive land-use laws, they tend to live on small lots or in semidetached homes. This suburb is southeast of London. Flickr photo by diamond geezer; click for a larger view.
Suburban hostility among British elites actually preceded that in the United States by at least a couple of decades. As Clive Martin, the former Lord Mayor of London, observes, there may be no “aspect of the British experience that comes in for more derision than suburbia,” a lifestyle that is “relentlessly mocked” as “an acquired taste for people with no taste.”
Transit advocates often argue that a particular city or region must spend more on urban transit in order to support the growth of that region. To test that claim, the Antiplanner downloaded the latest historic data files from the National Transit Database, specifically the capital funding and service data and operating expenses by mode time series. These files list which urbanized area each transit agency primarily serves, so it was easy to compare these data with Census Bureau population data from 1990, 2000, and 2010.
The transit data include capital and operating expenses for all years from 1991 through 2011. I decided to compare the average of 1991 through 2000 per capita expenses with population growth in the 1990s, and the average of 2001 through 2010 per capita expenses with population growth in the 2010s. In case there is a delayed response, I also compared the average of 1990 through 2000 per capita expenses with population growth in the 2000s. Although it shouldn’t matter too much, I used GNP deflators to convert all costs to 2012 dollars.
I had to make a few adjustments to the population data to account for changes in the Census Bureau’s definitions of urbanized areas. Between 1990 and 2000, the San Francisco-Oakland and Los Angeles urbanized areas were split into several parts, so I added up the various parts for 2000 and 2010 data. At the same time, the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach urbanized areas were merged, so I added these three for 1990. The Oklahoma City urbanized area was radically reduced in size, with the apparent but incorrect result that it had lost population between 1990 and 2000. I used the growth rates for the Oklahoma City metropolitan statistical area instead. Since they are served by the same transit agencies, I combined Boulder and Denver data as well as Salt Lake, Ogden, and Provo-Orem data.
The Antiplanner is flying to Washington, DC, today for the Preserving the American Dream conference. Postings may be thin next week as this conference will consume much of my time.
Coincident with the conference, the Cato Institute will release my latest paper on the follies of sustainability planning. Readers can get a preview of the paper, which argues that sustainability planning is not a cost-effective way of saving energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or solving other problems.
The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce thinks a regional (as opposed to county) transit agency will help Indianapolis compete with regions such as “Minneapolis and Salt Lake City that offer extensive transit systems.” The Antiplanner disagrees, pointing out that the Indianapolis urban area is already growing twice as fast as Minneapolis or Salt Lake City, and higher taxes aren’t going to help.
Unmentioned is the fact that “regional transit” is generally a euphemism for rail transit, and that the proposal for a regional Indianapolis transit agency includes a plan for a low-capacity rail line. Basically, someone wants to spend a lot of money on obsolete transportation.
Only about 17,000 Indianapolis-area workers live in households that lack cars. I’m not saying this should be done, but it would cost less, and do more for regional vitality, to give every one of those households a new Toyota Prius than to build a low-capacity rail line. With or without rail, Indianapolis doesn’t need regional transit.
How much should we spend to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? McKinsey & Company says the United States can reduce its emissions to well below recent levels by 2030 if it invests in programs and technologies that cost no more than $50 per metric ton of abated carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. But some might argue that won’t be enough; others may say it is too much.
To provide another answer, the Obama administration has estimated the social cost of carbon. As shown in the above chart, the cost depends on the year the gases are emitted; the discount rate; and whether you believe the average cost estimate or an estimate at the 95th percentile of the high end of costs. Costs rise for gasses emitted in the future because they are supposed to have more serious and irreversible consequences.
The Antiplanner enjoyed a few days in Montana last week attending a conference on boom towns, and the busts that often follow such booms. We learned about the Bakken Shale boom in eastern Montana and western North Dakota and took a trip to Butte, a city that has declined from more than 42,000 people (some say over 100,000, but it seems unlikely that many people could hide from the census takers) in 1920 to 34,000 today.
In both places–the booms and busts–the question is raised: what should government do? Should it take action to provide affordable housing when towns are booming? Should it subsidize communities when they are busting?
Ho-hum, another prediction that “suburbs are dead,” this time from Fortune magazine assistant editor Leigh Gallagher. Her just-released book, The End of the Suburbs, argues that Americans no longer dream of owning a house with a yard and driving to work and everywhere else.
“All the studies show” that the millenials “want to live where they can walk, whether that’s the city or an urban suburb,” she tells Washington Post reporter Paul Windle. Gallaher herself lives in New York City’s West Village, while Windle lives in inner Washington, DC, so their own personal anecdotal evidence easily confirms what “all the studies show.”
As it turns out, however, all the studies don’t show that. Take, for example, the Census Bureau report (previously noted here) that new homes are larger than ever or this survey, which found that three out four millennials aspire to live in a house of their own–and many of them are working hard to achieve that.
“Three years after its completion, most of the storefronts remain vacant” in a mixed-use development next to a BART station in Pleasant Hill, California, reports the Contra Costa Times. “Projects that combine housing with retail space are a poor fit for the suburbs,” the paper reports one expert as saying.
Mixed-use developments are the gold ring on the land development merry-go-round for urban planners, most of whom don’t really understand land development. They think that mixed-use developments will lead people to walk more and drive less and therefore try to force them onto neighborhoods, particularly near rail transit stations, using prescriptive zoning.
In the Pleasant Hill case, the developer was probably required to build 34,000 square feet of commercial space in order to get a permit to build 422 luxury apartments. But a few hundred two-person families is not enough to support that much retail space, and people who enter and exit the nearby BART station are too intent on getting to work or home to stop and shop. According to commercial real estate broker John Cumbelich, the Pleasant Hill development could support, at most, about 5,000 square feet of commercial space.
For the second time in a week, Paul Krugman has written about sprawl. This time he is as wrong as the last, when he blamed Detroit’s bankruptcy on sprawl. Now he blames Atlanta’s entrenched poverty on urban sprawl. “The city may just be too spread out,” he says, “so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods.”
Krugman quotes a study that finds that one of many factors reducing social mobility include “areas in which low income individuals were residentially segregated from middle income individuals.” But income segregation is very different from sprawl, and can take place in communities of any density. New York City, for example, has pretty high economic segregation.
Krugman adds that Atlanta’s sprawl “would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t.” He obviously doesn’t know the history of mass transit in Atlanta, which had a great transit system until regional leaders decided to build an expensive rail transit system. Since they aimed the rail lines at middle-class neighborhoods and sacrificed bus service to low-income neighborhoods to pay for the rail lines, transit’s share of commuting has fallen by more than 60 percent and per capita transit ridership has fallen by more than two thirds.