Category Archives: Regional planning

Let the Property Owners Decide

The Houston flooding isn’t even over yet, and planners are already blaming it on urban sprawl. That’s absurd: if 30 to 50 inches of rain fell on New York City, Los Angeles, or anywhere else over a weekend, they would have flooded too.

The Antiplanner is not an expert on hydrology, but I do know a couple of basic principles. First, the way to minimize flooding is to minimize the percentage of each acre of land that is rendered impermeable by development. Second, high-density development leads to a higher percentage of land that is impermeable. This means that sprawl is a natural defense against flooding.

Planners would like you to believe that concentrating development on a smaller land base, even if that land is made mostly impermeable, is better because more land is left permeable. But all that does is concentrate the flooding in the developed area. Continue reading


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


Richard Florida Supports Trump’s Urban Policies

Like so many urbanists, Richard Florida went into a “state of shock” on the election of Donald Trump. And yet, on reflection, he ends up agreeing with Trump’s basic principles regarding the cities.

Even if Clinton had won, he realized, “we would have been unlikely to see anything like the sweeping new set of urban policies that I’d recommended” in his books. As a result, he reached the “stunning” conclusion that, “When it comes to urban policy and much else, the federal government is the wrong vehicle for getting things done and for getting them done right.”

This, of course, is exactly why Trump and his supporters want to end federal funding of urban programs. Unfortunately, Florida doesn’t really understand the reasons for the blue-red divide, arguing it has more to do with gay rights and homophobism than economic stagnation and declining working-class jobs. Continue reading


Making Boulder Affordable

Boulder, Colorado is the least affordable city in America that is not in California, Hawaii, or the New York City urban area. Boulder’s unaffordability is directly due to a combination of land-use policies, including a greenbelt that is nine times larger than the city itself and limits on the number of building permits that the city can issue each year.

Click image to download this report. Click the link below to go to an executive summary of the report.

A new report published by Colorado’s Independence Institute argues that these land-use policies violate the Fair Housing Act and must be repealed. Thanks to these policies, the black population of Boulder is declining despite the fact that the city’s overall population is growing. Boulder also has one of the lowest homeownership rates of any city in the country, and it is especially low for blacks, who, more than whites, are increasingly forced to live in high-density, multifamily housing instead of single-family homes.

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California Densifying

California has decided it needs to densify all of its cities to meet its greenhouse-gas emissions targets. The state’s goal is to reduce emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. Since the state’s leaders don’t believe fuel efficiencies and other energy economies will be sufficient, they want to reduce per capita driving by 12 percent.

California already has the densest urban areas in the United States. The 2010 census found that, among urban areas (areas above 50,000 in population), Los Angeles is first at 7,000 people per square mile. San Francisco-Oakland is second at 6,266, San Jose is 5,820, while New York is a distant fourth at 5,320. The average density of all California urban areas was 4,577, more than any other state except New York, whose average density was just slightly above that at 4,580. California’s average was nearly twice the rest of the nation whose urban area densities averaged 2,347 per square mile. Remember, these are urban areas, not cities.

The idea that increased densities will reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions is an urban-planning fantasy that the legislature has imposed on the state’s residents. The state’s population is expected to grow by 4.5 million by 2030, and if every single one of those people settles in an urban area, the densities will increase to around 5,200 people per square mile. While people drive a lot less in New York City (not the urban area), whose density is 25,000 people per square mile, increasing densities to 5,200 people per square mile isn’t going to much change travel habits. As University of California Irvine economist David Brownstone says, the effect of density on driving is “too small to be useful” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Trump Should Cancel New MPO Rules

One of the first things President Trump did when taking office was to block implementation of a reduction in mortgage insurance premiums that President Obama had ordered a few weeks before. Obama’s order would have reduced FHA insurance premiums by 0.25 percent of the value of the value of the loan. Since FHA’s fund balance is just 16 percent above the legal minimum, Obama’s order would have turned it from a solvent program to a money loser. By reversing Obama’s order, Trump was giving incoming HUD Secretary Ben Carson a chance to review it.

Another recent rule that Trump should cancel or postpone is a final rule on metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that was issued on December 15. As the Antiplanner noted last October, this rule would force adjacent MPOs to either combine into one or coordinate together when writing plans. The assumption is that, if writing regional plans is good, writing super regional plans is even better.

The flaw in that assumption, of course, is the notion that writing regional plans is good. Regional planners necessarily have less information about their regions than local planners, who have less information than landowners. The idea that people with less information can do a better job of planning your property than you can do is one of the basic flaws in all government land-use planning.

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The Evils of Urban Containment

The Antiplanner is flying to the East Coast today to help some local activists fight a proposed urban-growth boundary. Coincidentally, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, released his annual international survey of housing affordability today.

As the Antiplanner has done for American states and urban areas, Cox shows that, among international urban areas, there is a high correlation between urban containment policies–whether through growth boundaries, greenbelts, or other tools–and unaffordable housing. Simple supply and demand says that when you restrict supply in the face of rising demand, prices will go up–and that’s exactly what we see all over the world.

Cox supplements data he has gathered himself from eight countries (plus Hong Kong) with additional data for urban areas in China and Malaysia. With a little work, it should be possible to add urban areas in non-English-speaking Europe. Perhaps we can have this done in time for the 2018 survey.

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Stuck in Place

Geographic mobility–the movement of people from place to place in response to changing job trends–had declined in the United States, which in turn contributes to the reduction in economic mobility. David Schleicher, a Yale University associate law professor, has written a paper arguing that this reduction is due to government regulations, including land-use regulations that make it expensive to move and occupational licensing that makes it expensive to enter new markets.

This is an important paper, partly because it gained the attention of media ranging from Slate to Reason Magazine, and partly because it documents in detail some things the Antiplanner has said for years.

In Best-Laid Plans, I wrote, “A researcher in England has found higher levels of unemployment among people who own their homes. But this is because Britain’s growth-management planning has made housing there the least affordable in the world. Such high-priced housing greatly increases the cost of moving and discourages people who own homes from relocating to a city with more jobs. To date, this effect is much weaker in the United States, but continued housing shortages could potentially reduce American mobility.”

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Can Trump Stimulate a New Suburban Boom?

President-elect Trump has “the opportunity to preside over a Great Wave of suburbanization and give another generation the opportunity to unlock the modern version of the American Dream,” says Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest magazine. Mead is a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College. While the Antiplanner appreciates Mead’s ambition, he greatly underestimates the barriers to such a vision.

Mead inaccurately claims that American suburbanization took place in two waves: one between World War II and the 1960s (which he associates with Eisenhower) and the second in the 1980s through the early 2000s (which he associates with Reagan). Since both of the previous waves, he says, were led by Republican presidents, its natural for Trump to lead a third wave.

In fact, suburbanization began in the 1840s and hardly slowed down at any time since then. Mead’s first wave saw a large amount of working-class suburbanization, but even that began in the 1920s. In any case, much of that wave took place under Truman, not Eisenhower, and contrary to popular belief, Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System had almost nothing to do with it.

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Suburbs Still the Dominant American Lifestyle

How many cities and regions are basing their land-use and transportation plans on the notion that most Millennials want to live in dense cities? Officials in those areas should read a new report from the Urban Land Institute. Among other things, the report says that three-quarters of Millennials in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas live in the suburbs.

That’s not much less than the 79 percent of everyone in those metro areas who live in the suburbs. Moreover, 76 percent of minorities live in the suburbs, again not much different from the overall average. The Urban Land Institute has a history of promoting smart growth and other urban planning fads, so these conclusions aren’t based on any hidden agendas.

Most of the ULI report is spent dividing suburbs into one of five categories: high-end, middle-class, “economically challenged,” “greenfield lifestyle,” and “greenfield value.” Greenfield lifestyle refers to master-planned communities that include parks and other amenities while greenfield value tend to be ordinary subdivisions with fewer amenities. This kind of classification may be useful to realtors, but if urban planners attempt to use it, perhaps to “fix” the economically challenged areas, the result is likely to be a disaster.

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