Category Archives: Regional planning

When Myron Met the Antiplanner

Some two weeks ago, the Antiplanner met regionalist Myron Orfield in a debate over the question, “What is the appropriate role of government in land-use regulation?” A member of the Sensible Land Use Coalition, which sponsored the event, recorded the discussion and asked me to post it to Youtube.

To avoid an overly long video, I elected to post it in four parts. Part 1, above, shows the introductions and my presentation (also available as a 10.5-MB PDF).

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A Model for the Rest of the Country?

Portland doesn’t need to apologize for spending more than $1.5 billion on a 7-mile light-rail line, says Secretary of Immobility Anthony Foxx. “Cities, counties and state need to have bold visions, not be unapologetic about them, and explain them to the public,” he was quoted as saying. Presumably this quote was garbled; otherwise the Department of Transportation is in even worse trouble than the Antiplanner thought.

Let’s see how well Portland is doing as a model for the nation:

  • Its streets are falling apart even as it plans to build 140 miles of streetcar lines at a cost that would be enough to repave all 5,000 miles of streets;
  • Portland doesn’t even have enough money to maintain city-owned office buildings;
  • The general manager of Portland’s transit agency says it will have to reduce all rail and bus service by 70 percent between now and 2025 in order to meet all of its financial obligations;
  • Despite all the money spent on Portland transit, transit is so unpopular that, of 50,000 new workers gained between 2005 and 2012, fewer than 100 take transit to work;
  • For the Portland urban area as a whole, there were 124,000 new jobs between 2005 and 2012, of which about 700 took transit to work.
  • Thanks partly to money stolen from schools by TIF-addicted planners intent on subsidizing TODs, Portland high schools have some of the largest classroom sizes and lowest graduation rates in the nation;
  • The “creative class” of young people who have been attracted to Portland (most likely by the city’s 50 brew pubs) do so little work that they have reduced Portland’s per capita incomes, relative to the rest of the country, by 10 percent;
  • Portland has funded only half of its pension obligations and just 4 percent of its health-care obligations, giving it one of the worst records of any city in the nation.

Sounds like a model for other cities of what not to do.

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Debate with Myron Orfield

The Antiplanner squared off against regionalist Myron Orfield in Minneapolis yesterday over the question of whether governments should try to regulate land uses. My presentation (11.6-MB PowerPoint or 10.5-MB PDF version) argued that urban areas are too complicated to regulate and that attempts to do so end up doing more harm than good. Dr. Orfield responded that letting people do what they want led to housing discrimination and too many septic tanks destroying ground water supplies in exurban areas.

Perhaps the most difficult question anyone asked us is where we agree. We both stared at each other for a minute before answering. Obviously, we both oppose racial discrimination and water pollution. The question is how these problems are solved. Dr. Orfield thinks that regional government is needed; I would push things down to the local level as much as possible.

It is one thing to say that people shouldn’t impose costs on others by polluting the water table. It is quite another thing to have a regional government restricting growth beyond an urban-growth or urban-service boundary based on the idea that it is too expensive to allow leapfrog development.

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You’re a Racist

Unless you live in a neighborhood or town that has a perfect balance of all racial minorities, you are a racist. At least, that’s the view of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and of the plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council. According to the cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, which have a lot of low-income minorities, the Met Council’s housing plans perpetuate segregation by assigning more low-income housing to the plaintiff cities and not enough to wealthier suburbs such as Edina and Mendota Heights.

The notion that every suburb should have a perfect balance of minorities and those that don’t are de facto racist is absurd. Different people have different needs, and the things that low-income people need–access to public transport, social services, and family support–are not the same as the things that moderate- to high-income people need.

The solution of advocates of “affirmatively furthering fair housing” is to require that cities with racial imbalances build new, high-density housing and require the developers of that housing to set aside a share of those homes for low-income families. But, even if that were a good idea, that wouldn’t solve the problem that low-income people would rather live in areas where they can get the support they need than in wealthy suburbs.

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Affordable Housing Is a Symptom of Sound Urban Policy

Paul Krugman argues that housing costs, not taxes, are what is drawing people to Georgia and Texas and away from California and New York. He’s partly right, but he’s mostly wrong.

What he fails to see is that the same impulse that attempts to control land uses in California, making housing expensive, also makes unduly regulates California businesses and boosts taxes to make California undesirable. The same impulse the attempts to control rents in New York City also leads to nanny-state rules and excessive bureaucracy that makes that city undesirable to many businesses.

Contrary to what Krugman says, housing prices in California and New York are high not because they’ve run out of land. California especially has plenty of land available while a good share of the New York and Connecticut counties bordering New York City are rural open space. Nor are prices high because cities won’t allow higher densities: if California cities didn’t have urban-growth boundaries, few people would want to live in higher densities.

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What Ferguson Means for Urban Planning

The sad events in Ferguson, Missouri are being used by urban planning advocates to popularize their latest cause: suburban poverty. Ferguson is “emblematic of growing suburban poverty,” says the Brookings Institution. “Hit by poverty,” says CBS News, “Ferguson reflects the new suburbs.” According to a Brookings info graphic, between 2000 and 2011 the numbers of central city poor grew by 29 percent while the numbers of suburban poor grew by 64 percent.

There was a time that the suburbs were demonized because only middle-class and wealthy people lived there, leaving poor people in the inner cities. Now that lower-income people are living in the suburbs, the suburbs are being demonized for having “concentrated poverty,” with a distinct implication that wealthy whites have moved back to the cities leaving the undesirable suburbs to the poor and minorities.

The reality is that all demographic classes–all ages, races, and income levels–are growing faster in the suburbs than the cities. The suburbs offer less congestion, lower-cost housing, and often better schools and other benefits over the cities. Instead of turning the movement of low-income people to the suburbs into some kind of crisis, this movement should be celebrated as a success.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in the Twin Cities this week giving presentations on land-use and transportation issues in that region. Here are the sessions, most of which are open to the public:

  • “Thrive Planning vs. the American Dream,” sponsored by the SW Metro Tea Party, Chanhassen Recreation Center, 2310 Coulter Blvd., Chanhassen, 7:00-8:30 pm, Monday, August 4
  • “Rebalancing Transportation Planning,” sponsored by Expose the Truth, Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center, 800 Conway St., St. Paul, 5:00-8:00 pm, Tuesday, August 5
  • “Transportation and Your Business,” sponsored by the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce (must pre-register), Harvest Grill, 12800 Bunker Prairie Road, Coon Rapids, 11:15 am to 1:15 pm, Wednesday, August 6
  • “The Folly of High-Speed Rail,” Goodhue County Fairgrounds, 8:00 pm, Friday, August 8

By coincidence, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, will also be speaking in Minneapolis about the Thrive plan at 7:30 am, Wednesday, August 6 at the Doubletree Hotel Park Place, 1500 Park Place Blvd., pre-registration will save money if done by noon, August 5.

If you are in the Twin Cities area this week, I hope to see you at one of these events.

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Planning for the Unpredictable

How do you plan for the unpredictable? That’s the question facing the more than 400 metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that have been tasked by Congress to write 20-year transportation plans for their regions. Self-driving cars will be on the market in the next ten years, are likely to become a dominant form of travel in twenty years, and most people think they will have huge but often unknowable transformative effects on our cities and urban areas. Yet not a single regional transportation plan has tried to account for, and few have even mentioned the possibility of, self-driving cars.

Instead, many of those plans propose obsolete technologies such as streetcars, light rail, and subways. These technologies made sense when they were invented a hundred or so years ago, but today they are just a waste of money. One reason why planners look to the past for solutions is that they can’t accurately foresee the future. So they pretend that, by building ancient modes of transportation, they will have the same effects on cities that they had when they were first introduced.

If the future is unpredictabie, self-driving cars make it doubly or quadruply so.

  • How long will it take before self-driving cars dominate the roads?
  • Will people who own self-driving cars change their residential locations because they won’t mind traveling twice as far to work?
  • Will employment centers move so they can take advantage of self-driving trucks and increased employee mobility?
  • Will car sharing reduce the demand for parking?
  • Will carpooling reduce VMT or will the increased number of people who can “drive” self-driving cars increase VMT?
  • Will people use their cars as “robotic assistants,” going out with zero occupants to pick up groceries, drop off laundry, or doing other tasks that don’t require lots of supervision?
  • Will self-driving cars reduce the need for more roads because they increase road capacities, or will the increase in driving offset this benefit?
  • Will self-driving cars provide the mythical “first and last miles” needed by transit riders, or will they completely replace urban transit?

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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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