Monthly Archives: June 2008

Higher Density Means Less Social Contact

One of the standard tenets of New Urbanism is that suburbanites have lost their sense of community and social capital, and that higher-density housing can restore these things. These ideas received a boost when Robert Putnam’s 1996 book, Bowling Alone, argued that America was experiencing a severe decline in social capital, and blamed much of this decline on the suburbs.

Now, Rich Carson, who calls himself the Contrarian Planner, points out in a new article that Putnam’s thesis is simply wrong. Instead, Carson observes, recent research from UC Berkeley has found that people living in denser areas have fewer close friends and fewer soclal interactions than people in low-density areas. In fact, as density increases by 10 percent, social interactions decline by 10 percent.

Continue reading

Share

Another Stupid Anti-Auto Idea

The latest dumb idea for saving the planet is being promoted in many Canadian and a few American cities: banning drive-through restaurant windows. Calgary is thinking of it. So are Windsor and several other Canadian cities.

Drive-thru McDonalds in Wai Gao Qiao, China. Click photo for complete story.
Flickr photo by McChronicles.

In the U.S., Madison is thinking of it. So is Leesburg, Virginia. San Luis Obispo actually banned drive thrus 25 years ago. Even though an informal poll found that 63 percent of residents think the ban should be lifted, the city council decided not to do it because it would be “unfair to all the businesses that have opened up over the last 25 years” — as if they couldn’t add a drive thru if they wanted one.

Continue reading

Share

Disneyland for Yuppies

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that San Francisco’s middle class is leaving, priced out of the housing market. Unfortunately, they got the reason for it wrong.

Click for a larger version. Flickr photo by (nz)dave.

“The trend of well-heeled and upwardly mobile young professionals moving into cities across the country, drawn by a newfound affection for the amenities of urban life, is by now well documented. It’s led to many benefits: Cities are revitalizing aging downtowns with new buildings and businesses, people are walking and using transit instead of making long commutes in polluting autos,” says the Chronicle. “But it’s also been putting pressure on housing prices for existing stock and, many argue, steering much of the new development toward the high end.”

Continue reading

Share

The Antiplanner’s Library: The Big Sort

Urban areas like Portland are sorting themselves, with young people who like the New Urban lifestyle moving to city centers and families with children moving to the suburbs. People have noticed other sorts across the country, such as blue cities and red rural areas.

Someone has written a book about this titled The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. This sorting, says co-author Bill Bishop, is happening at a neighborhood level, and one of the problems is that many people rarely encounter or talk with people who have different histories, lifestyles, or political views. I confess I haven’t actually read this book yet, but I’ve ordered it and will do so as soon as it arrives.

Continue reading

Share

Psst — Wanna Buy a $1 Billion Bridge for Only $4 Billion?

The Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River is actually two drawbridges — the only drawbridges on I-5 between Canada and Mexico. One is 95 years old, and while there is no known safety problem, the two bridges together are a bottleneck both for river traffic and for auto and truck traffic between Portland and Vancouver, Washington. So eight transportation agencies, including the Oregon and Washington departments of transportation and, for some reason, the Portland and Vancouver transit agencies (TriMet and C-TRAN), formed a Columbia River Crossing Project that is planning either replacement or supplemental bridges across the river.

The Columbia River Bridge. Click any photo for a larger view.
Wikipedia photo.

The Clark County (that’s Vancouver) Building Industry Association asked the Antiplanner to look at the project’s draft environmental impact statement that came out in May. The entire DEIS and supplemental documents total some 5,000 pages. Because the Project did not post all of the supplemental documents on line, and what it did post is in numerous separate files, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Jim Karlock, posted the entire DEIS and technical reports in two documents.

The first thing the Clark BIA asked me was, “Why is this expected to cost $4 billion? The Washington Department of Transportation recently built a new Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is longer than the Columbia crossing, and it cost less than $1 billion.”

Continue reading

Share

Have a Contrary Opinion on Obesity? You’re Fired!

Researchers in American universities supposedly enjoy academic freedom, but don’t count on it in Australia. A Sydney University researcher published findings showing that obesity in children was caused by eating too much. But the official position of the state health minister was that obesity was caused by children not getting enough exercise. So the minister had the researcher fired.

Drawing by Joe_13.

Childhood obesity is a problem all over the world. Even European countries where people supposedly walk and bike more than in the U.S., are facing increasing rates of obesity.

Continue reading

Share

What Are You Doing About High Gas Prices?

As the Antiplanner pointed out on Tuesday, the increase in mass transit ridership accounts for only a tiny fraction of the decline in driving. What else are people doing to cope with high fuel prices? Please take a moment and respond to this unscientific poll. Don’t worry about being precise; just make estimates.

1. Do you think you are driving less this year than last year? If “no,” skip to question 7.

Continue reading

Share

Another Portland Light-Rail Boondoggle

Comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the Milwaukie light-rail line (that’s Milwaukie, Oregon, not Milwaukee, Wisconsin) are due on Monday, June 23. You can email your comments to Metro or send a letter or make a phone call to Metro. If you want to download the DEIS in two documents instead of eleven, the Antiplanner’s loyal ally, Jim Karlock, has posted it on one of his web sites.

Although it is doubtful that Metro cares what the Antiplanner thinks, here is what I will tell them, though possibly in more polite language.

Continue reading

Share

10 Best Places to Live in America

MSNBC has listed the 10 best places to live in America, based on similar lists from Forbes, Kiplinger, Money magazine, and other listmakers.

Portland isn’t on the list.

Houston is number 4.

Only one of the cities on the list (other than Houston, whose “wham-bam tram” is a joke) has light rail (Charlotte), and its light-rail line is so new that it didn’t play any role in the selection.

Continue reading

Share

Will Mass Transit Save Us from High Gas Prices?

Can mass transit rescue America? asks ABC News. Short answer: No.

Journalists are all gaga over reports of a 4 percent decline in driving and a 3.4 percent increase in transit ridership. But do the math: transit only carries about 1.5 percent of urban travel. Increase that by 3.4 percent and you can’t come close to making up for a 4 percent decline in the other 90-some percent.

Continue reading

Share