Monthly Archives: December 2008

Who Is He Talking About?

David Brooks writes that suburban growth in the 1980s and 1990s “overshot the mark.” People moved further out from urban centers than they really wanted to, and as a result ended up “missing community and social bonds.” “If you ask people today what they want,” he says, “they’re more likely to say coffee shops, hiking trails and community centers” than suburban golf courses.

How does he know? How many people has he talked to? What data does he have to support this? If it is true, I don’t have any problem with it, but I don’t want to see people make policy based on New Urbanist fantasies and speculations.

The actual numbers show that some people are moving downtown (often supported by local subsidies), but the suburbs are still growing far faster. Sociological analyses find that people in the suburbs have more social ties, not less, than people in central cities, so the whole “sense of community” argument stinks.

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If the Earth Doesn’t Warm, Can We Sue Environmentalists?

An Oxford physicist claims he can trace individual “extreme weather events” to climate change, thereby allowing people to sue the corporations that are the biggest greenhouse gas contributors for the damage caused in those events. An attorney for Native Americans has already filed such a lawsuit in the name of Alaska villagers who might actually have to live on land instead of ice if the permafrost melts.

Of course, if you want to find those really responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, don’t blame the corporations: look in the mirror.

On the other hand, some people remain unconvinced that anthropogenic climate change is real. What if they are right? Can corporations sue environmental groups for any costs they have imposed on them in a wasted effort to reduce emissions?

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The World Has Gone Nuts

Or at least some of it has. Environmentalists are now paying timber companies to stay in business. What?

Apparently, environmental groups have decided that, though they hate clearcutting, they hate urban sprawl even more. So they are willing to subsidize timber companies to keep cutting timber so they don’t want to subdivide their property.

In the 1970s and 1980s, when the Antiplanner was working as a forestry consultant to the Sierra Club and other major environmental groups, environmentalists hated timber companies because they replaced natural, diverse forests with monocultures.

“Timber companies practice selective logging,” the always-quotable Andy Kerr liked to say: “they select a watershed, and then they log it.” Industry forests were not true monocultures like corn fields, but the were a lot less diverse — in both ages of trees and numbers of species — than natural forests.

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Merry Christmas

Click for a larger picture.

Best wishes from Chip, his niece Buffy, the Antiplanner, and the Antiplanner’s friend, Vickie. Plus, I have a little holiday present for you.

The Federal Highway Administration has started to publish its 2007 Highway Statistics. These include a couple of tables that contain lots of useful data about urban areas, but the tables are annoyingly difficult to work with.

The tables are HM-71, which lists miles of road and daily vehicle miles traveled for various kinds of roads in each of more 458 urban areas; and HM-72, which lists other important characteristics for each of those urban areas.

I have two problems with the FHwA’s Excel files. First, it puts the 458 urban areas on nine different sheets, or about 50 urban areas per sheet. So I make a new file that puts them all on one sheet. Second, for those urban areas that are in multiple states, it breaks down the data by state. This can be useful, but if you are trying to get totals, averages, or do other calculations, you effectively double-count those areas. So I delete the state-by-state breakdowns.

The result are modified tables HM-71 and HM-72. If you find these modified tables useful, they are my Christmas gift to you. Perhaps not as big a gift as my Thanksgiving gift, but that’s the way the holiday cookie crumbles.

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The Joker Is an Antiplanner

The Antiplanner doesn’t go to movies often, preferring to wait until the DVDs come out. So until last week all I had seen of the Dark Knight were the trailers. I was particularly intrigued to hear the Joker say, “It’s all part of the plan.”

The good and evil antiplanners.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, I understand why people have suggested that the late Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination. His portrayal of the Joker really carried the show. But the trailer took his planning statement out of context.

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Every Agency Wants to Stimulate the Economy

Government bureaucrats are true heroes: they all want to help stimulate the economy. They way they want to help, of course, is for Congress to give them billions of dollars.

The noble Forest Service, for example, has a $10 billion wish list for road maintenance and culverts. Not just any culverts, mind you, but “culverts for fish passage.” That makes them extra “green.”

The Forest Service is also preparing a “green jobs” that would create 90,000 jobs, mostly treating fuels on private lands. This is in accord, says the document, with the agency’s “cohesive strategy” for protecting homes in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) from fire.

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Supermarket Trends

A retailer develops a new format for distributing and selling products that turns out to be wildly successful. Spreading like a juggernaut across the country, the company goes from being an insignificant regional chain to the world’s largest retailer in little more than a decade, leading frantic competitors to seek protection through government regulation.

Walmart in the 1990s? Could be, but I am specifically referring to the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) in the 1910s and 1920s. Founded by George Huntington Hartford, he left the company in trust to his five children when he died in 1918. Two of those children, George Ludlum and John Augustine Hartford, led the company through its growth years.

November 13, 1950 cover of Time. Note the gold chain around the photo representing A&P’s position as the largest chain store in the world. (Click for a larger image.)

George was the financial manager; John was the innovator who developed the “economy store” (a tiny cash-and-carry store run by only one clerk) in 1912, which multiplied into nearly 16,000 stores by 1930. When supermarkets became popular in the 1930s, John designed A&P’s first supermarket and over the next fifteen years built nearly 5,000 more, closing several economy stores for each supermarket opening.

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APA Gives VisionPDX an Award

In keeping with its tradition of judging programs based on their intentions rather than results, the American Planning Association has given its 2008 Award for Public Outreach to Portland’s Mayor, Tom Potter, for his VisionPDX program. This was a strange program to begin with, as Portland planners had already endlessly solicited residents for their opinions through hearings, open houses, and charrettes (not that any of the surveys were scientific).

Stranger still, since Potter was elected to a four-year term, was the timetable. It took more than two years just to collect and collate public opinions, and more time yet to make sense of it all (not that much of it made sense). This left Potter, who leaves office in January, little time to do anything about it.

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Charging for Pollution

Last Friday, some of the Antiplanner’s readers were outraged at my suggestion that owners of studded snow tires should be required to pay a tax equal to the amount of damage their tires do the roads. Somehow, asking people to be responsible for the costs they impose on others was considered to be an antilibertarian threat to personal freedom.

Just for the benefit of those who still don’t get it, libertarianism doesn’t mean freedom to do whatever you want. It means freedom to do whatever you want provided you don’t hurt anyone else and you pay the full cost of what you do including paying to use other people’s property at a price that they are willing to accept. For the record, roads are the property of state, county, or city road agencies, and you have the freedom to use them so long as you obey those agencies’ rules. Libertarians might prefer the roads be private, but the rules apply whether they are private or public.

Meanwhile, other commenters asked why the Antiplanner wants to fix the studded tire externality but not the pollution externality. Of course I want to fix the pollution externality, but I want to do it right. Raising gas taxes to deal with toxic pollutants, for example, is the wrong way to go because emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other toxics are not proportional to the amount of gasoline consumed.

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