A return to the cities and rejection of the suburbs is an article of faith among smart-growth planners, and their wishful thinking is often supported by breathless media reports. The latest news comes from 2011 Census estimates, which the Wall Street Journal reports as revealing that the “cities outpace suburbs in growth.” MSNBC reports that “cities grow more than suburbs [for the] first time in 100 years.”
What do the numbers actually say? Of the 51 largest metropolitan areas, the percentage growth of 26 center cities was higher than the percentage growth of their suburbs. Why 51? Maybe because if they only looked at the 50 largest areas, exactly half of their cities would have grown faster than the suburbs and then they couldn’t say “most.” The percentage growth of central cities in all 51 of the largest areas combined was also higher than of their suburbs, but not by much: 1.03 percent vs. 0.93 percent.
That’s percentage growth, and if that continued as a long-term trend, it might be meaningful. But in fact it was only one year, from 2010 to 2011 (and the 2011 numbers are only estimates). And since, in most cases, the central cities make up only a small portion of the metropolitan area, faster percentage growth doesn’t translate into a large numeric growth. For example, Atlanta grew by 2.4 percent while its suburbs grew by only 1.3 percent. But Atlanta’s 2.4-percent gain means 10,040 new residents, while the suburbs 1.3 percent gain means 62,869 new residents. In other words, Atlanta suburbs actually gained more than six times as many people as Atlanta itself.
Representatives of the Association of American Planners applauded the Supreme Court’s health-care decision that a Congressional requirement to buy health insurance was a tax, not a mandate. “This provides us the tools we need to fix everything that’s wrong with America,” said association CEO Paul “Precious” Farmlands.
The association’s government affairs staff immediately began crafting legislation to save American cities and rural areas through compact development. “We would like everyone to enjoy the benefits of living in high-density, mixed-use housing,” said Jason Georgetown. “But it’s not a mandate; we’ll simply tax anyone who chooses not to live in this kind of housing $50,000 a year. The taxes will go to make high-density housing more affordable for low-income people.”
AAP also was writing a law requiring everyone to walk, bicycle, or take transit to work. Anyone who refused to obey the law would pay a “tax” of $25 for every day they drove to work. The money would be used to subsidize rail transit. “The possibilities opened up by the Supreme Court’s health-care decision are endless,” said Georgetown.
This week’s Rolling Stone has an article on the “sharp, sudden decline of America’s middle class.” The only problem is that few if any of the people discussed in the article are in the middle class; instead, they are working class.
As the Antiplanner has noted elsewhere, Americans often pretend to ignore the line between working class and middle class, yet it is very real and difficult to cross. The middle class includes people with college educations and jobs that involve thinking and creating, usually described as “white-collar” jobs. The working class includes people with less education and jobs that require physical labor or repetitive work, usually described as “blue-collar” jobs.
Many people in the middle class have very few working-class friends, so they can’t relate to working-class lives and lifestyles. We imagine that most people are middle class, and only a few unfortunates are in the working class. In fact, less than 30 percent of working-age Americans have college degrees, which is a pretty good proxy for the size of the middle class.
TriMet, Portland’s transit agency, has made the largest cuts in its history, including reductions in bus service, fare increases, and elimination of free rail rides in downtown Portland (the free bus rides were eliminated last year). Meanwhile, it is using nearly $10 million of money supposedly dedicated to the Milwaukie light-rail line to remodel its offices.
Portland’s mayor and alleged pedophile Sam Adams considers TriMet’s subsidized passes for “youths” to be one of his “favorite program,” so he has proposed to fund it by charging TriMet $2 million for using city property for its bus shelters and benches. What an innovative financial tool!
Apparently, all that broke government entities need to do is requisition funds from other broke government entities. TriMet can build its next light-rail line by charging the state rent for taking cars off the road. The state can fund its k-12 educational programs by charging the universities for the future college students it is providing. The federal government can eliminate the national debt by charging water districts for the clean water that runs off of federal lands. Pretty soon everyone can own money to everyone else and we can all pretend that they cancel out (ignoring, of course, the original investors who will lose their shirts, but they’re probably part of the 1 percent so they deserve it).
Of course, this isn’t exactly a completely new technique. Back in the soviet days, the USSR had rigorous pollution regulations. Whenever a factory violated the rules, it was fined by Moscow planners. When the factory paid the fines, it simply added them to its operational budget, effectively requisitioning the funds from Moscow. So now, whenever an American city or transit agency runs out of money, they can simply call it a collective action problem and requisition funds from some other agency.
Meanwhile, when Portland-area residents democratically use initiative petitions to stop the waste of money on light rail, local officials claim that “They are taking away the voting rights of citizens.” How does giving people a chance to vote take away their rights to vote? According to the mayor of one of Portland’s suburbs, “People elected us to run the city as we see fit, and now they want to take that away from us.” So it is somehow undemocratic to democratically overrule decisions made by officials who you may have elected to office based on entirely different reasons.
California’s high-speed rail project seems to be dead. At least, that’s the conclusion of a Washington DC writer commenting on a report that Governor Brown has given up on the idea of exempting high-speed rail from environmental reviews.
Without that exemption, the writer thinks, the state will never be able to build the line. However, In the spirit of former Egyptian President Mubarak, who was clinically dead though maybe still alive, perhaps California high-speed rail is only clinically dead. The latest word is that Brown is only delaying, not ending, his proposal exempt the project from environmental reviews.
Tonight, the Antiplanner will speak in Camarillo, California (some 40 miles west of Burbank) about smart growth and high-speed rail. If you are in Ventura County, I hope to see you there.
This short trip will be a relief after a rather grueling schedule last week (which included a trip to New York City on Monday in addition to the events listed in Tuesday’s post). After I return home tomorrow, I don’t have any more out-of-state trips planned until September, so I’ll be able to do more writing as well as some hiking and cycling.
When Congress created the New Starts fund for new rail transit projects in 1991, it required that the grants be awarded to projects that were “cost effective.” This same requirement was applied to the small starts fund, for transit projects costing less than $250 million, which Congress created in 2003. The Obama administration, however, is proposing to eliminate the cost-effectiveness test in favor of “livability,” “multi-modalism,” and “environmental justice.”
The Antiplanner’s comments on the proposed rules argue that these criteria are not authorized by law and, moreover, are vague and open to such broad interpretation that they are effectively meaningless. My comments focused mainly on livability and multi-modalism as I hadn’t ever heard of transit projects being justified based on environmental justice.
A recent series of articles in the Washington Times, however, reviews the administration’s infatuation with environmental justice in detail. As the first article in the series notes, seventeen federal agencies recently signed a “memorandum of understanding” agreeing to integrate environmental justice into all of their “programs, policies, and activities.”
Walking through Portland airport recently, the Antiplanner noticed a sign from the Oregon Lottery claiming that 97 cents of every dollar paid for lottery tickets was “returned to Oregon.” As the Lottery’s web site says, “97 cents of every dollar played comes back to Oregon . . . money that goes to jobs, schools, parks and watersheds.”
That number sounded suspicious to me. If 97 cents is kept by the state, and no doubt some additional is used for administering the lotteries, where do they get the money to pay out lottery winners?
I didn’t have time to investigate, but the Oregonian did. It found that the lottery sold $9.8 billion worth of tickets in 2011. About 3 percent went for expenses, $550 million went to the state, and the rest went to prizes. So when the Lottery say 97 percent goes to the state, it includes the prize money, something not mentioned in the ad (and, as the Oregonian says, “winnings donâ€™t necessarily stay here”). In fact, only about 5.5 percent goes for “jobs, schools, parks and watersheds.”
The Oregonian says this is “disingenuous.” The Antiplanner calls it lying, also known as government on an ordinary day.
Someone made a little poster designed to convey the value of high-speed rail.
I made a couple of modifications that I think improve it quite a bit.
The Antiplanner will present American Nightmare in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Bellevue this week. Tonight (Tuesday) at 5:30 pm, I’ll be at Liberty First in the Dublin House, 1850 Dominion Way, in Colorado Springs.
On Wednesday, I’ll speak at the Independence Institute‘s new office, 727 E. 16th, in Denver, at 5:30 pm. If you are in Colorado, I hope to see you at one of these events.
On Friday at 10 am, I’ll speak to the National Real Estate Investors Association’s leadership conference, which takes place at the Westin Bellevue.