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Surprising Ordos: The Evolving Urban Form

5 hours 24 min ago

Ordos, in China's Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia (equivalent to a province) has received international notoriety as a "ghost city." I had already visited one other ghost city and found the reports considerably exaggerated (The Zhengzhou New Area in Henan, a commercial and residential district). But Ordos has received by far the most publicity.

It turns out that in reality the people far outnumber the ghosts, something I should have recognized when it was difficult to find a hotel room six months before my visit. Ghosts do not generally need hotel rooms.   But the ghost city label is an exaggeration.

Defining Ordos

What is Ordos? Ordos (E'erduosi) is one of the more than 300 municipality level jurisdictions that constitute China and cover virtually all of its land area. Like other municipalities, Ordos is divided into districts which are translated broadly as county level jurisdictions. China has about 2,900 county level jurisdictions, compared to the 3,100 county level jurisdictions in the United States. There is an important difference, however. In the United States, with a few exceptions, municipalities are within counties and there may be many municipalities within counties. In China, counties are within municipalities.

Ordos is one of 12 municipalities in Inner Mongolia. Ordos is composed of eight districts. The Ordos metropolitan area is located in the urban district of Dongsheng and the "banner" (Inner Mongolian title for county) of Ejin Horo (the urbanized part of which is Azhen). The Kangbashi new area, to which the ghost city stories refer, is split between Dongsheng and Ejin Horo.

Contrary to the “ghost city” meme, population growth has been strong in these two districts. In Dongsheng, the 2010 census counted approximately 580,000 residents, an increase of 130 percent over the 2000 census. The population of Ejin Horo rose 53 percent to approximately 225,000 residents. Overall, these two adjacent districts represent a labor market (metropolitan area) of nearly 810,000 residents, which grew more than 100 percent between 2000 and 2010 (Image 1).

Ordos is located in the northern half of the Ordos Loop of the Yellow River, which with the Yangtze is one of China's two great rivers. After passing Lanzhou (capital of Gansu), the eastward flowing river takes a sharp left turn to the north for approximately 600 kilometers (375 miles), then a sharp right turn back to the east for 300 kilometers (200 miles), turning south for 600 kilometers and finally turning east toward the Yellow Sea.

Overall, the population of Ordos was approximately 1.94 million in the 2000 census and had grown 42 percent since 2000. As a result, Ordos was by far the fastest growing of the 12 municipalities in Inner Mongolia. The municipality grew at more than double the rate of the capital, Hohhot (Huhehaote), and approximately seven times the overall rate of Inner Mongolia. The growth rate of Ordos was also five times China's national 10 year growth rate of 7.8 percent.

The municipality covers a land area of 87,000 square kilometers, somewhat larger than Austria. Ordos Most of the population is in the more rural districts.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Kahn, founder of the Mongol empire (13th century), history's largest contiguous empire plays importantly in the history of Ordos. Genghis Kahn is reputed to have been so impressed by Ordos that he wanted his personal effects buried here. The effects are buried at a mausoleum approximately 10 miles (25 kilometers) south of Kangbashi. The actual burial place of Genghis Kahn is not known, and consistent with Mongol tradition, is secret.

The So-Called "Ghost City:" Kangbashi New Area

The part of Ordos to which the "Ghost City" stories have referred is the Kangbashi New Area. It is adjacent to and north of the urbanization of Azhen in Ejin Horo. The Kangbashi new area covers approximately 350 square kilometers (135 square miles) in the Dongsheng and Ejin Horo districts at the time of the 2010 census. Thus, a census population count is not readily available. Informal estimates placed the population at under 30,000 in 2010. A more recent informal estimate by an Ordos municipal official indicated that the registered population had reached 72,000 in 2012 and would soon rise to 100,000. 

Development of the Kangbashi New Area

Ordos is one of the most affluent municipalities of China. It is comparatively new wealth, which is the result of vast coal reserves that have been increasingly called upon since 2000 to support China's spectacular growth.  . According to People's Daily, by 2012 the gross domestic product per capita of Ordos exceeded that of both Spain and South Korea.

With the huge natural resource revenue gains, municipal officials decided to build a new city approximately 16 miles (25 kilometers) south of the municipal seat in Dongsheng. In 2006, the municipal seat was moved from Dongsheng to the Kangbashi new area. Both the Kangbashi New Area and Ejin Horo are within commuting distance of much larger Dongsheng, via the Dongsheng Expressway. As of 2012, the municipality indicated that at least one half of the municipal functions had been moved to Kangbashi.

The Ordos Ceremonial Mall

Some national governments in the world have built new capital cities or districts and taken the opportunity to order them around what might be called ceremonial malls --- government buildings, monuments and cultural institutions arranged around a central axis. Governments that build new capital cities have unique opportunities to build ceremonial malls. Perhaps the first of these was Washington, with its Capitol Mall (The Supreme Court to the Lincoln Memorial) and the later developed mall from the White House to the Jefferson Memorial.

Other particularly notable examples are Delhi, Canberra and Brasília. Perhaps the most famous such mall, though without the adjacent buildings and memorials, which had already been built elsewhere, is The Mall, running from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square in London. This mall is somewhat different than the others, because it was built after most of the government buildings, which are located elsewhere.

Ceremonial malls can be built by local governments as well, and Ordos has built one of world-class dimensions. The table below compares the Ordos mall with other representative government malls. With a length of 2.7 miles (4.3 kilometers), the Ordos mall is approximately the equal of Washington's Capitol Mall and Canberra's middle mall, (Federation Mall/ANZAC Parade). The Ordos mall is somewhat shorter than the Delhi mall and less than one half the length of the Brasília mall, parts of which remain undeveloped. The Ordos mall is more than twice as long as The Mall in London.

The Ordos mall is more extensive, for example, than what may be the largest local government mall in the United States, in Los Angeles. This mall is shared by the city and the county of Los Angeles, with more than five times as many residents. In fact, the Ordos mall is of sufficient expanse and design to be mistaken for the centerpiece of a newly built national capital.

In short, the Ordos mall is world class and already attracting tourists, principally from around China. As with the rest of China, international tourism is in its infancy and holds great potential for growth.

Selected Ceremonial Malls Dimensions (KM) Dimensions (Miles) Location Length Axis Width Length Axis Width Government Population (Millions) Brasilia 9.7 0.21 6.0 0.13 National 195 Delhi 5.2 0.24 3.2 0.15 National 1225 Washington (Capitol Mall) 4.3 0.50 2.7 0.31 National 310 Ordos 4.3 0.18 2.7 0.11 Local 2 Canberra (Federation Mall/ANZAC Parade) 4.3 0.03 2.7 0.02 National 22 London (The Mall) 1.3 0.06 0.8 0.04 National 62 Los Angeles 1.1 0.08 0.7 0.05 Local 10 Axis width is minimum central area around which buildings and monuments are organized Canberra & Washington have more than one mall Some of Brasilia mall is undeveloped

Touring the Ordos Mall

The core of the mall is an axis, one large block wide, composed of greenery and statues (Images 2-13).

The mall stretches from municipal buildings at the north (Image 2) to a lake (Image 3), across which are skyscrapers, anchoring the mall on the south (Images 4 and 13). This interruption by a lake is similar to the Canberra mall described above

Near the north end of the mall is the Genghis Khan statue (Image 5).

The two horse’s statue is in the square to the south of the Genghis Khan statue (Image 6).

Each side of the mall is defined by one-way streets that are four lanes wide.

Among the two most important government buildings on the mall are the Library of Ordos and the Ordos Museum (to the left and right, respectively, in Image 9). Neither of these buildings will be pleasing to aficionados of traditional architecture, including the author. I agree with Chinese President Xi, who suggested that China needed no more weird buildings, referring to the CCTV Tower in Beijing, which local taxi drivers told me is referred to as the  "underpants" building. Of course, architecture is a matter of taste.

Across the mall is the Ordos National Theatre and the Ordos Culture and Arts Center (Image 10, left and right). The circular and curved lines of these buildings offer a welcome refuge from the more courageous architecture of the Library and Museum, in the author's view.

The mall also includes commercial buildings (Image 11). These buildings include a wide array of retail stores, such as large electronic and home appliance outlets, banks and other facilities. Within a one block walk of my hotel there were at least seven restaurants from which to choose. Generally, ghosts do not require this density of eating establishments.

Residential Areas

There are a variety of residential areas surrounding the mall on three sides (the south end of the mall is bordered by the urbanization of Ejin Horo). The residential buildings tend to be from 5 to 12 floors (Images 14 - 16), and include the equivalent of strip malls (Image 16) that are close at hand for residents and can have full parking lots. The residential areas also include some monumental treatments (Image 17).

Outside the Built-Up Urban Area

The built-up area of Kangbashi is relatively small, covering less than 10 square miles (25 square kilometers), or less than 10 percent of the Kangbashi new area.

Most of the "Ghost City" articles to limit their coverage to the small developed area. With the exception of a major roadway skeleton (along which there is virtually no development in many areas), much of the Kangbashi New Area is not a city at all. There are some small pockets of residential development spread throughout the area and a number of government buildings similarly dispersed beyond the built-up area (Images 18-24). At the same time, the parking lots were far from empty.

There are also a number of religious sites outside the built up urban area (Images 22 & 23) and three similarly designed sports facilities (Image 24).

The traffic volumes are well below the capacity of the more than ample arterial street system. But this is not unusual for newer suburban areas in China, where eight lane streets can be the rule.

What About the People?

Much of the ghost city coverage has been based on an assumption that   few if any residents have arrived. A number of articles point out that the present development has been built for 300,000 residents and that the population is much less (above). Yet, the municipality indicates that the 300,000 resident projection is for 2020. Whether or not Ordos will reach that population by 2020 cannot yet be known.

Some of the ghost city articles have claimed that the Kangbashi new area was projected to have 1 million residents. However, the municipality's website indicates that the 1,000,000 vision was for a much larger area than the Kangbashi new area. It also included Dongsheng, which alone already has nearly 600,000 residents as well as the urbanization of Ejin Horo. In other words, under the plan the area was already well on its way to achieving the eventual projection.

Other articles point out that there are few people walking on the streets. But, as Chai Jiliang, chief publicity officer of Kangbashi told China Daily in 2012: "So, why do local residents who mostly own private cars and have convenient public transportation have to walk on the streets if there are no major public events?" There is further evidence of people, the establishment of a campus of the Beijing Normal University in the Kangbashi new area. Indeed a recent article in The New York Times Style Magazine, by Jody Rosen,   reported not only that there were people in the Kangbashi new area, but that they were generally happy with their city.

Ejin Horo

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Ejin Horo urbanization (Azhen), immediately to the south of the Kangbashi New Area (Images 25-27). The tallest buildings are here and some of the most impressive commercial architecture. Just across the principal bridge from the Kangbashi New Area are two buildings resembling the One World Wide Tower on Eighth Avenue in New York (Image 25). Ejin Horo also has many condominium towers that are often taller than those in the Kangbashi New Area. Unlike the Kangbashi New Area, Ejin Horo appears to have grown more organically in response to market demand. The area's international airport is also located in Ejin Horo.

Big Dreams, Big Challenges

The Kangbashi new area  does face some problems. Like the rest of China, there are a number of uncompleted building projects, as the economy is not growing nearly as quickly as before. Though, again, I expected many more based on the negative published reports.

There has been a severe reduction in house prices, as the Chinese economy has gotten worse. There are reports that many of the apartments and condominiums are empty, though no information was found on the extent of unsold houses or the number that have been purchased simply as investments to hold (and have no residents). It is not unusual for Chinese buyers to invest in additional properties, leaving them empty, a situation that is also been reported in central Vancouver. However, there was no lack of cars in the parking lots of the residential districts.

Peoples Daily reports that coal extraction volumes are down significantly, which when combined with substantially lower coal prices in recent years has cut severely into the revenues of the Ordos municipality. The municipality is seeking additional revenue enhancing strategies, such as tourism (there are 9 million tourists annually), automobile manufacturing and solar power facilities.

Liu Qiang, a People's Daily columnist noted that "There are worries that Ordos, with its huge debts and years of mismanagement, will repeat Detroit’s road to bankruptcy," While noting that Chinese municipalities are not permitted to file bankruptcy, the columnist suggests that " China's local government debt, if not being better managed, might potentially pose a systematic risk greater than in Detroit."

Big dreams are not limited to cities in China. Ordos may have built civic monuments and infrastructure beyond its means. Only time will tell whether such visions can be sustained. The reality, however, is that Ordos, including the Kangbashi new area, is surprisingly vibrant and functioning with real people.

Note 1: Inner Mongolia is a part of China. Mongolia (often called "Outer Mongolia) is an independent nation located between China and Russia.

Note 2: The Evolving Urban Form is a metropolitan and urban area profiles from around the world. The more than 50 articles on in the series can be accessed here.

Photo: Genghis Kahn Mausoleum, Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China by Fanghong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international pubilc policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

The U.S. Cities Creating The Most White-Collar Jobs, 2016

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 22:38

The information sector may have glamour and manufacturing, nostalgia appeal, but the real action in high-wage job growth in the United States is in the vast realm of professional and business services. This is not only the largest high-wage part of the economy, employing just under 20 million people at an average salary of $30 an hour, it’s also one the few high-wage sectors in which employment has expanded steadily since 2010, at more than 3% a year, adding nearly 3 million white-collar jobs.

In many ways, the business and professional service sector may be the best indicator of future U.S. economic growth. It is not nearly as vulnerable to disruption as energy, manufacturing or information employment, and more deeply integrated into the economy, including professions like administrative services and management, legal services, scientific research, and computer systems and design.  In a pattern we have seen in other sectors, much of the growth is concentrated in two very different kinds of places: tech-rich metro areas and those that offer lower costs, and often more business-friendly atmospheres.

To generate our rankings of the best places for business services jobs, we looked at employment growth in the 366 metropolitan statistical areas for which BLS has complete data going back to 2005, weighting growth over the short-, medium- and long-term in that span, and factoring in momentum — whether growth is slowing or accelerating. (For a detailed description of our methodology, click here.)

Tech Strikes Again

There is a growing confluence between technology and business services, as more companies use the Internet to conduct commerce.

This can be seen in several of our top-ranked large cities. Business service employment in the San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco MSA has grown a remarkable 45% since 2010, placing it second on our list, slightly faster than third-ranked Austin-Round Rock, which clocked 42% growth over the same span, and No. 4 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, where business services employment expanded 36%.

It’s questionable whether this pattern will continue, particularly in the high-cost Bay Area. There are signs of a slowdown in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, with more space being subleased and property prices seeming to have peaked, albeit at extraordinary high levels. In contrast the future for less expensive areas — increasingly attractive to millennials as well as companies — may be far brighter, as companies shift employment to places their employees can live decently.

Resurgence In Middle America

This pattern can be seen in the balance of our top-performing regions. It starts with our top-ranked metro area, Nashville, Tenn., which has seen business service employment grow 47.2% since 2010 to 152,700 jobs, with 7.7% growth last year alone. Some of this comes from the establishment of branch offices of Silicon Valley companies like Lyft and Everbright, as well as the expansion of the area’s strong health care and entertainment industries.

Nashville’s appeal to millennials is unsurpassed, with the strongest growth rate in net migration of college-educated people aged 25-34 of any metro area in the country, and the reasons are not hard to find. It’s a charming city located in a temperate part of the country, with both excellent, and affordable, urban and suburban options.

But if Nashville is the belle of the business service ball, fifth-ranked Dallas-Ft. Worth is now the beast. The Texas powerhouse’s business services workforce has expanded 28.9% since 2010 to 458,200. The Dallas-Ft. Worth area has plenty of appeal to big companies with a large cohort of middle-income managers, as a paper to be published this fall by Southern Methodist University’s Klaus Desmet and Cullum Clark well describes. These jobs pay well enough to live well in Dallas’ nicer suburbs, such as Plano and Frisco, but not remotely enough to buy a house, or even a condo, in Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York.

This accounts, in part, for the relocation of Toyota America’s headquarters from Torrance, Calif., to the north Dallas suburbs, and likely plays a role in the plans of Jacobs Engineering, a longtime fixture in Pasadena, to relocate its headquarters to downtown Dallas.

In many ways, argues urban analyst Aaron Renn, Dallas is becoming the new Chicago. It is anchored by a large airport, a diverse economy and a location in the middle of country. Even as downtown Chicago has attracted some notable new corporate headquarters in recent years, these generally employ relatively few people, while companies that need access to a large white-collar workforce, like Toyota and Jacobs, have been gravitating to the Big D.

How About The Big Boys?

As manufacturing has declined in our largest cities, professional and business services have become the prime generator of high-end jobs. Yet among the country’s largest business service centers there is a growing divergence between the winners and laggards.

The most impressive performance among metro areas with over 500,000 business and professional service jobs has been New York. With 714,000 business service jobs, the Big Apple is without question the leader in the field, but more importantly it continues to grow. Since 2010, New York has grown its professional and business service employment by an impressive 22%, helping it rank 14th on our list. This reflects the city’s continued preeminence in such fields as law, design, marketing, public relations and advertising.

But the other traditional business service leaders have not fared nearly as well. Gotham’s traditional rival, Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights, still has 673,000 business service jobs but has seen only a modest growth just under 15%, ranking 43rd. Whatever may have been gained in generally small scale “executive headquarters” has not been enough to make the vast Chicagoland region a big winner.

Things are even less positive in 60th place Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, the third largest business service area. Since 2010, its 13.8% growth is well below the national average. Nor is the slack in the Southland being picked up by the area’s sprawling suburbs, with Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine ranking a modest 39th and San Bernardino-Riverside clocking in at 52nd. The Bay Area business services world may be still booming, but south of the Tehachapi, progress is slow.

Will Business Services Continue To Disperse?

Those who suggest dense concentrations have efficiencies that overcome higher costs can take some solace from our numbers, but not too much. Many of the fastest growing business service centers are hardly paragons of dense urbanism, including No. 7 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla., and No. 8 Richmond, Va., where employment jumped 10% last year. Even sprawling Atlanta, which has lost some of its ‘90s era luster, is now growing its business service sector at a faster pace than New York and light years ahead of much denser Chicago and Los Angeles. It ranks 13th.

The shift to less expensive places seems certain to continue, in part due to the growing role of Internet communications, which breaks down formerly insurmountable distance barriers. Looking at the full list of the 366 metro areas we examined, the fastest-growers include many smaller communities, led by overall No. 1 New Bedford, Mass., where business services employment has grown 58.5% since 2010 to 6,200 jobs, as well as No. 3 Monroe, Mich., No. 4 Lake Charles, La., and No. 6 Lawton, Okla.

Essentially business service growth seems destined to break down into three types: (1) large and expensive metro areas — San Francisco-Silicon Valley and New York — whose economic dynamism is strong enough to counter high costs; (2) less expensive, but still large metros such as Nashville, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Richmond and a host of Florida cities that can be expected to garner a lion’s share of the new growth; and (3) smaller communities where business service sector jobs, particularly at the lower end, may be increasingly attracted as employers pursue an affordable quality of life. While the short term has favored the largest cities, the long term is pointing toward more migration to midsized and smaller destinations.

This piece first appeared at Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Michael Shires, Ph.D. is a professor at Pepperdine University School of Public Policy.

Photograph: Downtown Nashville from

So You Want a Revolution

Wed, 07/20/2016 - 22:38

You say you want a revolution

Well you know

We’d all want to change the world.____ The Beatles (1968)

Apparently not. Not any more. Not everyone wants to change the world. To the Beatles in 1968, when young people aged less than 30 added up to 52% of the US population, it might have looked like everyone wanted a revolution and that a nascent movement had a deep reserve of younger cohorts ready to push for change. But the percentage of the population aged less than 30 today is only 39% and falling. If 39% vs. 52% does not look like a big difference, consider that 13% of the US population is equivalent to 42 million additional young people who would be among us, if the percentage was the same as in 1968. A quarter to a third (10 to 14 million) would be in their 20s.

At the same time, because older more conservative generations would weigh less in the total population mix, their moderating influence would be less effective at deterring the young. This shift in the age distribution of the population explains why the youth revolt gained traction in 1968 but more recent attempts such as Occupy Wall Street turned to farce and fizzled out.

Meanwhile the over-45 age bracket now accounts for 41% of the US population (vs. 31% in 1968), its highest level ever and a level that explains the elevation of the two oldest presidential nominees in US history, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It also helps explain why the nostalgia-powered Trump is still a contender while the youth-oriented Bernie Sanders has withdrawn. At this stage of the process in 1970, Sanders would have been the nominee while Clinton and Trump would have already left the scene.

Speaking of revolutions, a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal draws an analogy between Iran in 1979 and Turkey today in the immediate aftermath of the aborted Turkish coup d’etat. Writes the author:

Revolutions don’t require majorities, but rather angry and excited minorities that are willing to act violently to take power.

Undoubtedly true, but they also require a critical mass of young people combined with fairly dismal economic conditions which Turkey does not have now to the same extent as Iran in 1979. In 1979 in Iran, the under 30 accounted for a huge 71% of the population and Iranian GDP per capita on a PPP basis was about $2,000 (in 2013 dollars). By contrast, in Turkey today, the under 30 are only 50% and GDP per capita is in excess of $10,000. That is enough young people to shake things up as the young did in the West in 1968 but probably not enough to impose a lasting change as the young did in Iran in 1979.

A general hypothesis therefore is that the danger of civil unrest grows when per capita GDP is low and the population is young. Looking at successful uprisings in Algeria (1962), China (1949), Cuba (1952) and Iran (1979), we note that the under 30 numbered more than 60% in every case. Meanwhile revolts failed in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) where the under 30 were less than 50% of total population. Of course, this is not a comprehensive list and there may be examples that refute the hypothesis. In addition, foreign interference as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia renders the age distribution less relevant to the outcome of a revolt. But it is a fair bet that a larger young population in a lower-income country heightens the risk of unrest.

The graph below shows for each country the per capita GDP in 2014 dollars and the percentage of people aged less than 30. The US is shown in red. The cutoff levels are set at $5000 for GDP per capita and at 60% for population aged under 30. Countries in the upper left quadrant are wealthier and have fewer young people and are as a result at lower risk of civil unrest. Countries in the lower right are younger and poorer and have in theory a higher risk of civil unrest. Iran in 1979 was clearly in the lower right high-risk quadrant. Turkey today is in the upper left lower-risk quadrant.

Readers of this site may be familiar with this graph from a previous post discussing the relationship of fertility and national income. It is worth revisiting the earlier post to understand why some countries are outliers on the graph.

So what are the countries that fall in the lower right quadrant? These countries have an under 30 population of 60% or more of total, and a GDP per capita of $5,000 or less. Here is the list.

At the other extreme, if we look at Brexit and the nomination of Donald Trump as examples of a new form of revolt that we may call ‘older age populism’, here are the countries that are exposed to it, using as cutoffs $20,000 for GDP per capita and 40% for population aged less than 30. Not surprisingly, most of these countries are part of the West and most enjoyed a significant demographic dividend in the three decades 1975-2005.

Of course, most revolutions end badly, and many end very badly. On the revolution train, idealists sit in the front and present in the early days the benign and seductive case for change. Radicals bide their time while sitting in the back and later take over with their nefarious plans. The Beatles knew it:

But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know that you can count me out

Full lyrics here.

Read more about why Occupy Wall Street failed.

Sami Karam is the founder and editor of and the creator of the populyst index™. populyst is about innovation, demography and society. Before populyst, he was the founder and manager of the Seven Global funds and a fund manager at leading asset managers in Boston and New York. In addition to a finance MBA from the Wharton School, he holds a Master's in Civil Engineering from Cornell and a Bachelor of Architecture from UT Austin.

A Different Approach to Redevelopment

Tue, 07/19/2016 - 22:38

As part of a thought experiment I examined one specific neighborhood in a typical small city in Georgia. I’m using this town not because it’s unique, but because it’s absolutely normative. I could do the same analysis on the town where my mom, sisters, and brother live in southern New Jersey and it would be nearly identical. This is Everytown, USA.


This particular neighborhood is halfway between the historic town center and the newer suburbs. It’s been completely skipped over and neglected in recent decades. What might be possible given the prevailing political and economic reality? The goal here is to improve the quality of life for existing residents, attract new residents, increase employment and economic activity, raise property values, and expand the tax base. The trick is to do all these things while keeping public spending and infrastructure to an absolute minimum and not use subsidies or tax abatements. I’ve rejected all the usual suspects that take too long, cost too much, and often make things worse.



This neighborhood can’t compete with newer suburbs for folks looking for the usual quiet leafy environment. It shouldn’t even try. Instead it could offer the one thing the new suburbs don’t – a walkable human scaled place with some modicum of vitality and street life. There’s pent up market demand for such places and almost no supply. My first suggestion is for this business district to turn its back on the main road. Call it what it is – a sewer for cars. It serves its purpose and keeps things flowing, but no one wants to sit and watch the material drift by. Ignore it.

Instead, the parallel secondary street should become the focus of attention. That’s the more appropriate Main Street location. Next, sort out local businesses that are “in” or “out.” The national chains won’t be interested. Let them continue doing what they do. Many of the independent merchants and landlords may not be so inclined either. That’s fine. Work with the folks who are. Baby steps.


Here’s an interstitial space formed by the back of a generic aging strip mall and an adjacent one story professional building. It’s a parking lot that doesn’t appear to get much use, but it’s an excellent outdoor room with good proportions that faces a quiet side street. If the city regulators and fire marshal could see their way to make it legal this is an ideal spot for a great gathering space.

Plants, inexpensive outdoor furniture, and simple food and drink (most likely served by existing merchants from the rear of their shops) would be a fast cheap method of making the area worth frequenting. Only the locals know exactly what would provide the best draw. Coffee? Beer? Ice cream? Barbecue? Or maybe this is the perfect spot for outdoor movies served with popcorn and lemonade on weekend nights. Total cost to the city? Some paperwork. Total cost to the property owners? Lawn furniture, plants, and Christmas lights. The “product” on offer is spontaneous conviviality. Effective management is more powerful than pouring concrete and laying asphalt.

The professional building appears to be vacant or less productive than it could be. The property owner may be happy with the current arrangement, but if not this could be a fantastic live/work space. There are a lot of people who find this sort of place appealing since it’s a blank slate and extremely flexible. It’s no doubt illegal to live in a commercial space due to zoning regulations. But those rules could be changed or quietly ignored by the authorities. Who’s to say what happens behind those brick walls? Live/work is the perfect in-between use for a building that sits halfway between a busy road and a calm residential street.


All the ice cream parlors, outdoor cafes, and beer gardens in the world won’t help if there aren’t enough people nearby to fill the seats. This building appears to be some kind of Class C office building. I walked around in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday and didn’t see a soul. I didn’t even hear the hum of an air conditioner. It may be a thriving hub of business activity for all I know, but it looks like a storage facility for old paperwork. I could see someone from a local neighborhood improvement organization brokering a deal between the landlord and the local orchestra, film and video school, or art museum to convert this place into studio space.

Actually, I’d love to see it as residential space for such people. It’s probably hard to practice the French horn in a garden apartment complex without people complaining. If the building were populated with a self selecting group of folks with an established affinity it might be a value added proposition.

If you’re horrified by the idea of living in a place like this… Great! You’ve self selected out. Perfect. Now move over and make room for the people who love it. The Mad Men era architecture could be celebrated just as it is. Howard Johnson’s meets Denny’s with a hint of 1960’s car wash. A little turquoise and orange paint and some Malibu lighting would work wonders.

There’s an abundance of commercial buildings that are simply not performing as intended. There’s no market demand for this kind of space in this location – and it’s been this way for a very long time.

Why not make these living spaces? Again, I need to belabor the point. This isn’t about attracting suburban families. Instead, these places are perfect for a subset of the population that actually likes cheap ugly spaces. Cheap and ugly are the primary amenities for some people. They value other things and enjoy the freedom that comes with such accommodations.

This is the secondary street that’s more suited to humans than the primary road full of vehicular traffic. It’s lifeless at the moment, but it could be transformed on the cheap with weekly pop up events organized around food trucks and a farmers market.

Over time the empty parking lots and food trucks could mature with brick and mortar infill development that make the arrangement permanent. The food trucks are incubators for small scale entrepreneurs on a tight budget. You need a million dollars to open a franchise doughnut shop. A food truck comes at a much lower price point.



Here’s a dead strip mall on the other side of the neighborhood that’s facing another busy commuter road. Again, the sweet spot is in the back that faces the residential side streets. Both the shops and the homes have seen better days. What can be done with this space?

This is an example of a non profit organization that specializes in the often neglected industrial arts. Welding, glass blowing, carpentry, neon arts, enameling, stone cutting, fashion, ceramics, and so on. Thousands of people – particularly young people – are trained in useful skills each year. People rent space and pay a modest tuition for instruction. This isn’t a government facility. It was established and continues to be maintained by locals who are passionate about the place. This is the kind of thing that could draw in precisely the variety of people who might look favorably on living in one of the fantastically affordable nearby homes. And they’d actually have the skills to fix them up.

I’m well aware of the arguments against this sort of thing. It will attract the wrong element. People will cook meth in spaces like that. People will have wild parties all night long and disturb the peace. This is just a bunch of Hipster nonsense.We can’t have people drinking beer outdoors near a church or school. I totally understand. From my perspective there are ways of managing those concerns, but I personally won’t invest ten minutes of my time attempting to change anyone’s opinion. Instead I’ll wait another ten or fifteen years for the current decline to continue. This place may not be ripe for reinvention yet. The local culture may not be receptive. Honestly, the neighborhood may not be miserable enough just yet. Let’s wait until these places start to burn down one by one. Or let them be bulldozed to make room for more parking or a heavily subsidized garden apartment complex next to the newly widened commuter road. That’s absolutely an option.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

Silicon Valley and the Logic of the Globalized Economy

Mon, 07/18/2016 - 22:38

The technology driven global economy is brutally competitive and has put enormous stress on businesses to adapt or die.

I lived through this at Accenture. When I started the firm was a partnership that did almost entirely consulting, mostly in an on-shore, on-site model with bespoke solutions.  By the time I left, the company had become a publicly traded corporation that pulled in huge revenues from completely new businesses like long-term outsourcing contracts, delivered contracts through blended on-shore/off-shore model that was heavily delivery center based, and tried to sell standardized solutions. The company’s name had even changed. It was a far more competitive business at the end of my tenure than it was at the beginning.

Having lived through it, this wasn’t pleasant. It involved radical cultural change. Candidly, I don’t know anyone who came from the “before” era who really liked the “after” one, even if they thrived in both.

With the exception of the IPO, which was arguably a partner cash out, all of these actions were more or less forced on Accenture by the global marketplace.  Had the company not made changes, it might easily have would up another has-been. I’m assuming there’s been further major change since I left, since that’s just the nature of the economy today.

To see the ultimate logic of the global economy we need only to look at Silicon Valley. The following passages in a recent New York Times magazine piece on Netflix caught my eye:

There is another underappreciated aspect of Netflix that Hastings views as a competitive advantage: what he calls its “high performance” culture. The company seeks out and rewards star performers while unapologetically pushing out the rest.

One person who helped Hastings create that culture is a woman named Patty McCord. The former head of human resources at Pure Software, she was also Hastings’s neighbor in Santa Cruz. She car-pooled to work with him and socialized with his family on weekends. “I thought the idea for Netflix was kind of stupid,” she told me. But she trusted Hastings’s instincts and wanted to keep working with him. Her title was chief talent officer.

The origins of the Netflix culture date to October 2001. The internet bubble burst the year before, and Netflix, once flush with venture capital, was running out of money. Netflix had to lay off roughly 50 employees, shrinking the staff by a third. “It was Reed’s first layoffs,” McCord says. “It was painful.”

The remaining 100 or so employees, despite working harder than before, enjoyed their jobs more. McCord and Hastings concluded that the reason was that they had held onto the self-motivated employees who assumed responsibility naturally. Office politics virtually disappeared; nobody had the time or the patience. “There was unusual clarity,” McCord says. “It was our survival. It was either make this work or we’re dead.” McCord says Hastings told her, “This is what a great company feels like.”


For those who fit in, Netflix was a great place to work — empowering and rational. There are no performance reviews, no limits on vacation time or maternity leave in the first year and a one-sentence expense policy: Do what is in the company’s best interest. But those who could not adapt found that their tenure at Netflix was stressful and short-lived. There was pressure on newcomers to show that they had what it took to make it at Netflix; those who didn’t were let go. “Reed would say, ‘Why are we coming up with performance plans for people who are not going to work out?’ ” McCord says. Instead, Netflix simply wrote them a check and parted ways.

In 2004, the culture was codified enough for Netflix to put it on a sequence of slides, which it posted on its corporate website five years later. It is an extraordinary document, 124 slides in all, covering everything from its salaries (it pays employees what it believes a competitor trying to poach them would) to why it rejects “brilliant jerks” (“cost to effective teamwork is too high”). The key concept is summed up in the 23rd slide. “We’re a team, not a family,” it reads. “Netflix leaders hire, develop and cut smartly, so we have stars in every position.”

One of my last interviews at Netflix was with Tawni Cranz, the company’s current chief talent officer, who started under Patty McCord in 2007. Five years later, McCord, her mentor, left. When I asked her why, she visibly flinched. She wouldn’t explain, but I learned later that Hastings had let her go.

You may recall a similar take on Silicon Valley corporate culture from the Times on Amazon. Journalism, a field that has been squeezed hard by technology and economic change, seems to look very askance at the Silicon Valley model.

What we see here is the “superstar” model, where firms are looking to hire all “A players” who are willing to be ridiculously committed to work, in a strong common culture, where there’s tremendous focus on performance – “high performance” in the case of Netflix (and Accenture – whose tag line is “High Performance. Delivered.”)

Because Silicon Valley has largely gotten a pass from the rules and norms that apply to every other industry in America, they’ve been able to take this to the next level, so we see it in the purest form. The results in Silicon Valley speak for themselves.

You can say that this is inhumane, but look at how many sectors in tech have become de facto winner take all. Netflix has serious competition out there, and it’s not at all clear they will be the long term winner. Their focus on being that winner is not at all misplaced according to the rules of the marketplace.

In short, this remorseless, amoral, brutal global economy is producing a sort of superstar talent economy in the developed world, whereby if you want to succeed, you need to be not just good but the best and utterly devoted to success.

Reality might not be quite that bleak, but this is clearly a force that’s been at work.

Most of us have probably had some experience with this kind of increasingly competitive and demanding environment. I know I have. You have to be a lot tougher coming out of school today than when I did.

Now consider that most of you reading me probably have an IQ of 115+.  And we are all still feeling the heat, although some of us surely thrive on it at some level.  Imagine what it’s like for people who have a below average IQ, which is by definition half the population.

If we proceed on with the superstar economy, where enormous value can be delivered with relatively small teams of ultra top players, what does that mean for the social environment?  It’s worth pondering what the future would look like if the Netflix/Amazon models of personnel became more standard.  The nature of technology and global competition seems to be pushing things in that direction.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Election 2016: Peak Transformation

Sun, 07/17/2016 - 22:38

Barack Obama came to office with a promise of “fundamentally transforming the United States.” Through what one admirer calls “a profound course correction engineered by relentless government activism,” Obama has, indeed, transformed the country and shifted it to what now passes for the Left agenda on America’s role in the world, the environment, gender issues, labor rights and untrammeled executive power over both Congress and local governments.

As he leaves office, Obama is already being consecrated as a great president whose direction will naturally be followed by his successor. Given his greater popularity – his rankings have been rising for months – the far less popular Hillary Clinton’s pitch will be to portray herself as something like “Obama-plus.” The transformation is about to hit its peak.

This progressive triumph is occurring despite mediocre economic growth, rising inequality and diminished global status. But it’s a record that can’t be successfully challenged by a GOP that has seen fit to nominate such a noxious candidate. With Trump at the top of the ticket, the Republican Party could also lose the Senate, and thus the Supreme Court, losing the last restraints on “the full monty” of the progressive agenda.

Trump’s ugly presence is sure to swell the Democratic base – minorities, millennials, unmarried women, highly educated professionals – even as the unstable billionaire captures a larger share of older, working-class, white voters. Hillary, as the American Prospect has argued, inherits a party dedicated to microtargeting its voter base, rather than seeking to reach out to a perceived dying white suburban and small-town middle America. Harold Meyerson, the incisive editor of the Prospect, calls this “the first post-middle-class election.”

A diminished white middle class is OK for a Democratic Party made up of college-for-free “Bernie bros,” urban hipsters, greens, racial minorities, feminists, public employees and gay activists. These groups won’t really challenge the real winners of the Obama years – the Wall Street and Silicon Valley oligarchs, who are willing to genuflect to the green and social agenda of the party, but can be even more sure, under the many-times-purchased Hillary, that their path to unreasonable, even dangerous, wealth and power will continue unimpeded.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Barack Obama photo by Bigstock.

The Shorter Commutes in American Suburbs and Exurbs

Fri, 07/15/2016 - 03:38

An examination of American Community Survey (ACS) data in the major metropolitan areas of the United States shows that suburbs and exurbs have the shortest one-way work trip travel times for the largest number of people. The analysis covers metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population in 2012, from the 2010-2014 ACS (2012 average data) using the City Sector Model.

The City Sector Model

The City Sector Model classifies small areas (zip codes) of major metropolitan areas by their urban function (lifestyle). The City Sector Model includes five sectors (Figure 1). The first two are labeled as “urban core,” (Urban Core: CBD and Urban Core: Ring) replicating the urban densities and travel patterns of pre-World War II US cities, although these likely fall short of densities and travel behavior changes sought by contemporary urban planning (such as Plan Bay Area). There are two suburban sectors, the Earlier Suburbs and Later Suburbs. The fifth sector is the Exurbs, which is outside the built-up urban area. The principle purpose of the City Sector Model is to categorize metropolitan neighborhoods based on their intensity of urbanization, regardless of whether they are located within or outside the boundaries of the historical core municipality (Note 1).

One Way Commute Times by Urban Sector

The commuting data excludes employees who work at home, whose commute times would be zero.

The shortest one-way commute times are experienced by residents of the Earlier Suburbs, with a 26.6 minute travel time. This is nearly equalled for residents of the central business districts (Urban Core: CBD), with an average commute of 26.7 minutes. Commuters living in the Later Suburbs had a somewhat longer commute, at 28.0 minutes, while commuters living in the Exurbs had an average one-way commute of 29.5 minutes. The longest commute times were experienced by residents of the Urban Core: Ring (32.5 minutes), which is the part of the urban core that excludes the central business district, (Figure 2) and is characterized by high densities and lower levels of automobile use than in the suburbs and exurbs.

The functional city sectors with the shortest commutes had more jobs than resident workers. The Earlier Suburbs possess 1.08 jobs for every resident worker (Note 2). The ratio was much higher in the Urban Core: CBD, where there were nearly 5.99 jobs for every resident worker. Such an imbalance could not be replicated throughout a metropolitan area, because by definition, a labor market has a ratio of jobs to resident workers of approximately 1.00. To replicate the national CBD ratio throughout the metropolitan area would require, for example, that the New York metropolitan area have  54 million jobs for its 9 million workers.   

Not surprisingly, with such a surplus jobs relative to workers, the Urban Core: CBD, the chances of finding suitable employment nearby is far greater. However, this advantage can, by definition, be available only to a very few, as is indicated by the fact that the Urban Core: CBD's are home to only 1.5 percent of the resident workers in the major metropolitan areas. In the broader context of the urban core (including both the CBD and the Ring), this advantage is offset and average travel times are greater (below).

In the Later Suburbs, there were 0.90 jobs per resident worker, which matches that sector's ranking in work trip travel time (third). The  ring around the urban core (Urban Core: Ring) , had the longest average work trip travel time. The Exurbs had the lowest ratio of jobs to resident workers, at 0.71, yet had an average travel time that was shorter than that of the Urban Core: Ring (Figure 3).

Pre-World War II and Post-War Urban Form

The two combined urban core sectors are defined in the City Sector Model to replicate what remains of the pre-World War II city that was characterized by far higher densities and less reliance on automobile transportation, as opposed to the suburban and exurban sectors that have dominated urban growth for seven decades. If the two urban core sectors are combined (Urban Core: CBD and Urban Core: Ring), the number of jobs per resident worker is 1.28. This healthy ratio, however, is not sufficient to preserve any travel time advantage for residents of the combined urban core. In the combined urban core sectors, the average one-way travel time of 31.9 minutes, well above each of the other three functional sectors (Figures 4 and 5). The Urban Core: Ring has nearly nine times as many resident workers as the Urban Core: CBD.

The Pre-War urban form has considerably higher population densities than those of the post-war urban form. For example, the Urban Core: CBD has a population density exceeding 23,000 per square mile (9,000 per square kilometer), more than 80 percent of the New York City population density level. The Urban Core: Ring has a population density exceeding 11,000 per square mile. The combined area population density of the two Urban Core sectors is 11,500 per square mile, or 4,400 per square kilometer (Figure 6).

The two Urban Core sectors largely rely on commuting modes currently favored by urban planning policy, transit, cycling and walking. In contrast, the suburban and exurban sectors rely on commuting modes discouraged by urban planning policy, automobiles and car and van pools (Figure 7).

The combined urban core sectors have more than four times the density of the Earlier Suburbs and nearly nine times the density of the Later Suburbs. With these much higher densities and their reliance on the favored transport strategies, it might be expected that they would enjoy the best commute times. However, as noted above, when the two urban core sectors are combined, their average travel time is longer than the suburban and exurban sectors. This is despite the far lower densities of the two suburban sectors and the often world densities of the exurban sector.

The Key: Lower Densities & Job Dispersion

These results are likely to be surprising to many in the press as well as planners who often equate residential distance from central business districts as resulting in longer commutes. The reality, however, is that central business districts account for only 8 percent of employment in major US metropolitan areas, and reach the highest at 22 percent in New York, 50 percent above second place San Francisco (14.4 percent) and nearly 10 times that of Los Angeles (2.4 percent).

Generally speaking, employment is dispersed throughout the metropolitan area. When combined with the generally lower density urbanization within metropolitan areas, the result is shorter commutes for residents  in the suburbs and exurbs. As it turns out the data shows that higher employment densities in the urban core are associated with longer, not shorter commutes, as is commonly assumed.

Note 1: In some cases the functional urban core extends beyond the boundaries of the historical core municipality (such as in New York and Boston). In other cases, there is virtually no functional urban core (such as in San Jose or Phoenix). Functional urban cores accounted for 14.7 percent of the major metropolitan area population in 2012. By comparison, the jurisdictional urban cores (historical core municipalities) had 26.6 percent of the major metropolitan population, many of which have large tracts of functional suburban development.

Note 2: Estimated by dividing the percentage of jobs in each sector by the percentage of resident workers. Working at home is excluded.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international pubilc policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Population Change, 2015: Not Very Good News for Those Angry White Men

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 13:03

Data on population growth from 2010 to 2015 show a continuing concentration of people in metropolitan areas, especially in the large areas with over a million people, where presumably traditional values are most challenged.  I show an amazing table, in which I have disaggregated population change by type of settlement, from the million-metro areas to the purely rural counties, comparing growth amounts and rates, plus noting how these areas actually voted in 2012. From the title, the news that growth is greatest in the biggest places seems bad for Republican prospects, but the accompanying maps also show that the greatest growth may well be in more Republican parts of metropolitan America – a story of geography vs. demographics.

The data from the table are dramatic. Note that 275 million, or 86%, live in census-defined metropolitan areas (with urban agglomerations over 50,000), and 55.5% in just the 58 metro areas of over 1,000,000.  The biggest metro areas (but not the super large New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) grew by 9.4 million, or 5.5%, the smaller metro areas by 3.4 million, or at 3.3 %, while non-metropolitan America dropped from 46.3 million to 46.1 million, down to 14% of the total population. 

The final column of the table shows how these areas voted in the 2012 presidential election. Obama won the big metro areas of over one million by taking 57.6 percent of the 2 person vote, which enabled him to get almost 52% of the total US vote while winning the three megacities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – by an even wider margin. This meant that despite LOSING all other settlement categories – 48% in smaller metro areas, only 41% in micropolitan areas, and a pathetic 40 percent in rural small town America, the President still won handily.

Population Change by Settlement Type, 2010 2015   # Counties 2010 Pop 2015 Pop Change % Chg % of Pop 2015 % Obama, 2012 Million Metro Center Counties          255   156,143    164,749      8,606 5.5% 51.3% Million Metro Outlying Counties          179     13,661      14,416         749 5.5% 4.5% Total Million Metros          434   169,804    179,165     9,355 5.5% 55.7% 57.6 Other Metro Center Counties          473     85,634      89,005      3,371 3.9% 27.7% Other Metro Outlying Counties          259       7,025         7,086           61 0.9% 2.2% Total Other Metros          732     92,659      96,091     3,432 3.7% 29.9% 48.3 Micro Center Counties          559     26,422      26,533         111 0.4% 8.3% Micro outly            92       1,080         1,070          (10) -0.9% 0.3% Total Micropolitan Areas          651     27,502      27,603         101 0.4% 8.6% 41.4 Rural Sm Town          727     14,058      13,899       (159) -1.1% 4.3% Rural Sm Town          598       4,731         4,663          (68) -1.4% 1.5% Total Non-metro Counties      1,325     18,789      18,462       (327) -1.7% 5.7% 40 ALL      3,142   308,774    321,435   12,664 4.1% 100.0% 52


So the good news for the Democrats is that the greatest population growth occurred in larger cities where Obama did best in and fell in areas he did poorest in.

But the story gets complicated once you get beyond the metro level. I now show maps, first of the pattern of population change by type of settlement, and then show how well Obama did in 2012 by these same settlement types. First we have a general map of population change for all US counties, in which I can display both the absolute change by symbol size and the percent change by color. Most apparent are the dominance of growth in metropolitan areas, especially in suburbs, and notably in the South and West. Note that quite a few of the growing counties appear to be in areas where Obama was not that strong (in maps to follow).

Population Change by Settlement Type

Rural and rural-small town areas include about 40% of counties and of the territory, but now hold under 6 percent of the population. Modest population loss is most common, especially across the eastern half of the country, while the pattern of change is more complex in the western half, with pockets of gain in areas of energy development, as in ND-MT, and TX-OK, undoubtedly temporary, and scattered areas of growth in environmental amenity areas farther west. The greatest extent of rurality is still from west Texas, north through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South and North Dakota  and Montana.

Politically, Republican Romney swept most rural, small town territory over sizeable contiguous areas in the high plains, as well as the Mormon realm, but Democrats did win in majority Black counties in the south, Latino counties in Texas, and in Native American Indian counties in the far west. In sum, not a story to comfort Republican hopes.

Micropolitan areas now include about 20 percent of counties and of territory, and house almost nine percent of the population. They experienced only modest population growth from, 2010 to 2015. They are quite widely dispersed across the country, with the exception of most of California.  Just as with rural small-town territory, a pattern of modest loss prevails over the eastern half of the country and a more mixed pattern in the west, echoing the higher growth in areas of energy development, and in parts of the Mountain states and far west, including some environmentally attractive areas.

Politically, the micropolitan areas, with urban agglomerations between 10 and 50 thousand were almost as supportive of Republican Romney as the more rural areas, and in essentially the same geographic areas, in southern Appalachia, the high plains from Texas to North Dakota and in the Mormon realm, and with the same Democratic outliers in majority minority areas. Again, a pattern not too comforting for Republican prospects.

Metropolitan areas under 1 million  represent what could be called middle, compromise America, with about one-fourth of US counties, and with 30% of the population. Their geographic pattern is one of broad distribution in the interior of the country, but with a marked coastal concentration in the Gulf and South Atlantic.  Similarly, growth was modest or losses occurred in most of the interior eastern US,  but big gains in southeastern coastal areas, and across most of the far west.

Politically, too, these areas are intermediate, with Obama receiving 48% of the vote in 2012.  The outlying smaller metropolitan counties are indeed often quite rural.  Some of the growing areas were tilted  more  Republican, as on the Gulf coast and especially in the Mormon west, but in the Atlantic coastal states, and Pacific coast states, Obama did much better.  

Metro areas over 1 million.  Okay, these are the behemoths, one-seventh of counties with over half the population, and three-quarters of the growth.  But the fastest growth was across the south and in the west, with moderate growth and even modest losses in the north. The biggest metros – NY, Chicago and LA -- grew well below national averages. Also, contrary to the perception of the death of suburbia, the outlying counties of this set experienced very high growth. 

Politically, these suburban areas around the big metros may prove decisive, with the voting eligibility and inclinations of a diverse population critical to outcomes of the presidency and of Congress. Those suburban counties in the South appear to vote Republican, while those in the north and west became modestly Democratic. Size may benefit Democrats, but growth tilts Republican. Ultimately whichever proves most decisive may determine the election.

Richard Morrill is Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Washington. His research interests include: political geography (voting behavior, redistricting, local governance), population/demography/settlement/migration, urban geography and planning, urban transportation (i.e., old fashioned generalist).

Challenging Nordic Myths

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 22:38

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and numerous other American politicians want to increase taxes, regulate businesses and create a society where government takes responsibility for many aspects of daily life. If you are sick, the public sector should pay for your treatment and give you sick leave benefits. If you quit your job, taxpayers should support you. If you have a low income, the government should transfer money from your neighbor who has a better job.

The ideal is a society in which the state makes sure that those who work and those who don’t have a similar living standard. These are classical socialist ideas, or as Bernie Sanders himself would explain, the core ideas of social democracy.

Social democracy is becoming increasingly popular among Leftists in the United States. An important reason is that positive role models exist. In fact, a number of countries with social democratic policies — namely, the Nordic nations — have seemingly become everything that the Left would like America to be: prosperous yet equal, and with good social outcomes. Bernie Sanders has said, “I think we should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.”

At first glance, it is not difficult to understand the Left’s admiration for Nordic-style democratic socialism. These countries combine relatively high living standards with low poverty, long life spans and equal income distribution — everything the Left would like America to have. The Left, however, is simply failing to understand the reasons why Nordic societies are so successful. The reason is not large welfare states, but rather a unique culture.

Debunking Utopia – Exposing the myth of Nordic socialism, my new book, details the situation. Many people seem to forget that Nordic countries have not always had large welfare states. During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, these places were shining examples of small government systems that combined open trade policies with free labor markets and a dynamic market system.

Today, Denmark, for example, stands out as having the highest tax rate among developed nations. But in 1960 the tax rate in the country was merely 25 per cent, lower than 27 percent in the US at the time. In Sweden, the rate was 29 percent, only slightly higher than the US.

During this time, the Nordic countries had already developed equal income distributions, long life spans, low child mortality rates, and high levels of prosperity. The reason is simple. In order to survive the harsh Nordic climate, the people in this part of the world adapted a rigorous work ethic. The Protestant norms of hard work and individual responsibility combined with a system that emphasized protection of private property, limited government and openness to global markets. Income equality grew and poverty was pushed back, thanks to the wealth creating force of markets.

In 1960, well before large welfare states had been created in Nordic countries, Swedes lived 3.2 years longer than Americans, while Norwegians lived 3.8 years longer. After the Nordic countries introduced universal health care, the difference shrunk: today, it is 2.9 years in Sweden and 2.6 years in Norway.

This fact might surprise those who believe that large welfare states lead to longer life spans. Once we study the issue in depth, however, it becomes clear that the explanation is cultural. Nordic people eat healthy diets, run in forests, and avoid the unhealthy lifestyles of many Americans.

In late 2015, a PBS story entitled "What Can The US Learn From Denmark?" stated, “Danes were excited this week to see their calm and prosperous country thrust into the spotlight of the U.S. presidential race when Democratic hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton sparred over whether there’s something Americans can learn from Denmark’s social model.” The story continued, “Danes get free or heavily subsidized health care” and “compensation when they’re unemployed, out sick from work or on parental leave,” adding that they have longer life spans than Americans.

Now, all these statements are certainly true. The only problem is that the story gives the impression that these facts are directly related. Danes have universal healthcare and government compensation when sick. Correspondingly, they live longer than Americans. So, for the US to raise its life expectancy rates, perhaps a Danish model should be adapted? After all, what kind of heartless monster would oppose policies that increase life spans?

Well, as it turns out, Danes lived 2.4 years longer than Americans in 1960 — when Denmark had lower taxes than the US. Today, the difference has shrunk to 1.5 years. Denmark no longer ranks among the top ten countries in the world in terms of lifespan.

Iceland, the Nordic country with the smallest welfare state, has far surpassed Denmark and the other Nordic countries in terms of life span. The explanation for this success is clearly not a large welfare state. Nor is it that the Icelandic people inhabit a pleasant country. Iceland is cold and dark. It has large, barren, volcanic fields which look much like the fictional Mordor of Lord of the Rings. But the Icelandic people enjoy going out in nature. Also, they eat a healthy diet based to a large extent on fish. The lesson is quite simple: Nordic culture, rather than Nordic-style social democracy, explain the social successes in this part of the world.

The American Left has an idealized, and fully unrealistic, vision of social democracy; a belief that if the US adapts a large welfare state it will magically succeed in this way. There is little if any merit to this viewpoint. Today, Nordic-Americans actually outstrip their cousins in the Nordics both in prosperity and social outcomes.

If we look at another broad measure of social success, child mortality, again we find that yes, Nordic countries indeed do have among the lowest levels in the world. But this too was already the case when these countries had small public sectors. As Sweden, Denmark and Norway introduced large welfare states, if anything they fell somewhat in global ranking. Iceland, on the other hand, climbed the ranking.

The conclusion is clear: Nordic social success pre-dates the modern welfare state, and was if anything more pronounced during the small-government era. Perhaps equally interesting is that while Nordic-style democratic socialism is all the rage among Leftist ideologues in the US, the same policies are to a large degree rejected by the people of the Nordic countries themselves.

After seeing his country held up as an example by in the Democratic presidential debate, the Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke, Rasmussen, objected to the skewed image of socialism in his country. In a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he told students, “I know that some people in the US associate the Nordic model with some sort of socialism. Therefore I would like to make one thing clear. Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

The remark comes as no surprise. While some US liberals believe that democratic socialism is a flattering label, in the Nordics many are distancing themselves from socialist ideas, pointing out that they, too, embrace the market. In many regards, the Danish government interferes less in the economy than the American government does.

While Denmark does have high taxes and generous welfare policies, today even the Danish Social Democratic Party acknowledges that these policies are slowly eroding responsibility norms, trapping people in welfare dependency and reducing the level of prosperity.

Out of the five Nordic countries, four currently have center-right governments. The only exception is Sweden, in which the Social Democratic Party – which holds the seat of power – has never in its modern history polled as weakly as it does today. Most Swedes vote either for the center-right coalition which wants to reduce the scope of government, or for the right-wing anti-immigration party.

Perhaps these facts are worth pointing out to Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, the journalists at PBS and numerous other Americans who believe that Nordic-style social democracy will transform America to Shangri-La.

Nima Sanandaji is president of the European Centre for Policy Reform and Entrepreneurship. His latest book is Debunking Utopia – Exposing the myth of Nordic socialism.

Copenhagen Harbor Water Bus by Jacob Surland

Learning from Medellín with Alejandro Echeverri

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 22:38

“I think, if you want to write a new narrative at some specific moment in the story of a city, it is important that you have to feel the transformation and see the transformation. So the physical transformation is important but always there is more a spiritual thing, as happens with emotional connections and inspirational things.” ______Architect Alejandro Echeverri.

If you have an interest in Latin America or in urban matters, you will have read by now that the city of Medellín, Colombia has undergone a startling transformation in the past fifteen years. In the 1980s and 1990s, the name of Medellín evoked fearsome drug cartels, violence and terrorism.

But in the 2000s, Medellín took a dramatic turn for the better. In 2012, it was selected from 200 contenders as Innovative City of the Year in a survey organized by the Wall Street Journal and the Urban Land Institute. Today, it features regularly among lists of forward-looking cities and must-see destinations.

One of the most important actors in this giant leap is the Medellín architect Alejandro Echeverri. With the inspired leadership of Mayor Sergio Fajardo and a team of architects, engineers, communicators and social workers, Echeverri in his post as Medellín’s Director of Urban Projects set out to bring real improvements through a strategy of “social urbanism” which included large and small projects in the most troubled parts of the city.

Echeverri who is currently a 2016 Loeb Fellow at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design shared his thoughts with Sami Karam in this 50 minute podcast. A few highlights are transcribed below.

On giving value to local conditions: “It is better to add than to erase.”

From the start, Echeverri and his team avoided the top-down approach favored by past urban planners and worked to develop what he describes as a holistic collaboration between architects, community representatives, social workers, city administrators and the private sector.

At another time in another city, planners might have decided to clear existing low-income settlements and to restart with a clean slate, for example by building high-rise apartments in a parklike setting. Many such projects in the US and Europe are seen today as expensive failures where traditional relations of community and family break down and where crime and vandalism are chronic problems.

An important differentiator in Medellín was to leave existing homes and communities in place. Echeverri explains:

“First came respect and [the idea] to give value to the local conditions, give value to the memories. There is a lot of value. Sometimes because you have some different preconceptions and you belong to a different world, it is difficult for you to see the value of these things. I am talking not only about the value of the physical environment. I am talking about the value of the social engagement, the economy, most of it informal, but they have a lot of solidarity, networks and so on… The process of Medellín, the singularity is some special sensibility about local conditions and houses and thinking that it is better to add than to erase.”

“These projects don’t just have the goal of increasing the quality of life for people, but also to increase their pride and self-esteem.”

On gondolas, transit stations and library parks

Among the most visible physical improvements was the introduction of metro cable cars or gondolas that connect poor areas on the hillsides (the barrios) to the subway in the city below. The new transport system facilitated the commute to work, school etc. but as importantly, it created nodes of communal activity around the transit stations.

Metrocable and Biblioteca Espana. Photo via Wikimedia Commons by Ben Bowes.

Echeverri says:

“We wanted to do a holistic intervention around each station, combining physical transformation and programs of education, innovation, entrepreneurship and so on. So we used each station as a magnet to develop a public space. We focused as well on the itineraries of the common people, how the people use the barrios, from the houses to the schools to the stations and how to improve that condition and give them more public services and public spaces and new cultural facilities.  So, working with the community, and thinking that big infrastructures are important but the same importance is given to the small details, small interventions. And the intervention has to be with the people as well.”

In addition to the gondolas, as many as nine library parks designed by Colombian architects were built in poorer areas and stand today as symbols of a fresh approach to education and culture. One of the them, the Parque Biblioteca España is shown in the photo above.

How do you measure success?

With a decline in violence, all of Colombia has enjoyed a resurgence in investment and tourism. In 2011-15, foreign direct investment was over three times what it had been a decade earlier (source: In 2015, the number of foreign visitors, 76% of whom were vacationers, was over 2.5x higher than in 2005 ( Bogota was the number one destination with 45% of visitors, followed closely by Medellín with 39%.

Photo from Proyecto Urbano Integral / Alejandro Echeverri + Valencia Arquitectos.

Echeverri sees vindication and success in these figures and adds the following:

“The externalities that happened after we recovered the confidence and spirit of society permitted many other interests to start to see Medellín as an opportunity. International companies started to appear. Medellín started to be again one of the main cities for events in Latin America. A lot of researchers and universities were interested again to have partnerships with different institutions of Medellín. So, it is like a virtual cycle but we still have a structural problem. The challenge is big.”

“The main [way we measure success] is how the quotidianity [the daily life] happens today in our city. I am talking about the quotidianity, about the every day life in different parts of the city, mostly in some of the problematic areas, where the kids and the  people and the mothers could be out and move and have facilities of education and could spend half of the time in the public transport system going to work. When the kids go out of the houses or the schools, they don’t see the informal armies, the paramilitaries, that used to be in charge of the public space. So they have different opportunities. We still have problems and so on but the every day life changed a lot. Change the priority because the city today is thinking of education and innovation and not of violence and security.”

Can some lessons be applied to other cities?

With urbanization increasing all over the world, most cities face considerable challenges in infrastructure, housing and security. Echeverri believes that some ideas can be borrowed from Medellín’s experience.

“Every city has some singularity and some local conditions. But always, you find everybody is in agreement on what are the problematic issues and problematic areas of the city, but the political decision to solve those problematic areas and issues doesn’t happen. So focus on problematic areas, be strategic and continuous. Work with ethics, it is important. I strongly believe in the connection with the local conditions, the connection of the public policy and urban transformation with where the people live and where the people have an identity, where the life of the city is happening. I am talking about barrios and neighborhoods.

“To develop a holistic intervention in strategic areas is not easy but it is very powerful if you can combine simultaneously a package of actions: physical transformations, I am talking about public transport systems, public spaces, spaces for culture, education etc., a programmatic package in relation with innovation, local economies.”

To be sure, Echeverri is not declaring victory. He says that there remains much work ahead to cement and prolong the city’s achievements of recent years. He stresses the necessity of having a suitable organizational structure and institutional partnerships between the municipality, the private sector and academia. Other topics covered in the podcast include funding issues and the need for political continuity.

“You cannot change the story of a city in eight years or ten years.  I believe that the process of transformation of Medellín started and was very consistent because some processes happened in a good way but it needs continuity, more years to develop. You improve some specific conditions in some areas but you cannot transform and recover all the problems. For example, the housing problem which is still there.”

There is much more in the podcast. Listen to the whole thing.


Sami Karam is the founder and editor of and the creator of the populyst index™. populyst is about innovation, demography and society. Before populyst, he was the founder and manager of the Seven Global funds and a fund manager at leading asset managers in Boston and New York. In addition to a finance MBA from the Wharton School, he holds a Master's in Civil Engineering from Cornell and a Bachelor of Architecture from UT Austin.

Top photo by User: (WT-shared) CONOCER at wts wikivoyage (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Chicago's Advantages

Sun, 07/10/2016 - 22:38

When I wrote that Chicago is the duck-billed platypus of American cities, I noted that there were a lot things about Chicago that were unique – both good and bad – putting it in a class of its own and making it hard to compare Chicago with other cities.

Today I want to put together a starter list of some of the positive distinguishing factors about Chicago. This doesn’t include things like a downtown construction boom because lots of places have one of those. If Chicago’s boom is big, well, it’s a big city. I only want to put something on the list if it is truly distinguishing, or perhaps something limited to only one or two other places.

I’ll create a starter list. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

  • Cheap – least expensive major urban center in America. A middle management level couple can afford a very nice condo in Chicago.
  • Only globally important financial exchange in America outside NYC (the CME Group)
  • Only full slate of globally renowned cultural institutions outside NYC
  • Only large scale, transit oriented central business district outside NYC – and with a skyline to match
  • Fantastic architecture
  • Not only does Chicago have great skyline, it’s got great vistas of the skyline even from within the city (something missing in NYC inside Manhattan)
  • It’s the alley capital of America
  • Improv capital of the world, and one of only three major training locations for comedy in the US (with NYC and LA)
  • Incredible lakefront park system
  • Most car friendly urban big city in America (traffic is bad, but much of housing stock comes with a parking spot, and there are plenty of stores you can drive to – great for families)

There are probably some things like food and music scene were you can rate Chicago as in a league above most cities, but it’s tougher to make that case since you can get great food everywhere now, etc.

Share your thoughts in the comments because I don’t want to leave anything out.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Photo by Doug Siefken

Adding Space to Suburbia

Sun, 07/10/2016 - 08:36

Space has value. Even the mere perception of space has value. As land becomes more scarce, space becomes more valuable, and has a direct impact on housing costs and a developer’s profit (or loss). Both developers and the New Urbanists who preach that dense cities are good places know this, even as they pressure town councils and planning commissions to authorize reduced lot sizes. Where they have succeeded, the resulting compressed lots sacrifice quality organic space — green space — to the point of oblivion.

Less than a half century ago, Phoenix was a sleepy retirement town with vast openness and desert character. A few years ago, my wife Adrienne and I visited the city. Today’s Phoenix, like Las Vegas, Albuquerque, etc., is a blanket of rooftop and pavement with a few strip malls spattered about. We met with developers to demonstrate a new way to design that increases lot size (value), while reducing infrastructure (costs). Without exception, developers responded: "People move to Phoenix to have a smaller lot. They do not want space." So we visited the new, compressed developments, and asked residents about their new homes. Without exception, all the residents we interviewed loved their new places, but wished they had more space, especially between themselves and their neighbors.

Simply put, a larger lot with more space is likely to be more valuable to residents, but builders are interested more in selling ‘product’ — homes. The more, the better.

A buyer will pay more for a large home than a small one; for a large lot than a small one. They will pay a premium for a home with a view of space over that what they would pay for a view into a neighbor’s adjacent yard.

Space has value, and value translates to an increased tax base.

The social engineer will argue that it’s OK to sacrifice space because there will be a small park a five or ten minute ‘walk’ away. Reality check: A very small percentage of residents will actually walk to that park, but the homes that can view that space will be priced at a premium, costing well above the homes in a sardine-like placement far from the park. In denser suburbs or new urban communities, the haves will enjoy space; the have-nots, not so much.

If space does not have value, as the proponents of dense neighborhoods claim, then why is it so heavily featured in home builders' sales and marketing materials? When a home builder uses a marketing photograph, it is taken at a wide angle to make the lot appear larger than it actually is. When a builder uses a rendering on their web site or sales materials, it’s never shown with adjacent homes compressing the visual space.

How can we feed the hunger for space? The conventional design methods that have been used since the dawn of civilization can't work. To achieve increased space while preserving a higher density standard, the housing industry needs to take an approach that incorporates innovation and attractive value.

That begins with the recognition that space is something that you feel, even though it is limited by non-transparent objects that form a physical barrier in our three dimensional world. When we are inside a structure, it’s the walls around us in reference to the flat floor; when we are outside, it's the distance we perceive between homes. We might estimate a distance as longer or shorter, depending on whether the terrain was hilly or flat.

Does five acres within a neighborhood park constitute open space? It sounds like it will, but if it's along steep slopes or thickly wooded land with natural underbrush it won’t feel open. If it’s a park that residents must stroll to from their homes, the space has less value than if it can be viewed through their windows.

As for conventional interior space, the perimeter of a home is often determined by the lot size, depending on local zoning. In the case of a Phoenix lot that is 50 feet wide by 100 feet deep, with a 5 foot side yard setback and a 20 foot front and rear yard setback, the home would be allowed to be 40 feet wide and 60 feet deep. Assuming a 20 foot by 20 foot garage and 6 inch exterior wall, that leaves 1,880 square feet of living space within the home.

But— that only would result if the home were expanded to the largest possible perimeter. Included in that perimeter would be 145 feet of side yard, the entry door, and two car spaces in the garage, leaving only 55 feet for possible window locations that would overlook the front and rear yards. Within that footprint, the architect must lay out the bedrooms, closets, bathrooms, kitchen, living and family rooms, and any other living space.

A great architect will make the resident ‘feel’ the most of the available space. A bad designer will make the home feel smaller than it actually is. Neither the good nor the bad architect (especially when the project is created by production builders) will consider the views from within the home, because, simply put, with New Urban and suburban cookie cutter subdividing, there are none. In most southern cities the rear view overlooks a wall or fence 20 feet away, and the next house structure is at a 40 foot distance. The front view (if any windows exist at all from front-placed living space) will be the garage door across the street, 90 feet away, along with driveways, the street, and parked cars. This is why modern home living spaces are rear, not front, oriented. Not much to look at. That is, unless you pay more – much more – to be in a neighborhood with larger lots.

Conventional exterior space is also dictated by city regulations. Local zoning ordinances determine the allowed width and depth, to limit density with the promise of more space and a larger home footprint. In conventionally subdivided developments, side yard space is not a quality area, since the sides of homes typically are void of windows, and even if there were views, those windows would look directly into the neighboring wall just 10 to 20 feet in the distance.

The image below shows two streets:

The left one has a 90 foot wide lot; the right one has a 60’ foot wide lot. Both use the same 25 foot front yard setback. From a ‘human’ perspective, looking down the street, both have the same 100 foot wide swath of open space, yet the smaller lot achieves 33 percent more homes with the exact same infrastructure (street) expense. Because the street covers the same land area in both cases, the actual density gain on the smaller lot would be about 25 percent, while providing the very same ‘feel’ of space as the larger lot. Assuming that the intention of suburban zoning is to set both space and value, the typical ordinance does a terrible job on providing extra actual perceived space.

Considering that space has real value, educators at colleges, and at design conferences, and all teachers of architecture and of urban and/or suburban design, should be concentrating more on how interior and exterior spaces can merge in more meaningful ways than on the trim of a front porch. Craftsman trim on a porch railing may add a wee bit of value, but living spaces coordinated with views of open space add a huge increase in value. A park may add overall neighborhood value, but living on a street that has park-like space adds tremendous value.

Cookie-cutter Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) plans generated specifically to build to the regulatory minimums will never satisfy the hunger for space. These two videos demonstrate my solutions. Along with other innovative approaches that merge planning and architecture, they show the paths we need to follow if we are to achieve sustainable housing, and sustainable zoning.

Rick Harrison is President of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio and Neighborhood Innovations, LLC. He is author of Prefurbia: Reinventing The Suburbs From Disdainable To Sustainable and creator of LandMentor. His websites are and

Flickr photo by Joan of cat in a suburban yard

Australia: Mad As Hell And Not Gonna Take It?

Fri, 07/08/2016 - 14:19

The result of Australia’s recent Federal election remains unclear, as the count has continued — as of this writing — for days. What is clear is that the major parties suffered a rebuff. One in four Australians voted for an alternative to the traditional mainstream parties, a historic record. Even if incumbent Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can win enough seats to control the lower house (nearly tossing out a first term Prime Minister is another first for this election), the Senate is well beyond reach of a majority. As psephologists — those who study elections — digest the details, it is looking increasingly as if the losses can be related to a suburban and regional community disgruntled with the attitudes and indulgences of inner urban elites.

The values of these elites, including the Prime Minister, seem increasingly at odds with the wider community in everything from economic opportunity to housing, transit, access to education, cost of living concerns, immigration policy, the environment, and more. That divergence made itself felt with a tectonic shift in the latest ballot result.

First, a crash course in Australian politics. Australia operates a Westminster style democracy. Every person aged 18 and over is required to vote (yes, it’s compulsory). They vote for geographic representatives in the lower house (the House of Representatives), and also for State representatives in the upper house, the Senate — a house of review. Each lower house seat represents approximately 150,000 people. Some electoral districts, given our sparse population density in rural and remote areas, can be larger than Texas in area. Most, however are metropolitan, given that 80 percent of Australians live in just five major cities. Each State elects 12 Senators, plus two for each Territory — being the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. There are 150 Members of the House of Representative and there are 78 Senators.

Voting is by a preferential system. Imagine a lower house seat with five candidates representing various political parties. Voters are required to number their ballots in order of preference, and to number each box. The candidate with the least votes is eliminated, but the second preference flows to the candidate numbered next on a given ballot. This process continues until only two candidates remain, the one with the most votes being declared the winner. The same happens in the Senate for each State. Because the Senate typically attracts a wide field of candidates and parties (we even had a Pirate Party this time), the Senate Ballot paper can be over three feet wide. Fortunately, voters only need to number their top six choices of party ‘above the line’ for the Senate. Suckers for punishment can number every single box.

The main political parties in Australia are the Labor Party (akin to the Democrats); the Liberal Party (akin to Republicans); the National Party (mainly rural conservatives); and The Greens (left wing environmentalists). The party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Representatives forms the government. There is usually a range of smaller fringe parties that record little support, but in this election, One Nation (resembling the Tea Party movement), The Nick Xenophon Party (a populist party), various Christian groups and others combined to achieve 5 seats in the lower house and around 11 in the Senate. Forming a majority in the lower house is now looking difficult, and there is no chance of a majority in the upper house.

It is unlike the American system in that there is no Presidential vote, although our politics have become Presidential in campaign style. Our Prime Minister (from the conservative Liberal Party, although many in the party dispute his conservatism), is elected by the party's Members of Parliament only. In other words, the only people who actually get to vote for our current (for the time being) Prime Minister are the voters of Wentworth, his electorate. The rest of the country votes locally for their own candidates. PMs rely on the support of their party room. This is how we manage to have Prime Ministers who can be tossed out not by popular vote, but by party room vote. It makes life interesting, especially in recent years, when we seem to be averaging a new PM each year without the need for an election. The PM forms a Cabinet of their own choosing, drawn from elected party members. This cabinet includes members of both upper and lower houses, but the PM is drawn from the lower house.

So what happened? In a word: rebellion. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a graduate of Oxford University and a former barrister, is independently wealthy, living in a multimillion dollar Sydney harbour-side home. Having millionaire leaders might be familiar to Americans, but for Australians it’s unusual. His wife is Lucy Turnbull, a former Lord Mayor of Sydney (which represents only the downtown and immediately adjacent areas), and a prominent urbanist, who also chairs the Greater Sydney Commission. Together, they proudly champion the agenda of the inner urban elites: light rail projects, mass transit projects, increasing urban density, ‘knowledge workers’ as the future of industry, and so on. In the election campaign, Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was happy to be pictured in his campaign bus, actively touring disadvantaged outer-urban and regional areas, while Turnbull was happy to be pictured riding in a Sydney train.

One of Turnbull’s first acts as Prime Minister, after unseating his conservative predecessor Tony Abbott in a party room coup, was to form a ‘Cities Ministry’ which later released a Smart Cities Plan, much to the adulation of the elites who claimed that without a dedicated Minister for Cities, Australia’s future prosperity was in jeopardy. “Great cities attract, retain and develop increasingly mobile talent and organisations, encouraging them to innovate, create jobs and support growth,” the PM said. The statement was received with wide applause from fawning urban industry groups, media, academics, planners, and left leaning think tanks.

This wasn’t a focus of the election campaign, but it does perhaps provide an insight into how the politics of a mainstream party and incumbent government, still in its first term, diverged from mainstream Australia. Australia may be among the world’s most highly urbanised nations, but our urbanism is largely suburban by nature. The concerns of suburban and regional electorates focus on cost of living pressures, low wage growth, unaffordable housing, evaporating job opportunities and the casualization of work towards contract positions. For these voters, the importance of inner city light rail projects designed to improve commuting opportunities for a minority of high income, inner-urban dwellers just doesn’t rate on the scale of essential public policy investment. Analysis of the voting patterns of the latest election show that some of the greatest swings against the government came from those middle and outer urban electorates, along with disadvantaged regional communities.

Neither can the Labor opposition take much comfort from the result. The swing resulted in only a small pickup for them— insufficient to win government — and failed to win enough support from their traditional base, which abandoned the mainstream left for alternative minor parties. Both Liberals and Labor had fallen for the politically correct, left leaning, inner urban policy kool-aid that has increasingly come to represent orthodox establishment views.

In the same way that the UK ‘Brexit’ Leave vote was supported by communities that did not share in the benefits enjoyed by inner-London elites, many Australians also cast a vote of rebellion, turning their backs on the advice and views of the many inner-urban experts who have talked down to them for years.

For many, the recent Australian election resembled an opportunity to re-enact the speech of Howard Beale (played by an Australian, Peter Finch) in the film Network: “Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!'”

Ross Elliott has more than twenty years experience in property and public policy. His past roles have included stints in urban economics, national and state roles with the Property Council, and in destination marketing. He has written extensively on a range of public policy issues centering around urban issues, and continues to maintain his recreational interest in public policy through ongoing contributions such as this or via his monthly blog, The Pulse.

Flickr photo by Pedro Szekely: cloudy skies over the Sydney Opera House.

The Meaning of the Baby Bust

Thu, 07/07/2016 - 22:38

With a stronger economy and a growing number of women of child-bearing age, Americans should be producing offspring at a healthy clip. But the most recent data suggest that this is not happening, as the birthrate in 2015 dropped to a historic low. A new study from the University of New Hampshire suggests that these trends have resulted in 3.4 million fewer births since 2008, based on the pre-recession fertility rate, or roughly 15 percent fewer births than would have occurred at the 2007 birth rate.

Once an exception to demographic decline, our country may be falling into the dismal pattern that is now common in other high-income countries, notably in East Asia and Europe. Europe’s demographic crisis is one reason European Union officials, particularly in Germany, opened the floodgates to mass migration from the Middle East and other unstable areas. In many parts of Europe, more people are dying than are being born.

Now America may be joining the downward fertility spiral. Since the recession, the number of new children has plummeted, and it’s dropped the most precipitously for new mothers. The number of households with their own children in 2014 was 33 million, down from 35 million in 2005, even as the total number of households has shot up by nearly 6 million. By comparison, there are about 43 million households with dogs, according to the ASPCA’s low-end estimate.

Shifts in child bearing will profoundly affect our geography, politics and economic future. Children, after all, define our future society, and provide the primary motivation for parents and grandparents. Without a strong familial structure, we will be facing a rather grim future, as an expanding older population grows ever more dependent on a shrinking base of young working-age people. Demographer Sami Karam notes that the 1980s Reagan boom benefited from demographics of that period, with a rising proportion of working people to retirees. With trends headed the opposite way, he suggests, no such expansion may even be possible today.

To some, of course, an increasingly childless future represents something of an ideal. Many greens regard offspring as unwanted additional emitters of carbon, and historically have proposed limiting families. It also provides manna to those high-density developers who no longer will have to worry about renters seeking to establish themselves in homes best suited for raising children.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Urban Future: The Revolt Against Central Planning

Wed, 07/06/2016 - 22:38

In Milton Keynes, perhaps the most radical of Britain’s post-Second World War “New Towns,” the battle over Brexit and the culture war that it represents is raging hard. There, the consequences of EU immigration policy, of planning instituted by national authority, and of the grassroots yearning to preserve local character have clashed together to shape a platform that may set a precedent for whether central planners or local residents will determine the urban future.

Milton Keynes is unusual for planned cities. Founded in 1967 and having matured in the last few decades, it defies virtually every tenet of contemporary planning orthodoxy. In its day it was a product of Britain’s national planners; despite that, today Milton Keynes drives the country's national planners crazy. Instead of a mixed-use, dense, transit-oriented bastion of urbanism – the predictable and commonly reiterated goals of many British town planning leaders today – Milton Keynes is exactly the opposite, intentionally.

A modernist experiment, Milton Keynes was planned to be low-density. It was also planned to be auto-oriented, and suburban. Its houses are large, its buildings do not front streets, and its transportation modes are separated by grade: that is, they are at different heights, with different means of transport often moving at different speeds. This is the antithesis of the now-favored idea of “complete” streets. The town's downtown shopping enclave is an inward-facing mall – the largest in Britain – with downtown as a whole designed as a business and commercial center rather than a mixed-use playground. Mixed-use development is clustered in the city’s low-density neighborhoods and villages, all on a grid, rather than scattered with the UK’s more favored randomness.

Milton Keynes was designed to be livable and functional, family-friendly, job-friendly and conducive to convenient mobility. The daily grind, by design, was to bear a closer resemblance to a rural experience than to an urban one. Original advertisements promoted a healthy, carefree lifestyle sheathed in nature, away from the nuisances of the big city. Even the logic of its location, equidistant from Britain’s other large cities, sought convenience over traditional planning rationales.

To those with a one-track view of what a city should be, Milton Keynes is unrecognizable. To these people, the city is bland, sterile, and without the day-to-day vibrancy that defines cities. In many planning texts it has been written off as a failure, and to many residents of Britain, Milton Keynes is not a preferred destination.

But in many of the most important metrics that define urban success, Milton Keynes shines. It has virtually no traffic, it attracts lots of families, and it has the highest job growth in the country. Its population has swelled over 20 percent since 2001, over twice the national average, to 255,000 , and its residents ardently defend it. It has built out nearly identically to the original vision, with its millions of trees and lush, anti-urban character earning it the affectionate moniker “Urban Eden”.

Today, however, Milton Keynes faces ever-mounting threats to the integrity of its original character. Thanks to the consequences of EU immigration policy, which spurred population growth in the UK to a level that exceeded housing construction to the tune of 70,000 units a year, or roughly 50 percent, cities like Milton Keynes are under fire to take up their “fair share” of the difference. Although Milton Keynes was originally developed independently through a long-range loan to the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, the nation's housing issue led Britain’s deputy prime minister to effectively lift the city’s self-rule in 2004 in a sweeping authoritarian central takeover.

That move transferred planning authority from local government to a national regeneration authority. The authority promptly set a housing quota for the city based on national targets, and began the task of systematically increasing density, narrowing roads, reducing unit sizes, instilling a transit-oriented ethos, discontinuing the grid, and concocting plans to build new development that directly fronted the street, all at odds with the city’s original masterplan.

The new ideas reflect tenets frequently promoted by the Royal Town Planning Institute, Britain’s central planning body. The moves reflect what has become a familiar narrative of planner as a high-minded savior and opposition as selfish NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) residents, who lack regard for the broader picture. That Milton Keynes’ defenders are arguing on behalf of a thoughtful vision – one shaped decades ago and misaligned with contemporary planners’ aspirations – is a complicating wrinkle. In contrast to the narrative that the suburbs were an unfortunate accident that have destroyed communities, Milton Keynes’ defenders are trying to save a city that was planned to be suburban and that is successful today, and are defending it by citing affection for its character and sense of community.

Because of Milton Keynes’ unusual design, traditional NIMBY dynamics have been inverted. In a rare twist on the oft-repeated Jane Jacobs narrative of residents against the planners, Milton Keynes’ defenders are fighting for the planned suburban character of their town: a primary complaint is that the central planners promoting density and mixed-use development lack creativity or an understanding of the bigger picture vision that shapes their sense of place, even though the tactics the planners are employing are often advocated using the same argument in reverse. Far from being ad-hoc selfish obstructionists, the Milton Keynes defenders are well-organized and thoughtful: a group called “Urban Eden” offers a well-composed six-point vision as the baseline for alternatives to the central plans.

Milton Keynes belies the narrative of a lack of intentionality as a disqualifier for suburbia. More importantly, its future will tell us much about whether creativity and self-determination can continue to exist in Britain at the local scale, and whether the forces that induced Brexit can topple an internal bureaucracy, in addition to an external one.

While local freedoms may ultimately help cities like Milton Keynes preserve their unique character, additional bureaucracy in the UK must be lifted to solve the larger national issue of housing affordability. In particular, Britain should free the private land development market, which has been effectively nationalized since 1947. Britain’s self-imposed shortage of developable land is the primary reason British housing production is well under half what it was when Milton Keyes was originally conceived. In an ironic twist, if it maintains such strict centralized planning strategies, Britain may continue to choke the character of its cities over the issue of housing production, wielding a national-scale bully pulpit to try to solve a crisis that could perhaps best be solved by eliminating the nationalization of property development altogether.

Brexit offers a lesson to planners world-wide, with Milton Keynes a creative case study of an alternative to the hegemony of contemporary urban planning. While many planners loathe Milton Keynes, many residents like it, and its demonstrable successes suggest it should be a worthy case study. So many planning bodies are dominated by a singular ideology. Instead, a new era of open-mindedness to local creativity should be embraced… lest Britain and the world rise up to circumvent the planners behind a movement with a nickname as catchy as Brexit.

Roger Weber is a city planner specializing in global urban and industrial strategy, urban design, zoning, and real estate. He holds a Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Research interests include fiscal policy, demographics, architecture, housing, and land use.

Flickr photo by Sarah Joy: Double Rainbow, Milton Keynes

Fastest Metropolitan Area Growth Continues in Prairie Provinces

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 22:38

The latest Statistics Canada population estimates indicate that much of the nation's growth continues to be in the census metropolitan areas (CMAs) of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, centered on Toronto, and in the Prairie Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

In addition to Toronto, the Greater Golden Horseshoe includes Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Oshawa, Brantford, Barrie, Peterborough St. Catherine's-Niagara and Guelph census metropolitan areas. The Prairie Provinces metropolitan areas are Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Regina.

Between the 2011 census and 2015, the Greater Golden Horseshoe accounted for 30.3 percent of the national population increase (Figure 1). The five Prairie Province metropolitan areas had 29.1 percent of the growth.

Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe was above its national share of the population of 25 percent. The Prairie Province CMA growth was more than 2.5 times its population share, which was less than 11 percent in 2011.

The CMAs outside the Greater Golden Horseshoe and the Prairie Provinces accounted for approximately 34 percent of the growth, somewhat more than their 30 percent share of the population. Areas outside the CMA's accounted for only seven percent of the growth, a fraction of their 34 percent population share. This is a continuing indication that the metropolitan areas continue to draw more of the population growth.

Changing Distribution of Growth

The last decade and a half has seen substantial changes in the distribution of CMA growth. Between 2001 and 2006, the Golden Horseshoe metropolitan areas welcomed 40 percent of Canada's population growth, well above the 30 percent over 2011 to 2015. At the same time, the Greater Golden Horseshoe reduction in the share of growth has been compensated by the gain in the Prairie Province metropolitan areas. Between 2001 and 2006, the share of national growth was 19 percent, which rose to 29 percent over 2011 to 2015.

The population growth rate has slowed considerably in the Greater Golden Horseshoe metropolitan areas, from 1.7 percent annually between 2001 and 2006 to 1.1 percent between 2011 and 2015. Growth has risen considerably in the Prairie Province metropolitan areas, from 1.2 percent annually between 2001 and 2006 to 2.8 percent between 2011 and 2015. Numerically, the Prairie Province metropolitan area growth is now challenging that of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, despite the latter's more than twice as many residents (Figure 2).

Winnipeg's would pass Québec in population by the 2021 census, if the growth rates of the last four years continue and would become the 7th largest metropolitan area.

Fastest Growing Metropolitan Areas

Five of the six fastest growing metropolitan areas between 2011 and 2015 were in the Prairie Provinces. Calgary, Edmonton and Saskatoon topped the list, growing more than three percent annually (Figure 3). This is an extraordinary rate, better than three times the national growth rate. Regina grew 2.5 percent annually. Over this period, Calgary and Edmonton have both grown larger than Ottawa-Gatineau, which had been the fourth largest CMA for at least 40 years. One can expect growth in the two Alberta cities to slow with the decline in energy prices,  while the other prairie metropolitan areas, less oil dependent, though resource dependent, should do better.  

Winnipeg, which was the nation's fourth largest metropolitan area until 1961 and nearly as large as Vancouver as late as 1931, has begun once again  to grow more quickly, after decades of lackluster growth. Having slipped to 8th largest by 2001, Winnipeg ranked sixth in growth since 2011, trailing only the four other Prairie Province metropolitan areas and fast growing Kelowna, BC (1.8 percent annual growth). Unusually, Winnipeg's growth rate exceeded that of Toronto between 2011 and 2015. Winnipeg's annual growth rate was 1.6 percent, more than double its 2001-2011 growth (0.7 percent). Should Winnipeg's growth continue at the most recent rate through the 2021 census, it could exceed the population of the Québec CMA and would trail only the six metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population.

The changing growth rates of the largest CMAs is indicated in Figure 4, which indicates the rising growth rates in the Prairie province metropolitan areas, with more mixed performance among the other larger CMAs.

Largest Metropolitan Areas

Canada has eleven metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 residents. Toronto remains by far the largest, at more than 6 million and seems unlikely to be challenged in the foreseeable future. Montréal is closing in on 4.1 million, while Vancouver has just passed 2.5 million (Figure 5).

The Future

Canada's fastest growing metropolitan areas also face the greatest growth challenges. The energy downturn has been particularly rough on Calgary and Edmonton, exacerbated by the disastrous Fort McMurray fire. There was a noticeable downturn in growth between 2014 and 2015 in both CMAs, yet only Kelowna grew faster in the last year. Other Prairie province metropolitan areas, less impacted by the energy decline, have seen their population growth rates fall. The growth rate was one third less than the 2011 to 2015 rate in Saskatoon and about 30 percent less in Regina between 2014 and 2015. Winnipeg fared best, maintaining 90 percent of its 2011-2015 growth rate.

Other metropolitan areas face challenges every bit as complex. The economic dynamo of Toronto should continue to grow, though has faced strong domestic out-migration between 2004 and  2014, as the population disperses to outer metropolitan areas in the Greater Golden Horseshoe and outside Ontario altogether (See: "Moving from Canada's Biggest Cities"). Montréal also experienced strong domestic migration losses, with half moving to other parts of Québec and half to other provinces. Vancouver, despite its incomparable attractiveness is also losing net domestic migrants. In all three metropolitan areas, the rising cost of living seems likely to be a major factor in the losses, with "tanking" housing affordability the apparent cause. Vancouver now ranks as the third least affordable major metropolitan area among 87 in the nine nations covered by the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, while Toronto's house prices have risen at more than four times average household incomes since 2001 (see the Frontier Centre policy report: "Canada's Middle-Income Housing Affordability Crisis"). House prices escalated almost as much in Montréal.

With the outcomes of these conflicting influences unclear, Canada's metropolitan area growth could go in different directions. This could range from growth patterns that are similar in the coming years, to the continued discovery by households of smaller metropolitan areas, a higher quality of life is possible because of the lower cost of living. This, has already been evident in the smaller metropolitan areas of Ontario and Québec, as households have been exiting Toronto and Montréal. Meanwhile, Canada is in the midst of its every five year census for 2016, the results of which should be available in seven months (February 2017).

Photo: North Saskatchewan River from Edmonton central business district (by author).

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international pubilc policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Why the World Is Rebelling Against ‘Experts’

Mon, 07/04/2016 - 22:38

An unconventional, sometimes incoherent, resistance arises to the elites who keep explaining why changes that hurt the middle class are actually for its own good.

The Great Rebellion is on and where it leads nobody knows.

Its expressions range from Brexit to the Trump phenomena and includes neo-nationalist and unconventional insurgent movement around the world. It shares no single leader, party or ideology. Its very incoherence, combined with the blindness of its elite opposition, has made it hard for the established parties across what’s left of the democratic world to contain it.

What holds the rebels together is a single idea: the rejection of the neo-liberal crony capitalist order that has arisen since the fall of the Soviet Union. For two decades, this new ruling class could boast of great successes: rising living standards, limited warfare, rapid technological change and an optimism about the future spread of liberal democracy. Now, that’s all fading or failing.

Living standards are stagnating, vicious wars raging, poverty-stricken migrants pouring across borders and class chasms growing. Amidst this, the crony capitalists and their bureaucratic allies have only grown more arrogant and demanding. But the failures of those who occupy what Lenin called “the commanding heights” are obvious to most of the citizens on whose behalf they claim to speak and act.

The Great Rebellion draws on five disparate and sometimes contradictory causes that find common ground in frustration with the steady bureaucratic erosion of democratic self-governance: class resentment, racial concerns, geographic disparities, nationalism, cultural identity. Each of these strains appeals to different constituencies, but together they are creating a political Molotov cocktail.

Class Conflict

The Brexit vote reflected the class aspect of the Rebellion. The London Times post-election analysis , notes socialist author James Heartfield, found the upper classes 57 percent for remain, the upper middle class fairly divided, while everyone below them went roughly two-thirds for leave. It doesn’t get much plainer than that.

This dissent reflect the consequences of the globalization celebrated by elites in both parties. Britain’s industrial workforce, once the wonder of the world, is half as large as it was as just two decades ago. The social status of the British worker, even among the Labour grandees who pay them lip service, has been greatly diminished, notes scholar Dick Hobbs, himself a product of blue collar east London. “There are parts of London,” he writes, “where the pubs are the only economy.”

As labor has struggled, writes Heartfield, “the Labour Party became more distant, metropolitan and elitist. It sought to re-write the party’s policy to mirror its own concerns, and also to diminish working people’s aspirations for social democratic reform in their favour. “

A similar scenario has emerged here in America, where corporations—especially those making consumer goods—have grown fat on access to Chinese, Mexican and other foreign labor. Like their British counterparts, the U.S. working class is falling into social chaos, with declining marriage and church attendance rates, growing drug addiction, poor school performance and even declining life expectancy. Even during the primary campaign, as both Sanders and Trump railed against globalization United Technologies saw fit to announce the movement of a large plant form Indianapolis, where about 1,500 jobs were lost, to Monterrey.

And much as the leave wave crested in just those parts of the U.K. where trade with Europe is highest, so is Trump support highest in the Southern states that now dominate what remains of American manufacturing.

Race and Ethnicity

Ethnic minorities and immigrants have now become core constituents of progressive parties in many countries—the Socialists in France, the British Labour Party and the Democratic Party here in America. In Britain, it never occurred to party’s leaders that most new jobs created during the Blair and Brown regimes went to newcomers. One can admire the pluck of Polish plumbers, Latvian barmaids, Greek waiters and French technicians and still note that many of these jobs could have gone to native born British. This includes the children of the mostly non-white commonwealth immigrants who are now part of the country’s national culture.

 The parallels in America—a much larger, richer and more diverse country—are striking. Silicon Valley and corporate America loves to bring in glorified indentured servants from abroad, earning the assent of Hillary Clinton and the corporate shill wing of the GOP. Only Trump and Sanders have attacked this program, which has cost even trained American workers their jobs.

 As tends to occur when race and ethnicity intrude, ugliness here seeps into the Great Rebellion. Trump has consciously and irresponsibly stoked ethnic resentments tied to immigration. Anti-EU continental Europeans— notably in eastern Europe but also France’s Marine Le Pen— often outdo our TV billionaire’s provocations.

Geographic Disparities

The Brexit vote also revealed a chasm between the metropolitan core and the rest of the country. The urban centers of London, Manchester and Liverpool all voted Remain. Central London has benefited from being where the world’s super rich park their money. The devastation of the industrial economy in the periphery has hardly touched the posh precincts of the premier global city.

 In contrast the more distant, often working class, suburbs of London and other cities voted to Leave. Small towns followed suit. The Brexit vote, suggests analyst Aaron Renn, demonstrated that arrogant urbanites, seeing themselves as the exclusive centers of civilization, ignore those who live outside the “glamour zone” at their own peril.

Similar voting patterns can be seen in the US. The countryside, except for retirement havens of the rich, has gone way to the right. The suburbs are tilting that way, and could become more rebellious as aggressive “disparate impact” policies force communities to reshape themselves to meet HUD’s social engineering standards —for example if they are too middle class or too white—even if there is no proof of actual discrimination.

Needless to say, such policies could enhance the geographic base of the Great Rebellion, including among middle=class minorities who are now responsible for much of our current suburban growth. Already the small towns and outer suburbs have signed up with Trump; if he can make clear the threat to suburbia from the planners, he could, despite his boorish ugliness, win these areas and the election.

Nationalism and Cultural Identity

Nationalism gets a bad rap in Europe, for historically sound reasons. Yet these national cultures also have produced much of the world’s great literature and music, and the world’s most beautiful cities. Yet in contemporary Europe, these national cultures are diminishing. Instead the crony capitalist regime gives us Rem Koolhaas’ repetitiousgeneric city, often as stultifying as the most mindless suburban mall.

Not just buildings, but historic values are also being undermined, as universities and even grade schools seek to replace cherished values with post-modernist, politically correct formulations. English students at Yale protest having to read Chaucer, Shakespeare or Milton, the foundation writers of the world’s common language whose greatest sin, it appears, was to be both English and male.

Of course, cultural and political nationalism often shows an ugly side. But everyone who shouts for the British national soccer team or chants USA at the Olympics is not a fascist; they are just people who love their country. Yet academia, the shaper of the young and impressionable, now sometimes regard any positive assessment of America as the land of opportunity or even the American flag as “micro-aggressions.” Brits and Americans have much to be ashamed about in their history, but their glorious achievements remain inspirational to many, who find attempts to replace them with some tortured global syncretism foolish and counterproductive.

Governance and Localism

When Brits told pollsters why they had voted to leave the EU, notes James Heartfield, immigration and national identity ranked high but democracy and self-governance was at the top of the list. In contrast, classes who supported remain—the mainstream media, academia, the legal and financial establishments—increasingly see themselves as rightful rulers, the benighted masses be damned.

This anti-EU rebellion is hardly limited to Britain. Since 2005 FrenchDanish and Dutchvoters have voted against closer EU ties. Hostility to the EU, as recorded by Pew, is actually stronger in many key European countries, including France, than it is in Britain. And after the Brexit vote, there are already moves for similar exit referenda in several European countries.

But like Washington bureaucrats who can’t be bothered to pay much attention to the views of the underlings of the Heartland, the Eurocrats want to double down. But like Washington bureaucrats who can’t be bothered to pay much attention to the views of the underlings of the Heartland, the Eurocrats want to double down. The Germans, the effective rulers of Europe, have reacted to Brexit with talk about ways to “deepen” the EU, creating the basis for what some have argued would be essentially “a superstate”. This policy approach seems about as brilliant as that of Lord North, whose response to American agitation was to further tighten London’s screws. That certainly worked well.

— bringing to mind Lord North, who responded to colonial agitation by further tightening London’s screws.

This arrogance, in part, stems froms what one writer at the Atlantic has called the war on the stupid. In this formulation, those with elite degrees, including the hegemons on Wall Street and Silicon Valley, dismiss local control as rule by the Yahoos. The progressive ideal of government by experts—sometimes seen as “the technocracy”—may sounds good in Palo Alto or London, but often promise a dim future for the middle class. Expert regulation, often with green goals in mind, take hard-earned gains like car and home ownership and cheap air travel all but out of reach for the middle class, while keeping them around for the globe-trotting elites.

Where does this go

The Great Rebellion is, if nothing else, politically incoherent.

Some conservatives hail it as a harbinger of the decline of progressivism. Traditional leftists hope for the return of state socialism, directed from national capitals. Racists see a vindication for their world view. Libertarians hail de-regulation while others, on the nationalist right, embrace the authoritarian nationalism of Vladimir Putin.

Yet for all its divergent views, the Great Rebellion has accomplished this: the first serious blow to the relentless ascendency of neo-liberal crony capitalism. The revels have put the issue of the super-state and the cause of returning power closer to the people back on the agenda. The Great Rebellion allows localities relief from overweening regulations, cities to be as urban as they want, and the periphery choose how they wish to develop.

The Rebellion also allows us to move beyond enforced standards of racial “balance” and reparations , replacing the chaos of unenforced borders and enforced “diversity” with something more gradual and organic in nature. Our hope on race and ethnicity lies not in rule-making from above , but in allowing the multiculturalism of the streets to occur, as is rapidly does, in suburban schoolyards, soccer pitches and Main Streets across the Western world.

National cultures do not need to be annihilated but allowed to evolve. In Texas, California, and across the southwestern, Spanish phraseology, Mexican food and music are already very mainstream. Without lectures from the White House or preening professors, African-American strains will continue to define our national culture, particularly in the south. In Europe, few object to couscous on bistro menus, falafel on the streets and, in Britain, the obligatory curry at the pub.

The Great Rebellion is much more than the triumph of nativism, stupidity and crudeness widely denounced in the mainstream media. Ethnic integration and even globalization will continue, but shaped by the wishes of democratic peoples, not corporate hegemons or bureaucratic know-it-alls. We can now once again aspire to a better world—better because it will be one that people, not autocrats, have decided to make.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Beast.

Homesteading Detroit

Sun, 07/03/2016 - 22:38

I was in Detroit recently for the Congress for New Urbanism, the Strong Towns gathering, and a Small Developers Workshop. I used Airbnb instead of the corporate hotel option while in town.

This is what $13,000 buys you in Detroit. Well… $13,000 and four years of blood, sweat, and tears. Detroit allows people with the right attitude to substitute personal effort for money. This solid brick century old duplex is within bicycle distance of downtown and it came with the adjacent vacant lots. This young couple paid cash from savings and is homesteading in the city. They live upstairs and rent out the downstairs to visitors like me.

When people have a spacious comfortable place to live with no rent or mortgage they have time to pursue their real interests. Gardening, woodworking, metalworking, fashion, painting…

Instead of taking jobs that would chain them to someone else’s schedule and values the couple continuously cultivates small ventures from their home. The internet allows them to reach out to a global customer base with their Frontier Industry.

I’ve said this before. I’ll say it again. If you’re tired of spending $1,000 a month for your share of a rented two bedroom apartment with five room mates in Brooklyn or San Francisco… do what Americans have always done. Hitch up your Conestoga wagon and head out to the territories. It’s a big country. Be a pioneer.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

European GDP: What Went Wrong

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 22:38

First the two world wars, then a decline in the birth rate.

Newspapers these days are full of stories on World War I which started 100 years ago. They are also full of stories on today’s anemic European economy, as for example with Italy’s negative growth rate in the second quarter and France’s struggle to reach 1% GDP growth this year. At first blush, these two sets of stories are unrelated. But on closer look, it is apparent that the economy today is a distant echo of the war a century ago. And it all comes down to Europe’s demographics.

In my view, there are essentially three main catalysts of economic growth: innovation, demographics, and a favorable institutional framework. To illustrate this, imagine that a firm develops the best smartphone in the world but that there is only a potential market of 1 million buyers. Clearly, the wealth created by this innovation would be far smaller than if the potential market was 100 million buyers. Thus the importance of demographics.

Now imagine that there is a market of 1 billion people but that there is no innovation of any kind. In this case, wealth creation would be greatly stunted and, with few new assets being created, wealth would become essentially a game of trading existing resources. Thus the importance of innovation. Finally, imagine a country where institutions are weak, where contract law is weak, where access to capital is difficult, where the government is corrupt and political risk is high. Here again there would not be much innovation because there would not be much capital or much incentive to innovate. Thus the importance of a favorable institutional framework.

Too many deaths

So going back to Europe, we could say that it has some innovation and that it has a favorable institutional framework, though in both cases to a lesser extent than the United States. What Europe lacks most is a strong demographic driver. It is enlightening in this regard to look at the sizes of European populations in the year 1900 vs. today:

 Population (millions)  1900 2014 Growth CAGR  TFR  France 38 66 74% 0.5%  1.98 Germany 56 81 45% 0.3%  1.42 Italy 32 61 91% 0.6%  1.48 Russia 85 146 72% 0.5%  1.53 Spain 20.7 46.6 125% 0.7%  1.50 United Kingdom 38 64 68% 0.5%  1.88 Brazil 17 203 1094% 2.2%  1.80 China 415 1370 230% 1.1%  1.66 Egypt 8 87 988% 2.1%  2.79 India* 271 1653 510% 1.6%  2.50 Indonesia 45.5 252 454% 1.5%  2.35 Japan 42 127 202% 1.0%  1.41 Mexico 12 120 900% 2.0%  2.20 Nigeria 16 179 1019% 2.1%  6.00 Philippines 8 100 1150% 2.2%  3.07 United States 76 318 318% 1.3%  1.97

* includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma.

Source: Various, United Nations. Data may include errors. Estimates vary due to shifting borders and uneven reporting.

Two important points stand out:

First, in 1900, European countries were not only the world’s economic and military powers. They were also among the most populous countries in the world. By contrast today, Russia is the only country in the top 10 most populous. Then Germany is 16th and France is 20th. More importantly, some of the new demographic powers, India, Nigeria, Egypt, Mexico, the Philippines and Indonesia, are growing at a healthy clip, as can be seen from their Total Fertility Ratios (TFR, see table) whereas European countries are growing very slowly at TFRs that will ensure stagnation or shrinkage in the sizes of their population. A ranking ten or twenty years from now may show no European countries in the top 20 most populous countries.

Second, comparing European population sizes in 2014 vs. 1900 reveals a very slow annual increase in the 114 year period. And this is where the effects of the two World Wars, of the Spanish Influenza and of communism can be seen. Populations have grown with a CAGR of less than 1% per year for the last 114 years.

The United States had fewer casualties in the two World Wars, more immigration and a strong post-war baby boom, resulting in a healthy 1.3% population CAGR and a near quadrupling of the population over the past 114 years. However, as I wrote previously, the US faces slower, sub 1% population growth in the next few decades.

Here is the tally of deaths for some countries in the two World Wars:

 Millions of deaths  WW1 % of pop WW2 % of pop  France    1.7 4.3%   0.6 1.4%  Germany    2.8 4.3%   8.0 10.0%  Italy    1.2 3.3%   0.5 1.0%  Soviet Union    3.1 1.8% 22.0 14.0%  UnitedKingdom    1.0 2.0%   0.5 0.9%  United States    0.1 0.1%   0.4 0.3%

Source: Various. Estimates vary widely and may include errors.

Estimates of deaths from the Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 vary widely from 20 to 50 million people worldwide. And Stalin’s purges are estimated to have killed over 20 million. Tens of millions of people and a larger number of descendants would have been added to today’s European population had these events not occurred. I made the case last year that Europe’s economies and markets suffer from weak domestic demand and have for a long time been driven by events outside of Europe itself.

Too few births

In general, a large number of countries are facing a more challenging demographic period in the next fifty years compared to the last fifty. Since the 1970s, there had been a steady decline in the dependency ratios (the sum of people under 14 and over 65 divided by the number of people aged 15 to 64) of the US, Western Europe, China and others. This decline is explained by a lower birth rate and was accelerated by large numbers of women joining the work force in several countries. There were fewer dependents and more bread winners than in previous decades.

In future years, dependency ratios are expected to rise due to the aging of the population in most countries and a decline in the number of workers per dependent. In the United States for example, baby boomers are swelling the number of dependents who rely on younger generations to support them in retirement (whether through taxes or through buoyant economy and stock market). But because boomers had fewer children than their parents, the burden on these children will be that much greater than it was on the boomers themselves.

In effect, our demographics have pulled forward prosperity from future years. Had there been more children in the West in the 1970-2000 period, there would have been less overall prosperity during that time, but we would now look forward to stronger domestic demand and a stronger economy going forward.

Note in the table below that the dependency ratio of Japan bottomed around 1990 which is the year when its stock market reached its all-time high; and that the dependency ratios in Europe and the US bottomed a few years ago around the time when stock markets reached their 2007 highs. The fact that several stock indices are now at higher peaks than in 2007 can be largely credited to America’s faster pace of innovation and to near-zero interest rates. Case in point: Apple’s market value has more than tripled since 2007.

India will soon be the most populous country in the world but because its dependency ratio is still declining, its growth profile may improve in future years. The same is true of Subsaharan Africa where the fertility rate is still high but declining steadily thanks to improved health care for women and declining infant mortality. As such both India and Subsaharan Africa could see faster economic growth than elsewhere, provided the institutional framework can be improved towards less corruption and more efficiency.

Europe is in a bind in the sense that, even if it had the wherewithal to do so, it cannot now raise its birth rate without making its demographic situation worse in the near term (by raising its dependency ratio faster). For the foreseeable future, its economy will become even more dependent on exports towards the United States and emerging markets. The new frontier for European exports may well be in the old colonies of the Indian subcontinent and of Subsaharan Africa.

Sami Karam is the founder and editor of and the creator of the populyst index™. populyst is about innovation, demography and society. Before populyst, he was the founder and manager of the Seven Global funds and a fund manager at leading asset managers in Boston and New York. In addition to a finance MBA from the Wharton School, he holds a Master's in Civil Engineering from Cornell and a Bachelor of Architecture from UT Austin.

Lead photo 4 August 1914 (via Wikipedia)

Trump's Racial Firebombs Weaken U.S.

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 22:38

The issue of race has scarred the entirety of U.S. history. Although sometimes overshadowed by the arguably more deep-seated issue of class, the racial divide is a festering wound that decent Americans, including politicians, genuinely want to heal.

Decency and politics have a tenuous relationship, but this year, one candidate has exacerbated racial tensions in a way not seen since the days of segregationist George Wallace and Richard Nixon’s polarizing vice president, Spiro Agnew. Donald Trump, through his outbursts and incendiary rhetoric, opened the door to a new period of even greater racial antagonism.

Trump promises to “make America great again,” but his divisive approach leaves us both weaker and even more afflicted with racial identity politics. Just as neo-Nazis and old-style racists have rallied to his cause, Trump’s intemperance also has energized ethnic nationalists, particularly in Hispanic communities. Among America’s growing Muslim population, perhaps no one has served as a better recruiter for Islamists, who agree with him that their religion and culture is anathema to America. The triumph of Brexit -- in part driven by immigration -- may encourage this further.

Not all the blame for America’s racial discord falls to Trump, of course. Well before his rise to political prominence, Americans had grown pessimistic about race relations, which constitutes something of a failure by an administration that once promised greater racial unity. The president and Hillary Clinton, who have used racial politics to motivate minorities against the perceived racism of middle and working class whites, share responsibility for the deterioration. And liberal media, academics and elected officials can’t be particularly proud of their records of promoting tolerance and multiculturalism.

White America Betrayed?

In recent years, large swaths of working whites, like their British counterparts,have seen their jobs disappear and old social orders upended, fueling anger and a general sense of loss, reflected in rapidly rising morbidity and suicide rates. AsPittsburgh psychologist Kenneth Thompson puts it: “Their social habitat is strained, and the strain is showing up in a looming body count.”

Trump has exploited their anger by turning it on immigrants, characterizing Mexicans as rapists and calling for border walls, immigration bans and tougher trade deals. However cruel and misguided, Trump’s racial divisiveness resonates with these blue-collar whites, as well as among some more affluent middle-class whites.

In reality, Trump is not a classic racist, but rather an ugly opportunist willing to use ethnic divides for his own benefit. He’s been compared to Adolph Hitler, a monster whose philosophy revolved around race, but Trump has no real theory that extends beyond self-glorification, resentment, and attracting the fetching female; “The Art of the Deal” is not “Mein Kampf.”

Trump will play the race card as a way to satisfy his narcissistic need for enthusiastic admirers. This does not mean his approach does not echo the racism of the past. His claim of bias by a U.S.-born judge of Mexican descent, as well as his suggestions that Muslim jurists are incapable of ruling independently, recall the worst of the pre-Civil Rights South. His proposals to ban Muslim immigrants in general recall approaches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries which targeted Chinese, Japanese and, ultimately eastern and southern Europeans.

Other Negative Forces

Progressives – including the media claque and academic elites -- have shown little sympathy for the white working class and have been dismissive of its embrace of Trump’s candidacy, as characterized by Salon’s recent description: “White America’s sad last stand.”

Instead of trying to understand the deep frustrations of the white middle class, it’s not unusual for progressives to express solidarity with racial minorities and condemn white privilege.

Clinton takes it a step further, stoking minority fear-mongers to generate badly need enthusiasm. Accused of using “dog whistles” to attract racists against candidate Obama in 2008, Clinton now courts racial nationalists, including some in the Black Lives Matter movement, race-baiter supremo Al Sharpton, and La Raza.

Interestingly, the fury against white “racism” is most fully throated and often mostviolent in white, deep-blue bastions such as Portland, Seattle, San Francisco andBoston. It’s in these cities, ironically, where minorities increasingly are victims of gentrification, forced out of their neighborhoods to make way for affluent whites.

At the same time, liberal cities’ planning, energy and environmental policies do not improve life for the working- and middle-class populations, including many minorities. Yet while more highly paid blue-collar jobs disappear, working-class communities frequently are the ones absorbing large numbers of undocumented immigrants. The affluent, “enlightened” liberals in places like Chicago’s Gold Coast, west Los Angeles and the upper east side of Manhattan may get their servants from these populations, but rarely are they neighbors or competitors in the job market.

These are fruits of America’s failed immigration system, an issue that even Latinos in this country are eager to resolve. Had Trump not crossed so many lines of decency, he might have seized the day and turned immigration policy into a huge plus, earning the support of the solid majority of Americans who agree that the border needs to be tightened.

But by painting Latinos as drug dealers and criminals and suggesting that Muslims, per se, represent a security danger, Trump has made himself the issue and squandered the opportunity.

Trump’s willingness to “tell it like it is” may have won over some segments of the population, but it’s fanciful to believe, as some right-wingers do, that it can carry him to the White House. His assaults on issues such as illegal immigration and the need to closely monitor potential terrorists may resonate, but his stridency, and lack of respect for basic decencies, have alienated much of the population.

Multiculturalism of the Streets

The good news is that while race seems to have paralyzed politics, society is becoming more integrated. Once lily-white suburbs are increasingly multi-racial, even as some core cities become less diverse. What the Mexican journalist Sergio Munoz once called “the multiculturalism of the streets” is thriving, even as politicians promote division.

A key indicator is the rising rate of racial intermarriage. Pew surveys show that mixed-race couples account for 15 percent of marriages, including nearly 10 percent of white marriages, 17 percent of black, 26 percent of Hispanic and 28 percent of Asian marriages. This is sure to blur racial distinctions in the decades ahead. If you live in a diverse region like Southern California, you see this mixed-race reality all the time -- at grade school graduations, Angels games, in restaurants and Fourth of July parades. This is the new America.

This 21st century nation-of-immigrants picture is unlikely to stir the soul of the celebrity billionaire with a taste for 24-karat gold plating on everything from his seat belts to his sinks. Trump is in it only to win, because winning is everything to him. The problem is Trump’s vanity campaign will probably cost Republicans the White House, leaving America bluer, more regulated and less responsive to the needs of white workers. In this sense, Trumpism represents something akin to Marx’s “opium of the masses,” an emotional balm that only provides temporary relief.

Clinton’s embrace of racial nationalists, on the other hand, forces her to lead from a position that is fundamentally partisan and mean-spirited. But it is Trump who threatens racial progress more directly, in a more irresponsible and inflammatory fashion. In this case, at least, the despicable is far preferable to the dangerous.

The best hope here is that, once this awful and dangerous lout is dismissed from the national scene, our racial wounds will be allowed again to heal. The spark for this will not come from the venal political and media class, but through day-to-day interactions in the communities we increasingly share.

This piece first appeared at Real Clear Politics.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Trump protest photo by i threw a guitar at him. ( [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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