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Southern California Becoming Less Family-Friendly

3 hours 48 min ago

The British Talmudic scholar Abraham Cohen noted that, throughout history, children were thought of as “a precious loan from God to be guarded with loving and fateful care.” Yet, increasingly and, particularly, here in Southern California, we are rejecting this loan, and abandoning our role as parents.

This, of course, is a process seen around the high-income world, and even in some developing countries. But, here in America, some regions are moving in this post-familial direction faster than others, and, sadly, Southern California, for the most part, is leading the trend.

Historically, Southern California, as a lure first for domestic migrants and, later, for foreign immigrants, has been an incubator of families. As recently as 2000, the proportion of population ages 5-14 in Los Angeles and Orange counties stood at 16 percent, the sixth-highest level among the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas. Thirteen years later, that proportion had dropped to 12.8 percent, ranking 33rd. The area experienced a 20 percent drop in its share of youngsters, the largest decline among U.S. metro areas.

Of course, not everywhere in Southern California has experienced such a precipitous shift. The Inland Empire, which stands apart in census data, remains a relative bastion of familialism, with 15.3 percent of the population between ages 5-14. Yet even the Inland Empire is slipping somewhat, from having the highest percentage of children to a ranking of fourth, and experiencing a 17 percent decline in children’s share of the population, the fourth-largest percentage drop in the nation.

If we try to focus even more closely, the patterns of decline, and the few bright spots, become more clear. Using 2010 U.S. Census data for specific regions (more up-to-date numbers are not yet available at the local level), it’s clear where much of this loss is concentrated.

The most precipitous declines have been in the inner city, notably Central Los Angeles, which experienced a net loss of 87,000 youngsters from 2000-10. Although their rate of loss was not as severe as in the core, other, once family-rich parts of the region – the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, Santa Ana/Anaheim, Long Beach and Whittier-Southeast Los Angeles County – all posted double-digit percentage drops in children.

Only a few areas of Southern California experienced growth in the number of children. Much of the growth was in the vast, outer suburbs and exurbs – places such as the Victor Valley, San Bernardino, Perris-Temecula, Santa Clarita-Antelope Valley and Riverside-Moreno Valley, as well as decidedly more upscale Irvine-South Orange County.

In a sense, these numbers tell several stories. To be sure, high housing prices seem to have a direct impact on family formation, pushing people further out to the periphery or, in some cases, out of the region entirely. Overall, according to recent analysis of census data, high-cost areas tend to repel families; almost all the most expensive areas in the country, such as the Bay Area, New York and Boston, have all experienced strong drops in numbers of children.

This has resulted, as demographer Ali Modarres has demonstrated, in a gradual emptying out of families from the poor, but still expensive, inner core of Los Angeles. These areas tend to be heavily immigrant, and once were seen as the generators of a new generation of Angelenos. Now, however, as Modarres suggests, these areas are also “getting old,” with grandparents remaining but the new generation headed to other locales within or beyond the region. This process, he notes, has been accelerated by a decline in immigration to the region, particularly among Latinos, who long settled in these areas.

Housing prices are not the only determinant. Prices are even higher in the Bay Area, which has seen a falling number of children, but not as severe as in Los Angeles.

One likely explanation is the Southland’s relatively weak economy, which continues to create jobs sluggishly, and an unemployment rate, particularly in Los Angeles County, well above the state and national averages. High prices repel families, but this is particularly true in a region generating relatively little economic opportunity.

There are other factors, particularly for middle-class families, who tend to have more choice where to locate. One seems to be education. For example, Irvine-South Orange County does well in this regard, but its housing costs are beyond the budgets of most other than upper-middle-income households, which tend to be Asian or non-Hispanic white. Irvine has a national reputation for excellent schools, a major lure to families who wish to avoid the expense of private education.

For some in Southern California, particularly those pushing high-density and rental housing, these shifts may be considered a boon. After all, households with children, even more than most people, tend to prefer single-family homes and tend to embrace the notion of ownership. Single people are more likely to choose – by preference or because of cost – rental properties. The vision of Southern California as primarily dominated by high-density rentals correlates with requirements of state law and plans of the Southern California Association of Governments.

At the same time, the economic languor of this region may make many of these bold designs untenable. People without decent – or any – employment do not make ideal tenants any more than they constitute potential homeowners. Given the high costs of high-density construction, this suggests that many units will be rentable only by aging former homeowners or by several families sharing a unit.

Sadly, the decline in homeownership and the single-family housing market may contribute long term to the region’s continued relative economic eclipse. Single-family home construction is among the most reliable contributors to local economic growth and job creation. In contrast, each multifamily unit constructed contributes 60 percent less to the GDP.

More important still, the loss of families presages a future that we can already see in many European and east Asian countries. There is the development of an aging, inner core, made up largely of retirees, both poor and affluent, sprinkled among areas dominated by young, mostly childless, people. Over time, this leads to a less-dynamic region, as the workforce and consumer base shrinks, and politics shift emphasis from economic growth to redistribution. Meanwhile, many of the poor and working-class families are forced out toward the furthest periphery, often far from employment and relatives.

Can this process be reversed? Certainly a stronger economy, with more middle-wage jobs, might encourage people to have families, and give them the incentive, as well as the wherewithal, to buy a house. It would provide parents, and potential parents, with the notion that they can create a new generation with reasonable economic prospects.

The other key factor is a radical reordering of our education systems. It is clear from the data that areas with good schools, such as Irvine, continue to attract families, even at very high housing price points. If middle-class families feel they can access a decent public education in the older, settled areas, such as the San Fernando Valley, L.A.’s Westside or North Orange County, they might be more willing to put down roots in these places, which would help create the greater stability generally associated with families, especially homeowners.

Sadly, political leadership in most of Southern California and Sacramento seems blissfully unaware of these trends, or the potential danger to the area’s economic, as well as its demographic, vitality. Perhaps a region dominated by aging populations, and fewer families, by nature tends to look backward and neglect the kind of infrastructure investment, including in education, that families and business require.

A resurgent hipster economy may not require much economic growth, or changes in the political system, but the region’s families need a thorough reversal in course if this region hopes to retain its appeal as an incubator of future generations.

This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Baby photo by Bigstock.

The Rise of Urban Riverfronts

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 22:38

I recently moved from Cincinnati to Providence, Rhode Island, although I still think of the Detroit area as my hometown. All of these cities are based on their access to water. Providence, despite its location at the mouth of an Atlantic bay, is still a river-town at heart. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has plans for a new and improved riverwalk, too. What can these cities learn from each other?

In the '80s, downtown Providence was a much less vibrant and destination-worthy place than it is now. Its urban rivers were buried beneath cement, rail-lines, and acres of concrete until a public-private revitalization effort gained enough traction. Today, in its place, the 11-acre Waterplace Park hosts numerous attractions, including the well-loved Waterfire events, and is a long, winding string of paths and bridges that sprawls through Providence’s downtown.

What's best about its place-making design is its versatility. The riverfront offers commutable routes between destinations, areas to picnic or socialize during lunch breaks, and event space throughout the seasons. Gondola rides, kayaking, and even viral pop-up installations all thrive here, making it multi-functional and inviting to a range of citizens.

Chicago, much like Providence, has revealed renderings of parks that show multi-functional, inviting public spaces for rest, socializing, jogging, and enjoying attractive outdoor landscapes. Chicago is also poised to offer kayak rentals, which would allow visitors to interact with the water’s surface, rather than simply admire it. Mayor Emanuel has plans for the riverwalk to stretch “from Lake Michigan to the confluence of the three branches,” or about 1.3 miles.

That would add a key element: in addition to being multi-functional and inviting, the riverwalk, at least within its blueprints, will be interconnected and able to serve as a pathway between all types of destinations within the city, much like Boston’s incredible Emerald Necklace. The Mayor also recognizes the huge potential for retail expansion along this stretch, something that Providence can certainly attest to.

Detroit, too, has been actively improving its waterfront. The shores of the Detroit River now include a long, inviting path for walking, jogging, or biking, with parks and features along the way. The transformation from its earlier state is reminiscent of Providence’s overhaul efforts of the '80s, pushing the space from neglected and utilitarian to a pedestrian-focused destination for anyone in the downtown area. A Great Lakes-themed waterpark has recently been put into place, making the riverfront even more attractive to families and young people. In addition to being a long-time hub for local fishermen, the riverfront is now a destination for joggers, dog-walkers, families, and those on their lunch break in a newly recovering downtown business district.

What Chicago should strive to institute is a core of riverfront events and attractions. Like Providence’s Waterfire, Detroit hosts events on its riverfront during the summer — even given that it only uses one side of a river it shares with Windsor, Ontario — including the hugely popular River Days concert series and festival.

Many cities have access to only one side of a major river, including Cincinnati. But Chicago, like Providence, has the full body of its rivers. This asset is huge, considering how big a draw water-based or focused events can clearly be for visitors, and how great a reason for locals to meet up and enjoy their city together. This is part of what Chicago can learn from Detroit and Providence.

Still, Providence has a great deal of room for improvement. What Chicago and Detroit have realized is that a river’s waterfront isn’t exactly a connector for separate parks. It can be one space where different areas bloom larger than the others. That is, that the entire riverfront can be a destination, even between established attractions.

Currently, Providence is preparing for the development of what’s being called The Link, an area of open land where I-195 used to cut through the downtown, Jewelry District, and Fox Point neighborhoods. Part of the grassy scar has been designated to become a riverfront park with a pedestrian bridge, and is expected to connect by bike/walk path to the nearby Roger Williams Park and Zoo. This is a big step toward a holistic riverfront that can be accessed from a several neighborhoods.

Providence also offers the vaguely inviting Promenade, with a bike lanes on each side and a pedestrian bridge/plaza. But the Promenade is cut off from Waterplace Park by the mall and the interstate rumbling overhead. From there, looking west, the river is largely ignored before reemerging as the Woonasquatucket River Greenway, which offers a newly installed boat launch and a winding bike path. Utilizing the riverfront along this entire span, not just at certain hotspots, is a key task and goal for Providence and cities like it.

During the blossoming years of metropolises, a river waterfront meant shipping and transportation opportunities. Today, with competition for dynamic downtown areas, the riverfront offers something else, too. Locals gain opportunities and reasons to come together as a community, and visitors, find places to enter and connect with a place… as long as riverfront cities use what they’ve got.

Flickr photo by yuan2003: WaterFire Panorama1; Waterplace Park, Providence, Rhode Island, June, 2014.

C.J. Opperthauser is a poet and urban thinker who blogs here.

Baby Boomtowns: The U.S. Cities Attracting The Most Families

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 06:02

With the U.S. economy reviving, birth rates may be as well: the number of children born rose in 2013 by 4,700, the first annual increase since 2007. At the same time new household formation, after falling precipitously in the wake of the Great Recession, has begun to recover, up 100,000 this June from a year before.

This impacts the economy strongly in such areas as single-family home construction, the supply of labor and consumer demand.

For cities, being family friendly may become increasingly important as the large millennial generation starts entering their 30s, the primary years for raising children. In order to identify the parts of the country where new families are being formed most rapidly, we turned to demographer Wendell Cox. He crunched the data on the changes in the number of 5- to 14-year-olds since 2000 in the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan statistical areas.

We picked this age range because it encompasses when parents often move due to such issues as school quality, the cost of housing and long-term economic security. A toddler can do quite well in a small apartment, but when it’s time to go to school, or if the parents decide to have a second or a third child, many parents are forced to make what are often difficult and long-lasting choices about where to live.

Baby Boomtowns

Virtually all the metro areas where there has been the strongest growth in families from 2000 to 2013 are highly suburban, highly affordable and located in the South and Intermountain West. If they also have a strong economy, like top-ranked Raleigh, N.C., they are even more attractive. In concert with strong net in-migration, the number of children in the Raleigh metro area between the ages of 5 and 14 grew by 63,600 from 2000-13, or 55.7%. That’s roughly 10 times the national growth rate of 0.5% for this demographic.

The same combination of affordable housing and economic growth has helped No. 2 Austin, Texas, where there were 86,200 more children in 2013 than in 2000, growth of 49.3%, as well as  No. 4 Charlotte, N.C. (+82,100, 32.9%).

Several of the high-ranked metro areas on our list are housing bubble hot spots that experienced rapid population growth in the first half of the last decade but then stalled out in the Recession.  No. 3 Las Vegas posted 35% growth among 5 to 14 year olds from 2000 to 2010. Since 2010 its child population has expanded at a modest 2.3% rate. A similar pattern can be observed in No. 5 Phoenix.

In most of the top 10 metro areas on our list kids in the age range we looked at account for over 14% of the total population, compared to a national average of 13%. The city with the largest share of kids is No. 12 Salt Lake City, where 16.2% of the residents are between the ages of 5 and 14.

The Great American Kiddie Desert

The largest declines in the 5 to 14 cohort since 2000 have almost all occurred in the large coastal metropolitan centers, led by Los Angeles, 46th out of the 52 cities on our list, where the child population has dropped by 303,000, or 15.3%, since 2000. In the New York metro area (40th), the number of 5- to 14-year-olds fell by 238,000.

Economics alone does not explain this. Some of these metro areas, notably New York and Boston (38th, -8%), have done fairly well in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Yet they are only doing marginally better in attracting families than the (mostly) hard-hit metro areas at the bottom of our list: Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y. , Pittsburgh and Detroit. (New Orleans actually ranked last behind Buffalo, but that’s a function of population flight due to Hurricane Katrina.)

So why are otherwise thriving areas losing families? One possible explanation may come from cultural and political factors. As Austrian demographer Wolfgang Lutz has pointed out, an increasingly childless society creates “self reinforcing mechanisms” that make childlessness, singleness and one-child families increasingly predominant. In this process, which is further advanced in Japan, much of East Asia and throughout large parts of Europe, civic priorities often favor adult cultural amenities over things like parks and schools that are more important to families. Many areas that are increasingly child-free also often embrace density-oriented land use policies that lead to less affordable housing.

Of course, there’s a steady drumbeat in the media proclaiming that families with children are returning to dense cities and expensive regions. In reality, the numbers don’t add up.  Among the 10 large metro areas with the lowest percentage of children are New York, Boston and San Francisco-Oakland, where the percentage of 5- to 14-year-olds is 11.5%, the lowest in the nation except for Pittsburgh (10.8%).

All else being equal, high housing prices, particularly for single-family homes, drive people with young children away. Across the country, the biggest decline in child populations found in the 2010 Census took place in the urban core and close-in suburbs of expensive metro areas, while net increases were counted almost exclusively in further out suburbs. In Los Angeles, the central city and older suburbs have had large declines in children while almost all family growth has occurred in suburbs like the Inland Empire , Irvine , the Antelope Valley and Valencia.

A Different Kind Of Divide?

Much has been written about the various divides — political, racial, cultural, religious — afflicting the country. The geography of family formation poses yet another. In some parts of the country families appear to be proliferating, notably the Southeast and Intermountain West. In others, mostly in coastal California and the Northeast, they seem to be becoming rarer.

To some extent, this parallels the “red” and “blue” divide, but not entirely. Some bluish regions have enjoyed growth in their 5 to 14 population, most notably No. 2 Austin, although this is helped largely by the booming Texas economy and liberal land regulation, particularly in the burgeoning suburban ring. Only three others slipped into the top 20 of our list: Denver (13th), greater Washington, D.C. (17th),  and Portland, Ore. (20th). Washington’s government driven job growth is doubtless a factor. Denver and Portland are more than 90% suburban and exurban, and boast housing that is relatively affordable compared to the Bay Area, Los Angeles or New York.

Far more than politics, the interplay of economics and affordability tend to drive family migration. Take San Francisco-Oakland (33rd), which has had a robust economy over the past five years, but high housing prices have slowed the growth of families. Since 2000, the number of 5- to 14-year-olds in the metro area has dropped 2.7%.  A recent real estate survey showed a million dollars would buy only 1,500 square feet in San Francisco, 2,000 in Boston, 2,198 in Washington and roughly 2,300 in either New York or Los Angeles. In contrast, that amount of money could purchase over 10,000 square feet in Houston and 8,850 in Raleigh.

Perhaps more important, high housing prices also make moving into a desirable area — particularly one with good schools — very difficult. In some core cities like Los Angeles, generally only the wealthiest areas have reliably decent public schools. In other parts of the country, you can still purchase a nice house for under $250,000 and be close to excellent schools. Unless the more expensive urban areas can expand their educational choices, many families will continue to look elsewhere for the critical combination of affordable housing and decent education for their children.

Ultimately, these metro areas, so favored in the media, will face increased competition from those that can better attract young families. Even most hipsters eventually grow up, start a family, seek to buy a house and aspire to a middle-class life. Places that can attract young families will have several things going for them compared to their increasingly child-free rivals: a growing adult labor force, an expanding consumer market and a spur to the local construction industry. If demography is destiny, nowhere is this more likely the case.

No. 1: Raleigh, N.C. MSA

Rise In No. Of Children Aged 5-14, 2000-13: 55.7%

No. Of Children Aged 5-14, 2013: 177,886

Percentage Of Children Aged 5-14 In Total Population, 2013: 14.6%

No. 2: Austin, Texas

Rise In No. Of Children Aged 5-14, 2000-13: 49.3%

No. Of Children Aged 5-14, 2013: 261,199

Percentage Of Children Aged 5-14 In Total Population, 2013: 13.9%

No. 3: Las Vegas

Rise In No. Of Children Aged 5-14, 2000-13: 39.0%

No. Of Children Aged 5-14, 2013: 275,663

Percentage Of Children Aged 5-14 In Total Population, 2013: 13.6%

No. 4: Charlotte, N.C.

Rise In No. Of Children, 2000-13: 32.9%

No. Of Children, 2013: 331,956

Percentage Of Children In Total Population, 2013: 14.2%

No. 5: Phoenix, Ariz.

Rise In No. Of Children, 2000-13: 29.3%

No. Of Children, 2013: 633,123

Percentage Of Children In Total Population, 2013: 14.4%

No. 6: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas

Rise In No. Of Children, 2000-13: 28.2%

No. Of Children, 2013: 1.05 million

Percentage Of Children In Total Population, 2013: 15.4%

No. 7: Atlanta, Ga.

Rise In No. Of Children, 2000-13: 26.1%

No. Of Children, 2013: 808,811

Percentage Of Children In Total Population, 2013: 14.6%

No. 8: Houston, Texas

Rise In No. Of Children, 2000-13: 25.8%

No. Of Children, 2013: 965,259

Percentage Of Children In Total Population, 2013: 15.3%

No. 9: Nashville, Tenn.

Rise In No. Of Children, 2000-13: 22.7%

No. Of Children, 2013: 237,119

Percentage Of Children In Total Population, 2013: 13.5%

No. 10: Orlando, Fla.

Rise In No. Of Children, 2000-13: 22.6%

No. Of Children, 2013: 288,091

Percentage Of Children In Total Population, 2013: 12.7%

This piece originally appeared at Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Are Cool Downtowns the Solution to Suburban Ennui?

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 22:38

Recently, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi took a turn answering The Foggiest Five, a new segment that asks influential Long Islanders five questions regarding the future of the Nassau-Suffolk region. His answers gave an interesting look at our issues, and I appreciate the time he took answering the questions.

Suozzi served Nassau’s County Executive from 2002 to 2009. Since Nassau is an older, first ring suburb, the County has limited opportunities for a complete overhaul of its physical imprint. In recent years, their redevelopment efforts have been skewed towards infill and revitalizing already-existing areas.

His answers reflected Suozzi’s unique experience gained thanks to the years he ran Nassau County. When asked about the biggest change he’s witnessed on Long Island, Suozzi highlighted property taxes as a “root of all evil” of sorts concerning our regional problems. Suozzi gave five causes to our tax problem:

1)Waste, Fraud and Abuse, 2) Long Island residents pay much more in income taxes to the federal and state governments that we get back in federal and state aid, 3) unfunded state mandates, 4) too many governments, and 5) lack of growth.

It’s hard to argue with the realities Suozzi laid out. While we often squabble about our local land usage, the reality is that our costs are unsustainable. Further – we are getting diminishing return on our sky-high costs of living. Our infrastructure is still crumbling and inadequate, and our water quality is still being degraded.

One possible solution, according to Suozzi, lies in his “cool downtowns” approach, building off  of the clusters, corridors and centers theory that has been mentioned for Long Island --- and much of the nation --- since the 1960s and early 70s. Suozzi writes:

We have a few cool downtowns now but not enough. Rockville Centre, Garden City, Westbury and Great Neck have downtown rentals, offices, restaurants and shops that are all near train stations. Long Island residents flock to these parts for entertaining and relaxation. Mineola, Farmingdale, Glen Cove, Hempstead, Freeport and Long Beach are trying to create cool downtowns but to be successful, we need more of them. We need to create at least 20 cool downtowns so it will make sense to link them by bus and mass transit. 

The planning theory behind Suozzi’s solution makes some sense, given the existence of numerous village-like nodes through the county. In Nassau, his vision for cool downtowns works easier than it does in neighboring Suffolk, mainly because of their limitations in infrastructure and generally later development. Further, economic and housing realities must be addressed.

Simply put, Nassau is where the infrastructure is more conducive to mini-downtown intensification. However, what Suffolk lacks in infrastructure, it gains the advantage in sheer space. Suffolk’s developmental destiny isn’t fully charted yet as it is in Nassau. This means two things: it’s not too late to execute sound land use planning, and that we still have the opportunity to take action to reverse our fortunes, which would resonate across Route 110 into Nassau as well.

It is important to realize that Suozzi’s downtown solution in of itself should not be an excuse to merely increase density on Long Island for the sake of increasing density. There will always be pressure from developers to densify well beyond local wishes, and seek subsidies to do so. These “cool downtowns” must mesh with comprehensive and regional strategies for attracting jobs to these targeted areas that take advantage of Long Island’s educated workforce.

Also we should look at the quality of the density. Urban-like density alone does not create the atmosphere of a village; anyone who has spent time in the dense suburbs of cities like Seoul or even Los Angeles can tell you that. Tall structures and related commercial developments tend to be inhabited by generic stores with little resonance with the history and culture of their communities. Village systems work best when they develop organically, and grow, as much as possible, within the confines of already existing architecture or in new buildings that fit with local styles.

Form also matters. There is a difference between the “little” downtown areas of Long Island that have charm, which is in a direct contrast to dense, almost urban centers. In our pursuit for suburban renewal, we cannot lose sight of what makes Long Island special, it terroir, if you will, of small communities that in many cases have been in existence for well over a century. Long Island may be expensive by national standards, but the staggering price increases in New York City for similarly appointed residential units, makes the Island comparatively affordable, and with excellent access to the city.

While New York City has a variety of urban centers, Long Island’s approach to suburban revitalization should build off of Suozzi’s cool downtowns, but in a suburban manner. Part of the Island’s charm isn’t so much its Queens-like centers, but rather, villages such as Rockville Centre, Babylon and Patchogue – low slung, vibrant areas with good access to transit and the infrastructure needed to support their growth. By just blindly throwing density at Long Island’s regional issues, we are at risk of creating urban problems in a suburban environment.

Long Island has other assets, particularly in terms of better schools. Many people who live in the city in their twenties and early thirties tend to look towards areas with good public schools, ample parks, and high levels of public safety. This is already leading to the much discussed growth of “hipsturbia” in the Hudson Valley river towns. Long Island could be a strong competitor for these people if it understands its’ primary appeal. 

Finally for “cool downtowns” to work you must address the fundamental economic and demographic challenges facing the region. Although it can’t hope to compete head-to-heard with Manhattan for some very high end jobs, the area should be attractive to a lot of back office and specialized companies. If employment opportunities expand, then you might be able to more easily persuade younger workers to move to the Island, creating a consumer market for cool downtowns. Being “hip” isn’t enough, but getting more competitive and richer might work.

Richard Murdocco writes regularly on land use, planning and development issues for various publications. He has his BA in both Political Science and Urban Studies from Fordham University, and his MA in Public Policy from Stony Brook University, and studied planning under Dr. Lee Koppelman, Long Island's veteran planner. You can follow Murdocco on Twitter @TheFoggiestIdea, Like The Foggiest Idea on Facebook, and read his collection of work on urban planning at

"19 Main St Roslyn jeh" by Jim.henderson - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons

Wrong Way Cities

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 05:12

In a New York Times column entitled "Wrong Way America," Nobel laureate Paul Krugman again reminds us of the high cost of overzealous land-use regulations. Krugman cites the work of Harvard economist Ed Glaeser and others in noting that "high housing prices in slow-growing states also owe a lot to policies that sharply limit construction." He observes that "looser regulation in the South has kept the supply of housing elastic and the cost of living low" (Note 1).

Supply is the Issue

Krugman specifically cites Houston, Atlanta and the Sunbelt for their lower house prices and less restrictive housing regulation. In contrast, he points to New York and California as having high house prices and greater housing regulation. Krugman further observes that the secret of growth is "not getting in the way of middle- and working-class housing supply." 

This concern about housing supply is echoed by former World Bank principal planner Alain Bertaud who notes that the solution to the housing affordability problem "is to increase the supply of land" (Note 2). Bertaud further points out that "Restricting land supply and imposing too many controls also stifles business growth."

Wrong Way Cities

However, the real problem is not a "Wrong Way America" that "gets in the way of middle- and working-class housing supply, but "Wrong Way Cities" (metropolitan areas) that have adopted land use regulations severely restrict the supply of land for urban development. The price increasing policies are often referred to as "smart growth" or "urban containment" and routinely involve restricting the supply of land for development through urban growth boundaries, large lot suburban, and exurban zoning and other strategies.

This destroys what Brookings Institution economist Anthony Downs (p. 36) calls the "competitive supply of land." The result is higher house prices, because, all things being equal, the price of a good or service is likely to increase if its supply is severely limited. Otherwise, OPEC oil supply restrictions would never have raised concern.

Where more traditional, liberal land use policies remain, housing remains affordable. For example, during the housing bubble, an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas attributed the lower, and still affordable house prices in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Houston to avoiding more restrictive land use polices: "... these markets have weathered the increased demand largely with new construction rather than price appreciation because of the ease of building new homes."

Housing and the Standard of Living

Housing is the largest category of household expenditure. Moreover, housing costs vary far more between metropolitan areas than other expenditure categories, such as transportation, food and apparel. As a result, housing is the most important driver of the standard of living, especially for middle and lower income households. Where house prices are higher compared to incomes, households have less in discretionary income --- the amount left over after taxes and necessities. With less left over, a lower standard of living and greater poverty is inevitable.

The differences are even greater for young households moving to metropolitan areas with restrictive land use policies. These households must pay elevated house prices, not having benefited from the lower housing costs that longer-term residents were able to lock in by purchasing years ago.

The higher housing costs prices can more than offset higher wages. Thus, a prospective domestic migrant may choose to move to Houston rather than New York, because Houston's wages, although lower, translate into higher discretionary incomes and a higher standard of living.

These price increases create a "double hit" to the standard of living. Not only do households have to pay higher house prices, but they usually get less, as house size and lots are reduced in size as a result of the more restrictive regulations. Indeed, regulations in California are being interpreted to make it difficult, if not impossible to build the detached housing most Americans prefer (See: California Declares War on Suburbia). The irony is that smart growth advocates claim this increases "housing choice," an Orwellian turn of phrase if there ever was one.

It is no wonder that young and aspiring households are drawn to metropolitan areas where housing is more affordable. Meanwhile, house prices have escalated strongly in the restrictively regulated metropolitan areas of California and the Northeast despite low demand. This has much to do with the significant domestic migration loss, as Paul Ganong and Daniel Shoag of Harvard have indicated. Between 2000 and 2013, more than 4,000,000 loss in net domestic migrants between 2000 and 2013, according to Census Bureau data.

The problem is acute for lower income households, which are disproportionately minority. The Thomas Rivera Institute, a Latino oriented research organization, found that California's land regulations "are making it particularly difficult for Latino and African American households to own a home."

The Consensus

There is virtual agreement that more restrictive policies are associated with higher house prices. The only issue in dispute is the extent of the impact. But even seemingly small differences can be important. Downs (p. 36) characterizes a modest 10 percent differential to be socially significant, because of the number of households that the higher prices made ineligible for home purchase.

In fact, the differences in house prices relative to incomes are substantial, ranging up to a nearly 250 percent difference between Atlanta and San Francisco. The differences are so significant as to attract the attention of economists like Krugman, Glaeser and others for their influence on domestic migration.  This is socially significant.

The Risks

No city in the United States can expect immunity from low housing affordability due to overly restrictive land use regulation, even in more depressed areas with lower housing demand. This is illustrated by Liverpool, in the United Kingdom, where smart growth policies are well entrenched. Liverpool has lost a larger percentage of its population since 1950 than any of the other 1,700 urban areas in the world with more than 300,000 population. Yet Liverpool has seen its housing affordability deteriorate to among the worst in the UK, US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

The smart growth planning philosophy now pervades virtually all of the urban planning community, which seeks its spread to virtually everywhere (Note 3). Current targets include Minneapolis-St. Paul (see Thrive 2040: Toward a Less Competitive Minneapolis-St. Paul), and San Antonio and the rest are on the list. The research is clear, where there is more restrictive land use policy, house prices can be expected to rise relative to incomes.

Cities for People

Current urban policy is misdirected and needs correction. Fundamentally, urban policies should be aligned with the purpose of cities. Cities are for people. People have moved to cities principally for economic reasons, as they aspire to better standards of living. Public policies that raise the price of housing substantially interfere with the reason that cities exist.

There is a need for a paradigm shift. Currently in-vogue urban policy focuses on tactics, such as urban form, legally mandated higher densities, mode of transport and urban design ("place-making"). Economist Glaeser writes that "Bad policy puts place-making above helping people..." Bad policy should be discarded. The focus should instead be on the fundamental objectives of improving the standard of living and reducing poverty. At a minimum, this requires housing that is affordable (See Toward More Prosperous Cities).


Note 1: In the column, Krugman suggests that differences in housing regulation are more important than business regulation and taxation in explaining the migration patterns that have people generally moving from higher cost areas with higher housing costs to lower cost areas. There is strong research on both issues, and both issues are important.

Note 2: Housing affordability refers to the price of houses across the entire spectrum of income, not just low income housing.

Note 3: Perhaps the most frequently cited justification for restrictive land use policies is greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction. A growing body of research indicates that urban land use policies are a generally minor and expensive means to that objective and that technological improvements are far more effective. Smaller scale strategies are also better than "one-size-fits-all" land use regulation. It is notable that the most comprehensive US review (Jones and Kammen at the University of California, Berkeley) of GHG emissions at the local level (zip codes) found: "Generally ... no evidence for net GHG benefits of population density in urban cores or suburbs when considering effects on entire metropolitan areas." They suggest "an entirely new approach of highly tailored community strategies."


Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. 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 was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo: Minneapolis-St. Paul, by author

Class Issues, Not Race, Will Likely Seal the Next Election

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 13:53

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and along the U.S.-Mexico border may seem to suggest that race has returned as the signature issue in American politics. We can see this already in the pages of mainstream media, with increased calls for reparations for African-Americans, and expanded amnesties for the undocumented. Increasingly, any opposition to Obama’s policies is blamed ondeep-seated white racism.

Yet in reality, race will not define the 2014 election, or likely those that follow. Instead the real defining issue—class—does not fit so easily into the current political calculus. In terms of racial justice, we have made real progress since the ’60s, when even successful educated minorities were discriminated against and the brightest minority students were often discouraged from attending college. Today an African-American holds the highest office in the land, and African Americans also fill the offices of U.S. attorney general and national security advisor. This makes the notion that race thwarts success increasingly outdated.

But at the same time that formal racial barriers have been demolished, the class divide continues to grow steeper than in at any time in the nation’s recent history. Today America’s class structure is increasingly ossified, and this affects not only minorities, who are hit disproportionately, but also many whites, who constitute more than 40 percent of the nation’s poor. Upward mobility has stalled under both Bush and Obama, not only for minorities but for vast swaths of working class and middle class Americans. Increasingly, it’s not the color of one’s skin that determines one’s place in society, but access to education and capital, often the inherited variety.

Worries about upward mobility have been mounting for a generation, and according to Pew, only one-third of Americans currently believe the next generation will do better than them. Indeed, in some surveys pessimism about the next generation stands at an all-time high.

But race is not the main determinant in looking to the future. The greatest dismay, in fact, is felt among working class and middle class whites, who are generally much more pessimistic about the future for themselves than are either African-Americans or Hispanics.

This pessimism—for all the discussion on campuses about “white privilege”—is even more deeply seated among young whites. According to a poll conducted by the left-leaning advocacy group Demos, only 12 percent of whites 18 to 34 believe they will do better than their parents, compared to 31 percent for African-Americans and 36 percent among young Hispanics.

This suggests that the issue of restoring upward mobility has more widespread resonance than a more narrow race-based approach. The political party that best addresses this concern will be in the strongest position to dominate the political landscape not only in 2014, but well beyond.

The problem for the Democrats in this regard: the record of the last six years. President Obama has presided over an economy that, even when healing, has done little to improve the economic conditions of most Americans. The incomes of middle class Americans have remained stagnant, or shrunk, even as we have seen record corporate profits, a soaring stock market, and huge run ups in elite property markets.

This failure may explain why some Democrats and progressives feel tempted to go back to race-related issues—as well as social concerns such as gay and abortion rights—to stir their political base. The president’s suggestion of executive action on immigration would be in part to “galvanize” support among Latinos, many of whom can relate personally to the dilemma faced by the undocumented.

The stirring of resentment among African-Americans has become the critical component of race-based Democratic strategy. The president’s embrace of hoary racial warlord Reverend Al Sharpton, a well-known charlatan and occasional anti-semite, as his “go to guy” demonstrates the administration’s willingness to use the tragedy of the Ferguson shooting case to rally African-American voters for the off-year election.

These tactics may have some political efficacy, but it’s doubtful that ’60s progressive bromides of race-based politics or calls for redistribution can seriously address inequality or poverty. Certainly the idea that greater dependence on government handouts—the main social focus of modern progressives—has not aided minority uplift or promoted upward mobility. The Great Society may have reduced poverty initially, but in the past decade poverty rates have risen to the highest level since the ’60s.

If anything, under the most progressive-dominated regime since at least the New Deal, things have gotten even worse. African-American youth unemployment is now twice that of whites while according to the Urban League, the black middle class, once rapidly expanding, has essentially lost the gains made over the past 30 years.

In the same vein, Hispanic income also has declined relative to whites. Latino poverty rates now stand at 28 percent. The administration’s leniency that permits impoverished kids to flock here from Central America may make moral or political sense, but its actual impact on communities could prove problematical.

Indeed one has to question the viability of new mass immigration of poor, poorly educated kids at a time when poverty among Latino children already here has risen since 2007, according to the American Community Survey, from 27.5 percent to 33.7 percent in 2012, an increase of 1.7 million. Given their own economic problems, and the vital need to improve their educational performance one has to wonder whether African-Americans or even many Latinos, as opposed to the activist base, actually would welcome a fresh infusion of impoverished refugee children from Central America into the country. A recent Pew survey found that not only half of all whites, but nearly two-fifths of African Americans and roughly a third of Hispanics approved of increased deportations of the undocumented.

Some Latino and African-American Democrats have already departed from the party line on immigration. Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate border district Democrat, has called “the border incursion” “Obama’s Katrina moment” and he is co-sponsoring legislation with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to speed up the deportation process for kids detained at the border.

Perhaps even more serious are divisions among Democrats on key economic and regulatory issues. In California, for example, Latino Democrats, particularly from the hard hit interior, have revolted against their party’s “cap and trade” policies, which will lead to ever higher energy costs, and threaten industries that tend to employ working class Latinos. Similarly some unions in the interior, notably the Teamsters and Laborers, have taken strong positions favoring energy development, notably the Keystone pipeline, in sharp opposition to the president’s core supporters.

And then there’s the reality that blue states—with all the usual progressive policies—suffer the widest gap between the classes. Indeed, notes demographer Wendell Cox, New York City now has an income distribution that approaches that of South Africa under apartheid.

Similarly a recent Brookings report found the greatest income disparity in such bastions of progressivism as San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Oakland, Chicago and Los Angeles. Oddly enough, minorities seem to do better, relative to whites, in states that have had more conservative governance, in part because they also tend to have lower costs of living.

This disconnect between progressive aims and reality stems from the shift in the Left’s class and geographic base. Once dependent on industrial and construction workers, many of them unionized, the party increasingly depends for support from green activists, urban land speculators, and “creative class” workers in expensive regions where regulatory constraints tend to discourage industrial and housing growth. In contrast many red state metros such as Houston, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake, and Dallas-Ft. Worth tend to produce more higher paid, blue collar growth.

Given these realities, perhaps progressives need to move away from symbolic issues, such as reparations and racial name-calling, and instead directly address middle class and working class concerns. Yet this creates a potential for internecine conflict with other key party constituencies, which seem more interest in suppressing middle class aspirations than fulfilling them.

It should be clear by now that regulatory and tax regimes imposed in blue states tend to stunt middle and working opportunities, with the worst effects on minorities and working class whites. Blue-state progressive can whine about race, inequality, and poverty with the best of them, but they would contribute far more if they started to address these issues with something other than well-rehearsed indignation and rhetoric.

But while progressive attempts to address the class divide have been less than successful, can the Republicans fill the breach? Already working class whites are arguably the GOP’s strongest base and Republicans should be able to exploit class resentment toward the increasingly gentrified Democratic leadership. Yet to date, they have shown a remarkable inability to do so, in part due to the ideological constraints and racial baggage of the increasingly Southern-oriented GOP.

Republicans, particularly those closest to Wall Street, also seem to have a problem even admitting the existence of the class issue. Conservatives economists repeatedly downplay ever greater insecurity about jobs, the affordability of decent housing and generally lower net worths for all but the highly affluent. Convinced that any discussion about these issues constitutes unseemly “class warfare,” the right’s intellectual leadership seems incapable of addressing these concerns.

What would a policy that addresses inequality look like? Some steps would offend some Republicans, such as restarting a modern version of the Depression era Works Progress Administration. Instead of a stimulus directed at government workers and crony-capitalists, as Obama employed in 2009, a program that brought young people into the work force would help them gain needed practical skills while repairing our increasingly woeful infrastructure.

Other reforms would include a major overhaul of the tax system, particularly equalizing capital gains and income taxes. Whatever the benefits we may have seen from lower capital gains rates in the past, the current, incredibly unequal recovery undermines the legitimacy of this approach. Rather than stir investment and create middle income jobs, capital gains have become a ruse for the rich to get even richer, largely through asset inflation. Companies, notes a new Harvard Business Review study, have used the low interest bonanza and access to cheap money to boost profits, not by expanding employment but by buying back their own stock.

Ultimately, the best way to address class concerns, as well as those of minorities, would be to spark strong economic growth, particularly in the energy, manufacturing, and construction sectors, which tend to offer higher wage employment for them. Both Latinos and African-American made their biggest economic strides when the economy was booming under Presidents Reagan and Clinton, both of whom have been criticized for “trickle down” policies.

A growth agenda is a winning one for the party that embraces and effectively advocates it. A recent analysis (PDF) of public opinion by the Global Strategy Group found that although roughly half of Americans believe inequality per se is a major issue, more than three-quarters believe that faster economic growth should be the main priority.

In the old Democratic Party, from Truman to Clinton, this approach would be an easy sell. A policy that encouraged building new water facilities, expanding domestic energy , manufacturing and construction, particularly single family homes, would have widespread appeal to working and middle class voters. But a growth agenda likely would face much opposition from the president’s green gentry base, who seem perfectly content with an economy that rewards insiders, venture capitalists, and companies that employ few people, largely the best educated and positioned.

Republicans could seize the momentum here, but to do so would require shedding some ideological baggage, as well standing up to some of their more ruthless backers on Wall Street and the corporate community. Similar a return to a more traditional growth oriented liberalism would help hard pressed Democrats, particularly in red states, who desperately need to recapture some of their traditional working class backers. It will be here, in the nexus of policy and class, not racial posturing, the political future of the country may well be determined.

This piece originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

On The Pitfalls of Urban Food Production

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 22:38

In her August 21 pieces “Can Urban Agriculture Work on a Commercial Scale?” and “Five Urban Farms that are Growing Big” published in Citiscope, journalist Flavie Halais enthuses over the potential for  small scale urban agriculture, vertical farming, and innovative ways to connect producers and consumers. In doing so, she ignores some very real pitfalls that have long relegated urban food production to the realm of hobbyists.

Pitfall #1: Urban land is too valuable to be devoted profitably to food production

Until a century ago many foods that did not travel well, or benefitted from organic waste (primarily horse manure) generated in cities, were still produced in and around large urban agglomerations.

For instance, in the late 19th century Parisian maraîchers grew more than 100,000 tons of produce annually by using about one-sixth of the city’s land area.1 Beginning in the 1820s with green asparagus, many of them managed to grow several things year round and a few even became pineapple producers. Unlike today’s locavores, who advocate eating locally-produced foods, they always sought the best customers and exported some of their harvests to   markets as distant as London. 

In the absence of modern technologies such as electricity, refrigeration, and synthetic pesticides though, this de facto “organic” system required much human labor. Accounts describe how most Parisian producers worked between 18 and 20 hours a day during their busiest months and between 14 and 16 the rest of the year. Much of their time was spent in or around horse manure and was devoted to controlling pests and irrigating crops manually.  

Urban agriculture in Paris and elsewhere quickly faded away at the turn of the twentieth century. The development of new technologies such as the railroad, refrigeration and improved fertilizers made it possible to grow food much more cheaply where nature provided more sunshine, heat, water and better soils. The movers and shakers in more profitable industries that benefitted from an urban location were willing and able to pay more for land while urban agricultural workers moved in ever-increasing numbers into more lucrative manufacturing operations. These realities haven’t changed. Urban farming simply does not create enough return on investment from scarce capital relative to other activities in cities.

Pitfall #2: The productions costs of vertical farming are prohibitive

The fundamental problem with growing food in high-rise buildings has always been that the additional costs (from building and powering to lighting and heating them) quickly negate any benefits attributable to an urban location. As the agricultural economist Dennis Avery observed a few years ago in a discussion of a 59-story proposal of this kind:2

•    500,000 such skyscrapers would be needed to make up for the 400 million acres of American farmland;

•    Buying a comparable amount of Iowa cropland would cost about $5 million, a sum that would at best buy about an acre of land in Manhattan, on top of which a very costly high rise structure would need to be built;

•    Each floor of the vertical farm would have to support about 620,000 pounds of either water or water-soaked soil (by comparison, 200 people and their office furniture weigh about 40,000 pounds);

•    Replacing sunlight with “grow lights” and heating the structure in winter would require gigawatts of power (ask the illegal marijuana growers about their need for a lot of electricity);

•    Feeding livestock (typically chickens and pigs) in vertical farms requires trucking in large amounts of animal feeds (typically a four-to-one weight ratio in the case of pigs) while the current alternative is simply to transport pork chops into cities;

•    City taxes and labor costs are always much higher than in the countryside.

Other problems with vertical farms and rooftop operations include the facts that they can never be as convenient and generate the same economies of scale as large land-based operations (try using a tractor on a rooftop). They might also mandate the nearby construction of additional processing operations if these cannot be incorporated in the original structure. Imagine the impracticalities and the smell of a vertical slaughterhouse and the additional traffic problems that would result from moving livestock between buildings in a downtown area.  

In the best case scenario, vertical farming can only ever hope to be profitable through the production of high-end/higher-margin plant items that cater to a wealthy customer base – typically one that believes in the alleged benefits of reducing food miles or the superior nutritional value of organic products, and can afford to pay the higher prices necessary for such productions.3 This is a far cry from the affordable and abundant food promised by local food activists.

Pitfall #3: Undervaluing wholesalers and retailers  

A foundational pillar of the local food creed, Halais reminds her readers, is the desire to “limit the number of intermediaries along the supply chain”. Unfortunately, many idealistic producers whose heart was in producing things rather than selling them quickly found themselves drowning “under marketing and distribution costs” and “struggling to find retail channels for their products.”  “Getting food to consumers,” Halais adds, typically turned into “a logistical nightmare.”

There is another obvious question: How is it that wholesalers and retailers are now as important as ever when no producer is ever forced to deal with them?  In reality, the   benefits of intermediaries is so obvious that they were even noted in Plato’s Republic more than two millennia ago. As one philosopher observed to another, permanent salesmen used “money-token for purposes of exchange” to facilitate transactions between “those who desire to sell” and “those who desire to buy” when individuals could not meet in person.4

Closer to us, in 1815 Benjamin Constant wrote approvingly of the middleman class found “between the grain producer and the consumer.” These people benefitted society, he argued, because they had “more funds than the producer and more resources for setting up warehouses.” Because they dealt “solely with this trade,” they could “study better the needs they undertake to meet” and “free the farmer from having to get involved in speculations which absorb his time, divert his resources, and drive him into the middle of towns.” While these middlemen had “to be paid for their trouble,” so did “the farmer himself” although “at greater cost” because he was not as effective and skillfull. “This extra expense,” Constant observes, “comes back to the consumer, whom [anti middlemen] people thought they were helping.”5

Pitfall #4: An urban location does not keep agricultural pests at bay   

Halais further tells us that the founders of Lufa Farms, a Montreal based urban agriculture firm, have developed an approach that “exclude pesticides, herbicides or fungicides” while using “biological pest control to get rid of harmful bugs.” Not surprisingly, the reader later learns that they had never worked on a farm or in the food industry before launching their business.

Suffice it to say that insecticides, rodenticides, herbicides, fungicides and other pesticides were developed because of the very real shortcomings of biological methods. Although they are costly, all commercial agricultural operations (including organic ones) feel compelled to use some of them because they deliver value for money. Given enough time, agricultural pests will show up in Lufa Farms’s greenhouses and they will need to be dealt with quickly, cheaply and efficiently. After all, insects and plant diseases found their way in the Biosphere 2 project, a self-contained ecosystem in the middle of the Arizona desert, where they ruined the experiment.6 When this happens, these sustainability pioneers will understand why commercial producers use means they do not approve of.

Pitfall #5: Failure to learn from failure

Halais  doesn’t ask whether pretty much anything that can be achieved in an urban context could be done for much less money in rural areas. She  does not discuss the failure of past local food movements as well as more recent high tech urban farming operations.

The history of all advanced economies over the last two centuries is replete with local food initiatives triggered by either economic recessions (to boost regional economic activity or as a form of protection against price inflation), wars or their threat (to increase local food security), romantic impulses during relatively prosperous times (for environmental and social considerations),  alleged excessive commodity travel (meaning too much transit between various points as opposed to a more straightforward distribution itinerary between producers and final consumers), and unnecessary handling by too many profit-seeking intermediaries.7 Yet, none of these ever survived the end of armed conflicts, economic recovery or competition from more efficient commercial operations.

At the same time, projects similar to those described by Halais have already gone out of business. Indeed, had she written her report out of Vancouver instead of Montréal she would have had to mention and analyze the bankruptcy of the heavily subsidized parking lot rooftop greenhouse run by Alterrus Systems about a year after its launch.8

Failure to analyze failures can only result in more failures. History may not repeat itself, but can be instructive as we learn from the failures of others.

The More Things Change…

What today’s enthusiastic locavores ultimately fail to understand is that their “innovative” ideas are not only up against the Monsantos of this world, but also in a direct collision course with regional advantages for certain types of food production, economies of scale of various kinds in all lines of work and the fact that pretty much anything they can achieve in urban environments can be replicated at lower costs in the countryside. These basic realities defeated sophisticated local food production systems in the past and will do so again in the foreseeable future.

While no one argues against the notion that our modern food production system can be improved, and entrepreneurs are always searching how to do so, the desire to make urban agricultural a viable commercial reality distracts from more serious issues such as international trade barriers and counterproductive domestic agricultural subsidies. The sooner well-intentioned activists understand these realities, the better.  

Pierre Desrochers Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Toronto and co-author of The Locavore’s Dilemma. In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet, PublicAffairs, 2012.

1 See, among others, G. Stanhill. 1977. “An Urban Agro-Ecosystem. The Example of Nineteenth Century Paris.” Agro-Ecosystems 3: 269–284.

2 D. Avery. 2010. “City Farming – Pigs in the Sky” Center for Global Food Issues (October 19)

3 On why many customers are wrong on these topics, see among others G. Edwards-Jones. 2010. "Does Eating Local Food Reduce the Environmental Impact of Food Production and Enhance Consumer Health?" Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 69 (4): 582-591; P. Desrochers and H. Shimizu. 2012. The Locavore’s Dilemma. In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet. , Public Affairs; L. Bergström, H. Kirchmann and G. Thorvaldsson. 2008. "Widespread Opinions about Organic Agriculture - Are They Supported by Scientific Evidence?" In H. Kirchmann and L. Bergström (eds). Organic Crop Production - Ambitions and Limitations. Springer, pp. 1-12; and C. Smith-Spangler et al. 2012. "Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives? A Systematic Review." Annals of Internal Medicine 157 (5): 348-366.

4 Plato’s Republic was written around 360 BCE. The quotes can be found in the second book of Plato’s Republic written around 360 BCE

5 B. Constant. 1815. Principles of Politics Applicable to all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). Chapter Four: On Privileges and Prohibitions on 2013-03-10

6 D.V Marino, T. R. Mahato, J. W. Druitt, L. Leigh, G. Lin, R. M. Russell and F. N. Tubiello. 1999. “The Agricultural Biome of Biosphere 2: Structure, Composition and Function.” Ecological Engineering 13: 199-234

7 For a discussion of such initiatives in the American context, see among others L. J. Lawson. 2005. City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America. University of California Press. For a few additional international cases, see P. Desrochers and H. Shimizu. 2012. The Locavore’s Dilemma. In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet., PublicAffairs.

8 CBC News. 2014. “Parking Lot Greenhouse Goes Bankrupt in Vancouver. Alterrus Opened North America's First 'Vertical Farm' Just over One Year Ago.” (January 24)

Traffic Congestion in the World: 10 Worst and Best Cities

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 22:38

The continuing improvement in international traffic congestion data makes comparisons between different cities globally far easier. Annual reports (2013) by Tom Tom have been expanded to include China, adding the world’s second largest economy to previously produced array of reports on the Americas, Europe, South Africa and Australia/New Zealand. A total of 160 cities are now rated in these Tom Tom Traffic Index Reports. This provides an opportunity to provide world 10 most congested and 10 least congested cities lists among the rated cities.

Tom Tom provides all day congestion indexes and indexes for peak hours (heaviest traffic peak morning and evening hour). The traffic indexes rate congestion based on the additional time necessary to make the trip compared to those under free flow conditions. For example, an index of 10 indicates that a 30 minute trip would take 10 percent longer, or 33 minutes. An index of 50 means that a 30 minute trip will, on average, take 45 minutes.

Congestion in Peak Hours: 10 Most Congested Cities

This article constructs an average peak hour index, using the morning and evening peak period Tom Tom Traffic Indexes for the 125 rated metropolitan areas with principal urban areas of more than 1,000,000 residents. The peak hour index is used because peak hour congestion is generally of more public policy concern than all day congestion. This congestion occurs because of the concentration of work trips in relatively short periods of time. Work trips are by no means the majority of trips, but it can be argued that they cause the most congestion. Many cities have relatively little off-peak traffic congestion.

The two most congested cities are in Eastern Europe, Moscow and Istanbul (which stretches across the Bosporus into Asia). Four of the most congested cities are in China, three in Latin America (including all that are rated) and one is in Western Europe (Figure 1).

Moscow is the most congested city, with a peak hour index of 126. This means that the average 30 minute trip in free flow conditions will take 68 minutes during peak hours. Moscow has a limited freeway system, but its ambitious plans could relieve congestion. The city has undertaken a huge geographical expansion program, with the intention of relocating many jobs to outside the primary ring road. This dispersion of employment, if supported by sufficient road infrastructure could lead to improved traffic conditions.

Istanbul is the second most congested city with a peak hour traffic index of 108. The average free flow 30 minute trip would take 62 minutes during peak hours.

Rio de Janeiro is the third most congested city him with a peak hour traffic index of 99.5. The average free flow 30 minute trip takes 60 minutes due to congestion during peak hours.

Tianjin, which will achieve megacity status in 2015, and which is adjacent to Beijing, is the fourth most congested city, with an index of 91. In Tianjin, the peak hour congestion extends a free flow 30 minute trip to 57 minutes.

Mexico City is the fifth most congested city, with a peak hour traffic index of 88.5. The average free flow 30 minute trip takes 57 minutes due to congestion.

Hangzhou (capital of Zhejiang, China), which is adjacent to Shanghai, has the sixth worst traffic congestion, with a peak period traffic index of 87. The average 30 minute trip in free flow takes 56 minutes during peak hours.

Sao Paulo  has the seventh worst traffic congestion, with a peak hour index of 80.5. The average 30 minute trip in free flow takes 54 minutes during peak periods. Sao Paulo's intense traffic congestion has long been exacerbated by truck traffic routed along the "Marginale" near the center of the city. A ring road now is mostly complete, but the section most critical to relieving traffic congestion from trucks is yet to be opened.

Chongqing has the eighth worst traffic congestion, with a peak hour index of 78.5. As a result, a trip that would take 30 minutes in free flow conditions takes 54 minutes during peak hours.

Beijing has the ninth worst traffic congestion, with a peak hour index of 76.5. As a result a trip that should take 30 minutes in free flow is likely to take 53 minutes during peak hour. In spite of recent reports of its intense traffic congestion, Beijing rates better than some other cities. There are likely two causes for this. With its seventh ring road now planned, Beijing has a top-flight freeway system. Its traffic is also aided by its dispersion of employment The lower density government oriented employment core , is flanked on both side by major business centers ("edge cities") on the Second and Third Ring Roads. This disperses traffic.

Brussels has the 10th worst peak hour traffic congestion, with an index of 75. A trip that would take 30 minutes at free flow takes 53 minutes in peak hour congestion.

Seven of the 10 most congested cities are megacities (urban areas with populations over 10 million). The exceptions are Hangzhou, Chongqing and Brussels. Brussels has by far the smallest population, at only 2.1 million residents, little more than one-third the size of second smallest city, Hangzhou.

Most Congested Cities in the US and Canada

The most congested US and Canadian cities rank far down the list. Los Angeles ranks in a tie with Paris, Marseille and Ningbo (China), at a peak hour congestion index of 65. It may be surprising that Los Angeles does rank much higher. Los Angeles has   been the most congested city in the United States, displacing Houston in the 1980s. The intensity of the Los Angeles traffic congestion is driven by its highest urban area density in the United States and important gaps in the planned freeway system that were canceled. Nonetheless, Los Angeles is aided by a strong dispersion of employment, which helps to make makes its overall work trip travel times the lowest among world megacities for which data is available). Part of the Los Angeles advantages is its high automobile usage, which shortens travel times relative to megacities with much larger transit market shares (such as Tokyo, New York, London and Paris).

Vancouver is Canada's most congested city, with a pea period index of 62.5 and has the 27th worst traffic congestion, in a tie with Stockholm. Vancouver had exceeded Los Angeles in traffic congestion in the 2013 mid-year Tom Tom Traffic Index report.

Least Congested Cities

All but one of the 10 least congested large cities in the Tom Tom report are in the United States. The least congested is Kansas City, with a peak period index of 19.5, indicating that a 30 minute trip in free flow is likely to take 36 minutes due to congestion. Kansas City has one of the most comprehensive freeway systems in the United States and has a highly dispersed employment base. US cities also occupy the second through the sixth least congested positions (Cleveland, Indianapolis, Memphis, Louisville and St. Louis). Spain's Valencia is the seventh least congested city, while the eighth through 10th positions are taken by Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Detroit.

Cities Not Rated

There are a number of other highly congested cities that are not yet included in international traffic congestion ratings. Data in the 1999 publication Cities and Automobile Dependence: A Sourcebook indicated that the greatest density of traffic among rated cities was in Seoul, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Tokyo, Surabaya (Indonesia), while Zürich and Munich also had intense traffic congestion. Later data would doubtless add Manila to the list. The cities of the Indian subcontinent also experience extreme, but as yet unrated traffic congestion. It is hoped that traffic indexes will soon be available for these and other international cities.

Determinants of Traffic Congestion

An examination (regression analysis) of the peak period traffic indexes indicates an association between higher urban area population densities and greater traffic congestion, with a coefficient of determination (R2) of 0.48, which is significant at the one percent level of confidence (Figure 2). This is consistent with other research equating lower densities with faster travel times and an increasing automobile use in response to higher densities.

At the regional level, a similar association is apparent. The United States, with the lowest urban population densities, has the least traffic congestion. Latin America, Eastern Europe and China, with higher urban densities, have worse traffic congestion. Density does not explain all the differences, however, especially among geographies outside the United States. Despite its high density, China's traffic congestion is less intense than that of Eastern European and Latin American cities. It seems likely that this is, at least in part due to the better matching of roadway supply with demand in China, with its extensive urban freeway systems. Further, the cities of China often have a more polycentric employment distribution (Table).

Traffic Congestion & Urban Population Density Urban Poulation Density Peak Hour Congestion Per Square Mile Per KM2 Australia & New Zealand 49.2                4,600              1,800 Canada 49.4                5,000              1,900 China 64.9              15,700              6,100 Eastern Europe 80.8              11,800              4,500 Latin America 89.5              19,600              7,600 United States 37.1                3,100              1,200 Western Europe 47.4                8,700              3,400 South Africa 52.4                8,300              3,200 Peak Hour Congestion: Average of Tom Tom Peak Hour Congestion Indexes 2013 Population Densities: Demographia World Urban Areas


Both of these factors, high capacity roadways and dispersion of population as well as jobs are also important contributors to the lower congestion levels in the United States.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. 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 was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo: On the Moscow MKAD Ring Road

America's Fastest-Growing Small Cities

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 07:20

Coverage of America’s changing urban scene tends to focus heavily on large metropolitan areas and the “megaregions” now often said to dominate the economic future. Often missed has been a slow, but inexorable, shift of migration and economic growth to smaller cities, a geography usually ignored or dismissed, with the exception of college towns, as doomed to lag behind by urban boosters.

Part of the problem is that analysts often assume that the decline of small towns, which have been losing population, also means small cities are in trouble. Yet this is simply not true. Since 2000 small cities with between 100,000 and 250,000 residents have enjoyed a 13.6% population growth rate, more than twice that of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and roughly 10% faster than the national growth rate. The main driving force, notes demographer Wendell Cox, appears to be domestic migration, which is negative in the largest cities as well as in small towns. However the 167 metropolitan statistical areas with between 100,000 to 250,000 in population have added a net 675,000 people due to domestic migration since 2000.

This performance is also seen in the economic sphere. All five of the nation’s fastest growing economies in 2013 were small cities, which, despite their smaller size, possess the basic infrastructure — hospitals, schools, airports, broadband — that are essential to economic growth.

Of course, not all small cities are doing well. Many, particularly in the industrial heartland, continue to suffer; virtually all the bottom 10 small cities on our list are in old industrial areas in the Great Lakes, the Southeast and Massachusetts,  the birthplace of America’s first manufacturing boom.

In order to determine which small metro areas are booming, and help us understand why, we asked Mark Schill at the Praxis Strategy Group to rank them based on four factors: population growth (2000-13), job growth (2001-14), real per capita personal income growth (2000-12), and growth of regional GDP per job (2001-12) — if GDP per job is increasing, it’s an indicator that the metro area is adding high-value, productive industries to its economy, as opposed to lower-wage jobs.

Boomer Boomtowns

Over the next decade, one major driver for growth in small cities may be demographic factors, notably the aging of the baby boom generation. Contrary to popular press accounts that suggest boomers are gravitating to big cities, demographic evidence suggests the opposite is the case. Demographer Cox says boomers appear to be, on net, leaving both big cities and older suburbs in favor either of exurbs or smaller cities.

Some small cities already appear to benefiting from this trend, including the top-ranked city on our list: The Villages, Fla. This relatively new community, which focuses on “active” seniors has doubled in population since 2000, and last year was the nation’sfastest-growing metropolitan area. The area also has expanded its job base by 186% since 2001. Yet as much of the employment is in services, growth in economic productivity has been lackluster. Critically, this does not mean the area has been getting poorer. Personal income growth, largely from assets owned by seniors, has soared by some 60% since 2000, 10 times the national average growth rate of 6%.

Thriving senior-oriented economies can be found throughout Florida, but they are also emerging elsewhere. St. George, Utah, which ranks 12th on our list, has long attracted downshifting boomers from the West Coast as well as the rest of the Intermountain West. This has helped to power its construction sector, a key element of the local economy. Another hot spot for boomers is No. 17 Bellingham, Wash., which is home to Western Washington University. In the coming decade, we can expect a growing competition among smaller towns for boomer residents, and their sometimes significant assets.

Energy Towns

The oil and gas industry doesn’t need bright lights, but sometimes its presence can create some. Of our top 10 fastest-growing small cities, five are energy-driven boom towns. This includes No. 2 Midland, Texas, which has logged 60% job growth since 2001 and 30% population growth since 2000. The west Texas  city, located in the heart of the booming Permian Basin is also getting richer, with personal income growth of over 96.7% since 2000, a rate well above the national average of 6% and the median for small cities of 10.2%. Last year, Midland led the nation in GDP growth at 14%.

Other high-ranked energy cities include No. 3 Odessa, Texas,  and No. 8 Houma-Thibadaoux, La., which this February boasted the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.8%.

College Towns

One would expect this list to be chock full of university towns, but to our surprise, only one made the top 10: Fargo, North Dakota-Minnesota. The metro area has caught our eye before. Fargo is far more than home to North Dakota State, with almost 15,000 students, but the school’s  expertise in engineering and energy dovetails perfectly with the state’s boom not only in energy but it’s rapidly growing tech and manufacturing sectors. Since 2010, manufacturing employment is up 18% in Fargo, to go along with 21% growth at corporate managing offices, 20% in wholesale trade, 17% in finance, and 14% in professional services.

Perhaps a better example of a small city benefiting from university connections is  No. 12 Morgantown, W.V. The metro area of 135,000 is home to the nearly 30,000 people working or studying at the University of West Virginia. Other college towns that made it to the upper tier include No. 11 Hammond, home to Southeast Louisiana University , with 15,000 students; No. 13 Logan, Utah, which hosts Utah State’s 28,000 students; and No. 25 Auburn, Alabama, home to the 25,000-student university of the same name.

Government Centers

Throughout the Bush years and in the first years of the recession, government centers — such as greater Washington, D.C., Madison, Wisc., as well as towns with military bases — out-performed the overall economy. Today many of the small cities that are thriving remain largely dependent on government spending, including  No. 5 Jacksonville, N.C., home to the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune.

Given the long-term fiscal crisis facing many communities, this dependence on government spending could prove problematic, leaving a metro area’s fate in the hands of others. Planned cuts in military spending could undermine growth in many of these communities and is already raising the hackles of some public sector unions.

The Road Ahead

These trends suggest that the future of small city America may be far brighter than suggested by many urban pundits. The movement of boomers and the growth of resource-based industries seem likely to accelerate this trend, although declines in government, and particularly military, spending may impact some communities negatively. Like big cities, their small brethren seem to be divided between those that are thriving and those that are not.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing small cities will be retaining or attracting enough young families. Already roughly two out of every five millennials lives in one of the country’s smaller communities, and proportionately this population grew faster in these small metro areas than in either core cities or suburbs. In the future the key question is how to get more of them, particularly the better educated, to stay.

Economically, these areas also need to diversify, taking advantage of new technologies that allow many businesses to operate remotely. Too great dependence on government spending, or on boomer migration, tends to distort local economies by fostering too much dependence on Washington or  creates a labor market overly tilted towards low-paying service workers. These smaller places still have their work cut out from them, but their prospects may overall be brighter than many suspect.

Fastest Growing Small Cities Rank Region (MSA) Score Growth GDP/Job, 2001-2012 Job Growth, 2001-2014 PCPI Growth, 2000-2012 Population Growth, 2000-2013 1 The Villages, FL 76.4 2.0% 186.0% 59.2% 99.2% 2 Midland, TX 60.4 15.8% 59.7% 96.7% 30.3% 3 Odessa, TX 54.4 32.9% 45.0% 49.4% 23.8% 4 Fargo, ND-MN 43.4 24.8% 28.4% 23.5% 27.7% 5 Jacksonville, NC 41.8 15.3% 27.2% 42.2% 22.9% 6 Longview, TX 41.1 29.7% 18.0% 25.0% 11.5% 7 Bismarck, ND 41.0 15.2% 35.5% 34.9% 22.5% 8 Houma-Thibodaux, LA 40.7 18.0% 22.0% 49.7% 7.9% 9 Watertown-Fort Drum, NY 39.9 22.1% 19.8% 39.5% 6.9% 10 Madera, CA 39.4 20.1% 25.6% 22.0% 23.3% 11 Hammond, LA 39.1 18.6% 20.5% 25.2% 24.5% 12 Morgantown, WV 39.1 19.8% 22.7% 23.9% 22.3% 13 Logan, UT-ID 39.0 23.1% 23.8% 12.4% 25.7% 14 Las Cruces, NM 38.7 20.0% 21.0% 23.2% 21.9% 15 Elizabethtown-Fort Knox, KY 37.9 27.8% 9.9% 18.6% 12.6% 16 St. George, UT 36.9 -2.0% 48.7% 6.4% 62.1% 17 Bellingham, WA 35.2 15.8% 20.1% 15.7% 23.1% 18 Rochester, MN 35.1 24.7% 7.0% 12.7% 14.2% 19 Sioux Falls, SD 34.9 13.6% 19.7% 13.0% 29.3% 20 California-Lexington Park, MD 34.7 12.6% 20.0% 17.0% 26.7% 21 Hanford-Corcoran, CA 34.7 10.2% 12.0% 36.6% 16.3% 22 Sherman-Denison, TX 34.4 27.7% 3.1% 9.4% 10.3% 23 College Station-Bryan, TX 33.8 9.0% 26.1% 16.5% 27.5% 24 Elkhart-Goshen, IN 33.4 31.9% 3.8% -3.1% 9.4% 25 Auburn-Opelika, AL 33.3 8.7% 33.9% 7.3% 30.8% 26 St. Joseph, MO-KS 33.1 24.8% 8.7% 14.4% 3.0% 27 Tuscaloosa, AL 32.7 19.4% 11.0% 10.2% 15.2% 28 Billings, MT 32.6 13.2% 16.1% 17.3% 18.0% 29 Grand Forks, ND-MN 32.3 13.5% 8.6% 34.2% 3.4% 30 Hattiesburg, MS 32.3 13.3% 13.7% 15.9% 19.0% 31 Idaho Falls, ID 32.3 10.8% 12.0% 10.6% 30.5% 32 Charlottesville, VA 31.6 12.8% 12.7% 16.0% 17.5% 33 Lawton, OK 31.5 15.4% 7.1% 23.2% 7.7% 34 Burlington-South Burlington, VT 31.4 20.0% 4.9% 14.2% 7.6% 35 Coeur d'Alene, ID 31.3 6.9% 23.9% 7.1% 31.8% 36 Alexandria, LA 31.2 16.6% 4.8% 21.8% 6.6% 37 Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL 31.2 3.2% 27.3% 5.9% 38.3% 38 Johnson City, TN 31.2 19.5% 1.6% 13.2% 10.5% 39 Bend-Redmond, OR 30.6 2.4% 23.9% 2.6% 42.4% 40 Yuma, AZ 30.4 8.7% 13.1% 11.4% 25.3% 41 Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA 30.0 15.2% 6.8% 21.6% 3.5% 42 El Centro, CA 30.0 -0.2% 28.2% 21.9% 24.0% 43 Binghamton, NY 30.0 27.1% -10.5% 11.1% -1.7% 44 Grand Junction, CO 30.0 12.2% 13.7% 2.0% 25.4% 45 Jonesboro, AR 29.9 9.8% 11.9% 17.0% 16.2% 46 Eau Claire, WI 29.7 15.8% 9.3% 10.1% 10.7% 47 Sierra Vista-Douglas, AZ 29.7 7.1% 8.2% 30.0% 9.6% 48 State College, PA 29.6 10.6% 3.5% 20.2% 14.3% 49 Iowa City, IA 29.6 6.3% 21.1% 12.4% 21.9% 50 Winchester, VA-WV 29.6 9.7% 12.2% 4.3% 27.4% 51 Greenville, NC 29.4 6.8% 13.6% 6.3% 29.8% 52 Lafayette-West Lafayette, IN 29.0 17.6% 5.8% -0.9% 16.8% 53 Tyler, TX 28.8 5.8% 16.4% 11.3% 23.0% 54 Bowling Green, KY 28.4 9.2% 16.8% 4.5% 20.8% 55 Bloomington, IN 28.2 15.0% 8.5% 2.5% 14.3% 56 Champaign-Urbana, IL 28.2 17.5% -5.0% 6.9% 11.7% 57 Yakima, WA 27.9 9.0% 12.9% 14.5% 11.0% 58 Homosassa Springs, FL 27.9 8.7% 11.2% 9.5% 17.4% 59 Carbondale-Marion, IL 27.8 13.7% 0.8% 16.9% 4.8% 60 Rapid City, SD 27.8 4.9% 7.7% 19.0% 17.4% 61 Panama City, FL 27.6 4.5% 15.7% 15.1% 17.1% 62 Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville, AL 27.5 17.7% -5.2% 10.0% 5.1% 63 Columbia, MO 27.3 2.5% 20.8% 6.7% 25.6% 64 La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN 27.3 11.9% 6.1% 13.8% 6.7% 65 Chico, CA 27.2 10.5% 6.5% 13.6% 9.0% 66 Abilene, TX 27.1 7.7% 10.2% 21.8% 4.5% 67 Yuba City, CA 27.1 6.8% 4.4% 10.2% 20.9% 68 Terre Haute, IN 27.0 18.8% -2.7% 8.7% 0.8% 69 Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI 27.0 1.4% 13.0% 13.0% 24.2% 70 St. Cloud, MN 26.9 8.0% 10.7% 10.8% 13.8% 71 Chambersburg-Waynesboro, PA 26.9 7.5% 17.1% 4.7% 17.2% 72 Oshkosh-Neenah, WI 26.8 15.4% 1.4% 5.3% 7.9% 73 Dover, DE 26.6 -2.8% 23.0% 6.0% 33.2% 74 Texarkana, TX-AR 26.6 12.4% -0.3% 15.1% 4.5% 75 Dothan, AL 26.4 9.6% -2.5% 13.4% 12.7% 76 Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ 26.3 2.8% 8.5% 3.9% 30.0% 77 Lawrence, KS 26.3 10.2% 2.0% 7.9% 14.0% 78 Fairbanks, AK 26.3 1.3% 8.5% 15.8% 21.0% 79 Missoula, MT 26.3 5.4% 13.7% 9.4% 16.3% 80 Joplin, MO 26.2 12.0% 2.0% 6.6% 11.1% 81 Owensboro, KY 26.2 11.4% 5.2% 11.5% 5.8% 82 Lake Charles, LA 26.2 6.8% 5.4% 22.4% 4.4% 83 Williamsport, PA 26.2 12.5% 0.4% 20.0% -2.6% 84 San Angelo, TX 26.1 5.0% 5.4% 20.1% 10.1% 85 Flagstaff, AZ 26.0 6.2% 9.3% 8.3% 16.9% 86 Glens Falls, NY 25.9 8.6% 3.7% 19.5% 3.4% 87 Cumberland, MD-WV 25.8 9.6% 0.3% 22.4% -0.6% 88 New Bern, NC 25.8 9.8% -1.1% 11.2% 10.9% 89 Beckley, WV 25.7 6.2% 3.3% 28.7% -1.7% 90 Bloomington, IL 25.5 9.5% -2.6% 8.4% 14.0% 91 Longview, WA 25.4 12.2% -5.4% 8.2% 9.5% 92 Kingston, NY 25.3 9.5% -4.7% 20.9% 1.8% 93 Wheeling, WV-OH 25.3 14.2% 0.7% 14.7% -4.7% 94 Florence-Muscle Shoals, AL 25.1 12.0% -0.7% 11.4% 3.0% 95 Dalton, GA 25.1 19.3% -15.8% -10.6% 17.6% 96 Sioux City, IA-NE-SD 25.1 10.5% 0.7% 16.2% 0.6% 97 Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL 25.0 1.9% 12.8% 2.4% 25.3% 98 Wenatchee, WA 24.8 1.3% 17.1% 11.5% 14.2% 99 Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, VA 24.8 6.9% 3.4% 12.4% 9.0% 100 Harrisonburg, VA 24.7 3.8% 7.7% 6.2% 19.1% 101 Albany, OR 24.5 9.8% 2.6% -0.8% 15.3% 102 Battle Creek, MI 24.2 17.5% -9.7% 6.1% -2.2% 103 Ithaca, NY 24.2 3.1% 5.9% 18.3% 7.3% 104 Warner Robins, GA 24.1 -3.9% 13.5% 7.2% 28.6% 105 Lebanon, PA 24.0 0.9% 13.0% 13.0% 12.6% 106 Goldsboro, NC 23.9 7.8% -2.2% 9.2% 9.6% 107 Monroe, LA 23.8 6.7% -2.5% 15.6% 5.0% 108 Lewiston-Auburn, ME 23.7 9.1% 0.3% 9.9% 3.6% 109 Sumter, SC 23.6 9.1% -9.1% 15.1% 3.2% 110 Prescott, AZ 23.4 -3.7% 11.5% 5.4% 27.6% 111 Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ 22.9 3.5% -0.4% 14.9% 7.6% 112 Wichita Falls, TX 22.8 6.5% -9.7% 21.3% -0.4% 113 Jackson, TN 22.8 6.5% 3.8% 6.6% 7.0% 114 Decatur, AL 22.8 12.2% -7.7% 2.4% 5.0% 115 Cleveland, TN 22.7 2.7% 7.5% 5.6% 13.6% 116 Janesville-Beloit, WI 22.5 11.0% -3.7% 1.4% 5.4% 117 Napa, CA 22.3 0.1% 15.0% 6.2% 12.7% 118 Decatur, IL 22.3 11.6% -9.6% 12.2% -4.6% 119 Sheboygan, WI 22.2 6.1% -3.1% 13.7% 1.9% 120 Athens-Clarke County, GA 22.2 -3.3% 17.9% 5.3% 18.7% 121 Kankakee, IL 21.9 7.1% -1.8% 3.2% 8.0% 122 Morristown, TN 21.8 6.9% -4.8% 0.9% 12.1% 123 Brunswick, GA 21.7 3.9% -4.9% -3.1% 21.9% 124 Medford, OR 21.6 0.3% 7.9% 4.4% 14.7% 125 Topeka, KS 21.4 6.4% -4.2% 7.7% 4.2% 126 Wausau, WI 21.3 4.9% -1.6% 5.9% 7.5% 127 Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC 21.3 -8.7% 8.4% -2.7% 38.8% 128 Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA 21.3 -1.3% 8.2% 6.0% 14.9% 129 East Stroudsburg, PA 21.1 -0.3% 7.3% -1.1% 19.6% 130 Bangor, ME 21.1 3.4% -0.9% 9.4% 5.8% 131 Valdosta, GA 21.0 -6.2% 6.7% 11.6% 19.4% 132 Gadsden, AL 20.9 5.1% -2.2% 11.0% 0.6% 133 Jefferson City, MO 20.9 3.6% -1.4% 6.7% 7.3% 134 Altoona, PA 20.8 6.7% -1.2% 9.2% -2.1% 135 Appleton, WI 20.8 -0.6% 5.5% 5.2% 13.5% 136 Gettysburg, PA 20.7 2.2% 6.3% 1.0% 11.0% 137 Staunton-Waynesboro, VA 20.5 0.9% -3.2% 9.3% 9.5% 138 Michigan City-La Porte, IN 20.3 11.8% -12.6% -0.8% 1.1% 139 Lima, OH 19.9 12.6% -11.3% -0.6% -3.0% 140 Springfield, IL 19.7 8.1% -12.6% 0.0% 5.0% 141 Fond du Lac, WI 19.6 3.8% -1.5% 3.7% 4.5% 142 Charleston, WV 19.5 3.4% -9.0% 16.9% -4.6% 143 Redding, CA 19.0 -2.1% -1.6% 8.5% 9.4% 144 Pueblo, CO 18.9 -4.2% 6.5% 3.6% 13.9% 145 Farmington, NM 18.8 -15.5% 9.6% 28.5% 10.8% 146 Gainesville, GA 18.8 -12.1% 13.9% -3.4% 33.2% 147 Jackson, MI 18.3 7.8% -7.0% -4.0% 1.1% 148 Monroe, MI 18.1 5.9% -5.8% -3.1% 2.7% 149 Bay City, MI 18.1 9.4% -10.9% -2.1% -3.0% 150 Florence, SC 18.0 -2.3% -3.4% 8.0% 6.7% 151 Santa Fe, NM 17.9 -5.4% 4.5% 3.2% 13.7% 152 Niles-Benton Harbor, MI 17.4 4.7% -9.0% 5.3% -4.4% 153 Burlington, NC 17.3 -0.6% -6.2% -7.8% 17.5% 154 Racine, WI 17.2 0.4% -5.4% 3.6% 3.2% 155 Johnstown, PA 17.0 0.1% -6.0% 14.5% -7.6% 156 Muncie, IN 16.7 7.2% -13.8% -4.1% -1.1% 157 Punta Gorda, FL 16.3 -11.2% 12.9% 2.0% 15.8% 158 Mansfield, OH 15.6 5.2% -16.6% 1.3% -5.5% 159 Rocky Mount, NC 15.6 -0.1% -13.7% -0.1% 5.3% 160 Pittsfield, MA 15.3 -5.7% -1.4% 13.2% -3.8% 161 Barnstable Town, MA 15.3 -10.8% 3.2% 21.1% -3.6% 162 Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH 13.8 -1.6% -15.8% 9.0% -7.4% 163 Albany, GA 13.7 -9.5% -5.7% 13.8% -1.2% 164 Springfield, OH 13.1 -2.7% -10.4% 4.0% -5.8% 165 Saginaw, MI 11.8 -1.3% -10.6% -4.0% -6.4% 166 Muskegon, MI 10.8 -9.7% -4.1% -0.7% 0.4% 167 Macon, GA 9.1 -18.3% -3.1% 5.6% 4.0%

Analysis by Mark Schill, Measures are normalized and equally weighted. Sources: U.S. BEA (GDP/Job, PCPI growth), EMSI (employment growth), U.S. Census Population Estimates Program (population growth).

This piece originally appeared at Forbes..

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Fargo photo by David Kohlmeyer.

Chicago's Planning Strategy: Hot or Not?

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 22:38

The City of Broad Shoulders may have two faces, but how will it age?

This was the essence of the question that the Chicago Tribune was asking in October of 2013 when it urged readers to re-envision the city’s original 1909 plan in a modern context. In the 115 years since, and especially recently, Chicago has become a glitzy glass and steel mecca for Midwest yuppies. It's also become an unfortunate poster child for corruption, financial struggles, urban violence, and poor schools. It’s a city whose two reputations could hardly be more different.

To many in the Windy City, the opportunity was a chance to envision a bold new future for the region. In their eyes, the future of Chicago today depends on it becoming a vibrant bastion of international excitement, with a growing population and tourism as key ingredients of new fiscal health.

Their hopes are based on optimism garnered from a real estate scene in which Chicago’s north side has become one of the hottest locations in the country, and formerly blighted neighborhoods have turned into battlegrounds for gentrification.

Along with that, through a variety of initiatives, the fiscally strapped city has invested in many white-collar neighborhoods and international attractions, which some have argued come at the expense of the city’s lower-income areas, as well as the city’s older industrial, manufacturing, and infrastructural assets. Arguably the most visible investment – Millennium Park – has been a story of success that is inspiring the subsequent transformation of the Chicago River from a primarily industrial channel into a tourist experience unto itself. It’s part of an approach by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel to up tourism and generate tourist industry jobs.

The strategy of investing deeply in white-collar cultural successes with the hope that the resulting momentum will offset the city’s grimmer challenges is a daring game. There are some reasons to think that parts of it may be working. Over the last decade, for instance, Chicago attracted a rapid in-migration of new residents – by some estimates Cook county gained over 100,000 in-migrants per year.

But the bigger demographic picture doesn't inspire optimism. While Chicago gained a substantial numbers of Millennials in their 20s and folks in their 50s and 60s between 2000 and 2010, it was also the only one of the nation’s ten largest cities that lost population overall during the same time period.

And between 2005 and 2010, despite substantial in-migration, Cook County lost as many as 185,000 residents a year to out-migration according to IRS data, including negative net-migration among nearly every age group, including 20-somethings, a statistic that is particularly eye-popping given the city’s perceived success at attracting people in exactly that age bracket.

At the same time that Chicago’s Loop experienced a sudden burst as the hottest urban center in the US, the city as a whole still lost considerable ground to the nation’s growing cities. It’s been predicted that in another 30 years the Chicago region will be surpassed in size by at least two different metropolitan areas in the Texas triangle, and, nationally, possibly by more. That’s assuming that Chicago doesn’t lose ground faster than it already has. Moving forward, it may have a tougher time attracting large numbers of Midwestern Millennials, as Rust Belt cities like Cleveland work to keep their talent at home.

There are additional reasons to doubt Chicago’s long-term ambitions to become a global mecca. For one, the city is a lonely snowman in the age of air conditioning. Between 2000 and 2012 nearly every city in the southern US grew its metropolitan region by at least 30 percent. Even hot growth cities in the North like Columbus and Indianapolis couldn’t match that pace. Since air conditioning became a norm rather than an exception, growth has overwhelmingly trended toward warmer climates. In the last 50 years, half of the population growth in the US went to the eight states with the warmest climates, while the eight coolest states attracted just 3% of that total.

A second area of concern is that the exponential power of a centralized city has diminished. The city of Chicago is now home to just seven of the region’s 28 Fortune 500 companies. The city of a dominant core and residential periphery is being squashed by the realities of preferences.

Rather than settle on being the bland and livable capital of the Midwest, Chicago has instead opted to try to wage battle with the likes of London and Rome, and it may have a tough time winning. It’s clear that such worldly ambitions are contingent on growing both residents and tourists.

The city might do well to begin with a humbler approach that focuses on serving its current residents. The primary things Chicago has going for it are its comparative affordability to other large cities, and the perception that it's composed of friendly people. These traits are largely antithetical to most megacities. Rather than pursue a path on which it could lose these unique assets, Chicago should capitalize on them.
In addition to remaining affordable, the city should take easy steps to be more family friendly, a quality it currently lacks because of horrifically high crime and subpar schools.

Of the city’s out-migration in the last decade, an overwhelming amount was by families, especially from its African American community. If Chicago invested in creating average schools out of its failing ones, rather than closing the bad ones while expanding the great ones, it might retain some of the people who are fleeing the city. Generating even passable middle and high schools alone might be enough to convince companies that adequate talent exists to launch the kinds of job training and manufacturing centers that could start to revitalize neighborhoods in the city’s job-depleted areas.

It could also zone parts of the city with declining populations more in the way that suburbs do. High density development need not be the only considered path forward. Chicago’s geographic constraints already make it difficult to find spacious low-density housing within a reasonable distance of the center city, so it might help revitalize neighborhoods if low density development were permitted on the city’s struggling south and west sides.

The city should also consider decentralizing its public transportation infrastructure. Chicago’s core transit system is designed around an outdated jobs model that focuses all lines toward the center of the city. The result is that while overall commute times are fairly low, just 6.3% of jobs can be reached within 45 minutes on public transit.

Finally, the city shouldn’t lose sight of its manufacturing legacy just because yuppies are moving in. Chicago’s greatest assets include its positioning as an infrastructural crossroads, and this is of great value to industry.

If it did these few things better, the city might find itself losing far fewer residents, and not relying so heavily on narrow groups of in-migrants. If not, existing preoccupations with international fame may cause Chicago to lose its appeal, while other American cities accelerate faster.

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 Chris Smith: Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

L.A. Hanging on as a Top Global City

Sun, 08/31/2014 - 22:38

For more than a century, Southern Californians have dreamed of their region becoming host to a great global city. At the turn of the 20th century Henry Huntington, who built much of the area’s first mass-transit system, proclaimed that “Los Angeles is destined to become the most important city in the world.”

Of course, builders of other cities – St. Louis, New Orleans, Chicago and even Cincinnati, Ohio – have made similar predictions. But L.A.’s claim, unlike the others, had a significant resonance. Not only was the region growing rapidly throughout the previous century, and now stands as North America’s second-largest population center, but it dominated a host of fields, notably entertainment and aerospace, and was highly influential in energy, fashion and manufacturing.

But it was a connection to the Pacific Rim that made L.A.’s ascendency so global. This is something that Midwest rivals, such as Chicago, never enjoyed. By the 1980s, when I was writing my first book, “California Inc.,” faith in Southern California’s global ascendency was commonplace among its business leadership, who almost universally saw the city as rising above New York, London and Tokyo to become the new center of a Pacific-centered world economy.

This notion, and the region’s huge economy, has sustained its status among global cities. The 2014 A.T. Kearney global cities index ranked Los Angeles sixth, behind New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

However, a new study of global cities, just released by the Singapore Civil Service College and Chapman University, shifted ranking criteria away from the size of economies or number of business producer service firms and concentrated, instead, on unique factors such as industry domination, diversity and global connectivity.

Hooray for Hollywood

The good news: Los Angeles ranks 10th among global cities, using our new measurement. But L.A.’s also clearly not gaining ground on the top two global cities, New York and London, and now ranks below such rising competitors as Beijing and Dubai. L.A. also only shares 10th place, with its primary rival, the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Toronto.

What is keeping Los Angeles in the top 10? For the most part, the Hollywood connection makes Southern California a “necessary” place for global business. Hollywood is nearly synonymous with the American entertainment industry and is by far the world’s largest in terms of revenue and influence. Last year, the industry enjoyed exports of almost $15 billion. Every major global movie studio is located in Los Angeles.

Yet this industry – growing both nationally and internationally – is also increasinglydispersing. Indeed, this region’s share of film and television production has been plummeting in recent years, according to the California Film Commission, largely the result of films and TV moving to Canada, Louisiana and other less-expensive locales.

This is troubling. Before 1980, Southern California’s global emergence rested on more than merely being “Tinsel Town.” It was once the hub of the global aerospace industry, but this former linchpin has declined as both industry headquarters and production have moved away. More than 90,000 aerospace jobs have left Southern California since the end of the Cold War, about 25 years ago.

The region also retains a foothold as the U.S. base in the global auto sector, particularly for design and marketing, for some Asian carmakers. However, Nissan, a few years back, relocated its U.S. headquarters to Nashville, Tenn., and Honda moved some of its top executives to Ohio in order to be nearer to its manufacturing plants.

More devastating is the departure this year from Torrance of the U.S. headquarters for Toyota, the world’s largest automobile firm and a consistent technological innovator.

Still, the picture is not totally bleak: Southern California remains the base for North American operations of the two fast-rising Korean firms, Hyundai and Kia, both in Orange County.

One bright spot is technology. Somewhat surprisingly, the Startup Genome project ranked Los Angeles as having the second strongest startup ecosystem in the United States, ahead of Seattle, Boston and New York. The entrepreneurial spirit is still here, although there’s a lack of capital and support from government or nonprofits, elements seen in other regions.

Overall, Southern California has been losing ground to other regions on employment. This was acknowledged even by a recent commission made up of many of the region’s top business and political leaders, which concluded that the region “is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward.”

And some of these competitors are thriving on what used to be key Southern California industries. Los Angeles was once a center of the energy industry, with several major oil companies – Arco, Union Oil, Getty Oil and Occidental – anchored here. Today, all these firms have either disappeared or moved away. The big winner: Houston, No. 14 on our list, which now dominates energy in the same way L.A. once dominated aerospace and entertainment. Altogether, more than 5,000 energy-related companies call Houston home.

A more profound challenge comes from the Bay Area, which shares with Southern California both a Pacific Rim location and a pleasant climate. If Hollywood is synonymous with the global entertainment industry, Silicon Valley connotes the same for technology. It is home to companies that overwhelmingly dominate the list of technology leaders, including Intel, Apple, Oracle, Google and Facebook. Many firms, including some from Asia, come with an idea and, as one Malaysian entrepreneur put it, “source in Asia, incubate in the U.S.”

The Bay Area hosts the North American headquarters of such global tech firms as Samsung and Nokia. Top technology firms in other cities often have their key R&D functions in the Bay Area. Even a penny-pinching firm like Wal-Mart is growing its Silicon Valley presence.

Though Silicon Valley firms are growing their employment base in places like Salt Lake City and Austin, Texas, the Bay Area retains its dominance and control over the industry. This is similar to how the financial industry remains heavily centralized in New York despite the migration of many jobs elsewhere.

As it shifts emphasis more to media, the Bay Area’s tech sector increasingly threatens L.A.-oriented industries such as advertising and entertainment. Google and Yahoo already are ranked among the world’s largest media companies. (Yahoo refers to itself as a digital media company, rather than a technology company.) With the ubiquity of its iTunes platform, Apple exercises ever-greater control over consumer distribution of entertainment products like music and video; Netflix, Hulu and YouTube could become the movie and television studios of the future. This could shift global media decision-making from its familiar New York-Los Angeles axis to one centered on the Bay Area.

In the future, our region may face powerful competition from Washington, D.C., which has all but stolen the aerospace crown from Southern California. Further down the road, we may also face a challenge from Washington state. Never before a serious competitor, Seattle, with a strong technology sector and name-brand retailers such as Costco, Starbucks and Nordstrom, is growing its global footprint as Southern California’s appears to be shrinking. Its twin ports, Tacoma and Seattle, could present a long-term challenge to the still-dominant ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

What should be done to retain and improve Southern California’s global status? Does anyone still care? The entrepreneurs and promotors who built this region would probably support new infrastructure and regulatory reforms that might bolster the industrial, entertainment and trade sectors.

Sadly, it is dubious that the city’s current leadership – focused on trying to build a faux New York or an Ecotopia amid economic decline – even understands the nature of the challenge.

But adopting solutions from the 20th century will not be enough. Los Angeles’ greatest resource – its diverse, motivated population – has to be allowed to flourish as part of our globalization strategy. Our entrepreneurial ties to Vietnam, China, Mexico, the former Soviet Union and other places could prove critical to restoring our international status.

Great global cities, we need to remember, are created by the people who live there. What we need to do, more than anything, is show that Southern Californians can play a part in reigniting the momentum that once made this region the emerging superstar on the global stage.

This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Why Modern Architecture Struggles to Inspire Catholics

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 22:38

Inspired by a recent visit to a Le Corbusier-designed Dominican monastery near the French city of Lyon, I’ve been thinking a lot about the interaction between Catholicism and modernist aesthetics.   It has little to do with whether the Church affects what designers create beyond filling the program.   Instead, I’ve tried to examine how the architect’s religion influences the Church’s own self-image.  I’ve concluded that the Church, an institution that has been the guardian tradition and the patron artistic and architectural development in the West for almost two millennia, never could reconcile itself comfortably with Modernism.

I was reminded of this when I shared with my brother news on the opening of a new convent and Visitor Center buried into the hill on which sits Le Corbusier’s famous Notre Dame-du-Haut Chapel at Ronchamp.  The convent was but the latest creation of the contemporary master Renzo Piano, featuring architect’s trademark manipulation of natural light, spatial simplicity, open views of nature and elegant detailing.  My brother seemed to shrug at these qualities, writing:

Seems more like a fish tank with Ikea finishes than a cloister. I know natural light, rectangles, and windows are nice, but its openness and simplicity feel like some vapid unbearable lightness than a place of spiritual reflection. Zen monks might appreciate it more.

I replied that he seemed to have a very narrow idea of what constitutes a proper place for spiritual reflection, and that lightness and simplicity had a place Catholic doctrine.  I referred to him to a series of pictures  I had taken of Le Corbusier’s monastery, wondering what he thought of his more ‘Brutal’ approach.  My brother elaborated:

Ugh, these architects have no god. That thing (by Corbu) is hideous. Look, meditation takes place in the mind, but more in the soul. Christianity places the priority on man’s soul transcending his surroundings, not blending with it (a la Zen). Man is large, not small. Churches should be ornamented and highly symbolic, teeming with life, not stark and barren. It all has to do with Being not Nonbeing. The church is a foundation, it’s heavy, it imitates the eternal. It’s not some flimsy plates of glass and concrete garnished with random primary colors here and there.

Bedroom of Convent by Renzo Piano Workshop at Ronchamp, France

Though there are indeed gaps in his argument that can be exploited, I think his overall opinion is respectable and shared by many of the Catholic faithful who possess a sophisticated understanding of their beliefs and how to translate them into sacred art.  Often such views completely contrast from many members of the clergy, who have more of an interest in revitalizing the church by embracing contemporary artistic trends than by responding to wishes of their flock.  The Dominican monastic order prizes scholasticism above all else, and finds it fully consistent to hire a leader at the forefront of architectural progress like Le Corbusier.  The nuns were probably thinking along the same lines, wondering less about how sacred life can transform architecture, but rather how architecture can transform sacred life.

Outside a few rare examples such as Ronchamp,  I sense that Modernism has failed to deliver an architecture  that connects with most Catholics and other traditional Christians.  Much of this has to do with fact that Modernism as a cultural movement is inherently atheistic as it is based on a secular materialist philosophy.  Even Renzo Piano admits as much, describing his client from the convent: “She has a profound love of architecture, of landscape, of sacred space – and even of people without religion, like me.  She wanted a place of silence and prayer. I said: ‘I can’t help you with prayer, but perhaps I can help with silence and a little joy.”

Chapel at Convent by Renzo Piano Workshop, Ronchamp, France

And therein lies the crux of the problem: When one has done away with symbols, theology, and the act of worship, there’s little else to inspire a credible work of sacred art or architecture.  Piano, like any committed Modernist, is left with little more than a preference for abstraction, technology  and  some vague nostrums about nature and  space.  For a Modernist, the point of architecture is to convey an image of maximum clarity, in which all elements are related by function and little else.  As long as a space is adequately sheltered and functions for the use of its occupants, there is no need for decorative flourish.  Piano is reduced to checking off boxes for the client’s wish list, from the number of rooms, to furnishings, and to achieving a quality of ‘silence’.  There’s nothing all that particular about an architecture of silence–maybe  a dark room secluded from more socially active spaces.  Given the right palette of materials and details, any space can be turned into something contemplative.  But can this generic approach to design evoke much meaning beyond mere emotional states such as peace?

Sacred spaces achieve much of its effect by emphasizing mystery. This is at the core of any religion, in which divine truth is revealed beyond any logical or rational framework.  As is often said, God is revealed in mysterious ways, and the purpose of any sacred space is to embody this reality.  It is inherent that a secular space is completely  counter to this and thus adopts an architectural language devoid of mystery or even ambiguity.   Secular spaces instead embrace the language of the engineer, someone who works outside the world of art, poetry, and indeed of mystery, by solving problems with the most rational tools of math and science.  There is a lot of work that goes into making successful settings for secular activities, much of it having to do with the science of building, such as lighting, acoustics, and visibility.  There is also a tendency for generating phenomenological effect through technology, such as making walls highly transparent or reflective, surfaces either smooth or deliberately rough.  To the Modernist who puts its faith in technological progress, the more an effect can exceed what can be done by the human hand, the better.

La Tourette Monastery by Le Corbusier, Eveux, France

Such attention to a material’s effects point to Modernism’s essentially materialist philosophy on architecture. In sacred architecture, the building and the spaces within serve  to connect users to a deeper reality that transcends its walls. They function as a gateway from the material world to a spiritual realm–the focus is on the eternal, not the object that portends to represent it.  In a secular context like Modernism, the object is the thing itself, and all meaning is tied directly to that object.   Walking into a exemplary Modernist space, one is supposed to marvel at its lightness, smoothness and simplicity, attributes that are commonly summarized as ‘machine-like’.  If one desires a more ‘humanist’ look and feel, the designer can instill a quality of ‘roughness’ by texturizing concrete, oxidizing steel,  and inserting warmth by using  natural materials such as wood and stone.  Industrialization gives us that much more control to generate a precise effect, and empowers the designers unlimited opportunities in experimenting.  At the same time, it diminishes the role of the craftsman, who throughout most of human history was the guardian in generating material effects, and in  many ways assumed the role of architectural detailing.  Machines take the human factor out of the art of making, thus producing something devoid of passion, feeling that imbues every man-made object.

Piano singles himself better than most of his contemporaries by his ability to reinsert the human touch in his design process. His architectural details are truly works of art and are usually the result of a distinct craftsman-like approach in generating them.  The name of his firm, The Renzo Piano Workshop, harkens back to the time when architecture was realized by stone masons, who would accumulate specialized design knowledge in the development of style details and templates.  Where Piano departs is the end result of his craftsman-like approach: highly refined, ultra-precise, machine-polished building systems and parts.  The structural connections in his projects are beautiful  and poetic pieces of engineering, much like Apple products, but like most industrial artifacts, they cannot express the ancient, primordial aspects of our humanity.  Is that necessary to fully immerse oneself the Catholic experience?

I believe so.  A fundamental assumption in Catholicism is that history is linear and that God was incarnated in the human form of Jesus Christ at a precise point in history to the point that the period before and after this event are neatly divided (BC vs. AD).  Its doctrines and liturgy are part of an evolutionary process that have taken place in the world for two thousand years, and followers actively partake in this history by participating in the mass.  For most Catholics, weekly mass is the only time that they are reminded that they are tied to humanity in throughout the ages, both in the past and the future.  This goes against ‘modernity’, or the idea that the times are so new and different that prior truths or solutions are irrelevant.  In Christianity, Truth is eternal, and the problems that afflict humanity are no different during the time of Christ than they do now. There is no ‘new and improved’. Rather, the ideal was was established two-thousand years ago (the life of Christ) and no amount of social or technological advance (or regression) can change this. 

View of Crypt inside the La Tourette Monastery by Le Corbusier

In addition, Christianity relies on communicating its ideas through allegories conveyed verbally in the Bible, musically in its music and visually illustrated in its art and architecture.  These are designed to make the message accessible to all people, as opposed to keeping revelations close to a self-selected elite.  The message has to be clear, the context must be provided and the characters believable.  Visually, this requires the use of lines and recognizable figures placed in a narrative relationship. These demands don’t lend themselves well to abstraction, the modus operandi of the Modernist.   Abstraction is by nature open to individual interpretation; Christian revelation is not.  Abstraction is deliberately exercised by an individual, driven by their own desire to create original content; Christian subjects and themes are the content, with the artist sharing his visceral imaginings of truths he does not question (like most European art before the 19th Century).

This probably explains why many Catholics feel a certain frustration with the role played by modern music, art and design in today’s church.  The music uses irregular folk beats, vulgar melodies and harmonies, and seem composed to bring attention to the songs themselves rather than acquainting singers to a more transcendent reality.  In contemporary Christian art, Christ is portrayed as a non-descript figure, and often times and rendered in an abstracted archaic style that is flat and lacks feeling.  The cross is abstracted to emphasize its iconic nature as a symbol, detached from any literal representation of what actually happened on the cross.  In most modern churches, seating is arranged as a theater in the round, focusing the parishioners’ attention to the the priest, or the choir, rather than to God as manifested in an elaborately decorated apse wall or a ceiling pointed to heaven. This was vividly brought to my attention when watching the broadcast of Christmas mass from the Vatican–most of the camera shots showed details of the sanctuary’s glorious interior and symbolic art, with the occasional view of the Pope.  Catholic worship is not about the mere men (priests) who help conduct its rituals but is instead is about how God is revealed in them by means of humanity’s most outward expression of what lies within its soul: Art. When there is nothing meaningful or moving to look at, one is resigned to paying attention to a charismatic individual standing on a stage, transcendent beauty is loss, and the Christian message takes on a banal delivery.

Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut by Le Corbusier, Ronchamp, France

Architects, a growing number of whom fall into agnosticism and atheism, often seem to forget this when visiting sacred yet Modern masterpieces.  Just because Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel makes some of my colleagues cry doesn’t mean it fulfills its ecclesiastical responsibilities particularly well.  They are likely overwhelmed by the chapel’s poetic mastery of form and light and how it provokes a profound yet undefinable emotional response.  I succumbed to this response myself when I went to Ronchamp as well when I toured  Le Corbusier’s monastery of La Tourette.  I was taken aback by his buildings’ abstract forms, its play with light, its vivid use of color, its sophisticated relationship to its site.  In the end, I didn’t develop a more profound appreciation of Christian revelation, but a greater respect for mathematical proportion, abstract formal metaphors, primary colors and geometries–transcendent things nonetheless, but a bit too esoteric for most people.  La Tourette was clearly a more regulated composition compared to Ronchamp, which is probably why is probably why the latter provokes a more emotional response.  In  a sense, the chapel is Le Corbusier at his least ‘modern’ and more archaic, while his monastery is likely intended to feel more academicized due to that typology’s tradition of being repositories for knowledge. Ronchamp’s form sweeps up to heaven, its dark sanctuary enclosed in thick walls reminds one of a cave evocative of early Christianity, while its rounded towers mimick Mary in her veil, sheltering the church below. Though these moves aren’t literal, there is just enough reference to the symbols and ideas of Catholic church that make this more approachable to average followers.

Church on the Water by Tadao Ando, Tomamu, Japan

This isn’t to suggest that modern architecture can’t achieve successful spaces for spriritual contemplation. Tadao Ando’s Church by the Water is especially powerful, manipulating natural light and framing views that heightens the senses and fuses nature into the act of worship. The church is stripped of traditional Christian decoration, illustrations of bibical stories or saints, or any other reference to the history of the church. It works for those who wish to understand God through nature’s primal elements and how they change through the passage of time. There is a sense of ignoring the human presence altogether, as it invites one to blend into the natural surrounding (as my brother’s comment on zen indicates), which may work in more minimalist strains of Christianity and even Catholicism, but will leave many believers hungering for a place rich in narrative objects and a more fully enclosed communal response among people.   There is no altar to focus on, only a highly abstracted cross standing in a reflecting pond, which could have all sorts of meanings, but not one that concentrates the mind of the believer on Christ and his passion.

A truly inspiring space that uses a modern architectural language for catholic worship is extremely difficult to find.  While many architects simply choose to employ a historicist style for even newest churches, it is possible to address the particular characteristics of a catholic church while maintaining a modernist sensibility.  I submit a Cistercian chapel located not far from where I live in Irving outside of Dallas designed by Gary Cunningham. Long an admired designer in the area, Cunningham’s work can be characterized as simple, straight-forward, and sensitive to materials. His award-winning residences follow a rather conventional contemporary style but he also is very accomplished in the art of adaptive reuse, in which he repurposes an existing building by carefully juxtaposing old and new elements.  This consciousness of how time plays a role in the way a building expresses itself is strongly manifested in the Cistercian chapel.  The space is enclosed in rough quaried limestone, cut in massive blocks and stacked in traditional running bond, which instantly strikes any visitor as reminiscent of the Catholic church’s earliest Romanesque sanctuaries with their thick walls and small windows. Its wood roof floating above the nave takes the shape of a traditional ceilings found in these churches, while also resembling the underside of a ship (which is where the word ‘nave’ comes from). Spans are short, further emphasizing the weight of the stone, even as they maintain familiar rhythm suggestive of the old ambulatory aisles with the repetitive row of vertical windows.  It follows more of a classic basilica typology than the popular theatre-in-the round, which indicates a desire to focus on the liturgy as opposed to the priest. But more than merely echoing the churches of the past, this chapel appears as a direct architectural metaphor for the creation of the church itself: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…(Matthew 16:18)”  While obviously an abstract design, Cunningham manages to endow the chapel with an important phrase from the Gospel and thus Christian revelation.  Sleek details and delicate connections between the roof and walls betray its contemporary origins, but the way it highlights the split-faced texture of the rock wed the chapel to the church’s long institutional history, and the countless number of people who dedicated their lives in building structures fitting to God’s glory.

Cistercian Chapel by Gary Cunningham, Irving, Texas

And that, to me, is what is necessary for a compelling Catholic worship space–a connection not only with the divine, but just as importantly with an institution comprised of people throughout the ages. Its walls should reveal human intent, either through a man-made texture or through an ornament that is the work of genuine human input. Machine-smooth de-personalizes this experience. As any human institution that is an essential part of catholic identity, it carries a rich artistic and architectural heritage that brings with it a kind of unassailable authority not found in Protestantism, which devalues the human institution in favor of interpreting directly from the Bible. The result of of relying on scripture, however justifiable from a theological standpoint, seems to lead towards a breaking down of a rich visual language and an embrace for abstraction. A small cultural vacuum subsequently takes root, which grows to consume what’s left of symbols, music, and eventually the walls. The ultimate result is either a television studio black-box with no windows preferred by evangelicals or a zen-like meditation space with no walls and a subtle symbolic indication that it’s even Christian (such as Ando’s church).

I’m sure that Piano’s and Le Corbusier’s clerical clients were pleased with the result, and fans of high-design with no opinion on proper Catholic aesthetics are moved by their examples, too. But I wonder if these exercises in abstraction, lightness, and trying to stay relevant in fast-changing contemporary culture win much in the way of converts. People who seek the church want their souls nourished by the church’s message in as many forms as possible. When many of these forms are abstracted or simplified to an incomprehensible level, it leaves such people feeling unfulfilled, and causes many of them to leave the church for a place that offer a richer, more visually arresting environment of the older historic sanctuaries.  At least these modern ecclesiastical masterpieces continue to open their arms to the perennial pilgrimage of people most interested in them: architecture students.

Julien Meyrat is an architect living in the Dallas area.

Lead photo La Tourette Monastery by Le Corbusier in Eveux, France.

Urbanist Goals Will Mean Fewer Children, more Seniors Needing Government Help

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 22:38

America’s cognitive elites and many media pundits believe high-density development will dominate the country’s future.

That could be so, but, if it is the case, also expect far fewer Americans — and far more rapid aging of the population.

This is a pattern seen throughout the world. In every major metropolitan area in the high-income world for which we found data — Tokyo, Seoul, London, Paris, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area — inner-core total fertility rates are much lower than those in outer areas.

For example, inner London, notes demographer Wendell Cox, has a fertility rate of 1.6 children per female, which is well below the replacement rate of 2.1.

The total fertility rate is the average number of children born to women between 15 and 44 years old. In the outer reaches of London, this rate hits 2.0, one-fourth higher.

In Sydney, Australia, where increasing population density is a sworn goal of planners, the inner city now has a fertility rate of 0.76, compared to 2.0 or more in the outer suburbs.

Nowhere is the confluence of high density and high prices more evident than East Asia. This region is now home to some of the lowest fertility rates on Earth.

Take Seoul, South Korea, a paragon of high-density development where high-rise buildings dominate even on the periphery.

Seoul’s fertility rate is about 1.2, similar to rates found in Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong. This is the kind of place urban planners often cite as a role model.

A recent glowing report in Smithsonian Magazine heralded Seoul as “the city of the future.” Architects, naturally, join the chorus. In 2010, the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design named Seoul the “world design capital.”

Yet the real frontier of ultra-low fertility may now be coastal China. Both Shanghai and Beijing have fertility rates of roughly 0.7, almost one-third of the replacement rate. Overall, China’s cities have a fertility rate under 0.9.

Gavin Jones, a leading demographer of Asia, suggests that despite recent easing of China’s one-child policy, the world’s second leading economic power is experiencing a dramatic slowdown in its birthrate.

In places such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore, more than one-quarter of women will never marry and even more will never have children.

The result, Jones suggests, will be a society made up increasingly of single people, one-child families and very old people.

In less than four decades, according to United Nations projections, Japan will have more people over 80 than under 15.

This may present more of a challenge to Japan in the future, one professor suggests, than the rise of China. Indeed, over time, notes Jones, the same process will be seen across East Asia, as well as parts of Europe, as the anti-marriage and post-familial trends accelerate.

“This won’t get better in the future,” he suggests. “The decline is just starting and it’s expanding to other areas, and the process seems inexorable.”

For now, America, with a fertility rate of 1.89, stands in somewhat less distress, but that could be changed by increasing urban density — the very policy widely adopted by pundits and planners and broadly endorsed by urban developers.

As Cox has shown, localities with higher densities and higher prices — the two are often coincident — have considerably lower birth rates than areas with lower prices.

This becomes even more evident when one considers the segment of the population between 5 and 14 years old, when children enter school.

In 2012, urban areas with the highest percentage of children are predominately lower density and lower cost, including Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Riverside-San Bernardino, Atlanta, and Phoenix.

Urban areas with the lowest percentage of people in these age groups were also the New Urbanist exemplars, such as Boston, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.

The geographical nature of low fertility becomes even more clear in maps developed by demographer Ali Modarres.

These maps show the percentage of households without children present. In regions such as New York, San Francisco, Seattle, D.C. and Chicago, the message is clear: much lower fertility rates in the denser urban cores.

Maps Source: Demographer Ali Modarres, chair of urban studies at the University of Washington at Tacoma, using data from U.S. Census American Community Survey 2010

In virtually every case, family size expands the closer one gets to the periphery; in contrast, some of the inner rings show fertility rates that approximate those seen in the hyper-dense Asian regions.

What this suggests is that a continued focus on forcing Americans to abandon their suburban lifestyles will have a profound impact on the nation's future competitiveness.

An aging America will lose much of its current advantage in terms of vitality of our markets and labor force, and will be forced, like many East Asian and European countries, to invest ever more resources to take care of an aging population.

Yet don’t expect this to affect the planners, environmentalists and their allies in real estate development, who hope to harvest windfall profits by urging and even forcing people to embrace high-density living.

Their gain will not be to America’s advantage and will consign future generations to persistent slow growth, greater debt and a kind of societal malaise as the family fades in the face of ever greater emphasis on individualism.

At the same time, an expanded state will be needed to keep the old folks alive in the absence of traditional networks of children and relatives.

This piece originally appeared at The Washington Examiner.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Crossing the street photo by Bigstock.

Ranking America's Top Young Labor Forces: A Rust Belt Rising?

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 22:38

This is a new report brief from the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, download the pdf version here. The report was authored by Richey Piiparinen, Charlie Post, and Jim Russell

Greater Cleveland ranks 8th nationally in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds in the labor force with a graduate or professional degree, ahead of such “brain hubs” as Chicago, Seattle, and Austin. The analysis speculates as to whether or not this is a leading indicator to broader economic growth. Comparisons are made with Boston and Pittsburgh—two metros further along in the economic restructuring process.

Ranking America’s Young Adult Labor Forces

A region’s economic prospects are tied to its levels of human capital. The most common proxy for human capital is the educational attainment rate, or the percent of a population that has completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. Figure 1 shows the nation’s largest 40 metros ranked by the percent of residents 18 and over who have completed at least a bachelor’s degree. The Rust Belt metros of Pittsburgh and Cleveland rank 23rd and 31st, respectively.

But there are issues with measuring educational attainment this way. Metros such as Cleveland and Pittsburgh have larger aging populations due to their settlement histories, and this significantly affects regional educational attainment rates. Why does this matter? Notes Pittsburgh economist Chris Briem1: “I argue all the time that such a metric says little about how well we are doing in recent decades at either educating the population, or on how we are doing at both attracting and retaining folks with higher education.”

A better way to analyze human capital is through age cohort. Measuring the educational attainment of a region’s 25- to 34-year-olds is a leading indicator when it comes to understanding where a region’s economy is headed. Figure 2 shows the educational attainment rates for the 25- to 34-year-old age cohort. Greater Pittsburgh ranks 7th, moving up 16 spots. Greater Cleveland moves up 6 spots to rank 25th.

An additional method of examining a region’s skill level is to look at the educational attainment within the labor force, as opposed to population. The rationale for doing so is simple. Regions with proportionally large student populations, like Columbus, Ohio, can have exaggerated talent pools, at least in terms of economic productivity. That is, a college student may live in a region to consume knowledge but not necessarily be employed to produce output.

To calculate educational attainment in the labor force, data were analyzed for the 25- to 34-year-old cohort from 2013 Current Population Survey2. Figure 3 details the results of this analysis. Pittsburgh ranks 4th, whereas Greater Cleveland moves up to rank 21st. Conversely, Columbus, Ohio drops 13 spots to rank 27th, perhaps suggesting that the region’s large college enrollment isn’t effectively translating into the regional labor market.

A final analysis examines the percentage of a region’s young adult labor force that is highly skilled, or those with a graduate or professional degree. Slicing the labor force data this way is important in that a region’s highest-skilled workers are drivers of economic growth. Specifically, a metro’s top talent—think engineers, scientists, and doctors—are key agents of knowledge production and transference3, which— when translated into the marketplace—mean new firms and the evolution of existing firms. Those metros that have a high concentration of highly-skilled young adult workers have a head start in the race toward the “next” new economy.

Figure 4 ranks the metros by the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds in the labor force with a graduate or professional degree. Pittsburgh ranks 3rd nationally, whereas Greater Cleveland moves up 13 spots to rank 8th, ahead of Chicago, Seattle, and Austin. The implications of these findings are discussed below.

A Rust Belt Rising?

Economic restructuring from a labor- to a knowledge-based economy is no easy endeavor. Perhaps no other metro has made this transformation as successfully as Boston. What has driven the region’s evolution from a “dying factory town to a thriving information city”4 has been its gains in human capital. As shown in Figure 5, Boston ranks as an elite metro when it comes to educational attainment rates in both its population and labor force.

What metro is the “next Boston”? Pittsburgh is a likely candidate. The “Steel City” region is increasingly marrying its legacies of manufacturing and knowledge production, with the evolution of new industries and products to show for it5. Enabling Pittsburgh’s ascent is a highly-skilled young adult workforce that’s rivaling Boston in terms of concentration of human capital (See Figure 5 below).

here does that leave Cleveland? While the region is far from being the “next Boston”, one can make the case it is trending to be the “next Pittsburgh”. Specifically, a line of emerging thought—and one that will be developed by the Center for Population Dynamics in the coming months in two working papers—is that Cleveland’s 8th-placed ranking in its concentration of young workers with an advanced degree is a harbinger of broader economic growth. While this supposition is exactly that, there are several mechanisms by which this can occur.

First, it is important to note that there is an industry demand for workers with advanced degrees in Greater Cleveland, else its 8th-place ranking wouldn’t occur. Termed a “magnet city”6, Cleveland’s knowledge economy is forming world-class clusters of expertise that are attracting top talent in key industry sectors, particularly life sciences and advanced manufacturing. In other words, if you want to act, you go to Hollywood. If you want to practice cardiac care or make medical devices you come to Cleveland. The next step for the region is to scale up its emerging economies so that the amassing of knowledge and investment becomes multiplied into the creation of a “thicker, stickier” regional economy.

Part of this scaling up process relates to the effect that Cleveland’s concentration of highly-skilled workers can have on the local economic ecosystem. To wit, those with advanced degrees are most likely to migrate across state or international lines7. For instance, 29% of newly-arriving immigrants into Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County had a graduate or professional degree8. This means Cleveland’s burgeoning new economy demand is commonly fueled from outside the market. Why does this matter? For a historically insular region like Cleveland, this out-of-the-market knowledge migration brings a deepening of a region’s idea bank, as well as increasing global connectivity. The ability of a region to cross-pollinate ideas and get connected with global markets is crucial in the creation of new firms and emerging industries9.

Now, what does, for example, a new biotech firm in Cleveland’s Health Tech Corridor mean for the local mechanic, bartender, lawyer, or accountant? A lot actually. Specifically, economist Enrico Moretti found that for every high-skilled job created, an additional 5 jobs are created in the professional or service sector10. What’s more, the job creation goes beyond the local services and taps into semi-skilled professions in emerging industries. For example, a recent Brookings study found that the Cleveland metro ranked 20th out of the nation’s largest 100 metros in the number of workers without bachelor’s degrees employed in pre-baccalaureate health care occupations11.


Perhaps Cleveland is the next Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh the next Boston. Clarifying this entails analyzing how human capital development and economic restructuring takes place. Simply, is Cleveland’s talent profile today similar to Pittsburgh’s a decade ago, and to Boston’s twenty years prior? Moreover, what policies have been proven effective in translating knowledge production to regional economic growth?

The Center for Population Dynamics is in the process of answering these questions. The information intends to help Cleveland speed up how quickly tomorrow gets here.

This is a new report brief from the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, download the pdf version here.

Creative Commons photo "Cleveland Skyline from the Flats" by user Erik Drost.


1 See:

2 The Current Population Survey (CPS) is a monthly survey of households conducted by the Bureau of Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The monthly workforce educational attainment rate estimates were aggregated for a 2013 annual estimate.

3 Waters, R. and Smith, H. 2013. High-technology local economies: Geographical mobility of the highly-skilled. In

Networking Regionalised Innovative Labour Markets; Eds. Hilpert, U and Smith. H. Routledge: New York.

4 See:

5 See:

6 See:

7 See:  exploit-its-high-flying-expats-and

8 See:

9 Hilpert, U. 2008. Knowledge in the region: Development based on tradition, culture and change. European Planning Studies, 14, 5.

10 See:

11 See:

Welcome to the Billion-Man Slum

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 22:38

When our urban pundit class speaks of the future of cities, we are offered glittering images of London, New York, Singapore, or Shanghai. In reality, the future for most of the world’s megacities—places with more than 10 million people—may look more like Dhaka, Mumbai, or Kinshasa: dirty, poverty- and disease-ridden, and environmentally disastrous.

Harvard’s Ed Glaeser suggests that megacities grow because “globalization” and “technological change have increased the returns to being smart.” And to be sure, megacities such as Jakarta, Kolkata (in India), Mumbai, Manila, Karachi, and Lagos—all among the top 25 most populous cities in the world—present a great opportunity for large corporate development firms and thrilling treasure troves for both journalists and academic researchers. But surely there’s a better alternative to celebrating misery, as one prominent author did recently in aForeign Policy article bizarrely entitled “In Praise of Slums.”

Bigger is no longer better.

Let’s start with the idea that, in an urbanizing world, bigger is no longer necessarily better. In a recent study I conducted with Ali Modarres, Aaron Renn, and Wendell Cox for Singapore’s Civil Service College and Chapman University, we ranked cities by importance as global centers. Of the world’s estimated 29 megacities, only a handful made into the top 20. Most leading megacities were either long-established Western cities—Tokyo, New York, London, Los Angeles—or located in booming East Asia, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul.

Notably missing are fast-growing growing megacities such as Lagos, Karachi, and Dhaka, as well as the 16 additional megacities—mostly in developing countries in Africa and south Asia—that will pass the 10 million mark by 2030. Yet despite their girth, the majority of megacities are not particularly attractive for foreign investors or as locations for regional corporate offices. These firms tend to cluster instead in westernized cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong, or Dubai, and visit places like Jakarta, Manila, and Cairo only when necessary.

History drives some of this. The great global cities rose as centers of industry and trade, while developing from there an excellence in related services. They created pockets of a more advanced economy to serve the predominately rural hinterland, or in some cases colonial possessions. This imperial relationship spurred the rise of London, Paris, and New York in the early 20th century, and also that of Tokyo, still the world’s biggest city.

Some new megacities, some such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen (which in 1979 had roughly 30,000 people, compared to its 10.6 million today) have a real economic shot at becoming top global cities due to China’s emergence as the world’s workshop. But, as we explain in a recent paper from Chapman University, this is far less the case for most megacities in the developing world.

Unlike their Chinese counterparts, these megacities’ expansion has not been driven by economic growth but more by bringing people from their own impoverished countryside into the city. Critically, in contrast to the peasants who came to Tokyo in the ’50s or Shanghai in the ’90s, there is no huge demand for an industrial workforce in cities in South Asia, Africa, or Latin America, where manufacturing is far less prevalent—manufacturing’s share of India’s GDP, for example, is half that of China.

Here’s the difficult truth: Most emerging megacities, particularly outside of China, face bleak prospects. Emerging megacities like Kinshasa or Lima do not command important global niches. Their problems are often ignored or minimized by those who inhabit what commentator Rajiv Desai has described as “the VIP zone of cities,” where there is “reliable electric power, adequate water supply, and any sanitation at all.” Outside the zone, Desai notes, even much of the middle class have to “endure inhuman conditions” of congested, cratered roads, unreliable energy, and undrinkable water.

The slums of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, swell by as many as 400,000 new migrants each year. Some argue that these migrants are better off than previous slum dwellers since they ride motorcycles and have cellphones. Yet access to the wonders of transportation and “information technology” don’t compensate for physical conditions demonstrably worse than those endured even by Depression-era poor New Yorkers. My mother’s generation at least could drink water out of a tap and expect consistent electricity, if the bill was paid, something not taken for granted by their modern-day counterparts (PDF) in the developing world.

More serious still, the slum dwellers face enormous risk from unsafely built environments. Traffic, as anyone who has spent time in these cities easily notices, poses particular threats to riders and pedestrian alike. According to researchers, developing countries now experience a “neglected epidemic” of road-related injuries accounting for 85 percent of the world’s traffic fatalities.

And don’t drink the water, please. Nearly two-thirds of the sewage in the megacity of Dhaka, with 15 million people, is untreated. As Dr. Marc Reidl, a specialist in respiratory disease at UCLA, puts it, “Megacity life is an unprecedented insult to the immune system.”

Cities of disappointment.

Over these environmental problems loom arguably greater social ones. Many of the megacities—including the fastest growing, Dhaka—are essentially conurbations dominated by very-low-income people; roughly 70 percent of Dhaka households earn less than $170 (U.S.) a month, and many of them far less. “The megacity of the poor,” is how the urban geographer Nazrul Islam describes his hometown.

Inequality is expanding in most of these places. A recent Euromonitor International study found that larger “city size remains the key explanatory factor for income inequalities across the world’s urban agglomerations.” Even megacities that we might refer to as “middle income,” such as Tehran and Istanbul, are becoming what geographer Ali Modarres calls “cities of disappointment.” In many cases, high housing prices and a lack of space have already reduced the birthrate to well below the replacement level. Increasingly, many women are choosing to remain single—heretofore something rare in these countries.

One scholar, Jan Nijman, suggests that most gains in recent years have accrued to the upper echelons of the middle class in Indian cities while “the ranks of the lower middle income classes have shrunk, and the ranks of the poor have expanded rapidly.” Much of the growth in a perceived middle class, Nijman argues, is based not on income but on consumption driven by credit. The informal sector—drivers, stall-owners, repair-people, household industries—account for much of Mumbai’s employment growth.

Housing costs are the key here. Researcher Vatsala Pant estimates a monthly total household “middle class income” in Mumbai at 40,000-50,000 rupees; equivalent to less than $1,000 U.S. dollars. Yet monthly salaries for teachers, police officers, and other mid-level jobs are often half that amount. Not surprisingly, even these workers often find themselves living in slum neighborhoods, which are also known as jhopad-patti, jhuggi-jhopadi or busties. “It’s the dream of an immigrant for a place in Mumbai … and ends up with a slum,” she notes.

Is there a better alternative?

Future urbanization does not need to pose a choice between rural hopelessness and urban despair. This is a critical issue, even for high-income countries. The rise of a mass of poor slum dwellers—estimated as high as 1 billion—threatens the social stability not only of the countries they inhabit, but the world, as they tend to generate high levels of both random violence and more organized forms ofthuggery, including terrorism.

Fortunately, an alternative structure of urbanization is beginning to emerge that emphasizes a spreading diversity of cities as opposed to gigantic agglomerations. In the coming decade, McKinsey predicts megacities will underperform economically and demographically, as growth shifts to “fast growing middleweights,” many of them in China and India.

There needs to be a far greater emphasis on these smaller cities, as well as working to develop a viable economy for the villages. In India, migration to large cities already is beginning to slow, as more potential migrants weigh the costs and opportunities of making such a move as opposed to staying closer to home. This phenomenon has been called “rurbanization” and was an important provision of the campaign of India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, who implemented such programs as chief minister of the state of Gujarat. Modi speaks of human settlements with the “heart of a village” and developing “the facilities of the city.”

A growing array of critics understand the need to break with the megacity mantraAshok R. Datar, chairman of the Mumbai Environmental Social Network and a longtime adviser to the Ambani corporate group, says the emerging megacities of the developing world need to stop emulating the Western model of rapid, dense urbanization. “We are copying the Western experience in our own stupid and silly way,” Datar says.

He suggests a policy focusing on more human-scale growth. One does not have to be a Gandhian idealist to suggest that Ebenezer Howard’s “garden city” concept—conceived as a response to miserable conditions in early 20th century urban Britain—may be a better guide to future urban growth than the current trend of relentless concentration.

The “garden city” alternative could help ameliorate the downsides of  mass urbanization in China as well, where the government is seeking to move 250 million more people from the countryside to urban areas over the next decade. “There’s this feeling that we have to modernize, we have to urbanize, and this is our national-development strategy,” said Gao Yu, China country director for the Landesa Rural Development Institute, based in Seattle. Referring to the disastrous Maoist campaign to industrialize overnight, he added, “it’s almost like another Great Leap Forward.”

As the world urbanizes, we need to start thinking about how to make cities better, not simply bigger. The primary goal of a city should not be to enrich already wealthy landlords and construction companies. It should not be to make politicians more powerful. And it certainly should not be mindless, pointless growth for its own sake. Urbanism should not be defined by the egos of planners, architects, politicians, or the über-rich but by what works best for the most people.

This piece originally appeared at The Daily Beast.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order atAmazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Dhaka photo by Wendell Cox.

A Typology of Gentrification

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 22:38

Patterns of gentrification vary by city, and the spread of gentrified areas is partly determined by the city’s predominant development form and the historic levels of African-American populations within them. Gentrification is a nuanced phenomenon along these characteristics, but most people engaged in any gentrification fail to acknowledge the nuances.

Spurred on by the recent debate on the impact of limited housing supply on home prices and rents, thereby “capping” gentrification, (taken on fantastically by geographer Jim Russell in posts like this), I decided to do a quick analysis of large cities and see how things added up. The analysis was premised on a couple observations of gentrification, one often spoken and one not. One, gentrification seems to be occurring most and most quickly in cities that have an older development form, offering the walkable orientation that is growing in favor. Two, gentrification seems to be occurring most and most quickly in areas that have lower levels of historic black populations. This less noted observation was the thrust of a study by Harvard sociology professor Robert Sampson and doctoral student Jackelyn Hwang, recently described here. Here’s what they said, after conducting an exhaustive study of gentrification patterns in Chicago:

After controlling for a host of other factors, they found that neighborhoods an earlier study had identified as showing early signs of gentrification continued the process only if they were at least 35 percent white. In neighborhoods that were 40 percent or more black, the process slowed or stopped altogether.

That prompted my quick study. I wanted to categorize cities by old and new development forms, and low and high historic levels of black population. To do that I came up with an arbitrary proxy for the age of development form. Using decennial Census data, if a city reached 50 percent of its peak population by 1940, it was deemed to have an old development form; if a city reached 50 percent of its peak population in 1950 or later, it was deemed to have a new development form. Here’s a quick example of how this works. Baltimore, currently with a population of a little over 600,000, reached its peak of 949,000 in 1950. Baltimore reached half its peak, or about 475,000, by 1890, a time at which it could be said that Baltimore’s form as a city had been firmly established. Similarly, Austin reached its peak of 790,000 in 2010. The fast-growing Texas city was half that size in only 1990, a year in which it could be said that its development form was established and the city began to see itself as a major city. Imprecise, yes, but a decent proxy for examining old and new city development forms.

The second piece of analysis was gathering Census data on central city black populations in 1970. This decade was chosen largely because it represents the end of the Great Migration, when millions of African-Americans left the rural South for cities across the nation. By that time the cities which are generally recognized as having large black populations had already been identified, and it’s possible to explore the impact of the migration on them. I arbitrarily said cities with black populations lower than 25 percent of the total in 1970 had a low black population, and those above 25 percent had a high black population.

Using those two factors, I put together this table of the 64 primary cities over 250,000 in the U.S.:

There are more than a few cities that are exceptions, largely because recent consolidations or large-scale annexations have boosted them into more unfamiliar boxes. But some patterns are evident, and if you think of these in terms of gentrification, you might be able to make the following general assumptions:

Old Form + Low Black Population = Expansive Gentrification (OFLB)

Old Form + High Black Population = Concentrated Gentrification (OFHB)

New Form + Low Black Population = Limited Gentrification (NFLB)

New Form + High Black Population = Nascent Gentrification (NFHB)

Identifying the examples might be the best way to explain what I mean. New York, San Francisco and Boston are the prototypical OFLB cities, and gentrification has made its widest impact in these three cities. Chicago, Washington and Atlanta are the classic OFHB cities, where gentrification is concentrated in certain areas of the city (or region), and eludes the heavily African-American parts of the city. Phoenix, San Diego and Las Vegas might be the prototypical NFLB cities, all of which came of age with the car as the dominant mode of transport and with few African-Americans. NFLB cities may also be the leaders and innovators in seeking ways to catalyze their inner cities, with greater tangible investments in public transit and mixed use development. The relatively few NFHB cities are a distinctly Southern phenomenon, and by all appearances gentrification activity lags behind other cities, with sprawl still the dominant development engine.

Cities by gentrification type. Special thanks to Adam Carstens for producing this map.

Why would any of this matter? Nationally, the gentrification debate is defined by the experiences of the OFLB types like New York, San Francisco and Boston. There, the issues are rapidly growing unaffordability, concerns with displacement and growing inequality. But the gentrification debate is quite different in OFHB cities like Philadelphia and Atlanta, where seeking ways to more equitably spread the positive benefits of revitalization might lead such discussions.

In other words, it’s not exactly correct to look at what’s happening in Los Angeles or San Diego, or Baltimore or St. Louis, in the New York-San Francisco-Boston context. Different forces and different experiences are creating different outcomes in each city, and if we want to understand how to look at gentrification’s impact, we need to understand its foundations.

This post originally appeared in Corner Side Yard on August 15, 2014.

Pete Saunders is a Detroit native who has worked as a public and private sector urban planner in the Chicago area for more than twenty years.  He is also the author of "The Corner Side Yard," an urban planning blog that focuses on the redevelopment and revitalization of Rust Belt cities.

The Problem With Being Global

Sat, 08/23/2014 - 08:47

The globalization of cities and their elites often comes at the expense of many of the people who live there. Forced to compete with foreign capital and immigrant workers, native-born residents of cities from Los Angeles and London to Singapore often feel displaced, becoming strangers in what they thought was their own place.

This phenomena is common for virtually all the leading lights on our list of The Most Influential Global Cities. Higher prices and greater labor force competition seem to be the natural result of global city status, posing enormous challenges to local populations and those that govern them.

Since the late Enlightenment, great cities, often built around markets, were typically places for the aspirational middle and lower classes. The ability to rise in cities from North America and Europe to Asia — through what historian Peter Hall calls “this unique creativity of great cities” — stands as one of the great social achievements of modern times.

But in this era of powerful oligarchs and growing inequality, these planetary centers are less places for upward mobility than most other cities. This is clearly true in the United States, where its premier global city, New York, as well as its prime competitors for international standing, Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, rank among the 10 most unequal cities in the nation.

The property market has a distorting effect. Home prices in affordable markets tend to average three times household incomes. The ratio for the top 10 global cities tend to be much higher, often upward of 10 times incomes.

Pied a terre and investment purchases by wealthy residents of the former Soviet Union, China, the Indian diaspora and the Middle East play a role in this inflation, particularly in London, where an onslaught of Asian buyers, now, by one estimate, purchases 70% of the city’s newly built homes.For young people in London, the possibility of home ownership has begun to evaporate. Regulations that restrict new construction and raise development costs also play a substantial role in the diminishing amount of affordable housing in cities like London, New York and San Francisco.

The Disappearance Of The Middle Class

Rising home prices are among the impacts of globalization that tend to force out the middle class. Even in traditionally egalitarian Toronto, a study by the University of Toronto found that between 1970 and 2001 the proportion of middle-income neighborhoods in the core city had dropped from two thirds to a third, while poor districts had more than doubled to 40%. By 2020, according to the study, middle-class neighborhoods could fall below 10%, with the balance made up of affluent and poor residents.

This leads even usual urban booster to question the direction of their cities, as they lose their counter-culture gloss. As one green journalist laments: “But what are we getting when we throw away height limits and barriers to development, stop worrying about shadows and views, and let the developers loose? Also importantly, who are we getting?”

The impact of rising prices clearly reshapes societies. In Manhattan, half of households are single, according to the American Community Survey; in the city of San Francisco, there are now 80,000 more dogs than children. Similar trends can be seen in London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and other top global cities. Due to high prices, some 45% of Hong Kong’s middle-class couples have abandoned the idea of having children anytime soon, according to a survey commissioned by Citibank.

The Jobs Dilemma

Property prices and development pressures represent just one aspect of how globalization impacts the native working and middle class. The globalized economy often favors the employment of the very skilled, and those who serve them. Many companies, such as in finance, move their middle management jobs to other, less pricey places, from Sioux Falls to India and virtually anywhere else, reducing global cities’ mid-income employment and middle-class populations.

At its apex, in places like New York and London, the new global economy creates what economist Ajay Kapur calls a “plutonomy,” an economy that revolves around serving the wealthiest. This leaves the primary global cities as centers for both concentrated wealth and the greatest poverty, as we have seen in London, New York and other major global cities.  In New York, over a third of workers labor in low wage, service jobs, a percentage that has increased steadily through the recovery, notes a recent study by the Center for an Urban Future.

Not surprisingly the luxury cities — the most affluent parts of certain metropolitan areas — tend to have the highest concentrations of inherited and other rentier wealth in the nation, as well as some of the greatest concentrations of poverty. An asset-based recovery, like America’s current one, favors places like Manhattan, but does little for the Bronx, just across the Harlem River, which ranks at the bottom among the nation’s large counties for the percentage of residents’ income that comes from investments, rents and dividends.

Increasingly, the cores, and often the suburbs, of global cities such as New York San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed are no longer places where one goes to be someone; they are where you live when already successful or living on inherited largess. They are, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, “the vast gated communities where the one percent reproduces itself.”

Political Consequences

These trends could shape the future of cities socially and politically. In New York, the election of a strong left-wing mayor, Bill de Blasio,reflected the concerns of working- and middle-class Gothamites that they were becoming superfluous in their own town. Similar leftward trends can be seen in Seattle, another city that has experienced widespread gentrification, and recently passed a $15 an hour minimum wage.

This shift represents, in part, a reaction to the fact that gentrification has done little to address the large and growing population of the poor in many global cities. London may, by recent accounts, have more billionaires than any city on the planet, but it also has the highest incidence of child poverty in the United Kingdom.

Even many of the lower-end service jobs in restaurants, construction and retail have not redounded to the benefit of the native-born in Britain; more than 70% of the jobs created between 1997 and 2007 in the United Kingdom went to foreigners, according to the OECD. Indeed, economist Tony Travers at the London School of Economics estimated that during the last decade London received more immigrants, many from the rest of the EU, than New York or Los Angeles.

Cultural Displacement

The combination of mass migration and the power of the city-hopping global wealthy makes many native-born residents in global cities worried, as one London writer put it, about losing “the soul” of their city.

This trend can be discerned in almost any global city. A Tommy Hilfiger or other chain store in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, Fifth Avenue in New York, or Regent Street in London is pretty much like any other. Yet for independent merchants in global cities, the price of being there is often too much to bear. In the process many of the most unique shops and restaurants are displaced by the largely high-end chains that can handle the rent.

At the same time, globalization and migration have inspired dangerous reactions, notably nativism, and a growing chasm between guest workers and residents. This has become a political issue even in the most cosmopolitan cities such as London, Singapore and the Randstadt (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-the Hague-Utrecht ).

The fundamental challenge: the global city must accommodate two identities, a global and a local one. A great global city must serve its international role as well as its local economy and the needs of its local residents. A city must be more than a fancy theme park or a collection of elite headquarter towers. It needs a middle and working class, not just the global rich and their servants. It needs families and ordinary residents who may rarely leave town, not just globe-trotters. It needs to be true to itself and the people who, in the first place, created it.

This piece originally appeared at Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order atAmazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Hong Kong photo by

Beyond Polycentricity: 2000s Job Growth (Continues to) Follow Population

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 22:38

The United States lost jobs between 2000 and 2010, the first loss between census years that has been recorded in the nation's history. The decline was attributable to two economic shocks, the contraction following the 9/11 attacks and the Great Recession, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, even in this moribund job market, employment continued to disperse in the nation's major metropolitan areas.

This is the conclusion of a small area analysis (zip code tabulation areas) of data from County Business Patterns, from the Census Bureau, which captures nearly all private sector employment and between 85 and 90 percent of all employment (Note 1). 

The small area analysis avoids the exaggeration of urban core data that necessarily occurs from reliance on the municipal boundaries of core cities (which are themselves nearly 60 percent suburban or exurban, ranging from as little as three percent to virtually 100 percent). This "City Sector Model" small area analysis method is described in greater detail in Note 2.

Distribution of Employment in Major Metropolitan Areas

County Business Pattern data indicates that employment dropped approximately 1,070,000 in the 52 major metropolitan areas (those with more than 1,000,000 population) between 2000 and 2010. The inner city sectors (the functional urban cores and earlier suburbs) were hard-hit. Together the inner sectors, the functional urban cores and the earlier suburbs, lost 3.74 million jobs. The outer sectors, the later suburbs and the exurbs, gained 2.67 million jobs (Figure 1).

There were job losses of more than 300,000 in the functional urban cores, and even larger losses (3.2 million) in the earlier suburbs. The functional urban cores are defined by the higher population densities that predominated before 1940 and a much higher dependence on transit, walking and cycling for work trips. The earlier suburbs have median house construction dates before 1980.

The share of major metropolitan area employment in the functional urban cores dropped from 16.4 percent in 2000 to 16.2 percent in 2010. This compares to the 8 percent of major metropolitan employment that is downtown (central business district) areas. The notion, however, that metropolitan areas are dominated by their downtowns is challenged by the fact that 84 percent of jobs are outside the functional urban cores.

The largest percentage of major metropolitan areas is clustered in the earlier suburbs, those with median house construction dates from 1946 to 1979. In 2010, 46.8 percent of the jobs were in the earlier suburbs, a decline from 51.4 percent in 2000.

These losses in employment shares in the two inner city sectors were balanced somewhat by increases in the outer sectors, the later suburbs (with median house construction dates of 1980 or later) and the exurbs, which are generally outside built-up urban areas. The increase was strongest in the later suburbs, where, where employment increased by 2.6 million. The share of employment in the later suburbs rose to 25.5 percent from 21.6 percent. There was also a 600,000 increase in exurban employment. The exurban share of employment rose to 11.5 percent from 10.6 percent (Figure 2).

The Balance of Residents and Jobs

There is a surprisingly strong balance between population and employment within the city sectors, which belies the popular perception by some press outlets and even some urban experts that as people who farther away from the urban core, they have to commute farther. In fact, 92 percent of employees do not commute to downtown, and as distances increase, the share of employees traveling to work downtown falls off substantially. As an example, only three percent of working residents in suburban Hunterdon County, New Jersey (in the New York metropolitan area), work in the central business district, Manhattan, while 80 percent work in relatively nearby areas of the outer combined metropolitan area.

It is to be expected that the functional urban core would have a larger share of employment than population. However the difference is not great, with 16.2 percent of employment in the functional urban core and 14.4 percent of the population. The earlier suburbs have by far the largest share of the population at 42.0 percent. They also have the largest share of employment, at 46.8 percent. The later suburbs have 26.8 percent of the population, slightly more than their 25.5 percent employment share. The largest difference is, as would be expected, is in the exurbs, with 16.8 percent of major metropolitan area residents and 11.5 percent of employment (Figure 3). It is notable, however, that the difference between the share of population and employment varies less than 15 percent in the three built-up urban area sectors (urban core, earlier suburbs and later suburbs), though the difference was greater in the exurbs.

How Employment Followed Population in the 2000s

The outward shifts of population and employment are between in the city sectors. In the earlier suburbs, where the population and employment is the greatest, the population share declined 4.3 percentage points, while the employment share declined a near lockstep 4.6 percentage points. The later suburbs had a 4.5 percentage point increase in population share, followed closely a near lockstep 3.9 percentage point increase in employment share. In the exurbs, a 1.5 percentage point increase in the population share was accompanied by a 0.9 percentage point increase in the employment share. The connection is less clear in the functional urban core, where a 1.6 percentage point drop in the population share was associated with a 0.2 percentage point reduction in the employment share (Figure 4).

The similarity in population and employment shares between the city sectors is an indication that employment growth has been geographically tracking population growth for decades, as cities have evolved from moncentricity to polycentricity and beyond.

"Job Following" by Relative Urban Core Size

Similar results are obtained when cities are categorized by the population of their urban cores relative to the total city population. Each category indicates an outward shift from the functional urban cores and earlier suburbs to the later suburbs and exurbs, in both the population share and the employment share. However, the shift is less pronounced in the cities with larger relative urban cores, which tend to be in the older urban regions  (Figure 5). Out of the 18 cities with functional urban cores amounting to more than 10 percent of the metropolitan area, 16 are in the Northeast (including the Northeastern corridor cities of Washington and Baltimore) and the Midwest, where strong population growth ended long ago.

As usual, New York is in a category by itself, New York, has a functional urban core with more than 50 percent of its population. New York experienced an outward shift of 1.1 percent in its population, and a 0.4 percent outward shift of its employment (the total shift in share, from the urban core and earlier suburbs to the later suburbs and exurbs, expressed in terms of percentage points).

Generally speaking, the stronger the functional urban core, the less the movement of jobs and people from the center. The actual percentages of functional urban core population by city are shown in From Jurisdictional to Functional Analysis of Urban Cores and Suburbs (Figure 6).

On average, there was a shift of nearly five percent from the inner sectors (functional urban cores and earlier suburbs) to the outer sectors (later suburbs and exurbs)

Commute Times: Less Outside the Urban Cores

The earlier suburbs are generally between the functional urban cores and the later suburbs geographically. As a result, jobs are particularly accessible to residents from all over the metropolitan area. A further consequence is that commute times are shortest (26.3 minutes) in the earlier suburbs, where approximately half of the people also live. Commute times are a bit higher in the later suburbs (27.7 minutes). The exurbs have the third longest commutes, at 29.2 minutes. Finally, commute times are longest in the functional urban cores (31.8 percent), both because traffic congestion is greater (to be expected, not least because of their higher densities), and more people take transit, which is slower (Figure 7).

The dispersed, and well coordinated location of jobs and residences is one reason that United States metropolitan areas have shorter commute times and less traffic congestion than its international competitors in Europe, Australia, and Canada. All this is testimony to the effectiveness with which people and the businesses established to serve them have produced effective labor markets, which are the most affluent in the world, in which the transaction related impacts of work trip travel time are less than elsewhere.

Beyond Polycentricity

These are not new concepts, despite the continuing tendency to imagine the city as a monocentric organism where everyone works in downtown skyscrapers and lives in suburban dormitories. The lower density US city has not descended into the illusion of suburban gridlock that some planners have declared so stridently. Indeed, traffic congestion is considerably less intense in US cities than it is in the other parts of the high income world for which there is data.

A quarter century ago, University of Southern California economists Peter Gordon and Harry Richardson said that "the co-location of firms and households at decentralized locations has reduced, not lengthened commuting times and distances. Decentralization reduces pressures on the CBD, relieves congestion and avoids 'gridlock.'"  In 1996 they Los Angeles as "beyond polycentricity" Both of these observations fit well as a description of trends in the 2000s. Most US major metropolitan areas are now "beyond polycentricity," not just Los Angeles.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. 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 was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.


Note 1: The Census Bureau describes "County Business Pattern" data as follows: "Statistics are available on business establishments at the U.S. level and by State, County, Metropolitan area, and ZIP code levels. Data for Puerto Rico and the Island Areas are available at the State and county equivalent levels. County Business Patterns (CBP) covers most NAICS industries excluding crop and animal production; rail transportation; National Postal Service; pension, health, welfare, and vacation funds; trusts, estates, and agency accounts; private households; and public administration. CBP also excludes most establishments reporting government employees.

Note 2: The City Sector Model allows a more representative functional analysis of urban core, suburban and exurban areas, by the use of smaller areas, rather than municipal boundaries. The more than 30,000 zip code tabulation areas (ZCTA) of major metropolitan areas and the rest of the nation are categorized by functional characteristics, including urban form, density and travel behavior. There are four functional classifications, the urban core, earlier suburban areas, later suburban areas and exurban areas. The urban cores have higher densities, older housing and substantially greater reliance on transit, similar to the urban cores that preceded the great automobile oriented suburbanization that followed World War II. Exurban areas are beyond the built up urban areas. The suburban areas constitute the balance of the major metropolitan areas. Earlier suburbs include areas with a median house construction date before 1980. Later suburban areas have later median house construction dates.

Urban cores are defined as areas (ZCTAs) that have high population densities (7,500 or more per square mile or 2,900 per square kilometer or more) and high transit, walking and cycling work trip market shares (20 percent or more). Urban cores also include non-exurban sectors with median house construction dates of 1945 or before. All of these areas are defined at the zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) level.


Photo: Beyond Polycentric Houston (by author)

Tracking America's 'Hidden Millennials'

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 22:38

When it comes to attracting the hip and cool, Southern California, long a cultural trendsetter, appears to be falling behind – at least in the view of the national media. Articles about where millennials are, or should be, going rarely mention anywhere in this region as a top choice.

Rather than hang out at the beach or enjoy poolside ambience, the conventional wisdom is that the millennial generation – those born after 1983 – would rather go anywhere else. Southern California is not on a list of the top 12 regions (although San Diego gets a mention) for millennials, published in the Huffington Post. Other “best” lists and similar compilations invariably highlight New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and Boston, but rarely SoCal.

What numbers tell us

But sometimes, before succumbing to conventional wisdom, one has to look at the numbers. We examined the percentages of millennials – we took the ages 20-29 – and their growth in all 52 major U.S. metropolitan areas. To our surprise, Los Angeles-Orange County scored very high – No. 5 – with a 15.5 percent share. That’s well above the 14 percent total nationally. San Bernardino-Riverside, at 15 percent, ranked ninth.

This research placed Southern California well ahead of such supposed youth magnets as Seattle, Boston, New York and San Francisco, whose population is actually under-represented in terms of millennials. Nor, despite the social media bubble, are things shifting to the denser “hip,” “cool” cities so widely celebrated in the media. In fact, with the exception of Seattle, the Los Angeles area’s rate of millennial growth far outstripped that of Austin, New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

Southern California turns out to be more of a youth magnet than one might think. In terms of millennials’ share of population growth, San Bernardino-Riverside ranked second of 52 metro areas, adding 50,000 millennials, an 8.3 percent increase since 2010. Los Angeles and Orange counties – older, settled areas with far lower population growth – together registered 18th, adding 90,000 twenty-somethings since 2010. That’s the most of any metropolitan area, including New York.

Reality and Perception

What accounts for this gap between perception and reality? One key factor lies with the media, which, outside Hollywood, has abandoned Southern California. Like many shrinking industries, news media is consolidating in a few strongholds – New York, Washington and, increasingly, San Francisco. Reporters from these cities tend to like (at least for now) dense, urban, transit-dependent places. Many of their friends do, too,rejecting “sprawling, car-dependent cities.” Like it or not, that sums up Southern California.

Yet, the common assertion that most millennials hate suburbs, cars and “sprawl” may be yet another urban myth promulgated by developers, planners and their handmaidens in the media. It turns out that the percentage of twenty-somethings nationally living in the denser core counties in 2013 is slightly lower than in 2010. The vast majority of millennials, roughly 70 percent, live well outside the core counties, and their numbers grew overall by three times as much over the past three years.

In fact, virtually all the densest core areas – New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston – lost millennials. Everybody’s favorite millennial destination, Portland, Ore., experienced the second-greatest loss of population ages 20-29 in its core county, surpassed only by St. Louis.

It appears that being part of a “sprawling area,” in fact, does not discourage millennial growth. The fastest-growing millennial regions – San Antonio, the Inland Empire, Orlando, Fla. – are all renowned for spreading out. Instead of living in high-density areas, these millennials reside in apartments and homes distant from the core; many, perhaps one in three, are still at their parents’ houses.

We refer to them as the “hidden millennials.” They are not the high-profile Brooklyn hipsters and their imitators nationally; nor are they attached to the social media oligarchy around San Francisco. They live far from the iPads of the reportorial class and the promotors of the “hip and cool” urban gospel. They are, for all intents and purposes, invisible in the minds of most media.

One last thing to keep in mind. Many of these hidden millennials are working-class and minorities. One possible explanation for Southern California’s millennial surge lies with large Hispanic communities, which for three decades have maintained a considerably higher birth rate than that of non-Hispanic whites. Nationally, Latinos constitute 20 percent of millennials, compared with 13 percent of U.S. residents over age 30. In Southern California, Latinos account for slightly over half of twenty-somethings and 37 percent of older cohorts.

Where do Southern California millennials Live?

The widely embraced “back to the city core” mantra attributed to millennials is partially true but definitely overstated, particularly in Southern California. To be sure, from 2000-10, Downtown Los Angeles gained more than 4,200 twenty-somethings, an impressive 25 percent increase. But these gains were essentially offset by losses of more than 17,000 in the areas bounded by the South Bay, Southeast L.A. County, West L.A. and the Santa Monica Mountains. As we have seen in many American regions, strong gains of millennials in the core have been counterbalanced by a loss of younger people in the surrounding areas.

In contrast, the big growth has occurred in places that are not usually associated with hip youth culture. The biggest percentage increases in millennial populations – far higher than for Downtown L.A. – have occurred in various Inland Empire communities, as well as Valencia, the Victor Valley, Irvine and Coachella. In actual numbers, the predominance of these outlying areas is overwhelming. Irvine’s and South Orange County’s gain of more than 19,000 millennials stands out, not to mention the Inland Empire’s gain of 95,000 or even the nearly 20,000 who have appeared in far-flung Valencia-Antelope Valley. Southwestern Riverside County (Temecula-Murrieta-Perris) gained nearly 50,000, the largest of any area subregion.

Overall, millennial growth in the urban core, with the exception of Downtown L.A., is very slow or even negative. It is also negligible in extra-expensive areas of the Westside and coastal Orange County; high rents and housing prices make these areas increasingly off-limits to all but the most well-heeled millennials. Policymakers, often obsessed with the urban core and its hipster denizens, need to recognize this varied millennial geography. Most of the next generation are not hanging out in cool Hollywood cafes but in malls in the outer periphery or in middle- and upper-middle-class, family-friendly enclaves such as Valencia or Irvine.

These millennials may be “hidden” but servicing their needs and desires deserves a far more concerted effort by policymakers. This means such things as looking to the periphery for expanding parks, cultural events and educational opportunities that may persuade these millennials to stay and help rebuild this region’s economy.

The demographic future of Southern California will not be determined primarily on Spring Street or Rodeo Drive but across, literally, hundreds of communities, often far-flung, where the bulk of our twenty-somethings reside.

This piece originally appeared at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available for pre-order atAmazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a St. Louis public policy consultancy, and a former member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

A Look at College Degree Migration

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 22:38

Net migration of people to or from metro areas is reported annually by the Census Bureau and widely discussed.  Less well known is that their American Community Survey (ACS) provides migration figures broken down by characteristics such as race, age, income, and educational attainment. This lets us drill into finer grained details about who is moving where.

Here is a map of net migration of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, based on data from the 2007-2011 ACS, with blue indicating net migration gains and red net migration losses:

Net domestic migration of adults age 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or higher by metropolitan area. Source: 2007-2011 ACS with rollups and mapping via Telestrian

Unsurprisingly, this data correlates with overall net migration. For example, at first glance it might seem odd that a metro area like New York would be a net loser of people with college degrees. It lost a net of nearly 29,000 of them, highest net outflow in the country. But the New York metro as a whole lost almost two million people to domestic migration during the 2000s.  Given that, it would be surprising indeed if the region didn’t lose people with degrees. It’s similar for runners-up in the loss department Los Angeles (-11,000) and Chicago (-9,500).

The list of leaders is unsurprisingly headed by Austin, Texas (+9,500), Dallas (+9,200) and Phoenix (+9,200) and other population boomtowns. But there are some areas that punch above their weight versus overall migration, such as #5 Portland (+7000) and #9 Washington, DC (+5000). These cities are known as talent magnets and this data points in that direction. Their net in-migration is disproportionately highly educated.

I have rounded the numbers above because this data is based on samples with a margin of area. Keep in mind when reviewing the tables below with detailed statistics not to read into this a false degree of precision.

Regions like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago can take heart from the fact that they are still among the top destinations of in-migrants with college degrees.


Metro Area



New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA



Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV



Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA



San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA



Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI



Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX



Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA



Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH



Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX



Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ


Domestic In-Migration, Adults 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Source: 2007-2011 ACS with rollups and analysis via Telestrian

Unfortunately for them, even higher numbers of people left.


Metro Area



New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA



Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA



Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV



Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI



San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA



Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH



Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA



Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD



Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX



Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL


Domestic Out-Migration, Adults 25+ with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Source: 2007-2011 ACS with rollups and analysis via Telestrian

This in part reflects the status of America’s tier one cities as talent refineries. People move there after school when young, but then leave after they get older and have been upskilled by their experiences – and when their life priorities change.  We should expect cities like New York to have a lot of churn.

A place like New York can also take solace in the fact that its migration loss of the college degreed was better than for those with lesser educational attainment.  Metro New York has 37% college degree attainment, but college grads only accounted for 28% of net migration losses. This is good news from the standpoint of retaining highly educated people, but raises the question of why New York is not so attractive to those without degrees.

While each metro area has its own nuanced story to tell in migration, on the whole this report shows that the migration of the educated overall appears to be following that of the population as a whole. This means increasing numbers of people with college degrees moving to lower-cost Sunbelt boomtowns and other metros with rapidly expanding populations.

Here is a complete ranking of net migration for adults with college degrees for all metro areas greater than one million people.


Metro Area

Net Migrants


Austin-Round Rock, TX



Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX



Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ



Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX



Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA



Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO



Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA



Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA



Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV



Raleigh, NC



Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL



San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX



Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA



Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC



San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA



Jacksonville, FL



Kansas City, MO-KS



Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN



Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA



Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN



Oklahoma City, OK



Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD



New Orleans-Metairie, LA



Richmond, VA



Birmingham-Hoover, AL



Salt Lake City, UT



Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV



Pittsburgh, PA



Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN



Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN



Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI



Columbus, OH



San Diego-Carlsbad, CA



Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC



Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI



Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT



Memphis, TN-MS-AR



Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY



St. Louis, MO-IL



Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL



Rochester, NY



Providence-Warwick, RI-MA



Cleveland-Elyria, OH



San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA



Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL



Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH



Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD



Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI



Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI



Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA



New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA



Aaron M. Renn is an independent writer on urban affairs and the founder of Telestrian, a data analysis and mapping tool. He writes at The Urbanophile.

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