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Economic Progress is More Effective Than Protests

7 hours 13 min ago

The election of Barack Obama promised to inaugurate the dawn of a post-racial America. Instead we seem to be stepping ever deeper into a racial quagmire. The past two month saw the violent commemoration of the Ferguson protests, “the celebration” of the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots, new police shootings in places as distant as Cincinnati and Fort Worth, and renewed disorder, tied to a police-related shooting, in St. Louis last week.

When President Obama was elected, two-thirds of Americans thought race relations were good. Now six in 10 think they are bad, according to a New York Times poll, including some 68 percent of African Americans.

This extreme alienation creates a rich soil for resurgence of a cramped form of black nationalism, as revealed in such widely read books as Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Coates, like the black nationalists of the ’60s, is fawned over by today’s progressive gentryNew York Times film critic A.O. Scott gushed that Coates’s writing is “essential, like water or air.” Yet the new nationalists do not, like many previous iterations, look to Africa for salvation, and as a potential place of re-settlement. Instead they may look to Africa for inspiration, but seem content to stew in the American racial cauldron, always apart but also here.

Yet to this reader, it’s hard to regard Coates’s book as anything more than a narrow selfie that holds little hope for any future racial progress. To Coates, America itself seems irredeemable, its very essence tied to racial oppression and brutality. America is not about ideals not yet fulfilled, but a legacy of “pillaging,” the “destruction of families,” “the rape of mothers,” and countless other outrages. Today’s abusive police—and clearly some can be so described—are not outliers who should be punished but “are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy.” His alienation from America is so great that he admits to little sympathy for the victims of 9/11.

He has particular contempt for those blacks who seek to succeed within the American system, although Coates, a talented rhetorician, has clearly done well for himself. To him, they are deluded into believing they can make their way by “acting white, of talking white, of being white.” African-American families that have broken away from the inner city or the poor small town and found a home in the suburbs, he suggests, “would rather live white than live free.” In language no doubt reassuring to New York urbanistas, he even accuses these blacks of participating in a grand global destruction merely because they drive cars and live in suburbs.

Coates’s book also reinforces other nationalist voices such as can be found in certain vocal corners of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which seems to have little room for the inclusive humanism that characterized the early ’60s civil rights campaigners. They shout down genuine progressives like Bernie Sanders and poseurs like Martin O’Malley for insisting that “all lives matter.” In this world-view all police are tarred similarly; in this construct, clear abuses, such as the Eric Garner case, are no different than that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, which even the Obama Justice Department found unworthy of federal prosecution.

The current radicalization of some prominent black thinkers poses some challenges to Democrats in particular, reflecting their increased dependence on lopsided support from African Americans. Republicans may be doomed to become “the white man’s party,” as my old friend Harold Meyerson suggests, but who thinks the GOP’s insularity deserves emulating? Do the new black nationalists think they have anything to sell outside the confines of liberal bastions or inner-city African-American communities?

Ultimately this program represents a dead end, both for the country and its increasingly diverse population. Ta-Nehisi Coates can’t expect to castigate whites as brutes who need to oppress blacks for both self-esteem and economic survival and then expect these same brutes to get on board with concessions, subsidies, and even reparations. Many academics and mainstream journalists may go along with such a program, but this is not a reasonable strategy for the rest of the country.


When desegregation began in earnest in the ’60s, the hope was that we would see the emergence of greater equality between minorities and whites. And to be sure, there was reduction in black poverty in the booming ’60s, and then again during the Reagan and Clinton expansions. Yet in ensuing years, and especially with the onset of the Great Recession, this progress reversed, in large part because black and Latino families bore the brunt of the foreclosure crisis. African Americans saw their household wealth plunge 31 percent during the recession, including a steep 35 percent decline in their retirement assets, according to the Urban Institute. By comparison, the wealth of white families fell a relatively mild 11 percent from 2007 to 2010.

This growing disparity has prompted demands for expanded racially-derived benefits that, according to advocates like former Attorney General Eric Holder, should be a permanent part of national policy. “The question,” says Holder, “is not when does it end, but when does it begin … When do people of color truly get the benefits to which they are entitled?”

This idea has been further expanded by the Obama administration’s commitment to correcting what it calls “disparate impact,” which would force communities—presumably middle-class suburbs—to accommodate poor and minority residents at taxpayer expense, if the federal Housing and Urban Development or the courts deem it appropriate.

Such an approach negates the aspirations of middle-class families, including many African Americans who have headed to the suburbs for a better life.Upwardly mobile African Americans have been deserting core cities for years: Today, only 16 percent of the Detroit area’s African Americans live within the city limits.

The big problem here is the emphasis on legal remedies and identity politics, rather than focusing on economic empowerment for Americans of all ethnicities. Perhaps as much as any senior government official, Holder argued in support of a quota regime, which at its logical extreme guarantees that even the children of black billionaires get preferences easier than a white kid brought up in an Appalachian hovel.

Yet this is the same official who gently treated Wall Street malefactors—the very people in large part responsible for millions of foreclosures, including those that affected many blacks—to an extent that even the usually pro-Obama Rolling Stone openly wondered if he was a “Wall Street double agent.”

The Obama years—following the previous disasters left over from the Bush regime—have been largely an economic disaster for black America. Child poverty is at the highest level in 20 years, and among African Americans it stands at a disastrous 38 percent, rising even during the recovery. After decades of gradual decline, concentrated urban poverty has grown rapidly over the past decade.

Nor have African Americans benefited much from the recovery. White American unemployment is either about the same or below what it was before the recession levels, while the gap with African Americans has grown, in some states two and a half times that of the majority population. In Washington, D.C., the fundamental center of blue-state America, it’s five times as high.

Far more helpful than expanding racial quotas would have been steps to put African Americans to work, particularly teenagers, who suffer nearly 30 percent unemployment rate, twice the national average. Many African Americans, for example, could have benefited more from a revival of the old Works Progress Administration, which would have put unemployed and underemployed people to work, than from any extension of affirmative action in universities. It’s hard to see how doling out “green” subsidies and breaks to Silicon Valley and Wall Street crony capitalists has been much of a benefit to African-American communities, or other underserved minorities.

Nor is the overall Obama environmental program—particularly on energy—helpful to African-Americans who need jobs in basic industries and in some places, such as California, are stuck with high electricity bills. Harry Alford, head of the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, accuses the EPA of “apparent indifference to the plight of low-income and minority households,” which he calls “inexcusable.”

For Coates’s part, he claims several times in his book that America depends on the oppression of blacks—who, he claims, represent “the essential below,” an oppressed class of workers whose sweat and blood propel America’s economy. This may well have been true in the times when cotton was king and the South produced most of our exports. But for many states in 2015, the fact is that the low-wage labor force is now made up of workers largely from Latin America or Asia, who do the grueling work that blacks too often performed in the past.

In a multi-racial society—where African Americans are in many places the second- or third-largest minority—black communities must focus on developing a competitive economic advantage. There are traditions here to draw on, from such disparate figures as Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey, who emphasized the need to be competitive with other peoples. The role models are not posturing Black Panthers but those who built institutions like Tuskegee Institute or even Howard University, Coates’s “Mecca.” Instead, Coates seems to prefer the theatrical racialism of the Panthers, whose legacy of violence left little in terms of tangible accomplishments, but who, like him, can count on the continued fawning approval of white intellectuals.

Revolutionary posturing and racial redress may appeal to New York publishers, but economic success requires more than identity politics. Community members must loan to each other, start banks and nonprofits, and seek to dominate specific niches. In contrast, how much independent wealth or how many jobs have been created by the likes of Al Sharpton, whose career is largely one of extracting money from frightened corporate donors seeking anti-racist absolution?

Ultimately the fate of black America is no different from the fate of the country as a whole: Both depend on economic progress more than political agitation. In a recent study I conducted with colleagues at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, we found that the cities where African Americans and other minorities did best—measured by employment, income, homeownership—were those that created the most jobs, particularly for mid-skilled workers, and kept costs, particularly for housing, low.

These included primarily regions in the least “progressive” parts of the country, such as the Southeast. Since 2000, when the census registered the first increase in the region’s black population in more than a century, the “Great Migration” to the North has now reversed and is heading back South. In our survey, the South accounted for a remarkable 13 of the top 15 metro areas for African Americans. Blacks in Texas, for example, suffer an unemployment rate 50 percent lower than blacks in California. School segregation, notes the University of California’s Civil Rights Project, is greatest in the Northeast and urban areas and least pronounced in the Southeast and the suburbs. 


Despite all the negative aspects of America’s tortured racial history, comparing today’s situation to that of the early 20th or even 19th centuries—most particularly in the South—is misleading and hyperbolic. America is no longer a black-white country and many newcomers, such as Asians, also suffered severe discrimination but have made enormous progress. Yet today Asians enjoy higher incomes and levels of education than whites. Increasingly they are no longer the subjects of affirmative action, but among its primary victims.

Perhaps even more revealing has been the progress of African immigrants, who represent one of the fastest-growing parts of our newcomer population. Between 2000 and 2010, their numbers grew from 800,000 to more than 1.6 million, and since 2010 grew by another 100,000, expanding faster as an immigrant group than those from any part of the world. Like African Americans, they are moving increasingly to Southern states, notably Texas and Virginia. As a group, they have done well in terms of income, education, and entrepreneurship.

To be sure, most Africans in America, like Latinos and Asians, do not carry with them the burdens of slavery, or as consistent a long history of legal discrimination. They came here by choice and this no doubt influenced their behavior. Yet the success of other minorities does suggest that lingering racism, so deeply entwined in the analysis of Coates and other neo-black nationalists, does not present an insurmountable barrier.

Of course, there is no clear pattern of such discrimination by police against Asians, and no way to distinguish the experiences of African immigrants from other blacks in terms of crime. Yet each group each is physically distinct, and they have not allowed this fact to prevent their ascendency in American society. This is not to say that serious changes in policing are not necessary—there certainly are—but that the focus of ethnic uplift needs to be focused not on what “they” do to you, but what you can manage to accomplish yourself despite their depredations.

America’s racial divide cannot be bridged anymore by demonizing the country than by ignoring the issue. America is not, and won’t be, entirely “color blind” any time soon. But that is somewhat beside the point—the key to economic success lies not in celebrating or exploiting victimhood but in people moving forward both as individuals and groups.

Simply put, to suggest that America is as racist today as in 1865 or 1965 is absurd, given the reality of the Obama presidency or, more specifically, given the demonstrable change in national attitudes. In 1958, a mere 4 percent of the population endorsed racial intermarriage, while today that percentage has risen to 87 percent. These views are particularly deeply felt among millennials, who are themselves the most diverse generation in American history.

In the long run, demanding an economy with sufficient opportunities represents the best way to address racial disparities. The new black nationalists may be feted by the intellectually chic, but in the end their strategies can only leave their people in a cul-de-sac of disappointment, anger, rage, and, ultimately, impotence.

This piece first appeared in The Daily Beast.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo by flickr user amir aziz

When Stocks Drop, California Suffers

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 22:38

I recently made a couple of tweets/Facebook posts pointing out that market declines threaten California’s budget surplus. I referenced articles in the WSJ and Bloomberg, and I thought the observation was non-controversial—almost banal.

So I was surprised at the feedback. One person asked why. Another said it doesn’t mean anything until holders of declining assets cash out. Yet another pointed out that the wealthy were back to where they were eight months ago. Finally, one said we wouldn’t know of the impact until after the end of the next budget year.

Let’s answer the question "Why?" first: A decline in asset prices would have a detrimental impact on California’s budget because California’s tax system is extraordinarily progressive, with the result that a few really wealthy people pay a huge proportion of California’s taxes. California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that the top one percent of California’s population paid half of the state’s income taxes in 2012. Income taxes are California’s major revenue source, comprising about 65 percent of the state’s income.

Since much of wealthy people’s income is from increased asset values—capital gains—rather than from wages that have been paid to them, their income, and thus California’s tax revenue, is more volatile than the economy. California revenue tracks changes in asset values more closely than it tracks changes in economic growth. See the following chart:

The increased revenues from the dot-com boom, the 2000s asset boom, and today’s boom are readily apparent in the chart. The declines that inevitably follow booms are also apparent.

California goes through these repeating cycles like a bad dream. Asset prices increase. California’s revenues increase. Sacramento spends that windfall as if asset prices will continue to rise forever. Worse, legislators commit to future spending as if the boom will continue forever.

Of course, booms don’t go on forever. Inevitably, prices fall. The gains that drive California’s revenue turn into losses, and California faces yet another budget crisis. Sacramento responds by raising taxes on the wealthy, and increasing the state’s reliance on the few wealthy. This pretty much guarantees that the problem will be even worse in the next cycle.

It’s a self-reinforcing boom and bust cycle of ever increasing revenue volatility.

It’s amazing to me that California’s leadership continues to do this, and that Californians allow it. It can only be possible because so few Californians understand the state’s finances. The people who responded to me are relatively well informed; far better informed than most Californians. Yet, even they don’t know how California’s revenues work.

It appears that California’s susceptibility to asset volatility is California’s best kept secret. That needs to change.

Governor Brown was hailed as a hero when proposition 30 was passed, raising taxes on those who earn over $250,000 a year. It was even retroactive. California’s revenues soared, a result of the combination of new taxes and a huge bull market on Wall Street. It was said that Brown had solved California’s deficit problem. What he really did was sow the seeds of California’s next budget crisis.

What about the next response I heard, the objection that losses have to be realized before they impact California’s budget? Can we be realistic? The people who pay over half of California’s income taxes have resources that are unimaginable to most of us. You can bet your net worth that, for tax purposes, they recognize losses as quickly as possible and do their best to never realize gains. The gains we’ve seen were only reluctantly recognized. The losses will be enthusiastically recognized.

The comment about retained wealth—that the wealthy were back to where they were eight months ago—is a red herring. Wealth is irrelevant. Income taxes are paid on changes to wealth, not wealth. And, we don’t have to wait until after the fact, or until the end of the fiscal year, to know what the story will be. We don’t even need a real bust to see California’s surplus slip away. The surplus is dependent on increasing asset values. It's not necessary for asset prices to decline for the surplus to be eliminated. All that is required is that asset values cease increasing.

I thought it was irresponsible for people to cheer California’s surplus without at least recognizing its fragility. Ignoring the fragility now, when asset prices are especially volatile, is foolhardy. Our governor and legislators know what will become of California’s surplus when asset prices decline. They should be developing a plan.

Of course, California’s leadership is not working on a plan. Instead, the best of them (admittedly a low hurdle) continue to pat themselves on the back and hope for the best. Some do worse by attempting to increase California’s spending even more.

Besides developing a plan to deal with the sure-to-come deficit, Sacramento should be working on a plan to make California’s revenues more closely track broad economic activity, instead of volatile asset prices. This would require a broader tax base and a less progressive income tax. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen.

Bill Watkins is a professor at California Lutheran University and runs the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, which can be found at

Flickr photo by Thomas Hawk: The Good Life; the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel, California.

Tech Oligarchs Tightening Their Grip on Democrats

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 22:38

The current state of the Republican Party may seem like a demolition derby, but there’s an equally fascinating, if less well-understood, conflict within the Democratic Party. In this case, the disruptive force is largely Silicon Valley, a natural oligarchy that now funds a party teetering toward populism and even socialism.

The fundamental contradictions, as Karl Marx would have noted, lie in the collision of interests between a group that has come to epitomize self-consciously progressive megawealth and a mass base which is increasingly concerned about downward mobility. For all his occasional populist lapses, President Obama generally has embraced Silicon Valley as an intrinsic part of his political coalition. He has even enlisted several tech giants – including venture capitalist John Doerr, LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla – in helping plan out Obama’s no-doubt lavish and highly political retirement.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton is hardly the icon in the Valley and its San Francisco annex as are both her husband and President Obama. But her “technocratic liberalism,” albeit hard to pin down, and close ties to the financial oligarchs seems more congenial than the grass-roots populism identified with Bernie Sanders, her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“They don’t like Sanders at all,” notes researcher Greg Ferenstein, who has been polling Internet company founders for an upcoming book. Sanders’ emphasis on income redistribution and protecting union privileges and pensions is hardly popular among the tech elite. “He’s an egalitarian liberal,” Ferenstein explains, “These people are tech liberals. Equality is a nonissue in Silicon Valley.”

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

An Improbable And Fragile Comeback: New Orleans 10 Years After Katrina

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 14:02

In the fall of 2005, many saw in postdiluvial New Orleans another example of failed urbanization, a formerly great city that was broken beyond repair.Yet 10 years after a catastrophe that drove hundreds of thousands of its citizens away, the metro area has made an impressive comeback.

New Orleans’ resurgence since Katrina has come courtesy of $71 billion in federal funds and the determination and verve of New Orleanians themselves, as documented by Tulane geographer Rich Campanella, who provided research and direction for this article. It also benefited from the generosity of thevolunteers who worked in the recovery efforts as well as that of neighboring cities, notably Houston, which housed thousands of evacuees. Many have now returned, joined by newcomers from around the country, determined to turn around the city. “A city,” notes urban historian Kevin Lynch, “is hard to kill,” and New Orleans is proving that assertion.

New Orleans’ comeback reflects not only improved levees and disaster management planning but a break from the region’s famously corrupt politics. Author Joel Garreau once described the city as a “marvelous collection of sleaziness and peeling paint.”  Today the metro area, and Louisiana, is earning higher marks for efficiency and business friendliness.  In Forbes’ annual ranking of the Best States For Business, Louisiana has risen from dead last in 2006 to 29th place in 2014, while Chief Executive Magazine ranks the state as having the ninth best business climate in the country, up from 45th in 2008.

Perhaps most compelling has been the improvement in the public schools, which were  once among the worst in the country. After the storm, most of the campuses were converted to charter schools, which now educate over 80% of the parish’s schoolchildren. New Orleans now outperforms not only the rest of the state but the nation in terms of high school graduation rates, which have risen to 73% in 2014 from 54% in 2004, and the percentage of students on grade level in grades 3-11 is at 68%, up from 25% in 2000.  As Allison Plyer, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, put it in 2013, “Greater New Orleans is in some ways rebuilding better than before.”

Growth, But Also A Rebound In Poverty

The improvements in governmental institutions have, along with federal aid, sparked something of a jobs boom in New Orleans. The metro area recovered all the jobs lost in the recession by 2012 while the nation remained 3% below its pre-recession level.  The economy has expanded into some new sectors, such as digital media, while there has been a strong recovery in longtime core sectors liketourism and shipping, with an expansion of the port. After lagging the country for a generation, post-Katrina New Orleans surprised everyone by outperforming it.

But there are signs that New Orleans’ rate of growth is leveling out, as might be expected with the tailing off of federal recovery spending. In our annual ranking of the cities creating the most jobs, themetro area has dropped from 26th place in 2013 to 43rd. This slowdown could worsen the biggest challenge facing New Orleans: its historic legacy of poverty.

Greater New Orleans and the central city in particular have among the nation’s highest poverty rates and inequality. Even before Katrina, the city had over 26,000 blighted properties, a number that doubled after the storm.

As more evacuees have returned, poverty rates in the city and the metro area have resurged. Between 2007 and 2013 Orleans Parrish’s poverty rate rose from 21% to 27%, just about where it was in 1999. At the same time, the gap between white and African-American incomes and poverty rates remain well above the national averages.  Incarceration rates in Orleans parish are almost four times as high as the national average, and  the rest of the metro area also has incarceration rates considerably above the national average.  New Orleans’ murder rate fell to the lowest level last year since 1971, but it was still the ninth highest among major U.S. cities.

A Demographic Resurgence

Yet some new demographic trends offer hope.Critically, the region finally has begun to reverse a demographic decline spanning more than a generation in which the urban core steadily lost young, educated people and families to the suburban periphery and beyond.  

 The immediate aftermath of Katrina saw an influx of “YURPS,” or Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals — urbanists, environmentalists and social workers who headed South to work in the recovery efforts, in nonprofits and government programs, seeking to be part of something important.After that came a wave of well-educated professionals, who saw personal opportunity in the region’s rebounding economy. Campanella estimate this latter group at around 15,000 to 20,000strong.   Along with them, says Campanella, have come a fair number of artists, musicians, and creative types seeking to join in what they perceived to be an undiscovered bohemia in the lower faubourgs of New Orleans.

The New Orleans metro area’s population of college graduates increased by roughly 44,000 from 2007 to 2012, a 25% increase, double the national average of 12.2% over that span.

These educated newcomers are widely credited not only with helping rebuild New Orleans, but also sparking an increase in start-up companies well above the national pace and boosting the city’s economic diversification. Employment in the New Orleans area’s information sector — high-paying jobs in entertainment, games, software — grew 21.2% between 2007 and 2012, more than twice the national average, according to Praxis Strategy Group.

Is Gentrification A Threat?

This promising development, however, brings with it a set of problems, among them concern, particularly among African-Americans, about gentrification of inner-city neighborhoods. Many African-Americans, notes city employee Lydia Cutrer, have “trust issues after many broken promises, and feel like outsiders are taking over.” Or, as former New Orleanian Sherby Guillory, a health care worker and now a Houston resident put it acidly, “They want to build a shining city on a hill, but without the people.”

A map of the city by Campanella (below) shows where this turnover in population is the most advanced. He observes that the newcomers are attracted to a particular type of neighborhood – places with distinctive, historic housing stock, and close to areas that have already gentrified, or that never economically declined, like the Garden District. The arc of gentrification spreads through uptown New Orleans, around Audubon Park and Tulane and Loyola universities, with a curving spout along the St. Charles Avenue/Magazine Street corridor through the French Quarter and into the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater. These areas have in many cases been incubators of New Orleans’heavily African-American music and food culture, and now are losing some of those old connections.

Courtesy of Richard Campanella

As elsewhere gentrification is widely welcomed in the real estate and business communities, but also poses dilemmas, even for newcomers. Indeed gentrification threatens to undermine one of the very reasons young people are so attracted to New Orleans — its unique local culture. Boilerplate yuppie restaurants selling beet-filled ravioli is no substitute for fried okra and other traditional specialties.

 The Physical Challenge Of Rebuilding

As Katrina demonstrated all too well, poverty in New Orleans is deeply intertwined with  the geographic challenges of the region. Most predominately African-American neighborhoods were located in the low-lying areas of the city, easily susceptible to flooding, while more affluent, usually white neighborhoods were on higher ground.  

Some have suggested moving the region’s entire population to higher ground, but political and fiscal realities, plus social resistance to closing down heavily damaged, far-flung neighborhoods, paved the way for resettlement patterns that have not reduced human exposure to the hazard of surge flooding.

But there’s no question that $14.5 billion in taxpayer dollars have gone to good use in keeping thosehazard at bay — at least for the next few decades. The Army Corps of Engineers’ new Hurricane Storm Surge Risk Reduction System — composed of heightened levees, floodwalls, surge barriers, gates, and pumps — now  protects the metropolis from storms that have a 1% change of occurring in any given year. That’s much less than the city needs, but it’s a lot more than it had before Katrina, and the Risk Reduction System (note that it’s no longer called a “flood protection system”) worked well during Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

That’s the good news. The bad news, Campanella observes, is that the coastal wetlands beyond the system, starved of sediment and freshwater, continue to subside and erode at rapid paces in the face of rising sea levels and intruding sea water.

 A Difficult Road Ahead 

Solving New Orleans’ geophysical problems is critical for long-term growth.  “We have to approach this as a win-win proposition,” says the Nature Conservancy’s Seth Blitch. “Everyone knows if we do nothing, it’s a lose-lose for everyone.”

 In the near term obstacles include the growing disparities of race and class, the fall in oil prices, and the strengthening dollar,which could slow the recent surge in capital investment into Louisiana’s industrial economy that has come on the heels of the surge in natural gas production.  

While challenges abound, progress over the past 10 years is undeniable, and few  would have predicted the city would have come this far so soon in addressing its long-term challenges. “None of this would have happened without Katrina,” says Loyola theologian and philosopher Michael Cowan. “It changed forever what had been an inertial environment. After Katrina, it was like operating in zero gravity. Katrina broke the pattern.”  

This piece first appeared at

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo montage by Richard Campanella.

Urbanists Missing Strategy Gene

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 22:38

Looking at the things now decried by so many urbanists, ranging from urban renewal to freeways to restrictive zoning that makes building difficult, it’s notable how many of them are well-nigh ubiquitous.  Surely some city, somewhere must have realized that these were mistakes, if mistakes they were. But very few did.

Why is that?

Thinking about cities takes place in a world without any concept of strategy. Harvard business professor Michael Porter, the godfather of strategy, has said, “Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique matrix of value.”  This is exactly the opposite of thinking that goes into cities, in which no matter what the locale, urbanists or policy advocates of various stripes always seem to have the same solutions that they prescribe for every community, regardless of how different our places are.

To see this in action, just look at how some urban advocates see the future in Chicago.  Today’s urbanist orthodoxy says cars bad, transit good – basically always and everywhere.  This logic has been internalized by them in Chicago. Consider a recent proposal by the city to reduce parking requirements an increase density near transit stops.  This one is actually a laudable policy that makes a lot of sense.

But it’s worth considering the broader strategic context in Chicago. What is it, fundamentally, that sets the city apart in the marketplace? Why live in Chicago instead of say New York, San Francisco, or Boston?

When you compare Chicago against other cities that are providing a genuine big city urban product, you see that Chicago has two killer advantages:

1. Price. A middle management couple with children can actually afford to buy a sizeable, 2-3 bedroom, modern condo, with a parking space, in the city.  Even if taxes go up substantially to pay off its mountain of debt, Chicago will retain a big cost advantage over coastal metros. Many of the city’s neighborhoods remain very reasonably priced, even for working class households.  Unlike the way a lot of other cities are trending, Chicago is much more than micro apartments for Millennials. It’s a place you can actually afford to stay and raise a family.

2. Car Friendliness.  Chicago gives you the best of both worlds. You can ride the L, take a bus, walk, bike, or taxi when it suits your needs, but still own and park a car affordably and use that when it makes sense.

The latter point is one urbanists are loath to acknowledge, but is huge, particularly for families. Parents can commute by transit to the Loop, cab to dinner, walk with the kids to the corner ice cream shop, etc.  But when they want or need to, they can pile into the car and drive to a full sized supermarket, Target, Home Depot, Costco, etc. and stock up. (And their large apartments and condos mean they can actually store the stuff they buy).  They can also strap the kids into car seats and drive to Wisconsin on the weekend, or to visit family. Or have a car for reverse commuting to the suburbs.

To see the value of this, consider this interview with a resident of New York’s Upper West Side, who cites as the best thing about a local grocery store called Fairway that, “You could find everything at Fairway.” This might seem an odd compliment in most of America, where grocery stores that carry “everything” are ubiquitous. But not in some of these places like central New York, which are dominated by bodegas and small footprint stores, you can’t drive, and there’s nowhere to put a massive supply of food anyway.

On Saturday, for example, I, also on the Upper West Side, needed a bottle of regular light (non-extra virgin) olive oil to make mayonnaise. By the time I needed it, I knew Trader Joes would have massive lines stretching around the entire store. So I walked to the nearest (small) grocery store, which only had extra virgin olive oils. Faced with either a long walk to another grocery, which also might not have it, or trying my luck with various nearby bodegas, I ordered it on Amazon Prime Now for two hour delivery. Luckily I didn’t need it immediately. Delivery is awesome, but it should be possible to find basic things without resorting it.

I can assure you in my old place in Chicago, one quick trip to Jewel or any of the other plentiful supermarkets would have taken care of that.  Stores like that, or like Sam’s Wine and Spirits and host of others, only exist because they are able to draw from a trade area served by the car, and because people can buy large quantities best transported by car.

In short, the car is a bit part of what gives Chicago its livability advantage over coastal cities. So while accommodating those who don’t own a car is great, degrading the urban environment for those who do is not.

Unfortunately, this is what many transport advocates want to do.  For example, they are backing a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line on Ashland Ave that would reduce the number of travel lanes from four to two, and ban most left turns, for 16 miles.  Fortunately, this appears to be dying on the vine in the face of neighbor opposition, but it’s a valuable lens into urbanist thinking.

Where Ashland Ave. BRT fails is not in its attempt to improve transit service or to accommodate those who choose not to have cars. Rather, the problem is that it is rooted in a vision, propounded mostly by coastal urbanites, that believes car use should be deliberately discouraged and minimized – ideally eliminated entirely – in the city. Thus the project is not just about making transit better, but also about actively making things worse for drivers. That might work in New York, San Francisco, or Boston, where the car is more dubious, but in Chicago this philosophy would erode one of the greatest competitive advantages the city enjoys. In Chicago, the car free strategy only works along the north lakefront and downtown, not the Ashland Ave corridor or most of the rest of the city.

The no-car philosophy as the norm, not just an option, would undermine one of the greatest strategic advantages of Chicago. Why would you want to do that? Particularly when it would also make family life in the city more difficult for many. There is where urbanists need to start putting on their strategic thinking hat. Otherwise they may end up undermining the very places they seek to improve.

There is certainly plenty of room to make investments in non-car travel modes in Chicago.  The North Main L clearly needs renovation, and it’s ridiculous that the CTA spent so much money on much more lightly traveled lines while ignoring its crown jewel.

But where Chicago has the chance to really shine is in urban cycling. The city is nearly ideally suited for bicycling. It’s flat. Its citizens are hardy types who aren’t afraid of a little cold or bad weather. A grid street system combined with diagonal routes provides fast anywhere to anywhere biking in ways often even faster than transit, which often requires transfers for destinations other than the Loop.  Buffered or fully protected bike lanes are feasible in many places without major degradation of the driving experience. Plus, with the city’s financial problems, bicycle infrastructure is very attractive on a price/performance basis. Chicago has already done a lot for biking under Emanuel, and it can easily continue to do more.

But actively degrading the ability of residents to use a car in the city is not a good idea for Chicago.

Advocates for urban areas have a lot of good ideas that can make our cities better, but they need to think about how those ideas apply in the context of specific city or neighborhood in question. One size fits all thinking didn’t work in the past, and it’s still a bad idea today.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Contributing Editor at City Journal. He writes at The Urbanophile.

Chicago photo by Bigstock.

Poorer Nations Set for 99% of Population Growth

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 22:38

According to the new United Nations World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, the population of the world is projected to rise from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 11.2 billion in 2100. This represents a 53 percent increase. However, over the period, population growth will moderate substantially. This is indicated by the annual growth rate the first year (2015 to 2016), at 1.1 percent, compared to the last year (2099 to 2100) at 0.1 percent. Annual population growth is projected to decline 90 percent from the beginning of the period to the end (Figure 1).

Growth by Continent

The distribution of growth among the continents will be anything but even. Approximately 83 percent of the growth is projected to be in Africa, which is to grow approximately 270 percent. Asia is expected to account for 13 percent of the world’s growth and add 11 percent to its population. Northern America (Note), while growing 40 percent is expected to account for four percent of the world’s population growth. Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to account for 2.2 percent of the world's growth, and add 14 percent to their population. Europe (including all of Russia) is expected to decline in population by 13 percent (Figure 2).

Population Growth by Income Status

World population growth is expected to vary widely by current income status (Figure 3). Income status is indicated on page 137 of this United Nations publication.

The world's high income nations are expected to add only eight percent (111 million) to their population and will represent only three percent of the population growth. These nations are principally in North America and Europe, but also include Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and others.

The world's upper middle income nations are expected to experience a population decline of three percent, which amounts to a loss of 82 million residents. China, Russia, Mexico, South Africa, Iran and Brazil are examples of upper-middle income nations. When combined with the high income gain noted above the more affluent half of the world's nations would add 29 million residents, or just 0.7 percent of the world's growth. This is fewer people than live in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

This means that more than 99 percent of world growth from 2015 to 2100 is expected to be among the lower income nations. The lower middle income nations would gain 2 billion people, representing 52 percent of the population growth.  The lower-middle income nations include India, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Vietnam, Guatemala and others.

The lower income nations would gain 1.8 billion people, capturing 47 percent of the world's growth. The lower income nations include Bangladesh, Tanzania, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and others.

In the high income and upper middle income regions, population growth will be also anything but consistent. Nations such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and Australia are expected to grow far faster. The United States is expected to add 40 percent to its population and more than four times the population growth of all of the upper half of nations. Canada (up 39 percent) and Australia (up 77 percent), combined, are expected to add more population than the total upper income half of nations.  These gains will be largely offset by losses in Japan, Germany, South Korea, Italy and others.

Largest Population by Nation

China, with the largest population in 2015, is expected to fall behind India in 2050 and remain in second place by 2100. India is expected to be the largest nation in both 2050 and 2100. However, India's population will be less in 2100 than it was in 2050.

Eight of the 10 most populated nations, including India and China are expected to have a lower population in 2100 than in 2050 (Figure 4). Pakistan is expected to reach its population peak in 2095 and start declining in 2096. This leaves only the United States among today's today's 10 largest nations that is expected to be adding population in 2100. The growth rate between 2099 and 2100 (0.2 percent) is expected to be considerably below the growth rate at the beginning of the period (2015-2016), which was 0.7 percent.

By 2100, there are expected to be substantial changes to the top 10 nations in population. Five of the 10 largest nations in the world are expected to be in Africa. This is an increase from one in 2015 (Figure 5). Nigeria will have replaced the United States as the third largest nation, with approximately 750 million people, having more than quadrupled in size. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo – Kinshasa) would rank fifth, and is expected to reach 390 million people, quintupling in size. Tanzania would rank eighth, reaching 300 million residents, nearly 6 times its 2015 population. Ethiopia would have more than 240 million residents, 2.5 times its current population and would rank ninth. The 10th largest nation would be Niger, with 210 million residents, a figure 10 times its 2015 level. Among the African nations in the top 10, only Ethiopia would be declining by 2100, having reached its population peak in 2097.

Pakistan would retain its current sixth position, while Indonesia would fall from 4th to 7th. As noted above, India would be the largest nation in China would be second largest in 2100. By that date India would have an overall gain of approximately 350 million people from 2015, while China would lose 370 million people. The United States would add more than 125 million people. Brazil, which is currently ranked 5th, would lose approximately 10 million people and fall to 13th position. Eighth ranked Bangladesh, which was long among the fastest growing nations in the world, would gain only 10 million people and fall to 14th position. Russia, ranked 9th, would fall to 23rd, losing 25 million residents. Mexico, ranked 10th, would gain 20 million residents, and would be ranked 18th in 2100.

The Uncertainty of Projections

Of course projections of any kind are subject to wide error ranges. Economic growth, the extent of poverty, wars, social trends, medical advances and other factors can interfere. The simple fact is that none of us and no organization knows the future for sure. One study of UN population trends in six Southeast Asian nations found that 1980 projections from 1950 were 13.9 percent off by nation, with a range from minus 20 percent to plus 27 percent. There had been some improvement in comparing 1975 projections to 2000 actual populations, with an average error of 8.2 percent. The range was little improved, from minus 23 percent to plus 25 percent. Obviously projections are likely to be much more accurate in early years and the chances for greater accuracy are improved in larger nations or regions.

A World of Challenges

Regardless of the extent of accuracy, which cannot be known at this point, the projections indicate a continuation of trends that cause concern. A world that is experiencing virtually 100 percent of its growth in its poorest areas cannot help but face a tougher future. This makes it clear that the principal priority of governments around the world should be to improve affluence and reduce poverty. The challenges are gargantuan, but focusing on these issues is likely to result in a better, though less than ideal, world.

Note:  Northern America includes Canada, the United States, Greenland, Bermuda and the French territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon.

Photograph: Western Railway Headquarters (Churchgate), Mumbai, India (by author)

Wendell Cox is Chair, Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California) and 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 served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

The Challenge of the Digital City

Sun, 08/23/2015 - 22:25

The people we associate with don't necessarily live right next to us. This is more common than ever before, as social media and other communication technologies allow us to stay connected with people across the globe. But as our urban social networks – the ones that define our lives in cities – continue to transcend traditional geographic boundaries, we must strike a balance along this line.

Ultimately this is not about choosing one way or another. We should contribute to the growing digital infrastructure while also staying in touch with society’s innate emotional fabric. The task is not simple, but in order to properly adapt to this modern urban form, it’s up to city leaders, business managers, and the rest of the working class to understand today’s spatial, social, and emotional city contexts.

A Digital Urban Fabric

People from the same city may attend different schools, travel to different often far-off vacation spots, or go to various international business conferences. Knowledge is gained, experiences take place, and relationships are developed across the world that are all brought back to home-cities.

When we experience these institutions and destinations, we typically experience them with others who share similar interests, socio-economic statuses, or career plans. And with social media we can maintain and navigate this social relationship however closely we'd like.

Just recently researchers from MIT published a paper that outlined this idea: that social distance is a greater determinate of city networks than geographic distance. Cities have traditionally been analyzed at the national scale, with social data and activity being compared to other cities around the country. But now the urban environment is being explored at a deeper level, and we're beginning to understand how people form sub-communities within their cities. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Associate Professor Marta González, co-author of the paper explains:

"We found that geography plays only a minor role when forming social networking communities within cities. Unlike the country [as a whole], cities have more dispersed communities.”

The implications of this work is that by understanding how social networks are developed, and how connections are maintained, policy makers can make better informed decisions when working with different social groups. Leaders can examine social data to understand how epidemics are spread, and how new innovations should be applied in cities. Gonzalez even predicts new, progressive uses for social media:

"We are envisioning social media apps for social good - in this case, sustainable adoptions in the city."

These new insights are reaffirming that the way we experience our cities is being affected by our digital connections. The urban network is evolving. Cities are traversing geographic boundaries, and people are networking with those that share common interests, passions, and goals, rather than with their geographic neighbors. Our country is a compilation of different cultures, all of which are found in different geographic locations. Is it not appropriate to say that our cities are sharing these same diverse characteristics?

Maintaining Earthly Ties

This abstract conception of urban life is important to grasp for both scientific and personal reasons, but as we speed along this path of digital connections, physical interaction will play an especially important role in preserving civic relations.

Information from the General Social Survey tells us that neighborly relations have declined significantly since the 1970s, a trend which hampers community planning efforts as well as crime prevention. In fact, a third of Americans have never interacted with their neighbors and neighborhood relations represent less than a quarter of all social ties. A 2010 PEW study also shows that 28% of us know none of our neighbors' names, with young people at the forefront of this somewhat depressing reality. That is, while about 50% of Baby Boomers know all or most of their neighbors, the same is true for only 27% percent of millennials.

The reason for this? Internet use alone has not been directly linked to neighborhood decline, but those who use social networking services are 30% less likely to know their neighbors. Researchers from the University of Toronto conducted an ethnographic study of Canada’s “wired” city, Netville. The authors’ findings complement the MIT study on social distance:

“people are much more likely to associate with those that are more like themselves in terms of lifestyle, stage in the lifecycle, beliefs, and participation in common activities, than what can be easily found through physical proximity.”

Rather than favor one side or the other, new social apps are trying to find that balance between digital and face-to-face interactions, using social media to enhance the physical neighborhood experience. Nextdoor is a Facebook-like app that lets neighbors add each other as friends and discuss community issues. RipeNearMe is also encouraging neighborly exchanges by allowing people to sell left over produce that grows on their lawns. Our cities are so diverse, and people are associating with others based on social proximity, but new technologies like these are fostering friendly engagement and constructive community dialogue throughout both digital and physical networks.

In terms of business, telecommuting has been on the rise- a prime example of business’s growing digital infrastructure. Remote employees maintain corporate ties through the Internet and e-mail, and creative types can access a global platform for artistic demonstration.

Such digital connections let workers create flexible schedules, decrease or eliminate commute times, and strive for a greater work-life balance. The benefits are far and wide, but the downside to what can result in worker isolation can be longer, distracted work hours and stifled creativity. Working at the office can boost creativity and enhance our social network, and even Yahoo and Reddit have gone so far as to shut down telecommuting in efforts to promote physical connectivity.

There are two sides to this personal interaction coin. Both face-to-face communication and telecommuting have their positives, and we should be looking to cater to them both, as each works better for different people. Community hubs such as Wi-Fi connected cafés and retail centers give workers a space to interact with others, stay close to home, and be productive. Rather than shun the workplace or ban telecommuting altogether, a better approach involves investing our energies in local amenities that integrate physical and digital experiences, amenities that are demanded by today’s modern worker.

Living in a Digital City

Meanwhile, cities around the globe are experiencing a cultural homogenization in part as a result of digital advancements. There will always be those nuances that distinguish cities from each other – food, arts, architecture, language, and even politics – but these urban intricacies are getting harder to seek out as corporate chains increasingly dominate local economies and online mega-stores lure shoppers off the streets and into digital shopping malls.

Design, music, culinary and fashion trends are also a function of digital proliferation. The artistic eye in a New York gallery is subject to some of the same inspirations as that in a Parisian loft thanks to YouTube, Tumblr, and Internet libraries. Such a cultural proliferation surely comes with its benefits (creative inspiration, a larger consumer base, and greater cultural access), but the disintegration of local ties has its troubling side effects. Today with online media we have easy access to a greater variety of cultures, but we must consider the cultural dilution that results from globalization. And while we engage with far-off societies whether through business, social, or artistic relations, we sometimes ignore the creative production, or potential, in our own backyards.

There has been some blowback from these trends, as hipsters take up organic, local, and sustainable causes. But even these habits only feed back into the global cloud. Cities thousands of miles away from each other are finding their streets filled and dominated by similar environmental, political, and artistic ideologies. In order to prevent the local from being dictated by the global, or the national for that matter, we should focus our efforts on cultivating the relationships, as well as creative and economic potential at the local level, using progressive technologies and social urban spaces.

Tying together the Digital and the Physical

Cities are now part of a growing, global system and are becoming subject to the same determining factors. But the social ties that are coming to define this urban network are not one-dimensional. They’re also constructed from friendship, love, and the human desire to be with others. They make up our own mental infrastructure- shaping our perceptions of others and everyday experiences. But as these networks are transitioning into the digital realm we need to remember that the physicality of these networks are just as important for our own well-being. 

Public spaces are crucial for fostering this traditional interaction. Parks, shopping districts, co-working spaces, open-universities can serve as social hubs- places where people of different social spheres can come together in a real-life setting. With good design and proper maintenance we can ensure that these spaces offer us a meeting area to explore and strengthen our digital ties at an even greater level.

So while social networks might at times defy geography, they are enhanced and more thoroughly explored when they materialize in 'real-life'. The cities we live in today are not even close to being entirely digital, but they aren't completely physical either. We spend hours online, communicating through airwaves and searching through the 'cloud', but we still act out our daily lives with every muscle in our body. But how can we properly integrate these two dimensions, so that we can lead socially connected, and meaningful lives?

Lying somewhere between the digital and the physical is a potential substrata, which is neither completely digital or physical, conceptual or concrete, yet it ties us all together. We can think of it as a shared human essence, a collective understanding of what it means to be alive, and what it means to be with others. So no matter which physical city we're in or culture we're experiencing, it's from this thread that all of social life stems. It's from this strand that we can explore and derive true meaning behind our actions.

We call this a digital city not just because we're all connected in this new technological age, but because we're intertwined amongst a new social fabric: a modern social system that is both digital and physical, global yet local. This substrata manifests throughout our digital social networks as well as the built urban infrastructure, but the governing body of this modern urban experience remains out of sight- embedded in the depths of our own emotions. 

As we navigate city streets, we'll need to keep our minds open. To be independent citizens, free to explore at our own will and pursue our passions, we'll need to uncover the governing laws - whether we interpret them scientifically, or spiritually - and be critically aware of the people and events that may appear as opportunities or threats.

Highly conceptual, yet surprisingly relevant, this city we all inhabit is an exciting place to learn, play, consume, and create. We can either choose to remain aloof in the digital, or keep stagnant in the physical. Or we can consciously settle on a new frontier that combines digital possibilities with a keen focus on physical space.

Charlie Stephens is a researcher at the Chapman University Center for Demographics and Policy, and an MBA candidate at the Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman University. He is also a regular contributor to the creative business site and the founder of, a social awareness site that helps people, businesses, and communities understand their cultural environments and connect in new grounds.

A Visit to Kazan

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 22:38

St. Petersburg and Moscow are typical destinations in Russia, but if you’re looking for other places to visit, where do you go? I can’t claim to answer that question as I have not fully surveyed the realm, but I did visit the city of Kazan for a day, so want to share a few observations and photos.

Kazan is a city of a bit over a million people about 450 miles east of Moscow (a flight of around 1:20). It’s the capital of the Tatar Republic of the Russian Federation. The Tatars were a nomads of Turkish ethnicity who established an independent kingdom in the region before being conquered by Ivan the Terrible. They are very proud of their unique ethnicity and history, and have obtained a great deal of autonomy (at least as much as exists in Russia). Originally the province was called Tatariya, but they renamed it Tataristan. To locals, the “-stan” suffix suggests strength and independence on par with other fully independent republics in the region. While they can certainly choose whatever name makes them feel most proud, names ending in “-stan” certainly don’t inspire confidence in America. I don’t think they fully understand the negative brand equity in that term, but don’t let the name scare you off. It’s a modern and as far as I can tell perfectly safe city.

In fact, it’s extraordinarily modern and new. There’s been a vast amount of infrastructure investment, much of it done in conjunction with international sporting events. They hosted the 2013 Summer Universiade (an Olympics for students, I gather), and the 2015 World Aquatics Championship was underway while I visited. They’ve got a brand new airport, brand new freeway network, numerous new buildings, etc.

Looking at Kazan in fact, you might get the impression it’s a boomtown. But it’s not a boom of the type you’d find in the US based on private sector growth. Though the region boasts oil and gas reserves and several manufacturing operations, most revenues go to the federal treasury in Moscow, so it would appear that Putin has showered the region was cash and that is the reason for the construction boom. The difference vs. St. Petersburg, which appeared to be starved for money, was evident. Everything in Russia is more or less state directed, and this is no exception.

Having said that, the state could have invested in purely megalomaniacal projects as has happened in some other regional -stans. Instead a lot has gone into core infrastructure. Yes, some of it is tourist oriented, but the neighborhoods infrastructure I saw was in pretty good shape, and my cab driver said that the city had done a ton of upgrades to neighborhoods streets and such too. They also built a short metro system, though apparently it is under-patronized.

Putin has been favoring the region with money in part to highlight and reward what Russians described to me as “good Muslims.” The Tatar region is about 55% Muslim and 45% Russian Orthodox. The split is basically along ethnic lines (though there’s a segment of Tatars that converted to Christianity). The Muslims in the area have long been known for their moderate brand of Sunni practice, and religious relations have been good, including a high degree of intermarriage (or so I’m told). Google tells me there were some extremist attacks in 2012, so I’m not sure what the status of that is, but I personally wouldn’t let it stop me from visiting there.

The locals are really pushing the religious co-existence angle, which makes sense in a world that is looking for examples of Christianity and Islam getting along. That’s a shrewd marketing strategy.

They also have gone beyond the modern and have pushed historic preservation. While no one is going to confuse Kazan for St. Petersburg, they have tried to restore what they have and have focused on obtaining UNESCO certifications. They are also pushing the Tatar cultural angle. There are plenty of elements of regional cuisine and I thought the food was excellent. Of course they would send me to their best places, but since I was only there one day, that didn’t matter. Kazan also has an important university, so has some attributes of a college town. Several famous Russians spent time living in Kazan, including Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky.

Is Kazan a must-see? No. But if you’re interested in checking out a Russian city other than the big two, it’s definitely worth a visit.

I’ll share a few photos. The one at the top is the main entrance to the Kazan Kremlin. (The term kremlin is an old word meaning “fortress”). Here’s the Russian Orthodox cathedral there:

There was originally a mosque in the kremlin that was destroyed when Russians conquered the area. Recently, a new mosque was built on the site to maintain the symbolic religious balance in the area. I think it’s a very nice building.

They have their own leaning tower.

The main street leading to the kremlin.

The kremlin has nice views. There are several rivers and lakes in the area, including the Volga, and plenty of nice vistas.

Take a nice stroll along the lake.

Renovated buildings in the old Tatar Quarter

There’s a bit too much hardscape on that redone street for my taste. But it’s interesting because they took out a streetcar and pedestrianized the street. Apparently the vibrations were causing problems with the old buildings in the area, so they wanted to eliminate all vehicles.

Not sure what this is, but it’s in my Kazan file.


I’ll wrap up with a bit of transport geekery. Yes, they have a bike share system.

Their new metro system is in the Russian style with lots of marble, etc. The system “M” logo is similar to Moscow but in green (the traditional color of Islam). Instead of Moscow style tap cards they are using plastic tokens.

A metro station.

Station name signage. I believe the top is Russian and the bottom is the Tatar language, which is also written using the Cyrillic script. Interestingly, for at least while into the Soviet period, Tatar was written using the Latin alphabet, but they were apparently forced to change.


Here’s a train in the station. These are the exact same trainsets as the new Moscow ones I mentioned by didn’t have a picture of.

As I said, I was only there a day but was glad I went. It was good to get to see a city further into the Russian interior. Lots of money is being spent there, so I’d expect many further developments in the future.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Contributing Editor at City Journal. He writes at The Urbanophile, where this piece first appeared.

California: "Land of Poverty"

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 05:16

For decades, California's housing costs have been racing ahead of incomes, as counties and local governments have imposed restrictive land-use regulations that drove up the price of land and dwellings. This has been documented by both Dartmouth economist William A Fischel and the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

Middle income households have been forced to accept lower standards of living while less fortunate have been driven into poverty by the high cost of housing.Housing costs have risen in some markets compared to others that the federal government now publishes alternative poverty estimates (the Supplemental Poverty Measure), because the official poverty measure used for decades does not capture the resulting differentials. The latest figures, for 2013, show California's housing cost adjusted poverty rate to be 23.4 percent, nearly half again as high as the national average of 15.9 percent.

Back in the years when the nation had a "California Dream," it would have been inconceivable for things to have gotten so bad --- particularly amidst what is widely hailed as a spectacular recovery. The 2013 data shows California to have the worst housing cost adjusted poverty rate among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. But it gets worse. California's poverty rate is now more than 50 percent higher than Mississippi, which long has set the standard for extreme poverty in the United States (Figure 1).

The size of the geographic samples used to estimate the housing adjusted poverty rates are not sufficient for the Supplemental Poverty Measure to produce local, county level or metropolitan area estimates. However, a new similar measure makes that possible.

The California Poverty Measure                           

The Public Policy Institute of California and the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality have collaborated to establish the "California Poverty Measure," which is similar to the Supplemental Poverty Measure adjusted for housing costs.

The press release announcing release of the first edition (for 2011) said that: "California, often thought of as the land of plenty" in the words Center on Poverty and Inequality director Professor David Grusky, is "in fact the land of poverty."

The latest California Poverty Measure estimate, for 2012, shows a statewide poverty rate of 21.8 percent, somewhat below the Supplemental Poverty Measure and well above the Official Poverty Measure that does not adjust for housing costs (16.5 percent).

The California Poverty Measure also provides data for most of California's 58 counties, with some smaller counties combined due to statistical limitations. This makes it possible to estimate the California Poverty Measure for metropolitan areas, using American Community Survey data.

Metropolitan Area Estimates

By far the worst metropolitan area poverty rate was in Los Angeles, at 25.3 percent. The Los Angeles County poverty rate was the highest in the state at 26.1 percent, well above that of Orange County (22.4 percent), which constitutes the balance of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. However, the Orange County rate was higher than that of any other metropolitan area or region in the state (Figure 2). San Diego's poverty rate was 21.7 percent. Perhaps surprisingly, Riverside-San Bernardino (the Inland Empire), which is generally perceived to have greater poverty, but with lower housing costs, had a rate of 20.9 percent. The two counties, Riverside and San Bernardino had lower poverty rates than all Southern California counties except for Ventura (Oxnard) and Imperial.

The San Francisco metropolitan area had a poverty rate of 19.4 percent, more than one-fifth below that of Los Angeles. San Jose has a somewhat lower poverty rated 18.3 percent (Note 1). The metropolitan areas making constituting the exurbs of the San Francisco Bay Area had a poverty rate of 18.7 percent. This includes Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Stockton and Vallejo. Sacramento had the lowest poverty rate of any major metropolitan area, at 18.2 percent.

The San Joaquin Valley, stretching from Bakersfield through Fresno to Modesto (Stockton is excluded because it is now a San Francisco Bay Area exurb) had a poverty rate of 21.3 percent, slightly below the state wide average of 21.8 percent. The balance of the state, not included in the metropolitan areas and regions described above had a poverty rate of 21.2 percent.

County Poverty Rates

As was noted above, Los Angeles County had the highest 2012 poverty rate in the state (Note 2), according to the California Poverty Measure (26.1 percent). Tulare County, in the San Joaquin Valley had the second-highest rate at 25.2 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, San Francisco County with its reputation for high income had the third worst poverty rate in the state at 23.4 percent. This is driven, at least in part, by San Francisco's extraordinarily high median house price to household income ratio (median multiple). In this grisly statistic, it trails only Hong Kong, Vancouver and Sydney in the latest Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey. Wealthy Santa Barbara County has the fourth worst poverty rate in the state, at 23.8 percent. The fifth highest poverty rate is in Stanislaus County, in the San Joaquin Valley (county seat Modesto), which is already receiving housing refugees from the San Francisco Bay Area, unable to pay the high prices (Figure 3).

The two lowest poverty rates were in suburban Sacramento counties (Note 2). Placer County's rate was 13.2 percent and El Dorado County's rate was 13.3 percent. Another surprise is Imperial County, which borders Mexico and has generally lower income. Nonetheless, Imperial County has the third lowest poverty rate at 13.4 percent. Shasta County (county seat Redding), located at the north end of the Sacramento Valley is ranked fourth at 14.8 percent. Two counties are tied for the fifth lowest poverty rate (16.0 percent), Marin County in suburban San Francisco and Napa County, in the exurban San Francisco Bay Area (Figure 4).

Weak Labor Market and Notoriously Expensive Housing

The original Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality press release cited California's dismal poverty rate as resulting from "a weak labor market and California's notoriously expensive housing." These are problems that can be moderated starting at the top, with the Governor and legislature. The notoriously expensive housing could be addressed by loosening regulations that allow more supply to be built at lower cost. True, the new supply would not be built in Santa Monica or Palo Alto. But additional, lower cost housing on the periphery, whether in Riverside County, the High Desert exurbs of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, the San Francisco Bay Area exurbs or the San Joaquin Valley could begin to remedy the situation.

The improvement in housing affordability could help to strengthen the weak job market, by attracting both new business investment and households moving from other states.

Regrettably, Sacramento does not seem to be paying attention. Liberalizing land use regulations is not only absent from the public agenda, but restrictions are being strengthened (especially under the requirements of Senate Bill 375). In this environment, metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego could become even more grotesquely unaffordable, and the already high price to income ratios in the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley could worsen. All of this could lead to slower economic growth and to even greater poverty, as more lower-middle-income households fall into poverty.

Note 1: San Benito County is excluded from the San Jose metropolitan area data. The California Poverty Measure does not report a separate poverty rate for San Benito County.

Note 2: Among the counties for which specific poverty rates are provided.

Wendell Cox is Chair, Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California) and 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 served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photograph: Great Seal of the State of California by Zscout370 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Goodbye, Single Family Home? But wait…..

Wed, 08/19/2015 - 22:38

New urbanist utopians love to decry Americans’ love of the single family home, and to extol the virtues of a higher-rising denser city as more efficient and environmentally responsible. Without expounding on the immensely destructiveness of such a utopian viewpoint to physical and psychological well-being of a large majority of people, nor of the scientific absurdity of the claim of efficiency and  environmental goodness, I will for now present only some maps and data of what the real world is like.

People vary in needs and preferences over the life course. It is indeed the case that young adults, usually unmarried (and yes increasingly for a longer time), and perhaps a fair share of elderly widows or widower, or even empty-nesters, together as many as one-third of persons, may prefer and enjoy an urban lifestyle, and apartment living. These are the people, for example that are flocking into a growing Seattle, bidding up the price of housing, to take up jobs at Amazon and similar businesses, and even supporting planning calls for replacing a sizeable share of single family homes, with higher density housing.

But this phenomenon ignores the further housing reality that the other two-thirds of people are in families, with children or other relatives, or even unrelated people who rent rooms, who much prefer homes on lots, with some private space. Even those young singles jumping into downtown Seattle may marry, have children, and as they have done generation after generation, and look, yes, for homes with yards and space for a car, so they can go and explore the environs beyond the city.

What’s out there?

Table 1 summarizes the national data on population living in different kinds of housing. For whatever reasons you will not find this information in any census publication or city or state reports! They are quite difficult to find and require gleaning from PUMS (Public Use Micro Sample) data.

Table 1 Shares of population by Type of Housing, 2010 Type # Units % of Units  Population % of population     Ave HH Size Single family 76.5 67.4 216.6 72.2 2.83 Small apartments 15 13.3 37.7 12.6 2.51 Large apartments 15.9 14 28.3 9.4 1.78 Mobile Homes 7.4 6.5 17.2 5.7 2.2 ALL  114 100 299.5 100 2.6 Units and population in millions


The key information is that single family homes. Including duplexes for which each unit a separate address account for 67.4 % of occupied housing units in 2010 (61.6 % in totally separate structures), and housed a convincing 217 million, 72.2 % of the population (not including those in group quarters), at an average household size of 2.83. Note well: that’s almost 3 out of 4!

Mobile homes are mostly banned from big cities, but in the real world of providing shelter for the less affluent in many areas, they are 6.5% of units, housing over 17 million, another 5.7% of the population, at an average household size of 2.2.

About 31% of units, 13.3% in structures with 2 to 9 units, and 14% in structures with 10 or more units, are in apartments, and house 22% of the population (12.6 in the smaller structures, 9.4 in the larger) at an average household size of 2.5 and 1.8 respectively, or 2.2 for all apartments. 

The relative importance of single family homes and of apartments varies significantly across states (and cities or counties if we had the data), but this is best seen with the help of the included maps.

It is interesting to start with mobile homes, to find out where they are most common. In 11 states over 10% of people live in mobile homes. The highest is 15.5% in SC, followed by NM at 13.9, WY, 13.2, WV, 12.9, MS, 12.6, then AL and NC, 12.1, states with high shares of less affluent people.  Most higher shares are across the warmer south, but are also high in the northern Rockies. Indeed the lowest shares are across the middle of the country from CA to New England. The lowest share is DC at 0.0, then HI, .2, but are also quite low in MA, .7, CT, .9, RI, and NJ at 1.0, mostly small and very metropolitan states. Typical states close to the average of 5.7% are AK and NH at 5.7, MO, 5.5., and NV, 5.2.    

Apartment living is quite a bit higher in selected states. The District of Columbia is by far the highest at 56%, as it is the central city of a giant metropolitan region. Next highest is New York at 46%, actually a consequence of New York City. These are followed by MA, 35, RI, 34, HI, 34 and NJ, 30.  HI may be expected to have higher apartment shares, due to the high value of desirable land, MA, RI and NJ, because of very high metropolitan shares, including New York City suburbs. Moderate apartment shares occur in CA, 24, IL, 27, FL, 24, and NV, 25.  Average shares of 22% occur in TX, VT, NH, and MD. At the other extreme, apartment living is amazingly low (under 14%) in WV, 10.5, ID 11.9, NM, 12.9, MT, 13.5, OK, 13.8, and MN, 14—mostly less metropolitan.

Single family homes dominate most of the country. The highest shares, over 80, are for IA, KS, MN and NE, a contiguous sub region of the north central US, and somewhat surprising, PA. Actually not surprising: PA, 18, MD, 21, DE, 15, and VA, 10, have unusually high shares of “attached” 1 unit row houses with separate numbers and yards – not the image of single family home in most of the country. Shares are almost 80 in Mormon UT and ID, and in MI. In general, with the exceptions of NY and most of New England, shares are higher across the northern and central US than across the south, perhaps because of the greater shares of mobile homes to the south. The lowest shares are in the states with the highest shares of apartments, DC, NY, but still 52%, MA, 64, RI, 65, HI, 66, and  FL, 67, but already over 2/3! Right at the US average of 72% are AK, AZ, CA, NC, NH, TX and WY, a not geographically obvious or coherent set!

The story for metropolitan areas

Data are available for large “millionaire” metropolitan areas. These offer few surprises, reinforcing the story from the data for states. Table 2 distinguishes the information for 52 large metro areas, and the rest of the US. The large metro areas contain a little over half of the US population (51%).

Table 2 Population by housing types, large metropolitan areas and the rest of the US       Metro Rest of US Type      Units Population  % of Pop Ave HH Size Units Population % of Pop Ave HH Size Sing Family          40.2 112 73 2.78 36.3 104 71 2.89 Apartments 17.7 37 24 2.1 11.8 29 20 2.4 Mobile 1.7 4 2.6 2.2 5.8 13 9 2.2 All  59.6 153 100 2.57 53.9 146 100 2.71

The share of population in single family homes differs only slightly between the large metro areas and the rest of the country, but the share of people in apartments is much higher in  the big metro areas (24 to 20), while the share of people in mobile homes  is much higher outside of the large metro areas (9 versus 2.6). The slightly higher single family share for the metro areas is a little misleading, however, because the metro set has a much higher share of an intermediate category of housing, “1 unit attached”, meaning row houses, separate addresses and yards, but of higher density than the detached single family home.

Mobile home shares are especially lower in the biggest metro areas, most notably megalopolis, as Boston, .2 and Washington DC, .3. The highest metro share are in the south, e.g., Birmingham, 8, Tampa, 7, Riverside, 6, Jacksonville, and San Antonio, 6.

The share of the population in single family homes  is not surprising for the most part, that is, lowest (under 70%) in most of the older and largest metro areas, NY, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami, and highest in intermediate sized across most of the country. The highest shares ae for Kansas City, 84, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City and Richmond, 83, and Atlanta, Columbus, Detroit and St. Louis, 82. The cases of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond are special, as the high single family shares are actually a result of high shares of row housing, e.g., 32% in Philadelphia, 24 in Baltimore, 20 in Washington, 10 in Richmond.

The population shares in apartments also reflect the size and importance of the metro area, with the addition of Miami, highest in New York Metropolitan Area, 41, (52% in the NYC part), San Francisco-Oakland, 33, Chicago, 32, Providence,33, Boston, 41, LA-Anaheim, 31.5 (33 in the LA part), and Miami, 30. The lowest shares tend to be in the interior eastern US, plus Richmond in the east and Riverside in the west: Birmingham and Oklahoma City, 12, Riverside and Pittsburgh, 13, and Jacksonville, Kansas City, Richmond and St. Louis, 14. Metro areas in a middle range (23 to 25%) include Seattle, Hartford, New Orleans, Baltimore, Buffalo, Las Vegas, and San Jose, middle sized and scattered across the country.

Average household size

Average household size in part reflects the kind of housing, but equally the age and ethnic composition of the population, not part of this data set. The average US number is 2.63, but 2.57 in the metro areas, and 2.71 for the rest of the US. It is highest for single family homes, 2.83 for the US, 2.78 in the metro set, 2.89 for the rest of the country, 2.2 for apartment dwellers and 2.2 for mobile home folks. As expected average values for smaller apartment structures (2 to 9) is higher in the smaller buildings than in larger ones, 2.5 compared to 1.8.

Average values for states vary from 2.22 in ND (due to a combination of an influx of energy workers, high share of college students, and remaining seniors), 2.26 in the District of Columbia (large share of single persons), 2.35 in ME, 2.36 in IA, and 2.237 in WV (older populations) to the very highest in UT (well..) at 3.17, then CA at 2.95, AK 2.86, AZ and TX, 2.84, reflecting ethnic composition. Right in the middle are NY and DE, 2.63. Metro area average household size varies from a high of 3.1 for Riverside, then 3 for Anaheim, 2.91 for San Jose, 2.83 for Los Angeles and Dallas, all with high Hispanic populations  and levels of young immigrants.  At the low size end are NY at 1.98, the only area under 2, reflecting the high share of apartments and of singles, particularly in New York City, then Jacksonville, 2.23, Tampa, 2.28, Richmond, 2.35, and Orlando, 2.36, -- in Florida a result of in-migration of older households without children.   The middle areas at 2.57 are Las Vegas, Miami, and Minneapolis.


There is no likelihood of the demise of the single family home, or even of significant attrition, simply because the large majority of people demand them. But there will be some reduction in a few areas where demand for housing is high but the land supply constrained, geographically or by growth management, as in Seattle, coastal California, New York, and Boston, with high shares of non-families. On the other hand, continuing concentration of population in giant metropolitan areas is not inevitable, as a costs drive people elsewhere. In the end, barring a national clampdown on suburbs, the balance of housing types may not change greatly.  

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

Preparing for the Impact of Driverless Cars

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 22:38

The buzz has been building about driverless cars for a while now, and this week I want to talk about a couple of new articles on the topic followed by my own thoughts.  The first is a McKinsey article based on MIT research:

Full speed ahead: How the driverless car could transform cities

"By combining ride sharing with car sharing—particularly in a city such as New York—MIT research has shown that it would be possible to take every passenger to his or her destination at the time they need to be there, with 80 percent fewer cars

Clearing the roads of four out of five cars has momentous consequences for cities, by measures such as environment, traffic, efficiency, and even parking. In most cities, for example, designated parking accounts for a huge amount of land, which ends up being useless for most of the day. With fewer cars, much of this space could be freed for other uses. Such reductions in car numbers would also dramatically lower the cost (and related energy consumption) of building and maintaining the roads. One engineering study found that automation could quadruple capacity on any given highway. And, of course, fewer cars also means less noise and a smaller environmental impact. 

Driving patterns of individual cars can be algorithmically optimized as well. Because autonomous vehicles don’t get lost, they create less congestion and shorten travel times. More important, self-driving cars would also make for much safer roads; more than 30,000 people a year die in automobile-related deaths in the United States every year and 1.2 million worldwide."

I do have one quibble with the assertions above: yes, there will be fewer cars, but I suspect there will be a similar number of car *trips* (for example, one taxi providing 20 trips/day instead of 10 owned cars each providing two trips/day), and that means just as much wear and tear on the roads,unless a lot more car sharing happens (i.e. one vehicle carrying multiple people on separate trips at the same time).  More on that later...

The second article is from The Economist and chock full of interesting facts:

  • Cars sit idle 96% of the time.
  • Google thinks self-driving taxis could have utilizations of 75%+.
  • Stanford estimates we'll need 70% fewer cars to provide the same trips.
  • "The idea that autonomous vehicles will be owned and used much as cars are today is a “tenuous assumption”, says Luis Martinez of the International Transport Forum, a division of the OECD, a think-tank. Fleets of self-driving vehicles could, he says, replace all car, taxi and bus trips in a city, providing as much mobility with far fewer vehicles. An OECD study modelling the use of self-driving cars in Lisbon found that shared “taxibots” could reduce the number of cars needed by 80-90%. Similarly, research by Dan Fagnant of the University of Utah, drawing on traffic data for Austin, Texas, found that an autonomous taxi with dynamic ride-sharing could replace ten private vehicles. This is consistent with the finding that one extra car in a car-sharing service typically takes 9-13 cars off the road. Self-driving vehicles could, in short, reduce urban vehicle numbers by as much as 90%."
  • 94% of accidents are from human error, and these could be eliminated.
  • "A study by the Eno Centre for Transportation, a non-profit group, estimates that if 90% of cars on American roads were autonomous, the number of accidents would fall from 5.5m a year to 1.3m, and road deaths from 32,400 to 11,300."
  • "As well as being safer, self-driving vehicles would make traffic flow more smoothly, because they would not brake erratically, could be routed to avoid congestion and could travel close together to increase road capacity. A study by the University of Texas estimates that 90% penetration of self-driving cars in America would be equivalent to a doubling of road capacity and would cut delays by 60% on motorways and 15% on suburban roads. And riders in self-driving vehicles would be able to do other things. Morgan Stanley calculates that the resulting productivity gains would be worth $1.3 trillion a year in America and $5.6 trillion worldwide. Children, the elderly and the disabled could gain more independence." 
  • "With cars in constant use, much less parking space would be needed. Parking accounts for as much as 24% of the area of American cities, and some urban areas have as many as 3.5 parking spaces per car; even so, people looking for parking account for 30% of miles driven in urban business districts. By liberating space wasted on parking, autonomous vehicles could allow more people to live in city centres; but they would also make it easier for workers to live farther out. If you can sleep on the journey a longer commute becomes feasible, notes Mr Fagnant, who foresees a “simultaneous densification of cities, and expansion of the exurbs”.

Again, I think it's worth noting that even though the number of vehicles drops, the amount of vehicle-miles probably stays pretty steady or maybe even increases as people can be productive on longer commutes.  In essence, there will be fewer vehicles, but they will get used up/worn out much more quickly from their high utilization (similar to buses today), so the car industry may be safe from complete collapse, although it will certainly be massively disruptive.

A key question is how much car sharing will occur, which reduces prices and increases efficiency by picking up and dropping off multiple people along routes.  It can be a bit awkward sharing a vehicle with strangers.  I would not be surprised to see someone like Uber custom design a vehicle with individual personal compartments.  Imagine 5-6 private individual seating compartments in a 6-door SUV-sized vehicle.  When it pulls up, an indicator tells you which door to get into for your compartment, and then alerts you again when it's time for you to get out, based on the destination you put into your smart phone.  Private ride, shared prices and efficiency - best of both worlds.  Mass adoption of shared rides would solve our traffic congestion problems almost overnight.

A couple of additional thoughts: If most accidents get eliminated, do we still need shoulders? Maybe those could be converted to extra lanes?  The same for street parking if vehicles are continuously utilized - long-term those spaces might be convertible to additional lanes, adding surface street capacity.  Or in some cases, it might make sense to expand the sidewalk/public realm into that space instead.

So what should cities be doing now to prepare for this future?

  1. Loosen up or even eliminate minimum parking requirementsnow so available parking starts shrinking naturally over the next few years.  This will also enable greater infill and density in cities as well as supply much-needed new housing stock.
  2. Stop investing in new rail transit - they're not going to be able to achieve their payback before this revolution (if they ever could in any case).  Managed-lane networks are a better investment, as they can be used for buses, HOVs, and toll-payers now, and easily switched over to automated vehicles later.

It's going to be a brave, brave new world...

Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, and co-authored the original Opportunity Urbanism studies. Tory writes the popular Houston Strategies blog and its twin blog at the Houston Chronicle, Opportunity Urbanist, where he discusses strategies for making Houston a better city. He is the founder of Coached Schooling, a startup to create a high-tech network of affordable private schools ($10/day) combining the best elements of eLearning, home and traditional schooling to reinvent the one-room schoolhouse for the 21st century. Tory is a McKinsey consulting alum, TEDx speaker, and holds both an MBA and BSEE from Rice University.

By Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg: Steve Jurvetsonderivative work: Mariordo [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Urban Rebirth in a Cincinnati Rowhouse

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 22:38

I filmed this story in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. As always, my far more talented friend Kirsten Dirksen did the editing. There are also glimpses of other nearby neighborhoods such as East Walnut Hills and some views for the city taken from across the Ohio River in Kentucky. Michael Uhlenhake is an architect and long time resident of the city. The story of his own practice and home renovation follows the trajectory of the city as a whole.

Rust Belt cities like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo are all much better than many people imagine. I tell folks that if you want Brooklyn, or Portland, or Wicker Park in Chicago, or the Mission in San Francisco, but at 1/10th the price… go to these fabulous, but seriously undervalued smaller cities in the Midwest. Not only will you save a huge amount of money, but waves of cool people have already started to colonize these neighborhoods ahead of you. You won’t be a lone pioneer.

I love the magnificent architecture, the cool people, and the gorgeous natural beauty that surrounds the city. And I’m incredibly excited that many of the best historic neighborhoods are coming back to life after a fifty year slumber brought on by middle class exodus to the suburbs, deindustrialization, and general neglect. There’s a serious pent up market demand for vibrant, mixed use, walkable neighborhoods all across the country with shockingly little supply. We just haven’t built places like this since World War II and there’s a hunger for it in the real estate market. After decades of decline and abandonment Cincinnati is being repopulated by a new generation of people who value urban living.

Check out this similar video from Walnut Hills in Cincinnati.

And here’s one from Yellow Springs, Ohio if a small college town in the country is more your style.

John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued proper

Obama, the Left Downsizing the American Dream

Sun, 08/16/2015 - 22:38

Barack Obama has always wanted to be a transformational president, and in this, at least, he has been true to his word. The question is what kind of America is being created, and what future does it offer the next generation.

President Obama’s great accomplishment, arguably, has been to spur the evolution of a society that formerly rested on individual and familial aspiration, and turn it into a more regulated and centralized regime focused on broader social and environmental concerns. This tendency has been made much stronger as the number of Americans, according to Gallup, who feel there is “plenty of opportunity ahead” has dropped precipitously – from 80 percent in 1997 to barely 52 percent today.

The shift away from the entrepreneurial model can also be seen in the constriction of loans to the small-business sector. Rates of business start-ups have fallen well below historical levels, and, for young people in particular, have hit the lowest levels in a quarter century. At the same time, the welfare state has expanded dramatically, to the point that nearly half of all Americans now get payments from the federal government.

In sharp contrast to the Bill Clinton White House, which accepted limits on government largesse, the newly emboldened progressives, citing inequality, are calling for more wealth transfers to the poorer parts of society, often eschewing the notion that the recipients work to actually improve their lives. The ever-expanding regulatory state has powerful backing in the media, on campuses and among some corporations. There is even a role model: to become like Europe. As the New York Times’ Roger Cohen suggests, we reject our traditional individualist “excess” and embrace, instead, Continental levels of material modesty, social control and, of course, ever-higher taxes.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Barack Obama Photo by Bigstock.

Transport in Moscow

Fri, 08/14/2015 - 22:38

I was in Russia last week and plan to share a few relevant notes from the trip. Since you can easily find better photos of places like the Kremlin than I’ll ever take online, when it comes to Moscow I’m going to focus on more planning and transport items. There’s a lot of other commentary I might make, and if you want to read it, be sure to sign up for my exclusive content by email if you haven’t already, because I may write up further observations on the political scene there.

Writing anything positive about public space and transport in Moscow runs the risk of coming across as seeming to say that “at least Putin makes the trains run on time.” But as he is fully occupied with such critical tasks of state as destroying illicit supplies of Nutella and brie, I doubt he’s bothering himself with such prosaic concerns as transport. Should you be interested, the NYT just ran a good piece on the combination of urban improvement and authoritarianism in Russia’s capital city.

Moscow reminded me a bit of an inverted Buenos Aires. Whereas in BA you get a clear sense that this was once the Paris of South America now well faded, Moscow comes across as a dilapidated city on the rise. You definitely see plenty of run down communist era architecture – the quantity of Corbusian nightmares evident from an aerial view of the city is astonishing – but there are new buildings on the rise and significant evidence of attempts to improve the lived experience of the city.

Moscow is clearly a driving and transit city, not a walking city. Though there is some street life, it’s far lower than comparable high density megacities. But before knocking them too much, keep in mind that Moscow gets bitterly cold in the winter. Even in August the temperature in the afternoon was only the low 70s. Ideal to be sure, but that’s only for a narrow window of the year. Moscow is at 56 degrees north latitude compared to 41 in New York. Moscow is actually further north than every major Canadian city. The sky was already getting light before 4am.

Nevertheless, the outdoor experience there is being enhanced through a number of projects.

Moscow River

The Moscow River flows through the city, passing alongside the Kremlin as you can see in his photograph.

You see that on both sides it is lined with roads and very narrow sidewalks. It’s not even clear how you would easily get to the riverside on the Kremlin side. A stroll along the bank across from the Kremlin, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and other landmarks should be amazing, but it is not.

There’s apparently a tender underway that would completely redo this for the better. In the meantime, one section of the river called the Krymskaya Embankment has been redone to a slick, albeit somewhat generic design. This has radically transformed the riverfront for the better, and if the rest of the Moscow River upgrade is similar, this will be a huge transformation for the city.

People enjoying the waterfront.

Here’s a closeup of the bike lane.

The numbers and the text in the background give distances to attractions such as Gorky Park.

Neighborhood Streets

In a way similar to the riverbank, there’s been an effort to upgrade neighborhood streets to improve the pedestrian experience. Traditionally, these have had fairly narrow, basic sidewalks. Here’s a typical example:

And here’s a street that’s been put on a road diet.

This program is ongoing, as this sign touting forthcoming improvements shows.

And a picture of the construction in progress.

There’s also a bike share system.

Arterial Streets

While there are plenty of smaller, human scaled side streets in Moscow, the arterial roads are mega-wide thoroughfares (“prospekts” in the local parlance) that function as quasi-freeways. Here’s an example that isn’t a perfect photo, but let’s you get the gist of it.

You’ll see at least six lanes in a single direction. This building is actually decent, but illustrates what you also see along these high capacity arterials, namely a preponderance of horizontally oriented buildings. Even with broken up facades, these are buildings that are most legible at driving speeds, not walking.

You might wonder how people cross these things, and the answer is that they mostly don’t. For these streets, there’s a heavy reliance on pedestrian underpasses for pedestrian safety. (This also reduces the number of stoplights, which allows for long distances of high speed travel even in the center city). Metro entrances also do double-duty as protected passageways through intersections. Here’s an entrance to one such pedestrian underpass along a one way street that appears to be ten lanes wide.

This might seem inhumane, and it is. But it also functions well. Though I’m told traffic is much lighter in the summer when many vacate the city, there is nothing like the gridlock of a New York, and these roads tended to move pretty good most of the time I was there.

Where there were crosswalks, they featured countdown timers on both the walk and don’t walk cycle.

That’s not a misprint. Some of these lights have extremely long cycles.

Some arterials have a nicer design. One is the so-called “boulevard ring,” which is one of the many ring roads in Moscow. I think (though can’t promise), this shot is from it. Even if not, it’s representative of its design.

Moscow Metro

Moscow is famous for its metro system, which is one of the world’s busiest and has lavish station designs. I saw some of these and they are indeed pretty great, though this system should never be applauded without remembering that it was built with gulag labor. Again, I won’t show many pictures of the stations, since my iPhone isn’t the best at low light underground shots. Google is your friend on this.

The metro fare is about a buck. Tap cards are sold at automated kiosks that have English available. Lines are numbered and color coded. Here’s an example of the system signage.

It’s one train right after the next more or less. Even at 11:30 pm there were three minute headways. The cars are older but function well, and there is wifi, which I’m told works even between stations.

There are some newer cars that appear to be married pairs with open gangway between the two linked carriages, but not between pairs.

While you can buy a ticket in English, the bulk of the signage is in Russian only. This isn’t a problem for the most part, but I found the remembering station names in the Cyrillic alphabet was a challenge compared with Latin alphabet stations in other foreign countries. I would suggest that the station name be transliterated into Latin script to make the system more friendly to international users. (The rest of the signage is fine as is). Here’s an example:

If I translate that right, this station is Kropotkinskaya (Kropotkin was a Russian intellectual of the 19th and early 20th centuries). The name is certainly easier to recognize in Latin script for westerners (and probably most others who use English as their international lingua franca). But even in Russian only, you should be able to figure it out how to navigate the system if you pay close attention.

Here’s an example of some transliterated signage. This probably goes above and beyond the call of duty as the numeric indicators suffice.

Air Travel

Moscow has two main airports, I believe, both at a significant distance from the city center. I flew using Sheremetyevo, which is serviceable if not overly pleasant. You have to pass through security immediately upon entering the terminal, then again when going to the gate area. Even domestic transfers require re-screening and passport checks. (I was told by a local, “Russians love checking passports.”)

The most depressing part of the trip was flying three domestic segments on Aeroflot. When I was younger they had an extremely bad reputation, and flew of a fleet of dodgy Soviet made jets. Today, the planes I flew on were newish A-320s and the service levels exceeded US domestic standards (though that’s a low hurdle to jump). They even still serve food on short haul flights. Quite a role reversal there. Red is still their flight attendant colors, and their hammer and sickle logo is still in use.

High Speed Rail

There are a number of rail routes throughout the country, and while I didn’t make a comprehensive survey, I did ride the high speed “Sapsan” service from St. Petersburg to Moscow. IIRC, the fare was around $55. Though using Siemens trainsets derived from the rolling stock used on Germany’s ICE trains, the max speed was 220 km/h (135 mph), comparable to the Acela. However, unlike the Acela, the Sapsan cruises at 200 km/h or higher most of the trip. The journey takes a bit less than four hours and is a pleasant way to travel.

Here’s a picture of one of the trains I took in St. Petersburg’s Moscow Station.

An interior shot.


I hope this gives a bit of a feel for transport in Moscow. The city is obviously spending to try to upgrade its urban environment. Whether physical improvements in Moscow or elsewhere will survive Putin’s authoritarian turn is to be seen, but as the examples of the Moscow subway and many of the historic ruins we visit around the world show, it’s certainly possible for the cruelest of dictatorships to produce magnificent physical artifacts in select places. The success of these regimes should not be judged by that measure.

In closing, I’ll leave translating the following as an exercise for the reader.

If you are interested, there’s an album of iPhone photos I took available on my Flickr page.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Contributing Editor at City Journal. He writes at The Urbanophile, where this piece first appeared.

Moving to the London Exurbs and Beyond

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 22:13

A review of the most recent internal migration (domestic migration) in England and Wales reveals some surprises. The latest data covers the one year ended June 30, 2014. It was published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and provides estimates at least down to the local authority area (municipality). In this regard, is positioned along with a number of European nations and the Australian Bureau of statistics well ahead of the US Census Bureau, which provides estimates only to the county level.

The Regions

On a regional level, there was little movement outside the southern half of England. England is divided into nine regions. Three of the northern and middle regions lost modest numbers of internal migrants, ranging from a minus 0.05% (minus 3,000 people) in the West Midlands, which contains England's second largest city, Birmingham. There was loss of 0.06% (minus 7,100 people) in the North West, where Manchester and Liverpool are located. There was a 0.09% loss (minus 4,700 people) in Yorkshire and the Humber, where Leeds and Sheffield are located (Figure 1).

The North East, which contains the city of Newcastle, has long been an area of economic hardship and is of danger of becoming "Britains Detroit" according to  The Guardian. Yet the North East experienced a small gain of 0.01% in internal migrants (500 people). The largest gain outside southern England was in the East Midlands, which includes Leicester and Nottingham, attracted a net 0.13 percent in new migrants (6,200 people). Wales (largest city Cardiff) also had a 0.1% gain in internal migrants (200 peopled).

London (the Greater London Authority) lost by far the largest percentage of its population to internal migration, at minus 0.82 percent, or 68,600 people. This may be particularly surprising because London has recently reached its all-time population peak, having exceeded its pre-World War II 1939 estimated level. Yet virtually all of London's huge population gain has been from natural growth (births minus deaths) and international migration. In recent years, this growth stems from strong gains in migration from a European Union countries, between which there is virtually unrestricted immigration.

But Londoners, whether born in Great Britain or those who arrived before 2013, have been moving in large numbers to the exurbs beyond the greenbelt for some time and even farther away. The two large exurban regions have attracted many migrants. The East, which includes such well-known localities as Cambridge, Luton, Milton Keynes and St. Albans added the 0.33 percent to its population through internal migration. The South East, which includes localities like Oxford, Windsor, Dover and the entrance to the Euro tunnel to France added a somewhat smaller 0.23 percent.

But some Londoners appear to be moving even farther away. The largest growth was in the South West region, which lies at least 70 miles (125 kilometers) from Trafalgar Square in London. The South West is home to such places as Bristol, Bath, Salisbury and Cornwall. The South West added 0.48 percent to its population through.

London and Environs

During 2013-2014, the dominant trend was movement away from London to the exurbs and regions just beyond the exurbs, with a less dominant trend away from the balance of England and Wales. Virtually all the internal migration growth was in the London Exurbs (East and South East) and the adjacent areas, the South West, East Midlands and West Midlands (Figure 2). Nearly all the loss was in London. Inner London, suffered the largest domestic migration loss, at 1.05 percent of its population (minus 35,000). Inner London, at 3.3 million remains well below its population peak of 4.5 million, reached nearly 115 years ago (1901). Outer London, consisting of the large tracts of semidetached and detached housing built in the inter-war years lost a smaller 0.66 percent of its population to internal migration (minus 33,700). Outer London now has a population of approximately 5.1 million, one-half larger than Inner London.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) explains that London attracts internal migrants up to age 29. But, the internal outmigration of people 30 and above more than cancels this out. ONS explains:

"A key factor for people in their 30s and 40s who move out of London could be the cost of housing. Young couples wishing to buy their first house, or a larger one for a growing family, may find prices in London prohibitively expensive and therefore choose to live outside of London."

ONS adds:

"Another important reason may be that people with children are more likely to move out of London because of environmental or social factors. For example, they may be seeking somewhere greener and quieter, and may also perceive that a less urban neighbourhood offers a better social and educational environment for children. Moves of adults with children also explains why there is a net outflow of children from London."

ONS further indicates that there is net migration from London of older citizens, including those over 90 (the highest age category reported upon). These are trends similar to those we have identified in the United States some of which were opposite the conventional wisdom (See: Driving Farther to Qualify in Portland, Urban Core Millennials? A Matter of Perspective, Exodus of the School Children, and Seniors Dispersing Away from the Urban Cores)

Greatest Gains and Losses

Even so, London had one local authority area with the greatest internal migration gain: the historic City of London. However, this area, which is the core of the central business district, has few residents. Even after the internal migration gain (1.80 percent), the city still has fewer than 8,000 residents. The other largest gainers in numbers were found in the London exurbs or the South West, with the exception of Fylde, which is located in Lancashire (the North West), adjacent to the resort of Blackpool.

London had nine of the 10 local authority areas with the greatest internal migration losses (out of 348). The largest loss was in the inner London borough of Newham (minus 2.68%). The one non-London local authority area in the bottom 10 was Pendle, in Lancashire (the North West).

Metropolitan Areas

Only one of the larger metropolitan areas experienced a net internal migration gain. The Bristol – Bath area (ceremonial Avon County), located in the South West gained 0.25 percent (Figure 3).

Two metropolitan areas that have long experienced serious economic declines suffered only modest losses. Newcastle (Tyne and Wear Metropolitan County) lost only 0.2 percent of its population to internal migration. Liverpool, with a central municipality that dropped from a population of 856,000 in 1931 to 439,000 in 2001 (after which modest growth returned), had an internal migration loss of 0.03 percent. Sheffield (South Yorkshire Metropolitan County) lost 0.08% of its population to net internal migration.

In view of the relative fortunes of London and Liverpool over the last century, it is especially surprising that the London region, including the exurbs, lost internal migration at a rate four times that of Liverpool (0.13%).

Manchester (Greater Manchester Metropolitan County) experienced a net internal migration loss of 0.17 percent, and Leeds-Bradford (West Yorkshire Metropolitan County). Birmingham (West Midlands Metropolitan County) have the greatest loss at -0.22 percent.

More Dispersion

By far the largest net internal migration numbers are in the south of England, reflecting strong trends of decentralization away from London, to the East and the South East. But, by far the largest recipient of internal migration is the South West, beyond even the exurbs. This is another confirmation of the dispersing pattern of development, as has been observed in virtually all of the world's megacities.


Note: The United Kingdom does not formally designate metropolitan areas. This article uses metropolitan and former (ceremonial) counties to approximate metropolitan areas.

Photograph: Local authority of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire (South East of England), by author

Wendell Cox is Chair, Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California) and 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 served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris. 

Book Review: Designed For The Future by Jared Green

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 22:38

By the fifth word of Designed for the Future, Jared Green had almost lost me. By the end, he hadn’t quite gained me. This slim, visually interesting handbook presents “80 practical ideas for a sustainable world” from the noted author of The Dirt, a weekly blog sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects. Green’s earnest mission is to find hope for the future, and with this book, he edits a collection of essays that points to some projects that do.

It is a slim, portable, affordable book for the busy design professional in any discipline who is trying to wrap his or her head around the slippery notion of sustainability. Green’s introduction summarizes his process, and then presents each idea in a two-page spread. The ideas range from using mushrooms, which are now compressed into insulation panels (don’t eat your wall), to Rome as an example of walkable urbanism (don’t tell the taxi drivers). Each idea is presented with a photograph and a neat summary of how it contributes to the future. The point of all this activity, however, remains elusive in this otherwise intriguing little book.

Designed For the Future poses the question to eighty thinkers: "What gives you hope that a sustainable future is possible?” Each replies with a brief description of a project that inspired them to see a way forward. Among the notable but not entirely successful attempts to provide an answer is an essay by Elizabeth Mossop, “Changing Course,” about a design competition to improve management of the Lower Mississippi River in Louisiana. She notes that up until now the river, managed by scientists and engineers, has lost wetlands and added pollution to the Gulf of Mexico. Giving designers a turn might be a good idea, as she suggests. While I’m sympathetic, I keep thinking of the woeful mismanagement of the Everglades in my home state of Florida, and how often well-intentioned healing practices seem forever delayed. It is as if we cannot collectively bring ourselves to veer off our current pathway, no matter who is in charge.

Some essays, however, are the real thing. “Project Row Houses” by F. Kaid Benfield showcases artist Rick Lowe’s community development project to preserve 22 wood-frame shotgun homes in Houston. The project uses buildings that are already built, improving them rather than replacing them; it provides dignified shelter for historically disadvantaged African Americans, and has spawned urban agriculture, education, and similar enterprises. This is what sustainability should be all about: taking our stuff and making it better, rather than abandoning it and making more stuff.

Many of the essays are somewhat predictable paeans to urban life. “Seven Dials,” by New Urbanist Victor Dover, extols the virtues of this tiny London street intersection and its surroundings. Developed in the seventeenth century, this West End neighborhood has gentrified nicely into a walkable community. The accompanying photo seems too good to be true: pedestrians actively engaged in their public realm, not a car in sight, the sundial festooned with Union Jacks. As a prosperous, white, upper-middle-class community, it is an easy example of the urbanist’s dream come true, but well nigh impossible to replicate in America’s big-box car culture. Perhaps it could survive as a simulated city somewhere.

Green’s inclusion of an analysis by Anthony Flint of Unité d'Habitation inspired me. This 11-story apartment block, built in France after World War II, lets daylight in on both sides of each apartment,, and features rooftop uses. It was architect Le Corbusier’s first phase of his Radiant City plan. The design was much maligned in the 1990s by urban activists as a misanthropic disaster, who claimed that traditional neighborhoods were better. But the Unite d’Habitation turned out to be a pretty nice place after all, while many well-intended traditional neighborhood developments have had poor results. There is hope, after all, for modernism.

Green’s second-to-last entry is an essay on vernacular architecture by Li Xiaodong, a Beijing architect and professor at Tsinghua University School for Architecture. In some ways, this is the book's most important essay. “It’s about the process, not about design," says Li, adding, "Architecture should be based in a dialogue with local conditions and lifestyles. It should be a product of that dialogue.” Li beautifully captures the essence of sustainability, seeing it as a thought process, not a look or a lifestyle; about reacting intelligently to local conditions with materials and labor available on hand.

Green’s examples are heavy on the land planning side of things. Innovations such as 3-D printing are missed, and economics and technology are entirely ignored. And a few essays seem repetitive: Paris is in the book twice.

The focus is on people, land, water, and air. Reducing pollution and waste are important, and his book illustrates examples of this in abundance. We seem to have bounced back from the bad old days of the Ohio River on fire and air so thick you can take a bite out of it. This book offers assurance we are not backsliding into the wicked ways of the past.

Reducing the amount of stuff we take from the earth also figures big. Densifying cities, which conserves open space, is the topic of more than one essay. Staying local and using renewable, vernacular materials also has resonance with these contributors. Green’s essayists portray a future where resources are extracted a little more gingerly, and open land is conserved and even integrated into human habitation on a small scale to improve our relationship with nature.

The classical definition of sustainability includes two other tenets: increasing biodiversity, and spreading a little justice around to other species. The book provides scant evidence that the future holds any hope for these two notions. The wind farm in Lester Brown’s “Wind Mega Complexes” essay even goes against these principles, showcasing the giant wind turbines blamed for bird kills. Regarding biodiversity, Green misses the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor project, an oversight perhaps due to his self-proclaimed “random process” for choosing contributors.

Green begins the book with the statement, “We can’t give in to fatalism.” For the symptoms of fatalism, he presents examples of cures. Someone, somewhere, is treating these symptoms, he reassures us, saying that things are getting better in many different ways.

A deeper disease, however, lies undiagnosed in this book. Cities are denser, yes; but they increasingly all look the same. Wetlands are saved, yes; but we continue to “manage” them, as if it would be awful if they were left to themselves. Just when public spaces are getting nicer, most Americans prefer to remain indoors, glued to their devices. None of these imply a future of abundance and beauty. Until our own meaning and purpose are more fully addressed by our present society, it seems difficult to conceive of the kind of future envisaged in Designed For the Future.

Richard Reep is an architect with VOA Associates, Inc. who has designed award-winning urban mixed-use and hospitality projects. His work has been featured domestically and internationally for the last thirty years. An Adjunct Professor for the Environmental and Growth Studies Department at Rollins College, he teaches urban design and sustainable development; he is also president of the Orlando Foundation for Architecture. Reep resides in Winter Park, Florida with his family.

The Changing Patterns Of U.S. Immigration: What The Presidential Field Should Know, And You

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 05:25

Public concern about illegal immigration, particularly among older native-born Americans, as well as the the rising voting power of Latinos, all but guarantees that immigration is an issue that will remain at the forefront in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Nor is this merely a right-wing issue, as evidenced in the controversy over “sanctuary cities”; even the progressive Bernie Sanders has expressed concern that massive uncontrolled immigration could “make everybody in America poorer.”

Yet despite the political heat, there is precious little dispassionate examination of exactly where immigrants are coming from, and where in the U.S. they are headed. To answer these questions, we turned to demographer Wendell Cox, who analyzed the immigration data between 2010 and 2013 for the 52 metropolitan statistical areas with populations over a million.

One would think listening to the likes of Donald Trump that the country is awash with hordes of unwanted newcomers from Mexico and Central America. But sorry, Donald, the numbers show a changing picture in terms of who is coming, as well as the places that they choose to settle.

Perhaps due to Mexico’s stronger economy and lower birthrates, Mexicans are no longer as dominant in the ranks of new immigrants as in the last decade. Mexico is still the single largest place of origin of new immigrants, but from 2010 through 2013, Mexican migration to the U.S. dropped 17.7% to an average of 140,266 a year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile the inflow from Asia has increased: immigration from China is up 25.8% to 74,458 a year, and 10.7% from India to 65,336 a year. Asia now equals the Americas as a source of new immigrants, with each accounting for 40% of the annual total.

European immigration, once the mainstay of growth for the U.S., fell 32% from 2010 to 2013 to an average of 91,000 a year, surpassed by the number of African immigrants, which has soared 29.6% to 98,000 annually.

America’s new African population tends to be well-educated — considerably more than the national average: they are more than 60% more likely to have a graduate degree than other Americans. The vast majority are fluent in English and fully one-third hold management or professional level jobs. Not surprisingly, they are generally doing well in their new country. The places where they settle — notably New York, greater Washington, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth — will likely benefit from their presence in coming years.

Just as Mexican and Asian immigration changed the ethnic geography of America, boosting economies and changing local culture, one can expect the Africans to do much the same in the coming years.

The Largest And Fastest-Growing Immigrant Hubs

The largest foreign-born communities in America reflect both size and longstanding immigrant populations. The leader remains the New York metropolitan statistical area, which was home in 2013 to 5.69 million people born elsewhere, following by Los Angeles with 4.3 million, Miami with 2.2 million, Chicago with 1.69 million and Houston with 1.39 million.

But a look at the metro areas with the fastest-growing foreign-born communities tells a different story, one of growing migration into the more interior and central parts of the country. In many ways, this reflects the attraction of areas with relatively low housing prices and buoyant local economies. In contrast, the economies of many traditional immigrant hubs like Los Angeles and Chicago have not done so well, while places in coastal California and near New York suffer from high housing prices.

Pittsburgh ranks first for recent pace of growth, with a 17.4% jump in its foreign-born population to 89,000 from 2010 through 2013, almost four times the 4.3% national rate over the same span. The western Pennsylvania city has built a robust economy based on energy, medical services and technology. Its housing prices are low — roughly a third those of the Bay Area based on median income — and the city is situated in an attractive setting with rolling hills. Pittsburgh is attracting both less educated immigrants from more expensive places, and also educated newcomers, notes demographer Jim Russell, some due to the strong universities in the area.

Other surprising heartland destinations for immigrants include Indianapolis, whose foreign-born population expanded 14.3% in 2010-13 to 127,767, the second fastest rate of growth among the largest metro areas; Oklahoma City (third fastest, up 12.9% to 110,269); and Columbus, Ohio (up 9.8% to 139,562). Generally, these cities, like Pittsburgh, have strong economies, low housing prices and favorable state regulatory climates.

The Move South Continues

Until the 1970s, the South was an also-ran in immigration, with the exception of Florida. But today many of the fastest-growing foreign-born communities are in the South. These include still-recovering New Orleans, whose numbers of foreign born surged 12.4% in 2010-13 to 91,412, as well as Charlotte (up 11.2% to 225,673) and Austin (up 10.7% to 279,923).

This  movement to the South in recent decades has changed the geography of the most immigrant rich parts of the country. Three of the 10 metro areas with the largest number of foreign born residents are in the south. Miami has some 2.26 million immigrant residents make  up with 38.8% of its population, the highest proportion of any large metro area in the country. The Houston metro area has the fifth biggest foreign-born population, Dallas-Ft. Worth, the eighth.

The Texas metro areas, and their emerging southern counterparts, offer much of what the prospering Rust Belt cities also provide — strong broad-based economies and an affordable cost of living, particularly housing. Immigrants tend to prioritize home ownership and often work in thriving blue-collar fields such as manufacturing , logistics and construction.

Coastal Growth Follows The Economy

The Atlantic and Pacific coasts have long dominated immigration, but there appears to be some subtle changes in this picture. Most big coastal metro areas have logged steady but below average growth of their foreign-born populations, including New York, with a 3.67% increase. (Note that even with relatively slow growth in percentage terms, New York added a net 208,800 immigrants, more than the total foreign-born populations of any of the four fastest growers.) Some blue areas are doing much better in terms of growth rate, including Seattle (9th), Boston (11th) and San Jose (15th). All tend to be expensive, but have done very well in the recovery, largely due to technology-related growth.

In contrast, some traditional immigrant hubs with weaker economies have lagged behind. Chicago’s foreign-born population increased 1.71%, less than half the national average. Los Angeles’ foreign born population ticked down 0.1% amid economic stagnation and rising housing prices. When it comes to immigration, it is the geography of opportunity that still prevails.

U.S. Metropolitan Areas with the Highest Share of Immigrants No. 1: Miami, Fla.

Number of Foreign-Born: 2.26 million

Percentage of Population, 2013: 38.8%

No. 2: San Jose, Calif.

Number of Foreign-Born: 719,460

Percentage of Population, 2013: 37.5%

No. 3: Los Angeles, Calif.

Number of Foreign-Born: 4.39 million

Percentage of Population, 2013: 33.2%

No. 4: San Francisco, Calif.

Number of Foreign-Born: 1.34 million

Percentage of Population, 2013: 29.7%

No. 5: New York, NY-NJ-PA

Number of Foreign-Born: 5.69 million

Percentage of Population, 2013: 28.5%

No. 6: San Diego, Calif.

Number of Foreign-Born: 761,580

Percentage of Population, 2013: 23.7%

No. 7: Houston, Tex.

Number of Foreign-Born: 1.42 million

Percentage of Population, 2013: 22.6%

No. 8: Washington, D.C.

Number of Foreign-Born: 1.31 million

Percentage of Population, 2013: 22.0%

No. 9: Las Vegas, Nev.

Number of Foreign-Born: 440,866

Percentage of Population, 2013: 21.7%

No. 10: Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.

Number of Foreign-Born: 932,747

Percentage of Population, 2013: 21.3%


This piece first appeared in Forbes.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo by telwink

The Peril to Democrats of Left-Leaning Urban Centers

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 22:38

Twenty years ago, America’s cities were making their initial move to regain some of their luster. This was largely due to the work of mayors who were middle-of-the-road pragmatists. Their ranks included Rudy Giuliani in New York, Richard Riordan in Los Angeles, and, perhaps the best of the bunch, Houston’s Bob Lanier. Even liberal San Franciscans elected Frank Jordan, a moderate former police chief who was succeeded by the decidedly pragmatic Willie Brown.   

In contrast, a cadre of modern mayors is minting a host of ideologically new urban politics that put cities at odds with millions of traditional urban Democrats. This trend is strongest on the coasts, but is also taking place in many heartland cities. Bill de Blasio is currently its most prominent practitioner, but left-wing pundit Harold Meyerson says approvingly that many cities are busily mapping “the future of liberalism” with such policies as  the $15-an-hour minimum wage, stricter EPA greenhouse gas regulations, and housing policies intended to force people out of lower density suburbs and into cities.

For the Democrats, this urban ascendency holds some dangers. Despite all the constant claims of a massive “return to the city,” urban populations are growing no faster than those in suburbs, and, in the past few years, far slower than those of the hated exurbs. This means we won’t see much change in the foreseeable future in the current 70 to 80 percent of people in metropolitan America who live in suburbs and beyond. University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill  notes that the vast majority of residents of regions over 500,000—roughly 153 million people—live in the lower-density suburban places, while only 60 million live in core cities.  

This leftward shift is marked, but it’s not indicative of any tide of public enthusiasm. One-party rule, as one might expect, does not galvanize voters. The turnout  in recent city elections has plummeted across the country, with turnouts 25 percent or even lower. In Los Angeles, the 2013 turnout that elected progressive Eric Garcetti was roughly one-third that in the city’s 1970 mayoral election.

Bolstered by this narrow electorate, liberal pundits celebrate the fact that 27 of the largest U.S. cities voted Democratic in 2012, including “red” state municipalities such as Houston -- but without counting the suburbs, where voter participation tends to be higher. An overly urban-based party faces the same fundamental challenges of a largely rural-oriented one—for example, the right-wing core of the GOP—in a country where most people live in neither environment.

Demographic and Political Transformation of American Cities

City dwellers have historically voted more liberally than their country or suburban cousins, but demographic trends are exacerbating this polarizing impulse. Simply put, the cities that could elect a Giuliani or a Riordan no longer exist. The centrist urban surge of the 1990s was both a reaction to the perceived failures of Democratic “blue” policies as well a reflection of the makeup of white-majority, middle-class neighborhoods in places like Brooklyn, Queens and the San Fernando Valley that featured healthy numbers of politically moderate “Reagan Democrats”—or Bill Clinton Democrats, circa 1992

Since then, these communities have been largely supplanted by groups far more likely to embrace a more progressive political stance: racial minorities, hipsters, and upper-class sophisticates. These groups have swelled, and gotten much richer, in places like brownstone Brooklyn  or lakeside Chicago, while the number of inner city middle-class neighborhoods, as Brookings  has demonstrated, have declined, to 23 percent of the central city—half the level in 1970.

This new urban configuration, notes the University of Chicago’s Terry Nichols Clark, tend to have different needs, and values, than the traditional middle class. Since their denizens are heavily single and childless, the poor state of city schools does not hold priority over the political power of the teachers unions. The key needs for the new population, Clark suggests, are good restaurants, shops and festivals, not child-friendly parks and family-oriented stores. Sometimes even crazy notions—such as allowing people to walk through the streets of San Francisco naked—are tolerated in a way no child-centric suburb would allow.

These tendencies underscore as well the increasingly homogeneous political culture emerging in cities. In 1984, for example, Ronald Reagan took 31 percent of the vote in San Francisco, and 37 percent in New York. He actually carried Los Angeles. By 2012, a Republican with a more moderate history could not muster 20 percent of the vote in San Francisco. And Mitt Romney lost Los Angeles by more than a 2-1 margin, while garnering barely 20 percent in all New York boroughs besides Staten Island.

Economic Hubris

These changes also reflect a shift in the economic role of cities. Until the 1970s, cities were centers of production, distribution and administration. Then the industrial base of urban areas, and related jobs such as logistics, began moving away from the traditional manufacturing cities  to overseas, the suburbs or the Southeast.  In 1950 New York, according to economic historian Fernand Braudel, 1 million people worked in factories, mostly for small companies. Today the city’s industrial workforce now stands at a paltry 73,000, a dramatic decline from some 400,000 as recently as the early 1980s.

A similar, if less spectacular, decline has taken place in what are still the two largest industrial metropolitan statistical areas, Chicago and Los Angeles. The one-time “City of Big Shoulders” and its environs had 461,600 industrial jobs in 2009. Today it has fewer than 300,000. Los Angeles, in a process that started with the end of the Cold War, has seen its once-diverse industrial base erode rapidly, from 900,000 just a decade ago to 364,000 today. 

In some cities, a new economy has emerged, one that is largely transactional and oriented to media. The upshot is that denizens of the various social media, fashion and big data firms have little appreciation of the difficulties faced by those who build their products, create their energy and food. Unlike the factory or port economies of the past, the new “creative” economy has little meaningful interaction with the working class, even as it claims to speak for that group.

This urban economy has created many of the most unequal places  in the country. At the top are the rich and super-affluent who have rediscovered the blessings of urbanity, followed by a large cadre of young and middle-aged professionals, many of them childless. Often ignored, except after sensationalized police shootings, is a vast impoverished class that has become ever-more concentrated in particular neighborhoods. During the first decade of the current millennium, neighborhoods with entrenchedurban poverty actually grew, increasing in numbers from 1,100 to 3,100. In population, they grew from 2 million to 4 million.Some 80 percent of all population growth in American cities, since 2000, notes demographer Wendell Cox, came from these poorer people, many of them recent immigrants.

Such social imbalances are not, as is the favored term among the trendy, sustainable. We appear to be creating the conditions for a new wave of violent crime on a scale not seen since the early 1990s. Along with poverty, public disorderlinessgang activityhomelessness and homicides are on the rise in manyAmerican core cities, including Baltimore, Milwaukee, Los Angeles and New York. Racial tensions, particularly with the police, have worsened. So even as left-leaning politicians try to rein in police, recent IRS data in Chicago reveals, the middle class appears to once again be leaving for suburban and other locales. 

Urbanity and Politics

These social and economic changes inform the new politics of the Democratic Party. On social policy, the strong pro-gay marriage and abortion positions of the Democrats makes sense as cities have the largest percentages of both homosexuals and single, childless women. When the party had to worry about rural voters in South Dakota or West Virginia, this shift would have been more nuanced, and less rapid.

Yet with those battles essentially won, the new urban politics are entering into greater conflict with the suburban mainstream, which tends to be socially moderate, and even more so with the resource-dependent economies of rural America. The environmental radicalism that has its roots in places like San Francisco and Seattle  now directly seeks to destroy whole parts of middle America’s energy economy.

Such policies tend to radically raise energy costs. In California, the green energy regime has already driven roughly 1 million people, many of them Latinos in the state’s agricultural interior, into “energy poverty”—a status in which electricity costs one-tenth of their income. Not surprisingly, those leaving California, notes Trulia, increasingly are working class; their annual incomes in the range of $20,000 to $80,000 are simply not enough to make ends meet.

Geography seems increasingly to determine politics. Ideas on climate policy that seem wonderfully enlightened in Manhattan or San Francisco—places far removed from the dirty realities of production—can provide a crushing blow to someone working in the Gulf Coast petro-chemical sector or in the Michigan communities dependent on auto manufacturing.

It’s more than suburban or rural jobs that are on the urban designer chopping block. Density obsessed planners have adopted rules, already well advanced in my adopted home state of California, to essentially curb  much detested suburban sprawl and lure people back to the dense inner cities. The Obama administration is sympathetic to this agenda, and has adopted its own strategies to promote “back to the city” policies in the rest of the country as well.

But as these cities go green for the rich and impressionable, they must find ways to subsidize the growing low-paid service class—gardeners, nannies, dog walkers, restaurant servers—that they depend on daily. This makes many wealthy cities, such as Seattle or San Francisco, hotbeds for such policies as a $15-an-hour minimum wage, as well as increased subsidies for housing and health care. In San Francisco, sadly, where the median price house (usually a smallish apartment) approaches  $1 million, a higher minimum wage won’t purchase a decent standard of living. In far more diverse and poorer Los Angeles, nearly half of all workers would be covered -- with unforeseen impacts on many industries, including the largegarment industry.

These radicalizing trends are likely to be seen as a threat to Democratic prospects next year, but instead will meet with broad acclaim among city-dominated progressive media. Then again, the columnists, reporters and academics who embrace the new urban politics have little sympathy or interest in preserving middle-class suburbs, much less vital small towns. If the Republicans possess the intelligence—always an open question—to realize that their opponents are actively trying to undermine how most Americans prefer to live, they might find an opportunity far greater than many suspect.

This piece first appeared at Real Clear Politics.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo by Kevin Case from Bronx, NY, USA (Bill de Blasio) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Progressive Policies Drive More Into Poverty

Sun, 08/09/2015 - 22:38

Across the nation, progressives increasingly look at California as a model state. This tendency has increased as climate change has emerged as the Democratic Party’s driving issue. To them, California’s recovery from a very tough recession is proof positive that you can impose ever greater regulation on everything from housing to electricity and still have a thriving economy.

And to be sure, the state has finally recovered the jobs lost in the 2007-09 recession, largely a result of a boom in values of stocks and high- end real estate. Things, however, have not been so rosy in key blue-collar fields, such as construction, which is still more than 200,000 jobs below prerecession levels, or manufacturing, where the state has lost over one-third of its employment since 2000. Homelessness, which one would think should be in decline during a strong economy, is on the rise in Orange County and even more so in Los Angeles.

The dirty secret here is that a large proportion of Californians, roughly one-third, or some 3.2 million households, as found by a recent United Way study, find it increasingly difficult to keep their heads above water. The United Way study, surprisingly, has drawn relatively little interest from a media that usually enjoys highlighting disparities, particularly racial gaps. Perhaps this reflects a need to maintain an illusion of blue state success. If Republican Pete Wilson were still governor, I suspect we might have heard much more about this study.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

The Really Big Housing Picture

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 22:38

Everywhere I go it seems there’s some kind of housing crisis. In some places home values are dropping precipitously, people are unable to sell and move on, and formerly middle class homes are being abandoned or converted to poorly maintained rental properties. In other places home values and rents are obscenely high and ordinary people and essential workers are being driven out of whole cities and counties. The national economy has bifurcated and the shrinking middle class is reflected in a two tiered housing market. I’d like to explore the root causes of the situation.



Our current real estate schism is based on two forces. First, we as a society decided decades ago that we didn’t want to be shackled by the social conventions and obligations that hindered individuals in their quest for personal fulfillment and private gain.

For liberals this took the form of women’s liberation, black liberation, gay liberation… Everyone wanted to throw off the yoke of conformity. For conservatives it took the form of tax revolts, rebellions against regulations of every kind, a search for open space, cheap labor, and new markets.

These two groups were in no way mutually exclusive. Both the California Hippy and Evangelical Christian from South Carolina were pushing the country in the same direction for decades whether they knew it or not. Everyone was rebelling against social constraints and dismantling the old system that created the broad stable middle class in the first place.

The second force in the housing crisis is based on physical mobility made possible by car culture, affordable commercial aviation, containerized cargo shipping, and modern telecommunications. Geography stopped being a material limitation for the last few generations. As a result, people have self segregated. The rich have congregated in a handful of premium locations and radically driven up the cost of living in those spots. The poor have been left to their own devices in economically and culturally abandoned regions. And the ever diminishing middle class has leveraged itself into a thousand little niches in an attempt to keep up as their incomes and status decline.

I was recently at a meeting in Northern California where government officials, local business people, and community organizers all gathered to promote their various objectives. These were all incredibly kind, decent, responsible people who truly cared about their town. The difficulties on hand will be familiar if you live in one of the more expensive parts of the country.

There’s a desperate need for affordable housing. There’s huge pressure to preserve productive farmland and the natural landscape. There’s fierce NIMBYism that stops new growth of every kind. There’s serious money pressing down on the scarce property that is available. There’s a water shortage brought on by years of drought. And there simply is no culturally or politically tolerable mechanism to reconcile any of these conflicting forces. Honestly, for the people who already own property in the area the situation is pretty sweet – so long as the authorities manage to keep the ever growing homeless camps out of sight. The default setting is to simply let things fester and muddle through.

Just a month earlier I was at a different meeting in another town where the problem was reversed. A formerly prosperous town was hitting an economic wall as growth and development had come to a complete halt with unpleasant consequences. There was plenty of cheap land all around and everyone was desperate to see it covered in new homes, shopping malls, and office parks as quickly as possible. But market demand evaporated. Developers couldn’t justify building much of anything because there were no buyers on hand. Too much of the existing building stock was already sitting vacant.

You’d think these two problems could solve each other. Why don’t all the people desperate for affordable housing in one place simply move to the place with abundant vacancies? Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Communities are more than a pile buildings. People need the right mix of employment, education, culture, and so on. You can’t live in a cheap place if you have no access to jobs. And you can’t take a job in a place where there is no available housing.

Let’s go over some of the particulars again. Mass motoring allowed almost everyone to move away from the things and people they didn’t like. If your taxes went up you moved away. If “undesirables” arrived on your block you moved away. If you didn’t like the snow you moved away. Cheap private transportation on America’s highways made it possible for the vast 20th century middle class to remove itself from traditional communities and find bliss is splendid isolation.

Affordable commercial aviation let people migrate to previously remote locations. A car could get you from New Jersey to Florida in a couple of days, but a plane could get you there in a couple of hours. Air transport preferentially poached the affluent, the young, the educated, and retirees from established towns and delivered them to previously obscure destinations. The ability to hop quickly and cheaply from place to place was a tremendous boon to some lucky towns, but the death knell to others.

Containerized shipping brought raw materials and cheap manufactured goods in from every corner of the globe. If workers threatened to strike you moved your company away. Far away. If you found a better tax deal you moved away. If you needed the authorities to turn a blind eye to your company’s waste stream you moved away. The toaster ovens, refrigerators, and steel belted radial tires could all be made somewhere else for a lot less money.  And along with those jobs went a big chunk of the old middle class.

Information technology has added a new layer of mobility to the population. It’s now possible to use your mobile phone to turn your home air conditioner on and off from six thousand miles away. On the one hand this sort of technological magic allows millions of people to earn a living remotely. An accountant from Albuquerque can live in a beach cabin in Hawaii while still drawing her livelihood from New Mexico.

On the other hand, what happened to blue collar jobs in the past is now happening to white collar jobs. Your CT scan or X-rays can now be sent via the Internet to a technician in the Philippines who will interpret your medical condition remotely. Film editing can be done entirely online from Brazil. Computer code can be written in India. Architectural and engineering work can be done digitally in the Ukraine. If a job can be scanned, or Skyped, or pushed through a fiber optic wire somehow it will eventually be sent to a low wage region to be done by someone who is smarter, faster, and more desperate for work than you are.

And this isn’t factoring in the jobs that will soon be done entirely by machine intelligence. That accountant in Hawaii needs to pay attention to what she’ll do when her clients all switch to the cheaper advanced computer program that can wiggle around the tax code better than she can. Then again, the guy who writes that computer code will become very rich and might be able to move to Hawaii himself.

So what are the options here? First, we can allow the already stressed middle class to continue to shrink so that the U.S. becomes a two tiered society of haves and have nots – with many more losers than winners. Inevitably this will require an increase in both government police and private security to keep the wealthy protected from the pissed off impoverished masses. There are plenty of examples of what that looks like around the world.

Or, we could tax the rich and redistribute the funds to the formerly middle class population that has trouble feeding itself and keeping a roof over their heads. We also know what that looks like.

Or we could create a new social, political, and economic national compact that restructures absolutely everything. Some old fashioned societal constraints might be a prerequisite for equity and a renewed middle class. Rights come with responsibilities. Aging Baby Boomers will fight that sort of thing tooth and nail. But Millennials will likely grab at it with both hands. Toss in fuel supply disruptions and a break down in international trade relations and American society might find itself coalescing in very different ways.

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

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