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Dispersion in Europe's Cities

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 22:38

For any who had been following demographic trends closely in Western Europe, it is long been obvious that suburbanization was following generally the same track as in Canada (more than 75 percent suburban), Australia and the United States (85 percent suburban). Nearly all growth in the major cities has been in the suburbs for the last four decades.

The massive postwar automobile oriented suburbanization of Europe started a bit later than in the Western offshoots of the British Empire as the fabled economic historian Angus Maddison called them. It took a while for Western Europe to recover from World War II, but by 1970 much had been restored.

This article reviews citywide population trends, divided into their core and suburban (or exurban) components from 1971 to 2011. This is a far more complicated exercise than reviewing the urban trends of Canada, Australia, and the United States. Ten years ago I published an examination of European trends relying principally on using data from the Ranally Metropolitan Areas, which had been established by my friend Richard Forstall, then at Rand McNally. Metropolitan areas are particularly difficult to compare across international lines because the few nations that designate them use different criteria and most nations do not designate them at all.

Regretfully, the internet and perhaps other commercial considerations made the Ranally Metropolitan Areas a thing of the past.

Data Difficulty in Western Europe

The only source that approaches consistency is the United Nations Urban Agglomerations (urban areas) list. In its latest iteration the list includes data from 1950 through projections to 2030 in five year increments for approximately 1700 cities around the world. But, the United Nations must rely on member states to provide the information, which is often not urban agglomeration data at all.

Some nations report urban area data. Others report metropolitan area data. Urban areas and metropolitan areas are not the same thing. Urban areas are built up areas defined by the extent of the urban form, rather than by jurisdictional boundaries (see Demographia World Urban Areas). Metropolitan areas encompass both the urban area and the economically connected areas to the outside (exurbs). The difference is that urban areas do not include exurbs and metropolitan areas do (Figure 1).

Some nations report only core municipality data, which is incomplete. Characterizing cities as only the core is rather like declaring a leg or a lung to be the same thing as a human body. These nations include Germany and Austria. Data for Valencia, Spain is also for the core municipality only.

Perhaps the best source for citywide trends over the last 40 years in Western Europe is the United Nations data. The results are reported for urban areas and metropolitan areas, ignoring the irrelevant reported core data. Cities are included that had a population of 750,000 or more in any year from 1970 to 2010 on the UN World Agglomerations list. As of 2011, there are 24 urban areas and 16 metropolitan areas with comparable United Nations data (Table).

How the Cities have Dispersed

Among the urban areas, the suburbs monopolized population growth over the period (1971 to 2011). Overall, the 24 urban areas increased their population by 9.1 million residents. This was the combination of a 9.7 million increase in the suburbs and a 600,000 loss in the cores. With the core losses, the suburbs accounted for 107% of the urban area growth.

The monopolization of suburban and exurban growth was even greater in the 16 metropolitan areas. The overall citywide population increase was 6.2 million. This included 8.2 million in the suburbs and exurbs and the loss of 2.1 million in the cores.

Combining these two different urban conceptions for statistical purposes shows how dominant suburban and exurban growth has been. In 1971, the cores and suburbs had about the same population. By 2011, the suburbs had grown to have 60% more residents than the cores (Figure 2).

Some of the disparities were large. In Madrid, the suburbs grew 450 percent between 1971 and 2011, compared to only 5 percent in the core. In Toulouse, the suburbs grew 327 percent, while the core edged up only 20 percent, while in Zurich, the suburbs grew 186 percent compared to the core decline of 12 percent.

Overall, core population performance exceeded that of the suburbs in only three of the 40 cases. The most significant is slow-growing Birmingham, which is closing in on its 1951 peak. Then there is Liverpool, which is managed to drop from the population peak of more than 850,000 in 1931 to under 475,000 in 2011. Liverpool's loss over the 40 years was even less percentage wise than that of the suburbs. The core of Southampton also grew faster than the suburbs.

Core Resurgence

At the same time, it notable cores have reversed their previous loss patterns in recent years. Some resurgent cores remain well below their much earlier peaks. The ville de Paris has regained little more than 100,000 of its 800,000 loss since 1921. Inner London (Note) has regained much more (800,000), but still needs another 1.3 million to restore its 1901 peak (Outer London is so suburban that it provided much of the ammunition for the British anti-suburban movement). Others cores, like Stockholm and Madrid have risen above previous peaks.

As in the United States, this urban resurgence should not lead to a perception that suburbanites are "flocking" to the urban cores. Domestic migration data continues to show net population movements from the cores to the suburbs and exurbs. Much of the resurgence has been propelled by international migration since enlargement of the European Union (such as from the growing London core), which has virtually eliminated westward barriers to immigration from the less affluent former Soviet satellites. Even the core of Stockholm, now at its population peak, has lost domestic migration to the suburbs in Stockholm County in each of the last five years according to Statistics Sweden data.

Earlier Core Troughs

The forty-year perspective masks some huge core population losses that occurred earlier. Perhaps the most spectacular is Copenhagen, which dropped from 768,000 in 1950 to 464,000 in 1992, for a percentage loss near that of Detroit from 1950 to 1990. Copenhagen's population loss was 40 percent, compared to Detroit's 44 percent (See: Shrinking Cities, Chapter 2). Since 1992, the core of Copenhagen has made up only a quarter of its loss since 1950.

The core of Glasgow also suffered earlier losses. In 1931, the core municipality had a population nearing 1.1 million. By 1971, Glasgow became the first core municipality in the world to fall below 1,000,000 population after having achieved that status. Glasgow has since been followed by Naples, Turin and Detroit. Glasgow increased its population modestly after 2001, to just under 600,000.

The Missing Cities

What can be said about Germany and Austria, which do not provide data for either urban areas or metropolitan areas? If such data were available, it would likely show the same general trends. By the early 2000s, cores such as Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart had lost population from their peaks. Between 1987 and 2001, all growth in the Rhine-Ruhr, Western Europe's third largest city, was in the suburbs and exurbs. This area, which defines the very term conurbation, may have been the first truly polycentric metropolitan area in the world, with its historic municipalities like Essen, Dusseldorf, Bochum, Gelsenkirchen, Oberhausen, Dortmund, Duisburg, Dusseldorf and Wuppertal.  Vienna reached its population peak in 1910,when  capital of the Austro-Hungarian under Emperor Franz Josef.

Better Data Ahead

Meanwhile, the state of urban statistics is improving significantly in Europe. It is to be expected that historical data would be non-comparable and cumbersome with Europe's multiple nations. However, Eurostat now publishes its own, consistent metropolitan area data. Generally data is available back to the early or mid 2000s, which will make the lives of interested statisticians better in the future.

The suburbanization of Europe may be surprising to New World tourists, who rarely venture beyond the historical cores. I called this the Louvre Syndrome, which describes New World tourists who jealousy wonder why their cites cannot look like attractive European cores, but never experience, predictably,  their extensive and   less historically appealing  suburbs. And why should they? Americans and Canadians go to Europe to see what's different, not what's similar.

What is similar is that the cities of Europe, like those in Japan and the New World have dispersed as they have become more affluent, a dynamic pointed out by Robert Bruegmann in Sprawl: A Short History. There is also considerable dispersion going on in developing world cities. There is also an imperative to disperse the inhuman densities and living conditions in many parts of African, Asia and South America. These include shantytowns like Dharavi in Mumbai, Kibera in Nairobi, Rio's notorious favelas and in Manila, with its all too frequent fires that destroy thousands of homes at once.

Core & Suburban Growth in Cities Western Europe: 1971-2011 Urban Areas (Urban Agglomerations) and Metropolitan Areas Population in 000s 1971 Population 2011 Population   UA/MA Core Suburbs UA/MA Core Suburbs URBAN AREAS (URBAN AGGLOMERATIONS)       Amsterdam 938 820 118 1,064 780 284 Athens 2,535 862 1,673 3,089 664 2,425 Birmingham 2,369 1,013 1,356 2,446 1,086 1,360 Bordeaux 590 254 336 853 239 614 Dublin 783 569 214 1,114 528 586 Glasgow 1,732 897 835 1,210 593 617 Helsinki 522 529 -7 1,134 588 546 Lille 912 233 679 1,020 228 792 Liverpool 1,253 607 646 865 466 399 London 7,787 2,959 4,828 10,297 3,232 7,065 Lyon 1,128 507 621 1,563 491 1,072 Manchester 2,391 542 1,849 2,559 503 2,056 Marseille 1,197 894 303 1,569 851 718 Newcastle 876 222 654 776 149 627 Nice 649 328 321 947 344 603 Oslo 643 488 155 916 599 317 Paris 8,278 2,504 5,774 10,537 2,250 8,287 Rotterdam 959 687 272 995 606 389 Stockholm 1,031 747 284 1,385 847 538 Southampton 740 213 527 857 254 603 Thessaloniki 557 340 217 754 325 429 Toulouse 476 372 104 891 447 444 West Yorkshire 1,705 506 1,199 1,787 475 1,312 Zurich 711 423 288 1,198 373 825 Urban Areas 40,763 17,516 23,247 49,824 16,918 32,906 METROPOLITAN AREAS (LABOR MARKETS)       Antwerp 858 227 631 976 185 791 Barcelona 3,521 1,828 1,693 4,999 1,621 3,378 Bergamo 561 126 435 799 115 684 Bologna 746 488 258 766 371 395 Brussels 1,576 143 1,433 1,975 170 1,805 Copenhagen 1,338 626 712 1,207 540 667 Florence 725 460 265 694 358 336 Genoa 918 832 86 701 586 115 Lisbon 1,874 782 1,092 2,826 553 2,273 Madrid 3,595 3,121 474 5,870 3,265 2,605 Milan 3,040 1,732 1,308 3,065 1,242 1,823 Naples 2,019 1,267 752 2,213 962 1,251 Palermo 757 653 104 855 658 197 Porto 941 326 615 1,288 238 1,050 Rome 3,168 2,656 512 3,617 2,617 1,000 Turin 1,775 1,142 633 1,742 872 870 Metropolitan Areas 27,413 16,409 11,004 33,594 14,353 19,241 All 68,177 33,925 34,252 83,418 31,271 52,148 Populaton Change 1971 Population 2011 Population   UA/MA Core Suburbs UA/MA Core Suburbs URBAN AREAS (URBAN AGGLOMERATIONS)       Amsterdam 126 -40 166 13% -5% 141% Athens 553 -198 751 22% -23% 45% Birmingham 77 73 4 3% 7% 0% Bordeaux 263 -15 278 45% -6% 83% Dublin 331 -41 372 42% -7% 173% Glasgow -522 -304 -218 -30% -34% -26% Helsinki 611 59 552 117% 11% Lille 108 -5 113 12% -2% 17% Liverpool -389 -141 -248 -31% -23% -38% London 2,510 273 2,237 32% 9% 46% Lyon 435 -16 450 39% -3% 72% Manchester 169 -39 208 7% -7% 11% Marseille 372 -43 415 31% -5% 137% Newcastle -101 -73 -28 -11% -33% -4% Nice 298 16 282 46% 5% 88% Oslo 272 111 161 42% 23% 104% Paris 2,259 -254 2,513 27% -10% 44% Rotterdam 36 -81 117 4% -12% 43% Stockholm 354 100 254 34% 13% 90% Southampton 118 41 77 16% 19% 15% Thessaloniki 197 -15 212 35% -4% 97% Toulouse 415 75 340 87% 20% 327% West Yorkshire 82 -31 113 5% -6% 9% Zurich 487 -50 537 69% -12% 186% Urban Areas 9,061 -598 9,659 22% -3% 42% METROPOLITAN AREAS (LABOR MARKETS)       Antwerp 118 -42 160 14% -19% 25% Barcelona 1,477 -207 1,684 42% -11% 99% Bergamo 238 -11 249 43% -9% 57% Bologna 21 -117 138 3% -24% 54% Brussels 399 27 372 25% 19% 26% Copenhagen -131 -86 -45 -10% -14% -6% Florence -31 -102 71 -4% -22% 27% Genoa -217 -246 29 -24% -30% 34% Lisbon 952 -229 1,181 51% -29% 108% Madrid 2,275 144 2,131 63% 5% 450% Milan 24 -490 514 1% -28% 39% Naples 194 -305 499 10% -24% 66% Palermo 97 5 92 13% 1% 88% Porto 347 -88 435 37% -27% 71% Rome 449 -39 488 14% -1% 95% Turin -33 -270 237 -2% -24% 37% Metropolitan Areas 6,181 -2,056 8,237 23% -13% 75% All 15,242 -2,654 17,896 22% -8% 52% Population in 000s Sources:    Urban Area/Metropolitan Area data estimated from UN    Core data from national statistics bureaus Core: Core municipality or previous core municipality where data available Urban Areas/Metropolitan Areas over 750,000 in 1971 or 2001 No data for Germany, Austria or Valencia (Spain)    Do not report data in urban area or metropolitan area format Some cores may have added land area during the period


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

Photograph: Paris: Eifel Tower & La Defense from Tour Montparnasse (by author)

In NYC, Throwing Good Infrastructure Money After Bad

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 22:38

Ten billion dollars — for a bus station. And if other projects are any guide, this price tag for a Port Authority Bus Terminal replacement is only going up from there.

That’s after we’ve committed: $4.2 billion at the PATH World Trade Center station; $1.4 billion for the Fulton St. subway station; $11 billion for the East Side Access project; $4.5 billion for just two miles of the Second Ave. Subway, and $2.3 billion for a single station extension of the 7-train.

Having grown numb to multi-billion price tags for building almost anything, New Yorkers might not know just how messed up all this is. In any other American city, even just one of these fiascoes might well have sunk the entire town.

Read the entire piece at the New York Daily News.

Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York (East Side Access: January 13, 2014) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Valley And The Upstarts: The Cities Creating The Most Tech Jobs

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 22:09

No industry generates more hype, and hope, than technology. From 2004 to 2014, the number of tech-related jobs in the United States expanded 31%, faster than other high-growth sectors like health care and business services. In the wider category of STEM-related jobs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), employment grew 11.4% over the same period, compared to 4.5% for other jobs. The Commerce Department projects that growth in STEM employment will continue to outpace the rest of the economy through 2018.

But all the new tech jobs have not been evenly distributed across the country. To determine which areas are benefiting the most from the current tech boom, Mark Schill, research director at Praxis Strategy Group, analyzed employment data from the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan statistical areas from 2004 to 2014. He looked at the change in employment over that timespan in companies in industries we associate with technology, such as software, engineering and computer programming services. (Note that this includes everyone at these companies, such as non-tech employees like janitors and receptionists). He also looked at the change in the numbers of workers in other industries who are classified as having STEM occupations (science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related jobs). This captures the many tech workers who are employed in businesses that at first glance may not seem to have anything to do with technology at all. For instance just 7% of the nation’s 1.5 million software developers and programmers work at software firms — the vast majority are employed in industries as disparate as manufacturing, finance, and business services.

Our list features some well-known outperformers, but also some surprising metro areas usually not associated with venture capital and Silicon Valley. We also found that some high-profile metro areas that like to tout themselves as the “next Silicon Valley” are actually at best the middle of the pack in terms of tech and STEM job growth.

The Strongest Engines

At the top of our list is a group of cities that have long been identified with tech growth. Our No. 1 city, Austin, Texas, boasts the strongest expansion in tech sector employment of any of the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas from 2004 to 2014, 73.9%,  as well as 36.4% growth in STEM jobs, the fourth-highest growth rate in the country. Coming in a close second is Raleigh, N.C.,  part of the renowned Research Triangle region, home to outposts of multinationals like Bayer, BASF, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM and Cisco. The Raleigh metro area posted a 39% increase in STEM jobs from 2004-14, the fastest growth in the nation, albeit from a smaller base than many of the other biggest metro areas.

However, the Bay Area continues to reign as the tech center with the most momentum. San Jose, which covers most of Silicon Valley, ranks third with 70.2% growth in tech sector employment since 2004 and a hefty 25.8% increase in STEM employment. The San Francisco metro area, which includes San Mateo to the south, ranks fifth with a 67.4% jump in tech industry employment as well as a STEM jobs increase of 27.5%.

There may be more tech industry employees and workers in STEM occupations in the New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles metro areas, but San Jose has the strongest concentration of tech horsepower in the nation, with by far the highest per capita concentration of people in engineering professions. San Jose’s tech industry is responsible for 14.1% of all jobs, almost five times the national average of 2.9%. The share of STEM workers is 15.5% of its total workforce, three times the 5.0% proportion in the overall U.S. population. Both figures are easily the highest in the nation. San Francisco clocks in at second nationally with 7.6% of its jobs in tech industries and is fifth in STEM representation, at 8.7% of all workers, behind San Jose, the nation’s capital, Seattle, and our No. 1 city, Austin.

Silicon Valley’s thick concentration of titans like Intel, Apple, Oracle, Google and Facebook has created an innovative ecosystem, which, as Pando Daily’s Michael Carney describes, supports a “systematic irrationality and a feedback loop” that encourages many tech entrepreneurs to turn down the easy early exit of selling out to a bigger company and make the commitment to grind for a decade or more in the hopes of joining the afore-mentioned standouts as a massive success.

No other area apart from Seattle (No. 7 on our list) comes close in this regard to nurturing tech giants. The success of the Bay Area and Valley also attracts outsiders who want to be close to the action, including foreign players like Samsung, and old economy stalwarts that need a tech infusion like Wal-Mart.

The Surprise Tech Upstarts

Some of the others in our top 10 are not as renowned as tech centers, but have experienced rapid growth over the past decade. The biggest surprise may be No. 4 Houston, which enjoyed a 42.3% expansion of jobs in tech industries and a big 37.8% boost in STEM jobs from 2004-14. Much of the growth was in the now sputtering energy industry, but also medical-related technology, which continues to grow rapidly. Houston is the home to the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest concentration of medical facilities. It also ranks second to San Jose in engineers per capita.

The Mountain West metropolises of Salt Lake City (sixth) and Denver (11th) also have posted impressive growth, and now boast considerably higher share of tech and STEM workers in their populations than the national average; in Salt Lake City 5.9 percent of jobs are in tech industries and 4.1% are in STEM. Denver is even more impressive with 7.3% of jobs in tech industries and 5.1% working in STEM.  Salt Lake City’s gains are linked to a continued migration of tech firms, largely from Silicon Valley, whereas Denver is making waves as a start-up incubator.

The other top cities on our growth list all tend to be emerging tech centers. These include No. 8 Nashville, where strong growth in data centers and systems design firms is at least partially tied to its strength in the health sector, No. 9 Jacksonville, driven by IT and computer programming services firms, and, perhaps most surprising, No. 10 Memphis, whose 35% tech growth since 2012 is due mostly to significant recent growth in engineering services. However, the tech sectors in these cities are still very small — Memphis had only 7,800 tech industry workers last year — and all three still trail the national average for the share of tech workers in the population.

More Hat Than Cattle?

Some journalists and pundits believe tech is moving from its suburban roots and towards dense, large cities. And there’s some truth to the fact that the social media boom, and some tech-driven services, appeal naturally to the same creative and culturally minded workforce concentrated in core cities. But this shift is not too evident in terms of job creation. High-tech growth in city centers may have more to do with tech sector expansion in general occurring in every type of geography.

Suburban Silicon Valley, for example, has nearly twice the concentration of tech jobs as San Francisco; even amidst the social media boom, the Valley since 2012 has greatly outpaced the City and its immediate suburbs in terms of both new tech and STEM employment. The largest tech projects going up in the Bay Area — new headquarters for Google, LinkedIn and Apple – are being built in the Valley, not the city.

Unlike San Francisco, cities located far from tech centers have not done nearly as well as often reported. Chicago has been desperate to portray itself as a major tech center, developing elaborate facilities for companies, while promoting its own high-tech icon, Groupon, and crowing over the high-profile names its lured to open up offices in the city, like Google. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has even proposed expanded bike lanes as part of his plan to lure tech-savvy members of the “creative class” to his city.

Yet despite all the noise, Chicago ranked a mediocre 33rd on our growth list, with 20.3% tech industry employment growth from 2004-14 and a mere 3.8% growth in STEM jobs. Both numbers are below the national average, as is the region’s percentage of employees in tech and STEM.

How about Los Angeles, with its fabulous weather, elite universities (Caltech, University of Southern California, UCLA, Cal Poly Pomona and Harvey Mudd College) and close ties to the creative engine of Hollywood? Local boosters like to claim that the metro area is undergoing a full-scale “tech boom” focused on the west side in its so-called “Silicon Beach.” To be sure, the region still boasts the second largest pool of STEM workers in the country, in part due to its legacy of manufacturing, led by its shrunken but still sizable aerospace industry (63,000 jobs, down by 90,000 since the end of the Cold War). But Los Angeles’ large STEM numbers are to a great degree a function of the massive population of the metro area – the percentage of STEM employees in the workforce is 4.9%, a hair below the national average of 5%, while 2.5% of its workforce is in tech industries, trailing the national average of 2.9%. Los Angeles lands a poor 38th on our growth list, with an 18.7% expansion in tech industry jobs since 2004 and a 4% increase in STEM jobs, a shade below the national average of 4.2%.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is New York, whose boosters are now claiming it to be the No. 2 tech center in the nation and the Valley’s chief rival. However, on our job growth list New York sits in a mediocre 35th place, with 24.3% growth in tech industry employment over the past 10 years, and only 4% in the last two. In STEM, New York still has the largest number of jobs of any metro area in the nation at 428,000 as of 2014, but that’s up a paltry 2.7% since 2004, and, as in the case of L.A., is a function of its large population. The percentage of STEM employees in the local workforce falls short of the national average at 4.4%. New York has gained about 51,000 technology industry jobs since 2004 and 12,000 since 2012, giving it a total of roughly 265,000 tech jobs. But that’s some 70,000 fewer than the Bay Area, an economy about one third the size of New York’s.

Critically, most New York “tech” seems more linked to media than actual physical products, essentially replacing many of its old media jobs with newer ones. Part of the problem for New York is that it’s profoundly weak in engineering talent, ranking 78th out of 85 metropolitan areas in engineers per capita.

The Bay Area Versus The Rest

The current social media bubble will surely pop, but as Michael S. Malone and others have noted, the Bay Area’s preeminence will likely continue, fueled by its unique concentration of engineers, entrepreneurs, and risk capital. Instead of losing out to New York, Silicon Valley and San Francisco are luring many top performers from Wall Street. Google alone has 1,200 employees who formerly worked for large U.S. investment banks, and migration from the Big Apple to California is now at its highest level since 2006.

In the coming years the engineering-centered Valley seems better positioned to seize on the challenges posed by the “Internet of things,” including systems for heating and cooling and autonomous cars, as well as biotechnology. In the long run, the Valley’s hegemony is threatened not by any one place, but by several that offer significant technical expertise, with far lower housing costs. San Francisco is already by far the nation’s least affordable metro area. Only 11% of residents making the median annual income can afford to buy a home, according to the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index – and the median income is in the San Francisco area is a hefty $100,400. The Valley is not far behind at 21.8%. The high prices throughout the Bay Area has become a concern of tech executives, who fear they will have troubles attracting more experienced engineers and managers.

No matter the headlines, the reality is that future tech growth is more likely to be created by the less sexy business services sectors than by Internet media or software publishers. In the last decade three often-ignored industries — engineering services, systems design and custom programming – added nearly 750,000 jobs, while software providers and Internet properties added less than 200,000. The decentralizing force of these boring sectors is what’s driving growth in the second- and third-tier tech cities.

But despite these trends, don’t expect the landscape of American technology, particularly at the high end, to change dramatically in the near future. Inertia is a powerful force, as is the enormous concentration of venture funds and expertise around the Bay Area. But if no one area can hope to challenge Silicon Valley’s lead position, it is likely tech growth will continue to flow to other areas that could collectively take the tech capital of the world down a notch or two.

2015 Metropolitan Tech-STEM Growth Index Rank Region (MSA) Score 2004-2014 Tech Industry Growth 2012-2014 Tech Industry Growth 2014 Tech Industry LQ 2004-2014 STEM Occuptn Growth 2012-2014 STEM Occuptn Growth 2014 STEM Occuptn LQ 1 Austin 87.4 73.9% 21.8% 1.90 36.4% 11.2% 1.77 2 Raleigh, NC 85.7 62.3% 17.0% 2.23 39.0% 13.4% 1.63 3 San Jose 78.1 70.2% 19.6% 4.92 25.8% 10.2% 3.11 4 Houston 77.8 42.3% 18.5% 1.26 37.8% 12.3% 1.30 5 San Francisco 70.5 67.4% 13.0% 2.64 27.5% 7.9% 1.74 6 Salt Lake City, UT 70.0 62.4% 11.0% 1.44 33.3% 7.5% 1.17 7 Seattle 66.5 58.3% 7.4% 2.34 37.6% 6.2% 1.94 8 Nashville 65.3 68.6% 15.1% 0.68 14.7% 7.6% 0.80 9 Jacksonville, FL 62.7 58.4% 13.5% 0.87 16.0% 8.2% 0.84 10 Memphis, TN 61.0 35.3% 34.9% 0.41 5.0% 7.4% 0.63 11 Denver 56.4 34.5% 10.1% 1.79 24.4% 7.8% 1.47 12 Indianapolis 55.9 52.2% 8.2% 0.88 15.0% 7.4% 1.04 13 Charlotte, NC 54.8 36.4% 8.7% 0.81 23.8% 7.1% 0.96 14 Phoenix 54.1 51.1% 13.3% 0.90 13.9% 5.1% 1.10 15 Kansas City, MO 54.0 46.2% 11.2% 1.49 16.5% 6.0% 1.11 16 Portland, OR 52.5 33.2% 9.6% 1.10 19.8% 7.2% 1.31 17 San Antonio 52.1 43.5% 4.3% 0.92 26.6% 4.8% 0.82 18 Dallas 52.1 43.9% 6.0% 1.11 22.0% 5.4% 1.20 19 Boston, MA 50.9 43.4% 9.9% 2.28 16.0% 5.2% 1.59 20 Sacramento 47.5 47.8% 6.7% 0.94 11.6% 4.7% 1.36 21 Grand Rapids 46.7 26.4% 13.2% 0.50 7.1% 7.6% 0.95 22 Louisville, KY 46.5 23.7% 10.8% 0.57 16.4% 6.0% 0.74 23 San Diego 45.4 33.8% 7.2% 1.81 16.0% 4.7% 1.44 24 Las Vegas 45.1 13.6% 15.0% 0.57 8.8% 8.0% 0.47 25 Tampa 43.7 26.8% 10.7% 0.99 4.2% 7.4% 0.91 26 Orlando 42.9 18.3% 8.7% 0.96 13.9% 6.4% 0.82 27 Baltimore 40.0 30.4% 5.2% 1.55 16.6% 2.6% 1.42 28 Atlanta 38.0 19.1% 5.7% 1.22 10.2% 5.4% 1.10 29 Minneapolis 37.8 17.8% 7.7% 1.07 11.0% 4.6% 1.24 30 Cincinnati, OH 37.0 20.6% 8.7% 0.81 8.1% 4.0% 1.04 31 Pittsburgh, PA 35.8 25.2% 3.1% 1.06 14.4% 2.5% 1.06 32 Miami 35.0 3.6% 13.3% 0.64 -1.0% 7.3% 0.62 33 Chicago, IL 34.3 20.3% 8.8% 0.91 3.7% 3.8% 0.93 34 Richmond, VA 32.4 33.9% -2.9% 0.79 9.7% 2.2% 1.00 35 New York 32.2 24.3% 4.7% 0.96 5.0% 2.7% 0.89 36 Cleveland 32.1 21.7% 5.3% 0.74 4.1% 3.2% 0.91 37 Hartford 31.9 30.7% 4.9% 0.89 4.9% 1.2% 1.12 38 Los Angeles 31.1 18.7% 4.9% 0.86 2.1% 4.0% 0.99 39 Detroit 29.2 6.2% 8.5% 1.97 -2.3% 5.4% 1.44 40 Columbus, OH 27.9 9.5% 3.1% 1.07 9.4% 2.3% 1.19 41 Riverside 25.5 12.8% 0.1% 0.33 4.7% 2.7% 0.53 42 Providence 24.9 13.1% 1.3% 0.76 0.5% 3.1% 0.88 43 New Orleans 24.8 21.6% 8.0% 0.68 -11.1% 2.4% 0.68 44 Oklahoma City, OK 23.9 0.4% -4.8% 0.49 15.5% 2.6% 0.96 45 Buffalo 23.2 26.3% -2.4% 0.80 3.1% -0.1% 0.85 46 Birmingham 22.7 3.3% 2.7% 0.65 1.7% 2.8% 0.82 47 St. Louis, MO 21.9 9.5% -3.5% 0.89 3.1% 2.9% 1.00 48 Philadelphia, PA 21.6 10.0% 2.4% 1.17 0.6% 1.2% 1.09 49 Rochester, NY 19.9 12.0% 8.1% 0.74 -4.5% -0.8% 1.06 50 Washington, DC 16.4 7.3% -4.7% 2.59 10.8% -2.0% 2.07 51 Milwaukee 16.3 0.1% -2.8% 0.76 1.5% 1.6% 0.99 52 Virginia Beach 8.0 -2.2% -7.3% 1.04 1.5% -1.5% 1.05

To determine the metro areas that are generating the most tech jobs, Mark Schill of Praxis Strategy Group,, examined employment data in two different categories. Half our ranking is based on changes in employment at companies in high-technology industries, such as software and engineering. (This includes all workers at these companies, some of whom, like janitors or receptionists, do not perform tech functions). Half is based on changes in the number of workers classified as being in STEM occupations, which captures tech workers who are employed in all industries, including those not primarily associated with technology, such as finance or business services. We ranked the 52 largest U.S. metropolitan statistical areas by the growth in tech and STEM employment from 2004 to 2014, as well as for their more near-term growth from 2012 to 2014 to give credit for current momentum.

This piece originally appeared at 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 Los Angeles, CA.

Mark Schill is a community process consultant, economic strategist, and public policy researcher with Praxis Strategy Group.

Photo "Sixth Street Austin" by Larry D. Moore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Florida's Everglades: A Vernacular Far From Miami

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 04:58

South Florida connotes a certain lifestyle in media and popular culture. Miami’s bright, tall energy has always been intertwined with the Florida Everglades’ quiet, flat landscape – low, grassy plains soaked with swamp water and edged by dense jungle. The seam where these two opposites meet is neither active nor passive; it is, instead, a third thing, where man’s activity has subtly modified the landscape, and nature has slowed man’s pace closer to its own. The edge of the Everglades has an almost off-kilter Caribbean or Central American sense of place that feels exotic and familiar at the same time. Its pleasant tension reassures me there is still an edge to Florida, when the scratchy blanket of protective regulation is thrown off to reveal informal, naturalized structures that blend beautifully into the natural environment.

Southwest of Miami lies the city of Homestead, Florida, famous for being the front door through which Hurricane Andrew entered Florida in 1992. Today, Homestead is an exurb of Miami, with a relentless street grid extending west and south. Homestead’s housing, schools, and commercial strips grew after Andrew’s devastation, ending only at the hard edge of the Everglades National Park.

Along this line, the housing and farmland stops, and is taken over by the wide 'River of Grass' –the term of the writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas, which has come to be synonymous with the Everglades' ecosystems of marshes, swamps, mangrove forests, rocky land, and marine environments. Douglas, as well as local writers Patrick Smith and Carl Hiassen, has brought this unique place to life, with vivid descriptions of the colorful, offbeat character of the people who seem attracted to its vastness, and the freshwater river under it that flows down to the Caribbean Sea.

Homestead’s western frontier is a jagged edge, a squared-off, pixilated curve defined by a patchwork of rear property lines and rural roads. On one side, houses pop up in between rows of beans; on the other, there grows a green a jumble of ficus and palmetto. At more than one location abandoned asphalt strips crumble into the jungle’s interior, a subdivision extended a little too far. Here, no one ever built a home, and the empty lots pass into a suburban archeology of rusted street signs and vine-choked fire hydrants, a developer’s dream faded away.

In the agricultural areas, open fields with crops alternate with tropical fruit groves. Mango, papaya, banana, and coconut bloom in the spring, their fragrant scents wafting in the early morning air. Workers in the field are dwarfed by the flat landscape, a world away from the America’s eighth largest metropolitan area.

Here, the vernacular building style is a colorful, deliciously un-Miami-like mix of shipping containers and barn tin. The traditional Seminole chickee —a rough, open hut with a raised floor, on a log frame — lends a tropical, exotic flair to this spotty rim of human inhabitation, pressed against nature’s vast size. The chickee's thatched palm fronds create a natural insulation barrier that blocks the sun’s heat, and the fully open sides allow the tiniest of breezes to move air through the space underneath. This native response to the land is more appropriate than the thick-walled, stucco-buttered architecture imported from arid Spain and grafted onto Florida’s humid, wet character. The Seminole answer was to work with nature, have a light touch, and when a hurricane blows it all away, build it again. The classic Florida Chickee is an informal structure that the Seminole tribe builds. Some still use as living quarters in a way similar to camping (for those who prefer air conditioning, power, and plumbing, a more modern house is used).This zen approach to fulfilling the human need for shelter is decidedly un-modern and soft, and the chickee presence at the edge of the Everglades lends a certain amount of respect to the power of nature just beyond.

Civilized life is stripped away, layer by layer, on the margin of the city. Abandoned subdivisions and Native American chickees coexist together, creating a sense of place that overlays the premodern chickee onto the failed subdivisions of modernity. This sense of place tends to mark man’s over-reach into the wilderness. Yet another marker can be found on buildings constructed by modern means, where layers of veneer have not been added: raw materials, unpainted and unadorned, stand crude and timeless against the trees and the sky. The edge’s presence can be sensed where structures start to dissolve into informality.

Everglades National Park is a hard, urban boundary on the map, but on the ground it is a blurred zone where the slow-moving river of grass influences human activities. The nuanced edge continues into the Everglades themselves, where Florida’s subtle water-nature is uninterrupted. Water flows in a gentle, slow sheet across Florida’s flat limestone bed, coated with organic material barely thick enough for life to cling to. Where the limestone base dips a few inches, grass fails to grow; where a nub rises a few inches above this hard plain, unique tree islands gather. These islands are too densely vegetated to admit any human. Their edges are wrapped in a thick tangle of branches and leaves, a sort of bonsai-forest in miniature. Insects, birds, and other small creatures inhabit these infrastructures, forming their own natural urban civilizations of city-states, out of man’s reach.

In between approaching jets and the distant rumble of airboats, a larger silence takes over. Penetrating the membrane between inside and outside gives us a new perspective. To confine our efforts to areas that are already strongly modified by human activities suddenly makes philosophical sense. Boundaries, once created, harden over time, and the softness of the western edge of humanity against the eastern boundary of the Everglades seems destined to harden. In its current state, this snapshot of the feathered, nuanced edge of civilization seems to be delicately balanced between the rural and the natural. Agricultural industry on the periphery of the great conurbation of Miami moves at a pace that is in between the seasonal flow of the Everglades and the nanosecond street culture of contemporary western civilization.

Florida’s ubiquitous industry, tourism, mixes with agriculture even here at the edge of the wetlands, with the airboat rides, fruit stands, and alligator wrestling shows that pepper it. The vernacular architecture of the Everglades is not quite agricultural, yet not quite contemporary Florida either. Its flavor is connected to the Caribbean tropicalism one finds on islands like Puerto Rico, Barbados, and Hispañola. Endlessly adaptable shipping containers sit cheek-by-jowl with chicken coops and thatch awnings to create an ad hoc pedestrian space under palm trees. All is a little too clean and, well, 'inspected,' to be really offshore. But it’s also a little more relaxed than the uptight, postmodern built environment we’ve come to expect in America.

Heading east out of the Everglades is a somewhat wistful journey forward in time. Rural roads lined with mango trees abruptly give way to fruit processing plants, which back up to grocery store strips, and the standard parade of global brand names enters the windshield, a gateway back into contemporary America. Stoplights take longer, the traffic pace quickens, and today’s Florida, like a hair shirt, envelops you in a cocoon of highly regulated infrastructure, put there for your own protection.

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.

Photos by the author: (top) vernacular building style on the edge of the Everglades; early morning workers arrive in Homestead by bus; protypical Chickee hut; unpainted structure, common on the edge of the Everglades.

Why California's Salad Days Have Wilted

Sun, 04/12/2015 - 22:38

“Science,” wrote the University of California’s first President Daniel Coit Gilman, “is the mother of California.” In making this assertion, Gilman was referring mostly to finding ways to overcoming the state’s “peculiar geographical position” so that the state could develop its “undeveloped resources.”

Nowhere was this more true than in the case of water. Except for the far north and the Sierra, California – and that includes San Francisco as well as greater Los Angeles – is essentially a semiarid desert. The soil and the climate might be ideal, but without water, California is just a lot of sunny potential, but not much economic value.

Yet, previous generations of Californians, following Gilman’s instructions, used technology to build new waterworks, from the Hetch Hetchy Dam to the L.A. Aqueduct and, finally, the California State Water Project and its federal counterpart, the Central Valley Project. These turned California into the richest farming area on the planet and generated opportunities for the tens of millions who came to live in the state’s cities and suburbs.

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 Los Angeles, CA.

Photo of Lake Palmdale California Water Project by Kfasimpaur (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Transit Ridership Increases: No Escape from New York

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 22:38

Transit ridership is increasing in the United States. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has reported that 10.8 billion trips were taken on transit in 2014, the largest number since 1956. With a more than 80% increase in gasoline prices since 2004, higher transit ridership was to be expected. However, it would be wrong to suggest the transit ridership is anywhere near its historic peak, nor that the increases have been broadly spread around the nation.

Highest Ridership Since 1956 (Which was the Lowest Since 1912)

Total transit ridership in 2014 was the highest since 1956. That's just the beginning. The 2014 modern record ridership was lower than every year from 1956 all the way back to at least 1912, the last year of William Howard Taft's presidency, when transit carried 13.2 billion riders.

Transit ridership has virtually collapsed since that time in relative terms. In 1912, the average man, woman and child rode transit at least 170 times a year. Today, the figure is about 35, down 80% from 1912. During the intervening century, non-farm employment increased by more than five times and the urban population, transit's principal market, also increased more than five times. Ridership was elevated to its peak by gasoline rationing during World War II. Before that, transit ridership had peaked in 1926, as car ownership and suburbs rose before the Great Depression.

The Continuing Dominance of New York

Further, contrary to some media accounts, recent transit increases have not really been national in scope. Nearly all of it was on transit systems that serve local mobility in the City of New York as well as the rail systems serving the City from the suburbs. In the City, most of the service is provided by the Transit Authority. Additional services are provided by the New York City Department of Transportation and the Staten Island Railway. The suburban rail systems are the Long Island Railroad, the Metro North Railroad, New Jersey Transit Rail and PATH Rail. On these systems, nearly 90% of national work trip travel was to the city of New York and nearly three-quarters of those were to Manhattan.

Transit and New York: The Last Decade

Overall, the enormous system of buses and subways of New York City alone accounted for 88 percent of the national ridership increase from 2013 to 2014. If the ridership on the four large suburban rail systems that serve New York City (the Long Island Railroad, the Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey transit commuter rail, and the PATH trains) is added, City related transit accounts for 94 percent of the increase. A great achievement for the City, but not one that is being repeated in the rest of the nation.

This is nothing new. National transit ridership has increased about 10 percent over the decade since 2004. Much of the increase --- 79 percent --- has been on New York City's buses and subways. The suburban rail systems raise that total to 84 percent. This does not include the many commuter buses that enter the city especially from New Jersey and other suburbs, which cannot extracted from the data because it is not separately reported (Figure).

New York's transit turnaround has been nothing short of impressive. Nearly all of the nation's progress in transit has been on a bus and subway system that carries one third of the national rides.

The results have not been nearly so positive in the rest of urban America, where 30 times as many people live. While New York City related transit services experienced a ridership increase of 33% in the last decade, in the rest of the nation, the increase was less than three percent. Even huge ridership increases in New York City cannot make much of a difference nationally. In 2004, transit accounted for approximately 1.6% of urban travel. By 2014, it had risen to only 1.7%. Without taking anything from New York City's impressive transit record, these results are not likely to be replicated elsewhere. New York City is a very unique place. It is home to the world's second largest business district, after Tokyo, the area south of Central Park in Manhattan. Approximately 2 million peoplework in this small area, a number approximately four times the next largest central business districts, in Chicago and Washington.

Approximately three quarters of Manhattan employees reach work by transit. This is 15 times the national average, New York City's population density (excluding Staten Island, with its postwar suburbanization) is by far the highest and most extensive in the nation. The city of San Francisco comes the closest to New York City, with little more than half the population density and only 1/10 the total population.

Transit is often suggested as a substitute for the car. The reality is that transit can compete with the car only to the largest downtowns. Destinations within the six transit "legacy cities," (not metropolitan areas) of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington account for most of the nation's transit work trips. And, 60% of these trips are to downtown.

Transit cannot compete elsewhere, because travel times tend to be double those of the automobile (according to the American Community Survey) and it provides little practical access to most jobs.  University of Minnesota research indicates the average employee can reach fewer than 10 percent of jobs in less than one hour by transit in 46 major metropolitan areas. By contrast, approximately 65% of people who drive reach their jobs in less than 30 minutesby car in the major metropolitan areas. Building new rail systems doesn't change the equation. At least 20 new urban rail systems have been built in the last four decades, though transit's percentage of work trips has generally not improved, despite representations about reducing traffic congestion to the contrary. For example, in Portland, Washington, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Atlanta, which have among the most extensive new rail systems, a smaller percentage of commuters use transit than before rail opened, when there were only buses.

Even low income workers, who are often portrayed as "transit dependent," use cars much more than transit, and at a rate nearly equal to that of others in the labor force.

Yet, transit funding advocates continue to seek even more money, claiming that transit can attract drivers from their cars and reduce traffic congestion. That may be true in New York City's uniquely transit-friendly environment, but not elsewhere.

Wendell Cox was a three-term member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and chaired two APTA national committees. He is a public policy consultant in St. Louis and is a senior fellow at the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.

Photo: Bart A car Oakland Coliseum Station

Is Suburbia Crashing? Suburban Traffic Myths Refuted

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 11:16

Traffic crashes are a cause of ill health, impaired living or curtailed lifespan. Does city growth, in its sprawl-type outward expansion, increase the incidence of fatal and injurious crashes? This factor is the latest addition to numerous attempts to pin a correlation or causality linking traffic accidents with any number of causes.

The twentieth century is not the only time in city evolution at which traffic accidents became a concern. Around the end of nineteenth century, when all in-city transportation was hoof and foot-dependent, accidents in cities were common.

In New York, for example, 200 persons died in accidents in the year 1900, which, when transposed, means a 75 percent higher per capita rate than today. In Chicago the rate per horse-drawn vehicle in 1916 would be almost seven times the per auto rate in 1997.

These are surprising, counter-intuitive statistics: the two cities, as all others at the time, were not just walkable, they were predominantly foot-based cities; exemplars of urbanism. No person had to cross six-lane arterials or dodge high-speed vehicles. Distances were short, city blocks small, densities high, and personal daily routine took place mostly on foot. It seems paradoxical that a walkable, dense, mixed-use city would generate high fatality rates; and more so because the speed of traffic ranged between 3 and 9 m/hr : half or less the 20 m/hr threshold beyond which fatalities increase. Without sidetracking for explanations, we can draw at least one simple idea from this past: a dense, foot-based city can generate high rates of fatalities.

Soon after motorized transport entered city streets, fatal crashes rose. In the face of appalling and rising death figures, many adjustments occurred over a 30-year period. None of these changes involved urban form; they were inevitably operational and regulatory (e.g. lane markers, stop signs, driving rules, etc).

In the U.S. during the first decades of the automobile’s presence on city streets, car accident rates fell rapidly even though car travel tripled between 1920 and 1955.

During the same period the urban form characteristics remained fairly stable. The modest suburban expansion of cities at that time was light-rail dependent; “motopia” had yet to emerge . Most urban form of the '30s and '40s was generally similar to the early twentieth century prototypes: medium to high density compact development around a rail line or station with a core of amenities and services. It is nearly impossible to determine whether or not this form played a role in the drop in fatalities, due to the absence of concurrent alternative forms. When new “motopia” forms emerged, trends in fatalities did not bear out their influence.

When automobile dominance was firmly established and new highways opened vast tracts of land for city growth, urban form at the city periphery changed decisively from compact, mixed use, walkable and transit-centered to typical “motopia” or “sprawl.”

Despite a Smart Growth America recent claim of a correlation between sprawl and an increase in fatal accidents and a small decrease in injuries, the traffic fatality rate actually decreased as U.S. cities sprawled and total VMTs increased.

The current level of traffic fatalities stands at about one third of the 1955 level and less than 1/20 of the 1925 rate. Intriguingly, sprawl at the national scale did not produce an increase in fatal or total crashes as analysts predicted. If the sprawl paradigm did play its negative role, then other countervailing factors must have had a greater influence that overshadowed its effect.

The national trends in Canada mirror those of the U.S. Notably, fatal crashes fell at a faster rate than injuries, increasing the uncertainty about the correlation that links a substantial rise in fatalities with a rise in “sprawl-ness”. Provincial statistics show similar trends. The chart below shows the trends in Ontario, the most populous Canadian province:

During a quarter century of more suburban expansion, fatalities and injuries followed a similar decline for a respective drop of around 70 percent in fatalities and about 60 percent in injuries; a substantial change. Like the national level statistics, provincial ones reinforce the uncertainty about a correlation between urban form and traffic fatality rates; instead of upward climb, we see an unmistakable decline.

But what do statistics show at the finer, city scale?

We turn to two – Toronto and Calgary – of six Canadian cities whose sprawl has been documented in detail. In spite of their anti-sprawl policies, in most the movement was retrograde, toward more sprawl.

The graph above shows Toronto's trend in fatal crashes and injuries for the period of 1997 to 2011. Toronto during these 15 years can be characterized as a suburbanized region (with a few exurban appendices) that continues to expand using the conventional development model.

In addition, Calgary, Alberta, the “car capital of Canada”, according to a Smart Growth report, has Canada's lowest overall density; it remains a sprawled city. As with the national and provincial trends, the two cities’ traffic safety trends show a persistent overall drop in fatal and injurious accidents. Once more, the city-level fatalities and injuries trends contradict the correlation that links sprawl-type urban form with an increase in fatal accidents and a decrease in injuries. Whatever the countervailing factors are, they mask and overwhelm an expected rise in fatalities. As for the decrease in injuries, the actual drop is far greater than what the postulated correlation would predict and cannot be explained by it alone.

If at the national, provincial and city levels the trends are positive in spite of the negative direction of urban form, the health concerns that would justify planning interventions appear to have been alleviated on this front, at least for the first century of automobility and for the half century of uninterrupted sprawl.

One might speculate that had growth been in a compact, walkable, diverse use, transit-centered form, fatalities could have declined even faster. This could well be true but cannot be deduced from the above statistics. Regardless, the current trends could not be seen as a cause for concern and urgent action on the urban form front. On strictly health grounds, cities and provinces are progressing in the right direction. There is no apparent imminent or growing threat.

So far we have seen the difficulty of explaining the persistent drop in traffic fatalities via a correlation with “sprawl-ness” and we hypothesized that other factors may be at work. Indeed they are. We find several in overlapping lists of international, national, provincial and city documents: some linked to the causes of fatal crashes, others as government directives. Here is a collection in no particular order of importance:

Speed limit range/control
Drinking and driving laws
Young driver restrictions
Intersection geometry
Car crash-worthiness rating
Car fitness regulations
Road condition care
Driving fitness/age
Speeding penalties
Vulnerable user protection
Motorcycle helmets
Seat belt use/air-bags
Child restraints usage
Pre-hospital, on-spot care
Distraction prohibitions

As one example of the potential effect of safety measures, NHTSA in 2005 estimated that 5,839 lives would have been saved in 2004 (or 14 percent of total car-related fatalities) if all passengers wore seat belts.

Planning interventions can have multiple beneficial effects. On at least one front there is no cause for alarm or a rationale for a call to arms; the battle against traffic fatalities is being won, without urban form change. This does not suggest that a correlation between sprawl and the reduction in fatal and injurious crashes exists, or imply that sprawl is a desirable urban form. It simply means that the effect of urban form on crashes cannot be established unequivocally and therefore cannot be a lead driver for action.

Fanis Grammenos heads Urban Pattern Associates (UPA), a planning consultancy. UPA researches and promotes sustainable planning practices including the implementation of the Fused Grid, a new urban network model. He is a regular columnist for the Canadian Home Builder magazine, and author of Remaking the City Street Grid: A model for urban and suburban development. Reach him at

After twenty-four years at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Tom Kerwin now leads an active volunteer life, including being the Science and Environment Coordinator for the Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners. He holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University.

A different version of this article appeared at SustainableCitiesCollective.

Flickr photo by 7mary3: a car accident due to an unsafe lane change.

Calling Out the High-Tech Hypocrites

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 07:11

The recent brouhaha over Indiana’s religious freedom law revealed two basic things: the utter stupidity of the Republican Party and the rising power of the emerging tech oligarchy. As the Republicans were once again demonstrating their incomprehension of new social dynamics, the tech elite showed a fine hand by leading the opposition to the Indiana law.

This positioning gained the tech industry an embarrassingly laudatory piece in the   New York Times, portraying its support for gay rights as symbolic of a “new social activism” that proves their commitment to progressive ideals.

“So many tech companies have embraced a mission that they say is larger than profits,” Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, the online real estate firm, told the Times. “Once you wrap yourself up in a moral flag, you have to carry it to the top of other hills.”

Yet beneath the veneer of good intentions, the world being created by the tech oligarchs   both within and outside of Silicon Valley fails in virtually every area dear to traditional liberals. On a host of issues—from the right to privacy to ethnic and feminine empowerment and social justice—the effects of the tech industry are increasingly regressive.

The valley elite may have won its gender discrimination lawsuit against Ellen Pao, but this does not dispel the notion that it runs largely on testosterone. The share of women in the tech industry is barely half of their 47 percent share in the total workforce.  Stanford researcher Vivek Wadhwa describes Silicon Valley as still “a boys’ club that regarded women as less capable than men and subjected them to negative stereotypes and abuse.”

Race is another hot spot for progressives, but outside of Asians, the valley’s record is nothing short of miserable. Some of this reflects the rapid de-industrialization of the industry—the valley has lost 80,000 manufacturing jobs alone since 2000—as companies shift their industrial facilities either to China or to states like Utah and Texas, where they can escape the tax and regulatory regime that they so avidly support back in California.

So good blue-collar jobs go elsewhere, and the valley’s  own  African-Americans and Hispanics (who  make up roughly one-third of the population) now occupy  barely 5 percent of jobs in the top Silicon Valley firms.  They have not done well in the current tech “boom”: Between  2009 and 2011,  earnings dropped  18 percent for blacks and 5 percent for Latinos, according to a 2013 Joint Venture Silicon Valley eport. 

Nor can we expect tech firms to go out of their way to train or develop too many American-born workers, of whatever race, for their jobs. Instead the industry’s elites seek to get their employees through H-1B immigrants, largely from Asia. These workers are likely to be more docile, and more limited in their job options than native born or naturalized citizens. Given that there is a surplus of American IT workers, this brings to mind not global consciousness but instead the importation of the original coolie labor force brought to California to build the railroads.

Similarly, despite claims of a commitment to personal freedom, valley firms like Google are  renowned for their calculated violations of privacy. Support the free movement of labor? Others, notably Apple, are also leaders in seeking to restrain employees  from changing jobs.

And what about the sensible liberal idea that the rich and corporations should pay their “fair share” of taxes?  That’s a progressive ideal paid for by your Main Street businessman or your local dentists, but don’t expect your tech oligarchs to play by the same rules.  True, Bill Gates has voiced public support for higher taxes on the rich but tech companies, including Microsoft, have bargained to evade paying their own taxes. Facebook paid no taxes in 2012, despite profits in excess of $1 billion.  Apple, which even the New York Times described as “a pioneer in tactics to avoid taxes,” has kept much of its cash hoard abroad to keep away from Uncle Sam.

If these actions were taken by oil companies or suburban developers, the mainstream media would be up in arms. Yet by embracing “progressive” values on issues like gay rights, the tech oligarchs are trying to secure a politically correct “get out of jail free” card. Monopolistic behavior, tax avoidance, misogyny, and privacy violations are OK, as long as you mouth the right words about gay rights and climate change—and have the money and  the channels to broadcast your message.

Like other plutocrats, the tech oligarchs seek to buy political protection, usually from the Democrats. In 2012, tech firms gave Democrats roughly twice as much  campaign money to Democrats than to Republicans.

If anything, grassroots techies are even more left-oriented, with 91 percent  of the contributions of Apple employees in the 2012 presidential race going to President Obama.

Yet despite these leanings, the tech oligarchs manage to get a pass from conservatives. Perhaps some have over-imbibed Ayn Rand, becoming prisoners of an ideology that suggests the valley elites reflect a  “meritocratic” ideal driven by profits. That’s an interesting take since so many leading tech firms, from Amazon to Twitter, actually earn little or no profit. They benefit instead from easy access to capital markets, from which they can extract enormous earnings through stock inflation.

Other conservatives also seem to share the views of the most prominent tech libertarian, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, who claims that non-conformist business is now “increasingly rare outside of Silicon Valley.” Yet given the “me too” nature of much of what passes for tech today, and the huge advantages to those who can access venture capital,  perhaps American farmers, wildcat oil drillers and even cutting edge restaurateurs take bigger risks, and provide better bigger social rewards to the overall economy.

Commentators on the right and much of the left  seem to have forgotten that the valley is no longer dominated by scraggly outsiders creating amazing innovative products. In most cases now they are essentially extending the power of the Internet—developed by the U.S. military and paid for by American taxpayers—into a host of fields from transportation to renting out rooms. In many cases they are simply redistributing to themselves money that once went to publishing companies, taxi drivers and hotels. That’s capitalism, but not inherently moral, or compassionate.

In reality the valley elite is increasingly nothing more than the latest iteration of   oligopolistic crony capitalism. Firms like Google, Apple and Microsoft hold market shares in their fields upwards of 80 percent. In some cases, they do it without improving their products, as anyone using Microsoft products can certainly attest. Their control of their markets is far greater than those of  the  largest oil, automobile or home-building firms.  Tech firms, particularly in California, have also been primary beneficiaries of crony capitalism, particularly in terms of “green energy” schemes that are far from market-worthy. Despite this, Google and their ilk get subsidies to reap profits while forcing California’s middle and working classes to pay higher bills.

As a country, it is time to understand that the tech oligarchs are not much different from, and no better than, previous business elites. Like oil companies under the Bushes, they relish their ties to the powerful, as evidenced by Google’s weekly confabs with Obama administration officials. No surprise that a host of former top  Obama aides—including former campaign manager David Plouffe (Uber) and White House press secretary Jay Carney (Amazon)—have signed up to work for tech giants.  

None of this is to say that the tech elites need to be broken up like Standard Oil or stigmatized like the tobacco industry. But it’s certainly well past the time for people both left and right to understand that this oligarchy’s rise similarly poses a danger to our society’s future. By their very financial power, plutocratic elites -- whether their names are Rockefeller, Carnegie, Page, Bezos or Zuckerberg --  need  to be closely watched for potential abuses instead of being the subjects of mindless celebration from both ends of the political spectrum.

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 Los Angeles, CA.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Affordable Housing Maui Style

Sun, 04/05/2015 - 22:38

I was recently at a friend’s wedding on Maui. It was a beautiful ceremony in a magnificent location. The wedding was a week-long affair and the other guests were thrilled to enjoy the beach and sip drinks along the cascade of infinity pools at the resort. But I’m weird. I can’t sit still that long so I started to explore how the place works – not just the one resort, but the whole Maui tourist economy. First, I checked out real estate prices in the area. The cost of even the most modest homes and apartments are off the charts expensive. Property is pegged to what wealthy outsiders from the mainland and abroad are willing and able to pay rather than what the local population can afford.


I was recently at a friend’s wedding on Maui. It was a beautiful ceremony in a magnificent location. The wedding was a week-long affair and the other guests were thrilled to enjoy the beach and sip drinks along the cascade of infinity pools at the resort. But I’m weird. I can’t sit still that long so I started to explore how the place works – not just the one resort, but the whole Maui tourist economy. First, I checked out real estate prices in the area. The cost of even the most modest homes and apartments are off the charts expensive. Property is pegged to what wealthy outsiders from the mainland and abroad are willing and able to pay rather than what the local population can afford. That got me thinking about where the hotel staff lived. So I asked the people I encountered how they manage under the circumstances. There were a few standard answers.


First, there was upper management who were highly trained and well educated professionals who earned tolerable salaries and, with a spouse’s professional income and a little help from family, were able to own a modest property within a reasonable commute from work. Next, were the clerks, waiters, bartenders, and such. They were generally young and spending a bit of post-college pre-marriage time in a gorgeous place doing work that was either pleasant or at least bearable given the location. The largest proportion of these folks lived in nearby properties owned by older relatives. If dad or grandma is providing free or heavily subsidized accommodations it really doesn’t matter what the place costs on the open market. A good percentage of these homes are seasonal second or third homes and would sit empty or rented to strangers anyway. Having young family members occupy these vacation and retirement properties while they work at the hotels makes perfect sense. The third most common housing arrangement involved a few people pooling their resources and sharing a single apartment to cover the rent. There was a general lack of space and privacy in these situations, but everyone understood it was temporary for a season or two. The Hawaiian adventure was worth any inconvenience.


Within a fifteen minute drive of the beachfront resorts I discovered a variety of housing types ranging from multi-million dollar single family homes to three hundred square foot studio apartments. None of these were what anyone with a normal budget or a family to support would ever call “affordable”. But one way or another the young front-end staff at the hotels find ways to make things work.

As I explored I was fascinated by the market segmentation of each product type. The subdivisions were sealed off from each other. It would be inconceivable for the people in a $5,000,000 home on a half acre lot to exist in the same pod as a complex of $900,000 two bedroom condos. The condos would be far too trashy for them. And the folks who owned $900,000 condos would be scandalized if someone tried to build $1,800 a month studio rental apartments inside their pod. That would attract “the wrong element”. The pods could all exist next to each other across the shrubbery and landscaped berms so long as they each had their own home owners associations and the roads in and out were completely segregated – preferably with a gate. Endless rules and restrictions, both private and municipal, control each pod to ensure property values are maintained at the appropriate level. This is the default suburban arrangement all over North America – give or take a few zeros and a comma.


It was a little trickier to discover where the maids and gardeners lived. The majority were older than the kids waiting tables and working the front desk and they were overwhelmingly immigrants from the Philippines. Unlike bartenders they were not generally inclined to chat with hotel guests in a casual manner. My inquiries about affordable workforce housing were met with confusion or slight suspicion. But I was eventually able to identify a few neighborhoods and the general living arrangements.


There’s simply no economic or political force on Maui that can provide sufficient affordable housing for the number of low wage workers required to run the tourist economy. Land is too expensive. Government and philanthropic funds are entirely inadequate. And political will to construct subsidized housing absolutely anywhere is a non starter at every level of the approval and community engagement process. The minimum wage in Hawaii is $7.25 per hour. The best paid housekeepers on Maui earn no more than $14.50 per hour. The median home price on Maui is $527,500 although that half million dollar number is actually misleading due to the geography of the island. Jobs are concentrated in a handful of locations where housing is significantly more expensive. Lower cost housing is in remote areas that are outside a reasonable commuting distance. HOA restrictions and a host of municipal regulations prevent too many people from sharing a rented apartment in the more expensive regions. Landlords in prime locations can pick and choose who to rent to and they tend toward Canadian tourists rather than immigrant cleaning ladies. So the sweet spot for these workers involves ordinary tract homes in specific older subdivisions that lack HOAs, are far enough from wealthy neighborhoods to escape regulatory push back, yet are close enough for a tolerable commute.


Here’s an example I pulled from a real estate site. This 1962 three bedroom one bath tract home is among the least expensive properties on the island. It’s listed for $449,000. It doesn’t get any more affordable than this. It’s been on the market for a year and the price was recently cut by $100,000. If someone were to buy this place with a standard 20% down payment of $90,000 the monthly mortgage would be $1,642. At either $7.25 or $14.50 per hour for low wage workers the numbers don’t add up unless many people occupy the space to get the per person rent or mortgage down to a manageable level. So each bedroom gets multiple sets of bunk beds. The living room is a bedroom. The dining room is a bedroom. The garage is a bedroom. People work day, night, and swing shifts so the same beds and parking spots are used at different times by different people. They call these homes “hot beds” since the mattresses are always occupied and never have a chance to cool. (This is exactly how my Sicilian grandparents grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression and war years. This kind of arrangement isn’t really new or different.)


This particular subdivision is protected from gentrification and redevelopment since it’s sandwiched between the airport runway and the oil tank farm of the industrial seaport. Most of these homes are owned and occupied by extended multigenerational families. Cousins arrive, work and save, send money back to their home country, or prioritize their children’s advancement. They scrub things clean and give the walls fresh paint. They make due with the resources they have. The arrangement might not be ideal, but it gets the job done in the absence of any other option. Neighbors tend to live and let live since they’re all in the same position. Local authorities are disinclined to engage in too much code enforcement since the county would simply create a homeless problem they know they can’t resolve. Employers at the resorts wouldn’t like it too much either if members of their cleaning and gardening staff suddenly stopped showing up for work. So there you have it. Affordable housing – Maui 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 properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

Shades of Red and Blue Across Counties Show Surprising Balance

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 22:40

We cannot escape the reality of a polarized America, given the current level of rhetorical and real political gridlock. And maps are frequently invoked to illustrate that this polarization is also geographic, with clear-cut Red and Blue territories.

Clearly there are large areas of extreme polarization, and we will show them. But there are also more balanced kinds of counties which vote not consistently with one side. These contested areas are more extensive than people likely believe or the media proclaim. This is healthy for the nation.

I employed a cluster analysis of US counties with selected variables that do best at distinguish voting Democratic or Republican.  This produced a useful 10 cluster solution, based most critically on voting Red or Blue, but also taking into account kinds of settlement, i.e metropolitan, small city, and rural, and a cultural gradation from traditional religious conservative to socially progressive. The historic scale on economic distinctions between Democrat and Republican is virtually extinct.    

Five clusters exhibit extreme spatial polarization—three highly Republican, two strongly Democratic. Two are solid Republican but not extreme. Three are balanced, so much so that counties in each voted Republican and Democratic, so we divided each of these into Democratic and Republican sub-groups.

Category Republican Democrat True Believers R1, R2, R3 D1, D2 Moderate Republican R4, R5 Balanced RD, DRD D3, D3R, D4, RD4

We locate these groups on four maps, one for True Believer counties of extreme polarization, two not extreme  but Republican leaning counties, two (with 4 sub-groups) that are majority Democratic, and one (with two subgroups) that is majority Republican. 

Population, votes for Obama and Romney, and values for political character are summarized in Table 1.  The table numbers should surprise many readers. True believer America is hugely important to the parties, especially the Democrats, (and symbolically for Republicans?), but contain just 103 million people and 41 million voters, about one-third of the total.

Clusters of US Counties on Presidential Politics, 2008-2012 Group # of Counties % Obama 2012 Settlement Pattern Culture Race Obama vote Romney D Margin Population (Thousands) D1 104 72 Lg met Prog + 47           19,600           7,077          12,523                68,307 D2 112 70 non-met moderate 56                 820               353                467                   2,776 D extreme 216 70 mixed high min           20,420           7,430          12,990                71,083 R3 506 32 rural Cons+ 13             1,342           2,791          (1,449)                10,034 R2 454 25 non-met Cons  21             1,737           5,297          (3,560)                17,920 R1 340 18 rural Cons + 25                 323           1,587          (1,264)                   4,164 R extreme 1300 26 rural, non-met Cons  low             3,402           9,675          (6,273)                32,118 All True Bel 1516 58 all           23,827         17,105            6,722              103,201 R5 528 40 Non-met moderate 19             3,944           5,777          (1,833)                23,231 R4 278 36 Larg met moderate 21             6,774         11,581          (4,867)                44,727 R not extreme 806 37 mix moderate 20           10,718         17,358          (6,640)                67,958 D3 194 56.5 non-metro mod to pro 21             2,227           1,727                500                   8,723 RD3 38 49 non-metro mod to pro 28                 415               435                (20)                   2,033 D3 total 232 55 non-metro 22             2,642           2,162                480                10,756 D4 194 56 large  met Prog+ 30           22,573         17,792            4,780                95,835 RD4 68 47.3 Prog+ 24             4,677           5,358             (681)                24,865 RD total 262 54 Prog+ 29           27,250         23,150            4,100              120,700 R>D 244 45.2 rural Mod to cons 19                 946           1,486             (540)                   4,574 DR>D 92 53.6 rural Mod to cons 21                 454               396                  58                   1,814 R>D total 344 rural Mod to cons 19             1,400           1,882             (482)                   6,388 All balanced 830 54           31,262         26,194            5,068              137,844 All D 62.5 metro dominated           45,674         27,335          18,379              177,455 All R 37 nonmet dominated           20,155         34,312       (14,157)              131,548 All groups 51.6           65,832         61,647            4,185              309,003


Another 68 million people and 28 million voters are in strong Republican areas, which, together with the true believer Republican areas, give the GOP dominance in counties with 100 million people and 41 million voters—about one-third of the total. This is higher than the strongly Democratic core areas with 71 million people and 28 million voters.

But the really interesting story is about the remainder of the country, which we argue is somewhat balanced, with 137 million people (44%) and 57 million voters (45%). These are significant and meaningful battleground territories, and a warning to both parties to be more careful in proclaiming long term dominance. But it is true that the total population in Democratic majority groups totals 177 million, compared to 132 million for the Republican clusters, and thus the basis for a Democratic net margin in 2012.   

We will discuss the variable settlement and cultural characteristics of the clusters through an analysis of the four maps.

True Believers

OK here is the quintessential polarization! Between areas of concentrated blue. Group D1 is mainly in large metropolitan cores, especially on the two coasts – the northeastern Megalopolis, and Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, but also Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, plus a few ethnic minority areas, as along the border with Mexico, and noted in the table as metropolitan, high in minorities, and culturally progressive. Cluster D2 is smaller, non-metropolitan, majority minority, culturally moderate, and primarily with black, Hispanic or Native American settlement, but with a different sub-set of counties in Vermont, upstate New York, and in environmental recreation areas in the west. These tilt more progressive.

The contrast with the true believer Republican clusters is profound. R1 and R2 are the most conservative, mainly rural and non-metropolitan respectively, and tend to occupy the same areas, dominating huge portions of two realms: the western high plains from Texas to North Dakota, and the extended Mormon region, centered on Utah but stretching to neighboring states. In addition, there are  some added counties in Appalachia and into the south.  R3 counties are as conservative and also rural, and are found mainly in Appalachia, Missouri (Ozarks) and in a far north belt from the Dakotas to eastern Washington. These true believer red counties constitute over half of US counties, and almost half the territory, but have only 11 percent of the population.

The strongly Republican , yet less extreme counties have a very different geography. They do tend to occur together, embracing many smaller metropolitan areas, together with adjoining non-metro counties. They tend to be culturally moderate, and much more populous than the extreme R1 to R3 groups, with 68 million people, and as important to Republican margins. They are most prevalent across the west and “the north of Appalachian north ---  OH, IL, MI, IN, WI, MO, and MN --- than in metropolitan and suburban areas in the south, notably FL, NC, SC, LA, and TX, and then in the less or smaller metropolitan west.

The more balanced counties have 138 million people, and provided a small but critical margin for Obama in 2012, with 106 million in the D majority groups, and 32 million in the R majority groups.

The Republican majority balance group RD is rural and moderately conservative. They are most prevalent across the northern edge of the country from Maine to MI, WI, MN, and IA  to the Dakotas, a historically moderate area, with scattered exurban and rural areas in the west (mainly R carried) and scattered across the south from LA to VA (also mainly R carried)

The Democratic majority balanced groups D4 and D3 are quite varied, almost a prototype of the US average! The D3 counties are mainly non-metropolitan, and moderate to progressive. The D and R carried counties tend to be intermingled. These counties are most prevalent in the “old” north from MN and IA to northern New England, but also fairly common in the Rockies and along the Pacific coast. Many of these counties were and even still are resource-oriented, and many have become exurban professional and/or environmental amenity dependent (CO, CA, WA, ID, NM, ME, NH).  

The D4 group is larger and less dominantly Democrat carried. It is mainly larger metropolitan and culturally progressive, but not as strongly Democratic as the D1 counties. The difference is that many are smaller, often “satellite” metropolitan areas, or suburban-exurban counties, as along the Pacific coast, in Florida and Megalapolis. Many were counties that were historically Republican but have become increasingly socially liberal,   experiencing declines in the Republican margins. Notable are big areas like San Diego, Riverside-San Bernardino, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, suburban Denver, and suburban-exurban NJ, NY, and CT.

The balanced counties would seem difficult for a very conservative “Tea party” candidate, and good for Hilary Clinton, but could possibly revert to Republican with a more mainstream candidate. Thus it is premature to write off the long term Republican prospects. Both parties have a long history of decline and resurgence.  If mainstream Republican leaders can restrain the extreme conservatives, then there is at least some prospect of a serious realignment, with perhaps four parties for a transition period, the Tea Party, a Business party, a Green party (progressive environmentalists), historically liberal Republican, and dare I hope, a (social) Democratic party? Bring back economics and this could happen.

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).

Asian Augmentation

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 22:38

California, our beautiful, resource-rich state, has managed to miss both the recent energy boom and the renaissance of American manufacturing. Hollywood is gradually surrendering its dominion in a war of a thousand cuts and subsidies. California’s poverty rate – adjusted for housing costs – is the nation’s worst, and much of the working class and lower middle class is being forced to the exits. Our recent spate of high-tech growth has created individual fortunes, but few jobs, outside the Bay Area. The agricultural heartland is suffering not only from drought, but from green policies that allow a torrent of unused water to flow into the Sacramento Delta and San Francisco Bay while huge parts of the Central Valley go fallow.

But California retains one powerful trump card that our leaders in Sacramento have not yet found a way to squander: Its link to Asia. True, the state’s growth-restrained ports are increasingly tied up, and, over time, much of our trade with China and other Asian countries might pass, instead, through the Panama Canal en route to Houston and other ports. But geography, culture and family ties have a way of overcoming even the most deluded policy environments.

In the 19th century, many in California railed against the “Asian invasion,” and led the drive to restrict Asian immigration to America. As early as 1850, Asians accounted for one-tenth of the state’s non-native American population. Early on, Chinese, Indian and Japanese immigrants showed remarkable ingenuity, largely as farmers and merchants, which only made whites more antagonistic. “Indispensable as the Chinese are,” one grower report admitted, “they must go, as gradually as possible.”

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 Los Angeles, CA.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Map courtesy of U.S. Census.

Can Hipsters Save Providence?

Tue, 03/31/2015 - 22:38

Providence regularly lands on the lists of top hipster cities and top hipster colleges for its cool factor, having earned plaudits from Travel and Leisure to Buzzfeed for live music, coffee shops, and hip culture.  

But can hipsters save Providence?

In 2013, when Providence took the number four slot on Travel and Leisure's list of America's Top Cities for Hipsters, the publication stated of Rhode Island's capital city, "On the west side, you can order vegan cuisine at The Grange, hear concerts at the Columbus Theatre (with a clever 1492 seats), or browse the vintage fashions, ceramic poodles, and kitschy kitchenware at Rocket to Mars."

Aaron Renn, urban analyst and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, offered his perspective on the "hipster impact" in Providence -- and nationally.  

"There are not enough "hipsters" to plausibly resurrect the urban economies of America," said Renn. "If you're in downtown Providence, in the proximity to its center, you can live an eminently hipster lifestyle, and ask yourself, 'Where would Providence be without it?' And it would probably not be as great."

"Is that the solution to the jobs issue on the south side of Providence?  No.  [The hipster economy] has its positives, but it's something that's happening more now everywhere," said Renn.  "I was just in Indianapolis.  There were plenty of beards, plaid shirts, and locally sourced food there."

Part of Economy

"It's a great thing to be considered a livable city with a vibrant nightlife and art scene," said Providence City Council President Luis Aponte.  "Our goal is to have a city that draws interest and investment at all levels.  The artists and designers need to be part of the city -- but so do blue collar and white collar workers as well."

Renn noted that in his view, Providence's relatively rooted hipster culture put it in a different position than newer hipster destinations.  

"People are going to come and go, that's the nature of a college town, but the people that I know that decided to stay in Providence did so for relatively concrete reasons," said Renn. "They're 'sticky'-- they didn't seem like the people to flee to Detroit because it's the next hip city. Many people have reasons that they picked Providence that aren't applicable to a Detroit. Having New England roots, for instance, or wanting to be close to New York, Boston, but having a lower cost of living."

"I'm not anticipating there's going to be any mass exodus of the creative class, that's a positive note -- the people that are in Providence are loyal, but if you don't have a job, that's a big problem," added Renn.  

Renn noted some advantages that emerging hipster markets have that Providence does not.  

"Take Detroit and its collapse," said Renn.  "The ability for the government to function is barely coming around. That's allowed people to take chances, to know the building inspector isn't necessarily going to bother you.  New England is so heavily regulated, it's a daunting process to come in and do something.  I think the people who move to Providence have a reason, they didn't just up and move because they heard it was cool."

Urban Growth Factor

"I think Providence has fallen flat compared to hipster cities such as Portland [Oregon]," said Renn.  "There's more of an economy build in say Portland [Oregon] for small business. For a lot of people, to go to Providence, you have to bring money from somewhere else, there's not a ton of jobs.  For the most part, if you're a younger, creative person, there's simply a limited number of positions in Providence right now.  You've got to figure out how to make money, and that's namely exporting services and goods, and that brings some wealth in."

City Council President Aponte noted that the firm that the City Council recently hired to do cluster analysis identified that at least a fifth of Providence's workforce are contract workers. 

"What they found is that 21% of folks earning in Providence are 1099 workers," said Aponte of the classification of contract workers.  "That's high as compared to other parts of the region and the country as a whole.  If people are disconnected to an employer, and selling their services as consultants, how much spin off does that create?  We have an older housing stock, which is attractive to hipster types, and having them here means something for our tax base.  We need to see where the jobs are though, and enable growth there."

Renn spoke to where he saw Providence could succeed.  

"Rhode Island has had some wins in the past, we just need a lot more.  On a whole, if I were Providence, I'd feel pretty good about the number of people in that creative class who have an affinity for the city and aren't likely to leave," said Renn.  "The industries that are booming, however, are ones where Rhode Island isn't necessarily well placed.  Everybody and their brother is chasing biotech.  Boston is booming, and Rhode Island just doesn't have the assets. There are only so many coders -- if you're that good, you're going to another city."

"Where Providence and Rhode Island has the skills is in design," said Renn.  "The question is how do you parlay that beyond a boutique firm.  You can argue Alex and Ani did it, that it's effectively a design firm that leverages the state's jewelry expertise.  That's just one example.  Providence needs lots of people starting businesses.  Very few will become successful, and usually it takes on average 7 to 10 years to make it.  But to do so you have to build it."

This piece first appeared at

Kate Nagle is a writer and editor at GolocalProv. Find her on Twitter @naglekate78.

Big Box Urbanism

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 22:02

I’m ambivalent about big box stores. I occasionally shop at places like Walmart, Costco, and Target just like most people. I buy various packaged goods in bulk from these mega retailers to take advantage of a volume discount. I don’t moralize over these things. But when it comes to meat, dairy, and fresh produce I walk around the corner or down the street to my local mom and pop stores, farmers market, or Community Supported Agriculture plan. I’m fine with buying a pallet of inexpensive toilet paper that was manufactured on an industrial scale. Chicken? Not so much.


But I’m really interested in the giant retail buildings themselves. A large proportion of the North American landscape is dominated by big box stores and the associated land use pattern that we’ve all come to recognize. They’re so ubiquitous that we tend not to question how they came into being. This blog post will explore the retail development in the Antelope Valley in California, but I use this example because it’s typical rather than unique. Whether you live in Florida, Texas, or Nebraska the same dynamics are at work.


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The story begins with a rivalry between the two contiguous municipalities of Lancaster and Palmdale. If you were to drive through the Antelope Valley you would have no way of knowing when you had passed through one town and into the other. Not only are they composed of identical building types, but their borders are incredibly intertwined and gerrymandered after decades of annexation in an arms race to see who could grow the fastest. The big prize is always sales tax revenue from high volume retailers: car dealerships, big box stores, department stores, chain restaurants… Anything with a cash register will do. Like most towns the property tax revenue from residential development isn’t nearly enough to cover the costs of city services such as schools, road maintenance, and police and fire protection. Sales tax receipts are desperately needed to fill the gap. The construction and service jobs associated with new retail are also welcomed by city authorities. New growth is paramount at the economic development agencies.


With this in mind the City of Lancaster prepared a site for a regional shopping mall in the late 1980’s. The land next to the freeway was set aside, it was properly zoned, expensive infrastructure was installed, a “business friendly” package of heavy subsidies and sweeteners was put in place, and an extensive lobbying campaign was launched. Basically, Lancaster hiked up its skirt, put on a Wonder Bra and a lot of rouge and hoped a big strong regional shopping mall would come calling.


Unfortunately for Lancaster it was Palmdale that successfully wooed the mall developer with a $20,000,000 incentive package back in 1990. The customer traffic heading to and from the new mall spawned a dozen adjacent retail sites that sprouted big box stores and a penumbra of chain restaurants and strip malls. It was a city planner’s dream for almost eighteen years.

But then Palmdale was hammered by the economic crash of 2008. The mall lost its Gottschalk’s and Mervyn’s anchor stores. Palmdale’s economic development team felt it had no choice but to entice Macy’s and others to fill the void with multi million dollar tax deferments and business “incentives”. Remember, a big mall with no anchor stores rapidly fails as foot traffic declines. In fact, no developer can even secure bank financing to build or improve a retail complex unless they already have signed contracts with a couple of big stores. That’s why the largest stores in any mall pay the lowest proportional rent. The real cost of the mall is carried by the smaller shops and very often the tax payers. A Cinnabon pays a great deal more per square foot in rent than a big anchor like Macy’s. The Cinnabon is also far more productive and pays more tax and employs more people pound for pound. The anchors effectively take up a lot of space, negotiate with veiled threats, pay as little rent as possible, and virtually no tax. That’s standard business practice across the country.

The idea that a town can repeatedly offer tax abatements to the same property in the short term in order to create tax revenue and prosperity over the long haul is a bad economic model. In fact, having neighboring towns race to see who can repeatedly impoverish themselves the most in an attempt to grow rich on new business is also a bad plan. Both towns know private corporations actively game the system, yet they can’t seem to help themselves. They still wet their pants at the thought that the next town over might get the new Applebee’s or Jiffy Lube instead of them. It’s a form of institutional insanity.


Since Lancaster couldn’t have the regional mall it needed to find a new use for the land it had set aside. There aren’t that many things that can fill that kind of space. Like the mall in Palmdale it needed to be something that would serve as a catalyst for growth all around it. And it had to be something that Palmdale didn’t already have. So Lancaster built what was intended to be a regional entertainment center with a baseball stadium, hotel, multiplex movie theater, and a premium outlet mall. “Build it and they will come.”


In 1995 the city of Lancaster spent $14,500,000 to build the baseball stadium in the hope that economic growth and development would spring up all around it. So a decade on what does the area look like?


Near the ball park is the Lancaster Marketplace – an outlet mall. I checked the official management website and the leasing agent lists half the stores as “available”. The spaces that are occupied include a dialysis clinic, a dentist, various nail solons, a recycling center, an evangelical church, and a few outlet stores that sell sneakers and jeans. This clearly isn’t the economic engine or tax base that the city had originally envisioned. It wasn’t simply the economic crash of 2008 that brought this place down. It was the institutional over supply of retail space across the entire region. No town needs the insane number of shops that were induced into being by overly optimistic developers and tax starved municipal authorities.


Here’s the movie theater with all the modern bells and whistles: 22 screens, IMAX, 3D, stadium seating, all digital, a sound system that can pull the gold fillings out of your teeth… you name it. It’s a massive stand alone building with an even bigger parking lot. In fact, the collection of reserved handicapped parking spots close to the front door is as large as many ordinary parking lots at lesser movie theaters. But here’s the problem.


This is the old 12 screen movie theater half a mile away. It’s now a “second run” theater catering to the discount matinee crowd because it can’t possibly compete on anything other than price with the new super deluxe theater down the road.


And here’s the old, old movie theater that used to play second run shows when the 12 screen opened up. It was eventually driven out of business. The building sat empty for a long while until someone attempted to operate a hairdressing school at the location. That business failed and now the place sits empty again. The new growth isn’t adding to the town’s economy. New bigger buildings simply replace old buildings that never get repurposed.


Across the street from the struggling outlet mall and old 12 screen movie theater is a Walmart. In fact, there are two Walmarts right next to each other. The older “small” Walmart was built in 1990. In 2006 Walmart decided it was time for a new larger super store and there was still plenty of land available in the same retail complex. Even as I stood on the far edge of the enormous parking lot with a special wide angle camera lens I still couldn’t get the two side-by-side buildings into view in a single frame. These buildings are massive.

I found photos of the old Walmart on the building contractor’s website. They were proud of the fact that this was the very first Walmart built in the state of California and they delivered the project on time and on budget.


Here’s what that same Walmart looks like today – just twenty five years later. In theory a new big box retailer would have opened up in the old Walmart building, but instead it has remained empty since 2006. There’s simply no market demand for these hulking ruins.

Across the street from the two Walmarts is another strip of big and medium sized retail buildings. When the regional shopping mall fell through the idea was that the new Super Walmart would draw enough traffic to the area to support additional shops. “With thousands of folks driving to Walmart everyday the new Circuit City will thrive!” The building pictured above was once a Circuit City. Past tense. Not only was there too much retail space built in the Antelope Valley, but many of these chain stores have gone out of business entirely due to competition from on-line retailers who deliver goods directly to customers via UPS and FedEx.


One of the popular urban planning strategies in vogue these days is to reuse dead retail buildings by converting them to “meds and eds”. Junior colleges and medical centers are of a suitable size that they can fill old big box stores and help reactivate the surrounding space. The above photos are of the newest medical center in Lancaster. It’s solar powered and hyper energy efficient. The native draught tolerant landscaping is irrigated with recycled gray water. High quality regionally appropriate public art is in abundance. And it’s almost exactly the same size as the old Walmart that’s been sitting empty for the last decade. But where is it?


If you were to search out the least developed patch of this already sprawling hopscotch part of Lancaster… that’s where. Why? I’m sure there were all sorts of reasons having to do with the medical people, the developers, the city planners, the banks… Maybe the medical center is expected to be the engine of economic development in this patch of the desert and they want loads of extra room so they can spread out in the future. Or maybe that’s where the really cheap land was near a freeway cloverleaf. Or perhaps the medical center was too prestigious to be located in a low rent shopping plaza. Who knows?


There was still a big chunk of the old mall site that couldn’t be filled with much of anything. Reluctantly the city rezoned it for single family residential subdivisions. Housing wouldn’t bring in tax revenue the way retail development would, but it was better than nothing. Growth was growth and Lancaster needed it badly. From Google Earth view you can see the cul-de-sacs carved into the desert. So far… no takers.


Here are a few views of that old regional shopping mall site: the back of the 22 screen movie theater, the back of the outlet mall, the back of the baseball stadium, and the back of the hotel. Notice the roads that were built to accommodate all the anticipated growth.

But they built it and they didn’t come.

Again, this isn’t unique to the Antelope Valley. These same patterns of development play out all over the country. Some of you may dismiss this particular part of the world and assume your town is much better at managing its affairs. You may have more employers pumping money into your local economy. Or perhaps you live in a more sensible state with a pro business legislature, unlike the folks who run California. The truth is that California just did everything earlier and faster and on a grander scale than other places. Your turn is coming.

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.

The House of the Future Will be Solid-State

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 22:38

Housing will take a great leap forward when the house becomes married to the concept of solid-state. This revolution will begin when solid-state – i.e., no moving parts – becomes meshed into notion of shelter; ergo, the solid state house. This will be the housing of the future.

With the introduction of solid-state circuitry in the 1940s, the transistor replaced the vacuum tube to shrink circuits, improve precision, and eliminate maintenance and wear. This concept revolutionized electronics. Tubes were large, coarse, and had to be replaced when they overheated. Transistors did not. Tubes required a lot of energy and current to move electrons around to do their jobs, rest and recharge, and activate devices. Transistors could do the same jobs with a fraction of the energy, thus reducing heat, cost, and time; they could also be spaced closer together. Radios, which were briefcase sized objects, collapsed from to thumb-sized objects. A radio today is a mere speck; a partition within a larger microchip measured in nanometers.

The solid-state house is not to be confused with the tiny house. Today, the tiny house movement is still in its nascent stages, and running into some important obstacles. For one thing, the entire economic system is blockading this movement, because the system is entirely designed for the supersized. During the permitting process, whether you permit 400 square feet or 4000 square feet, the same baseline cost applies, and the increase is only incremental. Municipalities, desperate for cash, have no incentive to reduce permitting costs. So the tiny house must pay the same tribute to the king as a McMansion.

Builders have little interest in not-so-big houses, because they are built more quickly, and with fewer materials. Why would a builder want to sacrifice price? The management of a construction job is the same, whether managing a three month, 400 square foot project or a three month 4,000 square foot project.

Builders also are accustomed to a supply chain of vendors with whom they have developed relationships. Gypsum wallboard, for example, is, the bread-and-butter staple of interior construction. If you are seeking an interior finish that has less impact on the environment, you will always pay more. The small house movement has not yet figured out how to work around the consumptive, wasteful supply chain, and unwittingly adopts it into the movement, rewarding the same people, taking the same resources from the earth, and injecting the same waste. The notion that the movement is doing less harm only means that a tiny house is less bad than a large house.

And finally, a tiny house, once it is finished, has hundreds, if not thousands, of individual separate parts, and all of them move. During the daily temperature cycle things warm up, expanding during the day and shrinking at night. Rain wears down finishes and opens up joints between materials. Air conditioning creates a humidity imbalance that nature is constantly trying to correct. Even with today's current construction methods, these issues are addressed no differently than they were fifty or a hundred years ago.

Machines within the house — air conditioners, ceiling fans, switches, faucets, water heaters, and on and on and on — all have moving parts. They break down, require maintenance, and have their own supply stream. Whether a house is small or large, it has all the same baggage in terms of motors, lights, machines, and pipe joints. The lengths of straight pipe between joints may be shorter, but the connections, where the leaks occur, are still the same.

The not-so-big-house will not, in its current form, succeed and converge into a broad ethos for the masses. The 'system' is embedded way too deeply into its bones. This system has evolved, Darwinian style, carrying its bad genes into the present. If the McMansion is doomed, so is the small house.

But a different type of evolution is possible: Lamarckian evolution, in which change can come in one generation. Just as transistors evolved out of tubes, so can a solid-state house evolve out of a current house. This is the pathway towards the future. The ideal solid-state house shall have no separate moving parts, and shall be endlessly customizable out of factory parts. And the solid-state house shall shrink.

The not-so-big house movement will be the testing ground for the solid-state house. Small projects are the province of invention. A new way of doing things is easier to test when failure is small scale.

For example, water-carrying pipes currently are rigid PVC or copper because it is cheaper for long distance. In a small house, where water needs to be carried for shorter distances, more flexible hoses can be used, eliminating pipe joints. In the future small house these may be baked into the wall, much like holes in bread, eliminating a second material from the mix.

Air conditioning may be under the floor or in the walls, operating through microtubules that work like sweat glands in reverse, constantly removing moisture from the air and channeling it into a system that cools air, creating a transpiration cycle that will allow the small house's microclimate to function in the same way as the space under a tree canopy. LEED, the green certification rating system, requires a hermetically sealed space to minimize energy. But this new system will work best when the windows are open. Reconnecting with nature will be a pleasant byproduct of the solid-state house.

As many appliances as possible will be 24 volt direct current, and will function without motors, gears, or bearings. A 'gear room' or utility room will be where the shameful old appliances, like washing machines, will be placed. Eventually these will be solid-state, too.

The solid-state house will be at first very small. Finishes — the 'look' of the house — can meet any preference. If the current preference is stucco, for example, that can be added. The solid-state nature of the house, with prefabricated wall and roof panels cut to size and fitted together seamlessly will have its own integrity regardless of the clothing it wears.

The most important part of the solid state house, though, will be its transportability. A foundation system will allow it to anchor firmly to the ground and be connected to local utilities (if required). As a not-so-big house, however, it will also be easily transportable.

This exciting revolution will allow time and space to finally collapse, and bring architecture into our liquid, postmodern, nanosecond twenty-first century.

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.

Illustration by the author: "The solid state house is a thought project. I created the design and illustrated it [above]. I call the form the qwave. It's shaped a little like a wave. And the house borrows from old technology - the Quonset™ hut. Quonset hut + wave = qwave."

Can Singapore Thrive After Lee Kuan Yew?

Sat, 03/28/2015 - 18:00

On Sunday, Singapore cremates its greatest leader, the late Lee Kuan Yew, architect of its good fortunes. Yet the flames also could extinguish the era of relentless social and economic progress that Lee ushered in during his long, amazingly productive life.

World leaders, corporate hegemons, and much of the foreign policy establishment tend to worship Lee’s achievements. But the view from on high, not to mention across the seas, can be quite different from the reality on the ground, as I have learned over many trips to this most remarkable city-state.

Lee is rightly celebrated for his remarkable success in transforming a poor, southeast Asian metropolis into one of the wealthiest and most productive places on the planet. At the time of its independence in the mid-’60s, Singapore was a corrupt, dirty, and divided Asian metropolis, with a GDP of roughly $2,600 per capita, which put it ahead of China and most of its southeast Asian neighbors but below such countries as the Philippines, Brazil, Yugoslavia, Bolivia, and Argentina, and several times lower than Greece, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

Uncontestable: A Record of Economic Achievement

Under Lee and his cadre of well-educated, thoughtful civil servants, the tiny 225 square mile island republic has created arguably the best run and most successful dense urban place on the planet. Today the city-state has a per capita GDP estimated at $55,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, above the U.S. level and well ahead of Japan, Germany, and France, as well as its old colonial master, Great Britain.

Lee got there by having goals but being pragmatic about how to achieve them. He was what one observer called “a patient revolutionary,” a Fabian socialist whose underlying ideology can be boiled down to “what works.” This pragmatism was evident in economic policy, as the country focused first on trade and manufacturing and then towards a greater orientation to technology and high-end services.

Education was a critical component, and from the start it was seen as the primary way to build both the state and the economy. This policy has resulted in a high proportion of technically trained professionals, leading the Center on International Education Benchmarking Education to call Singapore’s workforce “among the most technically competent in the world. Unlike many places in the developing world, Singapore knows it must compete primarily on quality, not price.”

Perhaps the most critical aspect of Lee’s success, and that of his successors, was the ability to meet the requirements of multinational companies. Designating English as the national language  was a primary advantage. Due largely to Lee, Singapore is a primarily English-speaking country, and global business tends to go where it is understood, and where its nationals can most easily function.   

As a result, efficient, globally focused Singapore now boasts more than twice as many regional headquarters of foreign firms than far-larger Tokyo, not to mention Asia’s less affluent megacities. They provide expats working for multinationals with sanitation, parks, trees, clean housing, an educated workforce, and low corruption not readily available in the rest of south Asia. Anyone who has spent time in India, or even Vietnam, marvels at the relative ease of life in Singapore.

The Limits of Globalization

Yet with wealth have come new problems that are not widely acknowledged outside the city-state. The influx of foreigners has made property owners wealthier, but many feel it also has eroded local culture. Its benefits to ordinary Singaporeans are increasingly dubious. Even as GDP growth continues to chug at somewhat close to 5 percent per annum,   real wages for ordinary Singaporeans have stagnated. From 1998 to 2008, the income of the bottom 20 percent of households dropped an average of 2.7 percent, while the salaries of the richest 20 percent rose by more than half. 

For many Singaporeans, discontent has led them to consider a move elsewhere. Already some 300,000 citizens now live abroad, almost one of ten. As many as half of Singaporeans, according to a recent survey, would leave if they could.

The Shrinking Family

Arguably the biggest threat to Singapore’s future is occurring in the country’s bedrooms.     As Lee was himself aware, Chinese civilization was built around a large extended family, often with several generations under the same roof. In the Chinese tradition, “regulating the family” was seen as critical to both “ordering the state” and pacifying the world.

As the Chinese began to spread to Southeast Asia and beyond, they carried elements of this family-centric culture with them. Kinship ties, according to the sociologist Peter Berger, constituted “the absolutely central institution” of overseas Chinese businesses in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Australia. In Singapore this familial situation propped up the hierarchy of the state; Lee, in a sense, was the father of all Singaporeans while the bureaucracy played the role of “tiger moms,” cajoling, instructing, demanding ever better results from their charges.

Yet this familial-based system is clearly breaking down. This is reflected by the decision of   more Singaporeans not to have offspring. Indeed today Singapore has one of the world’s lowest fertility rates; and more young people are postponing or completely avoiding marriage (children out of wedlock remain very rare). The fertility rates in Singapore have fallen almost 50 percent below the replacement rate of 2.1. Overall, Singapore-based demographer Gavin Jones estimates that up to a quarter of all East Asian women now entering their 20s—including those in Singapore—will still be single by age 50, and up to a third will remain childless. 

“People increasingly see marriage and children as very risky, so they avoid it,” notes Singapore based demographer Gavin Jones. “Even though there’s a strong ideology in Asia to have a family, it is fading.”

The Spiritual Crisis

Jones and others see this trend as something of a spiritual crisis, coupled with high housing prices and an overemphasis on work. In the old Chinese world, children were seen as essential to economic stability and social status. Now those values have drowned in a tsunami of materialism and global culture.

“My father was from the old generation,” says Singapore pastor Andrew Ong. “He came from a family of 16. Now people’s priorities have changed. They don’t really believe in sacrifice and family. They want the enjoyment of life, and children would impinge on that … they don’t value family and children the way we used to.”

In interviews, young Singaporeans often express the decision not to have children in very pragmatic  terms. “Having kids was important to our parents,” noted one 30-something civil servant in Singapore, “but now we tend to have a cost and benefit analysis about family. The cost is tangible but the benefits are not knowable or tangible.”

The links among housing prices, work competition, and the decision not to have families was repeatedly mention by young people in Singapore. As one young civil servant told me, “I feel Singapore is becoming more stressful—people are living in smaller spaces. There’s no room for a child. The costs are tremendous. A generation ago, it was different. My father was a bus driver and could get a big HDB [Housing Development Board] flat. For my generation, it will be harder.”

Demographer Jones also links the low marriage and birth rates in part to extreme competition that forces people to work long hours. Despite successes over the past few decades, the degree of economic uncertainty has grown considerably in successful Asian countries, all of them faced with increased competition from the behemoths of India and China. Faced with these challenges, Singapore employers, Jones reports, remain “generally unforgiving of the divided loyalties inherent in the effort to combine child-raising with working.”

Such pressures were repeatedly reported in interviews with younger Singaporeans. “People are consumed by their work,” one young Singaporean told me. “There’s a lack of time. You would expect nature will take care of this but it doesn’t.”

These same phenomena can be seen in all the densest cities of Asia, from Tokyo and Seoul to Shanghai. The very work culture that is so impressive to foreign companies has had a very direct impact on family and society. “The focus in Singapore is not to enjoy life, but to keep score: in school, in jobs, in income,” noted one 30-year-old scholar at the NUS Institute for Policy Studies. “Many see getting attached as an impediment to this.”       

The biggest impact on these change has been among  women, who are playing an increasingly critical role in the local economy. Although most senior executives in the government and outside are male, the middle ranks, and many of the fastest up and comers, are female. Demographer Wolfgang Lutz notes that while Singapore may have strong pro-natalist policies, it still operates an economic system that encourages, even insists on, long hours for employees, many of whom are women. Singapore’s labor force participation rate for women is almost 60 percent. “In Singapore,” Lutz points out, “women work an average of 53 hours a week. Of course they are not going to have children. They don’t have the time.”

The danger of a ‘now’ society

The tendency to put off marriage and child-bearing, as well as the focus on material gain,     works against the fundamental values of patience and persistence that animated Lee Kuan Yew’s career, and also shaped Chinese civilization. A society that is increasingly single and childless is likely to be more concerned with serving current needs than addressing the future. Like other societies, Singapore can tilt more into a “now” society, geared towards consuming or recreating today, as opposed to nurturing and sacrificing for tomorrow.

These problems, of course, exist across the high-income world, but in Singapore, given its small space and its unfriendly neighborhood, the stakes are higher. After all, there is no suburbia for families to flee to, and there is no Texas to balance off the problems of an over-expensive New York or San Francisco. Singapore’s miracle, as Lee knew, was always a fragile one, and may become more so in the years after his passing.

This piece first appeared at 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 Los Angeles, CA.

Photo: "Lee Kuan Yew" by Robert D. Ward - Cropped by Ranveig from Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Still Moving to Texas: The 2014 Metropolitan Population Estimates

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 22:38

Texas continues to dominate major metropolitan area growth. Among the 53 major metropolitan areas (with more than 1 million population), Texas cities occupied three of five top positions in population growth, and four of the top 10 (Figure 1).

Other parts of the nation are adding population in large numbers as well. The six top 10 cities not in Texas were split evenly between the South and the Mountain West. In the South, Raleigh ranked third, Orlando ranked fourth and Nashville was eighth. Out West, sixth-ranked Denver is maintaining its quick  growth rate as the middle of the decade approaches. Two cities that were especially hard hit by the housing bust now seem to be making progress. Las Vegas, has recovered to become the seventh fastest growing city, largely on the strength of substantially improved domestic migration numbers. In 2013-2014, the rate of net domestic migration quadrupled in Las Vegas. Phoenix (9th) is also recovering, and is now established as the nation's 12th largest metropolitan area, having passed Riverside-San Bernardino.


But the biggest gains were in Texas.

Houston gained the most population between 2013 and 2014, adding 166,000 new residents. This is nearly as much as the gain in the entire Midwest states (177,000) which is home to 10 times as many people. Since 2000, Houston has risen from the nation's eighth largest metropolitan area to its fifth, passing Washington, Miami, and earlier in this decade, Philadelphia.

For the first time in US history, two of the five largest cities in the nation are in Texas. Just ahead of Houston is fourth-ranked Dallas-Fort Worth, which had the second largest population gain at 127,000. This is a larger increase than occurred in the Northeast, which stretches from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York through New England and has more than eight times as many people as Dallas-Fort Worth. While Dallas-Fort Worth's population increase has been slower than Houston's in recent years (10th in 2013-2014), it has risen from a position of ninth in 1992 fourth today (present metropolitan boundaries).

Other Texas cities are also performing well. Austin, as has often been the case since the moderation of growth in Las Vegas during the last decade, has by far the largest population growth rate, at 3.0%, compared to the Houston's 2.5%.

San Antonio, so often overlooked in a state with Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Austin ranked fifth in population growth rate between 2013 and 2014.

Net Domestic Migration

The top cities in net domestic migration almost duplicate the top 10 in population growth. Charlotte and Tampa-St. Petersburg replace Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth among the top 10 in net domestic migration (Figure 2).

A number of cities suffered substantial net domestic migration losses (Figure 3). The largest loss was in New York, which lost nearly one percent of its residents to other parts of the country. New York's net domestic migration loss increased more than a third from that of 2011 through 2013, rising to 163,000 in 2014. Almost a net 100,000 left New York City, up from 69,000 in 2012-2013. The suburbs experienced a smaller loss, 64,000, up from 44,000.

The other two largest cities, Los Angeles and Chicago also had larger domestic migration losses (61,000 66,000 respectively) than the other cities.  Washington had by far the largest reversal, experiencing a domestic migration loss of 25,000, down from a plus 43,000 between 2012 and 2013.

Additional Developments

There’s also a new member of the million person metropolitan club, Tucson, the 53rd major metropolitan area.

Chicago's growth has virtually stalled. Over the last year, the metropolitan area added only 0.1% to its population. This is less than one quarter the longer-term rate that had previously been projected. At that rate, Chicago would have reached 10 million residents within a decade. At the most recent growth rate, it would take nearly a half century. In light of the expected slower growth rates in the future, Chicago may never reach megacity status, unless its commuting shed expands enough to add new counties along its metropolitan fringe.

However, even without Chicago, the United States could add two new megacities within the next two decades. Both Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth would exceed 10 million by 2040 population if their current growth rates were to be maintained.

Despite being passed by Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth in the last two decades, Washington appears sure to emerge larger than Philadelphia by next year's population estimates. This year, Washington exceeded 6 million population for the first time.

Domestic Migration: Core and Suburban Counties

This is indicated by domestic migration trends, which are reported by the Census Bureau only at the county level. Suburban counties continue to increase their net domestic migration and over the last year attracted nearly 420,000 more new residents from other parts of the nation than the core counties. The suburban counties gained 230,000 net domestic migrants, while the core counties lost 190,000. The low point of suburban net domestic migration occurred in 2012 when the gap relative to core counties was approximately 155,000. In each of the years of this decade, core counties have lost domestic migration, while suburban counties have gained more new residents from elsewhere (Figure 4).

As the nation continues its tepid recovery from the Great Recession, the largest number of people are moving to the suburbs and away from the core counties. This suggests that, normalcy may be gradually returning, with strong growth both in the suburbs and throughout the Sunbelt.

Major Metropolitan Area Population Estimates Population 2013-2014 Rank Metropolitan Area 2010 2013 2014 % Change Net Domestic Migration Rank: Domestic Migration 1 New York, NY-NJ-PA  19,567  20,002  20,093 0.45% -0.81%          53 2 Los Angeles, CA  12,829  13,176  13,262 0.66% -0.47%          47 3 Chicago, IL-IN-WI    9,461    9,545    9,555 0.10% -0.69%          51 4 Dallas-Fort Worth, TX    6,426    6,823    6,954 1.92% 0.72%          13 5 Houston, TX    5,920    6,334    6,490 2.47% 1.04%            6 6 Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD    5,965    6,036    6,051 0.25% -0.34%          42 7 Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV    5,636    5,967    6,034 1.12% -0.41%          45 8 Miami, FL    5,565    5,863    5,930 1.13% -0.21%          35 9 Atlanta, GA    5,287    5,525    5,614 1.61% 0.58%          15 10 Boston, MA-NH    4,552    4,698    4,732 0.73% -0.22%          37 11 San Francisco-Oakland, CA    4,335    4,530    4,594 1.42% 0.32%          21 12 Phoenix, AZ    4,193    4,404    4,489 1.93% 0.93%          11 13 Riverside-San Bernardino, CA    4,225    4,390    4,442 1.18% 0.24%          23 14 Detroit,  MI    4,296    4,295    4,297 0.03% -0.47%          48 15 Seattle, WA    3,440    3,614    3,671 1.60% 0.48%          16 16 Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI    3,349    3,461    3,495 0.97% -0.02%          31 17 San Diego, CA    3,095    3,223    3,263 1.27% 0.08%          28 18 Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL    2,783    2,874    2,916 1.44% 0.99%          10 19 St. Louis,, MO-IL    2,788    2,802    2,806 0.16% -0.28%          39 20 Baltimore, MD    2,710    2,774    2,786 0.43% -0.23%          38 21 Denver, CO    2,543    2,700    2,754 2.02% 1.09%            4 22 Charlotte, NC-SC    2,217    2,337    2,380 1.84% 1.03%            7 23 Pittsburgh, PA    2,356    2,361    2,356 -0.19% -0.12%          33 24 Portland, OR-WA    2,226    2,315    2,348 1.45% 0.71%          14 25 San Antonio, TX    2,143    2,282    2,329 2.04% 1.09%            5 26 Orlando, FL    2,134    2,271    2,321 2.22% 1.01%            8 27 Sacramento, CA    2,149    2,218    2,244 1.21% 0.37%          19 28 Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN    2,115    2,139    2,149 0.51% -0.04%          32 29 Kansas City, MO-KS    2,009    2,055    2,071 0.77% 0.05%          29 30 Las Vegas, NV    1,951    2,029    2,070 1.99% 1.00%            9 31 Cleveland, OH    2,077    2,065    2,064 -0.08% -0.38%          44 32 Columbus, OH    1,902    1,969    1,995 1.30% 0.44%          17 33 Indianapolis. IN    1,888    1,953    1,971 0.93% 0.11%          26 34 San Jose, CA    1,837    1,929    1,953 1.25% -0.37%          43 35 Austin, TX    1,716    1,886    1,943 3.05% 1.75%            1 36 Nashville, TN    1,671    1,759    1,793 1.94% 1.13%            3 37 Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC    1,677    1,707    1,717 0.54% -0.30%          40 38 Providence, RI-MA    1,601    1,606    1,609 0.24% -0.16%          34 39 Milwaukee,WI    1,556    1,570    1,572 0.13% -0.45%          46 40 Jacksonville, FL    1,346    1,396    1,419 1.65% 0.92%          12 41 Memphis, TN-MS-AR    1,325    1,342    1,343 0.11% -0.55%          50 42 Oklahoma City, OK    1,253    1,321    1,337 1.23% 0.43%          18 43 Louisville, KY-IN    1,236    1,262    1,270 0.59% 0.12%          25 44 Richmond, VA    1,208    1,247    1,260 1.06% 0.36%          20 45 New Orleans. LA    1,190    1,242    1,252 0.80% 0.16%          24 46 Raleigh, NC    1,130    1,215    1,243 2.28% 1.18%            2 47 Hartford, CT    1,212    1,216    1,214 -0.14% -0.71%          52 48 Salt Lake City, UT    1,088    1,142    1,153 1.03% -0.32%          41 49 Birmingham, AL    1,128    1,140    1,144 0.37% 0.02%          30 50 Buffalo, NY    1,136    1,136    1,136 0.02% -0.22%          36 51 Rochester, NY    1,080    1,084    1,083 -0.06% -0.52%          49 52 Grand Rapids, MI       989    1,017    1,028 1.03% 0.25%          22 53 Tucson, AZ       980       998    1,005 0.65% 0.09%          27 In 000s Data from Census Bureau



Note: Core counties are the counties with the largest historical core municipalities as well as the five counties that make up the core city of New York.

Photograph: Houston Suburbs by author

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris since 2002. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and Demographia World Urban Areas.

California Should Make Regular People More of a Priority

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 22:38

California in 1970 was the American Dream writ large. Its economy was diversified, from aerospace and tech to agriculture, construction and manufacturing, and allowed for millions to achieve a level of prosperity and well-being rarely seen in the world.

Forty-five years later, California still is a land of dreams, but, increasingly, for a smaller group in the society. Silicon Valley, notes a recent Forbes article, is particularly productive in making billionaires’ lists and minting megafortunes faster than anywhere in the country. California’s billionaires, for the most part, epitomize American mythology – largely self-made, young and more than a little arrogant. Many older Californians, those who have held onto their houses, are mining gold of their own, as an ever-more environmentally stringent and density-mad planning regime turns even modest homes into million-dollar-plus properties.

What about California society as a whole? The Chapman University Center for Demographics and Policy released a report this month, by attorneys David Friedman and Jennifer Hernandez, on “California’s social priorities.” It painstakingly lays out our trajectory over the past 40 years. For the most part, it’s not a pretty picture and – to use the most overused word in the planning prayer book – far from sustainable from a societal point of view.

Read the full article 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 Los Angeles, CA.

Photo by Thomas Pintaric (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Where We Live: The Case for Suburban Renewal

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 22:38

The advent of Australian ‘urban renewal’ in the 1990s has been such a blistering policy success that it’s now arguably well out of proportion to the realities of need based on where people actually live. It’s as if the magic “5 kilometre ring” around our city centres has become a policy preoccupation and an industry obsession. One look at the evidence though suggests perhaps it’s time we turned attention to the suburbs, where the vast majority of us live, to restore some balance.

The middle and outer suburbs may not capture the interest of intellectual elites or (with some exceptions) provide the homes of the wealthiest in our society, but they do continue to house the vast majority of Australians. All the hype and excitement about “inner city café lifestyles” belies the statistics which show in stark reality that Australia is not only a nation of city dwellers, but within those cities we are overwhelmingly a nation of sub-urban, as opposed to urban, dwellers. 

Gushing media reports about inner city real estate markets and frantic development activity, public transport projects, parkland projects, bikeways, cultural facilities and the like fail to mention that only 10% of us, at most, live within the 5 kilometre ring. A thumping majority of 90% to 95% of Australians, in the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, live outside the 5 kilometre ring of privilege. As a rule, 70% to 80% of us live further than 10 kilometres from the city centre, in outer-middle and outer suburban areas. It’s also true that the majority of us not only live beyond the inner city, but we also work outside it. Our pattern of living is not only overwhelmingly suburban, but so is our economy. (More on this next month).  

So how do our three largest cities shape up on the evidence?


There are just over 330,000 Sydney residents living within 5 kilometres of the city centre. There are a total of 4.34 million people living within 50 kilometres of the city centre, so that’s a fairly small 8% of the total who call the inner city home.   Twice as many people – 675,000 – live from 5 to 10 klms out and the numbers and percentages continue to rise the further out you go. They may live at lower densities in the outer suburbs but numerically they outnumber inner city residents ten to one. If we think of suburbs from 10 to 20 klms out as ‘outer middle’ areas and those over 20 klms out as ‘outer’, then 80% of the Sydney population lives further than 10 klms from the city centre. 


There are fewer people living within 5 klms of the Melbourne City Centre than even Brisbane. Of the total 4.154 million people who live within 50 klms of the city centre, this is just 5% of the total. There are a further 13% of Melburnians who call the 5 to 10 klm band home, while a very substantial 82% of Melburnians call the outer-middle and outer bands home.  Even if the number of people living within the 5 klm ring of Mebourne’s CBD doubled, it would have next to no impact on the overwhelmingly suburban distribution of the population across the Melbourne metro area.


In Brisbane, there are around a quarter of a million people within 5 klms of the city centre. That represents 11% of the total 2.15 million people who live within 50 klms of the centre. A further 17% or 356,500 live from 5 to 10 klms out, which actually makes Brisbane the more centrally populated of the three cities studied. 72% of Brisbane residents live further than 10 klms out in middle-outer and outer suburbs which is still a very large majority but not quite the 80% of Sydneysiders nor the 82% of Melburnians. 


One observation worth making is that our governance systems aren’t well designed to deal with large metro regions. Sydney has an astonishing 38 local governments across its metro area, and Melbourne has 12. Brisbane is the exception, with one large local authority providing local government services to 1.13 million people. But even in Brisbane’s case that leaves a further 1 million people living within 50 klms of the city centre governed by a number of different local authorities.

I am not suggesting we should have single local governments for our entire metro areas. In fact there are some good reasons for the ‘local’ in local government to focus on smaller areas. However, if we want metro wide solutions to apply policy attention and taxpayer funds equitably to suburban and urban areas, local governments may not be best vehicle. You could hardly expect, for example, the highly exclusive Sydney City Council – which at 25 square kilometres covers an area not much larger than its CBD and nothing more – to put up their hand and say “we don’t really need NSW taxpayers to subsidise our outrageously expensive light rail extension because we understand there are higher priorities for people in Bankstown or Hornsby.” 

Which means that state governments, working with local and federal agencies, are the ones needed to adopt a broader governance approach to metro regions, with a focus on sustaining and developing the suburban economy along with the inner urban.

The other, more glaring observation is that democracy seems to be failing the suburbs. Nine out of ten city dwellers may live in the suburbs and more eight in ten also work there, but increasingly it’s hard to shake the suspicion that it’s the people who live and work within a 5 klm ring of our city centres that are making the decisions and spending the money. 

From politicians to heads of government departments, media organisations and industry leaders: the well off and the influential are overwhelmingly from the inner city. They live there, they work there, and primarily socialise and circulate within this hot house of privilege and influence. It may also explain why in some urban planning circles, there is an increasing sense of anti-suburban elitism creeping in. The suburbs and their ‘McMansions’ are topics of disdain for some, which is a pity. 

The people who live in the middle-outer and outer suburbs of our cities in the main don’t live there because they have to: they live there because they want to. They don’t deserve derision, nor are they looking for sympathy. It may surprise inner city elites, but many have little interest in battling congested inner city traffic or paying excessive real estate prices or living in crowded inner urban arrangements or paying exorbitant parking fees for the privilege of working or living in or simply visiting in the inner city and what it has to offer.

Yet while numerically superior in every way, the suburban existence remains largely shunned in policy circles. The more that the intelligentsia become isolated from the suburban heartland of our economy and way of life, the weaker we become as a nation. 

Ross Elliott has more than 20 years experience in property and public policy. His past roles have included stints in urban economics, national and state roles with the Property Council, and in destination marketing. He has written extensively on a range of public policy issues centering around urban issues, and continues to maintain his recreational interest in public policy through ongoing contributions such as this or via his monthly blog The Pulse.

How the California Dream Became a Nightmare

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 18:17

Important attention has been drawn to the shameful condition of middle income housing affordability in California. The state that had earlier earned its own "California Dream" label now limits the dream of homeownership principally to people either fortunate enough to have purchased their homes years ago and to the more affluent. Many middle income residents may have to face the choice of renting permanently or moving away.

However, finally, an important organ of the state has now called attention to the housing affordability problem. The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) has published "California's High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences," which provides a compelling overview of how California's housing costs have risen to be by far the most unaffordable in the nation. It also sets out the serious consequences.

The LAO says that:

Today, an average California home costs $440,000, about two-and-a-half times the average national home price ($180,000). Also, California’s average monthly rent is about $1,240, 50 percent higher than the rest of the country ($840 per month).

LAO describes the evolution:

Beginning in about 1970, however, the gap between California’s home prices and those in the rest country started to widen. Between 1970 and 1980, California home prices went from 30 percent above U.S. levels to more than 80 percent higher. This trend has continued.

Much of the LAO focus is on California's coastal counties, where: resistance to housing, environmental policies, lack of fiscal incentives for local governments to approve housing, and limited land constrains new housing construction.

These causes result from conscious political decisions. While California's coastal counties do not have the vast stretches of flat, appropriately developable land that existed 50 years ago, building is increasingly  prohibited on that which remains (for example, Ventura County, northern Los Angeles county and the southern San Jose metropolitan area).

Demonstrating an understanding of economic basics not generally shared by California policymakers or the urban planning community, LAO squarely places the blame on the public policy limits to new housing construction:

This competition bids up home prices and rents.

In other words, where the supply of a demanded good is limited, prices can be expected to rise, other things being equal. LAO describes the impact of so-called "growth control" policies, which are also called "urban containment" or "smart growth:"

Many Coastal Communities Have Growth Controls. Over two-thirds of cities and counties in California’s coastal metros have adopted policies (known as growth controls) explicitly aimed at limiting housing growth. Many policies directly limit growth—for example, by capping the number of new homes that may be built in a given year or limiting building heights and densities. Other policies indirectly limit growth—for example, by requiring a supermajority of local boards to approve housing projects. Research has found that these policies have been effective at limiting growth and consequently increasing housing costs.

According to LAO, the problem is exacerbated by voter initiatives: "More often than not, voters in California’s coastal communities vote to limit housing development when given the option." It is hard to imagine a more sinister disincentive to aspiration, under which voters can deny equality of opportunity in housing to others by artificially driving up the price.  Because new housing further from coast is also limited, options for a middle income living standard are also diminished.

These public policies have consequences.

Notable and widespread trade-offs include (1) spending a greater share of their income on housing, (2) postponing or foregoing homeownership, (3) living in more crowded housing, (4) commuting further to work each day, and (5) in some cases, choosing to work and live elsewhere

Each of these consequences is described below.

LAO Consequence #1: Spending a Greater Share of Income on Housing

LAO models the market situation from 1980 to 2010 to estimate the prices that would have prevailed if the regulatory environment had permitted building sufficient to satisfy customer demand at previous lower price levels. In both years, LAO estimates that the median priced house would have cost 80% more than in the rest of the nation (actual data in 1980, modeled data in 2010). This would have kept California house price increases at the national level. I think it would have been better to have modeled from 1970, before the huge house prices before 1980 described by Dartmouth economist William Fischel.

I have applied this LAO model estimate to the median multiple for California's six major metropolitan areas (Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Riverside-San Bernardino, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Jose) to identify how much better middle income housing affordability would be without California's excessive regulation. Using the LAO estimates the median multiple (median house price divided by median household income) in 2014 would have been at least 40% lower than the actual level in each of the metropolitan areas (Figure 1).

Many California households already have been priced out of the market. In the worst case, it is estimated that in the San Francisco metropolitan area, a median income White Non-Hispanic household will have nearly $60,000 annually left over after paying the mortgage on the median priced house. This is less than they would have if house prices had remained reasonable, but it's enough to live on. The median income Asian household would do almost as well, with about $50,000 left over. The median income Hispanic household would have less than $20,000 left, which is considerably less than is likely to be needed for other essentials. The median income Black household would have less than $3,000 left over (Figure 2). If the price ratios of 1980 were controlling, that amount would rise by $16,000.

LAO also points out that the Golden State has the highest housing cost adjusted poverty rate in the nation. The latest data shows housing-adjusted poverty rate is far higher even than that in states with a reputation for grinding poverty. California's housing adjusted poverty rate is more than 50% higher than that of Mississippi and approaches double that of West Virginia (Figure 3, LAO Figure 13)

LAO Consequence #2:  Postponing or Forgoing Homeownership

LAO indicates that California ranks 48th in homeownership percentage, behind only New York and Nevada. LAO emphasizes the value of home ownership:

Homeownership helps households build wealth, requiring them to amass assets over time. Among homeowners, saving is automatic: every month, part of the mortgage payment reduces the total amount owed and thus becomes the homeowner’s equity. For renters, savings requires voluntarily foregoing near-term spending. Due to this and other economic factors, renter median net worth totaled $5,400 in 2013, a small fraction of the $195,400 median homeowner’s net worth.

Californians are buying their first houses later. LAO indicates that the average first home buyer in California is three years older than the national average.

LAO Consequence #3:  Living in More Crowded Housing

The nation's worst overcrowding is an unfortunate result of California's housing policies.

LAO indicates that California's overcrowding rate is well above that of the rest of the nation’s rate. Among Hispanics, which were expected to exceed the White-Non-Hispanic population in 2014, to become the state’s largest ethnic group, California overcrowding is more than 2.5 times the Hispanic rate elsewhere. Among households with children, overcrowding in California is four times the national households with children rate. Among renters, overcrowding in California is more than three times the national renter rate (Figure 4, LAO Figure 15).

This has important negative social consequences. According to LAO, research indicates that overcrowding retards well-being and educational achievement:

Individuals who live in crowded housing generally have worse educational and behavioral health outcomes than people that do not live in crowded housing. Among adults, crowding has been shown to increase stress and aggression, lead to social isolation, and weaken relationships between parents and their children. Crowding also has particularly notable effects on children. Researchers have found that children in crowded housing score lower on standardized math and reading exams. A lack of available and distraction-free studying space appears to affect educational achievement. Crowding may also result in sleep interruptions that affect mood and behavior. As a result, children in crowded housing also displayed more behavioral problems at school.

Overcrowding is particularly acute in the higher cost coastal metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose. There, overcrowding among households with children reaches 10%, and among Hispanic households, overcrowding reaches 18%. Among households with children the figure is slightly higher (Figure 5, LAO Figure 16). Overcrowded housing is generally worse, according to LAO, in areas with higher house prices.

In a state with a political establishment that prides itself in watching out for low income citizens and ethnic minorities, the need to reform the responsible policies could not be clearer.

LAO Consequence #4: Commuting Farther to Work

LAO finds that California’s average work trip commuting times are only moderately above the national average. However, LAO suggests that the commute lengthening impact of higher house prices may be reduced by California's widespread (I call it dispersed) development pattern, its freeway system and the "above-average share of commuters who drive to work. (Driving commutes are generally fast, and therefore metros with higher shares of driving commuters tend to have shorter commute times.)"

Nonetheless, according to LAO:

...our analysis suggests that California’s high housing costs cause workers to live further from where they work, likely because reasonably priced housing options are unavailable in locations nearer to where they work.

LAO Consequence #5:  Choosing to Work and Live Elsewhere

LAO also indicates that California's high housing prices are likely to have reduced its population (and economic) growth. LAO sites the strong net outmigration of California households to other states. LAO also finds in its national metropolitan area analysis that counties with higher growth rates tend to have better housing affordability than counties with lower growth rates.

There has also been strong net outmigration from the coastal counties to inland counties. This is most evident in the growth of the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area (the Inland Empire) between 2000 and 2010. The Inland Empire captured more than two thirds of the population growth of the Los Angeles Combined Statistical Area (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties). LAO notes the impact of the excess of demand in the coastal counties, again recognizing the nexus between overzealous regulation and the loss of housing affordability:

This competition bids up home prices and rents. Some people who find California’s coast unaffordable turn instead to California’s inland communities, causing prices there to rise as well.

LAO also refers to the difficulty that employers have in retaining and recruiting staff. LAO cited survey data from the Silicon Valley, which has for years been California's economic "Golden Goose" in recent years:

In a 2014 survey of more than 200 business executives conducted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, 72 percent of them cited “housing costs for employees” as the most important challenge facing Silicon Valley businesses.

In addition, there has been a strong movement of California companies to other parts of the nation, where more liberal regulations foster a better business climate.

Restoring Housing Affordability

LAO indicates the importance of fundamental reform and calls for putting "all policy options on the table."

Major changes to local government land use authority, local finance, CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), and other major polices would be necessary to address California’s high housing costs.

In addition:

The greatest need for additional housing is in California’s coastal urban areas. We therefore recommend the Legislature focus on what changes are necessary to promote additional housing construction in these areas.

Perhaps the only weakness of the report deals with densification, particularly in coastal counties. For example, LAO suggests that without the housing restrictions the city of San Francisco is population would be 1.7 million, rather than the approximately 800,000 who live there today. In fact that would be unprecedented beyond belief. No core city that had become fully developed and reached 500,000 people by 1950 has achieved growth of this magnitude. The greatest growth was less than 10%, in this category of 60 core cities (which includes the city of San Francisco). Even less likely would be public support for such huge population growth in the second densest major municipality in the nation.

While LAO does not indicate the additional population that its estimates would have placed in the core of Los Angeles, given the scale of the San Francisco increase, this could be a number of up to 3 million. This area, the broadest expanse of over 10,000 population per square mile density in the nation outside New York City is in the middle of the urban area with the nation's worst traffic congestion, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. It is doubtful that residents would have the "stomach" to expand roadway capacity to keep the traffic moving. Transit could not have made much difference. Even with its now extensive rail network that has opened since the early 1990s, driving alone accounted for 85% of the additional travel to work from 2000 to 2013 in the city of Los Angeles. Yet, the city of Los Angeles has the most extensive transit in the metropolitan area, including service by all rail lines.

In reality, core densification is likely to be modest. Keeping housing affordability from getting worse requires regulatory liberalization throughout California, including coastal and inland areas

The reality is that if California had permitted growth, it would naturally occurred mostly on the periphery. Even with the restrictions on building, the preference for suburban living (largely in detached housing) could not be repressed between 2000 and 2010. Less than 10% of the population growth in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas occurred in the cores.

The Challenge

Should the state of California begin to seriously discuss housing affordability, it will be important to ease restrictions throughout the state, not just in the coastal counties. There are serious barriers to placing the appropriate priority on improving the standard of living and minimizing poverty rates among California's diverse population. Perhaps the biggest impediment is Senate Bill 375, which is being interpreted by the state and its regional planning agencies to require even more stringent land-use regulation.

In this environment, LAO rightly raises this concern:

If California continues on its current path, the state’s housing costs will remain high and likely will continue to grow faster than the nation’s. This, in turn, will place substantial burdens on Californians—requiring them to spend more on housing, take on more debt, commute further to work, and live in crowded conditions. Growing housing costs also will place a drag on the state’s economy.

It is to be hoped that California's distorted policy priorities will be righted to restore the California Dream.

Photograph: Dense suburban development: Inland Empire (San Bernardino Freeway with Uplard toward the top and Ontario toward the bottom) - By author

Wendell Cox is an international public policy consultant and principal of Demographia in St. Louis. He is a native Los Angelino, having been born within two miles of City Hall. He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission by Mayor Tom Bradley. Full biography is here.

Singapore After Lee Kuan Yew: Future Is Uncertain For The Utilitarian Paradise He Created

Sun, 03/22/2015 - 19:46

In this age of political Lilliputians, we must acknowledge the passing of giants. Although he ran only a small city-state, Lee Kuan Yew, along with late Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping, ranks among Asia’s most pivotal figures of the past 50 years.

These two men — a tall, aristocratic scion of a Hakka trading family and the diminutive Chinese revolutionary — came from very different perspectives, but shared a pragmatic streak, and ultimately strategies that came to be widely copied. You can see their legacy today across the continent, in rapid urbanization and growing economic power.

But it was Lee who first formulated the essentials of the new Asian economic approach, blending capitalistic modernity with a state-directed economy and authoritarianism. Although repression of dissidents in both countries rightfully offends Westerners, particularly journalists, it has not deterred foreign capital, technology and capital from seeking to cash in on Asia’s growth.

American and British capital may have fueled global capitalism’s 20th century triumph, but Lee and Deng shaped its expansion in the 21st.

Lee’s Achievement

This is not merely a testament to Lee’s tenure as prime minister from 1959 to 1990, the longest of any in world history, but the singularity and durability of his accomplishment. From Singapore’s independence to the present day, Lee helped fashion what is arguably the most successful and best run city in the world.

In 1965, after Singapore’s acrimonious exit from Malaysia, its outlook was far from promising. Unemployment was high and the fledgling city-state was wracked by internal dissension between its ethnic mix of Chinese, Indians and Malays, and between conservatives and communists, who seemed in political ascendancy as elsewhere in Southeast Asia. The then rough-edged Asian metropolis, an important trading center, boasted a per capita GDP of$2,667 in 1990 dollars, more than double the average for East Asian countries and trailing only Japan in the region, but well behind European countries and North America.

Faced with imminent disaster, Lee’s response was to create a new political system that blended a mildly socialist program with a development strategy aimed at attracting foreign capital and building up the manufacturing sector. Lee and his People’s Action Party (PAP) focused on developing a modern infrastructure — from the port and roads to education — that is second to none.

Perhaps PAP’s most remarkable achievement was the creation of the Housing Development Board, which turned the vast majority of Singaporeans from slum-dwellers to owners of apartments that were small but clean and modern. As Asian real estate markets have heated up, HDB has helped keep Singaporean housing costs far more reasonable than in China’s primary cities, or Hong Kong or Tokyo.

Lee believed widespread homeownership would make Singapore more stable, but it was not enough to make it rich. Under his guidance, everything — from cleaning the streets to developing arguably the best primary education system in the world — was calculated to attract foreign companies and skilled individuals; this at a time when China, India and much of Southeast Asia was either closed to investment, embroiled in lethal civic conflict or primarily dominated by crony capitalists.

And the world did come, making Singapore among the favored destinations for international corporations. In 1968 Texas Instruments TXN +1.26% established a chip-making plant there, the break Lee later credited with helping transform the city into a technology hotspot.

A 2011 Roland Berger study named Singapore as the leading location for European companies to establish headquarters in the Asia-Pacific region.Companies with regional headquarters include Microsoft MSFT +1.12%Google GOOGL +0.16%Exxon Mobil XOM +0.15%, and Kellogg’s. Singapore now has more than twice as many regional headquarters as far-larger Tokyo, not to mention Asia’s less affluent megacities.

Lee’s Chinese Legacy

Cambridge-educated, and with the demeanor of a British aristocrat, Lee promoted English as the country’s primary language, a decision that made the city particularly attractive to foreign investors and workers. But in many ways he remained very Chinese. Lee’s People’s Action Party blended British parliamentary forms with a highly authoritarian, centrally directed system. Author Alex Josey compared Lee’s role in the PAP to Mao Zedong’s suzerainty over the Chinese Communist Party.

When Deng visited the city-state in 1978, he saw it as an appealing model for his poor country: a top-down, mandarin-led system that could appeal to global capitalists. Deng, Lee would later recall, was most captivated by Singapore’s modern prosperity: “What he saw in Singapore in 1978,” he recalled in his book Third World to First, “had become the point of reference as the minimum the Chinese people should achieve.”

Anyone visiting China today can see the results of Deng’s insight: gleaming cities, massive expansion of educational institutions, modern roads and transit systems, and most of a general prosperity that has lifted the mother country of most Singaporeans to almost unimagined heights.

The story is not so positive for those who believe in liberal democracy. Although Singapore is generally less repressive than China, it did show the Chinese communists that being “free” was not necessary for becoming rich. It’s a lesson that many developing countries around the world — in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America — have taken to heart.

Singapore After Lee

Lee bequeathed to Singapore prosperity and order, but the durability of his legacy is in question. To some extent, this reflects the technocratic cast of the Republic; Lee may have been a “founding father” of his country, but he did not leave behind a system of beliefs that can tie people together in the manner of George Washington & co. in the United States. Lee is revered simply for being effective.

Indeed despite massive government efforts to promote a sense of identity, a recent survey found half of all Singaporeans indifferent to their citizenship as long as their wealth could be maintained. Stabilizing forces like religion and family, have also been weakened by the rush to embrace what former foreign minister S. Rajaratnam labeled “moneytheism.” The emptiness of this religion can be seen in the fact that residents of this highly successful city-state are now among the most pessimistic of peoples, alongside understandably dour residents of Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Slovenia and Haiti.

So even as the Republic prospers, there is growing disaffection, with the PAP’s support dwindling to the lowest level since independence. Fed up with government controls and the increasingly high cost of living, many Singaporeans are considering a move elsewhere. Already some 300,000 now live abroad, almost one in 10. As many as half of Singaporeans, according to a recent survey, would leave if they could

The utilitarian paradise created by Lee will also have to face competition from Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing, notes Ravi Menon, the former head of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Companies that might once have located operations in Singapore now feel pressure to locate in Asia’s dominant economy. Once Asia had few places where advanced technology and services could be developed; now it has many. China alone has 13 cities larger than Singapore, many of them with breathtakingly modern infrastructure and far less expensive workforces.

There is also widespread dissent about PAP’s policy prescription. One particularlyunpopular proposal has been to boost the city-state’s population from 5 million to roughly 7 million by 2030, largely through immigration. To help accommodate this growth, planners have suggested building a vast underground city with shopping malls, public spaces, pedestrian links and cycling lanes. Even normally docile and sociable Singaporeans may recoil from spending their lives like Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ Time Machine.

The city also has become more dependent on imported labor, not surprising in a county that has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Many Singaporeans feel the foreign influx is turning them into strangers in their own city. In 1980, over 90% of residents were citizens. Today the percentage is 63% and, by 2030, if the government’s plans hold up, foreigners will outnumber the natives.

Yet despite these problems, Lee Kwan Yew’s accomplishments are undeniable. He took a struggling, ununified city and left it an urban jewel. That history has moved on is inevitable, but one has to wonder, among all the current chiefs of state, whether any will leave behind anything approaching Yew’s legacy when they pass from this world.

Percentage Change In Asian Population Since 2000: +23.5%

This piece first appeared at 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 Los Angeles, CA.

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