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How Post-Familialism Will Shape the New Asia

Sun, 01/01/2017 - 21:33

Surprisingly, the modern focal point for postfamilial urbanism comes from eastern Asia, where family traditionally exercised a powerful, even dominant influence over society. The shift toward post-familialism arose first in Japan, the region’s most economically and technologically advanced country. As early as the 1990s sociologist Muriel Jolivet unearthed a trend of growing hostility toward motherhood in her book Japan: The Childless Society? –a trend that stemmed in part from male reluctance to take responsibility for raising children.

The trend has only accelerated since then. By 2010 a third of Japanese women entering their 30s were single, as were roughly one in five of those entering their 40s – that is roughly eight times the percentage seen in 1960 and twice that seen in 2000. By 2030, according to sociologist Mika Toyota, almost one in three Japanese males may be unmarried by age 50.

In Japan, the direct tie between low birth rates and dense urbanization is most expressed in Tokyo, which now has a fertility rate of around one child per family, below the already depressed national average. Some of the lowest rates on earth can be seen elsewhere in eastern Asia, including those in Seoul, Singapore and Hong Kong, which are now roughly the same as the rate in Tokyo.

As more of Asia becomes highly urbanized like Japan, this kind of ultra-low fertility will spread to other parts of the continent. Most critically, this dynamic has already spread to mainland China, or at least to its larger cities, where fertility rates have dropped well below 1.0. In 2013, Shanghai’s fertility rate of 0.7 was among the lowest ever reported – well below the “one child” mandate removed in 2015 and only one-third the rate required to simply replace the current population. Beijing and Tianjin suffer similarly dismal fertility rates.

This pattern of low fertility, notes demographer Gavin Jones, suggests that rapid urbanization has already made the notion of the one-child policy antiquated. Now, even with fertility policies being loosened, many Chinese families are opting not to take advantage, largely due to the same reasons cited in other parts of the world: the high cost of living and high housing costs.

Perhaps no city better reflects Asia’s emerging urban paradigm than Seoul, the densest of the high-income world’s megacities outside of Hong Kong. The Korean capital is more than 2.5 times as crowded as Tokyo, twice as dense as London and 5 times as crowded as New York. No surprise then that self-styled urban pundits love the place, as epitomized by a glowing report in Smithsonian magazine that painted Seoul as “the city of the future.” Architects, naturally, joined the chorus. In 2010 the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design named Seoul the “world design capital.”

Ultimately, Seoul epitomizes the retro-urbanist fantasy: a city that is dense and dominating, rapidly turning the rest of the country into depopulating backwaters. Seoul has monopolized population growth in Korea, accounting for nearly 90% of total growth since 1970. Seoul also currently holds nearly 50% of the country’s population, up from 20% in 1960.

Seoul’s development has come at the expense of not just its own hinterlands but also its own humanity. Its formerly human-scaled form of housing, known as a hanok , which was one story tall and featured an interior courtyard, has been largely replaced with tall, often repetitive towers that stretch even into the suburbs. While architects and planners celebrate this shift, they rarely consider whether this form of urbanization creates a good place for people, particularly families.

When you consider the trends in similar cities, it’s unsurprising that Korean sociologists have noted the shift to high-density housing as being unsuitable for families with children.

Over time the impact of these housing policies will be profound. By 2040 Korea’s population will join those of Japan and Germany as one of the world’s oldest. This will occur despite determined government efforts to encourage childbearing, efforts that may well be doomed by the government’s similar commitment to a dense, centralized urban form.

What will happen to societies that are likely to retain extremely low rates of fertility? Japan, notes Canadian demographer Vaclav Smil, represents “an involuntary global pioneer of a new society.” Japan certainly exemplifies one way societies may evolve under diminishing birth rates.

Projecting population and fertility rates is difficult, but the trajectory for Japan is unprecedented. The UN projects Japan’s 2100 population to be 91 million, down from 2015′s 127 million, but Japan’s own National Institute of Population & Social Security Research projects a population of 48 million, nearly 50% lower than the UN’s projection.

Japan’s urban centralization both feeds and accelerates this trend. Rather than disperse, Japan’s population is “recentralizing.” A country with a great tradition of regional rivalries, home to an impressive archipelago of venerable cities, is becoming, in effect, a city-nation, with an increased concentration on just one massive urban agglomeration: Tokyo. This has, for the time being, allowed Tokyo to escape the worst of Japan’s demographic decline, drawing heavily on the countryside and smaller cities, both of which are losing population. From 2000 to 2013 the Tokyo metropolitan area added 2.4 million residents, while the rest of the nation declined by 2 million.

Tokyo is now home to almost one in three Japanese. But its growth is likely to be constrained, as the last reservoir of rural and small-city residents seems certain to dry up dramatically. A projection for the core prefecture of Tokyo indicates a 50% population cut by 2100 to a number smaller than it was at the beginning of World War II; 46% of that reduced population will be over 65.

This suggests it is time, in high-income countries at least, to shift our focus from concerns about overpopulation to a set of new and quite unique challenges presented by rapid aging and a steadily diminishing workforce. Even birth rates in developing countries are tumbling toward those of wealthy countries. As British environmental journalist Fred Pearce puts it, “the population bomb’ is being defused over the medium and long term.”

Some, like Pearce, see the Japanese model as an exemplar of a world dominated by seniors – with very slow and even negative population growth – that will be “older, wiser, greener.” Following the adolescent ferment of the 20th century, Pearce looks forward to “the age of the old” that he claims “could be the salvation of the planet.”

Yet, if the environmental benefits of a smaller, older and less consumptive population may be positive, there may be other negative ramifications of a rapidly aging society. For one thing, there will be increasingly fewer children to take care of elderly parents. This has led to a rising incidence of what the Japanese call kodokushi , or “lonely death,” among the aged, unmarried and childless. In Korea, Kyung-sook Shin’s highly praised bestseller, Please Look After Mom, which sold 2 million copies, focused on “filial guilt” in children who fail to look after their aging parents and hit a particular nerve in the highly competitive eastern Asian society that seems to be drifting from its familial roots.

Additionally, an aging population will certainly diminish demand for both goods and services and likely would not promote a vibrant entrepreneurial economy.

China will face its own version of “demographic winter,” although sometime later than Japan or the Asian Tiger states. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that China’s population will peak in 2026 and then will age faster than any country in the world besides Japan. Its rapid urbanization, expansion of education and rising housing costs all will contribute to this trend. China’s population of children and young workers between 15 and 19 will decline 20% from 2015 to 2050, while that of the world will increase nearly 10%.

In China the consequences of the rising number of elderly will be profound. Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, for example, sees the prospect of a fiscal crisis caused by an aging and ultimately diminishing population. China, he notes, faces “this coming tsunami of senior citizens” with a smaller workforce, greater pension obligations and generally slower economic growth.

It seems likely, as has occurred in Japan already, that rising costs associated with an aging population, and a dearth of new workers and consumers, will hamper wealth creation and income growth. Societies dominated by the old likely will become inherently backward-looking, seeking to preserve the existing wealth of seniors as opposed to creating new opportunities for the increasingly politically marginalized younger population.

The shift to an aging population also creates, particularly in Asia where urbanization is most rapid, the segregation of generations, with the elderly in rural areas and the younger people in cities. Around the world, the results of this shift are likely to resemble those seen in Japan, with cities becoming home to an ever expanding part of the population, while people in the countryside are destined to grow older and ever more isolated. It is not clear how the expanding senior population, which was traditionally cared for by younger generations, will fare with fewer children to support them and in the absence of a well-developed welfare state.

Later this century these same challenges will even be felt in many parts of the developing world. In rapidly urbanizing, relatively poor countries such as Vietnam, the fertility rate is already below replacement levels, and it is rapidly declining in other poorer countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia and even Bangladesh. In parts of Latin America, especially Brazil, fertility rates are plunging to below those seen in the United States. Brazil’s birth rate (4.3 in the late 1970s and now 1.9) has dropped not only among the professional classes but also in the countryside and among those living in the favelas. As one account reports, women in Brazil now say, “Afábrica está fechada”–the factory is closed.

Excerpted from The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us, by Joel Kotkin (B2 Books, 2016)

This piece first appeared in Forbes.

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

Photo: John Gillespie, CC License

Suburban Nations: Canada, Australia and the United States

Fri, 12/30/2016 - 21:38

Professors David L. A. Gordon of Queens University (Canada) and Paul Maginn and Sharon Biermann of the University of Western Australia have now shown Australia to be a largely suburban nation. This follows on Professor Gordon’s work with colleagues in 2013 that came to the same conclusion on Canada based upon 2006 census data. By using census tract data, rather than municipality data, Gordon, et al were able to avoid the misleading but readily accessible jurisdictional analysis (central city versus suburbs) that equated large low-density central municipalities like Calgary and Edmonton, with more compact and dense municipalities like Vancouver and Montreal (or New York with Phoenix). The Gordon, et al criteria is illustrated in Figure 1.

Broadly following the Gordon et al research, in the Spring of 2014, I published a similar “City Sector Model” using postal code tabulation areas (zip codes) for the major metropolitan areas of the United States. That criteria is illustrated in Figure 2.

This article compares the Gordon findings in Canada and Australia and contrasts them with my findings in the United States.

The Gordon Research: Canada and Australia

In Australia, as in Canada, Professors Gordon, Maginn and Biermann divided metropolitan areas into four classifications at a small area level. The research called the urban core classification "active core," to note the greater dependence of residents on walking and cycling for commuting to work. They divided suburban areas into transit and auto suburban areas, and designated the more rural areas of metropolitan areas as exurban. In both countries, they used the functional or economic definition of cities, which is metropolitan areas or labor market areas (Note 1).

Gordon, Maginn and Biermann’s analysis shows that Australia’s 27 metropolitan areas are 13 percent “active core”, nine percent transit suburbs, 69 percent auto suburbs and 10 percent exurban. This is nearly the same as the previous research on the 2011 Census of Canada which revealed 12 percent active core, 11 percent transit suburbs, 69 percent auto suburbs and eight percent exurban for all 33 metropolitan areas.

The Major Metropolitan Areas (Over 1,000,000 Population) In the smaller number of Australian metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population, the “active cores” are only slightly larger than those in Canada (12.4 percent of the metropolitan population versus 11.8 percent). But Canada’s major metropolitan areas has larger “transit suburbs” by a 12.2 percent to 10.0 percent margin. The “auto suburban” figures are virtually the same, with Australia at 70.5 percent and Canada at 70.7 percent. Finally, Australia has a slightly larger “exurbs,” at 7.2 percent compared to Canada’s 5.2 percent (Figures 3 and 4).

Comparing to the United States

In the United States, the City Sector Model uses somewhat different criteria. Gordon’s central classifications (“active core” and “transit suburb”) parallel the City Sector Model’s “urban core: CBD” and “urban core: inner ring.” Gordon’s “auto suburban” and “exurban” also roughly parallel the two “suburban” and the exurban City Sector Model classifications.

Perhaps the largest difference between the two models is in the treatment of commuting. Professor Gordon’s approach is to classify the two central areas based on 50 percent higher than each metropolitan’s area average shares of walking, cycling and transit journey to work travel. The City Sector Model uses an across-the-board minimum 20 percent market share (transit, cycling and walking combined), to replicate a division between more dense pre-World War II development and the automobile oriented suburbs that followed.

Comparing to the United States

Of course, it is to be expected that the United States, with the lowest density built-up urban areas (called population centers in Canada and urban centres in Australia) would be even more suburban than Australia and Canada . This is indicated by the data (see Demographia World Urban Areas).

There are large differences in the two more central classifications. In Australia, the two central areas have 22.4 percent of the metropolitan area population, somewhat less than Canada’s 24.0 percent. In the United States the two central areas have a smaller 14.8 percent of the metropolitan area population (Figure 5).

Various factors account for this difference. There were, for example, huge urban core population losses   in the United States, but not in Canada and Australia. Another cause is the much earlier motorization of the United States, which by 1929, according to economist Robert Gordon, had achieved 0.9 vehicles per household and had 90 percent of the world’s registered vehicles (Note 2). With this unparalleled market penetration, the U.S. had a several decade long head start in automobile oriented suburbanization. Canada equaled the 1929 U.S. automobile market penetration in the middle 1950s and Australia in the middle 1960s.However, in the suburban classification, the metropolitan areas of the three nations were very similar. The US automobile suburb share of the population, at 68.8 percent was within two percentage points of both Canada and Australia. However, like the urban core, the suburbs showed considerably different results, with the United States having a 16.4 percentage exurban share, compared to approximately 10 percentage point lower shares in both Canada and Australia.

Part of difference in the exurbs is the larger geographic size of U.S. metropolitan areas, which are far less representative in capturing the genuine labor market. The building geographical blocks used by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget are simply too large for sufficient preciseness. This is illustrated by the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area, which covers an area about the same size as the Canadian province of New Brunswick or the Australian state of Tasmania. By contrast, in Canada, Statistics Canada uses municipalities to construct metropolitan areas, while Australia uses “Statistical Areas Level 4,” which are generally smaller than US counties (Note 3). When the boundaries of a metropolitan area are far larger than the actual commuting shed (as often happens in the United States), more people will be in the metropolitan area.

At the same time, these results must be interpreted carefully, since there are differences in the criteria and geographical building blocks of metropolitan areas in all three nations.

Comparison of Population Growth

Professor Gordon’s research in both nations shows suburban growth   far out stripping growth in the central areas. In Canada, nearly 84 percent of major metropolitan area population growth between 2006 and 2011 was in the “auto suburbs” and “exurbs” (Figure 6). In Australia (27 metropolitan areas), the “auto suburbs” and “exurbs accounted” for nearly 78 percent of population growth (Figure 7). In the United States, the suburbs and exurbs accounted for over 85 percent   (Figure 8).

Suburban World

Contrary to planning preference for dense urbanization, suburbanization has occurred virtually wherever people can afford cars. This is even true in Europe, Japan and China. For example, the municipality of Paris continues to languish with a population a quarter below its level of 135 years ago (1881). The 8 million resident urban area growth since that time has been in the suburbs , which now cover more than 25 times the area of the ville de Paris (the central municipality). Other examples, such as the core municipalities of Copenhagen (from 1950), Barcelona and Milan (from 1970) have suffered significant population losses while all metropolitan area growth has been in the suburbs. There are many similar examples around the world.

Even with the differing definitions, the data in Canada, Australia and the United States is remarkably similar. Of course, not all suburbs are the same, but it should not be surprising that the organic growth of cities continues on their edges.

Note 1: For further information see: Paul Cheshire, Max Nathan and Henry G. Overman of the London School of Economics in their recent book, Urban Economics and Urban Policy: Challenging Conventional Policy Wisdom.

Note 2: See Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War, page 374, reviewed at  

Note 3: The larger size of US exurbs is illustrated by the 11,400 square kilometer average areas outside the principal urban areas (exurbs) of US metropolitan areas. In Australia, the average outside the principal urban centres is 6,500 square kilometers, while in Canada the average area outside the principal population centres is 4,600 square kilometers (data based on metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population).

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

Photo: Brisbane, Australia Inner Suburbs (by author)

Looking Forward, With Better Cheer

Thu, 12/29/2016 - 21:38

Among many urbanites, a certain bunker mentality has already surfaced at key locations within the geography of the city.  Here in Orlando, places like the Stardust Video and Coffee where once there was warmth, one feels coolness in the air, a little less eye contact, briefer conversations, a sharper tone. For many who practice tolerance and inclusiveness, and bend our lives towards mutual sustainability, this was a temporary setback.  But this is no time for recriminations or succumbing to the temptation to snip at one another.  It is a time to look forward, with better cheer.

We must expand our tolerance even further, and recognize that true inclusiveness really means everybody.  At the same time, there is a subtle upswing in other places too.  Just around the corner from Stardust lies three convenience stores, ostensibly gas pump backdrops.  It's time to get to know the coffee choices around here, and expand my horizons a bit.

Lotto, beer, and cigarettes figure big in these places; our small weaknesses are also their small profit. The mood in these colorful, brightly lit stores is upbeat, and it shows how the two different streams of society intermingle within very small distances.  

In the 7-Eleven, Rhonda and Lexi posed for the camera, shoulder to shoulder with big grins on their faces. When asked who made the coffee, Rhonda announced "I did!"  Convenience store coffee is surprisingly good here.  Around the corner, Elizabeth briefed me on her complicated coffee system at the National Food Mart. When I asked her for a picture, she shrugged.  "Yeah, sure," and broke into a sweet, disarming smile.  

For the workers in these stores, there's a coming-out, a sense of "yeah, well, we're cool too," a new posture being tried.  Is it the surprise, the swift triumph of the unhip, that has suddenly put a bounce in their step?  The cashiers of our vices are happier, a little more hopeful, these days, a little less grim and underclass.

It is now the formerly hip Stardust which now feels dour and tragic. Avoidance of eye contact was once a game practiced at the convenience store; now it is practiced at this cluttered countertop.  At one time, the scene at Stardust was open, with shouts of greeting and smiles.  A boisterous and diverse crowd kept a gentle, Haight-Asbury vibe going.  It was improvisational, a do-it-yourself kind of culture. John, a retired engineer, mixed with hippie chicks, artists, writers and techies in for a cup and a jam.  DJs and photographers met to plan out a photo shoot.  

Salesmen sat with their laptops, looking at their sales leads for the day.  In the evening, kids did their geometry homework while older couples sat and drank wine.  An ancient, timeless public house feel was rich and was ripe. This openness is what I love about Stardust, it has a sense of shared ownership and a mutual agreeableness that we are all in it together.  It suits me, as I move in a very wide range between laborers, the very wealthy, plumbers and professors.  

In these days of looking backward, a veil of grimness seems to separate the hip and the cool for now.  Stardust is lately tinged just a bit with the atmosphere of all convenience stores.  It is tinted with the grimness of outcasts.

This grimness of outcasts was once the province of convenience store workers, hanging their heads, ringing up gas sales, condoms, smokes.  They knew their place, and it was pretty far down the class system.  Condemned to shapeless, garish uniforms, convenience store workers were the bottom, especially in the chic neighborhood of Audubon Park.  Everyone on Corrine Drive outranked the convenience store worker.  The only caste lower than convenience store clerk was possibly convenience store night clerk.

Life at the bottom of the social pyramid was bad enough, but especially the Audubon Park social pyramid, what with its ultra-cool scene of independent record stores, custom beer taps, movie production guys, East End Market, for Christ's sake--a hipster convenience store in drag--and, naturally, it was all anchored by Stardust Video and Coffee.  For the convenience store clerk in this neighborhood, a special hell was your lot.  High school diploma, if you're lucky, making nine oh five an hour selling stupid stuff to liberal arts school students, techies wearing glasses that cost six months of your wages, bourgeois bohemians. It rankled. You sucked.

Back at Stardust, the post-election mortification has given way to the next phase of outsider-mentality:  recrimination.  Now, for the first time ever, I hear green-shaming: "Where's your cup today?" after a patron asked for a coffee and committed the green sin of not bringing in his own reusable mug. This never used to happen at Stardust, where they are usually happy to sell you a disposable cup.  The barista, however, got a little dig in that morning, fingering me as the Other.

I do not have to prove that I am not the Other.  That charge just won't stick.  It's a symptom of feeling like an outcast, possibly, to accuse someone, label them as Other, and sulk.  During my day, I think about those all around me in a modern, white-collar office, and how good we all have it.  Still, for many, the sense that things just weren’t good enough probably caused people to send a signal in the voting booth.   

Perhaps here’s a lesson to this election, which has unnerved liberals and hipsters to their core. You cannot turn many, if not most, Americans into “the Other.” This is not the road to inclusiveness; perhaps the "in-crowd" at Stardust never was very inclusive to begin with.  If you want to see real people of color, go into the unhip convenience stores all around.  African-American, Asian-American, and Latina-American.  Inclusiveness means a society where all of our people, even the convenience store clerks, are included.

At Stardust, one could easily convince oneself of being in comfortable surroundings of openness and diversity.  This bubble of comfort sadly diverged from reality.  Outside the bubble, the Lexis and Rhondas and Elizabeths have gotten a break.  They were decidedly NOT in this bubble.  It has finally burst.

So what? I'm taking a break from the hip and the cool, and creating my own hip and cool with people in 7-Eleven, National Food Mart, and Shell.  I frequent these places often, for they have things that I need:  gas, air, vacuum, batteries, and aspirin. Stardust offers nothing practical like that anyway.  I've already introduced myself to a few of the other clerks, and found them to be very nice.  I haven't been subjected to green-shaming, and probably won't be.  They're professional, they make it snappy, and they smile.

It is weak and incorrect to circle the wagons and point fingers at The Other and continue this divisiveness that has caused such a big warfare in our hardened, weary society.  This is the sure road to further isolation and loss.  The secret is that there really are no losers and winners, and to act like there are just makes more. Instead, acting like we are all people with our own aspirations and difficulties is a harder, but far more interesting road to travel.  This is not about populist politics or presidents; rather, it is about the need to re-invent the concept of a society where everyone wins.

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.

Photo by Doxvoom - Own work, CC BY 2.5, Link

Generation X's Moment Of Power Is Almost Here

Wed, 12/28/2016 - 21:38

It certainly seems as if boomers are in charge in America now, with Donald Trump about to move into the White House and members of the generation in the majority in Congress. Meanwhile, huge attention has been paid over the past few years to the emergence of the boomers’ children, the millennials, on the national scene. But relatively little thought has been accorded to the group sandwiched between the two mega-generations: Generation X.

Referred to by some pundits as a “lost generation,” the Xers, born between the mid-1960s and 1980, may be less numerous than either the boomers or millennials, the latter of whom now slightly outnumber them in the workforce, but Gen X seems likely to dominate the near future. Not only do they now make up the majority of of managers at U.S. companies, they are far more entrepreneurial than millennials, both at early ages and now. Their rate of startup formation is roughly twice that of millennials, and on the way up, while the younger generation’s rate has been on the decline. 

Financially, they are clearly the ascendant generation. According to analysis by the Deloitte Center for Financial Services, they now have 14 percent of the nation’s wealth compared to just 4 percent for millennials and 50 percent for the boomers. But by 2030, as the boomers finally start to fade from the picture, Xers will dominate the nation’s wealth, accounting for 31 percent, twice the projected share of millennials.

Politically they also seem destined to take power next. They are gradually replacing the aging boomers in Congress. Their politics are neither as conservative as the boomers nor as liberal as millennials: younger Xers tilted slightly to Clinton in the last election, older ones favored Trump. Right now there are 117 Xers in Congress compared to five millennials, with the most prominent being House Speaker Paul Ryan; it will likely take a generation or more for the millennials to challenge the Xers.

To be sure, millennials will dominate the future eventually, but the question is when. Boomers are living, and working, longer than ever. Over time, though, millennials’ overlords will come from the smaller but more aggressive X generation. Unlike the millennials, who received participation trophies and “good job” plaudits, notes generational analyst Morley Winograd, the Xers were the original “latch-key” kids who were forced to make their way in a county dominated by Boomers.

Critically, however much millennials may talk about changing the world, as a group they are entrepreneurial laggards, in large part responsible for America's current depressed startup rates, the lowest in a quarter century. It’s the Xers -- less coddled, with less college debt and just enough experience -- who are starting and running more of the economy. In a word, they are tough, used to adversity and their time is coming. 

X-Strong Metropolitan Areas

With all these considerations in mind, we decided to take a close look at which metropolitan areas have been gaining the largest shares of 35 to 49 year olds, currently the Xers. This is critical not only because of their economic influence, but also because they are the ones who have the most children. If a metro area's share of this age group is growing, it is likely to have more young people as well. 

Using Census data from 2000 to 2015, we found that the share of 35 to 49 year olds grew most dramatically in the affordable Sun Belt. This makes sense as this is the age when home ownership is most critical and people are looking for the maximum income relative to costs. Being in your late 30s to 50 does not mean you have lost the ability to dream, but it does make addressing reality far more imperative than when in your 20s.

Many of the metropolitan areas where the 35-49 population has grown the most are precisely those that have topped most of our best city lists. At the apogee is Austin, whose 35 to 49 year old population has expanded a remarkable 44.9% since 2000, compared to a 6.6% national decline in this age range over that period. This suggests that although the bar scene and liberal politics appeal to many, other characteristics -- such as relatively low housing prices, attractive suburbs and good-paying jobs -- seal the deal for 35 to 49 year olds. 

Housing and rent differentials have been particularly determinative for today’s 35 to 49 year olds. They suffered the most from the housing bust of 2007 and are only now entering the market with full force. They may not be able to afford the high prices of houses owned by coastal boomers, but they seem to be entering aggressively less expensive markets. Another reason they may be heading to these areas is to buy bigger houses than the small units now in vogue among millennial-craving builders. 

Virtually all the other places that have experienced the biggest shift in this age group follow this pattern. No. 2 Raleigh-Durham’s population of 35-49s grew 40.1 percent, or 50.1 percent compared to the national rate, for many of the same reasons as Austin. Other places that attract these ages are generally low-priced dynamos, including No. 3 Las Vegas, No. 4 Charlotte, No. 5 Phoenix, and No. 8 Salt Lake City. Texas dominates the list here with four of the top ten, including No. 7 Houston, No. 9 Dallas-Ft. Worth and No. 10 San Antonio. 

If we tighten of measurement to the years 2010 to 2015, the pattern is largely the same except for the emergence in the top 10 of such tech havens as metropolitan Denver and Portland, which have done very well during the tech boom. Yet surprisingly the 35 to 49 year old population share has remained stagnant in the epicenter of the “new economy,” the San Francisco and San Jose areas, although these areas continue to attract people of millennials age. Housing prices may be playing a big role with roughly a third of Bay Area residents considering leaving, largely for this reason. Silicon Valley and San Francisco may remain great places to start, but are far from the easiest places to settle down for the long term.

Gallery: Top 1o Gen X Cities

 Yet Silicon Valley is a veritable 35 to 49 magnet compared to most of the country’s big cities. Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia areas have all seen declines in their 35 to 49 shares both since 2000 and, more revealingly, since 2010 as well. In terms of 35-49s, these greatly hyped metropolitan areas actually do, however, much better than Rust Belt cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Hartford, Pittsburgh and Rochester, which experienced a survey worst 9.5 percent decline relative to the national rate in Xers since 2010 and a 19.2 percent decline since the beginning of the new millennium.

Xers: The New Suburban Generation 

In the popular press, youth (stretched liberally as high as 50) are widely associated with the much heralded “return to the city.” Yet in reality, all generations continue to head primarily for the suburbs, with this trend most evident among those aged 35-49. 

Using the “city sector model” to analyze metropolitan areas by such factors as density, age of housing, transit use and housing forms, we have looked at where 35-49s have been moving over the past 11 to 15 years. Peope aged 35-49 have shown little inclination to stay in the urban core, moving out in considerable numbers to suburbs and exurbs. 

Indeed since 2000 the percentage of Xers living in the urban core has dropped by one percentage point, while the percentage living in new suburbs and exurbs has grown by six percentage points. By 2015 over 80 percent of Xers in the 52 largest metropolitan areas lived in suburban areas, although they have in more recent years favored older suburbs (built before 1980) over exurbs.

This reflects one of the basic demographic realities: as people age, and start families, they tend to move further out. Generally speaking, notes economist Jed Kolko, the peak years for urban living take place between ages 18 and 30. After that there’s generally a steep decline as people start families and head to the suburbs. Kolko calculates that while almost a quarter of people under 30 live in urban neighborhoods, by age 40 the urban share drops well below 20 percent, and stays there well into their 70s.

The reasons for this move are not surprising. Suburban real estate tends to be cheaper than in good urban areas, and offers the kind of housing -- single family -- preferred by the vast majority of consumers. They also tend to be much safer (the rate of violent crime  in core municipalities remains almost four times higher), and have much better schools and less poverty than urban areas, things that tend to matter to people starting families and raising children.

What It Means For Other Generations 

The increasing importance of Xers will, of course, impact other generations. Boomers, who have had a very long run in control of just about everything, are likely to see their influence reduced as Xers hit their prime earning years. This will be accelerated by the digital revolution; the average age of venture capital-backed founders, notes the Harvard Business Review, is in their late 30s and early 40s, which puts them deep in X territory. Just as boomers had to adjust to the work culture of the previous generations, the millennials will now have to fit their careers into patterns developed by their Xer overlords. 

For the millennials, the experience of the Xers may also presage their future lifestyle choices. Like the Xers, millennials are beginning to move into the suburbs, contradicting all claims to the contrary. Like the Xers, they too are looking for more space, something not likely to lead them to the city. Similarly they are also increasingly moving to the same lower cost cities, largely in the Southeast and Intermountain West. Since 2010, the biggest gains in millennial share have been Orlando, Austin and San Antonio. 

Ultimately, rather than focus on boomers, the millennials will need to figure out how Xers think -- their independence and entrepreneurialism -- since Xers will be both their bosses and their role models. Generation X may be relatively small, and largely unsung, but what it does, and where it moves, may do more to shape the country in the next decade than the more celebrated groups born before and after them.

Gallery: Top 1o Gen X Cities

This piece first appeared at Forbes.

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

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

Photo by Caleb Smith; Office of the Speaker of the House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Carrier and the Commonwealth

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 21:33

I was asked by Fortune to contribute a piece about Trump’s Carrier deal. They had gotten a lot of people criticizing it and were looking for someone who would give a different perspective. I think many of the criticisms are valid in a sense, but miss the larger context. So I wrote the piece which is now online. Here’s an excerpt:

Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that one of the keys to America’s unique success was its sense of enlightened self-interest. Americans worked and competed hard for themselves, their families, and their businesses, but they understood that a purely selfish mindset was self-destructive in the long term. Tocqueville observed inDemocracy in America, “Each American knows when to sacrifice some of his private interests to save the rest; we [the French] want to save everything, and often we lose it all.

Businessmen once understood this link between national, local, and personal success. The men of the Commercial Club of Chicago who commissioned Daniel Burnham to create his famed 1909 plan for that city had personal fortunes deeply tied to Chicago. They needed the city as a whole to succeed for them to succeed. Likewise, General Motors CEO Charles Erwin Wilson once famously said, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa.” He understood that his company’s fortune and America’s were intertwined: GM couldn’t make any money if no one could afford to buy its cars.

As these restrictions were lifted, these businesses left enlightened self-interest behind in favor of quarterly profits. They forgot their community in favor of global capital. Their business models evolved to delink profits and executive compensation from broad-based American prosperity. They could take a portfolio view of local communities and even countries. It was all very economically efficient. These firms and their managers could thrive even while much of America fell into ruin. Or so they thought.

Click through to read the whole thing.

Some people were a bit critical, saying, “Why not say this when Obama bailed out the auto industry?” or “Why is it only good when Trump does it?” In fact, I’ve actually written on this theme before.

Back in November 2008, shortly after Obama’s election, I posted a piece in which I criticized the auto companies’ management and came out in favor of a federally backed restructuring of the auto industry. While I am critical of some aspects of how Obama handled this, the idea of bailing out the car companies was something I was on record as supporting before it happened. Here are some excerpts from that:

Even if you assume a lot of this [auto company management behavior] is exaggerated for effect or outright BS, I’ve heard so many similar type things from people who’ve been associated with the auto industry that there must be a kernel of truth in it somewhere. I lead with this because it is so common to blame the UAW and its $73/hour or some such wage packages for the problems facing the Big Three. And indeed in the modern era that is not sustainable. But there has been particularly little focus on the management excesses of the auto industry, and the corporate cultures of those companies, and by analogy that of Detroit.

I’ve seen estimates that 2-3 million jobs could be lost and that chaos would ensue if the auto makers went bankrupt. That’s probably true if GM, Ford, and Chrysler just waltz down to the court house and file. But it is not the case if they have a government sponsored, pre-packaged bankruptcy.

Even so, we can’t lose track of the fact that there are real human beings, labor and management, with real trauma in their lives. Even if they are at least partially to blame for the mess they are in, that doesn’t mean they deserve what they are getting. It’s like a Greek tragedy: the suffering is disproportionate to the crime. And there but for the grace of God go you and I. I also work in a restructuring industry, and may yet join the auto workers in their pain.

The stories you hear in the Detroit papers are heartbreaking. One that really stuck with me was about people losing their life’s possessions when they couldn’t pay the rental fees on storage lockers. People who had already lost their homes to foreclosure put their possessions in storage, only to lose them too as the storage companies auctioned them to pay the bills. I’m not an emotional guy, but this makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think this should be happening in a country like America. People who made decisions in good faith, who showed up to work every day, who did the right things to care for their families, shouldn’t be left to lose everything because of the action of economic forces they can’t understand or control. Not in America. That’s why we absolutely need a federal safety net program here. Michigan alone can’t fund this.

I probably anticipated more of a bite the bullet approach than actually happened (which is one reason restructuring is still ongoing), and my views have probably changed somewhat in eight years, but clearly the same general themes are present.

Where I would take issue with Trump, is in the idea of “bringing the jobs back” as the theme. This sort of nostalgia for a bygone idyllic era that never really was is powerful in the Midwest. It’s very backwards looking and based on a language of resentment. I can understand why the appeal to this works rhetorically, but as an actual policy goal it’s not realistic. The ship has already sailed too far to return to the harbor. That doesn’t mean we should double down on the status quo, but we’ll have to chart a different path forward to the future, not roll back the clock. (Fortunately, Trump’s working class supporters seem realistic on this point and don’t expect him to literally do every single thing he said).

This perhaps explains why I’m more positive on intervention to save existing jobs than to try to lure new ones. That and the difference in the price tags. It’s one thing to try to preserve actually existing businesses already woven into the fabric of the community, but it’s another to try to speculatively create something new. I’m not under any illusion that we’ll get rid of economic incentives, but it does seem excessive to me to spend, say, $750 million (corruptly, as it appears to have turned out) to lure a solar panel factory to Buffalo. I’m ok with the idea of spending a billion dollars of state money in Buffalo, but there have to be better ways to do it. (Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse said if she had a billion, she’d spend three fourths of it to fix her city’s water pipes – a prescient pledge made prior to the Flint debacle).

It’s also the case that we need to be willing to face the unpleasant reality that many communities are poorly positioned for the future economy. That doesn’t mean abandoning them, but we do have to level with them. And those communities, not just the federal government, also need to be willing to make some changes.

But all that doesn’t mean that simply pushing forward with more of what we’ve already been doing is a viable option. Trump understood that, and beyond the politics of it, the Carrier deal was a symbol that he intends to pursue a new direction.

Update: In line with these themes, a commenter pointed me at this recent blog post by South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg.

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

Photo: By Carrier Corporation ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Progressives Have Let Inner Cities Fail for Decades. President Trump Could Change That.

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 21:38

When Donald Trump described the “devastating” conditions in America’s inner cities, emphasizing poor schools and lack of jobs, he was widely denounced for portraying our urban centers in a demeaning and inaccurate way, much as he had been denounced previously for his supposed appeal to “racial exclusion” when he asked black voters “what the hell do you have to lose” by backing him.

To be sure, Trump was tromped in big cities nationwide, losing by stupendous margins, but he actually did a little better than Mitt Romney among black and Hispanic voters, according to exit polls. Still, some urbanistas embraced the idea that even if Trump had won in the electoral college, “the city is ours,” as New York Magazine put it. And our America, those voices maintained, was doing great and would continue to do great even without a friend in the White House.

But as we saw in November, something isn’t so just because the coastal cocooners say it’s so. In reality, if we go beyond the big-city boosterism that dominates media coverage, poverty, crime, and economic stagnation still characterize many urban core neighborhoods even as many downtown districts have recovered. For all the talk about gentrification, concentrated urban poverty has been a persistent and growing problem, with 75 percent of high-poverty neighborhoods in 1970 still classified that way four decades later.

Racial and class inequality is very much alive even in the most “progressive” cities. In New York, the poster child for urban revitalization, poverty and homelessness have worsened, in large part due to soaring housing costs. Since 2007, median rents in the city have gone up 8.5 percent while median renters’ incomes have gone down by 6.8 percent. Particularly shocking have been rent rises at the edge of gentrification, in places like Brooklyn’s Williamsburg—where rents have risen 80 percent since the 1990s.

In most urban areas, particularly outside New York and a few other cities, the much ballyhooed “back to the city” movement — mindlessly overblown by the national media — impacts basically the downtown cores, which account for roughly 1.3 percent of the national population, a percentage they have held since 2000. Some inner-ring communities — often right next to the urban core — have lost population in those 16 years. Overall, the outer suburbs and exurbs, home to more than 40 percent of the metropolitan population, have added population at more than five times the rate of urban cores.

The same pattern applies to jobs. Though some cores have gained some employment, that’s been offset by big losses in the surrounding urban neighborhoods for an overall decline in the number of jobs in and around most city centers.

Bottom line: The suburbs and exurbs disdained by most urbanists and Democratic politicians continue to add residents and jobs as inner cities continue to languish.

In fact, roughly 80 percent of all job growth since 2010 has been in suburbs and exurbs. And tech, supposedly newly focused on the urban core, still concentrates largely in dispersed, suburban environments from Silicon Valley to Austin to Raleigh.

Rather than clustering downtown, most rapid growth is now in what may be seen as post-suburban cities, places like Irvine, California, Overland Park, Kansas, or Frisco, outside Dallas, where single family neighborhoods and cars co-exist with dense office parks and often expanding town centers. And with millennials now entering their thirties in greater numbers, these communities, generally safe and with good schools, seem to be growing in popularity much faster than the inner cities. These are unfortunate facts for Democrats, who have long celebrated, sometimes garishly, cities’ glaring problems—thus helping make Trump’s campaign comments sound that much more reasonable.

Trump’s pick of Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development has horrified some retro-urbanists who point to his lack of experience with housing issues, let alone running a $50-billion-a-year agency. Yet given the obvious failures of existing policies, an outsider may prove something of a blessing—if he comprehends the nature of the challenge.

During the past decade, urban boosters have hailed “the rise of creative class,” reflected by the migration of educated millennials to “hip and cool” cities including New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. Yet as Richard Florida, who coined the term “creative class” has since observed, gentrification has not made life better for most urbanities, as the rise in housing costs has outpaced that in wages, making those cities even less affordable. The creative class certainly improved selected parts of urban America, but for the most part urban poverty, including homelessness and hunger, has barely been dented by gentrification and in some cases may have been made worse.

This poor result reflects the failure of urban policies that have been promoted by the very interests—particularly real-estate speculators and big-city politicians who count on them—that most strenuously oppose Trump and his pick of Carson in particular. Those policies include redevelopment that often serves to push inner-city residents from their homes—with HUD in the worst cases trying to lure poorer populations out of their cities altogether.

Those moves happened even as more upwardly mobile minorities headed in huge numbers to the periphery. Since 2000, notes demographer Wendell Cox, more than 95 percent of the minority population growth in the 52 largest metropolitan areas has been in suburban and exurban areas.

In Portland, minority neighborhoods close to downtown have been resettled, with encouragement from the progressive government, by upscale hipsters. Indeed, the largest reductions of African-American populations, and occasionally of Latinos as well, have taken place in precisely the bluest cities such as SeattleBoston, and San Francisco in what becomes a genteel exercise in whitewashing.

Even in more diverse cities such as Chicago, notes urban analyst Pete Saunders, city policies have been designed that force poorer, largely minority areas out of areas that, in essence, are considered too valuable for such populations. The results of dislocation, Saunders notes, has created a kind of progressive apartheid, where blacks and other minorities are driven away from neighborhoods that have been their home for generations. He describes Chicago poignantly as “one third San Francisco and two-thirds Detroit.”

Increasingly, at least in the centers of the greatest hipster infestation, minorities and working class families are being driven into less desirable areas, often further from work locations. This helps create new social tensions and, in many places, notably Chicago, more social unrest, and now the most murders in more than two decades. Overall, the rate of violent crime in urban cores remains almost four times higher than the national average, according to FBI data. The worst violence, and the sharpest upticks over the decade have been in cities with large black populations, including Detroit, Oakland, St. Louis, Memphis, Cleveland, and Atlanta.

Left out of the urban revival, minority and poor communities face diminishing opportunities while others prosper. This is true not only in places like Chicago, notes researcher Daniel Hertz, but also in New York where class and race inequality are much higher than in the rest of the country. Generally speaking, it’s the bluest and largest cities that suffer the worst levels of inequality.

Indeed despite the media spin, in the core cities of the 51 metropolitan areas, 81 percent of the population increase over the past decade was under the poverty line, compared to 32 percent of the suburban population increase. Despite talk about “suburban ghettos,” the poverty rate in the suburbs remains roughly half that of urban centers (20.9 percent in core compared to 11.4 percent in the suburbs as of 2010). Crime rates in core cities, meanwhile, remain over three times higher than in the suburbs.

No surprise that discrete and genteel “ethnic cleansing”—in the form of HUD “affirmative action” or taxpayer funded redevelopment—appeals to many urban boosters. In contrast, the much sought after hipster and wealthy childless adults thrill developers and mayors; they love a population that will pay a premium to live there and that doesn’t need good schools or working-class jobs.

If lack of commitment to pre-existing failure offers some hope to Trump and Carson, the non-existence of a programmatic agenda represents the significant downside. Trump, after all, hardly built his career in fighting poverty; his business of building luxury high-rises hardly made him a natural ally to the diminishing ranks of working- and middle-class urbanites.

Certainly, the new HUD should abandon its agenda of redirecting populations, or forcing high density on reluctant communities, whether in the poorer urban neighborhoods or the more comfortable suburbs. But there needs to more. One hopeful sign—particularly for cities in the heartland—would be attempts to keep industrial jobs in what’s left of the manufacturing economy, the loss of which has devastated cities such as Milwaukee. Similarly Trump’s stand against H-1B visas could help keep some white-collar positions in the hands of citizens residing in our cities, including on the coasts.

Other steps could be taken to reawaken the grassroots economy, particularly in hard-hit poorer neighborhoods. This might include such things deregulating some businesses, like in cosmetology, and making it easier for new restaurants and shops. Yet these things cannot be mandated from Washington; it will take some rise in the level of business savvy of our elected leaders in cities. Perhaps most critical will be addressing the escalating crime rate in many cities, where by far the vast majority of victims are minorities, as Trump himself pointed out.

Other parts of the potential Trumpian urban agenda, such as charter schools and vouchers, long supported by his Education Department nominee Betsy DeVos, could help address poor urban education, arguably the biggest reason why families don’t stay in cities like Chicago with their dysfunctional schools. Federal support for educational reform is vastly preferable to the kind of anti-charter agenda that, for example, Hillary Clinton, with her incestuous ties to the teacher unions, would have promoted.

Similarly, a shift away from “one size fits all” transportation policies might allow communities to build public transit options, ranging from bus rapid transit to innovative dial-a-ride services. Under the old regime, money tended to go into light rail and trolley projects designed to appeal to upscale riders and developers; a better focus on inner city needs might be actually helping working class people actually get to work as quickly and easily as possible, at reasonable cost rather than building dedicated lines that tend to push land prices up, and existing residents out.

Even if Carson can concoct such an agenda, this is unlikely to make Donald Trump popular among the retro-urbanist chattering class who have thrived under the current urban regime. But it is to be hoped that such a new approach, at very least, could finally make progressives, who control America’s big cities as virtual fiefs, reconsider policies that have led to tragic levels of impoverishment, violence, and inequality across our great urban centers.

This article first appeared on The Daily Beast.

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

Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Edward Hopper’s Rockford

Sat, 12/24/2016 - 21:38

I had dinner in Rockford, Illinois recently with Jennifer and Michael Smith of the City Smiths. You will never find a more charming, kind, and industrious couple. Any town would be lucky to have such passionate and engaged citizens.

Rockford has good bones: a diversified economy, a well educated population, a bountiful rural hinterland, and ready access to Chicagoland. I’ll blog about that some other time with selected photos I took yesterday afternoon. But it’s breakfast time here in Chicago and I thought I’d do something a little different for the moment. I’m posting photos of the drive away from the restaurant in downtown Rockford as I made my way toward the Interstate after dinner. 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px">

My conversations with people all across the country tend to focus on the quality of the downtown core, the prosperous suburban landscape, the public schools, the dynamics of municipal finance, the palace intrigue of local politics, blah, blah, blah. And then, inevitably, I hop in the car and head out through the reality of what every American town actually is. 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px">

This drive-thru Edward Hopper dreamscape goes on for miles in every direction. Pound for pound this is what constitutes the bulk of the built environment – or at least what passes for the public realm. This is where we all get our transmissions repaired, take our meals, have our hair done, and buy our groceries. This is where a significant proportion of the population works each day. This is our tax base. This is our infrastructure burden. At the very least this is what we all pass through on our way to other places. 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px">

Forget downtown. It’s a tiny speck on the map compared to the endless buffet of strip malls and parking lots that have engulfed it. Let go of the ideaof comfortable homes set in pristine leafy cul-de-sacs. These muffler shops and fast food outlets are the lion’s share of what we’ve created for ourselves. There’s so much of this stuff everywhere that these establishments will continue to define our communities for the next couple of generations. We’ll need to maintain them, reinvent them, or deal with the consequences of letting them decline. I don’t hear people talk much about that process, most likely because no one’s thinking about it. These places aren’t worthy of consideration. 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px">

It’s easy to get excited about restoring a magnificent Beaux-Arts theater and contemplate the economic benefits of a reinvigorated historic downtown. It’s equally tempting to shine up a mid-century residential gem to its original Mad Men condition. But what exactly becomes of a defunct gas station that’s already devolved to a scratch and dent used car lot? How do you polish that turd? Keep in mind, the town just spent a few million bucks improving the road that serves this fine specimen of local commerce. Now multiply this place by thousands of similar properties. 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px">

A newly resurfaced parking lot, some fresh paint, a green lawn and some flowers… Is that the solution? How much lipstick can you put on a pig? 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px"> 150w, 300w, 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px">

This isn’t the kind of conversation that gets much traction at city council meetings. It’s hard to rally civic spirit around the Family Dollar parking lot. But whether we realize it or not our towns will sink or swim based on how well we manage this banal landscape of disposable schlock.

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.

All photos by Johnny Sanphillippo

Back to the Future: Moving Interstate Again, to the South and West

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 21:38

New data from the Census indicates that population growth and domestic migration patterns have continued to move away from the East and the Midwest to the South and West, at accelerated rates. Equally important, pre-Great Recession interstate mobility rates have been restored.

The just released Census Bureau population estimates for the nation, states and the District of Columbia indicate a population increase for the South of 7.7 million between 2010 and 2016. The West gained 4.7 million. By contrast, the Midwest grew 1.1 million, while the East was even lower, at 900,000 (Figure 1). 

Combined, the South and West accounted for 87 percent of the national growth. In 2011, the South and West captured 82 percent of the national growth. By 2016, the South and West had risen to 94 percent of the national population increase. The South, alone had 57 percent of the growth, up from 52 percent in 2011. The West also had a strong gain, from 31 percent in 2011 to 36 percent in 2016.

Domestic Migration

Not surprisingly, the South and West also dominated net domestic migration --- the movement of residents from one state to another (Figure 2). The South attracted 2.3 million people from other regions, more people than live in the cities (municipalities) of Philadelphia and Boston combined. The South dominated domestic migration even more than population growth, attracting more than four times the new residents as the West, which had a net inflow of more than 500,000.  The Northeast lost 1.6 million domestic migrants, nearly as many people as live in Rhode Island and Vermont. The loss in the Midwest was 1.2 million, more people than live in the cities (municipalities) of Minneapolis, Cleveland and St. Louis combined.

The South also led in the percentage of net domestic migrants in relation to the 2010 population, at 2.0 percent, nearly three times that of the West (0.7 percent).  The net loss in the Midwest was 1.8 percent, while the East sustained a loss of 2.9 percent (Figure 3)

Perhaps most surprisingly, the South also led in population gains from immigration. Between 2010 and 2016, the South added 2.2 million foreign migrants. The East added 1.6 million, the West 1.3 million and the Midwest 800,000 (Figure 4).

State Population Trends

Texas has led the nation in total population growth. Total population growth includes the natural change (births minus deaths), international migration and net domestic migration.  Texas added 2.7 million residents, a 10.8 percent increased compared to its 2010 population. This is more than double the national rate of 4.7 percent. California was well behind, with a gain of 2.0 million, despite having started the decade with a 50 percent higher population. California’s growth rate was 5.3 percent.

Florida added the third largest number of new residents, at 1.8 million, for a 9.6 percent growth rate from 2010. After that the gains were much less. Georgia and North Carolina gained somewhat more than 600,000. Washington, Arizona and Colorado added between 500,000 and 600,000 residents. Virginia and New York rounded out the top ten (Figure 5). New York generated large numeric, but small proportional increases early in the decade (1.9 percent), the result of its fourth largest population, after California, Texas, and Florida.

Three states suffered population losses over the period. Illinois lost 30,000 residents and West Virginia lost 20,000. Vermont lost 1,000 and was joined by New England neighbors Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island in the bottom 10. However, Maine has begun to gain again (below). The bottom 10 included one southern state, Mississippi and two western states, Wyoming and New Mexico (Figure 6)

State Domestic Migration Trends

Throughout the decade, Texas has led in net domestic migration. But the race is much closer, with the Longhorn state leading second ranked Florida by only 500. Both states have gained between 866,000 and 867,000 net new residents from domestic migration since 2010 (Figure 7). Perhaps due to the energy downturn, domestic migration to Texas dropped by more than one-quarter, while Florida continued led the nation for the second straight year. In 2016, Florida added 207,000 net domestic migrants, compared to the Texas gain of 126,000. With the improving prospects for energy under the Trump administration, the competition could be stiff between the two states in the years to come.

Other net domestic migration leaders added between 200,000 and 250,000, including Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona and South Carolina. Washington, Oregon, Tennessee and Georgia added between 100,000 and 200,000 net domestic migrants, as did Nevada, which ranked 11th, a remarkable turnaround. Nevada as well as Arizona, Georgia suffered serious setbacks during the Great Recession, but now show signs of significant recovery.

The East and Midwest had a near monopoly on the bottom 10 in net domestic migration. New York lost 867,000 net domestic migrants, while Illinois lost 540,000. California’s loss was 383,000. New Jersey lost 336,000 and Michigan 216,000. Pennsylvania, Ohio and Connecticut lost between 100,000 and 200,000, while Maryland and Massachusetts lost between 70,000 and 100,000 (Figure 8).

New York had the largest net domestic migration loss in 2016, at 191,000. Illinois lost 114,000, closely followed by California, at 109,000.


The data also indicates significant shifts in growth rates during the decade.

The largest drop was in the East, where the total population gain dropped 90 percent, from 245,000 in 2011 to 24,000 in 2016. In the Midwest, growth dropped from 174,000 to 103,000. Meanwhile, population rose 1,281,000 in the South, up from 1,199,000 in 2011. The West had the largest gain, from 697,000 to 822,000.

New York’s population gain has declined every year, from 117,000 in 2011 to 27,000 in 2015 and a loss of 2,000 in 2016. Pennsylvania lost 8,000 residents in 2016, down from a 32,000 gain in 2011.

Not all states in the West had positive trends. California gained only 256,000 in 2016, down from 344,000 in 2011. California’s gain dropped nearly 20 percent in just the last year. In 2016, California’s percentage growth trailed that of the United States for the first time in the decade (6.6 percent compared to the national rate 7.0 percent).  Between 2011 and 2015, California’s average, at 8.6 percent, was well above that of the nation (7.3 percent).

The states to which Californians migrate in the greatest numbers gained as a result. Nevada’s population gain nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2016, Idaho, Oregon and Arizona approximately doubled, while strong improvements were registered in Washington, Colorado and Utah.

Florida added 367,000 new residents, a strong gain from the 2011 level of 247,000, while South Carolina’s gain nearly doubled. North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas posted healthy increases. However, Maryland’s growth fell by more than one-half (55,000 to 21,000), while Virginia saw its gain drop from 84,000 in 2011 to 44,000 in 2016.

Pervasiveness of Declining Growth

At the national level, the annual growth rate continues to trend downward. In 2011, the United States added 0.75 percent to its population. By 2016, the rate had dropped to 0.70 percent. In 30 states, plus the District of Columbia, the growth rate dropped between 2011 and 2016.

On the other hand, 20 states had stronger growth rates in 2016 than in 2011. Given the utter domination of the trends by the South and West, it is surprising that seven of these states are outside the West.

In the East, the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island had higher growth rates in 2016. At the same time, Vermont, where similar trends might be anticipated, slipped from modest growth in 2011 to a decline in 2016.

Four Midwestern states also grew faster in 2016 than in 2011. These include Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio. Michigan, the only state to reach more than 10 million and then fall below, has gained four years in a row, though remains below 10 million.

Among these seven states, only Nebraska exceeded the national growth rate in 2016.

Natural Increase Down, Mobility Up

The natural population growth rate (births minus deaths) dropped from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 3.8 percent in 2016. At nearly 20 percent (18.8 percent), this is a huge reduction in just five years. At the same time the Great Recession-interrupted interstate mobility seems to have recovered. In 2016, there were 825,000 interstate moves, more than double the post-2000 low of 411,000 in 2011. The 2016 interstate move figure was greater than all but the three largest Housing Bubble years, 2005, 2006 and 2007. The 2016 moves also exceeded the 2001 to 2009 average by more than 10 percent (Figure 9).

Back to the Future

As we get farther from the Housing Bust and the Great Recession, population growth and domestic migration seem to be increasingly restored to prior trends around the nation.

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

Photo of Zion National Park in Utah, the nation's fastest growing state by Tobias Alt - Own workGFDLLink

The Mainstream Media Will Rise Again

Thu, 12/22/2016 - 21:38

The news media was flattened on November 8th, but its recovery has already started.

One of the striking features in all the commentary on Facebook about Donald Trump's victory is the number of times that the words I, me and my appeared in member posts. For example, "I am proud", "I am optimistic", or "I am fearful", "I am worried", etc. The comments celebrating or lamenting the event were mostly about the way the writer felt about the event, not about the event itself. That looks like a subtle difference but it reveals a demarcating line between an introverted reaction vs. an extroverted one.

None of this is too surprising because even in normal times, Facebook's format and primary raison d’être are to enable people to talk about themselves and to update their friends on their comings and goings. On any given day outside of an election period, the blue bannered webpage seems to be 80% introversion (photos and news of one's own family, or one's own meal, or one's own travels, challenges and accomplishments) and 20% extroversion (posts of articles about third parties).

Anatomy of a Crash

It was surprising however to observe the same I, me, my phenomenon in the columns of major newspapers in the immediate aftermath of the election. Leading columnists were unusually introspective, if not introverted. Writing in the first person, they felt homeless in America, were horrified, struggled to absorb the impossible and vowed to fight back.

Of course, columnists are often media superstars and their extensive use of the first person may come from a deliberate effort by the newspaper editors to render the news commentary more personal. That coloring was certainly in full relief in the angst-ridden I haven't slept in my room since the election and Trump's election stole my desire to look for a partner among others.

Nonetheless, whether deliberate or incidental, the I me my device can be seen as a sign that leading dailies, or at least their op-ed pages, have over the years drifted from extroverted to introverted, from objective analysis to star-studded opinion.

In reality, the op-ed pages need not be so full of personal opinion and subjective thoughts and feelings. Opinion can be objective analysis, and as such can become an arms length discussion of facts without necessarily pointing the reader towards the author's own views. The op in op-ed then becomes an invitation and encouragement to the reader to form his own opinion, instead of a presentation of the writer's opinion. Fairly or unfairly, the value placed on the latter has been in steady decline for many years.

The presentation of facts in support of this new approach requires the inclusion of more soft and hard information and data. As W. Edwards Deming was fond of saying, "without data, you are just another person with an opinion", or, at his more whimsical, "in God we trust; all others must bring data". Data in an op-ed does not have to be numerical, so long as the tone and content are objective and analytical. Of course there is some subjectivity in choosing one set of data or facts vs. another but a writer will not be credible if the scope of his analysis is too narrow. An article is enriched by the addition of more and more data. It should be as full of data as possible and as short as necessary to make it a compact and quick read.

This is painting with a broad brush and we should recognize that the leading dailies still produce outstanding content, including on the op-ed page. But it is fair to say that, in reflecting and understanding the general mood of the country, these papers were blindsided by the more recent upstarts of the internet age and even by savvy Twitter users like Mr. Trump himself and others.

Social media has revalued upwards the opinion of every person with a computer or smartphone and simultaneously devalued professional opinion leaders such as newspaper columnists, academics and others. Remember that Time Magazine's Person of the Year in 2006 was YOU. Perhaps it is the new competition from you and from bloggers and micro-bloggers that has led these columnists to emphasize the first person in their writings as if to remind us that their credentials far outweigh those of the random blogger across town. Indeed they do. But in today's free for all media, opinions are increasingly judged on their own merits, and not as much by the identity of the writer.

Here is the key to understanding the news media's endless travails. Of course, digital and social media have played a big role in the decline of advertising at major newspapers, but so has each paper's own approach to news and commentary. A good first step towards recovery would be to excise or minimize I, me, my from the op-ed page and to shift the whole tenor from introversion to extroversion. With data and facts presented in a rigorous and coherent manner, a columnist becomes much more than "just another person with an opinion".

Scraping the Bottom

At first blush, the current state of play is not that encouraging. In the world of the internet, of blogging, of Facebook and BuzzFeed, it has become more difficult for legacy newspapers to keep up with a changing audience. Millennials may be more interested in short articles that combine news and entertainment than in the type of long form articles and analyses that are the hallmarks of the New York Times and other leading dailies.

To gauge the prevailing mood, consider the table below which shows the results of several Google searches on November 18th, a randomly chosen date. Although cronyism is arguably a real scourge of our time, there were on Google only 348,000 results for "Hillary cronyism" and 423,000 results for "Trump cronyism". What is important in the table is how these numbers compare to other searches. Some serious crises like "Flint Michigan water" log in at less than two million results, but the distracting "Trump Rosie" has over 9 million and the promised "Trump build a wall" nearly 35 million, while itself only one tenth of the ubiquitous mega blockbuster "Trump Twitter".

Clearly, the more important items are under-covered while the ephemeral and insubstantive get a ton of coverage. It is possible however that this trend towards the superficially satisfying has run its course and that traditional news can regain some advantage. As with any downward spiral, recovery seems more plausible after hitting bottom. Strong brands in any sector can be tarnished for a while but in most cases they can adapt and enjoy a lasting rebound under altered circumstances.

Although no one can make this prediction with high confidence, there is a nebulous long-observed propensity for big trends to reverse themselves once they have reached an extreme point, as the devaluation of the media has on November 8th. There is also an increasing desire among news consumers to gravitate back to the great time-tested brands in order to gain some immunization against the so-called post-truth world.

Note for example that since the election, The New York Times has seen a ten-fold increase in daily subscription sign-ups, a signal that many readers are returning to more established brands at a time when fake news is spreading over the internet. Yet this surge may prove short lived if real reforms are not implemented in the wake of the election surprise.

At any rate, a total subscription count of 2.5 million at the Times seems exceedingly low for what is one of the top news brands in the world. Further, the market value of the New York Times company at $2.4 billion, though it has risen 30% since the election, still underestimates the full potential of the brand.

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

Photo: ‘New York Times’ photo Copyright © 2016

Trump and California's Economy

Wed, 12/21/2016 - 21:38

Defenders of California’s status-quo claim to be proud of California’s economic growth and worry about what Trump will do to that growth. If you are so impolite as to mention that this has been California’s slowest recovery in 70 years, as the following chart shows, you will be told that slow growth is good. It avoids the excesses of previous business cycles.

That’s nonsense. Slow growth is anti-poor and anti-minority. Here’s a simple way to analyze economic policy: Ask how the policy changes the probability of a young person finding a job. If the policy increases their chances, it’s good policy. If it decreases the probability, it’s bad policy.

I go farther than that. To me, deliberately enacting a policy that reduces a young person’s prospects is immoral.

California, and the nation, have lots of policies that reduce young people's job prospects. So, there are lots of opportunities to increase economic growth. Certainly, it’s possible to present a set of policy proposals that would increase California’s economic growth.

Evaluating Trump’s economic plan is difficult, though. So far, it’s a mixed bag. It has policies that would increase economic growth. It also has some that would decrease economic growth. I think the best way to evaluate the impact is to look at his major proposals for their growth impact and probability of becoming law.

Trump has promised to reduce American business’s regulatory burden. That would reduce costs, encourage domestic production and jobs, and provide a strong economic boost. Some of that overhead was created by executive action and can be reversed by executive action. The probability of reversing those regulations is high, as are the economic benefits.

He’s also promised to eliminate or “fix” Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Healthcare Act. Exactly what he intends to do, fix or eliminate, depends on the tweet of the day. It’s also not clear what fix means. Still, any real change will face significant hurdles, even with a Republican controlled Congress. To be conservative, we need to assume that he will be unsuccessful in his attempts to significantly change these laws. If he does, and it’s done in a way that reduces costs, it will be a happy plus.

Then there is his immigration policy, if you can figure out what it is. He’s been all over the map, from shipping out all undocumented residents to only shipping out the criminals. Of course, if he is able, as some fear, to move millions of our workers, the economic impact would be seriously negative.

Realistically, the most he is likely to accomplish is exporting criminals and slowing immigration. The numbers of undocumented criminals is small enough to have no measurable impact on the economy. Decreasing immigration tends to slow economic growth, but it may reduce inequality a bit by reducing competition faced by our low-productivity workers. Overall, Trump’s immigration policies will likely have modest negative economic impacts.

As in all things Trump, his trade proposals are inconsistent and vague. One thing has been consistent. Trump wants to reduce trade. We can only hope that he’s unsuccessful. The economic impacts of reducing trade would be large and negative. Presumably, Congress will effectively resist his most egregious proposals.

Reducing trade would particularly hurt California’s economy, as a large percentage of what the United States exports and imports goes through California’s ports, which are a significant portion of the state's limited remaining industrial assets.

Taxes are one area of Trump policy clarity. He wants to reduce corporate taxes and reduce the tax impediments to repatriating foreign corporate earnings. By themselves, these would provide an economic stimulus. Repatriating foreign earnings has no obvious downside. By contrast, without some action somewhere else, reducing corporate taxes could increase the severity of our already severe budget challenges. Eliminating deductions, as proposed, would lessen the budget impacts, as would taxing repatriated earnings at the suggested 10 percent rate. These, combined with increased economic activity, potentially brings the long-run budget impact to near zero. Supply-siders would argue that the package would reduce deficits. That’s probably a stretch, although the combination of regulatory reform and tax reform could very well reduce the deficit.

Trump proposes a stimulus package that appears to be another public capital spending spree. This would add to our budget challenge, but it’s far worse than cutting taxes to businesses. Cutting taxes at least has the benefit of generating new economic activity to offset some of the budget impact. Public capital spending at the national level is non-stimulative and inefficient. Given the budget impacts, zero economic impact is the best we can hope for.

Some California leaders worry that Trump will retaliate economically for California giving Hillary Clinton a popular-vote victory. I don’t believe that the presidency has enough power for a vindictive new president to exact revenge by economically punishing states that voted for his opponent. If he does, the presidency is way too powerful.

Overall, it’s likely that Trump's economic impacts will be a small positive, but with an increase in an already too-large budget deficit. California’s impact could be smaller, or even negative, depending on Trump’s success reducing trade.

Whatever Trump’s impacts on the national economy, they are likely to be far less for California, as his program will be swamped by California’s own unilateral deindustrialization. While the rest of the nation will be enacting a program intended to be pro-business and pro-job, California is firmly embarked on an agenda that promises to be anti-business and anti-job, with increased regulation and costs for businesses and consumers.

Examples of California’s anti-business agenda are easy to come by. Governor Brown has recently asked the Federal Government to ban all offshore oil and gas drilling off of California. In the most recent election, Californians renewed their commitment to environmental purity, embracing carbon emissions targets 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Nothing is beyond the reach of California’s environmentally devout. They’ve already regulated cow flatulence, which could lead to backpacks and plumbing to collect cow gas. More likely, it will lead to fewer cows in California, but more in other places and no change in global bovine emissions.

While it’s entertaining to speculate what California regulates after cow flatulence, there are serious consequences to the state’s regulatory enthusiasm. Unless the rest of the country embraces California’s agenda, very unlikely under a Trump administration, its economy and the nation's will eventually diverge, even with California's location, climate, and tech advantages. This will lead to slower economic growth and increased migration out of the Golden State.

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

Photo: Wendell, Flickr

“There Can’t Be a Successful Indianapolis Without a Successful Indiana”

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 21:38

Back in 2008 or 2009 I gave a Pecha Kucha presentation in Indianapolis in which I said:

"Cities can’t survive on gentrification alone. The broad community has to be a participant in its success. That’s why I’m somewhat down on the notion of the creative class. It’s good as far as it goes, but it’s a self-consciously elitist vision. Where’s the working class in that?

Arguing among ourselves [city vs. suburbs] is like beggars fighting over table scraps. We need to build the city up without tearing the suburbs down.

There can’t be a successful Indianapolis without a successful Indiana….While [metro] Indy has 25% of the states’ population, it has 60% of the state’s population growth and 80% of its economic growth. That’s not healthy. Like it or not, we’re dependent on the state for critical infrastructure funds and other things. So our challenge is how to bring the rest of the state along with us."

I’ve long been an advocate for the restoration what I call the commonwealth, the idea that we rise and fall together as a people and all have skin the game. This idea has gone by the wayside to say the least.

It may well be that American society has become irredeemably tribalized. I hope not. At a minimum, there are significant sized groups with fundamentally incompatible ideas of the public good. There’s a lot to unpack in that statement, but not today.

Richard Florida has talked about a “great reset” of the economy. Clearly we need some sort of institutional reset to contain or resolve these differences. We’ve done this before in creating the original Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, fighting a Civil War and redefining the federalism of that constitution, the New Deal era changes, and perhaps others.

What that looks like, I don’t know. But if we are to reach it without even more severe upheavals, it’s likely to involve some renewed form of federalism, agree to disagree, live and let live, etc – and on durable basis, not just an opportunistic and self-interested one.

This will involve painful change and difficult decisions. One of them is that we must be willing to give others the freedom to make choices for themselves and their communities that we fundamentally disagree with.

To the extent that we believe all of the big decisions of our society are morally determined, and thus not properly the subject of political debate, this means we are in a winner take all world. If you want that world, you’d better be really sure you are right and sure you are going to win – because you face ruination if you’re wrong on either count.

It also means that we need to figure out how to have both love and accountability towards all of our citizens. Right now that means that rural white Republicans in victory cannot ignore the continued urgent need to integrate urban black America into full participation in middle class success and to address other aspects of what Richard Florida has labeled the “new urban crisis.”

It also means that working class whites must be challenged to change. I have made no secret in these pages that these communities too often have sabotaging traits that really aren’t necessary to cling to – such as the disparagement of ambition for better.

But urban and left leaning populations, including minority groups, need to likewise address travails of the white working class, and be willing to make painful changes of their own.

To be honest, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful. The future hold possibilities for ill that we cannot know – but it likewise holds the possibility for good things we can’t yet imagine.

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

Photo: By Daniel Schwen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Evolving Urban Form: Houston

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 06:55

Houston is a city (metropolitan area) of superlatives. The most recent Brookings Institution data shows that Houston has the seventh strongest per capita economy (gross domestic product) in the world (Figure 1). This places Houston above New York and more surprisingly, perhaps, other cities perceived to have strong economies are far below Houston and outside of the top 10, such as London, Tokyo and Chicago.

The recently released COU Standard of Living Index also ranked Houston just behind San Jose in real pay per job for households entering the housing market (Figure 2).

Distribution of Population Growth

 Houston is among the newer of the world’s great cities. It  has experienced sustained growth in every decade since the turn of the 20th century. The area constituting its metropolitan region (combined statistical area) has grown at more than 1.5 percent in each decade since 1900. In the 1920s and the 1980s, Houston grow at a rate of more than 3.5 percent annually at has grown an average of 2.2 to 2.3 percent annually since 2000. It took until 1950 for Houston to reach 1 million residents. By 1980, the population was 3.3 million and by 2015 had doubled to 6.8 million.

As is typical for a growing city, the strongest early growth was in the core municipality (Houston) and then gradually shifted to the nearby suburbs and outer suburbs (Figure 3)

At this point, near parity has been reached. The municipality of Houston, the suburbs within the core Harris County (the county also home to most of the city) and the outer suburbs, beyond Harris County have nearly equal populations, at approximately 2.3 million each (Figure 4).

Like other cities that have experienced most of their growth since World War II, most of Houston is suburban. Between 2000 and 2013, the greatest growth was in the Later Suburbs and Exurbs. There was also growth in the Earlier Suburbs (Figures 5 and 7).

Large Centers and Decentralization

There was a similar pattern of growth in employment. The greatest growth was in the Later Suburbs and there was also strong growth in the Exurbs and the Earlier Suburbs (Figures 6 and 7). The central business district (downtown) ranks eighth in total employment in the nation and also experienced growth. The Texas Medical Center is the largest life sciences center in the world. The center is located south downtown and rivals some of the nation’s largest central business districts, larger than Minneapolis and nearly as large as Denver ,, with more than 100,000 employees (see photograph above). There are other large centers, such as the Port of Houston, the Galleria (Uptown) and the Energy Corridor. Houston is one of the best examples of a decentralized city, with major employment centers throughout.

Higher than Average Urban Density

Houston is often characterized as a “sprawling” urban area. In fact, however, Houston has a higher than average urban density for the United States (by eight percent) and an urban density approximately 75 percent higher than Atlanta and Charlotte and denser than Philadelphia and Boston. Even Portland, with its carefully cultivated international reputation for high density is only 18 percent denser than Houston (Figure 8). Of course, all US urban areas are less dense by international standards than their foreign counterparts.

Attracting the Most New Residents

Since 2010Houston has led the 53 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population in net domestic migration. In that time Houston has attracted 255,000 new residents from elsewhere in the nation, followed closely by in-state rival Dallas-Fort Worth (241,000). The four largest Texas metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 population were among the six attracting the largest net domestic migration, with fourth ranked Austin attracting 159,000 and sixth ranked San Antonio adding 122,000. Only third ranked Phoenix and fifth ranked Denver were from outside Texas. Eight of the top ten were from the South (Figure 9).

There are at least two important keys to Houston’s attractiveness. Obviously, its strong job-creating economy has opened career opportunities for people from other parts of the country. In addition, Houston’s favorable housing affordability has been an important factor. Seminal recent academic research has pointed to the importance of housing affordability in attracting domestic migrants (such as Ganong and Shoag).

Enviable Improvement in Relative Traffic Congestion

Houston has been more successful in controlling traffic congestion than many other cities. In 2015, Houston tied with Boston for the 11th worst traffic congestion in the United States, according to the TomTom Traffic Index (Figure 10). This is a far better rating than in the middle 1980s, when the Texas Transportation Institute ranked Houston as having the worst traffic congestion in the nation.

Since that time, Houston has managed to have spectacular population growth, yet has kept up with it by expanding its freeway and arterial systems, along with traffic management improvements. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, New York, Honolulu, Miami, Portland, Washington and Chicago have seen their traffic congestion become worse than in Houston over the same period. Houston is larger in population than all but three of these nine metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago), more than twice the size of San Jose and Portland and nearly seven times that of Honolulu. Further, exhibiting the association between greater traffic congestion and higher population density, all cities ranked worse than Houston have higher urban densities.

World’s Energy Capital Poised for Employment Growth

Houston is widely acclaimed as the energy capital of the world. says that “The only other U.S. city that rivals Houston’s domination of a single industry is New York’s preeminence in the financial sector.” Of course, Houston’s energy industry has faced considerable challenges over the past couple of years as Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have driven the price of oil down by producing more oil. However, the “good times” could return soon for Houston, as there are indications that OPEC will reduce its production. Further, and perhaps even more importantly, Houston could benefit from the new Trump administration’s commitment to a more consumer oriented energy policy, appearing likely to generate substantial employment and growth in the newly unleashed sectors.

Photo: Texas Medical Center (by author)

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

How Silicon Valley’s Oligarchs Are Learning to Stop Worrying and Love Trump

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 21:38

The oligarchs’ ball at Trump Tower revealed one not-so-well-kept secret about the tech moguls: They are more like the new president than they are like you or me.

In what devolved into something of a love fest, Trump embraced the tech elite for their “incredible innovation” and pledged to help them achieve their goals—one of which, of course, is to become even richer. And for all their proud talk about “disruption,” they also know that they will have to accommodate, to some extent, our newly elected disrupter in chief for at least the next four years.

Few tech executives—Peter Thiel being the main exception—backed Trump’s White House bid. But now many who were adamantly against the real-estate mogul, such as Clinton fundraiser Elon Musk, who has built his company on subsidies from progressive politicians, have joined the president-elect’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Joining Musk will be Uber’s Travis Kalanick, who half-jokingly threatened to “move to China” if Trump was elected.

These are companies, of course, with experience making huge promises, and then changing those promises to match new circumstances. Uber, for instance, touted itself as a better deal than a cab for both riders and drivers before it prepared to tout a better deal for riders by replacing its own soon-to-be obsolete drivers with self-driving cars.

Silicon Valley and its leading mini-me, the Seattle area, did very well under Barack Obama, and expected the good times to continue under Hillary Clinton. Tech leaders were able to emerge as progressive icons even as they built vast fortunes, largely by adopting predictably politically correct issues such as gay rights and climate change, which doubled as a perfect opportunity to cash in on Obama’s renewable-energy subsidies. Increasingly tied to the ephemeral economy of software and media, they felt little impact from policies that might boost energy costs or force long environmental reviews for new projects.

No wonder Silicon Valley gave heavily to Obama and then Clinton. In 2016, Google was the No. 1 private-sector source of donations to Clinton, while Stanford was fifth. Overall the electronics and communications sector gave Democrats more than $100 million in 2016, twice what they offered the GOP. In terms of the presidential race, they handed $23 million to Hillary, compared to barely $1 million to Trump.

Yet, there is one issue on which the Valley has not been “left,” and that is, predictably, wealth. It may have liked Obama’s creased pants and intellectually poised manner, but it did not want to see the Democrats become, God forbid, a real populist party. That is one reason why virtually all the oligarchs favored Clinton over Sanders, who had little use for their precious “gig economy,” the H-1B high-tech indentured-servants program, or their vast and little-taxed wealth.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder with a net worth close to $70 billion, used his outlet, The Washington Post, to help bring down Bernie, before being unable, despite all efforts, to stop Trump. So now Bezos sits by Trump’s side, hoping perhaps that the president-elect’s threats to unleash antitrust actions against Amazon will be conveniently forgotten as an artful “deal” is struck.

For these and other reasons, there’s little doubt that the tech elite would have been better off under Clinton, who likely would have, like Obama, disdained antitrust actions and let them keep hiding untaxed fortunes offshore. Now, they will have to share the head table with the energy executives they’d hoped to replace with their own climate-change-oriented activities.

The tech oligarchs have long had a problem with what many would consider social justice. Although the tech economy itself has expanded in the current period, its overall impact on the economy has been less than stellar. For all of its revolutionary hype, it’s done little to create a wide range of employment gains or boost worker productivity.

To be sure, there have been large surges of employment in the Bay Area, Seattle, and a handful of other places. California alone has more billionaires than any country in the world except China, and nearly half of America’s richest counties.

But for much of the country, notably those areas that embraced Trump, the tech “disruption” has been anything but welcome news. This includes heavily Latino interior sections, home to many of America’s highest employment rates. Overall, the “booming” high-wage California economy celebrated by progressive ideologues like Robert Reich does not extend much beyond the Valley. In most of California, job gains have been concentrated in low-wage professions.

Despite its vast wealth, California has the highest cost-adjusted poverty rate in the country, with a huge percentage of the state’s Latinos and African Americans barely able to make ends meet. California metropolitan areas, including the largest, Los Angeles, account for six of the 15 metro areas with the worst living standards, according to a recent report from demographer Wendell Cox. Meanwhile, the middle and working class, particularly young families, continue to leave, with more people exiting the state for other ones than arriving to it from the, in 22 of the past 25 years.

Even in Silicon Valley itself the boom has done little for working-class people, or for Latinos and African Americans—who continue to be badly underrepresented at the top tech firms as many of those same firms aggressively promote diversity. A study out of the California Budget and Policy Center (PDF) concluded that with housing costs factored in, the poverty rate in Santa Clara County soars to 18 percent, covering nearly one in every five residents, and almost one-and-a half times the national poverty rate. Since 2007, amidst an enormous boon, adjusted incomes for Latinos and African Americans in the area actually dropped (PDF).

Much of this has to do with change in the Valley’s industrial structure, which has shifted from manufacturing to software and media. The result has been a kind of tech alt-dystopia, with massive levels of homelessness, and housing costs that are prohibitive to all but a small sliver of the local population.

With a president whose base is outside the Bay Area, and dependent on support in areas where jobs are the biggest issue, the tech moguls will need to find ways to fit into the new agenda. The old order of relentless globalization, offshoring, and keeping profits abroad may prove unsustainable under a Trump regime that has promised to reverse these trends. In some senses the Trump constituency is made up of people who are the target of Silicon Valley’s “war on stupid people.” Inside the Valley, such people are seen as an obstacle to progress, who should be shut up with income supports and subsidies.

So can Silicon Valley make peace with Donald Trump, the self-appointed tribune of the “poorly educated”? There are two key areas where there could be a meeting of minds. One is around regulation. One of the great ironies of the tech revolution is that the very places that are home to many techies—notably blue cities such as San Francisco, Austin, and New York—also tend to be the very places most concerned with the economic impacts of the industry.

Opposition to disruptive market makers in the so-called sharing economy like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb is greatest in these dense, heavily Democratic cities. What’s left of the private-sector union movement and much of the progressive intelligentsia is ambivalent if not downright hostile to the “gig” economy. Ultimately, resistance to regulations relating to this tsunami of part-time employment could be something that Trump’s big business advisers might share in common with the techies.

More important will be the issue of jobs. It may not work anymore for firms to lower tech wages by offshoring jobs or importing lots of foreign workers under the H-1B visa program, since Trump has denounced it. IBM’s Ginni Rometty, who had been busily replacing U.S. workers with ones in India, Brazil, and Costa Rica, has now agreed to create 25,000 domestic jobs. Other tech companies—including Apple—have also been making noises shifting employment to the United States from other countries. Trump may well feel what “worked” with Carrier can now be expanded to the most dynamic part of the U.S. economy.

If the tech industry adjusts to the new reality, they may find the Trump regime, however crude, to be more to their liking than they might expect. Companies like Google may never again have the influence they had under Obama, but many techies may be able to adjust. As long as the new president “deals” them in, the techies may be able to stop worrying about Trump and begin to embrace, if not love, him.

This article first appeared on The Daily Beast.

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

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Donald Trump) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: MCR World

Everyday Encounters: Antagonism in the Sharing Economy

Thu, 12/15/2016 - 21:38

Much has been written about the growth of the sharing economy where information technology, such as mobile apps and automated software facilitate interactions between businesses, individual workers, and customers. Proponents argue that the system provides greater access to goods and services at lower prices while reducing costs for employers and independent contractors. They also claim that, in the gig sector of the sharing economy, workers gain flexibility because they determine their own hours, tools, and working conditions while raising potential earnings.

Regardless of whether we buy these claims about benefits to workers, there are numerous signs that the sharing economy creates antagonism between workers and customers. The apps and automated systems that underlie these new work structures require both workers and customers to rely on technology, yet the systems are often faulty and poorly designed.  While these systems promise transparency and trust, they also create tensions. For example, such systems unfailingly include algorithmic performance assessment of service industry workers. As technology writer and software engineer Tom Slee has argued, “Rather than bringing a new openness and personal trust to our interactions, [such shifts are] bringing a new form of surveillance where service workers must live in fear of being snitched on, and while the company CEOs talk benevolently of their communities of users, the reality has a harder edge of centralised control.”  The increasing antagonism resulting from the perpetuation of inequality among “stakeholders” has received insufficient attention.

Service industry workers have long operated as the front-line interface with customers, having to respond to complaints about company practices that they don’t control. Now service workers have even less control due to structural and technological platforms.  When platforms fail, inconveniencing and frustrating customers, workers have little power to resolve disputes.  At the same time given the dependence on technology and lacking access to customer information, they cannot build relationships with customers over time. Indeed, it is almost impossible to contact the same customer service representative twice, so consumers then become obliged to give the same information over and over again. The interactions between customers and workers often predictably devolve, generating frustration, impotence, and anger on both sides and voiceless workers  subjected to performance review by customers following interactions. Dependence on technology estranges service workers from customers, undermining the possibility of finding satisfaction on the job because of increased misunderstandings and conflicts.

Just as proponents ignore the way automation undermines the quality of work, they also misrepresent what the sharing economy offers to consumers. Although they claim that automation generates a high degree of efficiency and autonomy to customers, they overlook time-consuming administrative inefficiency and poor customer service.  For example, in the gig sector, where a few companies dominate particular markets, companies have little reason to worry about consumer rights. No doubt this contributes to the increasing conflicts and complaints associated with technology and social media in air travel, banking and other financial institutions, cable television and communications companies, insurance and health firms, and universities.

To make matter worse, customers in the sharing economy must go to great lengths to seek basic information and answers to queries. Even when customers succeed in reaching customer service representatives, they are often treated with robotic indifference or a stilted hyper-courtesy that barely conceals institutional disdain. Customer service representatives often speak in a language of faux-camaraderie that couches authoritarian directives as suggestions as in the ubiquitous “Why don’t you go ahead and. . .” Corporations exacerbate the problem by pairing this passive-aggressive treatment with service fees and other administrative charges, so that customers are not only treated poorly, they pay for that privilege.  This problem affects less educated and less well-off customers, especially, who may have less access to or experience with technology and the Internet and are less able to afford fees or phone charges.

Some companies will not make themselves available at all, having developed bureaucratic systems that cultivate inaccessibility. For example, Amazon has refused to engage with customers directly by phone. Other companies have trained call center employees to repeat marketing mantras and to speak like machines giving pre-scripted answers that may or may not match a customer query. These bureaucratic obstructions, including automated customer service and phone banks and the outsourcing of customer service “chat” and email services, only deepen the antagonism of customers toward corporations and their intermediaries.

The antagonism generated by these practices affects working- and middle-class people far more than it does the elite, who often enjoy preferential treatment through concierge services in hospitals or all business-class airports.  Such VIP/concierge services help elites navigate organizations, technology, and services, while most customers must work harder to gain access to restaurants,  hotels, sports and other entertainment events, and a range of other services and sites.  As Cathy O’Neil in Weapons of Math Destruction has noted, “The privileged, we’ll see time and again, are processed more by people, the masses by machines.”

Non-elites unable to “opt-out” of the antagonistic service economy may find consolation in the techno-future conjured up by Amazon Go, which showcases the pleasures of never having to interact with other humans at all. In glossy ads for what Amazon deems the “world’s most advanced shopping technology,” checkout is eliminated – as are retail clerks — as shoppers employ an app that simply charges them for the items they select.  Privileged relationships with commodities dominate the scene in an ad in which hardly anyone speaks to or even looks at anyone else.

In the past few months, commentators have explained support for Donald Trump in the US or  “Brexit” in the UK as expressions of populist rage.  One source of that rage may well be everyday encounters of the kinds sketched here.  If working-class people feel like they don’t matter in contemporary capitalism, that may reflect the challenges of working in the sharing economy, with its low wages, limited autonomy, and inherent conflicts, but also the challenges of an antagonistic service culture that mounts daily micro-assaults on people’s dignity and rights.

Diane Negra is Professor of Film Studies and Screen Culture and Head of Film Studies at University College Dublin. John Russo is a visiting fellow at Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and Working Poor at Georgetown University and at the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. He is the co-author with Sherry Linkon of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown (8th printing).

Photo by Colin@TheTruthAbout -, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Advancing the Texan City-Building Model

Wed, 12/14/2016 - 21:33

Reading the recent report “The Texas Way of Urbanism” promptly reminded me of my status – twice a migrant; from small town to big city (Athens) and from big city to another country. These moves were propelled by a singular motivation: seeking opportunity to better my lot. I knew next to nothing about the cities I moved to: their shape and history, their culture, their social divisions and even language were absent from my viewfinder. All that mattered was the chance for a new start. And that’s how Texan metropolises emerge from the report’s pages – gates to opportunity. I carry this typical migrant perspective as a fact-checker to all discussions about cities – magnet-cities.

It also rekindled an irritation about how warped the conversation about cities often is; as if a group of dilettantes in a pageant give cities points and declare winners. Points are given for: “urban/suburban”, “dense/spacious”, “compact or not”, “grid or not”, “beauty/ugliness” and so on. These arbitrary, spurious abstractions do not register with the migrant – the city’s wealth generator. A professor moves to a post away from home, a multinational corporation executive to another continent, and an oil rig specialist to a small-town with black gold – they are all wealth generators; they move to pursue a goal and, in the process, they build cities unwittingly. They shape them by their actions.

In admitting that Houston “[….]is not beautiful upon first blush, nor does it offer the charm of pedestrian fancy that denser cities boast”, the report affirms that Texan cities have the right approach: first mind how to generate wealth, then empower citizens to achieve the good life. What follows is a city like no other in history, one that reflects its time, culture and values. It is not Paris, or London, or Tokyo, it is Houston or Austin. The model works. And just as all its predecessors, the new city is never static, not a stage set, it’s a movie in slow motion – it evolves.

Evolution means adaptation to new pressures. It does not have a destination, a preordained ultimate goal, or shape. In that light, it is a reactive process, constantly responding to emergent conditions.

   The pressure for movement space and its distribution in cities like Barcelona is intense

From that perspective, the model that builds Texan metropolises is neither final or complete. It inevitably misses unanticipated, emergent factors that today play a role in a functioning city. It has, for sometime, incorporated responses to the pressures of a motorized economy by building infrastructure sufficient to move people and goods to their destinations and it does that better than other U.S. cities. But as the combined effects of automobility are tallied up, a new pressure point has built up. It demands an adaptation to the nature and function of non-motorized mobility and its realm – the foot realm. The pressure is not about more “beauty” or “charm” or a nostalgia for old times, it is about space: redressing the imbalance between space assigned for speeds exceeding 20 miles and space for those below. These two spaces are incompatible. A response to this pressure would add functionality to the Texan model of city making.

   Redistribution of space with controls

Adaptations to rectify this imbalance need not be invented; they already exist mostly in older cities but also in Texan urban areas. However, they have been mostly sporadic and unsystematic. Nevertheless, all these case-by-case changes nurtured an appreciation for the vast improvement in the quality of the daily city experience, the heightened sociability and the intensified economic activity. In turn, this new appreciation generated greater demand for spaces and places endowed with these qualities.

Two systematic, universal versions of a layout model – call them “hybrid” grids – have appeared; one in Barcelona, Spain and the second in Calgary, Canada. One for fixing built-up areas and the other for greenfield development.

That the city of Barcelona would propose a model for transformation might have been expected. It has an expansive, regular grid that is under perilous pressure: extremely dense, congested, mired in emissions and all its surface space taken for motorized movement and parking. The only option was to reallocate the available space. And that reassignment is now underway.

A team of Barcelona planners have started the implementation of the “superilles” (superblock) model to the classic Barcelona square grid, (see drawing). The principles underpinning the concept are simple and intuitive:

     •  No through motor traffic means that streets at the walking scale (400x400 m) serve as capillaries only; they occupy the lowest rank in the network hierarchy, where circulation essentially stops. They serve the residents of a “quadrant” (or “quartier”) only, are unmistakeably local and, thanks to lighter traffic, can be made narrower, freeing up space for other functions.

     •  Full accessibility for active transport within the quadrant: people circulation is switched “on” while motorized transport is “off” by means of looping cars back to its perimeter. This preferential filtering manages the permeability of the quadrant to its residents advantage. Additional switches, such as card-activated bollards and the scheduling for entry, parking and deliveries, would add accuracy and flexibility of the “on-off” switching and refine the filtering.

     •  Surface space gained from the circulatory function is then assigned to nature and to recreational/social activities thereby strengthening cohesion within each quadrant.

These typical modular layouts are then applied to the entire grid of the city with appropriate modifications for circumstantial conditions.

Houston and Austin are two among many U.S. cities that sport square grids just like Barcelona’s. Houston in particular has inherited exceptional 80-foot right-of-ways that offer considerable design flexibility for rearrangement.

The adaptation that will address the imbalance between vehicular and non-vehicular space in a city is here awaiting adoption. Texan cities can advance their already effective city-building models to a higher state of completion and of responsiveness to current pressures.

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 fanis.grammenos at

Top image: Augustus Koch (1840-?). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sydney Lurches to Housing Affordability Disaster

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 21:33

Now and again Australia erupts in controversy about housing affordability. Each time it follows the same course. Some new statistic or media story confirms that prices are out of control. A senior politician is prompted to call for deregulation and more supply, and is backed-up by the property industry. Then come progressive policy wonks saying no, the issue is high investor demand stimulated by tax concessions. Next emerge the welfare lobby, calling for tax reform as well as more social housing and “inclusionary zoning”. After a round of claims and counter-claims, it all fizzles out.

From the surveyed general public to the Reserve Bank, almost everyone agrees Sydney has a critical problem. The wrangling isn’t over whether to reduce prices, but how. And that depends on where you fit in the city’s system of interests with a stake in property development and construction.

Conflict of interests

Generally, these fall into three groups, with their distinct agendas.

First, the producers and beneficiaries of Big Projects; large-scale housing and urban renewal schemes, particularly high-end apartment developers, top-tier architectural practices, urban planners, rail transport engineers and “sustainability” consultants. Joining them are governments levying value-based property charges, financial institutions with large home mortgage books, and media groups dependent on luxury apartment advertising. “Three of the biggest forces pushing up dwelling prices (the banks, state governments and councils) are like drug addicts”, writes Robert Gottliebsen, “they are hooked on keeping dwelling prices at the current levels or increasing them further”.

The high-land-value coalition's agenda encompasses residential densification, preferably on infill or brownfield sites, transit-oriented-development (TOD), and a tendency to CBD-centrism. On the whole, they are supply-solution advocates and support tax concessions.  

Second, progressive policy analysts and welfare advocates, closely aligned with the university system and highly educated knowledge-worker elite. They, too, promote inner-urban infill development, higher core and middle-ring densities, and public amenities associated with TOD. While the Big Project coalition is mostly driven by finances, cultural-lifestyle factors loom large for knowledge-welfare types. Hence their demands for more housing near “consumer city” localities crammed with trendy bars, pubs, nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, theaters, museums and cinemas. This plays into “creative-class” perspectives on economic growth and an aversion to suburbanization as “unsustainable”. Some of them are supply-solution sceptics, leaning toward demand-management, and most are aggressive critics of tax concessions. They urge more social housing schemes and inclusionary zoning, which Big Project lobbies oppose (with good reason; the evidence suggests it reduces supply and raises prices).  

Third, fringe or greenfield detached house builders, the mass of low-to-middle income industrial or routine service workers, low-level government employees, marginal small traders, in industries like retail, wholesale, logistics, transport, distribution, manufacturing, construction and trades. This worker-trader class is particularly sensitive to input costs, including the impact of high land values on commercial rents. Many rely on real estate as security for financing and gravitate to homes, offices and plant in low-cost, peripheral, auto-oriented regions like Greater Western Sydney.

There is some overlap between the groups, with elements of the Big Projects coalition, architects, urban planners, sustainability consultants and engineers, crossing over to the knowledge-welfare elite. Apartment developers routinely deploy creative-class and green arguments for proposals which are integrated into broader densification—TOD zoning and infrastructure arrangements.

Past affordability eruptions were blown off course by the tax issue. Eventually, Labor embraced reform of negative gearing and CGT concessions as policy, urged on by think tanks like Grattan Institute and McKell Institute, prominent knowledge-welfare voices. Yet according to their own estimates, prices would fall by a measly 2 and 0.49 per cent respectively.

Considering that Sydney prices have escalated by a staggering 64 per cent since 2012, the focus on tax reform is a distraction. Economists like Judith Sloan and Stephen Koukoulas maintain that if there are any tax impacts at all, they are secondary to supply constraints rather than vice versa.

Most of the Big Projects coalition and worker-trader class subscribe to a supply-solution in principle. But there are differences on what this means in practice. An explicit apportionment of new housing between brownfield-infill sites and greenfield development was dropped from the NSW Government’s A Plan For Growing Sydney. An outcome is achieved by focusing on 14 Priority Growth Areas and Precincts, only 5 of which contain substantial greenfield potential.

Growth Areas inside established built-up localities are Rhodes East, St Leonards and Crows Nest, Greater Parramatta to Olympic Peninsula, Sydney Metro Northwest, Sydenham to Bankstown Corridor, Western Sydney Employment Area, Epping and Macquarie Park, Arncliffe and Banksia, and Ingleside Precinct. The outer, peripheral areas with most capacity for new land release or greenfield development are North West Growth Area, South West Growth Area, Greater Macarthur Growth Area, Western Sydney Growth Area and Wilton New Town, which lie within seven Local Government Areas (LGAs); Blacktown, The Hills, Camden, Campbelltown, Liverpool, Penrith and Wollondilly Shire.  

Under A Plan for Growing Sydney, the authorities are planning for an additional 1.6 million people and 664,000 dwellings across the Sydney metropolitan region by 2031. According to NSW Department of Planning “state and local government area household and implied dwelling projections” to 2031, Blacktown LGA will have 48,300 new dwellings, The Hills LGA 28,650, Camden LGA 38,250, Campbelltown LGA 19,450, Liverpool LGA 32,400, Penrith LGA 20,900 and Wilton New Town, in Wollondilly Shire, 16,000 dwellings. In other words, these fringe priority areas are to accommodate an additional 203,950 dwellings, or around 30 per cent of the extra 664,000 dwellings across metropolitan Sydney.

Of course, not all construction in the 7 peripheral LGAs will be on new land, so the share of total dwellings on greenfield sites will be even lower. The Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) estimates that Sydney greenfield lot production is running at 11,600 a year and will reach 12,355 a year in 2017/18. If achieved, that translates to 185,325 or 27 per cent of the 2031 metropolitan dwelling forecast (equating a fringe lot to a single dwelling). 

This month, the Department of Planning released accelerated forecasts totaling 184,300 new houses and apartments across the 33 metropolitan LGAs by 2021. Of these, 8,350 are assigned to The Hills LGA, 13,600 to Blacktown LGA, 11,800 to Camden LGA, 6,700 to Campbelltown LGA, 8,050 to Liverpool LGA, 6,600 to Penrith LGA and 1,450 to Wollondilly Shire. Together, these represent 30 per cent of the metropolitan total. Large increases are channeled into established areas, including 21,450 in Parramatta LGA, 18,250 in Sydney LGA (covering the CBD and surrounds), 12,200 in Canterbury-Bankstown LGA and 10,000 in Bayside LGA. NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes boasted “we are getting the balance better … getting over the greenfield issue was the biggest thing that needed to be done”. The targets were to be fleshed out in Draft District Plans administered by a new planning politburo, the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC).  

Within days, however, the GSC announced its own strategy and targets. The total housing target is distributed to 6 Districts across the city, Central, North, West Central, West, South West and South, rather than Priority Growth Areas. Based on a metropolitan total target of 725,000 dwellings for 2 million more people, each Draft District Plan nominates a 20 year target to 2036. The South West District contains 4 of the peripheral LGAs with most potential for greenfield construction, Camden, Campbelltown, Liverpool and Wollondilly. Its 20 year housing target is 143,000 dwellings, or 19 per cent of the metropolitan total. Of the other 3 LGAs with most greenfield potential, Penrith accounts for just part of West District’s target of 41,500 dwellings or 5 per cent of the metropolitan total, while Blacktown and The Hills are in West Central District, which is dominated by Parramatta LGA with minimal new land release capacity.

Higher the density, higher the prices

Suppression of greenfield development reflects a view that location and density don’t condition the benefits of supply. Yet this is contrary to a body of economic analysis on the land value impacts of urban containment. Citing LSE economist Paul Cheshire, commentator Phil Hayward gives a cogent account of this in “The Myth of Affordable Intensification”.

Hayward explains that the more density allowed, the higher the average housing unit price becomes. Cheshire put this down to a bidding-war at the margins of each income-level cohort of society for slightly more space. The less average space available per household, the more intense is the bidding-war effect. Site development potential in an urban land market with a regulatory limit on land supply, writes Hayward, seems to capitalise into site values. When the market allows people to consume as much space as they want, the bidding-war effect is absent.

Urban land economists like Cheshire and Alan Evans at Reading University consider housing a complex good … consisting of many attributes bundled into one composite good. The land base is a particularly important attribute. With rising population and incomes, restrictions on the quantity of land at the periphery ratchet up values across the whole urban region. The evidence that fixed urban growth boundaries put upward pressure on land and thus house prices is clear. While no formal boundary is proposed for Sydney, delimited Priority Growth Areas and GSC Districts have the same effect, operating as land value traps. Between 2009 and 2014, the Sydney median greenfield lot price ballooned from $269,000 to $339,750, reports the UDIA, even though lots released per annum rose from 2503 to 8597.

To subdue prices, Cheshire argues in a 2009 paper, it isn’t enough to rezone and release enough residential land to meet anticipated demand:

If we are to provide stable prices … what we need to predict is the effective demand for housing and garden space given that it is the quantity of land that the system allocates. Then we have to allocate not just the quantity of land predicted as being compatible with price stability but more. Not all the land allocated as available for development will actually be developed. One rule of thumb suggested is that this implies allocating 40 per cent more land than the estimated demand indicates is needed.

In Sydney’s case, the authorities aren’t just failing to supply a buffer of land above population and demand projections. Worse, their targets and greenfield-infill ratio are shaped by bureaucratic value judgements on where people should settle, rather than land markets.

On top of this, proximity to amenities is another housing attribute which capitalises into prices. Advocates of TOD demand more housing near public transport hubs, or, better coordination of land use and transport infrastructure, as they put it. But evidence from the US suggests that land values within 800 metres of mass transit can rise by up to 120 per cent. Adjacent property prices can rise by 32 to 45 per cent. 

Opponents of fringe development object that the housing will be too far from jobs, assuming monocentricity or concentration of jobs in the urban core. Yet the Long-Term Public Transport Plan For Sydney found that of the jobs supposedly in centres, 37.1 per cent were actually spread over 33 dispersed locations. Only the CBD with 12 per cent and South Sydney with 2.5 per cent had more than two per cent of the total. The other 62.9 per cent were scattered randomly.  

Investigating whether outer suburban workers have extra long commutes, in fact, Alan Davies concluded average commute times don’t vary a lot geographically within large Australian cities. Peter Gordon of the University of Southern California has researched commute times in American cities over decades, reporting remarkable stability of travel times across inner and outer metropolitan sectors despite population growth. Many individual households and firms ‘co-locate’ to reduce commute time, he explains, and this spatial adjustment [is easier] in dispersed metropolitan space.

One advocate of inner-ring densification denied that it relies on price-hiking growth boundaries, claiming that relaxing floor space regulations in an Alonso-type model will give the same [densification] effect, with infinite city size. However, the Alonso model incorporates an artificial assumption of monocentricity. Higher paying professional jobs may locate closer to the core, on average, than lower paying jobs. But it’s lower paid workers who are most in need of cheaper housing. Recently, Grattan Institute’s John Daley wrote “it’s important that new supply is focused on the inner and middle rings – 2-20km out of the CBD – of our large cities … new developments on the edge tend to be a long way from where additional jobs are being created”.

In other words, he propagates the myth of monocentricity and implies that worker-trader jobs don’t count.

NSW Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has announced that residential construction activity in NSW has hit an all-time high. But if that construction is funneled into increasingly expensive sites, Sydneysiders face a recurring home ownership nightmare.

This is an edited version of an article first published on The New City.

John Muscat is a co-editor, along with Jeremy Gilling, of The New City, a web journal of urban and political affairs.

Photo: Photograph by Gnangarra [CC BY 2.5 au], via Wikimedia Commons

TruMpISSION Impossible: Deportation

Mon, 12/12/2016 - 21:38

This is the first in an occasional series of articles that will look at some of the campaign promises made by Donald Trump in his run-up to November 8, 2016. I will be taking a “by the numbers” look at ideas ranging from immigration and border security to trade and infrastructure. I will not be taking a position on whether these are good ideas or bad ideas – this is not a normative analysis. Instead, I will be outlining the feasibility and the economic consequences of several potential policies. In economics, we call this a “positive analysis” – that doesn’t mean it is optimistic, only that the analysis leaves judgment about good versus bad policy to the reader.

These are also only potential policies – Trump is not yet President and has yet to articulate a coherent action plan for any of these ideas. For all we know, they may end up being the same sort of campaign rhetoric that George H. W. “Read My Lips” Bush was using when he promised “No New Taxes.” I begin with deportation.

Whatever label you want to put on the foreign-born residents of the United States who do not have visas, green cards or citizenship papers, the idea of deporting all illegal aliens has been around for a more than a decade – it isn’t something Donald Trump invented to win votes. A 2006 bill in the House of Representatives, championed by Tom Tancerdo (R-CO, 1979-2009) and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI since 1979) attempted to stop the flow of migrants, expel millions and construct a fence along the Mexican border – sound familiar? President George W. Bush was adamantly opposed to any legislative proposal that included mass deportation. “…[W]e’re talking about human beings – decent human beings that need to be treated with respect,” he told the Orange County Business Council in California at the time.

In his 2007 State of the Union address, George Bush addressed the issue again, saying: “It is neither wise nor realistic to round up and deport millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.” Subsequently, The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) was introduced in the United States Senate on May 9, 2007. It was never voted on. After several amendments, the Senate failed 34-61 to end debate and call for a vote. A related bill (S. 1639) failed 46-53 on June 28, 2007.

Being a numbers nerd, my initial thought in 2006 was: are there even enough buses available in the United State that could take 11 million people to Mexico?

A typical school bus in the US holds about 55 people (without luggage or a toilet). On most school days in the US, there are over 480,000 school buses transporting more than 25 million students to school. Allowing room equivalent to one-half person each for luggage, you would need approximately 300,000 buses or 62.5% of the buses in use.

Let’s assume you take everyone to the national capital, Mexico City. You don’t just want to dump 11,000,000 people at the border – that would be a recipe for disaster if they decided to walk back in en mass! Assuming some of the schools are private or semi-private and could not (easily) be coerced by government to relinquish their buses, you would need to count on getting a little more than one-half of all the school buses in the US to move 11,000,000 people.

The drive from Bangor, Maine to Mexico City would take 51 hours. Assuming driving 9 hours/day, including 3 1-hour breaks for meals, that drive would take almost 9 days each way. The buses would be unavailable to take children to school for almost 3 weeks. There are no fall, spring or holiday breaks during the school year that would accommodate such a long period of time without buses to take children to school. Still, it might work if you did it during the summer, although many schools run summer sessions and use school buses for summer educational events.

The real impossibility is that there are 14,000 school districts in the US, each with an independent structure of authority (principal, school board, etc.). It might be tempting to think you could just work out a deal with 50 states who could then dictate participation to the school districts, but there are also private and semi-private schools.

An alternative might be to use buses from public transportation systems, all of which would be under the control of government authorities. According to the American Public Transportation Association ( there are 1,078 bus public transportation systems in the United States (2011 date) operating 67,288 vehicles. The 300,000 bus-trips required to deport illegal aliens would require each bus to make about 4.5 trips each – meaning they would not be available to provide regular public transportation services for 81 days (or nearly 3 months). For those 3 months, about 7 million American workers would have to find another way to get to work.

TruMpISSION Impossible!

Susanne Trimbath, Ph.D. is CEO and Chief Economist of STP Advisory Services. Dr. Trimbath’s credits include appearances on national television and radio programs and the Emmy® Award nominated Bloomberg report Phantom Shares. She appears in four documentaries on the financial crisis, including Stock Shock: the Rise of Sirius XM and Collapse of Wall Street Ethics and the newly released Wall Street Conspiracy. Dr. Trimbath was formerly Senior Research Economist at the Milken Institute. She served as Senior Advisor on United States Agency for International Development capital markets projects in Russia, Romania and Ukraine. Dr. Trimbath teaches graduate and undergraduate finance and economics.

Photo by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Are We Going fascist?

Sun, 12/11/2016 - 21:38

The rise, and then the improbable election, of Donald Trump have reawakened progressive fears of a mounting authoritarian tide. With his hyperbole and jutting chin, he strikes some progressives as a new Benito Mussolini who will threaten free speech and other basic human rights.

Some aspects of Trumpism do exhibit some classic fascist modalities — emphasis on personal charisma, attacks on vulnerable minorities, rage against comfortable and self-satisfied elites. Yet, at the same time, some of the most histrionic attacks on Trump come from people who, rather than rejecting authoritarianism, really fear only his politically incorrect version of it.

During the election, Trump supporters did not generally disrupt Clinton rallies, but disturbances by progressives were somewhat common. After the election, the most hysterical forebodings about free speech came from the very college campuses — along with the left-leaning social media — that have not exactly been friendly to free speech.

At the same time, the powerful green lobby has made a point of trying to marginalize even distinguished scientists who differ in any degree from its climate change orthodoxy. In some cases, these scientists are not only demonized by fellow academics, but have been targeted for prosecution by “right-thinking” politicians. Sounds pretty fascist to me.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

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

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Donald Trump) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The End of Eyes on the Street

Sat, 12/10/2016 - 21:33

Jane Jacobs talked about the “sidewalk ballet” of her neighborhood and the importance of eyes on the street. But her conception of that, one where shopkeepers policed the sidewalks in front of their stores and kept an eye out for neighborhood kids, is far away from what we have today.

My latest post looking at this is over at City Journal and is called “The End of Eyes on the Street“:

“The bedrock attribute of a successful city district is that a person must feel personally safe and secure on the street among all these strangers,” wrote Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs is revered as an urban prophet, but key facets of her prescription for how to keep streets safe and maintain thriving urban neighborhoods are increasingly being ignored in New York today.

Key to safe and thriving sidewalks is what Jacobs called “eyes on the street”: people taking an active interest in what’s happening around them. Citizen vigilance, she believed, was even more important than the police. Public peace, she wrote, was “kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.” Some eyes on the street were more important than others–especially those belonging to local business owners. “Storekeepers and other small businessmen are typically strong proponents of peace and order themselves,” Jacobs observed. “They hate broken windows and holdups; they hate having customers made nervous about safety.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

What’s amazing to me is that at the same time we’re told we can’t do anything about things like a panhandler following my wife a block down the street cursing at her because she refused to give him money (which happened recently), or when we can’t stop mentally ill people from pushing people in front of subway trains and killing them (as happened yesterday at Times Square), we have immense effort being put into farcical items like stopping “microaggressions.” It certainly belies a lot of the rhetoric around what we can and can’t do in society.

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

Photo: Andy C (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The Future of Racial Politics

Fri, 12/09/2016 - 21:38

From its inception, the American experiment has been dogged by racial issues. Sadly, this was even truer this year. Eight years after electing the first African-American president, not only are race relations getting worse, according to surveys, but the electorate remains as ethnically divided as in any time of recent history.   

Donald Trump has emerged in most media accounts as the candidate of Anglo voters, with a margin of 21 percentage points over Hillary Clinton among that segment of the electorate. Clinton’s embrace of “identity” politics may have played a role in turning off many of these white non-Hispanic voters, who might otherwise had voted Democratic.

Many Democrats maintain still, with some justification, that as demographics evolve over the next decade, the increasingly diverse electorate will reward their identification with racial minorities. The country, and the electorate, seem destined to become ever less white in the coming decades.  Between 2000 and 2015, the nation’s population makeup became increasingly minority, from 31 percent to 38 percent. This trend will continue, with the country conceivably becoming 45 percent non-white by 2030 and 53 percent by 2050.

White Men Can’t Jump, But They Can Still Vote

It may well be that Democrats this year jumped the demographic gun. Even as the white population diminishes, it retains a dominant influence in elections. One reason: Whites tend to vote more. Most critical, the African-American share of the electorate, which reached record highs with Barack Obama atop the ticket,  actually dropped by a percentage point in 2016. Latino turnout, widely seen as a surge that would elect Clinton, represented  about the same percentage --11 percent -- in 2016 as in 2012.  

 Thesedynamics keyed the Trump victory, particularly in heavily white working-class precincts in the Midwest, Pennsylvania and Florida, where he secured his electoral victory. Many of the pivotal states’ electorates remain very white indeed. In Wisconsin, for example, more than 80 percent of voters are white, and most of them are not residents of liberal college towns like Madison. This is also the case for Pennsylvania, where more than 75 percent of voters are Caucasian. Even Florida – itself a very diverse state -- still has a heavily white electorate, accounting for more than 55 percent of voters.  

 These patterns will remain critical past what might be seen as their sell-by date for two critical reasons. One has to do with the concentration of minority voters. Nearly 60 percent of African-Americans live in Southern states where Trump won by dominating a very conservative white electorate. Other minority voters are clustered in big cities in the Northeast, which are not remotely contestable for Republicans.

 Latino voters, and also Asians, are likewise heavily concentrated, particularly in California,   now essentially a non-GOP zone, as well as the similarly politically homogeneous Northeastern cities and Chicago. To be sure, Latinos are also critical in Texas, and Asians too (increasingly so), but for now the Texas white population still outvotes them by a considerable margin.

 Another problem for the much-ballyhooed “emerging Democratic majority” lies in one stubborn fact: The elderly, most of whom are white, are not dying out quickly enough for Democrats to win. Although the extension of life spans may have slowed, or even slightly reversed in some demographic segments, seniors are clearly living longer than before.  

The Limits of Identity Politics    

Ignoring the reality of economic decline in the states that swung to Trump, some observers maintain that the increased conservatism among white working-class voters reflects deep-seated racial antagonisms. But this does not explain the considerable movement  of these voters, particularly in the Rust Belt, from support for Obama to support for Trump, as seen in such places as Youngstown, Ohio, Wheeling, W.Va., Macomb County, Mich., and Erie, Pa.

The Democratic Party made things easier for Trump by adopting identity politics as its mantra. This is particularly maddening when charges of racism are leveled by affluent professionals, academics and bureaucrats, many from elite universities, who are themselves privileged.

To their credit, some  progressives suggest shifting away -- at least in the short run -- from identity politics. But racial determinism may now be too central to their ideological core. Bernie Sanders’ campaign spokesperson Symone Sanders, for example, said that when it comes to picking a new leader for the  Democratic National Committee, whites need not apply.    

 Matthew Yglesias, always an excellent window on progressive dogma, insists that “there’s no other kind of politics” but identity politics; Democrats, he asserts, simply need “to do it better.” Progressives seem about as ready to ditch racialist politics  as Southern segregationists were willing to abandon Jim Crow in 1948.

The Coming GOP Crisis

For Republicans, identity politics is the gift that keeps giving, but the question is for how long. If you want a nightmare racial scenario for the GOP, just look at California. Since 1994, when the state passed Proposition 187, a measure widely perceived as anti-Hispanic, the Anglo population has dropped by more than 2 million as the state has added 9 million people, including more than 7 million Hispanics. Minorities now account for 62 percent of the population, compared to 43 percent in 1990. The shift in the electorate has been slower but still significant. In 1994, 49 percent of the electorate was Democratic and 37 percent Republican. Due in large part to ethnic change, by 2016 the Democratic margin was 45 percent-26 percent.

In California this surge in minority voters has accompanied a gradual erosion of the white population, a large portion of which has left for other states. The Golden State  also has gone out of its way to encourage immigration of undocumented aliens by offering them driver’s licenses, subsidized health care and  financial aid for college; 74 percent of all California children under 15 are  now minorities, compared to 66 percent in 2000, and  25 percent of them live below the poverty line. This is 2.5 times the white non-Hispanic rate in California.  

Despite largely positive results outside the blue coastal states, potentially the biggest long-term problem facing Republicans is in a dominant aspect of geography:  suburbia. Trump lost   some largely affluent suburban areas like Orange County, where 55 percent the population is Latino or Asian, up from 45 percent in 2000.  Perhaps most emblematic of potential GOP problems was Trump’s -- and the GOP’s --  loss of Irvine, a prosperous Orange County municipality that is roughly 40 percent Asian.

Republicans should be even more worried about trends in Texas, where Latinos are already close to a plurality and the Asian population is surging. There are still enough conservative whites to win elections in Texas -- Trump won by 10 percentage points -- but the margins will continue to shrink. This trend can already be seen in Houston’s sprawling, increasingly multiracial suburbs. Trump, for example, lost solidly middle-class Fort Bend County, by some estimates among the most diverse in the country, which voted Republican in every presidential elections since 1968.

If this pattern continues, the die may indeed be cast for the GOP. As most minorities now live in the suburbs -- a trend that continues to increase -- a loss of suburban voters, given the total Democratic lock on inner city electors, would be too much for rural and small-town whites to overcome.  Simply put, by 2030, losses in the multicultural suburbs could make dreams of progressive long-term dominance all but inevitable.

How Republicans Can Withstand the Racial Shift

Republicans must reverse these trends if they don’t want to go the way of the dinosaur. They can take some limited satisfaction in knowing that Trump did somewhat  better than Mitt Romney or John McCain among Hispanics and blacks  as well as improving slightly among Asians.

To expand on these modest gains, Republicans need to focus not on race but economics.  Our recent study for the Center for Opportunity Urbanism demonstrates clearly that minorities generally do far better in red states than in blue ones, based on such factors as income, homeownership, entrepreneurship and migration. Minorities all continue to move in ever larger numbers to red states because their economic climate and regulatory regime work better for them.

Conservatives can make a case that Barack Obama’s progressive agenda actually favored the highly affluent, who tend to be disproportionately white.  According to a 2016 Urban League study,  African-American levels of economic equality are lower now than in 2009, surely a disappointment for a black middle class so understandably proud of Obama’s elevation.

The best role model for the GOP could be in Texas. Latinos in the Lone Star State generally do better than their counterparts in California -- as measured by homeownership, marriage rates, incomes -- and also tend to vote more conservatively. In 2014, for example, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won 44 percent of Texas Latinos. In contrast, that same year Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won 73 percent of the Latino vote in California.  

Other factors, notably upward mobility among  Latinos, African-Americans and Asians, could play a transformative role. As they continue to move to the suburbs, buy houses and start businesses, they may become less likely to support a high-regulation, high-tax and redistributionist agenda. Since 2000, more than 95 percent of the minority growth (black, Asian and Hispanic) in the 52 largest metropolitan areas has been in suburban and exurban areas. Trump did much better among college-educated black males, for example,  than those with no college education -- 16 percent vs. 11 percent.

If more minorities enter the middle class, particularly under Trump, this  could provide an opening for Republicans, just as occurred after the World War II when Italian, Irish, Polish and other eastern European voters moved to the suburbs and assimilated, even intermarried, after years of living apart. A message that targets the middle class aspirations of minorities could be more effective in the long run than appealing merely to xenophobic sentiments shared by an inexorably diminishing population.

Critically, in the coming  decades, the vast majority of Latinos and Asians will be native-born. They will have spread out increasingly not only within regions but to more conservative parts of the country, notably Texas and the Southeast. At the same time, the population of undocumented workers, the least assimilated and generally the poorest demographic, is already declining, down by 300,000 since 2008. If it continues to decline, which may be likely under Trump, immigration may soon fade away as a primary issue for Latinos.

Perhaps even more critical, however, may be the growing trend toward intermarriage among minorities. Among second-generation Latinos and Asians, interracial marriage is creating what could become an increasingly fluid racial identity. Intermarriage involving African-Americans is also on the upswing. The new generation of ethnic hybrids, most with one Anglo parent, will no longer be easily pigeon-holed ethnically. Overall, 15 percent of marriages were between partners of different ethnic groups in 2012.

These are all opportunities to succeed, but the GOP can only prolong itself if it finds a way to reach minority voters based on an appeal of economic mobility. Whether they take this tack, or simply play for time until white voters lose their primacy, may determine whether it is the stupid party that some suggest, and one that, even at its great moment of opportunity, is destined to remain permanently so.

Ultimately, Republicans could build on Trump’s economic message by demonstrating its efficacy for minority voters. This may be the party’s only hope in the future, given the demographic trends. The competition could also encourage Democrats to focus more on “bread and butter” issues. If future presidential campaigns are waged over key economic issues, rather than pitting ethnicities against one another, the nation will be both unified and stronger.

This article first appeared on Real Clear Politics.

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

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

Photo: Steve White, Creative Commons

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