one big city
September 22, 2018, 1:44 pm
Filed under: Cities, economy | Tags: , , ,

Slums are a big problem – too many people live in them; they are hard to change, they are arguably awful places to live.

Our response is analysis and debate.

These two realities lead to a sort of intractability and stasis.

The author below says rather than treating the slum as a special case – the awkward stepchild – why not design for the slum the same way we design for the rest of the city?

It seems very accurate to see the rapidly expanding rich and middle class megacity as being completely connected to the slum – its forms, ambitions etc. The solutions for one are going to be closely linked to solutions for the other.

It seems to me that people who live in slums, at one point or other, found the formality of the regular city intractable and the informality of the slum more accommodating, whether by necessity or choice. There is a passage in Maximum City in which Mehta describes having a flat in a tower and a place in the slum and liking the slum better for its ease of access to basic comforts like food and sex. In a way, in its informality and organicism, the slum may be a better environment in significant ways; and rather than one seen as the superior of the other, the formal city may take clues from the slum, as the slum takes clues from the formal city.

Slums are a prevailing reality dominating the conscience of cities and city makers across the globe − a human disaster at an unprecedented scale. Perhaps what is needed is a conceptual re-thinking of the situation to accompany the statistical analysis and high-level strategic debate. Rather than treating formal and informal cities as separate and parallel entities, seeing slums as an unhappy by-product of the Modern City and a problem to be solved, perhaps we need to address the interconnections between the two systems, treating them as inextricable parts of the same urban whole. Forgive me if this comes across as a conceptual digression, but this was the conversation I felt many people at the conference needed to have. Adding this kind of thinking may have benefited the discussions by bringing a projective dimension to them, critically analysing the accepted norms of city-making and searching for new tools of urbanism and spatial strategy appropriate to move the city on.

Cities for Life: World Urban Forum 2014, 18 April 2014 | By Alex Warnock-Smith



I’m not subsidized!
September 21, 2018, 5:12 pm
Filed under: economy, Suburbs | Tags: , , , , ,

Related image

Huh, our government subsidizes the suburb. Suburban mortgages, oil, highways and runways (instead of trains and mass transit), urban development, fuel prices: all items manipulated and subsidized by our governments to incentivize suburban living.

The obstacles are huge: the contented middleclass who like their creature comforts and basically just deny they are subsidized at all.

The object of change is even bigger: improved economy and environment which are both in crisis phases.

While the ‘inversion’ is irrefutable and, some would argue, welcome, few examine the potential long-term benefits of this trend – particularly if government rather than promoting suburbanization instead encouraged urbanism, or at least gave an even chance. The necessary changes would include modifying or curtailing the vast array of federal policies that currently subsidize suburban America, including: phasing out the federal home mortgage interest deduction (MID); ceasing the backing by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac of large mortgages that otherwise would not be underwritten by the private market; removing subsidies for the oil industry; reclassifying SUVs and minivans as light trucks; allocating federal transportation dollars by population, and distributing those dollars fairly across all modes of transportation, including rail and mass transit, instead of disproportionately funding highways and runways; streamlining the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to drastically reduce the red tape associated with urban development and building large-scale infrastructure; and, finally, pricing fuel to reflect what economists call the ‘negative externalities,’ or the actual price of gas if the societal costs of pollution and congestion were included (many economists put this price at $10 or more per gallon).

As we will see in the pages that follow, such policy reforms would dramatically improve our economy, our environment, and our chances for equal opportunity. Achieving consensus for these changes, however, would be a tremendous challenge, and would require a recasting of the political spectrum as we know it. People are accustomed to their subsidies, particularly those in the middle class, who tend to believe they are not subsidized at all.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, A Country of Cities

a synthetic consequence of history

Twenty years ago I read an op ed in the Globe and Mail that asked the question: what is the biggest public money grab in North America? The answer, the suburb. The suburb, apparently, is a massive welfare program.

In the intervening period I have read precious little on the topic – ie. material specifically tying suburban life to public debt – no doubt because the idea cuts to close to the heart of the truth of how we live. I’m now reading Chakrabarti’s A Country of Cities which kicks off with the bold face assertion that how we live is subsidized.

I sometimes like to think about a solution. If there’s a problem, why not? Clearly the solution here is to delink public money from very expensive lifestyle choices: ie. no more oil and gas subsidies, no more massively expensive infrastructure projects and utility grids that serve less than x people per acre, no more big box market subsidies and incentives, raise the level of investment in efficient means of transport (public) and lower that of the much less efficient means (private cars), etc.  (That’s one half of the silver bullet. The other half is to make the city affordable for everyone, which is another big topic for another day.) I know, I know, I’m dreaming. But this dream has to do with that hard nosed topic, money, so maybe …

Here is Chakrabarti:

The suburbs, therefore, are not a mere reflection of the way people want to live, or even a reflection of true market forces, but a synthetic consequence of history. The suburbs are largely a creation of ‘big government,’ and explicit policy-driven, subsidized scheme that has guided how we live, work and play. Over the last century, this has created the most consumption-based economy the planet has known – that is until the music stopped: the twenty-first century debuted in America with an epic collapse of the housing market (particularly the single-family housing market), the rapid acceleration of climate change, and the largest division between rich and poor in the postwar era.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, A Country of Cities, p 33.

photo: American Palimpsests, © Stacy Arezou Mehrfar

planes, trains and automobiles
July 29, 2012, 12:54 am
Filed under: economy, Energy, Transit | Tags: , , , , ,

From the Regional Plan Association, more evidence all is not what it seems:  our governments subsidize all forms of transportation, including cars – (there go our bragging rights):

A common theme of U.S. political dialogue is that while highways are sustained by tolls and gas taxes, trains and other mass-transit systems are heavily subsidized by the government through tax revenue.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Federal, state and local governments have subsidized all modes of transportation since the birth of the nation. Tolls and dedicated taxes such as the gas tax have paid for only a small portion of our nation’s road system. In the past century, road and air transportation have received more government money than rail.

And, especially during the last century, government subsidies have favored cars and air travel over trains:

By comparison, the amount spent on train travel pales in comparison, unless you go back to the 19th century … But the record is very different in the 20th century, and in the last 100 years the amount of government money spent on railroads have been paltry compared with what is spent on roads and air travel. As government money has poured into air and roads, the once robust network of intercity passenger rail has shriveled to a skeletal framework.

A pitch is made for multi modal systems as an antidote to the mono-culture we more or less have with cars and roads:

If well designed, a transportation system does pay for itself through larger benefits to the economy and society. International experience and historic example in the U.S. has demonstrated that a multi-modal transportation system with many choices is far more flexible than putting all our eggs in one basket.

How come we still believe we are paying our own way when anything serious we read on the topic says the opposite?  Maybe we – a little desperately – need to cling to a sense of having done it on our own.  No one wants to admit to being on the dole – especially not when the top is down and the tunes are turned up and the girls are out.  Cars are about freedom and independence, not government handouts.

Maybe that is what it will take to get the multi modal system that seems to serve other people so well:  to finally admit that we aren’t paying for what we have, that the government is paying for most of it and that if it’s got to be a public service, then why not pay for something that is efficient and comprehensive and inclusive, and if it’s sexy that’s great, but if it’s not who cares, at least I can get around without the government paying for my gas.

The Public Money Behind Road, Rail and Air Travel, Osman Dadi and Alex Marshall, RPA

gdp equivalents
July 15, 2012, 2:51 pm
Filed under: Cities, economy | Tags: ,

Denmark – 310b
Canada – 1,574b
South Africa – 364b
Taiwan – 432b
Columbia – 288b
Switzerland – 523b
Austria – 376b
Argentina – 369b
Thailand – 319b
Netherlands – 782b

Boston – 211b
New York – 1,283b
Philadelphia – 348b
Washington – 426b
Atlanta – 271b
Chicago – 531b
Houston – 379b
Dallas – 377b
San Francisco – 337b
Los Angeles – 738b

global cities compete
May 12, 2012, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Cities, economy | Tags: , , , , ,

From What is the World’s Most Economically Powerful City? Atlantic Cities

the true cost of driving calculator
April 17, 2012, 9:47 pm
Filed under: economy | Tags: ,

the true cost of driving calculator

From the article:

Many people also know that other costs associated with automobiles are paid for by taxpayers, like highway construction and maintenance. Since those fees don’t come directly from a driver’s pocket, they aren’t usually considered as costs of driving. However, indirect costs are very real, along with other hidden environmental and social costs that drivers and non-drivers alike pay to support our primary mode of transportation – the automobile.