Not long ago, Brigham Young's law review published a provocative article entitled "Smart Growth in Dumb Places." The basic theory of the article is that building near the water is dangerous, and where downtowns are near the water, infill development is thus dangerous.
Since today is Thanksgiving, I thought I would post about what I am thankful for (instead of complaining as usual about what I am not thankful for):
I am thankful that in the year 2012, urbanism is, in some ways, winning over sprawl: (some) cities are being repopulated, transit ridership is rising, and "urban" is no longer a dirty word in popular culture to the extent that it was a decade or two ago.
I am thankful that I live in a revitalized city (New York) rather than a city that is still declining.
A recent article in the New Republic has the reassuring (to me) headline: "Republicans Can't Afford to Ignore Cities Anymore." I'm certainly all for Republicans not ignoring cities, but there was a passage in the article that made me want to bang my head against the nearest brick wall.
My sense is that the conventional political wisdom is that urban voters are Democrats, rural voters are Republicans and suburbanites are in the middle.
Given the widespread public transit closings in the 48 hours before Hurricane Sandy, it could be argued that one advantage of a car-centric society is that cars enable quick evacuation (assuming that people aren't stuck in traffic).
Hurricane Sandy is over (at least as far as we New Yorkers are concerned) and commentators are already beginning to discuss its meaning for urbanism-- for example, whether coastal cities like New York may have to do more to protect their citizens.
But one area in which New York City has an advantage over suburbs and less compact cities is its ample supply of multi-story buildings. Why does that matter? Because in this storm, the most dangerous indoor spaces were basements and single-family homes.
After yesterday's post on obesity in New York, I thought I would do some more research comparing obesity in cities and suburbs, focusing on central cities that (a) were coterminous with their counties (so I could find obesity statistics for cities alone) and (b) were sufficiently transit-oriented and compact that city residents might be more physically active than suburbanites. The results were mixed.
The City Data web page contains, among other things, county-by-county statistics on obesity. Because each New York borough is a county, I thought that looking at New York might be more informative than looking at other metro areas where a county can include a wide range of cities and suburbs.
Manhattan (New York County) is especially instructive. In Manhattan, the obesity rate is only 15.4 percent- well below the state average of 23.8 percent.
The Center for Neighborhood Technology recently issued a report suggesting that compact cities with high housing costs (such as New York or San Francisco) might actually be less expensive than otherwise cheaper but car-dependent areas such as South Florida and Southern California. As provocative as this report is, it seems at first glance to be the opposite of my own personal experience: I am definitely saving less in New York than I was in Jacksonville. How come?
I just read the "Curbside Chat" booklet on the Strong Towns blog and found one observation that surprised me. The booklet notes that after World War II, there was some public concern about the possibility of another Great Depression, "but another 'spatial fix' prevented that from happening... Only through the deployment of resources in bulding this new living arrangement was the United States able to sustain the demand needed to stabilize prices and grow the economy." In other words, midcentury sprawl kept the economy afloat.