MLewyn's blog

Reality Check on Urban Poverty

I've read some stories suggesting that poverty is decreasing in cities and increasing in suburbs.  Urbanists see this alleged trend as evidence that cities are becoming more popular; egalitarians see it as evidence that gentrification is driving the poor into suburbia.

How The Sprawl Lobby Is Totalitarian

I recently read the following comment justifying sprawl-oriented policies: "people still want the freedom of choice, privacy and flexibility a car affords." 

I have often seen this sort of argument; it seems to me to endorse the following chain of logic: (1) an unspecified number of "people" (presumably a majority) want cars and therefore (2) we should enact policies that make car ownership effectively mandatory (e.g. using highways to shift development to places without public transit, building streets too wide to be crossable by pedestrians).

High-Speed Streets Cause Tragedy in Jacksonville

Last Friday night, a woman and her daughter were struck by a car while crossing the street to attend Yom Kippur services in Jacksonville, Florida. The mother died instantly, the daughter was hospitalized.

Exciting New Database

The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy just came out with a fun new database of fiscal information about cities.   A few of the things I learned after playing around in the database for an hour:

Reviewing A Review of "The End of the Suburbs"

In the Wall Street Journal, Joel Kotkin pans Leigh Gallagher's "The End of the Suburbs."  Generally, I don't consider a fight about whether cities or suburbs are winning the future to be of much interest; in reality, there are growing cities and growing suburbs, just as there are declining cities and declining suburbs.  However, Kotkin does raise a number of points which I think are worthy of discussion.

Is Sprawl An Example of Libertarian Paternalism?

One widely-publicized attempt to find a middle ground between laissez-fair and overregulation is  "libertarian paternalism": the idea that (in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks), "Government doesn’t tell you what to do, but it gently biases the context so that you find it easier to do things" favored by government.  For example, a state governnment could design forms making organ donation the "default option" for driver's license applicants, so one would have

The Cross-Bronx Expressway really hurt (but not in the way you might think)

A few months ago, I finished reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, a biography of highway/park-builder Robert Moses.  Caro asserts that Moses's Cross-Bronx Expressway ruined Bronx neighborhoods near East Tremont Avenue; many houses and apartments were destroyed to build the expressway, and the negative effects of all that deserted land blighted nearby blocks.  

Cities Can't Do Much Alone

I am about halfway through the Metropolitan Revolution (by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley) and I can't help wondering: how much good can a city do?  Of course, quite a bit- but only with a friendly (or at least non-hostile) state government.  There are many, many things a state government can do to sabotage a city.  For example, a state can:

Is Wal-Mart The Atomic Bomb of Retail?

I was reading a conversation on the PRO-URB listserv about whether to oppose an intown Wal-Mart in Washington, and someone asserted that Wal-Mart was different from all other stores because it was a potential monopolist.  Evidently, some people believe that Wal-Mart (unlike Costco or Target) is so good at its work that it destroys all other retail.

Don't Take Yearly Census Estimates Too Seriously

Every year, the Census comes out with estimates of county population.  Because the 2011-12 estimates showed big gains for most urban counties, urbanists were happy to declare victory, and to claim that these estimates showed a movement of population back to cities.  In other years, Census estimates showed that older cities were declining, and defenders of the sprawl status quo similarly crowed about those statistics.