MLewyn's blog

The Homeownership Myth

One common myth about American sprawl is that it is somehow related to Americans' support for homeownership.  But in fact, Americans are more likely to rent than residents of many other countries: 33 percent of us do so, as opposed to 26 percent of EU residents, 22 percent of New Zealanders, and 30 percent of Australians and British.  (Denmark's rental rate is about the same as ours).

The Myth of Overcrowding

Last week, I had a conversation with a faculty colleague about densification in Manhattan.  He said he visited Philadelphia, and he liked Philadelphia better because it wasn't so crowded.  

But I responded that Manhattan wasn't as crowded as he thought it was.  To be sure, there are a few places in Manhattan (especially at certain times) that are very crowded indeed- in particular, the blocks closest to Penn Station.  When I get off a train and get into the station during rush hour, I am met by the New York stereotype- a sea of people.

More Density for Bigger Cities

I recently have noticed lots of comments in blogs and listservs on ideal densities.  But the ideal density for a city or a neighborhood (if there is such a thing) depends on context.
'
Why?  The smaller the city, the less density you need for walkability.

Documenting NIMBYism

Because much of the literature on anti-density "exclusionary zoning" involves suburbs, you might think that cities tend to favor development and density.  But according to a recent paper by Vicki Been of NYU Law, this is not the case.  The study examines rezonings proposed by the New York Department of City Planning, and shows that the city downzones property more often than it upzones. 

Are The Poor Being Forced Into Suburbia?

I recently read a blog post explaining that smart growth and urban infill are not so smart because it forces poor people into suburbia.  The logic behind this claim is, as far as I can tell, as follows: 1) infill means rising real estate values in cities, (2) rising real estate values means people can't afford to live there, and (3) therefore smart growth shunts the poor into suburbs.

Where Job Sprawl Happens Most

I just saw the Brookings report on job sprawl- the movement of jobs to exurbs.  Do some metros have more job sprawl than others?  If so what correlates with it?

Two Cheers for Cheap

In new urbanist circles, "cheap" is often a dirty word; for example, I recently noticed a reference to "cheap" suburbs in a blog.  I find this objectionable for two reasons.  First, in a nation where many regions suffer from insanely expensive housing projects, we should be striving for cheaper housing.  To be fair, sometimes planners and architects use "cheap" as a synonym for "badly designed"- but this is imprecise.  If we want to say something is badly designed, we should say exactly that.

Part of What We Don't Know About Sprawl and Obesity

Numerous studies (such as the one referenced here) have suggested that there is some connection between sprawl and obesity, because residents of sprawl walk less and are thus more likely to weigh more.  

Light and Height

One common argument against tall buildings is that they block out light, creating shadows that block the sun.  But as I was walking down Avenue of the Americas (one of Midtown Manhattan's most skyscraper-oriented streets) I saw plenty of sun- just not on my side of the street.  What was going on?

How Single Use Can Be Mixed Use

Howard Blackson's latest post on the Placemakers blog clarifies the concept of "mixed use." A narrow definition of mixed use limits the term to mixed-use buildings: for example, buildings partially devoted to housing and partially devoted to other uses.  

But Blackson points out that a walkable mixed-use neighborhood can include purely residential buildings or even purely residential blocks, as long as those blocks are within walking distance of commercial places.