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New Geography by Joel Kotkin - 18h ago

A metropolitan economy, if it is working well, is constantly transforming many poor people into middle-class people, many illiterates into skilled people, many greenhorns into competent citizens. . . . Cities don’t lure the middle class. They create it.
—Jane Jacobs

Perhaps no song has been belted out more often than the one that claims that America is moving “back to the city.” Newspapers, notably the New York Times, devote enormous space to this notion. It gained even more currency when the Obama administration sec­retary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Do­novan, pro­claimed that the suburbs were “over” as people were “voting with their feet” and moving to dense, transit-oriented urban centers.

This celebration perhaps reached its crescendo when Amazon initially announced its move to Crystal City, Virginia, and Queens, New York. “Big cities won Amazon and everything else,” Neil Ir­win of the Times predictably enthused. “We’re living in a world where a small number of superstar companies choose to locate in a handful of superstar cities where they have the best chance of re­cruiting superstar employees.”

In fact, however, these views are more aspirational, or even delusional, than reflective of reality. Overall, data suggests that we are not seeing a great “return to the city” but, with few exceptions, a continued movement out to the suburbs and less dense cities, nota­bly in the sunbelt. The spurt of urban core growth that occurred immediately after the housing bust turned out to be remarkably short lived, with the preponderance of metropolitan growth—roughly 80 percent—returning, as has been the case since at least the late 1940s, to the suburbs and exurbs. Indeed, at no point did Census Bureau estimates show net domestic migration from suburbs to core cities, only a reduced rate of migration in the opposite direction.

Even the country’s most influential urbanist, scholar Richard Florida, now suggests that the great urban revival is “over.” Rather than the usual belief that density leads to productivity and innovation, a new Harvard study demonstrates that, between 1970 and 2010, suburban areas have overall steadily increased their economic advantages: the share of suburbs making up the top ranks of all urban and suburban neighborhoods (measured as the top quartile) went from roughly two-thirds in 1970 to almost three-quarters by 2010.

Read the entire piece on American Affairs.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website www.newgeography.com and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.

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Bloomberg’s Justin Fox tweeted out a link to this piece from a professor in Peoria, Illinois who left a coveted tenure-track position because he couldn’t bear the thought of living there. Here’s an excerpt:

What this all boiled down to is that it was massively detrimental to my health and well-being to live in a dying Rust Belt city by myself. And my “solution” to that problem – moving to Chicago and driving seven hours round-trip to work – was never anything but a stopgap that negatively affected me in different ways.

People have attempted to debate me on this – usually people living in Chapel Hill, Athens GA, Portland, Boston, California, Atlanta, and the like – and I have no desire to debate it any further, but I knew the second I visited for the interview that Peoria was going to be bad. Anyone who lectured me that it’s “not that bad” or whatever, all I can say is: knock yourself out. Move there. Move there by yourself at age 33, no kids and no spouse. Let me know how your mental health is after two or three years, and what your social life is like. There is nothing to do and nobody to do nothing with. Faculty who move there with a spouse or kids do alright. Faculty who do not tend to have a pretty rough time.

There are dozens of medium-sized cities just like it and they are all the same. Everyone with the ability and wherewithal to leave leaves. You are left with people who can’t get out, are too old to leave, or both. The economy is dying and gets worse every year. Again, if you choose not to believe me on this point there’s nothing more I can say except, go give it a try. In the summer of 2012, that’s what I did.

Obviously this is just one very unhappy person. I’ve been to Peoria and thought it was a fine city. (Though, as this ex-prof would no doubt riposte, I never actually moved there). Justin tweeted some pictures of some of the city’s amenities, such as a cool looking bar and a coffee shop.

But nevertheless the anecdote about Peoria is backed up by some bleak data. The metro area’s population fell by 2.8% since 2010, and the rate of decline is accelerating. It’s lost 1.4% of its jobs since 2010. Even more worrisome is that it’s real per capita GDP has fallen by 9.3% since 2010.

There’s nothing uniquely bad about Peoria driving this. In fact, it has some major advantages, including being, until a recent move of its executive HQ to Chicago, home to Caterpillar. It also has Bradley University, the likely employer of the professor who left. And it’s relatively educated, at 30% college degree attainment.

So this city has a lot more going on than many other places. In fact, in my recent Manhattan Institute report on stagnant cities, Peoria didn’t meet the criteria for inclusion. Nevertheless, it is bears that “family resemblance” I alluded to that leaves it in a very challenging situation for the future. This is especially true because it is located in the state of Illinois, whose relatively high taxes vs. its neighbors, terrible finances, and dysfunctional governance are dragging down much of already challenged Downstate.

But even if the fiscal cloud lifted, places like Peoria just aren’t major talent draws in the 21st century. That badly hurts not just their ability to lure or create new business, but the ability of their existing businesses and institutions to attract the talent needed to compete in an ever more competitive world.

As Fox put it:

I think [the essay] says at least as much about the struggles of mid-sized metro areas as about the difficulties of academic life. Mid-sized metros (generally defined as 250K-999K population, but let’s not be sticklers) do seem to be making a little bit of a comeback. But especially in the Midwest, there are huge differences between the ones on the rise (Sioux Falls, Des Moines, Lincoln, Madison) and the ones that aren’t (Peoria, Toledo, Topeka, the Quad Cities). Peoria does have nice coffeehouses and restaurants with impressive liquor collections. But its economy is oriented around a big manufacturing company (Caterpillar) that is doing fine but is less moored to Peoria with each passing year, and there’s not a lot to attract young, educated people from elsewhere to town.

I’ll add some color commentary to what he said. Sioux Falls and Des Moines are the largest cities in their state. Des Moines is also the capital. Lincoln and Madison are home to their state’s flagship universities. These things make all the difference.

As I noted in my MI report, one of the big attributes of these stagnant and struggling areas is that they are asset light. Pretty much every city with its state’s flagship school is doing well. But even a single Fortune 500 HQ, as is de facto the case in Peoria, is often not enough to drive prosperity.

This isn’t about Peoria per se. It’s about changes in the macrostructure of the economy and society that have significantly disadvantaged a slew of places in America’s industrial heartland. These disadvantaged areas need specific focus and attention from policy makers.

This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

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, Forbes.com, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Top photo credit: Robert Lawson, CC BY-SA 2.5

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In a remarkable and most unexpected outcome, Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison has retained the country’s leadership at the recent Australian Federal Parliamentary election (18 May, 2019). Morrison’s victory confounded a wide array of commentators, academics, advocacy groups, industry groups, all of the opinion polls, most of the media and a host of fringe political groups who not only predicted victory for the Labor opposition but an emphatic one.

The outcome was a stark reverse of expectations. The Labor Party recorded a swing against it and rather than winning seats, lost them. Their primary vote collapsed in many areas. In the resource rich state of Queensland, only one in four voters gave Labor their first preference vote. Nationally, the figure was just one in three.

The result has dumbfounded the inner urban elites of government, the bureaucracy, media and industry, many of whom are in denial or seeking therapy. Most important, it has helped draw a new geography of political boundaries based not on long standing ideologies of labour or capital, or of class, but of location and privilege. A more complete reversal of traditional party allegiances would have been impossible to imagine before last weekend. As observed by The Sydney Morning Herald, “The Queensland seat of Capricornia is a perfect illustration. It has many coal-mining workers and was held almost steadily by Labor from the 1960s until 2013, yet as of today it is a much safer Coalition seat than Josh Frydenberg’s well-heeled Kooyong, which was (conservative Prime Minister Robert Menzies' old electorate.”

Prime Minister Morrison only last year had toppled the previous PM, the nominally conservative but left-leaning climate conscious inner-city Malcolm Turnbull. He campaigned on basic economic management, tax cuts and moderation. In contrast, the Labor Party campaigned on the cause célèbres of any number of inner urban hipster coffee shops, bistros or university campuses.

Labor sought a 50% target of renewable energy by 2030 (yes, within the next 12 years!) and adopted much of the climate agenda favored by inner urban interests with the financial means to afford higher electricity costs – much more so than their suburban middle or working class counterparts. (The left wing Greens Party demanded a 100% renewable target). Labor also promised a future where half the new cars in Australia would be electrically powered by 2030 (but couldn’t describe how these would be charged or how these would work across the remotely populated Australian landscape).

Labor were aligned with The Greens, who tend to poll strongest in inner urban seats or in the wealthiest suburbs, on being ‘anti coal.’ A proposed major Queensland coal mine became the focus of a “green convoy” (all driving petrol powered vehicles mind) from inner city Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to the coalfields of Central Queensland – where job hungry communities turned their backs on the convoy and many refused to serve the protesters. The green anti-coal pro-renewables protest convoy proved such an irritant that it cost Labor seats in working class communities.

“This is the climate change election” both Labor and the Greens promised. Coal miners facing lost jobs and failed communities reliant on those jobs in regional areas were blithely told “you’ll have to retrain.”

Other policy items on the Labor menu included a tax on retiree savings, removal of tax breaks on housing (with a market already falling), looser borders and being more forgiving on illegal immigration. Labor also proposed an un-costed fantasy in the form of a very fast train between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Perhaps they planned to recruit the genius minds behind the Californian experiment?

“If you don’t like our policies, don’t vote for us” anxious retirees were told. They didn’t.

The truly remarkable thing about the days prior to the election was the utter confidence of the inner urban cabal. They were going to win and there would be little left of the governing Liberal National Party. Breakfast TV through to evening current affairs shows – all of them hosted in well to do inner urban areas – expressed complete faith in a Labor win. One gambler was so confident he placed an AUD $1 million bet on Labor winning. To say the least, he lost big.

The denizens of trendy inner city secondhand bookshops may have been filled with confidence, but not of suburban and regional voters. Struggling with flat real wage growth and having borne the brunt of a changing employment landscape, rising electricity bills and falling confidence in their future, this was not the time to tell them it was their duty to sacrifice even more to ‘save the planet’ by paying ever higher electricity bills, or buying an electric car they can’t afford. Especially when that message comes from smug sounding public servants or wealthy, entitled inner city residents who have been the beneficiaries of economic change, as well as overseas investors, rather than its victims.

The conservative vote which returned Prime Minister Morrison came from working and middle class people, living in the suburbs and regions of the country. It did not come from traditionally affluent inner urban seats – many of which were once held by conservatives but which are now marginal or in the hands of Labor or left leaning independents. (The Greens hold only one Federal Parliament seat – based on the hipster inner north of Melbourne).

Saturday the 18th May 2019 proved an “inconvenient truth” for the inner city agitators and climate warriors. It was also a reality check for many in industry who have adopted fashionable positions on religion, marriage, immigration, diversity, economic and green causes. Being surrounded inside the bubble with so many echoing the same things, the fact that these views aren’t widely shared outside the bubble may have come as a shock.

And much like the denial, dismay and denigration from Democrats in the US following Trump’s election, the commentariat of the Australian left haven’t coped too well.

“Australians are dumb, mean-spirited and greedy. Accept it,” said nightly TV host and comedian Meshel Laurie in response to the result.

“We may have to declare war on Queensland,” said Mike Carlton – a former high profile national political journalist. (He was blaming the result on Queensland voters who resoundingly abandoned Labor and the climate agenda).

Former media columnist Clementine Ford was “crying over the climate destroyed, bullshit world Australian voters are determined to leave (to her children).”

Another former journalist - Margo Kingston - who led an alliance of left leaning independent candidates campaigning on climate change declared “It is over. My idea of Australia is over. So be it. I’m retiring and having a life while it’s left.”

And Jane Caro – a feminist green social commentator, writer and lecturer – said “If the LNP wins we have decided to be a backward looking country in a backwater. I wish I was a New Zealander.” Much like many US Democrats who reportedly wanted to escape to Canada in the aftermath of Trump’s win?

The sentiments echo the now notoriously derisive 2013 comments from noted Sydney Morning Herald urban affairs writer Elizabeth Farrelly (who lives in trendy inner city Redfern in Sydney), who once described the suburbs of Australia in the following terms:

“The suburbs are about boredom, and obviously some people like being bored and plain and predictable, I'm happy for them … even if their suburbs are destroying the world.”

The Australian election proved the suburbs are anything but predictable, and political destruction awaits those who treat them with contempt.

Ross Elliott has more than twenty years experience in property and public policy. His past roles have included stints in urban economics, national and state roles with the Property Council, and in destination marketing. He has written extensively on a range of public policy issues centering around urban issues, and continues to maintain his recreational interest in public policy through ongoing contributions such as this or via his monthly blog, The Pulse.

Photo: Via Scott Morrison Twitter.

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In the aftermath of the Communist victory in the late 1940s, the question often asked in Washington was: “Who lost China?” That fueled the McCarthyite inquisition that followed. The question our children might ask is: “Who lost America?”

The long-running side-show around Russian “collusion” focused on the nasty but largely inconsequential ties between some of Donald Trump’s more sleazy aides and their equally disreputable Russian or Ukrainian counterparts. Yet, compared to China, Russia represents at most a pesky but fundamentally second-rate power; Russia’s GDP is smaller than that of South Korea and barely a tenth of China’s.

In the 21st century, how we cope with China will determine the future of American economic and political pre-eminence. One does not have to approve of President Trump’s haphazard diplomacy to support a tough policy. Historically many Democrats, including senators Sherrod Brown, Charles Schumer and Bernie Sanders, have backed measures to curb China’s economic assault.

America’s China faction

Until Trump, many influential voices tended to be soft on China. Some have seen China’s capitalist growth as a confirming the efficacy of market systems, and means to encourage some semblance of liberal democracy to the Middle Kingdom. This logic has collapsed given the increasingly obvious mercantilist and authoritarian nature of the regime.

China’s wealth has won it many prominent allies from both parties, including former GOP Speaker John Boehner, who have signed up to defend China’s interests. Wall Street investors and many of our leading manufacturing companies — notably Apple — have benefited massively from China’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization in 2001. Since 1990 the United States deficit in trade goods with China has ballooned from under $10 billion annually to $419 billion last year. China’s ratio of imports to exports was four to one in 2018.

This trade, one can argue, has benefited American consumers. But it hasn’t come without costs, including the loss of an estimated 3.4 million jobs in the U.S. since China’s admission to the WTO.

It has also hurt many companies, particularly in technology. American firms in China, either as part of their entry fee to the country’s market, or through surreptitious means, have been forced to surrender the historic advantages of our innovative economy; the Chinese government, as one observer noted, encourages its large companies to work as “patriotic thieves.”

Like Stalin’s liberal apologists in the 1930s, some like The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart even deny that China’s economy engages in “cheating,” particularly on the theft of technology. Even people who should know better, like former Vice President Joe Biden, whose own family has benefited from close business ties with Beijing, have minimized the Chinese threat to our economy. Biden recently claimed, incredibly, that “You know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.”

Time to chill “the cool war”?

Noah Feldman, writing in the left-leaning Democracy, labels our conflict with China a “cool war” as opposed to the Cold War that ensued after 1945. Unlike the Soviet Union, China’s economy has become globalized, increasing the risks from a too drastic break in trade tries.

But China’s pragmatic nationalism, exemplified by expansion into the South China Sea, its Belt and Road initiative and stated desire to dominate virtually all high value-added industry, could threaten the very core of American prosperity if not challenged.

With China’s economic and population growth rate slowing, its bloated real estate markets showing signs of implosion, and industrial production at the lowest level since 2004, this may be the time to strike.

The country faces enormous internal problems as hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese remain excluded from a system that favors both the very rich and the government-funded clerisy. China, notes one observer, itself is now developing “something resembling a permanent caste system.”

To gain back the initiative, we need to alter, as Trump suggests, not only current trade agreements, but also such things as the Paris Accords, which have exempted China, a larger GHG-emitter than the U.S. and the European Union together, from reducing reduce emissions until 2030. As Western countries de-industrialize, China can use coal, oil and gas to fuel its economic drive for predominance while the West engages in ever more drastic virtue-signaling. We need to make China focus on solving its own environmental and social challenges rather than seek to solve them at our expense.

Additionally, we certainly would be far better off returning jobs to developing countries like Mexico that have been lost industrial employment to Beijing, both for our neighbors’ sake and for the security of our own border.

Liberal economists like Paul Krugman fear that Trump’s actions threaten “Pax Americana,” but that assumes China isn’t playing Sun Tzu’s Art of War. We now face a powerful and highly nationalistic adversary that does not share a commitment to the rule of law and human rights. If unchecked, China's rise to global supremacy could usher in a new authoritarian Dark Ages, shaped by Mandarins and supported by their intellectual and economic satraps, both here and around the world.

This piece originally appeared in The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website www.newgeography.com and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.

Photo Credit: The White House c/o:Shealah Craighead [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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In the run-up to the elections for the European Parliament, The Economist magazine suggests that the old political divisions no longer apply (“Between somewhere and anywhere: The politics of suburbia
in Europe
,” May 11, 2019). As the chaos of a British Parliament is unable to meet its self-defined Brexit deadline, The Economist observes that “Culture wars have taken hold of European politics and eclipsed the old left-versus-right distinction,” suggesting that the traditional majority social democrats and Christian democrats could find themselves outnumbered after the election:

“Two sub-genres have emerged in discussion of recent national elections. On the one hand, mournful reports from rural or post-industrial strongholds of locals resentful of big cities and fearful of migrants. On the other, scoffing reports of a pro-European backlash among bearded, bicycling types networking their way around city centres and drinking flat whites.”

This notion has been the mantra of much mainstream media reporting from Paris and London to Washington. In France, now with 26 straight weekends of mass “yellow vest” (“gilets jaunes") demonstrations over six months much of the narrative suggests the protestors hailed largely from rural areas, essentially the unwashed masses protesting yet another fuel tax increase. The narrative went on to suggest that, unlike city folk, they couldn’t get around on mass transit (or bicycles). All of this is overly simplistic, but consistent with a view that the hundreds of millions of people that have settled in the suburbs around the world for decades, now want --- or should --- to crowd into urban cores.

The Economist, sees through the fog: “It might make more sense to look at the suburbs, the places in between.” Indeed.

To start with, more people live in the suburbs of France than in the urban cores. Paris is the ultimate example, where the Ville de Paris (urban core) has shrunk from nearly 3 million people in 1954 to about 2.2 million today, while the suburbs have exploded to include more than 10 million of the metropolitan area’s 12.5 million residents. They are scattered across 6,630 square miles (17,200 square kilometers), an area nearly as large as the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

Mass transit in France and elsewhere is largely concentrated in the urban core, with particularly high use to central business districts. These are the only areas with sufficiently high concentrations of destinations (places people want to go) that can be served by mass transit at a cost the taxpayers can afford.

According to 2010 INSEE (the national statistics and census authority) data, the central business district (Le quartier central des affaires) accounted for approximately 9 percent of the jobs in the Ile-de-France region. The percentage is even smaller in the labor market, which is the metropolitan area (the “aire urbaine” as it is called by INSEE.

Paris certainly boasts one of the most comprehensive and effective mass transit systems in the Western World. Appropriately, it focuses on the urban core and central business district because that’s where it can be most effective. But with 80 percent of the city (metropolitan area) residents living in the suburbs, outside the urban core (ville de Paris), and more than 90 percent of jobs outside the CBD, most suburban residents must rely on cars to earn a living and live a middle-class lifestyle.

This is illustrated by the number of jobs that can be readily accessed from the suburban new towns of Paris. Residents can reach more than twice as many jobs in an hour as can be reached by mass transit, despite the extensive suburban (commuter) rail, Metro, light rail and bus services (see: Sustainability, Dysfunctionality and Practicality, data and citation in Table 2).

France has a small rural population. UN data indicates that only 20 percent of France is rural, about the same rate as in the United States. What have been characterized as the “carbon tax” riots have not been limited to rural residents, but also considerable working-class and middle-class participation. These people are not living in “the sticks.”

The working-class and middle-class attitudes emerging in France are evident elsewhere in Europe, though less spectacularly. The Economist reports that many European suburbs are made up of “typically inner-city slums relocated by idealistic planners.” But, for the most part, the suburbs are also home to a mix of neighborhoods, from affluent to a large share of middle-class households. And, a good number of them live in detached and semi-detached houses (see photograph above), as any drive around the suburbs of most major metropolitan areas in Europe will show.

The Economist asks “What sort of place, on a sprawling and diverse continent, reveals its overall state of mind? The crucial divide used to be left versus right.” But now, “it is in suburbia that Europe’s most important political shifts are occurring.” This is not surprising. For some time, more people have been in the suburbs than in the urban cores of larger European cities and it's not surprising they want their voice heard.

Evidence of this divide continues to mount. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has just released a report (Under Pressure: The Squeezed Middle-Class), which starts from the proposition that:

“A strong and prosperous middle class is crucial for any successful economy and cohesive society. The middle class sustains consumption, it drives much of the investment in education, health and housing and it plays a key role in supporting social protection systems through its tax contributions. Societies with a strong middle class have lower crime rates, they enjoy higher levels of trust and life satisfaction, as well as greater political stability and good governance.”

An early section is ominously entitled: “The middle class dream is increasingly only a dream for many,” and the report documents how middle-income households are challenged by costs, especially housing, rising much faster than incomes.

As The Economist concludes: “To understand the fault lines in today’s Europe, then, go to the suburbs. … Go to where the Ikeas are.”

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 by Mayor Tom Bradley 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. Speaker of the House of Representatives appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photograph: Detached housing in Paris suburbs (by author)

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Due to circumstances entirely within the city of Milwaukee’s control, it can’t afford to fix potholes in city streets and it certainly won’t pay to repair the damage to at least 45 cars caused by those potholes so far this year. The circumstances are that, instead of fixing streets, the city decided to blow $123 million on a 2.1-mile streetcar line.

Nor will it have money for fixing potholes in the future. That’s because the Democratic National Convention is going to be held in Milwaukee next summer, and the city plans to blow another $28 million building a 0.4-mile extension of the streetcar line beyond the convention center — a convention center, by the way, whose expansion is costing the city $247 million to $277 million.

Defenders of the streetcar protest that it is being paid for out of tax-increment financing (TIF), which Politifact seems to think is free money. In fact, since any new development in a TIF district would have happened without the TIF — all the TIF does is influence the location — TIF does not produce new tax dollars; it just diverts dollars that should have gone to schools, streets, and other city services to subsidize the development.

Politifact also says a claim that the streetcar is a “1900s-style trolley” is only half true because the streetcars will be “modern.” So they are saying they could put a Lamborghini body on a Model-T Ford and call it “modern.”

In fact, the Antiplanner would rate calling the streetcar a “1900s-style trolley” a half-truth as well; it’s really an 1880s-style trolley with a 1930s-style streamlined body. Like the 1880s streetcars, its average speed is only about 7.4 miles per hour, as it takes 17 minutes to travel 2.1 miles. That’s hardly “modern.”

The city considers the streetcar a great success because it has carried 2,100 riders a day since it opened last November. With 144 trips per day, that’s fewer than 15 riders per trip. Some transit agencies would seriously consider dropping a bus line that carried that few riders.

In any case, Milwaukee once again proves that politicians put ribbons over brooms; that is, they would rather spend money on new projects than maintain existing infrastructure. It will be a sad day if Congress ever does pass a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, as it will probably fund a lot of new infrastructure that we don’t need and won’t be able to afford to maintain while our existing infrastructure will continue to deteriorate.

This piece originally appeared on The Antiplanner.

Randal O’Toole is the director of the Independence Institute’s Transportation Policy Center and author of the recent book, Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need.

Photo: The Milwaukee streetcar trundles through the city at an average speed of 7.4 miles per hour. Flickr photo by David Wilson.

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New Geography by Joel Kotkin - 1w ago

Mayors have had little success in becoming president, with only one big-city chief executive, Grover Cleveland of Buffalo, later governor of New York, actually making it to the White House. Yet this year’s running of the donkeys includes several: a minor-city chief executive, Pete Buttigieg of South Bend; a former big-city mayor, Cory Booker of Newark; former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro; and John Hickenlooper, formerly chief executive of Denver before becoming Colorado’s governor. They may yet be joined by New York’s Bill de Blasio. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti considered a run but thought better of it, perhaps realizing that his city’s burgeoning homeless population and rampant inequality would dog him on the campaign trail. The other mayors’ records are not much better than Garcetti’s, but they didn’t hesitate to jump in.

Buttigieg’s record is nothing remarkable. South Bend remains plagued by racial tension and a high murder rate. Buttigieg’s big challenge, according to Slate’s woke take, is whether being gay will make up for the unfortunate reality that he is also white and male, especially given his failure to embrace “the idea of gayness as a cultural framework, formative identity, or anything more than a category of sexual and romantic behavior.”

As mayor of Newark, Cory Booker was an improvement over the corrupt Sharpe James, particularly in attracting philanthropic investment, but he left behind the same crime-ridden, impoverished municipality. Castro, as CityLab has noted, operated under a weak-mayor system, and his city’s healthy economy owed more to Texas’s free-market allure and policies of earlier mayors than to anything that he accomplished. Hickenlooper, a rare species of pragmatic Democrat, was arguably more successful than the others, but his greatest accomplishment, the expansion of Denver’s troubled transit system, has become plagued by overruns and declining ridership. In any case, Hickenlooper, the most attractive of the mayoral brood, has made no impression in the polls and seems destined to finish out the race on the sidelines.

Read the entire piece on City Journal.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website www.newgeography.com and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.

Photo: Via Bill de Blasio Twitter.

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New Geography by Pierre Desrochers And Joanna Szurma.. - 1w ago

The notion that an ever growing and/or wealthier population can only deliver environmental doom has been the standard foundational belief of the modern environmental movement. The latest variation on this theme was arguably best summed up over a decade ago by business magnate and long-time population control advocate and financial backer Ted Turner who blamed global warming on the fact that “too many people are using too much stuff.” “Hockey stick” climate scientist Michael Mann concurred in a recent tweet, writing that climate change is “simply one axis in a multi-dimensional problem” that “all stem from the same problem - too many people using too many natural resources.” This stance has long been akin to dogma among the most prominent pessimistic climate scientists, bureaucrats and activists.

More optimistic commentators have challenged this notion and its attending doomsday prophesies and calls for radical social transformation by pointing out that the mainstream (IPCC) analysis of the impact of increased greenhouse gas emissions is nowhere near as dire as it is made out to be, that spectacularly failed catastrophist predictions have been a mainstay of environmental activism for more than half a century and that virtually all socio-economic and most environmental indicators clearly indicate that humanity is now much better off than it ever was. What is missing from most recent rebuttals to the green crusade, however, is a broader historical perspective.

Population Growth, Resource Shortages and Environmental Degradation

Basic concerns regarding resource availability and anthropogenic environmental degradation are as old as civilization and were much more prominent before the rise of the modern environmental movement than is now generally believed to have been the case. To give but a few illustrations, fears of deforestation and soil erosion as a result of a growing population are said by some scholars to go back at least four millennia to The Epic of Gilgamesh. Plato lamented a few millennia later that Athens’ back country, whose hills had once been “covered with soil”’ the plains “full of rich earth,” and the mountains displaying an “abundance of wood,” had been turned after years of abuse into a landscape that could “only afford sustenance to bees” because all the “richer and softer parts of the soil [had] fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land [was] being left.” He also warned that “exceed[ing] the limit of necessity” and the “unlimited accumulation of wealth” would trigger expansionary wars, especially in light of the populace’s fondness for meat, which would result in struggles over pastureland. His solution was a vegetarian diet. In the fifth century, Saint Jerome, traditionally regarded as the most learned of the Latin Church Fathers, commented that “the world is... full, and the population is too large for the soil,” a problem he believed best addressed through the creation of monasteries.

Closer to us, the British birth control activist Joseph Symes wrote in The Malthusian magazine in 1886 that, “no matter how large the country, in the absence of deliberate efforts to the contrary ‘the land will be over-stocked with people,” the food supply “too scanty” and “even standing room will soon be wanting.” In 1912, American eugenicist Edward Isaacson argued that “the time must come when the countries which now export food will be filled up to the point where they will need all they produce for themselves, and can no longer supply the over-populated countries at any price.” Although emigration had acted as a safety valve in the past, this could only be done “so long as there is a place for it; but what then?’” Once the capacity of feeding their population through food imports was no longer feasible, he argued, over-populated countries that had not given up on their industrial development and population growth would experience a “distress [that] will be something beyond all human experience.” Isaacson’s solution was John Stuart Mill’s much earlier (1848) call for a steady state of economic development in which “population must be kept down to the numbers which [over-populated countries’] land with the best management can support.”

In their influential 1947 Human Breeding and Survival sociologist Elmer Pendell and Guy Irving Burch, then director of the American Eugenics Society, exhibited the same spirit. As they argued, the land was already full “while our population is large and rapidly growing.” They forecasted that by 1951 one could see “forming for the American people, a future marked by conditions like those which prevailed in the times of scarcity and want which Europe used to know so well in past centuries and under which it now suffers.” In 1948, another prominent environmental writer, William Vogt, warned that “[we]must accept change” and “adjust our lives to it, if we are to survive,” for a failure to understand some basic relationships “of man with his environment” would “almost certainly smash our civilization.” Vogt also predicted famines in the next three decades in countries such Great Britain, Japan and Germany while the “exhaustion of our own [American] oil wells [was] in sight.”

Human Actions and Climate Change

Concerns about human-induced climate change almost certainly predates the dawn of civilization. Be that as it may, as the biogeographer Philip Stott observed over a decade ago, “From the Babylon of Gilgamesh and the post-Edenic world of Noah, all ages have viewed climate change cataclysmically, as a retribution for human greed and sinfulness.” Many individuals throughout history thus blamed extreme weather events (e.g., torrential rains and their resulting floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, unseasonable warmth and cold) and climate change on a wide range of anthropogenic causes, be they insufficient offerings to the gods, witchcraft, deforestation, the lightning rod, wireless telegraphy, cannon shots in the First World War, atomic tests, supersonic flights, and air pollution such as sulphate aerosols (said to cause global cooling, the dominant anthropogenic climate fear of the early 1970s).

In recent decades, however, the emphasis has shifted towards humanity’s increased use of fossil fuels said at first to cause catastrophic global warming, then climate change and more recently climate chaos. For instance, during a 1968 academic conference the Population Bomb author Paul Ehrlich, identified anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions as a “serious limiting factor” to economic growth. By the 1970s, Ehrlich, his wife Anne and his collaborator (and future Obama administration’s science czar) John Holdren raised fears that carbon dioxide “produced by combustion of fossil fuels in quantities too large to contain” may “already be influencing climate” and, as such, constituted one of the “gravest threats to human well-being. . . [i.e.] the loss of natural services now provided by biogeochemical processes.”

Mainstream historian of science Spencer Weart further observed that by the 1980s the environmental movement, which up to that point “had found only occasional interest in global warming,” made the issue one of their top priorities. In his words, “groups that had other reasons for preserving tropical forests, promoting energy conservation, slowing population growth, or reducing air pollution could make common cause, as they offered their various ways to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.” Weart added that other voices in this chorus included “people who looked for arguments to weaken the prestige of large corporations, and people who wanted to scold the public for its wastefulness. For better or worse, global warming became identified more than ever as a “green issue.” The redistributive policies of climate treaties were also in accord with the broader social goals of many left-wing activists who had come to embrace environmentalism.

The Pessimists’ (Partial) Concessions

Repeated failures of past doomsday forecasts forced many past pessimistic analysts to acknowledge the errors of their predecessors – although, being pessimists, they quickly added that positive trends would soon come to an end.

A case in point is the American chemist and eugenicist Harrison Brown, a man who profoundly shaped the worldview of former Obama administration science advisor John Holdren, who in 1954 acknowledged that the “disaster which Malthus foresaw for the Western World did not occur. Instead, Western populations [are] far beyond the levels he would have considered possible, and the poverty and deprivation so widespread in Malthus’s time [have] enormously decreased.” Brown even added that “so widely divergent were the predictions from the actual course of events that, if we were to look only at the predictions divorced from the reasoning, we would be inclined to say that he was incompetent.” The following year, biologist and population pessimist Marston Bates confessed that human population had multiplied threefold since the days of Malthus “without disastrous consequences” and that people “in many parts of the world are much better off, by any measure, than they were 150 years ago.”

The Problem of Eco-Pessimists

As we have argued in more detail elsewhere, enviro-pessimists have always failed to consider that past beneficial trends and subsequent progress were achieved, not in spite of the growing human numbers and their increased use of fossil fuels, but precisely because of them. Unlike other animal species, among humans more people are not merely more mouths to feed, but also more arms to work and more brains to solve problems. This is because humans have developed unique traits that long ago catapulted them to the top of the food chain, such as the ability to transmit information and knowledge between individuals and through time, to innovate by combining existing things in new ways (meaning that the more that is invented, the more that can be invented because new ideas and technologies are created through their combination), and to become more efficient through ever more sophisticated individual specialization and long-distance trade.

In the more recent past humans have also reaped the benefits of unlocking wealth from underground materials such as coal, petroleum, natural gas and mineral resources. By replacing resources previously extracted from the biosphere (such as fuelwood and timber, animal power that required large amounts of agricultural land to be devoted to animal feed, plants grown for their fiber or dying properties, or whale oil) with resources extracted from below the ground, humans have achieved the remarkable feat of reducing their overall environmental impact while increasing their standard of living. This is why, over time, people in market economies produce more things while using fewer resources per unit of output and are able to devote ever more resources to address pollution problems.

In the end, past and recent evidence largely supports economist Julian Simon’s (in)famous 1995 “long-run forecast in brief”:

The material conditions of life will continue to get better for most people, in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Within a century or two, all nations and most of humanity will be at or above today’s Western living standards. I also speculate, however, that many people will continue to think and say that the conditions of life are getting worse.

Pierre Desrochers is associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Joanna Szurmak is a doctoral candidate in the program in science and technology studies at York University and a librarian at the University of Toronto Mississauga. This essay is adapted from their recent book Population Bombed! Exploding the Link between Overpopulation and Climate Change. (Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2018)

Photo: John McConnell (flag designer)NASA (Earth photograph)SiBr4 (flag image) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here, returns with a new book called An American Summer that is an extremely powerful portrait of the impact of violence in Chicago. It’s hard to really review a book that is a collection of people’s stories, but I have one up over at City Journal. An American Summer is a very moving and disturbing work I highly recommend. Here is an excerpt from my review:

"The stories Kotlowitz tells are harrowing. Without passing judgment or attempting grand explanations, he describes how violence traumatizes people and damages neighborhoods. Far from being hardened and desensitized by violence, the individuals we meet are permanently scarred. Mothers of dead children struggle to heal. Lisa Daniels knew that her troubled 25-year-old son, Darren, killed in a drug deal, was headed for a bad end; she worried about him constantly. A devout Christian who believes that her son could easily have been the perpetrator instead of the victim, she forgives his killer and even advocates leniency for him in court. But she retains a deep sense of shame, feeling that she failed her son.

Others fare worse. “One young mother I met told me she cuts herself,” Kotlowitz writes. “One mother I know held her seven-year-old daughter as she died in her arms, and in her closet she keeps her daughter’s bloodied clothes in a plastic bag, a kind of talisman. Another had her son’s EKG record, his last heartbeats, tattooed on her forearm. Still another propped against her fireplace a life-sized cardboard likeness of her son.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

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, Forbes.com, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

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For decades California’s regulatory and tax policies have undermined our middle class, driving millions out of this most favored state. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in a drive that seeks to destroy the single-family neighborhoods preferred by the state’s middle-income households.

SB50, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener, would allow division of existing houses to duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes “by right” in single-family neighborhoods. Further, higher density apartments could be built-in single-family neighborhoods close to transit. This could lead to significant house value losses by families for whom their home is their greatest single asset.

Boosters believe the bill will relieve the housing shortage, and lower rents. Yet the worst problems exist in areas of Los Angeles and the Bay Area where densification policies have already been implemented. At the same time the measure could have huge impacts on the very neighborhoods, often closest to job centers, which traditionally nurtured middle- and aspiring working-class families.

The Census tea leaves

Planners continue to believe that people want denser housing. Yet virtually everywhere people are moving away from urban core density to lower density suburban and exurban areas and smaller metropolitan areas where single-family homes predominate. Since 2010, a net 1.8 million people have moved away from the urban core counties of major metropolitan areas, largely to lower density counties

This applies increasingly to millennials now starting to think about owning property, marriage and having children. Since 2010, 80% of millennial population growth has been in the suburbs, where single-family houses predominate. Nearly three-quarters of millennials want single-family detached houses, according to a 2019 report on home buyer preferences by the National Association of Homebuilders. Increasing the number of expensive, small apartments across California’s big metros runs up against these preferences.

Impact on California’s labor market

Advocates for forced density often suggest that building more apartments will keep workers in the state. This is critical particularly at a time of record low unemployment and mounting labor shortages in many industries.

Yet given millennial preferences for single-family houses, forcing higher densities seems irrational. Some companies, like those in social media, can subsist on a steady diet of 20-somethings crowded together in expensive apartments, but this is not sustainable for most companies or families.

Our privileged boomer progressives like to suggest that the home and a backyard was good for me, but not for thee. In many cities, they have advocated land use, densification policies that have made the once enviable California lifestyle out of reach. No surprise then that households aged 35-44 are disproportionately leaving at the highest rate, based on IRS and Census Bureau data.

Economic ramifications

Rather than boost the economy, SB50’s densification is likely to accelerate the outward movement of mature larger firms — Bechtel, Jacobs Engineering, Occidental Petroleum and Parsons, Toyota, Nissan and most recently McKesson, with the sixth-highest revenues on the Fortune 500 — which have pulled out of the state.

The urban model for SB50 is San Francisco, an increasingly dystopic city with disproportionately few children, outrageous inequality and a disappearing middle class. The City, as it calls itself, may be out of land, but overall California, with the highest urban density in the nation, is barely 5 percent urbanized.

What we need is not a single-minded focus on cramming, but polices that would encourage the building of new affordable homes, notably starter houses. We did this in the late 1940s through the late 1960s, boosting both homeownership and broad-based economy growth. There remain many opportunities to develop new family-friendly housing not only on the periphery, but also in redundant retail space within both suburban and urban areas. There also remain vast areas — abandoned industrial and retail sites, depopulating neighborhoods — in Los Angeles and Orange County that is buildable, and could accommodate a broad mix of housing, if the state would provide tax incentives and removed regulatory barriers for developers.

Transit delusions

The bill’s focus on location near transit stops is clearly delusional given public transit’s plunging market share around the state. Recent studies suggest that incentives to develop high-density near transit stops has forced poorer, transit-oriented people to move further away, and even buy cars.

In much of California only a bucolic few places — like Gavin Newsom’s exempted Marin County, along with five other Bay Area counties — will be allowed to maintain undisturbed low-density neighborhoods.

Legislators crafted a loophole exempting counties with under 600,000 people, which punishes Southern California, where the counties tend to be bigger. Virtually every Southern California neighborhood outside Imperial County is at risk. In unanimously opposing the Weiner bill, the Los Angeles City Council instructed its lobbyists to support the bill only if the city is exempted.

The rest of the state should also be exempt from this ill-conceived, economically damaging, authoritarian and unnecessary measure threatening to undermine further the last vestiges of the California’s middle class.

This piece originally appeared in The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University, director of the Chapman Center for Demographics and Policy and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston, Texas. He is author of eight books and co-editor of the recently released Infinite Suburbia. He also serves as executive director of the widely read website www.newgeography.com and is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Real Clear Politics, the Daily Beast, City Journal and Southern California News Group.

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 by Mayor Tom Bradley 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. Speaker of the House of Representatives appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photo: State of California [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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