Posts tagged ‘city planning’

Thoughts on Ted Cruz's "New York Values" Statement

I don't want to give too much credence to Cruz's "New York values" dig on Trump.  First, it's silly -- New York is not at all monolithic.  Second, it doesn't really even apply to Trump, who often thumbs his nose at New York elite.

But I think that if you asked a lot of people in flyover country, the statement would still have resonance.  I think the reason is that while New York is not at all monolithic in its culture and values, its media exports do tend to be much more homogeneous and tend to reflect a Left-liberal coastal condescension.

I was thinking about this watching the Broadway show If/Then which was in Phoenix this weekend.  I thought this was a pretty forgettable musical, essentially a sort of remake of the movie "Sliding Doors", that was elevated by Idina Menzel in the lead.  We in flyover country seldom get stars of this caliber (at least after they are famous) in our roadshows and she (along with one other female lead who was quite good) made the show worth the ticket.

Anyway, a couple of observations about the show in the context of Cruz's statement:

  • No character in the show (with 2 exceptions) had a productive job in the private sector.  Everyone worked in the city planning department or was a housing activist or a public school teacher.  I kid you not, there was actually a song about the joys of urban planning.   The two exceptions were:  1)  a private architect who thanked the city planning department for overruling his designs and 2) an investment banker who acted like a complete tool and was included for 10 seconds only to illustrate the worst possible imaginable male date.
  • Accusing a character of being a Republican was used as a laugh-line twice.  Since the character was one the authors wanted to the audience to have sympathy for, the character quickly avowed he was an Independent.
  • Living any place in flyover country (e.g. Nebraska, Arizona**) was used as a laugh line in the show and choosing to live in those places was offered up as an example of bad decision-making.  The only place deemed acceptable to live outside of New York was Oregon.

I got over getting too worked up about this sort of stuff years ago (or else I would spend all my time holed up in a cave listening to a few old Rush albums).   Cruz was wrong to criticize New York values but I think there is a .... call it an attitude that emanates from New York media that the rest of the country sometimes finds irritating.


** in the show we saw, the lead character had just escaped from a bad marriage in Phoenix.  My guess is that this was not the original location, but was switched for the show here (though I could be wrong, since such a switch would have meant adjusting a couple of songs too).  Anyone see it on Broadway and know what location was used there?

If Causality is Complicated Enough, You Can Take Credit For Anything

Apparently California has passed a new law that requires land use planning to be tied to the CARB CO2 emissions limits.  Well, all of us who make our money in neighboring states will certainly be happy to have yet more Californians driven into our arms.

This effort is based in part on the claim, which I see all the time, from here, based on a Brookings Report here:

Residents of Portland emit 35 percent less carbon per capita than those of other US cities

Portland is the #1 poster child for "smart growth" style urban planning,  and so smart growth advocates have decided that Portland's low carbon footprint is due to smart growth.

Interestingly, though Brookings certainly supports smart planning, their study has moments of honesty that everyone tries to ignore.  For example, it makes points I have made over and over about the cities at the top of the electrical efficiency and low emissions lists:

The fuel mix used to generate electricity matters in residential footprints. A high-carbon fuels mix significantly penalizes the Ohio Valley and Appalachian regions, which rely heavily on coal power. Alternatively, hydro-reliant metro areas such as Seattle have substantially smaller residential footprints.

Pricing influences the electricity component of the residential footprints. Each of the 10 metro areas with the lowest per capita electricity footprints in 2005 hailed from states with higher-than-average electricity prices, including California, New York, and Hawaii. Many Southeastern metro areas, on the other hand, with high electricity consumption per capita have had historically low electricity rates.

Weather unmistakably plays a role in residential footprints. High-emitting metro areas often concentrate in climates that demand both significant cooling and heating, such as in the eastern mid-latitude states. In contrast, the 10 metro areas with the smallest per capita residential footprints are all located along the West Coast, with its milder climate.

So, let's take Portland.  It has a mild climate, it has higher than average utility prices, and its electricity is supplied in large part by zero-emission hydro plants.  Small wonder it does well on the footprint analysis.  But given all these advantages, supp0rters want to claim Portland is near the top not due to any of this stuff but due to land planning and mass transit?  In fact, transit's share of commutes in Portland has been steadily falling for years, despite the urban legends to the contrary.

But here is another reality check on the list -- Portland is #3.  #1 on the list is Honolulu, a very mild climate and certainly no poster child for anti-sprawl.  Even more telling is #2 - Los Angeles.  LA has an even lower carbon footprint than Portland.  So much for smart growth and transit ridership as the main explanation!   Even Phoenix, the most spread out non-transit-using city in the country is above average at #21 out of 100, despite having what is most certainly NOT a mild climate.   My guess is that it has something to do with that clean, carbon friendly nuclear power plant just outside of town, the largest in the US.

Postscript: This report claims that smart planning is better than a carbon tax because people don't respond to changes in gas and electricity prices.  But the fact that the lowest carbon footprints and lowest per capita electrical use areas correspond with those with the highest prices gives the lie to that proposition.

My Commute: 1.9 Miles

I could drive a Caterpillar D6 to work and still use less fuel than most folks do in their commute.  That is because I choose to work less than 2 miles from my office, out here in the northern suburbs of Phoenix (and, when it is not 110 degrees out, there is a bike path that takes a more direct route that is even shorter).  There is no place I would choose to live anywhere near the central business district of Phoenix;  if my job was downtown, rather than in my suburban neighborhood, my commute would increase to sixty minutes per day rather than six.

So, I wonder why the movement of jobs from city centers to suburbs has the Brookings folks so upset.  If your remember, urban planning types lamented the move of homes to the suburbs, saying this increased commuting time and energy use.  Now that the jobs are moving out to the suburbs as well, close to where people actually live (rather than where the planners want them to live), this increases gas use and commute times as well?

Since 1998, almost every major American metro area has seen a drop in the share of employment located downtown as jobs have increasingly moved into farther-out suburbs, exacerbating "job sprawl" "“ a phenomenon that threatens to undermine the long-term prosperity of the nation's vital economic engines, according to a report released today by the Brookings Institution.
""˜People sprawl' has long been known for its effect on the environment, infrastructure, tax base, quality of life, and more. Now, we must recognize what "˜job sprawl' means for the economic health of the nation," stated Elizabeth Kneebone, author of the report and senior research analyst at the Metropolitan Policy Program.

"The location of jobs is also important to the larger discussion about growing the number of jobs," said Robert Puentes, a Brookings senior fellow. "Allowing jobs to shift away from city
centers hurts economic productivity, creates unsustainable and energy inefficient development, and limits access to underemployed workers."

The economic productivity argument has me totally flummoxed.  Are they really arguing that companies purposely reduce their own productivity and access to labor?  Why?  This makes no sense, and as the Anti-Planner points out, goes totally unproven in their study.

The only possible argument I can see is a government one, that somehow suburb infrastructure by being more spread out is more costly per person than urban infrastructure.  But this is a point that has never been well proven, and is a classic case of looking at just one variable in an multi-variate system.  Sure, I would guess the total miles of sewer pipe and roads per person is greater in the suburbs than the city.  But the cost of land acquisition, infrastructure construction, and maintenance are all lower.  It is not at all clear how these balance, and the authors do not even try to figure it out.  I would be surprised if the government infrastructure costs per person in, say, Scottsdale is really higher than in Manhattan.

In fact, if there is an issue here, it strikes me it is more a government pricing issue than a demographic issue.  If government is somehow taking a loss on suburban vs. urban infrastructure, then it needs to rethink its tax structure to appropriately set property taxes and fees to match actual costs.  But I think we all know that this is NOT the problem.  Where suburbs are separate cities from the inner cities, those cities tend to have lower taxes and healthier budgets than their inner city cousins, giving the lie to the statement that suburban infrastructure is somehow more expensive (or, as a minimum, that any increase in costs are more than offset by other cost advantages to government of the suburbs).

And all this ignores the individual rights issue of why government should be influencing the shape of people's living and commuting choices at all.  Note the very suggestive words in the Brookings press release -- "Allowing jobs to shift away from city centers hurts economic productivity," as if the location of my employees requires government approval.   It's amazing to me that the children of the sixties grew up to be such control freaks.