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    Here’s the ubiquitous American landscape with a dash of central New Jersey local color. It’s not the rain and dark skies that make it look so bleak. No amount of sunshine can brighten this much asphalt, synthetic stucco, and vinyl siding. There’s no point in complaining about any of it. It exists and will continue to do so for the duration. Shrug.


    But pass through these columns and enter a little Victorian era town trapped in amber that reminds us that we used to build better places. Ocean Grove was established as a Methodist revival summer camp in 1869. In the aftermath of the Civil War people were hungry for faith, fellowship, and order. The (then) remote seashore location offered fresh air, tranquility, and escape from the smokestacks, heat, congestion, and disease of industrial cities like New York and Philadelphia.

    The street grid was measured out and small lots were leased with 99 year terms to members of the church. The town began with tents pitched on simple wooden platforms. There were 200 tents for every solid home in the early years. Religious services were held in larger tents and tabernacles. 114 tents still remain in use after a century and a half and are inhabited from May to September each year.

    Over time cabins were added to the back of each tent to provide sanitary facilities and kitchenettes. At the end of the season the tents are folded away inside the cabins. Because the people who choose to live here are all self selecting members of the same community with common sensibilities the tent city is remarkably safe, clean, and well maintained. People come to Ocean Grove intentionally to be together. That’s the whole point of the town.

    The first iteration of church building was the natural landscape itself along the beach. The current pavilion is inscribed with Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”

    It’s important to recognize that the most valuable real estate in Ocean Grove is not built upon or commercialized – unlike nearly every other inch of privatized beachfront property up and down the Jersey shore. Nature was revered, celebrated, and preserved as part of God’s creation. The boardwalk is a gift to the public maintained at some expense by the Methodist community, but you’ll find no amusement rides, cotton candy, tourist trinkets or pay-per-view beach passes. Only free musical events sponsored by the Methodist community are on offer. The lack of privatized commercial activity has a powerful effect on property values and desirability (as well as what might be called social equity or social justice) ten blocks away from the water. Since everyone in town has physical access to the waterfront the value isn’t concentrated in a handful of expensive homes. That value is distributed throughout the entire community.

    Open air pavilions were gradually supplemented by more substantial church buildings meant for seasonal use. In pre-air conditioning days the buildings were self ventilating with high ceilings, cupolas, and large doors and windows around the periphery as seen here at Bishop Jane’s Tabernacle.

    With 6,250 seats the granddaddy Methodist church in Ocean Grove is the Great Auditorium built in 1894. It was the fourth iteration of the same basic building as each successive version was larger and more substantial than its predecessor. Remember, this church began as a tent. Notice the high ceilings, upper windows and cupolas for natural passive ventilation like Bishop Jane’s Tabernacle. Also notice the huge barn style doors along the side walls that keep the church open to sea breezes during services, but secure the building when closed. The iron framework that made a building of this size practical and affordable – it was built in just 90 days – was a product of the same heavy industry that made a remote meeting camp site so desirable. That’s always the irony of new technology. It solves one set of problems while creating others.

    Again, the generous use of public park space connects the Great Auditorium to the beach pavilion in a way that elevates the spirit, contributes to a better environment for everyone in town, and coincidentally makes properties more loved and valuable. As with many other places (Central Park in New York for example) the most prestigious buildings are clustered along the public parks. That land could have been carved up into private back gardens, but the sense of community would have been compromised. This development style intensionally prioritizes shared interaction rather than insularity.

    The quiet side streets of town are a study in incremental urbanism. These modest lots originally held tents. The tents were upgraded to cabins. The cabins were replaced by proper homes. The dirt roads, shared water wells, and outhouses were incrementally replaced by paved roads, sidewalks, and town services. First many small private investments were made, then collective funds were pooled to install more complex infrastructure with cash on hand. This is in contrast to current practice when all infrastructure is supplied up front and paid for with enormous amounts of debt.

    This one group of homes speaks to the organic nature of growth in Ocean Grove. A tiny cottage remains next to an unassuming two story house on one side, with a significantly larger three story building on the other side. This is a snapshots of how the town evolved over decades. We don’t see this type of development anymore. Instead, entire subdivisions and master planned communities are built instantaneously and then prevented from changing in any way.

    Ocean Grove has plenty of commercial activity along its Main Street (Main Avenue actually) and demonstrates that if the surrounding town is compact and walkable the need for parking is greatly reduced. So is the need for super wide streets or special bicycle infrastructure. Most people can and do walk or bike to the hardware store, dentist, grocery store, ice cream parlor, restaurants, and post office. It’s not that people here don’t have cars or don’t buy things elsewhere. They simply have the choice of walking and participating in a more local economy. Notice how many buildings have a mix of commercial and residential uses. This flexibility allows the town to bend and adapt easily as the economy and culture shift over time. Yes, Ocean
    Grove has a tourist element, but it’s first and foremost a town for residents that happens to have a broad popular appeal that coincidentally attracts outside visitors.

    Like nearly all older towns in America Ocean Grove endured a period of decline from the early 1960s to the 1990s. The Methodist community preserved the town through that dark time when most other places razed their historic buildings and urban fabric in a rush to install parking lots and Jiffy Lubes. In opposition to the overwhelming trends of the time Ocean Grove made it illegal to drive or park within the town limits on Sundays, although that practice is no longer in effect. One of the reasons the town endured intact and was able to be rediscovered and reinvested in by a new generation was the presence of a religious community that had a higher calling and a longer event horizon than the dominant secular culture. There are lessons to be learned here by people who may not identify with the church.

    This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

    John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

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    In the imaginations of its boosters, and for many outside the state, California is often seen as the role model for the future. But, sadly, California is also moving backward toward a more feudal society.

    Feudalism was about the concentration of wealth and power in a relative handful of people. Historically, California created fortunes for a few, but remained a society with enormous opportunity for outsiders, whether from other states or countries. One of Pat Brown’s biographers, Ethan Rarick, described his leadership as having made the 20th century into “The California Century,” with our state providing “the template of American life.” There was an American Dream across the nation, he noted, but here we had the California Dream.

    This proud legacy is threatened, as we point out in our study to be released Monday. Today California is creating a feudalized society characterized by the ultra-rich, a diminishing middle class and a large, rising segment of the population that is in or near poverty. Overall our state now suffers one of the highest GINI rates — the ratio between the wealthiest and the poorest — among the states, and the inequality is growing faster than in almost any state outside the Northeast, notes liberal economist James Galbraith. The state’s level of inequality now is higher than that of Mexico, and closer to that of Central American banana republics like Guatemala and Honduras than it is to developed states like Canada and Norway.

    California, adjusted for costs, has the overall highest poverty rate in the country, according to the United States Census Bureau. A recent United Way study showed that close to one in three of the state’s families are barely able to pay their bills. Overall, 8 million Californians live in poverty, including 2 million children, a number that according to a recent report, has risen since the Great Recession, despite the boom.

    California’s poverty, and the loss of a middle class, is most profoundly felt in the interior counties. California, according to the American community survey, is home to a remarkable 77 of the country’s 297 most “economically challenged ” cities, utilizing a scoring of poverty and employment data by the National Resource Network. Los Angeles, by far the state’s largest metropolitan area, has among the highest poverty rate of largest U.S. metros.

    Even in the Bay Area the current boom is creating what the Japanese philosopher Taichi Sakaiya has called “high-tech feudalism.” In the last decade, according to the Brookings Institution, among the nation’s large cities inequality grew most rapidly in San Francisco; Sacramento ranked fourth.

    Urban website CityLab has described the Bay Area as “a region of segregated innovation,” where the rich wax, the middle class wanes and the poor live in increasingly unshakeable poverty. Once among the most egalitarian places in the country, Silicon Valley has become extraordinarily divided between rich and poor, and with a diminished middle class. Some 76,000 millionaires and billionaires call Santa Clara and San Mateo counties home but nearly 30 percent of Silicon Valley’s residents rely on public or private assistance; the real wages of the largely Latino and African-American working class actually have dropped in the midst of the “boom.”

    In this dispiriting election year, no prominent California politician, left or right, has addressed seriously the collapse of the state’s dream of upwardly mobility. A problem this complex can’t be addressed by the party bromides — lower taxes by conservatives and more subsidies by progressives. The real problems lie with policies that keep housing prices high, an education system that is a disgrace, particularly for the poor, and a business climate so over-regulated that jobs can be created either in very elite sectors or in lower-paying service professions. Even in the Bay Area in coming decades regional agencies predict only one in five new jobs will be middle income; the rest will be at the lower end.

    Of course, this increasingly class-bound society could survive, as long as the economy stays on an even keel, so that the rich can pay the bulk of taxes. But this feudal California is neither economically or socially sustainable over the long term. A recent poll found that only 17 percent of Californians believe the state’s current generation is doing better than previous ones. More than 50 percent thought 18-30-year-old Californians were doing worse. Our research finds that a large percentage of Californians have virtually no discretionary money available, after taxes and reasonable living expenses are taken into consideration.

    This situation should be unacceptable no matter what one’s politics. There is no reason why Californians need to endure a crumbling infrastructure, pay outlandish housing and energy prices while paying high taxes, all to maintain an education system that is failing all too often. Rather than posture and scream, it would be better if California’s leaders focused instead on what is happening to our state and address aggressively the prospects for improving things for the next generation.

    Read "California Feudalism: The Squeeze on the Middle Class" here.

    This piece originally appeared in The Orange County Register.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Marshall Toplansky is Clinical Assistant Professor of Management Science at Chapman University. He is co-principal investigator, with Joel Kotkin on “The Orange County Model”, a demographic and econometric research project to identify growth strategies for that region. He is formerly Managing Director of KPMG’s national center of excellence in data and analytics, and is co-founder of Wise Window, a pioneer in sentiment analysis and the use of big data for predictive models. He lives in Orange, California.

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    A Manhattan Institute paper that I wrote earlier this year and presented in Akron is on the dos and don’ts of civic branding and is now available online. It’s part of our Urban Policy 2018 book as well. Here’s an excerpt:

    "This paper will use a traditional definition: At its most basic, a brand is a promise. Branding, by extension, is the act of managing that promise. Branding is a management practice.

    This deceptively simple statement is actually quite powerful. For example, when you make a promise, you promise something to someone. You don’t promise everything to everybody. You commit to delivering something specific. If you want your promise to have value, it has to be something at least relatively distinctive, something that everybody else isn’t already promising the other person. And when you make a promise, you have to keep it or else suffer a huge loss of credibility.

    The challenge of promising something unique is extremely difficult for cities. We see this from the observed fact that while most companies are trying their hardest to convince you of how much different and better they are than every other company in their industry, most cities are trying their hardest to convince you they are at least equal to the peer communities they most admire. Cities often promote the same basic assets their competitors promote, sometimes even with similar language. Thus, despite often touting their unique qualities, cities fail to differentiate themselves.

    Cities are not start ups. They already have residents, businesses, a history, a culture, a set of values—a brand, if you will. The attempt to radically shift a city from its existing brand to something else will appear inauthentic and fail. It will also send a subtle message to existing residents that there is no place for them in the future—that they are of less value than a new class of people the city wants to attract.

    So in addition to being distinct, brands need to be authentic. They need to speak to the people who already live in a city as well as to potential newcomers. They need to be an expression or a reflection of the history, heritage, and reality that already exist. To be sure, a city’s reality needs to continue to grow and evolve, and, at times, corporate brands need to be reinvented. But successful reinventions and evolutions generally try to stay true to the authentic core of the brand.

    This is even true in the fashion industry. When fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld revived Chanel in the early 1980s, he did so by drawing on inspiration from the firm’s archives. This became a model that others followed. As the New York Times stated, “Lagerfeld’s wildly successful echoing of Chanel’s history has become the blueprint for labels across the world. Today, designers use archival styles to anchor their individual aesthetics to a brand’s past.” By contrast, “New Coke” was one of the great rebranding flops in history. Coca-Cola is as American as apple pie. Changing such an iconic product was a betrayal of its brand promise. The company swiftly backtracked.

    In short, cities too often have decided that they need to replace their existing brand to copy another’s that they think is necessary in order to compete. This typically fails because a brand needs to promise something distinct. Harvard business professor Michael Porter puts it thus: “Competitive strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.”

    There’s nothing wrong with having bike lanes or coffee shops. But today, these things aren’t going to sell a city to businesses or potential residents.

    Yet these places almost certainly have characteristics that make them unique, though it may be difficult to identify and articulate what they are. Consider the state of Ohio. What is its identity, its brand? It isn’t easy to create characteristics that other midwestern states wouldn’t likewise claim for themselves. But visit Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland: it is immediately obvious that these are three very different cities, though it may not be easy to determine what exactly it is that makes each one unique.

    Unearthing that unique character requires digging deep into a place and its history, a task perhaps more suited to historians or journalists than to the corporate branding consultant. Consider the late sociologist E. Digby Baltzell of the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote an in-depth comparison of Boston and Philadelphia. As the title of his book, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia (1979) implies, Baltzell traced the identity and culture of each city back to the character of the religious groups that founded them. This deep historical analysis is something branding consultants rarely do."

    Click through to read the whole thing.

    Be sure to check out the end, where I include a list of various city marketing videos.

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

    Photo: Akron, Ohio by Sleepydre, Public Domain

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    The USA is now a net exporter of crude oil, with crude oil exports exceeding imports. This oil boom is beneficial to 49 states, but not to California. The American shale boom has important security implications as well, as America is now less dependent on crude oil from the turbulent Middle East, again, except for California.

    Even more impressive is the fact that the U.S. has now overtaken Saudi Arabia in recoverable oil reserves.

    California however is an “energy island” to its almost 40 million citizens, bordered between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The State has no pipelines over those mountains to access the oil shale boom, thus any crude oil needs from the rest of the country for California must to go through the Panama Canal to reach California ports. There are other options of crude oil by trucks or by railroads, but both have been overwhelmingly ruled out environmentally.

    This energy subject is about finding a workable, sustainable balance across equally important concerns for our economy, our shared sense of social equality, our impact on the environment, and a truly sustainable energy future.

    The state’s daily need to support its 145 airports (inclusive of 33 military, 10 major, and more than 100 general aviation) is 13 million gallons a day of aviation fuels. In addition, for the 35 million registered vehicles of which 90 percent are NOT EV’s are consuming DAILY: 10 million gallons a day of diesel and 42 million gallons a day of gasoline.

    Additionally, the crude oil is needed in California to support the other “stuff” of chemicals and by-products from crude oil that are the basis of 6,000 products from petroleum that are part of every infrastructure and virtually everything in our daily and leisurely lifestyles.

    With both California’s in-state production and imports from Alaska on a steady decline, California now relies on nine major foreign countries for the majority of its crude oil. Shockingly,California increased crude oil imports from foreign countries from 5% in 1992 to 56% in 2017.

    Many in California are working hard to produce hydrocarbon energy efficiently, reliably, and safely, and many others are working hard to develop alternative energy sources that will efficiently, reliably, and safely produce carbon neutral energy, but despite those appreciative efforts, our energy needs continue to grow with the growing populations of people, vehicles, and businesses.

    The latest data from the California Energy Commission (CEC), shows that California fuel consumption is at the highest level since 2009, thus continuation of the state’s dependency on foreign countries for the states’ energy needs seems to be the states future.

    In 2017, California imported crude oil from foreign countries at the rate of 354,119,000 barrels annually. The price that refiners are paying in California for that oil is the Brent Average Crude Oil Spot Price which was recently $75.36 per barrel for September 2018.

    Importing more than 354 million barrels of crude oil from foreign countries is costing California more than$26.6 billion annually at the current Brent spot price for oil.

    On a DAILY basis, importing more than 354 million barrels of crude oil annually costs California more than $73,000,000 per day. Those California dollars are being “EXPORTED” on a daily basis from California to Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Columbia, Iraq, Kuwait, Brazil, and Mexico and others.

    The volume of imported crude oil for 2018 is expected to be higher than 2017 because of the constant decline in California crude oil production, and the constant decline in imports from Alaska, thus, both the imported numbers of barrels from foreign countries and costs are increasing to fill the void.

    The 1,700 square-mileMonterey Shale, from the state’s central coast to its San Joaquin Valley, holds roughly 60 percent of the country’s estimated shale oil reserves. Yet, even though California is sitting on one of the largest shale reserves and ocean crude oil reserves in the country in the Monterrey Shale and Pacific Ocean, California’s reliance on crude oil imports from foreign countries is at 56% and increasing each year.

    In lieu of sending that money abroad to countries that are already oil rich, that money could have stayed in the state to be earned by hard-working, tax-paying Californians by accessing the huge reserves in-state.

    Rather than obtaining oil from foreign countries with less stringent environmental regulations than California, via air polluting ships delivering the crude oil, the State could be contributing to lessening world GHG emissions by increasing in-state production from the most environmentally regulated location in the world, from one of the largest crude oil reserves in the country.

    Oil from in-state reserves could provide Californians with affordable and reliable energy, and jobs, but California seems to be on a continuous path of importing crude oil from foreign countries and sending more than $73,000,000 of its dollars to oil rich nations on a DAILY basis.

    This piece originally appeared on

    Ronald Stein is Founder and Ambassador for Energy & Infrastructure at PTS Advance, a technical staffing agency headquartered in Irvine.

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    America is becoming less mobile than in the past, but there are some major metropolitan areas --- and areas within them --- that have fewer people move in and out than others. US households tend to live longer in their present residences where population growth has been more modest. The data also indicates that across all major metropolitan areas, households tend to have lived longer in suburbs and exurbs than in the urban core.

    The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) reports on the length of time that residents have been living at their current address. This article describes the length of residence tenure data, focusing principally on the 53 metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 residents. This includes the latest data (for 2017) at the metropolitan area level as well as the latest data at the small area level using the City Sector Model (Figure 12). This permits examination of length of residential tenure within major metropolitan areas.

    As of 2017, the median period of residence (tenure) in the United States was 7 years (Figure 1). Among those living in owner-occupied housing (those with and without mortgages), the median was 12 years, while among renters the median tenure was below two years (See Note 1, “Note on the data”).

    Major Metropolitan Area Data: All Households

    Among the major metropolitan areas, the longest median period of residence was in Pittsburgh, at 11 years. Pittsburgh’s long lengths of tenure are not surprising, in view of its lack of population growth. As presently defined geographically, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area had two percent less population in 2017 as in 1930 (See Note 2: Pittsburgh Population). This declining population base denied the metropolitan area the new residents that would have reduced its median residency period.

    Outside Pittsburgh, Buffalo had the slowest growth rate, at 25 percent from 1930. Buffalo is among the metropolitan areas with the second longest median residency, at nine years. Slow growing New York, Philadelphia and Hartford, also had medians of nine years. All of the 10 metropolitan areas with the longest residence medians were in the Northeast or the Midwest (Figure 2).

    The shortest median residence periods were all in the faster growing metropolitan areas of the South or the West Census Bureau regions. The shortest medians were in Las Vegas and Austin, both at four years. These two major metropolitan areas have been the fastest growing over the last two decades (Figure 3).

    Major Metropolitan Area Data: All Households

    As in the all households data, Pittsburgh has the longest median owner occupied residence periods, at 16 years. The home ownership data, unlike that of households, is not monopolized by the Northeast and Midwest, though the slow growing metropolitan areas of the Northeast and Midwest have 11 of the 14 longest medians. Los Angeles is in a five-way tie for second longest, at 15 years (Figure 4). It is also notable that San Jose, which has had 85 percent of its growth since 1950 and no pre-World War II urban core, ranks a seven way tie with a median of 13 years.

    The longest rental median was in New York at five years. Los Angeles and San Francisco each had a median of four years (Figure 5). All of the other 50 major metropolitan areas had a median rental tenure length of three years or less.

    City Sector Data

    The length of residency varies considerably, as indicated by the City Sector Model analysis (Figure 12). The ACS 2012/2016 survey (taken over five years, one-fifth in each year, with a middle-year of 2014) indicates a population weighted median of 7.0 years for all major metropolitan area residents. The shortest periods of residency are in the Urban Core, with 2.4 years in the CBD and 4.6 years in the Inner Ring. The suburban and Exurban residency periods are longer, ranging from 6.9 years to 8.8 years (Figure 6).

    These differences are largely driven by the ownership data, since the rental tenure lengths are fairly stable across the city sectors. The shortest median period of residency is among owners in the Urban Core: CBD is 6.8 years, well below the other four sectors (from 10.8 years to 13.4 years). Overall, home owners have been in their houses for a median of 12.1 years. Among renters, the medians are all between 2.0 and 2.2 years, except in the Exurbs, where the median reaches 2.5 years (Figure 7). This suggests that as people continue to move from the urban cores, where renting is more common, to the suburbs and exurbs, they are more likely to transition to home ownership. This is despite the popularity of substituting renting for buying among academics, urban planners and others.

    As is so often the case, New York stands out as an outlier. With a median residential tenure of 7.0, New York’s CBD is well above that of San Francisco (3.1) and Los Angeles (3.8) and more than double that of the other 50 major metropolitan areas (Figure 8). New York’s median tenure is also higher in each of the other city sectors, but the differences are less. (Figure 9).

    In the balance of the Urban Core, the Inner Ring, all of the longest medians in the Urban Core are in the East and Midwest, except for San Francisco (Figure 10). In the suburbs and exurbs, Pittsburgh has the longest residential tenure median, at 11.8 years, closely followed by New York (11.4) and Buffalo (11.2). All of the 10 longest suburban and exurban medians are in the East and Midwest (Figure 11).

    From the Transitional Urban Core to the Longer Tenures in the Suburbs and Exurbs

    Generally, residential tenure tends to be longer in metropolitan areas with slow growth and shorter in fast growing metropolitan areas. Within metropolitan areas, residential tenure tends to be shorter in the urban cores and especially in the central business districts. This reflects the greater incidence of renting in the urban core, a phenomenon that does not follow households to the suburbs.

    The Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey has long shown that people tend to move less frequently as they become older. The ACS data shows that residential tenures are the longest in the suburbs and exurbs, where most people live (86 percent) and which account for an even greater percent of the population growth since 2010 (91 percent). Residential tenures tend to be remarkably shorter in the urban core, particularly in the CBD. With households living only a median of 2.4 years in these areas, communities are necessarily more transitional. The opposite is true in the suburbs and exurbs, where people stay in their homes (and neighborhoods) longer.

    Note 1: Note on the data: The median is measured the middle, the point at which one-half of the residents have lived at the same address longer and the other half for a shorter period. ACS reports whole years, not differentiating periods within years. ACS does not differentiate among periods less than two years, which are simply shown as less than two years (as in Figure $$$).

    Note 2: Pittsburgh population: The Pittsburgh metropolitan area, as currently defined by the Office of Management and Budget, had 2.382 million residents in 1930 and 2.333 million in 2017. During the period, the area’s population rose to 2.769 million in 1960, and, concurrent with the virtual death-spiral of its signature steel industry, lost 300,000 residents by 2000.

    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 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. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

    Photograph: Neighborhood in city of Indianapolis

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    The Middle East may well be the birthplace of cities, and maybe capitalism itself, but for the most part, it continues to lag in developing a modern, workable urbanism. Yes, the region has produced high-tech hubs (e.g., Tel Aviv) and postmodern cities (e.g., Dubai), which can be regarded as rising international business centers, but it’s also home to megacities afflicted by mismanagement, poor planning, and some of the world’s highest unemployment rates. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, and many of the Gulf States, there is also a chronic shortage of homegrown labor willing to work.

    Yet for all their underperformance, Middle Eastern cities possess some things—rich histories, large working-age populations, and, in some cases, vast resources of energy and money—that could produce successes, much as we see already in China and India, which have risen from poverty in recent decades. What these countries have, and much of the Middle East lacks, is strong engagement in the global economy and openness to diverse cultures.

    In our report for Chapman University and the Civil Service College of Singapore, we placed only Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Cairo among the top 50 global cities. In contrast, North America, led by New York, put 11 cities on the list, as did Europe (with London and Paris in the lead); the Asia-Pacific region, led by Tokyo, added 13 cities. No other Muslim Middle Eastern city—including Bagdad, Damascus, and Tehran—comes close to making the grade as a significant global city.

    The Middle East doesn’t lack the trappings of global cities: by 2020, the region will boast three of the world’s five tallest towers—the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the Makkah Royal Clock Tower (Abraj Al-Bait Mall) in Mecca. Dubai is home to the world’s biggest airport and one of its largest port complexes. Nor does the Middle East lack for money; Qatar has the world’s highest per-capita income, while Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates also score above the United States. Per-capita incomes in Saudi Arabia and Israel exceed the European Union average.

    In some senses, the Middle East’s problem has been less one of underdevelopment than of lack of vision—putting greater emphasis on the aesthetics of modernity than on the practical aspects of what we call the human city. The region’s leaders—most notably Saudi Arabian Prince Mohammed bin Salman—seek to develop great cities that would challenge Dubai as world capitals and appeal to Westerners. Yet despite their bravado and intentions, cities like Medina (home to the Prophet’s mosque), which has been targeted by the central Saudi administration for development, have only the bare-bones necessities, such as airports and a new train system, but virtually none of the amenities that would encourage outsiders to work there for any period of time.

    Getting off the plane in Medina, Saudi Arabia’s fourth-largest city, one feels more like a time traveler than a visitor. New industrial and technology parks are going up, but one wonders how many skilled foreign workers would migrate to a region with virtually no good hotels or restaurants, and one not yet ready to accommodate non-Islamic residents—not to mention a political culture all too often rooted in authoritarian brutality, as the reported savage torture and murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has once again demonstrated.

    To become a center of successful urbanity, the Middle East needs to rediscover two great legacies from its past: marketplace culture and tolerance for outsiders. The earliest great cities—and empires—emerged as early as 5000 b.c. in places like Sumer and Babylon. The latter can reasonably be said to have grown by 1800 b.c. into the world’s first great city. It is in this glorious past that the roots of resurgence lie. The Middle East not only invented urbanism but also became the first place to experience capitalist innovation, notes author Nima Sanandaji in his new book, The Birthplace of Capitalism: The Middle East. He traces the world’s first capital markets, banks, artisanal industries, and long-distance traders to the region’s first great cosmopolitan cities. As Sanandaji notes, commerce led these cities to develop the world’s first accounting systems and written language, largely to keep records of trade.

    In classical times, Greek and Roman aristocrats held their noses about trade while Syrian and Jewish traders played dominant roles in imperial commerce. They continued to do so even after the Roman Empire fell, and well into the Middle Ages. “Iranians, Arabs, Turks, Jews, Kurds, Armenians and the myriad of people who inhabit the Middle East have widely different cultures,” Sanandaji notes. “Yet they are all dealers and hagglers, with market exchange almost encoded into their cultural DNA.”

    Sadly, this entrepreneurial orientation today is more evident outside the region than inside it. Wherever people from the Levant and North Africa settle, they shine as entrepreneurs. In the United States, Middle Easterners traditionally register among the highest start-up rates. Go anywhere the Mideast diaspora settles—Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, Edgware Road in London, the Detroit suburbs, Westwood, the San Fernando Valley, Anaheim and even parts of Germany—and observe how grassroots capitalism and entrepreneurship flourishes.

    At a time when Christianity largely disparaged enterprise, Islam embraced commerce and attempted to build a more equitable culture within it. This should not come as a surprise, since Muhammad was himself a merchant. As Mohammad Gharipour notes in his 2012 edited volume, The Bazaar in the Islamic City, Design, Culture, and History, “His [Mohammed’s] invitation to Medina was, to a large extent, a consequence of the investment of his first wife, Khadija, who had a reputation as a very successful merchant in Mecca.” However, Muhammad “introduced regulations based on an honest trade system to revive trade and close the distance between classes.”

    Rather than being hostile to the existing commercial culture, Islam built on older forms and extended them. Business connections grew in importance once the Muslim empire covered an expansive geography, extending from Western China to the Atlantic Ocean. The world of Islam, at its height, was large and connected enough to produce the first hints of globalization. As Baghdad became a knowledge center, and by 900 a.d. likely the world’s largest city, commerce fed the region’s complex political machine.

    Until the financial rise of the West, global wealth was largely concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa. No Western city could come close to Cairo’s qasaba, with 360 apartments, a permanent population of 4,000, and what the great traveler Ibn Battuta described as offering an astonishing “abundance and diversity of goods.” The livelihood of such major cities relied heavily on such commercial activity.

    Much of this occurred in the centuries before the Portuguese provided the world with a new commerce route around the Cape of Good Hope. Until then, Muslim merchants dominated the land routes (silk and spice roads), the key conduits of global commerce, with most traversing the Middle East. Before there ever was a London, Paris, or New York, there were Samarkand, Aleppo, and Mosul.

    The other great legacy, all too often ignored today, is tolerance. At a time when European Christian cities were hostile to outsiders, including Christians with differing views, Islamic cities thrived by welcoming people from outside Islam, and from differing Islamic countries. Jews, Armenians, Copts and other minorities settled in Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo. These were fundamentally cosmopolitan places.

    Though non-Muslims had to pay a jizyah, or head tax—loosely understood as a residency fee—they were, for the most part, able to survive, and even thrive, under Islamic rule. Muslims played important roles in non-Islamic countries, too. For example, the great Chinese Admiral Zeng He, who came from the Hui minority, embraced the Muslim faith and led the Ming Dynasty’s bold naval expansion in the fifteenth century.

    Similarly, non-Muslims occupied important posts even at the height of the caliphate and the Islamic empire. Many served as doctors, tradesmen, and even diplomats. The culture was open as well to influences, including those from classical Greece and Rome, forgotten or rejected in the Christian West. Some cities, like Cordoba in Spain, flourished as centers of diverse thought and poetry from Jewish and Christian authors, mostly written in Arabic.

    This tolerance linked the Mideast to Europe and the world beyond. Syrian Christians and Jews were particularly critical in this process; they could trade in the Muslim world with freedom, and often in greater safety, than in the Christian West. “The miracle of toleration,” as historian Fernand Braudel remarked about Renaissance Venice, existed “wherever the community of trade convened.”

    This culture persisted well into the last century, and exists, at least in people’s memories, to this day. Someone growing up in Iran in the 1960s, or cities like Damascus, Cairo, and Baghdad, lived in a Muslim-dominated culture but one enriched by longstanding Jewish and Christian communities. Before the establishment of the state of Israel, between 800,000 and 1 million Jews lived in Middle Eastern countries outside Palestine; Jews left these countries, mostly for Israel, France, and the United States. Today, only small residual populations, roughly one-tenth the size, with high proportions of elderly, remain. In 1910, Christians accounted for 13 percent of the Middle East’s population. Today, according to a recent study, their percentage has fallen to 4.2 percent and is slated to fall even further, to 3.2 percent, by 2025.

    Some, even in the Muslim world, have thought that the key to reviving Middle Eastern cities lies in imitating Western urban development. With the changes in the global economy, many of the traditional forms of local capitalism, especially the Middle Eastern bazaar, faced competition from more modern, globally connected firms. The modernization effort in Iran manifested in the creation of streets and boulevards that interrupted the bazaar’s spatial flow, symbolically highlighting the estrangement of the new government from these areas. Over the course of the twentieth century, this process gradually lessened the economic centrality of the bazaar to the national economy.

    Instead of nurturing their already-vibrant grassroots capitalism, many Middle Eastern countries put ever-greater controls on modern market forces. Starting in 1931, Iran’s government had begun to control foreign trade, regulating imports and exports and establishing exchange rates for the dollar and pound. Similarly, Egypt imposed tariffs on imported goods in 1930, with varying rates for different products. The ensuing economic progress was slow, particularly for countries without petroleum or minerals, or whose petroleum revenues were tightly controlled by Western nations, but these policies did plant the roots of modern consumption and a new class structure. A larger volume of petrodollars, particularly after 1973, fueled an economic boom that turned a handful of cities into international spectacles of consumption. In the process, though, these cities lost all the advantages of traditional cities—for example, the souk, streets that provided shade, and houses that took advantage of shade and wind to keep cooler. Instead, we’ve seen a pattern of unmitigated mimicry, with commerce and an often-incongruous architectural style, as epitomized by Dubai and other Persian Gulf States.

    Awareness has grown that this imported architectural style threatens many of the values that Middle Easterners hold dear. Some Saudi planners have become more interested in building “human” cities, hoping that cities like Riyadh could become more culturally rich, more amenable to families, and environmentally friendlier. There is serious discussion of abandoning the large building/high-density model favored by Western planners and architects, in favor of something that reflects more human values.

    Restoring the old entrepreneurial climate, free of state or oligarchical control, should be popular in a region whose primary religion was founded by a merchant and which boasts some of the world’s oldest business cultures. If there is such a thing as an institution in the Middle East and North Africa that has lasted across time, it is the bazaar, whose spatial manifestations persist to this day.

    There are some hopeful signs in the region. Tel Aviv has a thriving tech sector that has made it, according to the Startup Genome project, the sixth-richest entrepreneurial region in the world, ahead of Berlin, Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Seattle. Large U.S. tech companies—Google, Microsoft, Intel—invest there to harvest cutting-edge technology. An estimated 300 research and development centers operate in tiny Israel. There are also signs of an emerging startup scene in Dubai, a city with an airport second to none. The city’s hotels, beaches, and conference facilities are widely patronized by visitors from Russia, India and Europe. Modern and remarkably tolerant—as long as you don’t criticize royal authority—Dubai seeks to become an enterprising society. With reforms, other cities in the Middle East could similarly invest in a growing skilled and educated population, especially in countries like Iran and Libya.

    The Middle East, despite its many and seemingly endless conflicts, has a genuine opportunity to improve its urban future. It can best do so not by simply adding to its collection of modern and postmodern architectural baubles, but by returning to its commercial roots and its traditional culture of tolerance. Some loosening of social controls could make these cities more attractive to workers and investors without overwhelming the political order, as has been accomplished in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia. Mideast urban planners don’t need seminars in city-building from “experts” seeking to export the Western model. They need to embrace their own heritage first. Once they rediscover the advantages of tolerance and the power of their marketplace culture, they could create cities that will once again lure investors, workers, and visitors from around the world.

    This piece originally appeared in City Journal.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Ali Modarres is the director and Professor of Urban Studies at University of Washington, Tacoma. He formerly served as the editor-in-chief of Cities: The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning and has written on the role of bazaars in shaping the urban morphology of Middle Eastern cities.

    Photo: ארתור שמונק [CC BY 2.5 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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    Is the California Dream unraveling? Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky warn how California is headed towards an increasingly feudal future in their latest report, "California Feudalism: The Squeeze on the Middle Class." Click the link below to read the full study.

    California was built by people with aspirations, many of them lacking cultural polish or elite educations, but dedicated to hard work, innovation, family and community. A large number came from other countries or poor backgrounds: sharecroppers from the South, campesinos from Mexico, people fleeing communism and poverty in Asia, escapees from Hitler’s Europe or Okies and others fleeing the dust bowl.

    This proud legacy is threatened. California has now taken on an increasingly feudal cast, with a small but growing group of the ultra-rich, a diminishing middle class, and a large, rising segment of the population that is in or near poverty. Indeed, amidst some of the greatest accumulations of wealth in history, California has emerged as a leader in poverty, particularly among its minority and immigrant populations and throughout its interior.

    Something is clearly wrong with this picture. Yet our state leaders, and too many of our business and civic leaders, are convinced that California, far from being something of a cautionary tale, offers a great “role model” for the rest of the country.

    The state’s drift towards an ever more unequal, feudalized society, characterized by concentrated property ownership, persistent poverty levels, and demographic stagnation does not seem to concern our Sacramento leadership.

    What needs to change? If we want to again be a place of opportunity for all, we need to dial down California’s increasingly expensive, messianic land use and climate change policies, which have dramatically increased housing and energy costs, forcing individuals and companies elsewhere. This will allow us to develop more housing and middle-class jobs, especially in more affordable areas such as the Central Valley and the Inland Empire. A dramatic reform of our education system, which underserves our next generation, particularly in poor and minority communities, needs to be enacted. Other steps, like investing in basic infrastructure—roads, dams, electric transmission—could boost the flagging blue collar economy of the state.

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    The ship known as the American Republic sails on, but its crew is made up of irresponsible and vicious children cast from “Lord of the Flies.” Prisoners of their own emotions, they increasingly seem impervious to the notion that their gyrations might topple their own vessel.

    To be sure, exhibit one of infantilism in politics starts at the White House. At a time when President Trump could be laying out a case for his bold economic and foreign policies, he chooses all too often to focus on personalities, tweeting often inane, degrading and inappropriate venom at his critics.

    For some Republicans, Trump sadly has become a stylistic icon. Scott Wagner, a GOP candidate running for governor in Pennsylvania, for example, claimed he would drive “stomp all over” his opponents face with his “Golf spikes”. Such intemperate candidates cost the Republicans dearly during the tea party era and could so again.

    Romper room resistance

    Bad behavior at the top of the GOP should present a great opportunity for the Democratic Party rule. But instead its leaders seem to be experiencing a kind of emotional breakdown, expressing themselves in hysterical, and even inquisitorial, behaviors that could erode their electoral prospects.

    Whatever one thinks of the Kavanaugh hearings, it was not great advertising for turning the reins of power to them. From the beginning they made clear that they not only wanted to defeat Kavanaugh but hopefully to persecute him, largely for uncorroborated misbehavior over three decades old.

    As protesters swarmed the Senate hearing room, and activists stalk GOP officials, even out dining with their families, few Democrats seem even remotely interested in controlling their unruly shock troops. No prominent Democrat has managed to stage an equivalent of Bill Clinton’s Sister Soulja moment, when he denounced openly racist rhetoric from a popular rapper.

    Where’s the establishment?

    In the past, excesses on both sides would be restrained by a functioning establishment in each party. Americans historically dislike hierarchy, but an engaged class of patricians, party bosses and their associated intellectual wing people often managed to restrain their partisans from going too far from basic political norms.

    Two institutions now overwhelmingly controlled by progressives — the media and the academy — are increasingly seen as highly partisan. Yet as each of these have become identified almost exclusively with the agenda of the Democrats, they have lost popular influence, with approval ratings at historic lows. For its part the last remnants of the rogue pro-Trump media, notably Fox and the right-wing talkocracy, also seem to be talking largely to their own true believers.

    Needed: A patriotic common ground

    In the past American politics have been as heated, but outside of the Civil War, republican norms have held. Many northern Democrats rallied to support the war effort under Lincoln. President Franklin Roosevelt’s “court-packing” efforts were denounced by many in his own party. Rightist opponents of American intervention in the Second World War embraced our war effort once Pearl Harbor was attacked.

    Four decades later, Richard Nixon’s fate was sealed not by progressive Democrats but by moderates like North Carolina’s Sen. Sam Ervin and the conservative icon Barry Goldwater. Most Americans, after 9-11, rallied behind President Bush while, in the early days of the financial crisis, most Americans supported President Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy.

    In all those trying times, we had adult supervision in both parties loyal to the country’s traditions and the Constitution. Now we have a president clearly ignorant of democratic norms faced by an opposition that has contempt for them. On the left, increasingly, many want to subvert the Constitution, eliminating the Electoral College, reconstituting the Senate and packing the Supreme Court. A writer for the leftist Slate denounced the court as “historically repressive and presently expendable institution.” Others openly suggest that we would have been better off losing the Revolution to the British.

    It is tragic that progressivism is losing its once proud rootedness in American tradition. The often overtly post-patriotic rhetoric would have shocked great progressives like the Roosevelts, Harry Truman or John Kennedy, hard-edged nationalists all. The basic concept that we are a nation of communities, individuals and families is now being supplanted with the politically correct idea of being little more than various group identities. This is not a game winner. Four out of five Americans, including minorities, reject the political-correctness approach, according to one recent national survey. Barely 8 percent of the population identify as progressive activist.

    Conservatives face a similar danger. Only a decided minority of Americans call themselves a conservative, so their future lies in moving to more middle of the road voters. Republicans and conservatives should not, as they increasingly do, back off criticism of Trump when he makes vile statements about opponents, immigrants or women — all critical to the party’s future. Sometimes the infantile 70-something needs to be taken to the rhetorical woodshed, and damn the tweets.

    Until our political elites restore some sort of political or moral center, the nation’s political culture will continue to deteriorate. A hugely powerful nation that is armed to the teeth and ruled by a bratocracy is a threat not just to itself but the world.

    This piece originally appeared in The Orange County Register.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo: Michael Vadon [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

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    All 7.8 billion on this planet want affordable, scalable, reliable electricity. And for countries like the United States, China, India, most of Africa and the European Union (EU) the cheapest way to produce electrons is by burning coal. Carbon dioxide emissions are rising because the world will need more energy in the decades ahead in order to raise the living standard for the 1.3 billion people living in energy poverty according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). This poverty is particularly acute in Africa; and the above-mentioned nations and continents are using coal to escape this crippling poverty.

    Though coal surely deserves much of the criticism that it gets, it has become the de facto standard for electricity generation. The reality is that coal – even with its many negative attributes – continues being the fuel of choice because it is abundant, low-cost and the over 1,600 new coal-fired power plants currently being built globally generate tremendous economic activity.

    Turning to oil, nothing powers economies the way refined oil does; oil can be turned into an array of products: cosmetics, athletic equipment, shoelaces, bowling balls, milk jugs, medications and most importantly aviation, diesel and gasoline fuels. In short, oil may be the single most flexible substance ever discovered since over 6,000 products come from oil and petroleum products.

    The two prime movers that have done more for the cause of globalization are the diesel engine and the jet turbine. Both get their fuels from oil and without this fuel transportation and commerce return to the pre-Industrial revolution age.

    Renewables, such as solar, wind, and biofuels, require taxpayer financial subsidies, need significant fossil fuel resources because of their intermittent nature and require countryside-devouring land mass sprawl due to their low-power density to produce significant power, i.e., precious land that will be required to feed the billions on this earth. On a planet where a child under the age ten dies of hunger every five minutes, to hijack land used to grow crops constitutes a crime against humanity.

    Basic math tells us that intermittent electricity from the huge land mass requirements of wind and solar are driving up the cost of electricity. California households are already paying about 40 percent more than the national average for electricity according to 2016 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    With all the world’s efforts to protect life and endangered species, United States wind farms are killing hundreds of thousands of birds, eagles, hawks, and bats every year, and it’s appalling that society has given the wind industry a FREE get-out-of-jail card!

    There’s no question that other sources of energy – particularly natural gas and nuclear – can provide large amounts of electric power without putting pollutants into the atmosphere. The International Energy Agency has estimated that at current global rates of consumption, there’s enough gas to last 250 years. Gas is not only abundant, it is super abundant (over 90 years worth of natural gas in the US according to the US Energy Information Administration), clean, flexible, and creates over 3 million jobs and billions in tax revenues yearly. However, regarding nuclear, the antinuclear Left wants to kill it. When looking at energy production, nuclear is superior to other forms of energy because of its unsurpassed power density, i.e., the most energy on the least land.

    Today there are about 450 nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries. Additionally, there are 140 nuclear powered ships that have accumulated 12,000 reactor years of “safe” marine operation. While California has chosen to have no zero emission nuclear power capacity, worldwide is increasing steadily its nuclear power generating capacity with more than 50 reactors currently under construction. China has launched the most aggressive nuclear program on the planet, with plans to add about 150 new nuclear reactors to its fleet, and about 300 more are proposed.

    Nationwide, nuclear accounts for about 20% of generated electricity. But California is eliminating its only remaining nuclear power plant by shutting down Diablo Canyon in 2024, which will eliminate 9% of today’s electricity from the grid. Thus, California ratepayers’ electrical needs will more heavily rely on unreliable, intermittent electricity from solar and wind to meet energy requirements.

    The government has financed the US space program ever since President Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon. Initiating the program was too expensive for private industry, thus the requirement for governmental financial help to develop the technologies that were the basis for the future. NASA’s achievements have been extremely successful – not only for man’s technical achievements – but for mankind in general. That success has also gone through many trials and failures – and in some case – fatalities during that learning process.

    Like the space program, the staggering upfront price tag for nuclear reactors would necessitate significant need for government involvement to provide the scale of energy we demand at prices we can afford. Our future prosperity depends on low-cost, abundant, scalable supplies of electricity. Nuclear’s power-density advantages and life span simply cannot be denied.

    Policies that promote low-density, expensive energy are destined to fail because they ignore both physics and economics. Promoting these subsidy-dependent sources, crusaders have given momentum to landscape-destroying energy projects that can supply only a tiny fraction of the US’ and World’s energy needs, as reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

    This piece originally appeared on

    Ronald Stein is Founder and Ambassador for Energy & Infrastructure at PTS Advance, a technical staffing agency headquartered in Irvine.

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  • 10/23/18--22:33: Inputs vs. Outputs
  • An article in CityLab purports to show “why public transit works better outside the U.S.” However, it never actually demonstrates that public transit does work better in other countries; it merely shows that governments have attempted to make it work better.

    Many American visitors to major European cities come away thinking that transit works great in Europe. Travelers can reach most major tourist attractions by taking trains between cities and metros and trams within cities. But they are necessarily constricting themselves to a small slice of life on the continent, and the reality is that Europeans don’t use transit all that much more than Americans do.

    The CityLab article by Jonathan English argues that, whereas Levittown and other American postwar suburbs were auto-centric, European governments required that suburbs there be built around rail stations. In other words, where the U.S. government gave people the freedom to live the way they wanted, European politicians felt it was their duty to socially engineer people’s lifestyles.

    Back around 1900 or 1910, American developers knew that access to a streetcar or rapid transit line was crucial for the success of their developments. But by 1920, auto ownership had grown so much that transit was no longer important. A developer once told me that he would rather have no transit access to his development because the transit lines brought in vandals and burglars. The notion today that transit stimulates economic development is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy: when new transit lines are built, planners rezone areas around the stations for higher densities and offer subsidies if there is no market demand, so developers build in those areas.

    For some reason, English thinks it is important to mention that, in 1960, Switzerland’s auto ownership rate was only one-fourth that of the United States. He neglects to add that, despite all of the emphasis on transit, auto ownership and auto driving exploded in European cities after 1960, whereas transit ridership remained flat. As of 2016, Switzerland had 524 automobiles (including cars and light trucks) per 1,000 residents, about 70 percent of the United States average of 760 autos per 1,000 — well over a quarter. (I calculated the U.S. number from Highway Statistics tables MV-1, which shows cars, and MV-9, which breaks out light trucks, and divided by the Census Bureau’s population estimate for 2016.)

    Germany and Italy have even higher numbers of automobiles per capita than Switzerland. So if post-war European policies were so successful at making transit work, why did people nearly triple their auto ownership rates?

    The greatest indictment against European transit policies can be found in the Panorama of Transport published by the European Union in 2006. As the Antiplanner has previously shown here, this document reveals that Europeans ride buses (including both intercity and urban) about 80 miles more per year than Americans and they ride urban trams and metros (what we call light rail and heavy rail) about 55 miles more per year than Americans. That’s not much especially considering that about three times as many European cities have tram and/or metro lines than American cities.

    The big differences between Europe and the U.S. were intercity trains and driving. Europeans rode trains about ten times as many miles per year as Americans — roughly 400 vs. 40. But the difference is small compared to the fact that the average American travels nearly 8,000 more passenger miles by auto than the average European. Transit advocates say that European cities are so well designed that they don’t need to travel as much, but it’s hard to imagine that design alone can reduce travel needs by two thirds. It is more likely that Europe’s high fuel taxes have heavily suppressed total intercity travel.

    Despite the huge difference in the amount of driving, Europeans still drive for 75 percent of their travel, compared with 85 percent in the United States. If urban bus travel is the same proportion of total bus travel as it is for rail travel, then urban transit provides about 3 percent of passenger transportation in Europe, compared with 1 percent in the U.S. Yes, that’s more, but the difference is mainly due to the suppression of auto travel, not the increase in transit travel.

    The problem comes down to the transit industry’s usual focus on inputs rather than outputs. Transit agencies want American taxpayers to increase their budgets and prestige by subsidizing more inputs in the form of transit infrastructure even if it doesn’t result in more outputs in the form of travel riders or overall mobility. Transit advocates such as English have fallen for this argument when they should be looking at what works and what doesn’t work for transportation users.

    This piece first appeared on The Antiplanner.

    Randal O’Toole ( is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of the new book, Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need, which will be released by the Cato Institute on October 10.

    Photo: Pline [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5 ], from Wikimedia Commons

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  • 10/24/18--22:33: One Nation, Two Economies
  • Almost all news coverage of the current election season has focused on cultural issues such as gender, race, and immigration. What the media have missed are deep socioeconomic trends driving parts of the country in divergent political directions. President Trump has overseen a significant transformation in the geography of the nation’s growth and prosperity. Instead of clustering along the coasts—as many progressives may have preferred—the nation’s economic expansion is now increasingly benefiting red states, notably in the southeast, Texas, and the intermountain West.

    Indeed, according to the most recent Bureau of Economic Advisors report, income growth is strongest in pro-Trump states. In the first quarter of 2018, the income-growth leader by far was Texas, with 6 percent growth, followed by Louisiana, North Dakota, Montana, Arkansas, and Iowa. All are growing faster, often considerably faster, than liberal states like California, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts, and New York.

    Strong wage growth in blue-collar sectors helps red states, while a weaker stock market threatens high-income coastal economies. Some of the same urban areas that benefited most under President Obama’s tepid recovery now show signs of languishing. By the end of last year, key metro areas including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston were falling behind competitors like Nashville, Orlando, Phoenix, Dallas, and Salt Lake City. The Bay Area economies, which ranked in the top five for income growth over the last decade, ranked 15th and 16th last year. Tech and business-service growth, though still strong in Silicon Valley, is now much more rapid in Sunbelt hotspots.

    Read the entire piece at City Journal.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo: Bill Jacobus, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    The United States is rated as the world’s most competitive economy according to the Global Competitiveness Report 2018, which is published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). The World Economic Forum sponsors the well publicized and invitation only annual meeting at Davos, in the Swiss Alps each winter.

    The Global Competitiveness Report ranks 140 world economies on 98 indicators, 54 of which are derived from actual data and 44 that are from the WEF’s Executive Opinion Survey. An overall score is calculated from the 98 indicators, which are classified in 12 Pillars (“subjects”), with overall scores reported for each indicator and each pillar. The 12 Pillars are described in detail here (Figure 1). The Report ranks economies based upon an ideal (the “competitiveness frontier”).

    United States: The Global Competitiveness Report summarizes the United States as “the closest economy to the frontier, the ideal state, where a country would obtain the perfect score on every component of the index. With a competitiveness score of 85.6, it is 14 points away from the frontier mark of 100, implying that even the top-ranked economy among the 140 has room for improvement.”

    The United States had topped the Global Competitiveness Report last in 2008 and has been rated as low as 7th since then. Last year’s report placed the US at second, though an analysis using this year’s revised methodology determined that the US would have ranked first last year as well. This year, the US leads in three of the 12 Pillars, Labor Market, Financial System, and Business Dynamism. The United States ranked third or better in 8 of the 12 Pillars.

    Singapore: Singapore ranked second overall, with a score of 83.5, having typically placed either second or third in most years of the last decade. Singapore also led in three of the 12 Pillars, Infrastructure, Product Market, and Health (a four way tie). Singapore ranked third or better in 6 of the 12 Pillars. Singapore has developed a reputation for good government, something reaffirmed by its top rating in Public Sector Performance. Singapore also placed at the top in two indicators (within the “Institutions” pillar) that contribute disproportionately to wealth creation and business competitiveness, with the lowest “Burden of Government Regulation” and the highest rated “Efficiency of the Legal System in Settling Disputes.”

    Germany: Germany’s 82.8 score earned a third placed rating, and improvement from 5th place last year. Germany ranked first in Innovation Capability, and Macroeconomic Stability (a 31 way tie). Germany ranked in the top three in four of the 12 Pillars.

    Switzerland: Switzerland dropped to fourth place, after having ranked first every year since 2009. Switzerland’s drop of three places was the largest of any top 10 economy. Switzerland did not rank first in any of the 12 Pillars, but placed in the top three in four of the 12 Pillars.

    Japan: In contrast, Japan experienced the largest improvement among the top ten, moving from 9th place last year to 5th place in 2018. Japan was rated in a four way tie for the top position in Health and is rated in the top three in the 12 Pillars.

    Other Top Rated Economies: The balance of the top ten included (6) the Netherlands, (7) China’s Hong Kong (8) the United Kingdom (9) Sweden and (10) Denmark (Figure 2). Canada (12), Australia (14) and New Zealand (18) also scored well.

    Other nations with large numbers of readers also did well. Consistent with its long-standing reputation for good government and corporate governance, New Zealand drew the top rating in the “Institutions” Pillar. Canada and Australia were among the 31 economies tied for top place in Macroeconomic Stability.

    The balance of the article describes two of the “Pillars” that are particularly strong contributors to competitiveness, labor markets and infrastructure.

    Labor Market Indicators

    Flexible labor markets enable more competitive markets and generally result in lower product prices for consumers. Consistent with its top overall ranking, the United States captured the number one rank as Labor Market Pillar. Switzerland and Singapore, both ranked in the top four economies overall rank second and third in the Labor Market Pillar, followed by New Zealand and Denmark. Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Iceland and the Netherlands round out the top 10 (Figure 3).


    There have been a number of public policy reports decrying the state of US transportation infrastructure. Yet, WEF rates US infrastructure well. Overall, the United States has the 9th best Infrastructure Pillar rating in the world (Figure 4). Within the category, the US ranks first in road connectivity, which is defined as “Average speed and straightness of a driving itinerary connecting the 10 or more largest cities that together account for at least 15 percent of the economy's total population.” An 11th ranking in “quality of roads” would be surprising based upon the frequent criticism US road conditions. The US is also in an 8 way tie in airport connectivity.

    Singapore has the best overall Infrastructure Pillar ranking, followed by Hong Kong (China).

    Competitiveness: Not a Zero-Sum Game

    The Global Competitiveness Report is huge and this article can provide only highlights. Readers interested in further information can access the entire report (here), the ratings by indicator (here) and profiles of national economies (here). The World Economic Forum has designed what may be the most comprehensive international tool for assessing economic performance. Citizens of nations around the world would be well served by approaches that pay close attention to performance indicators and drivers, such as are highlighted in the Global Competitiveness Report. WEF suggests that the “goalpost for each indicator (100) … typically represents a policy target. Each country should aim to maximize its score on each indicator.” Further, WEF suggests an optimistic tone, that “This approach emphasizes that competitiveness is not a not a zero-sum game between countries—it is achievable for all countries.”

    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 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. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

    Photograph: Swiss Alps, by author.

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    Among my many friends here in San Francisco is a guy who works in the field of affordable housing. In the parlance of the profession he identifies and empowers stakeholders to work synergistically to blah, blah, blah. He’s basically the lubricant in an immensely complex collection of processes involving public and private actors who are all at odds with each other. One of his recent “successes” was a dozen below market apartments for seniors in a third tier suburb of a second tier city in another state that required many years and a dozen separate funding sources. If his goal is to help create meaningful amounts of genuinely affordable housing he doesn’t think the existing culture allows that to happen. He’s contemplating a career change.

    As it happens, he recently got a notice from the company that manages and partly owns the building he lives in. The property is being sold. He had observed over the last couple of years that as old tenants moved out new ones weren’t moving in. The management was letting the place slowly empty out by attrition. In a location with spectacularly high demand and shockingly high rents the most likely explanation was confirmed by the notice. The building is more valuable if it’s delivered in a semi vacant condition rather than burdened with tenants.

    Prado Group - Positive Evolution from Prado Group on Vimeo.

    The immediate neighborhood is peppered with projects that were built by this same company, most of which were constructed on old parking lots, used car dealerships, and defunct gas stations. I’m in favor of these projects and believe they’ve added to the housing stock and have been a positive contribution to the city. But they’re crazy expensive. There’s simply no way to build meaningful amounts of affordable housing in this location at this time. Land is too expensive. The ten plus year permit approval process is mind-numbingly difficult and expensive. The endless lawsuits and litigation are too expensive. The cost of labor and construction materials are too expensive. And none of that is the fault of the developers.

    My friend’s response has been measured and pragmatic. He understands the law and how these things tend to play out. Nothing will be happening right away. He’s speaking with the other tenants, gathering information about the trajectory of the property, and making sure he has a Plan B if he should need to move at some point. He’s also looking for opportunities to benefit from the transition, which is a distinct possibility. The easiest way to get existing tenants out is to pay them to leave. There’s also a general feeling in the city that real estate is in a bubble and when it pops things will calm down.

    Cut to another friend a few blocks away. She had been living in a massive flat with four large bedrooms, two baths, formal dining room, two fireplaces, an entry hall larger than my entire apartment, and a charming back garden which she lovingly tended. She’s in her sixties and enjoyed the wonders of rent control for many years. Then her landlady died, the building sold in a matter of days, and the inevitable eviction notice arrived.

    For years I had been asking her what she was going to do when (not if) she had to leave. What was her Plan B? She refused to acknowledge the reality of her situation. There was no way she would ever find this kind of property at that price in this location ever again. As a senior she was a protected class of tenant. She had rights. There was the Legal Aid Society. The Tenants Union. She did exactly nothing.

    Nearly a year later the day finally came when representatives of the new owner arrived with building contractors and a renovation expert to size up the space. I was there to help my friend pack her belongings. What goes to charity? What is to be sold? What is precious and must be kept? She couldn’t function and began to sob. Things went downhill from there. I wasn’t especially kind to her in the end. She needed to focus on the pragmatic task at hand, but she wasn’t able to deal with external reality. I lost patience. I left after she snapped at me once too often. We haven’t spoken since. Shrug.

    The building is well on its way to being transformed. I have no doubt the place will be amazing when it’s finished – for whoever can afford it. My friend is gone. Gone from the building. Gone from San Francisco. Gone from California. Gone. Last I heard she was renting a bedroom from an old friend in Maine. I hope she’s happy there.

    We don’t have a choice about what’s happening in the economy. And we don’t have a choice about the political landscape. But we do have the ability to respond to our situations in ways that deliver the best possible results – even if the “best” options aren’t as good as what we’re leaving behind.

    This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

    John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.

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    Once upon a time, the California Republican Party was a fearsome political instrument, forging the ground for two presidents. But today the California GOP is fighting rearguard actions to save its last remaining seats in once solidly Republican strongholds. Orange, San Diego and even inland California, are potentially costing them upward of seven House seats.

    The party is now so pathetic that a top party official crowed that GOP gubernatorial candidate John Cox might be “within 10 points” to the inevitable winner, Gavin Newsom. No doubt the architects of the earlier glory days like Stuart Spencer, Mike Deaver or Pete Hannaford would find this situation unbearable.

    What California needs is not a new Republican Party — at least at the state level — but what the late Kevin Starr called “the Party of California.” This party would target the growing independent constituency, now larger than Republicans, as well as Democrats who might be disaffected by their party’s relentless move to the left.

    Roots of a one-party state

    The roots of the Republican collapse lie largely in demographics: the steady loss of middle-class, middle-aged families, and the massive immigration of the 1980s and 1990s, which shifted the state’s ethnic profile. In 2012, the California electorate was barely half non-Latino white, but by 2030 it will drop closer to 40 percent. Some Republicans, including strong Asian-American candidates in Orange County, have made some breakthrough but overall this is ever more the party of aging white males.

    Economic changes have also played a role. California’s growth engine now rests almost entirely on tech oligarchs, large funders and, increasingly, media enforcers for the progressive agenda — at least as far as it does not threaten their vast wealth. The parts of the California economy that once backed the GOP, such as aerospace, oil and gas and suburban homebuilding, have fallen into a long-term secular decline.

    Much of the media, and virtually all progressive activists, will consider the collapse of the GOP as a positive development. Yet for Californians as a whole, one-party rule — as is usually the case — has engendered a growing disconnect between the political elites and the aspirations of electorate.

    Time for a Party of California

    If we had a functioning two-party system, California’s insane climate jihad — which has served to weaken most blue-collar sectors and boosted energy and home prices — would be reevaluated based on economic impacts as opposed to increasingly stepped up. Gov. Jerry Brown’s high-speed choo-choo would likely be abandoned or scaled back out of sheer embarrassment.

    But now California’s Democratic activists face few brakes on their power. They can, and often do, impose whatever controls on people’s lives and thoughts as possible, with little concern with push-back from the impacted masses.

    To stop this neo-Stalinist momentum, we need an opposition that does not carry the GOP’s toxic legacy on issues relating to gays, minorities and immigrants. Running a wealthy, carpetbagging, visionless non-entity like John Cox, who speaks mostly to the aging Reagan constituencies, seems a poor way to change perceptions.

    What would the Party of California stand for?

    This new party should not become some “third way” front for the super-rich and their technocratic approach to politics. It could even take some pages from Trump’s book of economic nationalism and populism, but throw away the arguably xenophobic excesses associated with the chief executive, a very unpopular figure in the state. Instead it would focus heavily on those parts of the state — pretty much everywhere outside Silicon Valley and fashionable coastal communities in Southern California — that have seen little high-wage job growth, and growing poverty under the current regime.

    What would a Party of California favor? It would stand for local control, which has support from about 70 percent of voters, according to a new USC Dornsife poll, and oppose the top-down policies favored by the state’s planning clerisy. The party might allow poorer areas, particularly in the interior, to increase their competitiveness by opting out of some of the fashionable progressive lunacy imposed by the Bay Area-dominated political class.

    This new party would embrace California’s obligations on the environment, but at a level congruent with policies adopted by most foreign competitors. It would seek ways to employ the very technologies developed here to make our suburbs and rural areas more sustainable. The current policy of “pack and stack,” favored by the planners, means simply higher prices and fewer residences that appeal to families.

    There are some promising signs. For all the inevitability of more progressive gains, two candidates, charter school advocate Marshall Tuck for superintendent of education, and tech executive Steve Poizner, running for insurance commissioner with “No Party Preference,” seem likely to either win or get in striking distance.

    These candidates, particularly should they win, could pave the way for others to consider running outside the two established parties. The GOP, hopelessly addicted to its declining base, cannot accomplish this, but an emergent Party of California might do the trick.

    This piece originally appeared in The Orange County Register.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo: SCUMATT [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    Carmel, Indiana is an upscale business suburb of Indianapolis that I’ve written about previously, noting them as a paradigm of the new aspirational suburb. Strong Towns and Charles Marohn have been critics of Carmel, mostly because of that city’s billion dollars in debt (on a population of 93,000).

    I recently joined Chuck for an hour on the Strong Towns podcast for a conversation with him in which I give my mostly positive take on what Carmel is doing. It’s now posted over at the Strong Towns podcast. If the audio player doesn’t display for you, click over to listen on Strong Towns.

    Here’s their description of our conversation:

    Carmel’s gamble, Renn says, is a response to the Growth Ponzi Scheme that Strong Towns diagnoses, in which suburbs lose their allure after a generation, wealthy residents skip town for the next suburb out, and those older suburbs find themselves unable to pay for infrastructure maintenance and services. But rather than adopt the Strong Towns approach of incremental development, Carmel has gone the opposite direction. Renn summarizes the Carmel mindset:

    “We are actually going to invest into producing actual high-quality, urban amenities, infrastructure, etc. while we are in our growth phase, so that when we are complete, we have an essentially unreplicable environment that will retain its allure in a way that these earlier generations [of suburbia] didn’t.”

    Carmel’s bid is to permanently be a premier suburb of Indianapolis, and to offer the amenities that can attract a surgeon, a high-powered attorney, or an executive at a company like Eli Lilly. It’s also aiming to be a place that can compete with the lifestyle offered by upscale enclaves in coastal cities.

    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,, 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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    According to an October 21, 2018 Los Angeles Times article, experts “agree that the fundamental issue underlying the state’s housing crisis is that there are not enough homes.” In contrast, according to the article, is that “the public doesn’t believe it.” Only 13 percent of registered voters cited “too little homebuilding” as a principal reason for California’s housing unaffordability, in a USC/Dornsife Los Angeles Times poll.

    The ultimate cause of California’s housing crisis is more than just not enough houses. More precisely, it is not enough houses that can be afforded by a shrinking middle-class, while the cost of affordable housing for low-income households has become insanely prohibitive for taxpayers (below). There may be no better proof than the fact that many households are “doubling up” (a term coined by the Census Bureau to describe sharing of houses by two households) --- a phenomena far more common in places like Southern California or Silicon Valley’s San Jose metropolitan area than in the rest of the country. (Note 1).

    The housing affordability problem in California cannot be solved unless its causes are understood. This article outlines the fundamental causes.

    (1) Middle-Income Housing Affordability

    It is beyond comprehension that California’s many nominally affluent middle-income households have been priced out of the market, while similar incomes elsewhere are enough to purchase larger and better houses.

    Construction Costs are Not the Problem: Construction costs are not the problem. In fact building a house (excluding the land) in California is just a little more expensive than elsewhere. For example, the construction costs for a new 2,500 square foot house in the Atlanta suburbs are only about 10% less than for the same house in the San Francisco metropolitan area suburbs, based on calculations from (Figure 1). Astoundingly, when adjusted for incomes, construction costs are about 30 percent lower in San Francisco than in Atlanta (Figure 2).

    Yet San Francisco area house prices are nearly triple those of Atlanta, and this is after accounting for San Francisco’s higher income. Similar comparisons show California prices to be far higher than virtually all markets across the nation. Further, Atlanta’s houses are on lots three times the size in San Francisco, according to the American Housing Survey (Figure 3).

    The Problem - Exorbitant Land Costs: All of the house cost difference --- and then some --- is land. Indeed, California is so expensive that if builders sold camping tents as houses, they would still be unaffordable because of the costly land underneath.

    In urban areas, land tends to be the least expensive per acre on the urban fringe, where housing meets rural, largely agricultural, areas. Land values increase toward the urban core and commercial centers. Since World War II, land, like labor and materials, was priced in a competitive market. Generally, the land cost including infrastructure represented 20% of the price of a new house and lot, both nationally and in California. But that has changed radically in California as the price of land (as opposed to construction) have virtually exploded. For example, in the San Jose metropolitan area, land values have reached $925,000, 77% of the cost of a house.

    Why Land Costs are so High: California’s high land prices can be largely traced to its environmental and land use regulations --- notably called “urban containment” --- that have driven up land prices and even outlawed new houses on perfectly developable urban fringe areas. The land on which houses are allowed is quickly snapped up by developers where artificial scarcity creates much higher prices. The higher land costs are natural consequence of supply that falls far short of demand.

    Urban growth boundaries (UGBs) are a principal strategy of urban containment, and are intended to reduce or stop the expansion of urban areas. According to the economic and planning literature, UGBs increase the value of land within the contained urban area. This reality is indicated by research showing that land values per acre for adjacent comparable properties can jump 10 times (1,000 percent) or more at an urban growth boundary (Figure 4).

    Planners and other advocates of urban containment believed that their strategies increase densities, while sufficiently reducing the land cost per unit to keep housing affordable. It has not worked out that way and not even close --- not in California, and not in other markets with urban containment policy, such as Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, London, Auckland along with Liverpool and virtually all of England’s economically depressed Midlands and North.

    Before all else, land prices must come down to restore middle-income housing affordability.

    (2) Low-Income Affordable Housing:

    The impact on low-income households has been at least as destructive. Outrageously, rich California has the highest housing cost adjusted poverty rate in the nation, well above Mississippi and West Virginia, long known for high poverty rates.

    A consequence of the housing crisis is indicated by the California Housing Partnership Corporation estimate that 1.5 million additional subsidized houses are needed in the state.

    Proposition 1, the affordable housing referendum with $2 billion for affordable housing, which at an average cost of $425,000 could build a maximum of 4,600 houses. At least 300 more identical ballot measures would be required to solve the problem. Obviously that is not going to happen. Make no mistake about it, the lucky few receiving the new houses would benefit greatly. But it would be misleading to characterize Proposition 1 as anything more than a “drop in the bucket.” This problem is beyond the power of the state to solve itself; there needs to be a more market-based solution.

    Eligibility for low income housing is based on the ratio of housing costs to income. California’s high housing costs produce a much greater need for subsidized housing. There is probably no surer way to reduce the cost of subsidized housing to levels practical for taxpayer support than to improve housing affordability for middle-income households. For example, if California’s housing affordability were at the level of Colorado’s (itself an expensive state), the need for subsidized housing likely would reduced by least 200,000 units. California has a need for three times as many new subsidized houses as Texas (using the same methodology), despite having a higher income. (Note 2).

    Less Expensive Land: The Key to Solving California’s Housing Crisis

    Without reform, housing affordability and the challenge of financing subsidized housing is likely to worsen over time,. This routinely occurs when demand exceeds supply. The price of land is the key. California’s housing crisis cannot be solved without reforms that restore a competitive land market, reducing the price of new houses on the urban fringe and obviously allowing their construction.

    Urban fringe development need not be at the low densities of suburban Atlanta or New York. California has the densest urbanization in the nation (Figure 5). Indeed, Los Angeles suburbs are nearly twice as dense as those of New York City. Appropriately reformed regulations could maintain California’s high urban densities, while allowing housing to be built on competitively priced land, substantially improving housing affordability, and reducing the need for subsidized housing. The result would be a significant improvement in the quality of life for most Californians, which is undeniably a principal purpose of government.

    Note 1: The 2017 American Community Survey indicates that 680,000 families in the state are “subfamilies,” defined as families that live in houses owned or rented by other related households. Thus, there is a total of 1,360,000 households that include the 680,000 subfamilies and the 680,000 households with whom they share. The city of Los Angeles has 1,385,000 occupied housing units, slightly more than the state total of sharing households (also see the Census Bureau article: “Households Doubling Up”).

    Note 2: The California Housing Partnership Corporation estimate of the affordable housing unit need is based on the number of households with housing costs amounting to 50% or more of their income. ACS 2017 data indicates that Colorado has 14% fewer households paying 50% or more of their income on housing than California. In California, this would be a reduction of more than 200,000 households.

    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 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. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

    Photograph: Suburbs (Upland and Ontario) in the densest major urban area in the United States (Los Angeles), by author.

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    Urban planning guru says driverless cars won’t fix congestion,” says the New York Times. Naturally, the Times is referring to Peter Calthorpe, one of the few people who might be considered an urban planning guru and the one who has the most to lose if driverless cars are successful.

    In the 1980s, Calthorpe developed a vision of what cities should be like. That vision combined the five-story apartments in Greenwich Village, which was built in the 1890s and praised in Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book, the Death and Life of Great American Cities, with the idea of jobs and dense housing being located in regional and town centers scattered around the urban area, which was the way cities were built in the 1920s. Each of the centers, Calthorpe thought, would be walkable like Greenwich Village and the centers would be connected with one another by mass transit such as light rail.

    In other words, Calthorpe’s vision was already 60 to 90 years out of date when he thought it up. It is even more out of date today. In most urban areas, only about 30 percent of jobs are located in various centers, with the other 70 percent scattered finely across the landscape and virtually inaccessible to mass transit.

    Of course, Calthorpe decries the modern city as “sprawl.” Now, driverless cars come along and Calthorpe sees that they are likely to promote even more sprawl and threaten his vision. Contrary to the New York Times article, Calthorpe admits (in an article written last year in Urban Land) that driverless cars will allow people to escape congestion by living further away from urban centers — more sprawl.

    For Calthorpe, autonomy is acceptable only if it reinforces, not threatens, his vision. So he supports driverless buses and driverless rapid transit. Such larger vehicles make sense only if most people and jobs are located in the downtowns and centers on which Calthorpe has built his career. Which means they don’t make sense at all for most people in today’s cities, regardless of Calthorpe’s wishful thinking.

    Calthorpe argues that the advent of driverless cars will result in more single-occupancy and zero-occupancy vehicles congesting his regional centers. But that will happen only if those centers get to be more important than they are today. If instead the centers decline in importance, which has been the trend for the last seventy or so years, then there should be plenty of room for the vehicles people need to transport themselves to their well-distributed jobs, shops, and other destinations.

    The one thing we know about driverless cars is that no one really knows all of the effects they will have on our cities. Maybe they will really reduce congestion in dense areas by reducing delays at intersections and thus lead to a revitalization of some of those centers. Maybe they will enable more people to escape the growth restrictions set by planners that have made housing so expensive. Maybe something completely different will happen. The Antiplanner will be happy no matter what the result so long as gurus like Calthorpe aren’t given the power to try to impose their archaic visions on everyone else.

    This piece first appeared on The Antiplanner.

    Randal O’Toole ( is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of the new book, Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need, which was released by the Cato Institute on October 10.

    Photo: Dllu [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

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    The homeownership rate in California equaled the national rate from 1950 well into the 1960s. Yet, by 2005, California’s homeownership rate was 13.3 percent below the national average and the 49th lowest in the nation. In the second quarter of 2018, the homeownership rate in California was 54.3 percent, the third lowest in the nation, and 10 percent below the national average of 64.3 percent.

    Yet, 86 percent of California families want to live in a single-family home, according to a 2006 poll.

    Housing Affordability

    Median single-family home prices in California equaled the national average as late as 1970. The median price is the point where half the homes sell for more and half for less. As more constraints were placed on development in California, median homes prices began to increasingly exceed the national average. In October 2018, the median home price in California was $535,000, compared to the national average of $275,000.

    A home is deemed affordable if rent or house payments are 30 percent or less of a household’s gross income.

    Only 26 percent of California households earning the statewide median income could afford to buy California’s median-priced single-family home, in the second quarter of 2018, a 10-year low, and down from 29 percent a year earlier.

    California remains among the nation’s least affordable markets for housing. California homeowners spent an average of 21.9 percent of their household income on housing costs, the 49th worst in the nation in 2016, while renters spent 32.8 percent, the 48th worst.

    Housing affordability is decreasing. Families with a median income of $61,200 needed to allocate 22.7 percent to pay for principal, interest, and taxes on a median-priced, $293,2000 home in 2016, compared to 12.7 percent in 2009.

    Progressivism in Land Use Policies

    The widening disparity between California and national homeownership rates and home prices originates from Progressive legislation and court rulings in the 1970s that placed increasing numbers of constraints on new home development in California.

    For example, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), was enacted in 1970. The Friends of Mammoth decision by the California Supreme Court in 1972 mandates environmental review of private projects. CEQA was applied to housing developments. This decision compels state and local agencies to consider the possible adverse effects of housing projects on the environment. The decision does not consider the benefits of housing.

    CEQA increases the time, cost, and uncertainty involved in getting housing projects approved. California’s 10 largest cities averaged 2 ½ years to approve housing projects that required a CEQA Environmental Impact Report, according to a March 2015 report by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Only four other states have comparable requirements.

    CEQA encourages litigation against homebuilders and developers. Growth opponents, often called NIMBYs, an acronym for Not In My Backyard, often use CEQA lawsuits to derail projects. As a result of CEQA lawsuits, many proposed housing projects are abandoned or scaled back, resulting in fewer new homes being built, and higher costs for the homes that are built.

    The federal Endangered Species Act, enacted in 1973, has resulted in millions of acres nationwide being removed from the available developable land of growing metropolitan areas, thus restricting home development, and substantially driving up land prices.

    Government, beholden to environmental activists, has taken ownership of vast areas, reducing the supply of developable land. California protected areas administered by public agencies and non-profits have a total area of 49,253,020 acres, or 47 percent of the total area of California. More than 3.7 million acres in California have been covered by regional Habitat Conservation Plans, resulting in more than 1.5 million acres of conserved and managed habitats. An additional 29 million acres are in the process of being regulated through regional HCP/NCCPs.

    The Petaluma decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1975 upheld the state’s first growth control measure, and affirmed that local governments can limit new housing construction to a specified number each year.

    The California Coastal Act, enacted in 1976, gives State jurisdiction to lands up to five miles inland and mandates development approval by the California Coastal Commission, thus further constraining the supply of new housing. The Act provides yet another barrier to affordable housing.

    The California Legislature passed requirements in 1971 that a city’s zoning and subdivision approvals must be consistent with an adopted general plan, thereby dictating land use policies. After 1971, the general plan became the “constitution for future development.” Within five years, after two decades of relative stability, housing prices doubled. The doubling of prices occurred because, although demand for new housing in California remained constant, supply of new housing was drastically reduced. “This drastic reduction in supply was caused because government began to ‘plan’ to meet the needs of the citizens of California, instead of allowing those same citizens to arrange with others how to meet those needs,” wrote then-State Senator Ray Haynes. The scarcity of land zoned for new housing has caused the cost of land, housing’s basic raw material, to skyrocket – a major factor in the cost of producing new housing.

    Under California law, each local jurisdiction needs to conduct a Regional Housing Needs Assessment every five to eight years, then zone enough land to ensure there is adequate housing for all income levels. The California Department of Housing and Community Development announced that 526 California cities and counties (98 percent) failed to meet their minimum homebuilding goals in February 2018.

    “Without planning, we are told, we would have overcrowded streets and freeways, overcrowded schools, expensive houses and apartments, urban sprawl, a deteriorating inner city, insufficient water and sewer capacity, and few parks or sports fields. We have had planning for more than 25 years in California, and we have overcrowded streets and freeways, overcrowded schools, expensive houses, expensive apartments, urban sprawl, a deteriorating inner city, insufficient water and sewer capacity, and few parks or sports fields. So what has planning given us? Just more government,” wrote Ray Haynes.

    The result of government’s Progressive land use policies is that homebuilding cannot keep up with demand, creating a shortage of homes, which drives prices and rents higher, to the point of being unaffordable. California ranks last in the nation in home construction on a per capita basis. Less affluent homebuyers increasingly face unaffordable housing costs, long commutes, overcrowding, and squalor.

    The constraints on homebuilding and the increasing housing costs are resulting in increasing homelessness. Factoring in housing costs, California’s poverty rate is the highest in the nation.


    The solution to California’s housing crisis and homeless crisis is to build more homes. The solution to affordable housing is to encourage additional private, market-rate housing construction.

    In order to build more homes, California needs to reduce its over-regulation, to make it easier to build. For example: speed up the permitting process by streamlining development reviews. Reduce mandates and related construction costs. Development impact fees, the costs of which are passed along to homebuyers, must pay only for the actual costs of providing services and infrastructure for the project.

    California needs to make increased homeownership a priority.

    Bruce Colbert, AICP is executive director at Property Owners Association of Riverside County. He can be contacted at (949) 689-4480 or

    Photo: Joe Mabel [GFDL or CC BY 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • 11/02/18--22:33: Miami’s New Temples
  • I scratched my head over this one for a while before I eventually came around. Give me a minute to come full circle here.

    This is the latest architectural statement in Miami’s trendy Wynwood neighborhood. Faulders Studio and Wolfberg Alvarez Partners created an eight story garage meant to be a catalyst for the larger neighborhood. The high design celebrates the building on its own terms and is intended to be a cultural icon in its own right. The skin of the building is made of movable panels that can be swapped out with new art installations over time.

    A multi story garage is expensive relative to a surface parking lot. Rigorously engineered steel and concrete come at a premium compared to a thin schmear of asphalt and a couple of curb cuts. Parking decks are justifiable when land values are sufficiently high. But a garage can also boost the value of surrounding real estate in a reciprocal fashion. Not coincidentally many nearby properties are owned and managed by the same small group of influential investors. This particular structure was financed through the sale of a vacant 1.25 acre lot that recently sold for $30M.

    Multiple elevators, stairwells, electrical, plumbing, fire safety, and surveillance equipment all serve the building. But it comes at a price. This 428 vehicle garage cost $22M to construct. That’s about $51,400 per parking space. The next time you find yourself complaining about a $3 per hour parking fee let those numbers sink in.

    The building is officially “mixed use.” That’s a term that used to signify residential and commercial activities in one envelope like a mom and pop shop with an apartment or two upstairs. But here one corner of the lower level is set aside for retail and a portion of the top floor is meant for office space. But the overwhelming majority of the structure is parking. There is no residential component. While Wynwood itself is a relatively walkable area the majority of Miami is auto dependent and those cars need to be accommodated. So a “mixed use” garage with a corner shop to activate the pedestrian realm and offices with city views makes sense in this context.

    Not too far away in Miami’s Design District is the new garage for the Institute of Contemporary Art. Again, this building is a functional necessity that was leveraged into a neighborhood icon and embellished with distinctive art installations. This building is pure parking. While the museum across the street commissioned the structure the surrounding luxury brand shops benefit from the garage. The flow of prosperous visitors to the design district also supports the museum in a symbiotic two way feedback loop. The commodification of culture is unapologetically embraced in Miami.

    1111 Lincoln Road in South Beach is Herzog and De Meuron’s origami brutalist garage-as-sculpture. The 40,000 square foot building provides 300 parking spaces. At $65M that’s $216K per car. To be fair there are a few retail shops on the ground floor and a luxury penthouse on the upper level, but it’s still pretty pricey for a garage. So why are property owners willing to spend that kind of money on such buildings? First, they’re required. You can’t not have parking and have a property succeed. Second, if a garage is magnificent instead of a hideous bunker it adds value to everything around it. In the right environment it makes financial sense.

    The most fashionable places seem to embrace exposed mechanical systems and unfinished crude materials. Light and cavernous spaces (or alternatively, dark and intimate spaces) are in demand. Refinements come in the form of ephemeral furnishings and… humans. These buildings are beginning to emerge as quasi public venues that fill the void left behind by the larger anonymous metroplex. Parking garages are Miami’s new temples.

    This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

    John Sanphillippo lives in San Francisco and blogs about urbanism, adaptation, and resilience at He's a member of the Congress for New Urbanism, films videos for, and is a regular contributor to He earns his living by buying, renovating, and renting undervalued properties in places that have good long term prospects. He is a graduate of Rutgers University.


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    California’s Republican Party was once a force to be feared, not only in the state, but across the country. Nowadays, it’s at most a mild irritant and sometimes a convenient whipping boy for the Democratic progressives, who run the state almost entirely. Nothing is working much for the GOP this year. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, John Cox, has little charisma, no discernible local roots, and no compelling message. He sneaked into the runoff election because too many Democrats vied for the job. He’ll be thrashed by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, likely by a wide margin. As governor, Newsom will probably preside over a legislative super-majority that will marginalize the Republicans even further.

    Read the entire piece at City Journal.

    Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class ConflictThe City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

    Photo: Tommy Lee Kreger (John Cox-6) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

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