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    The great disrupter is rapidly becoming a great disaster — for the country, his party and even his own political base. In order to save anything from his landmark 2016 victory, President Donald Trump must go — the sooner, the better.

    Trump is leading us into a political climate that more resembles Lebanon or Weimar Germany or the United States in the run-up to the Civil War. Not all blame for the current lunacy belongs to The Donald, however. Much of it stems from an increasingly unhinged progressive culture. Yet, even granting that, Trump has made bad things worse, as even some of his supporters note, with unconsidered utterances, poorly masked appeals to xenophobes — and even racists — and his churlish persona.

    With declining ratings, most critically among independents, Trump has squandered, as the Chinese would put it, “the mandate of heaven,” and should be nudged out, hopefully under his own power. Impeachment, in contrast, would seem to his supporters to be something of a coup d’état, as former President Barack Obama’s political consigliere, David Axelrod, has suggested.

    A necessary disruption

    Although I always thought him too thin-skinned and profoundly ignorant to be president, Trump successfully disrupted a dysfunctional political system that needed to be disrupted. Before Trump, politicians might appeal to populist sentiments, but they remained the prisoners of K Street lobbyists. Like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Trump ran — and won — against the D.C. oligarchy, creating a populist standard that could well spell the demise of the neoliberal era.

    Trump’s election represented a necessary challenge to the coastal-dominated Democratic Party, as well as to the establishment GOP, who regard his “Made in America” program as too banal for their sophisticated, and well-compensated, tastes. These people, as liberal journalist Thomas Frank has noted, flourished under both Obama and George W. Bush, while the middle class and minorities saw little improvement in their incomes or quality of life.

    Trump’s challenge to various neoliberal policies — open borders, “free trade,” and ever more intrusive managerial rule from Washington — has threatened those who, to be frank, needed to be called to account. It is critical to recall that both the political and corporate establishments, including Wall Street, largely opposed Trump’s populist nationalism as much as they hated Sanders’ socialist politics.

    Read the entire piece at 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.

    Photo: By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    The recent tragic events in Houston and across the Gulf Coast once again demonstrated the woeful inadequacy of our infrastructure. Hopefully, some good will come of Hurricane Harvey. Hopefully, it will jump-start the long-awaited Trump initiative on infrastructure, which may be the one issue that could unite this country.

    Northeastern University’s post-disaster resiliency expert Daniel Aldrich notes the need for better storm water drainage systems and for fortifying existing infrastructure -- and not just in Houston. Helping promote such investments represents perhaps the last best chance for creating a significant Trump legacy.

    Once a leader in world infrastructure, the United States now ranks 11th in the overall quality of its infrastructure, according to the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index. This decline has consequences. In California, for example, the lack of investment in water storage both worsened the recent drought and reduced the state’s ability to take advantage of heavy rains when they arrived.

    A concerted effort to restore our nation’s bridges, roads, harbors and other critical infrastructure would also mark a significant break from the Obama era stimulus which focused more on propping up renewable energy and often underused mass transit systems. Meanwhile, our overall infrastructure continued to deteriorate during the Great Recession, even with the stimulus, with spending in decline from over $300 billion in 2008 to under $250 billion in 2013.

    Spending Smartly

    “Efficiency is doing things right,” legendary management guru Peter F. Drucker once proclaimed. “Effectiveness is doing the right things.” In the context of infrastructure, being effective means placing our bets on things that are really needed, and could reward our society with greater productivity, wealth and new employment.

    At, where I serve as executive editor, we recently carried a report from the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism, "Doing the Right Things Right,” which lays out what an infrastructure strategy would look like given current budget constraints. The United States faces a national debt of $20 trillion, while the federal government deficit was projected to reach $693 billion for fiscal year 2017.

    A strong U.S. transportation infrastructure system facilitates economic growth, job creation, a better standard of living and less poverty by minimizing travel times and improving labor market efficiency. Yet, as "Doing the Right Things Right" makes clear, not all investments are the same, or should receive federal subsidies, whether for direct expenditures or to issue infrastructure bonds to support private investment. There have been too many examples of spending on lower priority infrastructure because politicians were more interested in securing pork, or votes, than accelerating economic growth or reducing constituents’ travel times.

    To be sure, America's infrastructure has performed well enough to provide the highest standard of living for the largest number of people in the world. The legacy of earlier infrastructure decisions, such as the completion of the interstate highway system, is still evident. Overall, the amount of time America's commuters spend in peak period traffic congestion is generally better than that of international competitors.

    Yet traffic problems are increasing in the nation's largest metropolitan areas. A recent study found that traffic congestion imposed $132 billion in excess fuel and time costs for automobile drivers and $28 billion in freight costs annually -- all ultimately absorbed by consumers.

    The key question is how we meet these challenges. One proposed solution is to increase spending on traditional mass transit. This works well largely in “legacy cities” such as Washington, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York. The city of New York alone represents a remarkable 36 percent of all U.S. transit commuting, yet has only 3 percent of the jobs. Outside of these cities, the new transit projects, principally rail lines, have done little or nothing, as a recent report on transit from Chapman University demonstrates, to slow congestion or attract significant ridership.

    Among 19 metropolitan areas that added high-capacity transit systems since 1980, both bus and rail, transit's market share has fallen from 4.7 to 4.6 percent compared to the last data before the systems opened. Transit has not, on balance, reduced solo driving, which increased from an average of 73.0 percent to 76.6 percent.

    The cities with rail systems opening after the 1990 Census experienced a modest decline in transit work trip market share, from 3.8 percent in 1990 to 3.7 percent in 2013.

    Take the absurd example of Los Angeles, which has spent over $15 billion trying to become what some mass transit enthusiasts call the “next great transit city.” Yet, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority system ridership stands at least 15 percent below 1985 levels, when there was only bus service, at a time when the population of Los Angeles County was 20 percent lower. Since 1990, transit’s work trip market share in the Los Angeles metropolitan area has dropped from 5.6 percent to 5.1 percent. No surprise, then, that according to a recent USC study, the new lines have done little or nothing to lessen congestion.

    Doing Your Homework

    The irony is that billions are being spent on these ineffective systems, when the places that depend on transit, like New York and Washington, are seeing their systems become less reliable and even dangerous. We are dumping money in some locations that don't work all that well, but can’t find funds to fix systems that remain essential to “legacy cities” with large downtowns ideal for transit ridership.

    With the expense and ineffectiveness of new rail systems, it seems that the time has arrived for transit services that focus on less expensive bus systems, including those run by private companies, which can carry so many more riders for so much less in taxpayer subsidies. There are also opportunities to make lightly used but highly subsidized services more cost-effective by adding ride-hailing systems, like Uber and Lyft, cited as a factor in recent ridership declines in Los Angeles and even New York. In suburban San Francisco, a local transit operator has established a pilot program to extend service through ride-hailing and cancelled a lightly patronized bus route, reducing costs while providing quicker door-to-door service.

    One of the most promising alternatives, virtually ignored by transit advocates, is to encourage options for working at home. In many metropolitan areas, more people already telecommute than take transit. Since 1980, the number of people working at home has grown three times that of transit riders. All this, at virtually no cost to taxpayers.

    In the future, rapidly evolving autonomous technologies could make our present transit systems archaic in most cities. Under any circumstance, these advances seem likely to further weaken conventional transit. Given these trends, why base our transit policy on 19th century technologies when we are about to enter the third decade of the 21st?

    Back to the Gulf: Resiliency, not Hysteria

    “Smart growth” advocates have been quick to argue that Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented damage can be traced to Houston’s freewheeling, free-market approach to real estate development. Sure, the area got 50 inches of rain, but it fell both on communities that eschew strict zoning and those which embrace it. They somehow forget that a lesser storm, Hurricane Sandy, devastated the highly planned communities of greater New York just a few years ago, causing $19 billion in damage in the city alone – and with far less rain.

    Rather than imitate Portland or San Francisco, Houston and other Gulf communities need to maintain policies that have allowed it to avoid the kind of insane price hikes one sees on the West Coast and some Northeastern housing markets. To force Houston to act like San Francisco would kill its economy. If Texas real estate prices approach California’s, people will simply move elsewhere, where prices are lower.

    Some changes may be necessary, including “coastal restoration” efforts that limit the impact of storms like Harvey. Major engineering challenges, like building more water storage facilities and improved drainage, need to be imposed, as well.

    What Houston needs, and would naturally adopt, is a kind of enlightened free market approach. After the devastation of Galveston in 1900 hurricane, Houston famously built a ship channel while Galveston built an elaborate sea wall; Houston is no less a creation of private innovation and government than New York or Los Angeles. Like America itself, Houston thrives by combining good public investment with a maximum of economic flexibility.

    The more these decisions are made locally, by people who are directly impacted, the better. My colleague Tory Gattis, based in Houston, suggests that new developments and older ones “should be required to have adequate rainwater retention, either with ponds, tanks, or permeable surfaces.” There are already examples of some of this kind of planning, particularly in exurban communities such as the Woodlands. This may mitigate the ill effects of such storms, but not likely to prevent disasters like Harvey from inflicting huge damage.

    These policies could mean, over time, that Houston and other Gulf communities might build an infrastructure more reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, scattered communities with ample open land around them. But the vision must be a localized one, not drawn from example of generally slower-growing, older regions facing very different natural challenges. The benefits to customizing local infrastructure is go beyond economic reality and even disaster mitigation. With enough focus on local needs, we need not wait for natural disasters to witness the heartwarming sights of multi-cultural first responders – and ordinary citizens – all pulling together. “Social networks and cohesion are an important part of recovery and survival,” professor Aldrich suggests. “Houston should be investing in bringing neighborhoods together.”

    This is the real secret sauce for resiliency, as Houston has been showing throughout this crisis. The more that people who are impacted control the till, whether repairing levees, imposing regulations or planning transit systems, the better. Rather than let Leviathan rule and impose conformity, we should let regions -- whether in Texas or elsewhere -- figure out how to meet infrastructure challenges that effect every community differently.

    This piece originally appeared on Real Clear

    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.

    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.

    Photo: Hurricane Harvey flooding by Jill Carlson, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    Cities that believe in themselves are hard to kill. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey many pundits have urged Houston to abandon many of the traits that have made it a dynamic, growing metropolis, including key elements of its light-handed, pro-business regulatory regime.

    Houston, we are told, should retrench and reduce its sprawl; Slate recommends New Orleans’ post-Katrina shrinkage as a model. This goes against the best of urban tradition. Great cities generally do not shrink themselves.

    Many cities have rebounded and even improved after far more lethal devastation, including London, Berlin, Tokyo and New York. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the city ultimately constructed a downtown that may well be the world’s most beautiful. San Francisco famously rebuilt itself after the 1906 earthquake and fire into “a new and improved city” that has evolved into an integral part of the world’s dominant tech hub.

    In contrast cities that destroy themselves from within, like Detroit after the 1968 riots, and New Orleans before Katrina, can decline for decades.

    Urban resiliency requires two things: an ability to learn from experience and, per Northeastern University’s resiliency expert Daniel Aldrich, a commitment on the part of its residents to improve their city.

    Should Houston downsize?

    Unlike New York or New Orleans, Houston is not celebrated by the mainstream press or intellectuals; its residents have been portrayed as hypocritical religious fanatics and even neo-Nazis, despite living in what may well be America’s most diverse city.

    To many pundits, Houston’s problems are due to a lack of zoning and too much unregulated growth. Days after Hurricane Harvey hit, Quartz opined that "Houston’s flooding shows what happens when you ignore science and let developers run rampant.” The Guardian’s climate columnist George Monbiot even portrayed the event as a kind of payback for being the world capital of planet-destroying climate change.

    Few Houstonians are likely to embrace this interpretation of natural forces, or their own culpability. Longtime residents know that the Bayou City always has been prone to serious hurricanes and flooding due to its location along the Gulf, and Houston has shown an ability to deal with it.

    A 1935 flood caused proportionally much more severe damage on a much smaller city. Tropical storm Allison in 2001 led to significant hardening of infrastructure. Unlike New Orleans at the time of Katrina, many services in Houston, including police and fire, were ready for Harvey. Flood control, although clearly not up to the standards required by such a huge weather event, has been much improved. New developments are required to show how they can make up for the absorption lost, often with sophisticated drainage and storage techniques.

    Much blame for Harvey has been linked to development on the fringe, a major component of the region’s growth. Over an 18-year period, Houston lost about 25,000 acres of wetlands, which took away about 4 billion gallons of storm water detention capacity. In contrast Harvey dumped about 1 trillion gallons, meaning those wetlands could have only absorbed about 0.4% of Harvey’s deluge. Many flooded roads were consciously designed to hold storm water temporarily when there is nowhere for it to drain.

    To succeed, Houston, like any city, must adapt and bolster its defenses, particularly if such events become more common. This does not mean, as many suggest, that the region abandon its development-friendly policies. In contrast to claims of “wild west” regulation, many developments after Allison are required have better systems to handle downpours than older areas closer to the center. One friend notes that his 10 suburban shopping centers employed the most advanced methods for handling excess water and survived.

    Most of his projects' first line of defense is made up of catch basins and stormwater lines in the parking lot which flow to a retention pond. The second line of defense is the retention pond. In the event the pond reaches capacity, the third line of defense is storm water backing up into storm drainage lines and ultimately ponding in the parking lot. These three defenses are very typical in newer developments, and many withstood the biblical flooding intact.

    Many others, either not up to code or built well before the new regulations, did not do so well. But on the whole, rather than prove the inadequacy of Houston model, as the New York Times Bret Stephens correctly noted, the region managed to survive a crisis with minimal, albeit tragic losses, that in other places would have cost thousands of lives.

    In the coming years, Houston surely will have to find ways to grow with less peril. But as both MIT’s Alan Berger and Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Tuner have noted, Harvey did not “punish” Houston for lax development. Houston has a planning system that is not the “wild west” but simply less bureaucratic and politicized. Its suburbs, notes the planning blog Strong towns, “are largely indistinguishable from the suburbs of any American city.” As Mayor Sylvester rejoined, if Houston had zoning, he would be presiding instead over a “flooded zoned city.”

    The zoning argument is, simply put, bogus. Cities in the area that were heavily zoned, like West University, or intensely planned like Sugarland, got hit as hard as more haphazard areas. Harvey, it turns out, was an equal opportunity devastator. Similarly, Sandy dropped barely one-third the rain from Harvey, yet overwhelmed a dense and very zoned area. New Orleans before Katrina was dense and zoned; a lot of good it did them.

    Nor, as many commentators suggest, can Houston’s supposedly enormous “sprawl” be the prime culprit. As demographer Wendell Cox points out the Houston urban area density at 3,000 per square mile, is 20 percent above metropolitan Boston (2,200), and Philadelphia (2,700) and not much less dense than that mecca of smart growth, Portland. Overall Houston ranks 18th in urban population density among the 53 metropolitan areas with more than a million residents, according to Census date.

    In contrast to its image as a paved over dystopia, Houston has more parkland and green space than most any other large city in America and ranks third overall to San Diego and Dallas in park acreage per capita. Rather than focus on urban form, Berger, himself a landscape architect who is co-director MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism, says this region really needs better and stricter building codes, such as the ones that saved my friend’s shopping centers. Others, like Rich Campanella at Tulane, suggests the best strategy for the Gulf cities should be to focus on building barrier islands along the coast, and improving often aged drainage systems.

    In the end, it’s the civic culture

    As we know from experience, storms, violent conquest and, in the case of Hiroshima, even nuclear weapons, cannot kill a city -- only residents can do that. I saw this in Los Angeles, which in the early 1990s suffered a Pharaonic series of disasters -- riots, fires, floods and a huge earthquake in 1994. The city rebuilt smartly after all of them, but only one, the 1992 riots, left a residual toll on the civic spirit, or led to an exodus of residents. Los Angeles may look spiffier than it did before the riots, but its enterprising spirit, and its allure to newcomers, never recovered fully.

    Internal collapse, the lack of a civic spirit, occurs most often when a city’s elite and its population no longer see a common future. Detroit’s 1967 riots created a morass that devastated the city for the next half century. Earlier on conflict between Boston Brahmins and the Irish under Mayor James Curley ushered in a period of stagnation that went from the 1920s to the late 1950s.

    More recently, Katrina revealed how a collapsed civic culture can make a disaster worse. Corrupt politicians, an ineffective business community and poor emergency services turned a Harvey-like natural disaster into a massive human one, with much greater loss of life. Some blame the city’s entrenched, often multi-generational lower-income population but perhaps more critical to failure was the city’s often elegantly appointed and comfortable upper echelon.

    In the decades before Katrina, as southern cities like Houston and Atlanta were burgeoning, New Orleans stagnated. Joel Garreau in his Nine Nations of North America described the Crescent City as a “marvelous collection of sleaziness and peeling paint.” The aristocracy enjoyed the city’s unparalleled culture while many ambitious people from its neighborhoods migrated elsewhere. Without a strong, engaged business community and middle class, there was little attempt to fix the infrastructure. This weak civic culture has left a city with huge economic challenges that a regenerated local business community is now gamely trying to address.

    Houston performed very differently during Harvey. Mayor Turner and the Harris County Judge, Ed Emmett, epitomized level-headed leadership. Gov. Abbot, unlike Louisiana’s dithering Gov. Kathleen Blanco, swung immediately to action. Local volunteers pitched in, so much so, notes Houston-based analyst Tory Gattis, that many found themselves unable to participate because each Facebook call for help spurred more volunteers than could be accommodated. Houston can also count on something New Orleans lacked: a strong, and philanthropically inclined business establishment who are pouring millions into recovery efforts.

    Houston will come back, albeit with some modifications, not because it’s a charity case, but because its people want to stay and rebuild their neighborhoods. They have been putting their shoulders to the wheel personally, with special emphasis on those most in need; rather than rugged individualists they are, in the words of one prominent Houston businessperson“rugged communitarians.”

    In the coming months, Houstonians will seek aid from Washington, as all hard-hit areas do, but most understand that the challenge is basically for them to solve, whether through mutual self-help, or new infrastructure; their city is an engineering marvel that needs a new upgrade.

    Ultimately, the power of human agency at the grassroots level remains the “secret sauce” overcoming almost any disaster, whether it’s London, New York or Houston. Great cities are not about buildings but great people. By that standard, Houston will likely come back better than before, a testament to the greatness of the urban ideal.

    This piece originally appeared on

    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: Jill Carlson ( from Roman Forest, Texas, USA (Hurricane Harvey Flooding and Damage) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Amazon is seeking bids for a second headquarters location that will be equal in size to its current Seattle base. (You can read their RFP here). It would ultimately employ 50,000 people in eight million square feet of office space at an average salary of over $100,000.

    This is going to be the feeding frenzy of the century.

    This seems to suggest that Amazon thinks they are about capped out in Seattle. To give a sense of Amazon’s place in Seattle, the Seattle Times recently labeled it “America’s biggest company town.” The company has over eight million square feet of office space and accounts for nearly 20% of the city’s total office space. They have a graphic that illustrates this. The next biggest footprint of any user in any city is Citi in New York with only about 3.7 million square feet. (Interestingly, Columbus, Ohio is in second place when it comes to being dominated by a single office user; Nationwide Insurance has 16% of the total market. It looks like these may be city, not regional totals).

    The impact of Amazon on Seattle has been huge. The pressure Amazon growth has put on things like housing availability and pricing is tough to measure, but surely huge. Amazon appears to have concluded that the city can’t take anymore.

    Seattle is the 15th largest metropolitan area in the US, with 3.8 million people. It’s also a highly attractive region with no trouble luring people to move there. So while Amazon says that they are open to metro areas of over a million people, realistically, if you want to be as big as Amazon is in Seattle toady, you probably need to be in a market as big as Seattle or bigger.

    50,000 is a huge number of workers, especially when they are high skill white collar ones. Very few cities could easily supply that labor force. Which ones might? Let’s game this out.

    Well, the usual coastal suspects probably can. But they have the problem of already having very high costs and hot labor markets for exactly the skills Amazon is seeking – and building restrictions that make growth hard. The Bay Area would be an obvious choice for an HQ, but can they really accommodate it? (A better question might be, do they want to)? I would suggest similar questions apply to Boston.

    Los Angeles/SoCal, New York, and Washington could accommodate an employer that big. Again, high costs, etc. But especially LA and NYC are so huge, they can do things other cities can’t. Washington is by its DNA a government town. It’s high tech, but a lot of that tech is government related.

    One intriguing option for Amazon would be Hudson Yards. Amazon is putting a huge premium on real estate in this RFP, and assuming they want an urban location, this is one that’s nearly pre-baked. Right now it’s only planned for six million square feet of office, with some of that already leased. But I would guess changes could be made and/or other real estate in the area added to the mix. Newark might be a dark horse here.

    What then are the other cities that could potentially compete. I see four strong contenders: Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. (Houston is very energy focused and dealing with bigger problems right now. Miami and Phoenix are big enough, but could they attract the quantity of tech workers needed?) All of these are large markets with good air service. Chicago and Philly have genuine urban options with genuine urban transit. (I should note Amazon hasn’t ruled out a suburban location). All of them would surely clear the decks of any obstacles to construction, etc. All of them have much more affordable housing than coastal cities. All have an ability to draw college grads from a large footprint.

    I would expect these cities to bid aggressively. Dallas and Atlanta really don’t need Amazon, though they would surely want it. For Chicago and Philly this represents a transformational opportunity.

    Rahm Emanuel in Chicago says he’s already had conversations with Bezos. If I were making the choice, Chicago would be at the top of my list. It’s an established urban center a reasonably flight distance from Seattle (cf Boeing decision), with transit, a huge airline, etc. It’s also a slam dunk draw for every Big Ten school. You can bet that Illinois political dysfunction would mysteriously disappear to get a deal done here. One person says Amazon’s staunchly anti-union stance rules out Chicago. We’ll see, but Seattle has strong unions too, and unions are less applicable to a while collar workforce. Chicago has been looking for a transformational event, and this could be it.

    Possibly Amazon could also take a chance on scaling some smaller places, like Denver or Minneapolis. I expect everybody to be all over this. And yes, there will be huge government money on the table. Not even the most ardent anti-subsidy person out there is going to take a pass on this.

    To me this is a big test of the thesis that the coasts are capped out, which will force growth into the interior. If Amazon picks a big, established, high cost coastal center, that will tend to undercut it. We will see.

    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: Rober Scoble, CC BY 2.0

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    August’s tragic events in Charlottesville kickstarted a somber debate about the appropriate way to commemorate the war that gave all Americans their freedom. It also triggered a conversation about whether the south’s legacy of rebellion and independence – with slavery a painful and regretful part of its past – is a legacy worth remembering.

    These discomforting conversations are a reminder that the south’s antebellum past continues to affect it in the present. Beyond civil rights, these impacts are profoundly felt in the south’s continuing urbanization, which is among the most rapid in the country despite occurring largely within the frameworks of cities whose prewar, pre-industrial bones were never suited for the “big city” qualities filled by their northern cousins. Today’s globally-connected southern cities grew largely from antebellum-era towns that were not the commercial or industrial powerhouses of the past, and yet they are growing dramatically anyway.

    The result is a murmuring culture war about the future of southern cities. The media may be fixated on statues, but the real issue is how these cities – thanks to a variety of historical and developmental factors that differentiate them from those in the north – are growing in ways that may not appeal to many planners and local boosters.

    Many of the south’s transformations have been enviable and measurable: between 2000 and 2012 most large southern metro grew by at least 20 percent, with some like Charlotte and Austin growing at more than twice that rate. Since air conditioning became a norm rather than an exception, growth has trended toward warmer climates, with half of America’s population growth in the last 50 years going to the eight states with the warmest climates. Southern cities have been particularly successful in attracting black families, a declining demographic in nearly every large northern city. They have by and large remained affordable, and continue to be attractive relocation destinations for big companies: metro Atlanta, for instance, is now home to more Fortune 1000 companies than vaunted San Francisco.

    The result is a set of increasingly economically significant and connected large cities with ever-larger suburbs and de-centralized economic gravity. Compared to northern cities, southern ones are less urban, less clustered, and less tall, on average with about half the number of skyscrapers per capita as major northern cities, based on data available from This dispersion reflects their expanding ethnic diversity. Counties that were once entirely rural are now increasingly suburban, and attractive to minorities and immigrants. Georgia’s recent 6th District election in 2017 and Hillary Clinton’s victory in Fort Bend outside Houston reflects this unpredictable new southern political world.

    Planners have celebrated the urban revitalization in many large existing cities in the north, but largely have been less enthusiastic about this continued growth of sprawling cities in the south. In turn, they have sought increasingly to steer their growth in a more traditional northern pattern. Foremost among the goals of these planners is to densify and re-orient these cities around downtowns that have generally never embodied a strong urban character. This has created a number of awkward dualities: the push for walkability in places that have never before been walkable; the push for rail in cities where the density doesn’t support it; and the push for outdoor living in cities where being outside is uncomfortable for much of the year. This push for glassy Chicago-style downtowns does not always come naturally to cities whose strongest urban legacy is that of sleepy tree-lined Georgian mansions, and it has forced cities from Charlotte to Charleston to contemplate what kind of cities they want to be in the future.

    Conventional urban planning is simply not well-suited to the south’s dynamic new urban environments. New urbanism, for instance, while influential in the south, has made its name through quaint town making largely in the suburbs. Typical urban approaches like the repurposing of downtowns back into modern reinventions of what they once were – do not reflect the development, demographic, infrastructural, or character-driven challenges of cites without urban or industrial legacies.

    Now, the south has begun inventing its own new brand of experimental urban development, often heavily fueled by the private sector. In Atlanta, for instance, the public-private development of the Battery and Sun Trust Park is a public-private typology virtually unimaginable in the north. Boldly, the Atlanta Braves major league baseball team uprooted from its perfectly acceptable downtown home to move closer to its suburban fan base; a county without a discernible center delivered on much of the financing, and worked with the Braves to develop, from scratch, an entire new ballpark-oriented urban district to compete with downtown Atlanta and help fund both the cultural evolution and the cash flows needed to sustain the ballpark.

    The Battery was a form of urbanization and regional re-positioning delivered through a single project. Rather than a renewed focus on the urban core through adaptive reuse and infill, all gospel to planners in the north, metro Atlanta has shaped its own new downtown at a convenient juncture in the sprawl. These kinds of large-format development projects that create their own energy and introduce their own anchors are a hallmark of southern city-making, and build upon the “edge cities” idea first extensively written about by Joel Garreau in the early 1990s.

    The most impressive forms of project-driven development have been those where private developers have taken on urbanization efforts too massive for governments. In Florida and Texas, for instance, private developers are trying to implement high-speed rail lines by leveraging potential profits from real estate development around stations as part of the funding package. And Sandy Springs, Georgia received abundant attention in 2012 when it became a “contract city”, the ultimate privatization experiment when it bid out nearly all of its city services to outside contractors. By relying on private industry to take on these kinds of complex development and governance projects, southern cities are trying to avoid the government boondoggles as well as budget and debt ceiling shortfalls many northern cities face. In turn, however, those delivering on the projects have tremendous power over the formation of these cities, while urbanization is rarely happening according to plan.

    Acknowledging the power of these leaps and bounds innovations, some cities are trying to better channel the urbanization through example projects designed to inspire the private sector to develop in a more organized way. In Raleigh, for instance, the development market has been slow to deliver on high-quality urban projects, so in response the City is taking on the challenge itself: its own new City Hall campus may end up being the most powerful piece of modern architecture in the city. In turn, it is hoped to have catalytic potential to induce dramatic change across a downtown smattered with low-rise buildings. In many such cities, there is an underlying belief that channeling the pent-up private development market toward areas where land values are already the highest will maximize tax revenues and fiscal stability, and improve those cities’ urban qualities. Whether it’s a strategy with staying power is yet to be seen.

    There is no rulebook for how urban change is occurring in the south, but there is no doubt it is occurring more rapidly there. The universal themes in southern city-making today are diversification and creativity, ideas imbuing innovation that would be unlikely if they borrowed conventional approaches verbatim from the north. This new creativity on behalf of big steps and bold visions belies many recommendations from nationally-focused planners toward government consolidation and the belief that all new good things must happen through incremental steps in traditional downtowns. Perhaps this new form of southern rebellion will have staying power; much better, and better for its citizens, than the last one.

    Roger Weber is a city planner specializing in global urban and industrial strategies, urban design, zoning, and real estate. He leads the Urban Policy Practice Area for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s City Design Practice and holds a Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Research interests include urban finance, demographics, architecture, housing, and land use.

    Photo: Thomson200 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    California’s political leaders, having ignored and even abetted our housing shortage, now pretend that they will “solve it.” Don’t bet on it.

    Their big ideas include a $4 billion housing subsidy bond and the stripping away of local control over zoning, and mandating densification of already developed areas. None of these steps addresses the fundamental causes for California’s housing crisis. Today, barely 29 percent of California households, notes the California Association of Realtors, can afford a median-priced house; in 2012, it was 56 percent.

    At the heart of the problem lie “urban containment” policies that impose “urban growth boundaries” to restrict — or even prohibit — new suburban detached housing tracts from being built on greenfield land. Given the strong demand for single-family homes, it is no surprise that prices have soared.

    Before these policies were widely adopted, housing prices in California had about the same relationship to incomes as in other parts of the country. Today, prices in places like Los Angeles, the Bay Area and Orange County are two to three times as high, adjusted for incomes, as in less-regulated states. Even in the once affordable Inland Empire, housing prices are nearing double that of most other areas, closing off one of the last remaining alternatives for middle- and working-class families.

    How did we get here?

    Largely in response to regulatory constraints, the state has been underproducing housing since the 1970s. So far this year, Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest metropolitan region, has produced fewer homes than much smaller areas like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Atlanta.

    The California Environmental Quality Act and other laws and restrictions have helped to make building the number of houses needed by California’s middle-income families unattainable. The state’s more recent draconian climate change policies are also making the building of more affordable homes, usually on the fringe of urban areas, almost impossible.

    Some developers and planners blame much of the problem on NIMBYs, or “not in my backyard” activists, who oppose high-density development in their communities. NIMBYism, often aligned with green policies, is part of the problem, but high-density housing is expensive, and there are not enough people looking for “micro-apartments” to solve the affordability crisis.

    Indeed, housing in buildings of more than five stories requires rents approximately two-and-a-half times those from the development of garden apartments, notes Gerard Mildner, academic director of the Center for Real Estate at Portland State University. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the cost of townhouse development per square foot can double that of detached houses (excluding land costs), and units in high-rise condominium buildings can cost up to seven-and-a-half times as much.

    Longtime San Francisco journalist Tim Redmond points out that luxury apartments tend to replace the often more affordable older buildings in urban neighborhoods. There’s been a gusher of high-rises built in places like San Francisco or Los Angeles, but these are generally very expensive, and have not discernibly lowered prices.

    Read the entire piece at 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.

    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.

    Photo credit:

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    Columbus, Ohio is a Midwest city that has really turned it on in the last few years. It is a big economic and demographic success story in the region. Having recently crossed over to reach the two million threshold in population, the region is expecting as many as another million people by 2050. The city is basically rocking and rolling by Midwest standards.

    The Columbus Dispatch has been doing a major, multi-month series on Columbus’ future called CbusNEXT. One of the featured pieces was a look at Columbus’ brand called “Does Columbus have an identity crisis?

    For better or for worse, Columbus has had its share of reputations. It’s known for being the seat of state power, the capital city where Ohio’s legislative sausage is made. And, of course, much of Columbus’ notoriety comes from that little university of more than 66,000 students and its powerhouse football team. There’s been some name-calling through the years, too. Columbus has been called a “Cowtown” on more than one occasion. Meh, sticks and stones.

    But other than its status as a capital city and the home of Ohio State University, Columbus “has not developed a persistent and consistent identity” over the years, said Ed Lentz, local historian and executive director of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation.

    Columbus has been seen as neither good nor bad, according to studies conducted over the past two decades, said Amy Tillinghast, vice president of marketing for Experience Columbus. “We heard it all the time,” she said. ”‘Oh, it’s vanilla. It’s neither good nor bad. Just very bland.’” But city leaders, tourism officials and economic development proponents have been working to shed that vanilla image, to spread the word about what they think makes Columbus great.

    The Dispatch also has a revealing 15 minute podcast on the topic.

    What I find most telling about this is that an article written in 2017 is basically the same as one from the New York Times in 2010.

    Quick, what do you think about when you hear the words “Columbus, Ohio”? Still waiting. … And that’s the problem that civic leaders here hope to solve.

    This capital city in the middle of a state better known, fairly or not, for cornfields and rusting factories has a low cost of living, easy traffic and a comparatively robust economy. It variously has been pronounced to have the nation’s best zoo, best science museum and best public library. For sports fans, “Ohio State Buckeyes” says it all.

    What Columbus does not have, to the despair of its leaders, is an image. As home to major research centers, it has long outgrown its 1960s self-concept as a cow town, and its distinction as the birthplace of the Wendy’s hamburger chain does not quite do the trick these days. The city lacks a shorthand way to sell itself — a signature like the Big Apple or an intriguing tagline like Austin’s “Live Music Capital of the World.”

    In other words, Columbus has made no progress in understanding its identity or creating a marketplace brand in the last seven years.

    A few points jump out at me from the latest Dispatch piece that hit on things I’ve addressed before:

    • The Dispatch didn’t speak to a single person outside of Columbus. They allowed the heads of various local agencies to effectively filter the marketplace perspective on their city. For all its talk about being “smart and open”, this lack of any outside perspective reveals an insular mindset.

    • They are ashamed of historic identity markers such as Ohio State football and “Cowtown” even though these are the seeds of their most powerful potential identity in the market (cf: Nashville and country music).

    • They are playing buzzword bingo with how they want to be perceived in the marketplace: optimism, collaboration, art scene, research, LBGT, immigrants, beer, etc. The people saying these things don’t seem to realize that they are basically commodities today, at least in terms of civic self-perception. You’re not likely to get too many people from cities similar in size to Columbus to agree that Columbus is so much better on these points, certainly not as a package. They are all basically trying to pitch themselves to the market using virtually identical language.

    • They are afraid to take a stand in the marketplace. I was very pleased to see at least one person who was self-aware about this, saying, “It’s a very scary thing for a city to put a stake in the ground. It takes real vision to put a stake in the ground. You have to see past election cycles and those people that you alienate.”

    Until these points are addressed, I would not expect the city to make any progress on branding and identity. The fact that they haven’t done this in the last seven years prompts an important question:

    Does the city really want to have a strong identity in the market?

    Maybe not. That’s something to consider.

    The premise that Columbus lacks an identity seems suspect to me. It might not have a well-articulated identity, but it has one. The civic feel is radically different from Cleveland and Cincinnati. The differences are like a cold bucket of water in the face. I feel the differences even vs. somewhat similar cities like Indianapolis. So the identity is there. Maybe people just don’t want to face up to what it is.

    What’s more, it’s working in the marketplace. Whatever Columbus is and is doing, it’s working. So that’s great. So another question I might ask:

    Does Columbus actually need to articulate its brand or identity in order to succeed?

    Maybe not.

    It may well be that the city’s DNA is just not ideal for this kind of branding exercise. And it’s not like the city hasn’t gotten real input on this. I have written about this multiple times in the past, going back to 2010. See here, here, and here. I’ve also spoken to large audiences as the Columbus Metropolitan Club twice on this topic. The first one was in 2010. And here’s my talk from last year. If the video doesn’t display for you, click over to watch on You Tube.

    But the city isn’t doing anything with it, neither with my insights nor anyone else’s. In this, Columbus’ profile is similar to other Midwest cities, which embrace trends when they are rendered safe to do so. Perhaps this is one reason why it’s the nation’s leading test market. If Columbus embraces it, then it’s ready for the mass market. Otherwise, nope.

    Again, I’m bullish in Columbus and its future. I’ve been writing positive things about it since at least 2009. But when you’ve been trying to make progress on your identity and branding for seven years and are spinning your wheels, maybe its time to take a serious gut check on the project and make some changes.

    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: Stephen Wolfe, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    Every generation seems to be lionized by the press with the observation that the values of the new group are not that of their parents, thank goodness. They don’t have the serious hunger for possessions, the terrible acquisitiveness for material things that define their parents’ generation. Rather, as seen by the reporter, they have loftier views of society, generally the views of the reporter or the views that the reporter wishes to have us believe they hold. One recalls how the baby boomers were “not like us”. They were going to live on the land somewhere in the high sierras making sandals and candles. Some years later when it was revealed that the Pentagon was paying two thousand dollars for special toilet seats, the question among boomers was in what colors were they available.

    Today much has been made of the sharply varying characteristics of the Millennial generation. During the recession and its prolonged twilight recovery we had to keep asking: “is it really a structural change we are seeing or just cyclical?” We have found in most cases when some see harbingers of dramatic changes in societal values it is often just economic realities at work. Wait for the data is a great admonition in such cases.

    A recent Current Population Report from the Census Bureau sheds considerable light on the topic. The powerful tool employed compares young adults in 1975 to those in 2016 roughly 40 years apart. The overarching observation is that the younger working age generation today appears to place more emphasis on two of the four markers of adulthood – education and a job – before the other recognized attributes of adulthood such as living separate from parents and family formation. Economic security appears to be the dominant driver of behavior. Given that they were exposed to a weaker economy than their forebears– wealth lost, jobs lost, college debt, home values and investments declining – it seems a very realistic strategy.

    Some of the contrasts with the past are stark:

    • Of the four markers of adulthood 45% of the young adults in 1975 had those attributes; by 2016 it had fallen to 24%. In 2005 those markers were the predominant living arrangement in 35 states; by 2015 only a decade later, post-recession, the number of states with most of young living independently dropped to just 6.

    • More young adults today, 18 to 34, are living with parents than with a spouse.

    • More than half of younger millennials, 18-24, live in their parent’s home.

    • Fewer than two-thirds of older millennials, 25-34, live independently.

    • One in four of the 25-34 group are neither in school nor working.

    Many of these attributes seem to be cases of full societal participation delayed, rather than dismissed. The report finds marriage levels are about the same by age 40 between the current and the past 1975 generation. The difference is, if you will, delayed adolescence. About 80% of young persons were married by the age of 30 in 1975 the same percentage today isn’t reached until age 45.

    What is dramatically revealed in the document are the sharp divergences between the trends among men and women in the period. Young women are seeing significant economic gains today in contrast to 1975 while men have experienced limited progress, or even decline. Some of the contrasting experiences are summarized in the table below:

    Characteristics of Young Adults Aged 25-34

    There are really three stories here: the rising circumstances of women; the very limited improvements, if any, among men; and the dramatic contrasts between the groups over time.

    • Women out of the labor force have declined from 46% to 26%. Men out of the labor force have grown from 7% to 11%.

    • Women have risen from about 50% participation in the labor force to almost 75%, with 40% with college degrees today vs 18% in 1975, and with incomes shifting out of the lowest income categories and overall incomes rising significantly.

    • Among young men, aged 25 to 34, in 1975, 25% had incomes below $30,000 per year, in 2016 dollars, rising to 41% below $30,000 in 2016. The percentage of men with college degrees has risen somewhat from 27% to 34%, but most significantly, incomes on a constant dollar basis have declined about 10%. Note also that women in the age group now have a greater share with college degrees than men; 40% vs 34%.

    • Importantly, a substantial share of women has left the lowest income group while a similarly significant share of men has joined it.

    • With all these gains, women’s incomes are still below men’s, substantially because women have moved from lower into middle income categories but not yet joined the higher income levels.

    Are these changes economically based or values driven? The massive economic pressures on young males would have immense explanatory power. Their delayed ownership of vehicles, the postponement of separate living seems a rational response to their circumstances. Maybe rather than criticizing them, they should be appreciated today for exercising good judgment.

    At the same time, the value changes recognized in the Census study seem to say that the measure of adulthood today emphasizes having completed one’s education and having obtained some degree of job security. These appear to come first, driven perhaps by the harsh realities of the last decade’s job environment which explains the delays in two factors historically linked to adulthood: living separately from parents; and marriage. These are now pushed into secondary, later stages in the life cycle.

    Going forward the societal implications of these new patterns may be more significant than reporters ever estimated. Delayed job experience and exposure to the work environment may affect the job prospects of many and generate societal losses in skilled workers crucial to national productivity. As mates and parents their delayed relationships will be different than their parents’ world with impacts we can only guess at in terms of their relationships to each other, their children, and the greater society.

    Alan E. Pisarski is the author of the long running Commuting in America series. A consultant in travel behavior issues and public policy, he frequently testifies before the Houses of the Congress and advises States on their investment and policy requirements.

    Photo: ITU Pictures, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    New York University Professor Shlomo Angel and his colleagues (Alejandro M. Blei, Jason Parent, Patrick Lamson-Hall, and Nicolás Galarza Sánchez, with Daniel L. Civco, Rachel Qian Lei, and Kevin Thom) have produced the Atlas of Urban Expansion: 2016 edition, which represents the most detailed available spatial analysis of world urbanization, relying on a sample of 200 urban areas. It was published jointly United Nations Habitat, New York University, and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and released in conjunction with the Habitat III conference in Quito. The Atlas follows the publication of Angel's Planet of Cities, published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy which was reviewed in New Geography in A Planet of People: Angel's Planet of Cities.

    In his Foreword, Joan Clos, Under-Secretary-General, United Nations and UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos describes the Atlas findings as "quite shocking." Indeed, for urban planners and others who have been misled into believing that the cities of the world are becoming denser as they grow larger, the message of the Atlas should be a "wake-up call."

    In his Foreword, Professor Angel notes that: "The anti-sprawl agenda—decrying unplanned, low density, fragmented and non-compact urban expansion—has been guiding city planners for decades and we now find that the majority of cities have adopted land use plans that seek to contain their outward expansion in one form or another." The clear message is an inconvenient truth that despite such planning, urban areas have continued to expand spatially faster than they had added population. Worldwide urban densities continue to drop virtually without regard their relative affluence or poverty.

    Under-Secretary-General Clos describes the purpose of the Atlas as: "to provide informed analyses to policy makers, public officials, research administrators, and scientists for use in their decision-making processes. In this sense, the Atlas of Urban Expansion is part of the emerging ‘science of policy’ that is dedicated to the production of knowledge that best serves the public interest." Obviously, that is a laudable goal and improving cities --- which at a minimum requires both improving affluence and reducing poverty --- should design their policies to achieve these objectives.

    The Atlas shows that the densities of urban areas have been dropping 1.5 percent annually over the past 25 years in more developed countries. The decline in density has been even greater, 2.1 percent, in less developed countries, which is where the vast majority of urban growth is taking place. The Atlas predicts that this trend will generally continue.

    These trends are likely to continue in one form or another. Between 2015 and 2050, urban extents in more developed countries can be expected to increase by a factor of 1.9 at the current rate of increase in land consumption, by a factor of 1.5 at half the current rate, and by a factor of 1.1 if land consumption per capita remains constant over time. During this period, urban extents in less developed countries will increase by a factor of 3.7 at the current rate of increase in land consumption, by a factor of 2.5 at half the current rate, and by a factor of 1.8 if land consumption remains constant.

    The Atlas has data that will not be found anywhere else, as it delves deep into the fabric of the urban area sample. There is data for each of the urban areas on each of these measures (too detailed for examination here): fragmentation, compactness, infill development and "leap frog" development.

    Some of the individual urban area density trends over the past 25 years are particularly shocking. For example:

          • Guangzhou, China (which includes the urbanization of huge Foshan) is now 10 times its 1990       population, yet has experienced an urban density decline of about 75 percent.

          • Seoul has added more than a third to its population, yet its urban density has dropped by       more than 50 percent.

          • Bangkok's urban population density dropped by one-third, even as the population more than       doubled.

          • Budapest and Warsaw have seen their urban densities decline by more than 40 percent.

          • Tokyo, Paris, Tehran, and New York have experienced urban density reductions of at least 20       percent.

          • Mumbai, still the fourth highest urban density in the sample, has dropped more than 10       percent, as have Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires. Since the 1947 census, virtually all       population growth in Buenos Aires has been suburban (outside the core city of Buenos Aires).

          • Curitiba, Brazil, which has received at least as much international acclaim from urban       planners for its model policies as Portland, has seen its population density drop one third in the       last 25 years. Still, Curitiba's urban density is nearly triple that of sprawling Portland (which       ranks 189 the out of 200 in urban density, see Note 1).

    One of the exceptions to the falling density "rule of thumb" is Dhaka, which the Atlas shows as having the highest density of any urban area (Note 2). Dhaka's urban density has risen three percent over the last 25 years, as much of the additional population has been housed in low-rise, unhealthful shantytowns (see: The Evolving Urban Form: Dhaka), where densities are reported to be as high as 2.5 million per square mile or 1 million per square kilometer (photograph above). This is 35 times the 70,000 per square mile density of Manhattan (27,000 per square kilometer) in 2010.

    As the Atlas puts it: "When cities grow in population and wealth they expand. As cities expand, they need to convert and prepare lands for urban use. Stated as a broad policy goal, cities need adequate lands to accommodate their growing populations and these lands need to be affordable, properly serviced, and accessible to jobs to be of optimum use to their inhabitants." The concern of the Atlas is that this urban expansion be well managed.

    Regrettably, this would be at considerable odds with the distortion of land markets and destruction of housing affordability (and the standard of living) associated with urban containment policy. The favored planning approach flies in the face of economic reality (See: People Rather than Places: Ends Rather than Means: LSE Economists on Urban Containment and A Question of Values: Middle – Income Housing Affordability and Urban Containment Policy).

    As The Economist has pointed out, suburbanization (pejoratively called urban sprawl) can be stopped only forcibly, "But the consequences of doing that are severe." Urban residents can only hope for a future of policies fashioned from reality rather than dogma.

    Note 1: Portland's urban density lower than that of 94 of the 200 urban areas in the Atlas sample. This is nearly the same as its the ranking in Demographia World Urban Areas, where Portland's urban density is lower than that of 93 percent out of more than 1000. Demographia World Urban Areas provides population, urban land area and urban population density for the more than 1000 identified with 500,000 or more population.

    Note 2: Dhaka is also shown to be the highest density urban area in Demographia World Urban Areas, which provides population, urban land area and urban population density for the more than 1000 identified with 500,000 or more population.

    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: In a Dhaka shantytown (by author).

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    When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, followed by a strong hurricane in Florida, much of the media response indicated that the severe weather was a sign of catastrophic climate change, payback for mass suburbanization — and even a backlash by Mother Nature against the election of President Donald Trump.

    Yet, these assumptions are often exaggerated. Although climate change could well worsen these incidents, this recent surge of hurricanes followed a decade of relative quiescence. Hurricanes, like droughts and heavy rains, are part of the reality along the Gulf Coast and the South Atlantic, just as droughts and earthquakes plague those of us who live in Southern California.

    The best response to disasters is not to advance hysterical claims about impending doom, but rather resilience. This means placing primary attention on bolstering our defenses against catastrophic events, whether in protecting against floods, ice storms, earthquakes or droughts.

    The limits of original sin

    Days after Hurricane Harvey hit, Quartz opined that “Houston’s flooding shows what happens when you ignore science and let developers run rampant.” The Guardian’s climate columnist, George Monbiot, even portrayed the event as a kind of payback for being the world capital of planet-destroying climate change.

    In ascribing every disaster — even the Syrian civil war — to human-caused warming, we may be venturing into something more akin to the religious notion of original sin than to rational science. We should want to reduce greenhouse gases, but, as both rational skeptics like Bjorn Lomborg and true believers like NASA’s James Hansen agree, such things as the Paris climate accord are unlikely to make much of an impact on the actual climate in the near term — or even in the medium term.

    In the short run, then, who sits in the White House is pretty irrelevant. Having Barack Obama, or even Bill Nye, the “Science Guy,” in the White House would not make an appreciable difference in addressing nature’s fury.

    Read the entire piece at 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.

    Photo: Jill Carlson ( from Roman Forest, Texas, USA (Hurricane Harvey Flooding and Damage) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    As we write this piece, the whole world is watching in disbelief as rain and flooding wreak devastation again along the Gulf Coast and Florida. Upwards of 50 inches of rain fell in parts of Southern Texas, thousands have been displaced from their homes in Miami and Houston, and some residents may never fully recover their livelihoods and homes. The Mayor of Houston called upon neighbors to help each other while first responders did their best to respond to the thousands of calls for help. It is in the shadow of their heroism and grace that we offer the following approach to mitigating the impact of future events in your communities.

    “All disasters are local” is a phrase we hear often in the emergency management field. While the initial coverage of large events is often framed at the city level, the narrative soon shifts to the neighborhoods that experience heightened levels of damage and stress. The 9th Ward, Red Hook, and the Rockaways have all become household names due to major disasters which unfolded there. In San Francisco, the Marina district became the center of the world as the media covered the events that followed the famous “World Series” Earthquake of 1989. As the helicopters flew overhead, firefighters desperately tried to stop flames from leaping from house to house but were hampered by broken water pipes. Residents in the area leapt to action. They started guiding their vulnerable neighbors out of harm’s way and took the lead on running fire hoses from the fire boats on the bay up to the fire scene so the fire teams could do their job.

    That day, every resident became a first responder.

    Role of Social Capital in Emergency Preparedness

    Fast-forward almost 30 years, and the field of emergency management has evolved in the face of mountains of evidence that shows that, while professional personnel and gear are essential, well-connected communities that work together on both challenges and opportunities every day are better positioned to respond to times of stress, experience lower levels of impact, and recover faster to a more improved condition. In other words, they are resilient.

    Connections, also known as social cohesion or social capital, serve as the invisible fabric that connects us with our family, neighbors, and friends. These ties make up a critical but underappreciated component of strong neighborhoods and thriving cities. Having more connections and trust makes collective action more likely. We can solve problems more easily and are more likely to engage in planning meetings, attend PTA bake sales, and tackle crime and blight.

    When it comes to preparing for large disasters, we may imagine that building better roads, ports, and buildings will be enough to give our society resilience to future shocks. Unfortunately, traditional investments in the built environment to mitigate risks are important but not adequate. Research from communities around the world shows that social, not physical, infrastructure is the key to building resilient neighborhoods and cities. These neighborhoods and towns can recover from any kind of shock to residents, whether they’re extreme weather events or terrorism.

    Knowing the importance of social ties, we still must help our residents and their surrounding community get ready to meet the immediate needs of their loved ones and vulnerable neighbors. Social cohesion is great, but they still need to feed and care for each other under intense circumstances — so how do we get them to prepare for that mission without using fear based messaging?

    In San Francisco, we’ve developed an easy solution: “Throw a Block Party!”

    Introducing Neighborfest

    Preparedness messaging to date has been presented as an almost arduous checklist of things that you have to do above and beyond your existing list of tasks. While all would agree these investments make sense, they appear to be more like “homework” than anything else.

    When we unpack the phrase “All disasters are local,” it can be either perceived as a clinical assessment of what happened, or a roadmap for an approach that will ensure the health and safety of residents. And there is nothing more local than a block party.

    In 2015, the San Francisco’s Neighborhood Empowerment Network partnered with the Red Cross, SF SAFE (a community policing NGO), NERT (our local version of CERT) and the Department of Emergency Management to pilot a new community capacity building initiative that would advance a variety of capacities to increase a neighborhood’s ability to respond to a disaster with little or no support from professional first responders.

    The program was called “Neighborfest — the World’s Greatest Block Party”, and eight neighborhood watches signed up to participate. The underlying goal was to create an experiential learning event that would advance the following capabilities:

    1. Build a team of volunteers around a unifying mission.

    When our hosts come together to organize their block party, we provide them with a framework that builds on the first responder’s Incident Command System (ICS). ICS sets goals, objectives, roles, and responsibilities for times of stress. It’s a simple framework and works perfectly for pulling off a great block party.

    2. Develop an asset registry for critical resources in the immediate neighborhood.

    Block parties need a lot of different resources, including tables, chairs, bounce houses, charcoal for BBQs, and food. Neighborfest hosts learn to identify needs as a team and then crowdsource each resource from their neighbors, buy it, or get it donated. Practicing this form of asset mining will be an invaluable investment when residents need to work quickly to meet needs — and Home Depot and Safeway aren’t open, the likely situation in a large-scale disaster.

    3. Become effective conveners and generate social capital throughout their community.

    Humans have amazing potential to come together during times of stress and to help each other overcome overwhelming challenges. The critical factor for magnitude and comprehensiveness of that support is the level of connection that people have among themselves pre-event. In other words, you are more likely to offer or accept help from someone you already know. The Neighborfest program generates social capital from the moment the host committee is formed to the actual event when people are celebrating with old friends and strengthening their connection or meeting new neighbors for the first time.

    In order to onboard communities the Neighborfest Program offers the following benefits and resources to hosts:

         • A toolkit that provides them with step-by-step guidance for everything from organizing a Host     Committee to cleaning up after the event

         • A suite of tools such as a custom website that they can use to promote their event, door     hangers to reach out to nearby neighbors, and free barricades to manage traffic

         • Technical support on how to navigate the City’s permitting system and to remove fees

         • Coordination of first responder resources, police and fire, to arrive the day of the event and     engage residents

         • A professionally facilitated “Map Your Resilientville” exercise and preparedness information

         • A bin of disaster supplies comprised of gloves, helmets, vests, and first aid kits to help     neighbors help each other in the hours after an event

    The first round of pilots were a smashing success and the decision was made to run a second round of pilots in 2016. In 2017, the program was opened up to a wider range of engaged networks and over 35 neighborhoods were enrolled.

    Beyond the fantastic food that is a hallmark of a great block party, a real highlight from the last three years is the amazing range of activities that hosts created for their guests. From pinball machine competitions to belly dancing flash mobs, the residents always seem to find a way to build on the foundation of a classic neighborhood street party and add a unique cultural twist that makes it all their own. For the City, we have our own layer that advances our mission in a manner that generates deep impact with very little of the traditional logistics associated with community engagement.

    A key requirement of participating in the Neighborfest Program is that hosts allow the City, and its partners, to join the event to table and raise awareness of our programs and initiatives. A very popular activity that complements the provision of the bin of disaster supplies is the “Map Your Resilientville” exercise. This fun and easy game offers participants an opportunity to asset map their community for sources of food, water, power, medical, sheltering, and open spaces resources in their community so they can survive for 72 hours. Once the resident has written their answers on the sheet, they are offered a wide range of culturally competent preparedness information resources which they overwhelming accept. As the event winds down, the hosts bring their guests together for a group photo with their new disaster resources map and bin of supplies. The map is then rolled up and put in the bin to be retrieved at a moment’s notice to guide their response activity should times of stress arrive.

         • For cities considering adopting this program, the process for its implementation is fairly     simple. Determine what systems are in place for residents to secure permission to close a street     and engage the managing agencies to join the program as partners. (NOTE: Neighborfests are     also held in parks, plazas and parking lots)

         • Convene any and all agencies that offer programs and resources to communities and invite     them to join the initiative.

         • Use the current Neighborfest toolkit or develop your own.

         • Launch a pilot and secure the participation of reasonable number of neighborhoods that will     afford partner agencies enough activations to fine tune planning, operations and logistics     responsibilities.

         • Make any necessary adjustments to your Neighborfest strategy and open a second round of     block parties. Continue to increase the number of events in reflection of your staffing and     budgeting capacities.

    Over time, you’ll most likely develop a team of committed volunteers who enjoy engaging people about this important issue as well as being in a joyful environment where people from all walks of life come together and celebrate what they have in common — their neighborhood.

    The intent of the Neighborfest program is to be prepared for times of stress that may arrive at any time. However, the social dividends generated literally from the moment the Host Committee is convened are immediate and tangible. Almost everybody wants to live in a community surrounded by people they know and trust, and the Neighborfest program is valuable resource for achieving that goal.

    So let’s get local and have a party.

    This piece originally appeared on Medium.

    Daniel Homsey is the Director of The Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) for the City Administrator’s Office of the City and County of San Francisco. A fourth generation San Franciscan who has a degree in Political Science from San Francisco State University, Mr. Homsey has spent the last 25 years as a communications professional in both the private and public sector. After a long stint in the tech sector, Mr. Homsey joined the City in 2004 and in January 2008 became the Director of the NEN which is a coalition of residents, community supported organizations, non-profits, academic institutions, and government agencies whose mission it is to empower residents with the capacity and resources to build and steward stronger more resilient communities. For more information about the NEN, please visit

    Daniel Aldrich is professor and director of the Security and Resilience Program at Northeastern University. He has published four books, more than forty peer reviewed articles, and written op-eds for The New York Times, CNN, and Asahi Shinbun. He has appeared on popular media outlets such as CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and HuffPost, and has a PhD in political science from Harvard. His research has been funded by the Fulbright Foundation, the Abe Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Hee has carried out more than five years of fieldwork in Japan, India, Africa, and the Gulf Coast. His newest book, Black Wave: Connections and Governance in Japan’s 3.11 Disasters, is under review, and his articles and OpEds can be downloaded for free from For more on Prof. Daniel Aldrich’s work — please visit Daniel can also be reached on Twitter: @DanielPAldrich.

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    In my “superstar effect” series I’ve been presenting examples of where superstars (whether individuals or cities) are generating a disproportionate share of the rewards these days.

    I mentioned that I had some counter-examples and wanted to share one today. Namely that backoffice decentralization, or the move of less-than-superstar functions out of superstar cities, has benefitted a certain class of places like Denver and Salt Lake City.

    The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently wrote about the decentralization of West Coast finance out of San Francisco:

    Traditional finance hubs have yet to recover all the jobs lost during the recession, but the industry is booming in places like Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Dallas. The migration has accelerated as investment firms face declining profitability and soaring real estate costs.

    The market’s shift to low-cost passive investing compounds those difficulties, pushing firms to look for new ways to cut costs.

    Charles Schwab is emblematic. Since announcing its relocation strategy in early 2013, the company has shrunk its San Francisco headquarters to fewer than 1,300 people, a 45% decrease. Its 47-acre campus south of Denver is now Schwab’s largest office, employing almost 4,000 people. An expanded office in Austin, Texas, will be completed next year, and construction is under way on a new location near Dallas.

    Surely high end finance around tech is still in the Bay Area. But more workaday firms like Charles Schwab can’t justify a huge labor force there.

    They name some of the places benefitting from this exodus, what I’ve previous labeled “horizontal” cities (in contrast to the “vertical” superstar cities). It’s part of the sorting of the economy that has been going on.

    In some respects its better to be a horizontal than a vertical city. The costs are lower. You’re more likely to get large scale employment. And you can be more diverse.

    The problem is that there are only a limited number of these successful horizontal cities. There are plenty of places that are succeeding in neither model.

    But for places like Salt Lake City, Denver, Austin, Nashville, Columbus, etc. they don’t need to be Manhattan or San Francisco. They can still have great success without being superstar oriented.

    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: Mike Mozart, CC BY 2.0

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    I recently had a revelation about the American approach to racial integration. We've been doing it all wrong, and its had disastrous impacts on African-Americans. Our cities are facing another integration challenge today, and we're in danger of repeating the same mistakes.

    Let me present a few provocative counter scenarios to show you what I mean.

    What if, when the time came for baseball integration, the major leagues merged with the Negro Leagues? Instead of identifying a handful of early players who had the grit and toughness to deal with the ostracism, perhaps 2-4 Negro League teams in the 1940's could've become full MLB teams, and the rest of the Negro League players are put into a supplemental draft for all teams. Four Negro League teams from four markets untouched by MLB at the time -- the Baltimore Elite Giants, the Newark Eagles, the Indianapolis Clowns and the Kansas City Monarchs -- could've become full-fledged MLB members, and more players would've had a shot at major league play.

    What if, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, segregated white schools were required to admit not only black students, but black faculty and administrators as well? When segregated white schools finally addressed integration, they did so by dispersing black students among several white schools, and generally shutting down the black schools they came from. Black teachers and principals were often left completely out of the integration process, and black students lost a critical support group during a difficult period.

    What if, instead of outlawing housing discrimination by race, religion, national origin and all other protected classes, the federal government outlawed specific practices (exclusionary zoning, redlining, discriminatory public housing and urban renewal, discriminatory real estate practices like steering or contract buying, among others) and at the same time required all local jurisdictions to provide housing for all persons at all income levels? Mid-century American suburbs would likely have seen an increase in working-class and low-income housing, becoming far more diverse far earlier than it has. Cities would've seen an uptick in high-end construction far earlier as well. On the whole, there would've been greater balance in urban and suburban property values, then and now.

    America did something quite different in reality. Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey sought out someone with the talent and fiery personality like Jackie Robinson. The Little Rock NAACP was forced to find the Little Rock Nine to push Little Rock Central High School toward integration. Individual homebuyers or renters were sent into sometimes hostile neighborhoods in the name of integration.

    In reality, the burden of integration was always on black people.

    This hit me with full force after hearing a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell at Revisionist History. In his story about integration, entitled Miss Buchanan's Period of Adjustment, he talks about the aftermath of the Brown v. Board decision -- how the Brown family's intent was misread by so many, including the Supreme Court, and how it led to tragic unintended consequences. One of those consequences: the number of African-American teachers in the South, to this day, has never recovered from its heights during the Jim Crow Era, because school systems, administrators and school parents believed they could deal with black students in the classroom, but could not abide being taught by black teachers.

    In each of the real scenarios, two systems were (or are) at work, and African-Americans were seeking to operate on a level playing field. There were two baseball "systems" -- MLB and the Negro Leagues. There were two school "systems", explicitly so in the South but implicitly so in the North -- one for whites and one for blacks. There are two housing "systems" in our metro areas, for blacks and whites.

    Here's the problem. When our nation's power structure looks at these dual systems, the assumption is that one is superior and the other is inferior. Barriers must be broken so that people can flow to the clearly superior system. In pursuing integration, our society destroyed one system in the name of inferiority, while never fully accommodating the needs of those dependent on another.

    But really, were those "inferior" systems really inferior? There are many accounts of Negro League teams playing exhibitions against MLB teams and winning with regularity. The Brown family in the Brown v. Board case? They were quite pleased with the quality of education, the excellence of the faculty and staff, at the segregated school their daughter attended; they brought up the case because their daughter was forced to attend a school several miles away, when another school was available just four blocks away. But because of the assumption of inferiority, the power structure sought to be expansive rather than inclusive: meaning that it would expand one system in the hopes that it would accommodate more participants, rather than fully include the other system fully into the mix.

    In fact, when it could, the power structure effectively destroyed one system in favor of the other. The Negro Leagues were effectively defunct by the mid-1950's. The expansion of suburban school districts at the time of rapid suburban expansion, accompanied by policies that kept blacks out of suburbs, led to resegregation and negative impacts in urban school districts.

    Back to housing, where we have another conflict of systems. Urban revitalization has produced a lot of angst. There are newcomers with lots of anxiety about their imprint on formerly low-income communities. There are longtimers fearful about the change coming to a neighborhood they hold near and dear. Increasingly, the newcomer response has been to expand its options. Yes In My Back Yard (YIMBY), they say; build more housing and prices and rents become more affordable, and we can rid ourselves of the displacement angst. Longtimers, in voices that are seemingly heard less and less, call for an inclusive approach to revitalization. Something that allows them to stay in place, and benefit from positive change as well.

    History suggests it won't go well for the longtimers.

    This piece originally appeared on The Corner Side Yard.

    Pete Saunders is a Detroit native who has worked as a public and private sector urban planner in the Chicago area for more than twenty years.  He is also the author of "The Corner Side Yard," an urban planning blog that focuses on the redevelopment and revitalization of Rust Belt cities.

    Photo: A painting of East-West All Star Game participants at Chicago's Comiskey Park, undated. Source:

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    I’ve been asked to submit a proposal for the next Congress for New Urbanism in May of 2018 by one of the organizers in Savannah, Georgia. I declined the first two times I was asked, then reluctantly agreed to offer a tentative outline the third time I was approached. I’m not convinced the committee will have much use for what I have to say.

    CNU has done some amazing things over the years that are worth celebrating. They’ve taken the standard building blocks of suburbia and infused them with some of the elements of earlier forms of traditional architecture and urbanism. Simple things like front porches, interconnected street grids, and garages at the rear along back alleys were subtle, but important refinements to the typical cul-de-sac arrangement. Bringing pocket parks, bike lanes, schools, and churches right in to residential neighborhoods was a huge struggle that challenged prevailing regulatory orthodoxy, but were instantly embraced by homebuyers hungry for this kind of community. And integrating storm water management, wildlife preservation, bike lanes, and urban agriculture into the master plan turned tedious problems into beloved amenities. None of this was easy.

    Urban infill has also been reinvented by CNU in a way that satisfies market demand as well as the endless regulations concerning off street parking requirements, fire codes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the parameters set down by institutional investors who fund these projects. These buildings are popular with a certain demographic, boost the local tax base, are profitable for those who build them, and contribute to the revitalization of older neighborhoods.

    My criticism of these New Urbanist activities is that they are fantastically large, complex, and hideously expensive relative to the resources and skills of a simple mom and pop who might want to build something small and incremental in their hometown. CNU has worked with an army of professionals to create noticeably better places. Kudos. But it’s impossible for ordinary people to participate in the process. If anything, it’s substantially more difficult to build or even modify anything at the household level now than it was twenty six years ago when CNU first formed. To be fair, changing the larger society hasn’t been an option. Instead CNU learned to do the things that worked and to scale up to meet the regulatory and political environment as needed.

    So what is it that I might say to the assembled professionals in Savannah next spring – assuming anyone wants to listen? First, CNU is now captive to the same institutional get-big-or-get-out Ponzi dynamics as every other part of society. The twentieth century was about growth of all kinds and our banks, production builders, corporations, and government agencies ramped up to manage that growth. The twenty first century is all about hitting limits, paying old bills that are coming due, maintaining an endless amount of aging infrastructure, and accommodating contraction. Absolutely no one in any position of authority has any idea of how to scale back down.

    Second, the overwhelming majority of communities outside the economic bubbles of places like Seattle, D.C. Miami, Dallas, New York, and San Francisco are visibly in decline with half dead strip malls and abandoned gas stations constituting the tax base and employment center. These places will never be reinvented as tree lined boulevards with streetcars and pedestrian oriented infill development. The money isn’t there. The market demand isn’t there. The political will isn’t there. And the remaining middle class residents of these places will come out with pitchforks and firebrands in opposition to public transit and higher density. These places never had a traditional Main Street to dust off and infuse with new life. They will have no choice but to adapt in place more or less as they are physically.

    Half the country is going to have to find a way to make things work on a shoestring budget in the absence of any new construction, professional planners, bank financing, and official permission. I see evidence of successful sub rosa household adaptation everywhere I go. Unfortunately I can’t write about most of it because it’s illegal. Quietly converting a single family home into a de facto duplex, planting a productive veggie garden on the front lawn, or operating a business out of the garage is treated with the same military style police response as drug trafficking and the sex trade. People are figuring this stuff out on the fly and on the cheap all by themselves and it works – not in spite of the lack of master planning, corporate investment, and government intervention – but because of it. CNU is irrelevant to this process.

    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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    Just released Survey of Current Population (CPS) indicates that median household income in the United States was $59,039 in 2016 (Note). This is four percent above the 2002 level, when the ethnic surveying system was adopted. This article provides data for each of the metropolitan areas (more than 1,000,000 population), including the overall median, and figures for the largest ethnicities (White Non-Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and Hispanic. The ethnicity of households is determined by "householder," (formerly called "head of household"). The major metropolitan area data is shown in the table at the bottom of the article.

    Median Household Income by Largest Ethnicity

    Despite all the talk of white “privilege”, it’s actually Asian households that have by far the highest median incomes of the four largest ethnicities. It has been this way for decades, from the very earliest Census Bureau income estimates that separated out Asians. And Asians have been so successful that they are leaving the other large ethnicities "in the dust."

    According to the Census Bureau, Asians are persons "having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam." In 2016, Asian household median household income was $81,431, compared to $65,041 for White Non-– Hispanic households.

    Asian (alone) income has been separately estimated since 2002 when it was 12 percent higher than the median income of White Non-– Hispanic (alone) households. Even before that, from 1987 to 2001, Asian income was reported along with that of Pacific Islanders and was 14 percent above that of White Non-– Hispanic households. That gap has widened substantially and now Asian households have a median income 25 percent above White Non-– Hispanic households. The gap has increased because White Non-– Hispanic households have stagnated, rising four percent inflation adjusted terms between 2002 in 2016, while Asian incomes have increased 16 percent.

    Hispanic median household income was $47,675, an increase of eight percent from 2002. African-American (alone) median household income was $39,490, up two percent ,an even lower increase than White Non-– Hispanic four percent from 2002 (Figure 1).

    San Jose: America's Most Affluent Metropolitan Area for Households,,_California#/media/File:AlumRockV... (Creative Commons)

    Highest and Lowest Household Metropolitan Area Incomes: Overall

    The highest median household income is in San Jose (photo above), at $110,400 annually, according to the American Community Survey, 2016. San Jose also has the highest median household income for all four ethnicities. Nearby San Francisco has the second highest median household income, $96,700. Washington is third, at $95,800. Fourth ranked Boston is more than $10,000 lower, while fifth ranked Seattle is nearly $4,000 below Boston. However, each of these places have very high costs of living that can more than make up for their advantages relative to cities with lower incomes, lower costs of living and, in an environment of graduated income taxes, lower annual tax payments.

    The balance of the top 10 includes Baltimore, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Hartford, Denver and New York (Figure 2).

    Tucson had the lowest median household income, at $47,800. Six of the least affluent 10 major metropolitan areas were in the South, including New Orleans, Memphis, Tampa – St. Petersburg, Miami, Birmingham and Orlando. The East and Midwest each had one in the bottom 10, Cleveland and Buffalo. The West's Las Vegas was also in the least affluent 10.

    Asians Households: The Most Affluent

    The three most affluent major metropolitan areas for Asian households duplicate the overall ratings, above, San Jose, San Francisco and Washington. Raleigh ranks fourth and Baltimore fifth, followed by Seattle, Charlotte, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Cleveland (Figure 3).

    Tucson also had the lowest Asian median household income, with Buffalo and New Orleans only slightly higher. Grand Rapids was the fourth least affluent followed by Rochester. Oklahoma City, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Las Vegas rounded out the least 10 affluent Asian households.

    White Non-Hispanic Households

    The top three among White Non-Hispanic households are the same as the overall and Asian rankings, though Washington is rated second, instead of third, with San Jose first and San Francisco third. New York was fourth, while Boston was fifth. The balance of the top ten for White Non-Hispanic median household incomes included Baltimore, Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston, and Hartford (Figure 4).

    Tucson had the lowest White Non-– Hispanic median household income, at $53,700. Tampa St. Petersburg, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Buffalo made up the balance of the bottom five. Rochester, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Birmingham and Las Vegas occupy positions six through 10.

    Hispanic Households

    As with White Non-Hispanics, the highest Hispanic median household incomes were in San Jose, Washington and San Francisco. Baltimore and Seattle ranked fourth and fifth. The balance of the top 10 included Austin, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, San Diego and Chicago (Figure 5)

    Rochester had the least affluent Hispanic households, with a median income of $28,600. The balance of the bottom five included Buffalo, Indianapolis, Providence, and New Orleans. Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Tucson Louisville and Oklahoma City were also in the bottom 10.

    African-American Households

    The highest income African-American households were in San Jose, Baltimore and San Diego, followed by Denver and Austin. The fifth through 10th positions were occupied by New York, Raleigh, Boston, Atlanta, and Riverside-San Bernardino (Figure 6).

    Buffalo had the lowest median household income among African – Americans, at $27,600. Milwaukee, New Orleans, Cleveland, and Rochester were also below 30,000. The sixth through 10th positions were occupied by Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Louisville, with incomes between $31,000 and $34,000.

    The Challenge

    The stagnation of incomes since 2002 is apparent, especially at the overall level and among African-American and White Non-Hispanic households. It is to be hoped that the future results in a return of historic economic growth, which is the only sure way of sustainably increasing the incomes of all households and all ethnicities.

    Note: Because of differing data collection approaches, the Survey of Current Population (CPS) income data is somewhat higher (2.5 percent) than that of American Community Survey (ACS) 2016 figure of $57,617. CPS data is not available for most geographies. Because the principal, national and ethnicity analysis by the Census Bureau relies on CPS data, it is used here for the national level.

    Median Household Income: 2016: Metropolitan Areas over 1,000,000 Population
    Metropolitan Area All Rank White Non-Hispanic Rank African-American Rank Asian Rank Hispanic Rank
    Atlanta, GA  $   62,613    22  $   75,435    19  $   48,161    10  $   80,209    22  $ 50,563    21
    Austin, TX  $   71,000    12  $   80,599    13  $   49,871      6  $   87,817    12  $ 56,306      6
    Baltimore, MD  $   76,788      6  $   89,329      6  $   53,231      3  $   97,252      5  $ 69,525      4
    Birmingham, AL  $   52,226    47  $   61,662    45  $   37,336    34  $   63,144    47  $ 47,083    26
    Boston, MA-NH  $   82,380      4  $   91,051      5  $   48,444      9  $   90,098      8  $ 46,708    28
    Buffalo, NY  $   53,487    45  $   60,342    49  $   27,635    52  $   45,726    52  $ 28,939    52
    Charlotte, NC-SC  $   59,979    31  $   67,742    28  $   42,108    22  $   90,291      7  $ 43,680    36
    Chicago, IL-IN-WI  $   66,020    16  $   79,865    15  $   37,258    35  $   87,469    13  $ 52,730    10
    Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN  $   60,260    28  $   65,438    34  $   32,429    46  $   86,953    14  $ 50,932    20
    Cleveland, OH  $   52,131    48  $   61,078    47  $   29,376    49  $   88,735    10  $ 41,699    43
    Columbus, OH  $   60,294    27  $   65,465    32  $   36,679    37  $   70,224    37  $ 42,820    38
    Dallas-Fort Worth, TX  $   63,812    20  $   78,994    17  $   45,588    18  $   89,177      9  $ 48,311    24
    Denver, CO  $   71,926      9  $   80,668    12  $   50,318      5  $   72,038    34  $ 51,955    15
    Detroit,  MI  $   56,142    38  $   64,620    37  $   33,558    42  $   88,045    11  $ 49,715    22
    Grand Rapids, MI  $   60,212    29  $   63,872    40  $   34,667    41  $   54,819    50  $ 41,997    41
    Hartford, CT  $   72,559      8  $   81,839    10  $   47,328    13  $   83,141    18  $ 42,200    40
    Houston, TX  $   61,708    25  $   82,015      9  $   47,588    12  $   85,527    16  $ 46,488    29
    Indianapolis. IN  $   56,750    37  $   63,826    41  $   32,696    44  $   64,404    45  $ 35,941    51
    Jacksonville, FL  $   56,840    36  $   62,373    42  $   41,007    26  $   63,473    46  $ 54,447      8
    Kansas City, MO-KS  $   61,385    26  $   67,607    29  $   36,575    38  $   68,609    41  $ 45,672    33
    Las Vegas, NV  $   54,384    44  $   61,833    44  $   37,410    32  $   65,423    44  $ 45,831    32
    Los Angeles, CA  $   65,950    18  $   84,075      7  $   45,469    19  $   75,879    27  $ 52,076    13
    Louisville, KY-IN  $   54,546    43  $   60,235    50  $   33,287    43  $   65,867    43  $ 41,628    45
    Memphis, TN-MS-AR  $   49,809    51  $   67,781    27  $   35,542    39  $   72,892    33  $ 42,244    39
    Miami, FL  $   51,362    49  $   65,176    35  $   40,239    29  $   69,547    39  $ 45,938    30
    Milwaukee,WI  $   58,029    35  $   68,540    26  $   28,942    51  $   82,121    21  $ 39,389    48
    Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN-WI  $   73,231      7  $   78,864    18  $   34,720    40  $   73,010    32  $ 51,122    18
    Nashville, TN  $   60,030    30  $   65,441    33  $   41,374    25  $   71,900    35  $ 44,503    34
    New Orleans. LA  $   48,804    52  $   64,152    39  $   29,296    50  $   46,860    51  $ 37,463    49
    New York, NY-NJ-PA  $   71,897    10  $   91,454      4  $   49,488      7  $   83,063    19  $ 47,266    25
    Oklahoma City, OK  $   55,065    42  $   61,536    46  $   31,344    47  $   59,865    48  $ 41,657    44
    Orlando, FL  $   52,385    46  $   62,218    43  $   37,356    33  $   76,575    25  $ 42,959    37
    Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD  $   65,996    17  $   79,869    14  $   39,609    30  $   74,597    28  $ 40,334    47
    Phoenix, AZ  $   58,075    34  $   64,286    38  $   42,006    23  $   73,380    30  $ 45,883    31
    Pittsburgh, PA  $   56,063    40  $   59,046    51  $   32,534    45  $   76,005    26  $ 55,641      7
    Portland, OR-WA  $   68,676    14  $   71,859    23  $   37,452    31  $   79,128    23  $ 52,507    11
    Providence, RI-MA  $   61,948    23  $   66,853    30  $   41,401    24  $   85,568    15  $ 36,639    50
    Raleigh, NC  $   71,685    11  $   79,539    16  $   49,433      8  $ 100,396      4  $ 44,346    35
    Richmond, VA  $   62,929    21  $   74,900    20  $   43,265    20  $   85,510    17  $ 51,084    19
    Riverside-San Bernardino, CA  $   58,236    33  $   64,699    36  $   47,879    11  $   77,682    24  $ 51,892    16
    Rochester, NY  $   55,134    41  $   60,441    48  $   29,527    48  $   58,907    49  $ 28,553    53
    Sacramento, CA  $   64,052    19  $   71,675    24  $   40,969    27  $   69,088    40  $ 51,555    17
    St. Louis,, MO-IL  $   59,780    32  $   66,815    31  $   36,712    36  $   68,112    42  $ 52,005    14
    Salt Lake City, UT  $   68,196    15  $   72,356    21       $   73,650    29  $ 49,637    23
    San Antonio, TX  $   56,105    39  $   72,280    22  $   46,754    15  $   71,485    36  $ 46,943    27
    San Diego, CA  $   70,824    13  $   81,431    11  $   52,715      4  $   82,136    20  $ 53,076      9
    San Francisco-Oakland, CA  $   96,677      2  $ 115,056      3  $   46,571    16  $ 105,295      2  $ 70,290      3
    San Jose, CA  $ 110,040      1  $ 121,344      1  $   65,438      2  $ 128,175      1  $ 70,999      1
    Seattle, WA  $   78,612      5  $   82,935      8  $   47,270    14  $   91,036      6  $ 59,073      5
    Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL  $   51,115    50  $   54,295    52  $   40,760    28  $   69,574    38  $ 41,767    42
    Tucson, AZ  $   47,560    53  $   53,722    53  $   43,154    21  $   45,648    53  $ 40,394    46
    Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC  $   61,805    24  $   71,553    25  $   46,209    17  $   73,191    31  $ 52,353    12
    Washington, DC-VA-MD-WV  $   95,843      3  $ 115,474      2  $   69,246      1  $ 103,746      3  $ 70,523      2
    Source: American Community Survey 2016
    Blank indicates insufficiently large sample size


    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.

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    When Donald Trump was elected president, much of American Jewish leadership reacted with something close to hysteria. To some, Trump’s presidency reflected the traditional face of the anti-Semitic right — xenophobic, nationalist and culturally conservative.

    Trump’s handling of certain events, notably the Charlottesville white nationalist rally, have revived earlier charges that the president winks at right-wing racist supporters, even considering them part of his base.

    The disdain toward Trump in the rabbinical community — often more liberal than congregants — was reflected in its cancellation of the annual New Year (Rosh Hashanah) call with the president. Yet, for all of the justifiable worries about the extreme right, the more consequential threat may well come from the left side of the spectrum.

    The European model

    I first became aware of this shift almost 15 years ago, when my wife, Mandy, and I visited the famous Nazi hunters, Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, at their offices in Paris. One would expect Serge, whose father died in the concentration camps, to focus his concern on aspiring brown shirts, but, instead, he suggested that the biggest long-term threats would come increasingly from the left and parts of Europe’s expanding Muslim immigrant communities.

    Some Jewish groups seem slow to realize how much things have changed since 1940. To be sure, the rise of right-wing nationalism across Europe is frightening, but, increasingly, the primary locus of European anti-Semitism can be found in heavily Muslim communities around cities such as Paris, as well as in Europe’s universities, where anti-Israel sentiments are increasingly de rigueur.

    Of course, one can question some Israeli policies — as I do regarding the expansion of settlements — without being an anti-Semite. But the anti-Israel focus of groups like those in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement clearly represents a new face of anti-Semitism. As the liberal French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy argues, this movement targets the Jewish state, but leaves totally unscathed far more brutal, homophobic and profoundly misogynist Muslim states. A double standard for Jews remains an enduring feature of anti-Semitic prejudice.

    Some, like the chief rabbi of Barcelona, think it’s time for Europe’s Jews to move away, as many, particularly from France, are already doing. Overall, Europe’s Jewish population is less than half of what it was in 1960.

    Nor is the immediate prospectus positive, as many leftist parties in Europe are increasingly dependent on Arab and other Muslim voters, many of whom come from places where over 80 percent of the public holds strongly anti-Jewish views. Even in the United Kingdom, opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn has cavorted openly with leaders of vehemently, and openly, anti-Semitic groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. If elevated to the prime minister’s post — which is no longer inconceivable, given his strong run in the last election — the consequences for Israel and Britain’s dwindling Jewish community could prove difficult.

    Read the entire piece at 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.

    Photo: Chatham House, London [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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  • 09/25/17--22:33: Trouble in Trump County, USA
  • By rights, Scott County, a rural Indiana community of 24,000, should be flourishing. It’s in a pro-business state. It’s part of the large, successful 1.2 million-person Louisville, Kentucky, metro area that’s been growing total jobs (75,300, or 12.9 percent) and manufacturing positions (19,600, or 31.6 percent) in the last five years. Scott County is an easy half-hour commute from downtown Louisville.

    Yet for years, Scott has struggled with severe economic and social challenges. Changes to the economy from automation and globalization eliminated many jobs and sent employers elsewhere. The Great Recession made things worse. The county is also grappling with a major public-health crisis, driven by drugs and HIV. It made national headlines in 2016 after recording 203 new cases of HIV in only about a year and a half. National media—NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times—swooped in to cover the story. The HIV outbreak resulted from needle-sharing among drug addicts, particularly to inject the prescription opioid Opana.

    Last November, Donald Trump, who stressed economic stagnation and the drug crisis during his campaign, won two-thirds of the vote in Scott—a substantial improvement on Mitt Romney’s 52 percent take in 2012 and even more impressive in a county that often votes Democratic in state and local elections. Thus, Scott makes a good case study for understanding the working-class dynamics that drove Trump to victory—and what prospects these places have for renewal.

    Located about 30 miles north of the Ohio River, along I-65 between Indianapolis and Louisville, Scott dates its origins to 1820, when the young state of Indiana created it from portions of five other counties. Southern Scott County includes a section of the original land grant that Virginia gave to George Rogers Clark and his men for their service in capturing what became the Northwest Territory from the British during the Revolutionary War. Lexington, one of the towns originally considered for Indiana’s first capital, became the county seat. The county jail briefly held members of the infamous Reno Gang, perpetrators of the nation’s first train robbery, after the Pinkerton Detective Agency captured them. Throughout the nineteenth century, Scott remained small, with the principal excitement being frequent debates and litigation involving moving the county seat to a more central location. Ultimately, the county seat did move, to land adjacent to Centerville, along the Jeffersonville Railroad. This became Scottsburg, today the county’s largest municipality, with 6,700 people.

    Agriculture anchored Scott’s economy. The area’s plentiful produce attracted several canning companies, especially in the northern part of the county, where Austin became a quasi-company town for Morgan Foods, founded there in 1899 and still family-controlled and operating in the city today. Morgan remains a major employer, with workers making private-label soups and other products.

    Scott County was never especially prosperous and suffered repeated economic reversals. Agriculture has always been a high-risk affair. In the postwar years, automation and improved efficiency dramatically reduced local farm employment. Farmers had once worried about keeping their children on the farm after they finished school—but by the 1950s, that concern was obsolete, since there were fewer farming jobs for them to come back to. Economic changes affected other areas, too. In the early days of the car, Scott’s economy flourished along the US 31 corridor, but the construction of I-65 in the late 1950s transformed everything. William Graham, a Republican who has served as Scottsburg’s mayor since 1988, worked originally as a civil engineer and spent a decade helping build the interstate system. He says that within five years of I-65’s opening, half the businesses that had lined US 31 through town were gone; within ten years, 90 percent of them had closed. Yet it took about 20 years for the interstate interchange to develop as a commercial location.

    The community took another blow in the 1980s, when Public Service Indiana canceled its Marble Hill nuclear power-plant project in adjacent Jefferson County. The move, made in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident, ended construction after $2.5 billion had already been spent—the costliest U.S. nuclear power-plant project ever abandoned. Many Scott County residents had worked on it. Graham believes that as much as a quarter of the community wound up unemployed as a result.

    Like many working-class communities, then, Scott County was no stranger to economic hardship—and the Great Recession delivered more of it. The local American Steel plant, which made steel cords for tires, closed. Auto-parts supplier Freudenberg-NOK also shuttered, moving its jobs to Mexico. In 2009, Scott County unemployment soared into double digits and stayed there for four years, peaking at 15.3 percent in 2010.

    The county has since rebounded somewhat. Unemployment declined sharply, to 4.8 percent in 2016; jobs are up 16.1 percent in the last five years. But the jobless rate has dropped so substantially partly because Scott’s labor force has declined by more than 800 people, or 7 percent, since peaking in 2006. And Scott County’s per-capita income of $34,400 is only 82.1 percent of the statewide average and 71.6 percent of the national average.

    Economic woes are only part of the gloomy picture. Scott County is also reeling from a drugs and HIV crisis, fueled by the increasing availability of hard drugs. As Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Jerome Adams puts it, whereas people once self-medicated with moonshine, now they use drugs such as Opana.

    Changes in medical-industry practices and government policy played an important role in making such drugs more widely available. Until the 1990s, the prescribing of pain medication had been tightly regulated, but that changed as pain management became a key medical goal. In 1996, the American Pain Society declared pain “the fifth vital sign.” The federal standard hospital-patient satisfaction survey asked patients questions, including: “How well was your pain controlled?” And: “How often did the hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?”

    “Only 12.2 percent of the population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher—and that’s up from just 7.3 percent in 2000.”

    The result was a major rise in the quantity of opioid pain prescriptions. Indiana is one of only a few states averaging more than one opioid prescription per resident per year. “Before, you wouldn’t give anyone any Vicodin for a dental procedure,” observes Adams. “Now we’re sending them home with 90 Vicodin. The patient takes nine, leaving 81 in the bottle in the medicine cabinet.” As a consequence, he says, “It’s actually harder [for minors] to get alcohol than it is to get pills in the community.”

    Another problem is family dysfunction. Previous eras of economic hardship took place against the backdrop of a largely intact social structure and stable homes. Divorce and out-of-wedlock births are now far more widespread. As recently as 1990, only about 20 percent of Scott County births were out of wedlock. By 2002, this figure had doubled to more than 40 percent. The causes and effects of these shifts are subject to debate, but it is indisputable that legal reforms facilitated divorce and changing social mores dramatically reduced the stigma associated with out-of-wedlock births. Americans broadly want divorce and even single motherhood to remain socially acceptable choices—yet these behaviors are associated with poor life outcomes.

    Scott County and places like it are dealing with the fallout. Conditions in the county now sometimes resemble stereotypes of the inner city, where parents are unfit or unable to raise their own kids. Graham observes: “One of the biggest changes is grandparents raising grandchildren, where you used to never see that—never.” These social changes occurred nationally but have hit communities like Scott hardest, leaving a sizable segment of the eligible population unemployable, regardless of how many jobs might be available. The problem in many working-class American communities today is as much social as economic.

    But even if they stay off drugs and graduate high school, people in these kinds of communities still face employment hurdles. Today’s jobs require increasingly sophisticated skills, but, like many rural communities, Scott County has low rates of college-degree attainment. Only 12.2 percent of the population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher—and that’s up from just 7.3 percent in 2000. Even many blue-collar jobs—from welding to computer-drive manufacturing—now require significant postsecondary-school training. The skill shortage limits access to jobs, both locally and regionally, and poses an obstacle to business recruitment.

    Taken together, the employment crisis and the social dysfunction produce a sense of malaise in some places. People almost always wave, smile, and say hello in small-town Indiana; but in Austin, for instance, only one person I saw even acknowledged my presence while I drove around. The rest just shambled about with blank stares. One local assured me that had my wife not been with me in the car, prostitutes would surely have approached me, soliciting for money to buy drugs. Scottsburg looks much better, with a healthy business district centered on its interstate interchange, but it, too, has troubles, such as significant retail-storefront vacancy on its courthouse square.

    The difficulties of communities like Scott are all the more striking, considering the region’s economic strengths. Scott is part of the federally defined Louisville metro area. The inclusion of rural areas within metro regions is not unusual. America’s metro areas are defined by commuting patterns, and they include large rural zones. To say that America is a metropolitan nation—86 percent of the country lives in metro areas—doesn’t mean that it all looks like Chicago or New York. Most of the metropolitan population is in suburban and even rural areas, and many rural areas, like Scott, are within easy commuting distance of a city. In Scott’s case, that city is the center of a bustling regional economy that is home to major corporations like Brown-Forman, Humana, and Yum! Foods (parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell). In the last five years, the Louisville metro area added 75,300 jobs—a growth rate of 12.9 percent. Manufacturing grew 31.6 percent, adding 19,600 jobs. Ford maintains a major auto-assembly plant there, and General Electric still manufactures appliances in the city. Louisville is also the site of UPS’s primary global air hub. The shipping firm employs more than 20,000 people and supports a major distribution infrastructure.

    The state of Indiana is economically strong, too, enjoying a budget surplus—with savings equivalent to 14 percent of the state’s annual budget—and an AAA credit rating. It has the eighth-best business-tax climate in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation. It’s a right-to-work state that has implemented nearly the full panoply of state-level conservative best practices for boosting business, and it has seen solid results in many places. But smaller, working-class communities without assets like a university have continued to struggle. Even within thriving Indianapolis, working-class neighborhoods and less educated residents have also lagged behind. These results pose a philosophical challenge for conservatives, who have typically assumed that economic prosperity will follow from implementing such business-friendly policies. For Indiana, a favorable tax and regulatory climate may be a virtue, but it hasn’t been sufficient to help everyone.

    Other factors have played a role in making places like Scott County especially vulnerable to pathology and stagnation. Scott was always a more hardscrabble place than some surrounding areas. One suggestive way to compare small towns is to look at their infrastructure, especially the existence of sidewalks and the quality of the houses. More historically prosperous small towns often have sidewalks through much of the city. Sidewalks are scarce in Austin; in Scottsburg, they line the courthouse square but are otherwise not prevalent. In many surrounding towns, by contrast, sidewalks stretch throughout much of their historic areas. Nearby Seymour, hometown of John Mellencamp, doesn’t just have sidewalks but also alleys and landscaped medians in some sections. Similarly, Scottsburg and Austin boast fewer grand old Victorian houses than one often finds even in many small towns; instead, small workers’ cottages predominate.

    Demographics are another drag on the county. Much of southern Indiana, like the Ohio River Valley in general, was heavily settled by German immigrants. To this day, 24 percent of the people in Clark County, to the immediate south, list their ancestry as German. To the immediate north, in Jackson County, that figure is nearly 29 percent; there’s even a Lutheran high school in Seymour. Scott County, by contrast, is only 15.6 percent German, being more Scotch-Irish-dominated. The area saw a heavy influx of Appalachian migration, with former residents of Hazard, Kentucky, flocking to Austin, in particular, drawn by jobs at Morgan Foods. Scott’s largest listed ethnicity, at 20 percent, is “American”—an appellation commonly used by the Scotch-Irish. Appalachia has long been known for its entrenched poverty and social dysfunction. The Centers for Disease Control recently released a list of counties at high risk for HIV and hepatitis C infections, and Appalachian areas were heavily represented. J. D. Vance’s best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy describes the tragic struggles of Appalachians in the modern world. Thus, communities like Scott County have a smaller reservoir of economic and social capital to recover from the big technological, economic, and social forces acting on them.

    Still, for all its drawbacks, Scott County is working hard to improve its circumstances. The first priority was to address the HIV outbreak, and here, the state has played a vital part. The tight-knit Austin community had a long history of believing that it could solve its own problems, but the outbreak was too much to handle on its own. Even in this rural area, it turns out, many people didn’t drive or own a car, making effective treatment a struggle. So the state set up a “one-stop shop” in an Austin community center. The national media focused almost exclusively on the needle-sharing dimension. But the facility also provided HIV testing and treatment, addiction-recovery counseling, health-insurance enrollment, state identification cards, and birth certificates. The result: a dramatic decline in the rate of new infections. The drug crisis isn’t over, but tremendous progress has been made in stopping the spread of HIV.

    The one-stop shop was created by then-governor Mike Pence’s executive order. Results suggest that it could be a model for how to deal with disease outbreaks in communities similar to Scott. Adopting it might be politically contentious in red states because it would involve spending more money to open field-office locations rather than relying on regional or countywide service centers; states have preferred service consolidation in rural areas, on efficiency grounds. But that old approach might not work anymore for deeply troubled communities.

    Other developments offer hope on the addiction front. Medical and government officials are taking steps to reduce prescription opioid abuse. Last year, the American Medical Association recommended that the “pain is the fifth vital sign” concept be dropped. Washington is planning to eliminate the pain questions from the patient-satisfaction survey form. In March 2017, an FDA panel concluded that the benefits of Opana no longer outweighed the drug’s risks; the FDA is now considering whether to take regulatory action. This is just a start, though. The drug epidemic in America goes beyond Opana or OxyContin—it involves many illegal substances, including meth, fentanyl, and heroin. While reducing the scourge of legal-painkiller abuse is a worthy goal, stopping the flow of drugs like heroin will be much tougher.

    Beyond fighting back against drugs and HIV, Scott County has also made a good start on retraining workers to help them find jobs and offering inducements to attract employers. The main effort on both counts is Scottsburg’s new $10 million Mid-America Science Park, financed half from stimulus funds and half from reserves in the local Tax Increment Financing district. Despite its own serious troubles, the county generously delayed the science park’s planned 2012 opening so that it could be used as a temporary high school after a tornado destroyed nearby (Clark County) Henryville’s building. Today the science park hosts training facilities for workers and high school students. IvyTech, Indiana’s community-college system, has opened a campus there.

    Some training is employer-specific. For example, Jeffboat in nearby Jeffersonville, America’s largest inland shipbuilder, donated a special welding training machine to help people learn how to perform the extra-thick welds needed on the barges that it constructs. The science park’s goal is to become, in effect, an outsourced training department for employers—albeit one they don’t have to pay for. Mayor Graham tells local companies: “My goal is that if you need any training done, I’ll do it. You won’t have to do it.” This wouldn’t just be for new hires. “It’s also for our incumbent workers,” Graham says. “If they need to get their skills upgraded—and they do—they can come here and take some training.”

    In a community that needs jobs, Graham’s can-do attitude is admirable. But it prompts the question: Why can’t companies do their own training, as they did before? The answer, in part, has to do with globalization. Businesses still manufacturing in the U.S. face such stiff competition from foreign firms that they often can’t afford to invest in workforce development. Nor can they always pay their workers much, which helps explain the low personal incomes in Scott County. (It’s notable that Jeffboat is protected from global competition by the notorious Jones Act, which requires domestic water transportation to be done using only American-made boats.) Scottsburg did lose one major employer, Freudenberg-NOK, to Mexico, but Graham is reluctant to blame trade deals like NAFTA. “I’m not sure that any of us here are qualified to say. I question it, but I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing.” Railing against trade may play well politically, but Graham would rather focus on what he can do with the tools available to him.

    The outcome, so far, is encouraging. Globalization gave back some of what it took away when the Japanese firm Tokusen bought the shuttered wire plant and reopened it. Electronics firm Samtec merged two regional locations into one facility at the science park that will employ 300—a big jobs number in a community the size of Scott County.

    These local business expansions are important because the purpose of Mid-America Science Park isn’t only training local workers for jobs but also attracting employers. Indiana local governments rely heavily on property taxes. The state’s tax-cap system limits single-family-home taxes to 1 percent of property value; commercial property is capped at 3 percent of value. This puts a premium on attracting commercial development. So the science park includes infrastructure targeted at business attraction, including generous meeting space, ultrahigh-quality videoconferencing capabilities, and rooms certified as secure enough for secret military-related teleconferences.

    State and local government have had some success in adjusting to globalization and technology-driven disruption, but they’re weak actors in the face of broad economic forces. Only the federal government can hope to shape them fundamentally. Donald Trump was elected in part because he promised to change the status quo on globalization and the economy. The challenge will be reforming the system to help working-class communities without harming the aggregate economy. That’s not likely to be a simple task.

    Even favorable federal policies will make little difference if communities like Scott can’t do something to address their crippling social problems—especially family breakdown, which enables all the others. Job openings go unfilled in communities with high proportions of drug addicts and dropouts. If changing economic conditions is hard, reversing negative social trends is even harder. A sense of humility about what can be accomplished is wise.

    Scott County has made a good start on retraining workers to help them find jobs while offering inducements to attract employers. (MARK CORNELISON/KRT/NEWSCOM)

    Does Scott County have a long-term future? “Give me two to three years,” says Scottsburg’s Graham, on his plans to improve the struggling downtown. One key area of focus in these localities is preserving historic downtown architecture, which even hardened urbanites love. Local leaders in Scott County understand the importance of these unique districts, not only to their community’s identity but also to the long-term viability of attracting and retaining residents. But they have little money to spend on such efforts. Overall, Graham is realistic but hopeful. “Do we have a terrible situation?” he asks, referring to the HIV outbreak. “We certainly do. We’re doing something about it.”

    His confidence may seem unwarranted to outsiders, but Scott County does have a track record of coming through crises. It survived agricultural automation, the disruption of the interstate highway, the closure of Marble Hill, and other setbacks. More recently, when businesses threatened to leave over poor Internet quality in the early 2000s, small-town Scottsburg built one of America’s first wireless municipal broadband systems to provide web service after the local providers refused to upgrade the community’s capacity. And Scott County retains its significant geographic advantages.

    While Scott and other working-class American communities may never be highly prosperous or glamorous, they might yet pull through this trial, as they have through others in the past. “What makes Scott County unique?” Adams asks. “My honest answer is: absolutely nothing. There are Scott Counties all throughout the country. All of the ingredients exist in many communities.” How Scott and its brethren fare will tell us a lot about America’s fate in the Trump years.

    This piece originally appeared in City Journal.

    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 source:

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  • 09/26/17--22:33: Commuting Data for 2016
  • Last week, the Census Bureau posted 2016 data from the American Community Survey, including population, income, housing, employment, and commuting data among many other categories. The survey is based on data from more than 3.5 million households. Today, the Antiplanner will look at commuting data: how people got to work in 2016 compared with previous years.

    To save you time, I’ve downloaded and posted 2016’s table B08301, “Means of Transportation to Work,” for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urbanized areas. I’ve also posted similar tables for 2006, 2010, and 2015.

    In columns Z through AE, I’ve calculated the shares of commuters (excluding people who work at home) who traveled to work by driving alone, carpooling, transit, rail transit, bicycling, and walking. (These won’t quite add up to 100 percent as are other categories such as taxi and motorcycle.) Only some cities, counties, and urban areas are included because others were too small for the sample size to be valid. Since the places that are included may vary from year to year, the rows of the various spreadsheets do not line up below the state level.

    The data show that, nationwide, transit’s share of travel grew from 5.03 percent in 2006 to 5.49 percent in 2015. This growth was at the expense of carpooling, as driving alone’s share also grew. In 2016, however, transit’s share fell to 5.36 percent while both driving alone and carpooling grew.

    Among major urban areas, transit’s share of commuting grew from 2015 to 2016 in Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and–amazingly–San Jose. But it declined in far more regions: Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco-Oakland, and Washington DC. It was flat (changed by 0.05 percent or less) in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and New York.

    Outside of Seattle, these numbers are not encouraging for those who think rail transit is good for transit riders. Although transit’s share also grew in the Salt Lake urban area, it declined in Ogden and Provo-Orem, which are connected with Salt Lake City by an expensive commuter train that is doing little to boost transit ridership. The growth in San Jose was in spite of the region’s rail transit system: although the bus share grew, rail’s share of commuting declined.

    Transit’s share grew in both Raleigh and Durham. If those cities want to keep transit healthy, they shouldn’t disrupt whatever is working now by building an expensive light-rail line. I’ll be presenting more 2016 data in future posts.

    This piece first appeared on The Antiplanner.

    Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in land use and transportation policy. He has written several books demonstrating the futility of government planning. Prior to working for Cato, he taught environmental economics at Yale, UC Berkeley, and Utah State University.

    Photo: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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    For many years, a common complaint has been that the provisions of the Federal Internal Revenue Code, and most state income tax codes, favor homeownership in the form of major tax deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes. With the exception of those who reside in government housing of some type (subsidized apartments, public college dormitories, military housing, jails and penitentiaries), the homeless, almost all U.S. residents either live in a home they, or their family, owns or is paying off the mortgage, or they rent. Therefore, when looking at tax subsidies for home ownership, the valid analysis is not just to total these subsidies, but to compare home ownership subsidies to the tax benefits to owners of residential rental property – and, more to the point, the renters who live in them.

    Although the widespread conventional wisdom is that homeowners get huge tax benefits, the reality is that renters actually do far better. Typical is this statement by Kenneth Harvey in the LA Times:

    “In all, homeowners will split about $102 billion in direct federal largess (in fiscal 2002). Renters, meanwhile, will receive zero in direct federal transit subsidies.”

    (See also these from the Brookings Institution and Matthew Desmond in the New York Times.)

    The key in the above is the word “direct.”

    Almost every homeowner, and many non-homeowners, is very aware of deductions for home mortgage interest and property taxes from Federal income tax returns. Further, they know that residential renters do not have mortgages, nor do they receive property tax bills, so they have nothing to deduct on their tax returns.

    But it simply never occurs to many people (particularly renters) that their landlords do have these tax deductions, and many more – and that the resulting tax savings to the landlord are largely passed through to the renters through lower rents. There are even CPA’s that get caught up in this error.

    Yes, homeowners can deduct mortgage interest and property taxes – and virtually nothing else in most cases (Note 1). In contrast, landlords can deduct these, plus depreciation on the capital cost of the property and, depending on the details of the rental agreements, insurance, maintenance and repairs, most other taxes and assessments, utilities, and many other valid business expenses.

    I’m going to focus on the third of a recent series by Devon Marisa Zuegel (Note 2), “Exempting Suburbia – How Suburban Sprawl Gets Special Treatment in our Tax Code.” I’m using Ms. Zuegel’s work because she puts so many of the usual flawed arguments in one place.

    This paper has three major headings; the first is: “Homeowners get major tax breaks” – which is, of course, true, but the comparable, even more favorable, tax treatment of residential rental property and rents is absent from her paper.

    The second, “Profits on home sales is not taxed;” is, as Ms. Zuegel acknowledges, not totally correct. Under current law, capital gains on sales of homes where the taxpayers meet the requirements are not taxed on the first $250,000 gain for singles and $500,000 for couples. She also points out that, pre-1997, taxes on sales of homes could be delayed – or, in many cases, even eliminated entirely – by reinvesting in a home of equal or higher value.

    However, for landlords, the art and science of minimizing taxes on disposal of residential rental property is very well developed. For example, a “Section 1031 like-kind exchange” works almost exactly as the pre-1997, buy-a-more-expensive-home-and-don’t-pay-any-taxes provision – except that, it applies to residential rental property. The residential real estate portion of this provision is still very in place and is well utilized.

    Also, if the “active” owner of a residential rental property sells at a loss, that is tax-deductible; if a personal home is sold at a loss; no such benefit is available.

    The third heading is “New construction is a tax shelter.” Again, true, but, the points above clearly make residential rental property a far bigger tax shelter than home ownership.

    Interesting, Ms. Zuegel leads here with a quote from Brookings fellow Steven M. Rosenthal in the New York Times, “There’s probably no special interest that’s more favored by the existing tax doe than real estate.” Somehow, she misses that this article is entirely about the real estate “industry” – such as the likes of the National Multifamily Housing Council – the trade association of apartment owners, managers, developers, and lenders – with only one brief mention of home ownership in the article.

    One very important point to keep in mind is that the value of tax deduction to a taxpayer is directly proportional to the taxpayer’s marginal tax rate and that while there are certainly home owners in the highest tax brackets, there are also many in lower ones. This explains why many owners of residential rental property covet it since they generally are in high tax brackets where the deductions for these rental properties have major value.

    What is even more important is that many renters pay little, if anything, in Federal and state income taxes and, even for those that do, many do not itemize, and/or are in low tax brackets, and would receive little, if any, benefit from tax deductions on their own returns. In contrast, if their high-tax rate landlord gets major benefits from such deductions, the renters get a major share of these benefits passed on to them through lowered rents.

    An interesting comparative perspective can be found in a recent paper by Margaret Morales for the Sightline Institute, “Why Seattle Builds Apartments, But Vancouver, BC, Builds Condos:”

    “When it comes to condominium development, Cascadia’s two largest cities couldn’t be more different. Last year nearly 60 percent of new housing starts in the city of Vancouver, BC, were condominiums; meanwhile, Seattle saw no new condominium buildings open. And that’s not changing anytime soon: less than 10 percent of all building slated for downtown Seattle in the next three years will be condos. What’s the difference—why the blossoming of condominium construction in one city and the almost complete dearth in the other? The short answer is economics. In Vancouver, apartments are saddled with an unfavorable tax code, making condos the more lucrative multi-family housing investment even despite high rental demand. In Seattle’s skyrocketing rental market, one that’s climbed even faster than the condo market in recent years, apartment buildings are much more financially attractive, while condos come with bigger risks and, typically, lower returns.”

    While Ms. Morales discusses other factors that impact the huge difference between home ownership and residential construction offerings in Seattle and Vancouver, it is very clear that she sees the difference between U.S. and Canadian tax treatments of these as the most important factor.

    The conventional wisdom is that the U.S. (and most state) tax codes provide great advantages to U.S. homeowners, advantages that can be seen as subsidies of home ownership. While this is certainly true, it is, unfortunately, very rare that the authors and advocates who make such statements take their analysis any further to the real – the whole – truth: that the U.S. tax code greatly favors almost all owners of real estate – and that, in many cases, there are far greater advantages for owners of residential real estate in the form of many more deductions, of greater value, than the mortgage interest and real estate taxes that a homeowner can utilized.

    Also, because of these greater tax advantages, residential real estate has been a major tax-advantaged investment for high-income taxpayers for decades, often combining positive cash flow, little or no current income tax payments, potential for long-term gains, and, frequently, opportunities to delay, minimize, or even escape taxes on ultimate disposal. Because an effective real estate market demands that the major share of these tax advantages be passed on to tenants in the form of lower rents, much of these residential real estate tax breaks ultimately wind up favoring tenants – who are often in such low income tax brackets, if they pay income taxes at all, that they would receive no significant advantages if they directly paid real estate loan interest, property tax, depreciation, insurance, utilities, or any of the other expenses that are deducted – in a major way, for the tenants’ benefit – by their landlords.

    Yes, homeowners get significant tax breaks – but renters are generally the beneficiaries of far more.

    Note 1: Yes, a fire, earthquake, flood, etc. could produce a major casualty loss for tax purposes, this is hardly a common situation anticipated by homeowners when they entered into home ownership.

    Note 2: Ms. Zuegel indentifies herself as a software engineer at Affirm, a section leader for introductory programming classes at Standard, and Editor Emeritus of The Stanford Review, who blogs on a number of topics: This is the third of a three-part series by Ms. Zuegel. The first two, “Subsidizing Suburbia – A Forgotten History of How the Government Created Suburbia” and “Financing Suburbia – How Government Mortgage Policy Determined Where You Live,” are both accessible through the above link. While the primary focus of these is an exposé of U.S. governmental actions which Ms. Zuegel believes have led to the undesirable result of American suburbia, my instant purpose is on the impacts of tax policy on home ownership vs. renting; therefore, the relative pro’s and con’s of suburbia is a topic left for another day.

    Tom Rubin has over 35 years in government surface transportation, including founding the transit industry practice of what is now Deloitte & Touche, LLP, and growing it to the largest of its type. He has served well over 100 transit agencies, MPO’s, State DOT’s, the U.S. DOT, and transit industry suppliers and associations. He was the CFO of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, the third largest transit agency in the U.S. and the predecessor of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

    Photo: Andrew Smith, via Flickr, using CC License.

    0 0

    African economies are in a race to get ahead of the demographic boom.

    While some people in the United States are sweating the presence, against the backdrop of a demographically stagnant white population, of the 11 million undocumented immigrants or of the 30+ million other foreign-born residents, there are far bigger numbers brewing in other parts of the world, indeed numbers that are so large that they could affect decades from now the life of an American citizen far more than the rare determined Mexican or Guatemalan who manages henceforth to scale President Trump’s purportedly impenetrable border wall.

    In the next decades as was so often the case in history, the future shape of the world could once again be decided in Europe and by Europe’s and the West’s handling of Africa’s incipient demographic boom.

    In fact, if you are a generous-minded European who shares the Pope’s noble sentiment and who views the ongoing wave of migrants coming into your country as a benign and positive development; or, if you believe that borders are outdated constructs and that all refugees and other immigrants should be welcomed into the rich world; indeed, if it is your view that anyone who stands in the way of this openness is misguided by racist and nefarious motives, then it behooves you to test the strength of your belief by examining the larger demographic data coming out of Africa and Asia.

    Because it is likely that your kindness and generosity will be, in the next decades, tested to their limits (unless they are limitless like the Pope’s). Because the two million people who have entered Europe on foot or via inflatable rafts in the past few years are, in scale, only thin vapor rising out of the demographic cauldron that is boiling up in Africa and south Asia. There are potentially many many more to come.

    The Numbers

    If Africa does not get its act together to start creating jobs at a rapid rate, there may be tens of millions more such people attempting to migrate in the future. The world population in 2015 stood at 7.3 billion and, on the UN’s medium variant, was expected to rise to 9.7 billion in 2050. Half of this 2.4 billion increase would take place in sub-Saharan Africa where the population will more than double in nearly every country.

    (See at the bottom of the article region and country tables derived from the UN’s medium variant).

    Today sub-Saharan Africa has a billion people. In 2050, it will have 2.1 billion. Of more vivid concern is the fact that the working-age population, aged 15 to 64, will grow by 800 million people from 500 million to 1.3 billion. This 800 million increase is roughly equal to five times the current size of the US labor force.

    It is possible that these numbers are too high. But it should be noted that, in arriving at these forecasts, the UN Population Division has plugged into its assumptions a significant decline in fertility rates across the sub-continent, from 4.8 children per woman today to 3.1 in 2050. On a constant-fertility scenario assuming no decline in the fertility rate, the population boom would be even larger. The working age population would rise to 1.6 billion (instead of 1.3 billion under the median variant) and the increase from today would then be equal to 1.1 billion (instead of 800 million). These are unimaginable numbers that are unlikely to materialize.

    (See this article for the Total Fertility Ratio of every African country from the highest, Niger at 7.7, to the lowest, Mauritius at 1.5.)

    In some ways, the precise magnitude of the boom is unimportant, so long as we accept that it will be somewhere between large and very large. Even a sanguine scenario that would halve the increase of the working age population from 800 million to 400 million would still present a challenge that African economies are today ill-equipped to handle. Economic conditions are insufficient even today to adequately feed, dress, educate and shelter the population.

    One reason to feel some optimism is the fact that the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) also experienced a big rise in their working-age populations in the past thirty-five years and they managed to handle their demographic boom effectively. But this positive outcome was greatly assisted by a steep decline in China’s dependency ratio (DR) from 0.77 to 0.38. The DR is the ratio of dependents, children and the elderly, to working adults.

    By comparison, the DR of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to fall from 0.86 today to a still elevated 0.63 in 2050. The decline in the youth DR (see tables below) is somewhat offset by a rise in the old-age DR that is itself due to an expected increase in life expectancy.

    Certainly, if African fertility falls faster than median variant estimates, the total DR would decline more rapidly and there could be a faster acceleration in job creation and in GDP per capita.

    (See at the bottom of the article the change in the dependency ratio for every country).

    The Drive for Change

    Africa is a wealthy continent but its wealth is highly concentrated in the hands of a few and it is often domiciled outside of Africa, in offshore financial centers, and in real estate and other assets all over the developed world. For decades, this configuration has worked wonders for Africa’s rulers and their entourages.

    If the above numbers are correct, that configuration is not sustainable in the long run. Not only will there be many more Africans in the future than in the past, but the advances in global connectivity through the internet and mobile phones mean that these future Africans will be much more aware of the prevailing living standards in the rich world. Even now, each has in the palm of his hand a direct visual connection to Europe, the United States and other prosperous places. They have seen what a rich society looks like and they want their own place within it.

    So what are the steps that can be taken to improve conditions in Africa? They can be summed up as the following:

    • Fight corruption and cronyism. They divert capital to a small percentage of the population, capital that should be re-invested within Africa.

    • Stop or reduce capital flight from poor to rich countries. A lot of Africa’s money is parked in offshore bank vaults, real estate projects or trophy property in the West.

    • Raise confidence among foreign investors. With less corruption and clearer exit strategies, foreign money would flood into Africa.

    • Institute a more inclusive form of governance that helps spread power and wealth away from the elite and to a greater segment of the population.

    • Create or reinforce an independent judiciary, strengthen the rule of law, including respect for contract law and property rights.

    • Invest in infrastructure. Africa needs trillions of dollars for projects ranging from power generation and water treatment plants to new roads and transportation systems.

    • Boost literacy to rich-country levels, and close the gender gap in literacy. There is a strong correlation between female literacy and fertility. The greater the literacy, the lower the number of children per woman.

    • Lower fertility. There is also a strong correlation between fertility and GDP per capita. Several countries like China that experienced a sharp decline in fertility enjoyed a significant demographic dividend.

    Because there is now on the one hand an entrenched elite that may not easily let go of its privileges and on the other hand enormous demographic pressure on the economy, it is becoming clear that the current configuration is no longer sustainable. Either Africa gets on the fast road to modernization and industrialization, or the continent could suffer dislocation and instability at a near unimaginable scale.

    There is certainly a strong desire by many foreign parties to invest in Africa, but there is a lack of confidence in one’s ability to recover the investment with or without a profit. This major hurdle can be overcome by modernizing Africa’s institutions and its financial system, and as importantly by attacking corruption and cronyism.


    The data below were compiled by populyst from the UN Population Division’s medium variant. Note that in sub-Saharan African in 2015-2050:

    • the youth population (under 15 years old) is not quite doubling.

    • the working-age population (15 to 64) is more than doubling.

    • the elderly population (over 64) is more than tripling, albeit from a low base.

    In the world overall, the under 15 number will be stagnant, the 15-64 will grow by 25% and the over 64 will more than double.

    This piece originally appeared on

    Sami Karam is the founder and editor of and the creator of the populyst index™. populyst is about innovation, demography and society. Before populyst, he was the founder and manager of the Seven Global funds and a fund manager at leading asset managers in Boston and New York. In addition to a finance MBA from the Wharton School, he holds a Master's in Civil Engineering from Cornell and a Bachelor of Architecture from UT Austin.

    Photo: Lars Rohwer (Lars Rohwer - per OTRS) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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