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    The tech oligarchs who already dominate our culture and commerce, manipulate our moods, and shape the behaviors of our children while accumulating capital at a rate unprecedented in at least a century want to fashion our urban future in a way that dramatically extends the reach of the surveillance state already evident in airports and on our phones.

    Redesigning cities has become all the rage in the tech world, with Google parent company Alphabet leading the race to build a new city of its own and companies like Y Combinator, Lyft, Cisco, and Panasonic all vying to design the so-called smart city.

    It goes without saying, this is not a matter of merely wanting to do good. These companies are promoting these new cities as fitter, happier, more productive, and convenient places, even as they are envisioning cities with expanded means to monitor our lives, and better market our previously private information to advertisers.

    This drive is the latest expansion of the Valley’s narcissistic notion of “changing the world” through disruption of its existing structures and governments and the limits those still place on the tech giants’ grandest ambitions. This new urban vision negates the notion of organic city-building and replaces it with an algorithmic regime that seeks to rationalize, and control, our way of life.

    In reality, Google is entering the “smart city” business in no small part to develop high-tech dormitories for youthful tech workers and the cheaper foreign noncitizen workers in the U.S., including H1B indentured servants; overall noncitizens make up the vast majority of the Valley’s tech workforce. Even as the tech fortunes have grown ever larger, the companies own workers have been left behind, with the average programmer earning about as much today as she did in 1998 even as housing costs in tech hubs have exploded.

    The drive to redesign our cities, however, is not really the end of the agenda of those who Aldous Huxley described as the top of the “scientific caste system.” The oligarchy has also worked to make our homes, our personal space, “connected” to their monitoring and money machines. This may be a multibillion-dollar market soon, but many who have employed such devices at home—appliances that track our activities and speak to us like loyal servants—find them “creepy,” as they should, given that their daily activities are fed back to enrich the high-tech hive mind. Both the city and house the future may owe more to Brave New World than Better Homes and Gardens.

    This is a vision of the urban future in which the tech companies’ own workers and whatever other people with skills the machines haven’t yet replaced are a new class of urban serfs living in small apartments, along with a much larger class of dependent persons living on “income maintenance” and housing or housing subsidies provided by the state. “Bees exist on Earth to pollinate flowers, and maybe humans are here to build the machines,” observes professor Andrew Hudson-Smith, from University College London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. “The city will be one big joined-up urban machine, and humans’ role on Earth will be done.”

    This new urban form is an extension of the notion—shared by most top internet founders—that their industry will exacerbate inequality between the rich and the middle class, while eradicating abject poverty by making cheap essential goods. Companies prosper in this model by avoiding the messy reality of paying higher wages through automating ever higher-end functions.

    As the hoi polloi cluster in small apartments, the choice spots will be left for the extremely wealthy workaholics who create technologies. Everyone else will enjoy leisurely prosperity—playing with their phones, video games, and virtual reality in what Google calls “immersive computing.”

    This is markedly different from the capitalist system that emerged after the Second World War, when large employers like General Motors or Lockheed did not so consciously monitor their employees’ lives once they left work. The growth of these companies also allowed many working and middle class people to buy homes, primarily in suburbia, where they could separate corporate life from family life.

    Silicon Valley remains stubbornly suburban in form, but the oligarchs now believe that “urbanization is a moral imperative,” notes author Greg Ferenstein, who has interviewed them extensively. Conveniently for the new rulers sopping up a share of the capital unmatched since the gilded age, cramming people into tighter and heavily monitored spaces also discourages them from having large families, or any children at all, and thus fewer “excess” people without coding skills to be housed and fed.

    Even as the suburban garage remains the Valley’s preferred symbol, suggesting that anyone with a vision can build the next Facebook, in fact today’s giants prefer to buy up emerging innovators and to build dense urban complexes inhabited by workers who will become ever more corporate, consolidated, and controlled.

    Even as the oligarchs’ apologists insist dense cities are “home to more innovation and income equality,” research shows quite the opposite, with San Francisco, for example, recently ranked by the Brookings Institution as America’s second most unequal city. Perhaps Facebook should look at what happens to its contract workers sleeping in their cars and working numerous jobs to afford to stay near the mother ship.

    Unlike urban centers of the past, the new oligarchic city is not a mechanism that spurs individuals toward adulthood, family, or independence. Instead, the idea is to create a kind of extended adolescence or quasi-college experience, in which the tech giants or the government acting as their proxy gets to play dorm mother, encouraging people to behave and think in ways the oligarchs deem useful.

    In this world, there is little room for home ownership. The oligarchs have endorsed Bay Area regulations that limit single family-home development and have helped created some of the world’s highest housing prices and rents. According to Zillow, rent costs now claim upward of 45 percent of income for young workers in San Francisco, compared to closer to 30 percent of income in metropolitan areas like Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The average new mortgage for a home in San Francisco takes, on average, close to 40 percent of income, compared to 15 percent nationally.

    Under this regime, the new generation of Bay Area residents seems destined to live as renters, without enjoying equity in property. The 2040 regional plan for the Bay Area calls for 75 percent of new housing development to take place on barely 5 percent of the land mass, all but guaranteeing high prices for those who can (barely) afford to live crammed into small apartments.

    One well-used rationale for densification lies with the assumption that building more units on these pricey pieces of land will help solve California’s severe housing affordability crisis. Yet in reality, construction costs for higher density housing are much higher—up to 7.5 times the cost per square foot of building detached housing. Nor will densification do much to address climate issues: Savings cited in a recent Berkeley study suggest that enforced densification would contribute less than 1 percent of the new emissions reductions the state has mandated by 2030.

    Yet the CEOs of Lyft,, Square, Twitter, and Yelp, as well senior executives at Google, all support densification, and have rallied behind a new bill by California state Sen. Scott Wiener to strip local communities of most of their zoning powers to allow significant densification virtually everywhere there is basic transit or rail bus service. This shift in power from localities to the state follows the oligarch’s preference for centralized power that avoids the messiness of dealing with the local peasantry. Like your bucolic suburb or human scale urban neighborhood? Too bad. The oligarchs have spoken.

    Instead of the lower density and relatively affordable post-war suburbs that “smart” planners and progressives have long mocked as cultural wastelands, the tech giants are pushing a 21st century high-tech update of the grim worker housing that dotted the Lancastrian and New England landscapes of the early industrial revolution.

    In developing dense housing estates around their headquarters, the new “company town” for the 21st century will erase both privacy and financial independence. Firms like Google, Apple, and Facebook seek employees who embrace, as the New Yorker recently observed, “not only a life style but a fully realized life” based on a modernist version of “monasticism.”

    Mark Zuckerberg, even as he fought to expand his own sprawling suburban homestead, envisions his employees living in crowded dormitories close to work, including a planned 1,500-unit apartment development near Facebook’s Menlo Park campus. Zuckerberg, like most oligarchs, prefers workers unengaged with the mundanities of family life.

    “Young people just have simpler lives,” he explained to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We may not own a car. We may not have a family. Simplicity in life is what allows you to focus on what’s important.”

    The man preaching this diminished view of urban life, of course, has a car, a family and all the benefits that come with a vast fortune. He is not part of the “we” he’s purporting to speak for.

    The city that he is envisioning, that “we” are supposed to enjoy, will be organized not by civic loyalty but pools of constantly tracked personal information collected and sold by his company.

    One early indicator: Google is working to create a new, “smart” neighborhood in an undeveloped 12-acre portion of Toronto called Quayside. Sidewalk, the Alphabet unit run by former New York Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, describes its vision for Quayside as the prototype for a city “built from the internet up… merging the physical and digital realms,” with its residents acting in effect as the company’s beta-testers.

    This “smart” urbanity revolves around surveillance and relentless data-gathering. Swarms of monitoring sensors inside and outside buildings and on streets will be constantly on duty. Google would collect data about everything from water use to air quality to the movements of Quayside’s residents, using that data to run energy, transport, and all other systems. In this controlled environment, consent over pillaging personal data “goes out the window straight away” says David Murakami Wood, an associate professor at Queens University who studies surveillance in cities.

    “The whole point of a smart city is that everything that can be collected will be collected,” Al Gidari, the director of privacy at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society in California, told the CBC. If smart cities really wanted to give people more control over their privacy, they wouldn’t collect any of it unless people opted in.

    Relentless monitoring, no doubt, will create some efficiencies for things such as trash collection, but at an enormous cost to privacy. Where people walk, what they do will all be fed into Google’s advertising and marketing machine. Meanwhile, Google, Wired notes, will be gaining insights about urban life—including energy use, transit effectiveness, climate mitigation strategies, and social service delivery patterns—that it will then be able to sell to cities around the world.

    While Canadians may still be able to object to attempts at this kind of control, citizens in Russia, India, and China are less likely do so. In China, tech firms are desperate enough for future profits to cooperate openly with the state’s surveillance and censorship regime in exchange for market access.

    China presents the oligarchic city builders with a real-life laboratory for surveillance. In western China, where Muslim dissidents are a problem, Chinese authorities are testing a facial-recognition system that alerts authorities when targets stray more than 300 meters from their home or workplace. The state is also working on the harvesting of biometric data, smartphone scanners, voice analysis, and compulsory satellite-tracking systems for vehicles.

    The tech giants, who know a market opportunity when they see one, are already selling gear and software to expand China’s surveillance state while the venture community in Silicon Valley is raising funds for startups specializing in these intrusive technologies.

    What is occurring in Silicon Valley, being proposed in Toronto, and now implemented in China all points toward efforts by tech companies and governments to create new dense and data-driven cities that shape what the British academic David Lyon calls a “surveillance society,” where all of our data is shared with the governments and companies that use it to control us (PDF). In many ways these “cities” will be the opposite of the real thing, driven by a technological culture that, as David Byrne has suggested, substitutes spontaneous human interaction—the glory of the traditional city—with machine-driven interfaces.

    The idea is not, to paraphrase the late William F. Buckley, to stand athwart the internet, yelling stop. But instead this is a call for urbanites and all citizens to rise up against the transformation of our cities into tech satrapies. One obvious step is enhanced anti-trust enforcement, something increasingly attractive on both left and right. Unlike in the internet boom of the 1990s, the current one has seen a dearth of new listings and a general decline in business startups, including in tech.

    Another step would be to look toward Europe, which has taken an increasingly hardline stance against social media intrusion into personal lives, for ways to curb the tech oligarchs’ ability to control content on the internet and the profits that flow through it.

    This is not about rejecting technology, but regaining control of it and being sure that its advances, and the information culled from our individual and collective lives, is used for our benefit, not only the private profits of a handful of monopolists. If giants aren’t allowed to hoard our information that is the source of their great power and profit, the incredible technologies at our disposal now should allow all of us access to ever more sophisticated information that provides the basis for decentralized self-government.

    The more cities genuflect to firms like Amazon, Facebook, and Google, the more our communities will be shaped not by our own preferences but by the controlling vision of oligarchs who know more than it’s pleasant to imagine about each of our habits, inclinations, and desires.

    To maintain the freedom of the city requires that citizens, not the oligarchy, drive its development. Anything else undermines the very idea of democracy. When a city manager suggests that changes are dictated by data collected by the smart city operators, rather than popular sentiment, democracy itself has been unplugged.

    This is the time to reclaim cities suited to human aspiration. We need to do this before control is ceded to a small tech elite that profits by shaping our future, stealing our privacy and nudging us toward a new era of mass serfdom.

    This piece originally appeared on The Daily Beast.

    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: Google Surveillance. Via

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    The Trump Infrastructure plan has finally been released. The critics are out in force, especially those with particular interest in rapid transit. The plan would reduce funding to the federal “new starts” program, which provides funding for new urban rail and busway systems. The Los Angeles Times editorial board expressed angst at this proposal. According to The Times, the "…public transit building boom in L.A. County relies on federal funding that would be slashed under the president's infrastructure and budget proposals. The Purple Line subway to Westwood was slated to receive more than $1 billion, or roughly 45% of the total cost, from the federal government. Without that money, it will be extremely difficult to complete that project, as well as others, in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.”

    The Times needn’t worry. The experience in Los Angeles suggests that even with the nation’s worst traffic congestion, a concerted effort can sufficiently reduce traffic congestion and that buses alone can provide sufficient levels of high-quality, transit service for the Olympics.

    1984: The Catastrophic Traffic that Never Was

    In the early 1980s, as today, Los Angeles had the worst traffic congestion in the nation. The largest venue, the near 100,000 capacity Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, is located near where the traffic is the worst, just a few miles south of where eight freeways converge on downtown, both an important destination, but a chokepoint for travel between the widely dispersed business centers and residences throughout the metropolitan area. As bad as it was, the average Angeleno managed to travel less than 30 minutes to work.

    There was considerable concern that the gridlock always imagined by the press would occur. It did not.

    To the contrary, traffic conditions improved (See: 1984: The Year of Catastrophic Traffic that Never Was). A Southern California Association of Governments (the Los Angeles area metropolitan planning organization) noted the surprising events: “Were you in Los Angeles during the “Olympics Miracle”? Did you like the absence of traffic jams and freeway congestion?” The publication continued: “What happened? People modified their work schedule and stayed off the roads at normally peak periods. Truckers changed their delivery schedules to avoid peak period traffic. … The result was that more people were travelling in the region, but traffic congestion was much lower than normal.”

    Companies around Southern California established programs to advise employees of transportation alternatives, including alternate routes (I managed the corporate program for my then employer, Crocker National Bank, which was later absorbed by Wells-Fargo). Companies allowed more people to take vacations during the period and there was greater use of flexible work schedules.

    Successfully Serving the 1984 Olympics with Buses

    In 1984, there was great concern that for the first time since 1960, the Summer Olympics were being held in a city that did not have a regional rail transit system. Local transit planners at the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD), the operating predecessor to today’s Metro, set about to solve the problem. They designed an extensive Olympics bus system that served the Olympics venues around Southern California. From an operational perspective the system worked well, with 40 percent of Olympics spectators using the buses. As the video below indicates, customers were very happy with the service.

    Video: A Gold Medal Performance for Public Transit

    Coincidentally, the Olympics were held in fiscal year 1984-5, when SCRTD set an all time SCRTD-MTA ridership record of 497 million riders (1,000,000 of whom rode the Olympics service). With the huge ridership losses since that time, and despite the rail building boom, there are now likely to be many more empty seats to carry Olympics passengers.

    Transportation in Los Angeles: Up to the Challenge

    More than three decades later, despite the massive expansion of transit service, Los Angeles traffic is worse. The multiple rail lines completed have failed to reduce traffic congestion, as transit ridership has experienced a “reverse boom,” unlike the building boom referred to by The Times. In calendar year 2017, there were 100 million fewer MTA bus and rail riders than rode SCRTD, then only with buses, the year of the 1984 Olympics (fiscal year 1984-5).

    But there have been roadway capacity and operational improvements. The latest American Community Survey data shows that drivers still travel less than 30 minutes one-way to work, the shortest work trip travel time reported for any of the world’s megacities (over 10 million population). Companies can still make short term arrangements to reduce traffic. And MTA still has buses. There is every reason to believe that Los Angeles companies, planners and elected officials have the capacity, much enhanced by the digital revolution, to meet whatever challenge arises in facilitating access to the 2028 Olympics, with or without the Purple Line.

    Finally, it is hard to imagine a program that makes a better case for cutting that federal new starts. Huge expenditures have been spent to build new rail lines (and some exclusive busways) around the country in the last four decades. Yet, driving continues to increase. Among 23 metropolitan areas adding new rail lines, there was a small loss in transit’s market share (0.4 percent), while driving alone increased 3.7 percent. Los Angeles, which suffered by far the largest transit drop since 2014, some 16.6 percent, epitomizes these trends.

    Yet, one of the principal justifications for these systems was to attract drivers out of their cars. That objective has not been met and there is no reason to believe it will be in the future. It would be better to use available funds for improvements that are likely to serve passengers better, both before and during the Olympics.

    Note: During this period, I was one of three city of Los Angeles representatives on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (the policy predecessor to today’s Metro), having been appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley. I opposed the SCRTD Olympics bus plan, and expressed concern that it would leave taxpayers “holding the bag” for a deficit of at least $5 million. SCRTD had projected that revenues would equal costs. In the end, the deficit was slightly less than I expected ($4.7 million). Actual ridership fell 63 percent short of SCRTD’s projections, a figure that mirrors the persistence of overly optimistic ridership projections for both transit and high speed rail around the world. I had objected to the service on a number of occasions and at my farewell reception a few months later, the SCRTD President, in good humor, presented me with a set of SCRTD commemorative Olympic coins. But on balance, the SCRTD Olympics loss was small compared to the billions that have been spent since that time only to see ridership drop by a fifth.

    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: SCRTD bus in front of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, August 3, 1984 photo
    Courtesy of the Metro Transportation Library and Archive on Flickr. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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    Google, which already owns a gigantic building in Manhattan, is buying Chelsea Market for $2.4 billion. The NYT article about this gives some insight into the very strong growth of the tech sector in NYC.

    "Chelsea Market sits directly across Ninth Avenue from the company’s headquarters at 111 Eighth Avenue, which is larger than the Empire State Building and covers the entire block between 15th and 16th Streets.

    But it is only the latest example of an internet behemoth, and even smaller tech companies, expanding rapidly in New York City.

    Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, a cloud computing company, and Spotify, a music streaming service, are all enlarging their footprints here by hundreds of thousands of square feet. Employment at technology firms has grown three times faster in New York City than in the rest of the private sector, adding more than 50,000 jobs since the end of the recession in 2010, according to a report by the state comptroller.

    At the end of 2017, tech firms accounted for 29.3 million, or 8 percent, of the 398 million square feet of office space in New York City, according to CBRE, a real estate company. In a snapshot of recent tech-sector activity, those companies have leased or renewed leases for 21 million square feet of office space in the last 10 years alone. If telecom companies are included, that number jumps to 26.8 million. Nine years ago, tech firms had only 17.6 million square feet of office space, or 5 percent of the office market."

    I took a few related things away from this. First, New York tech sector is large and growing, and is at a fundamentally different scale than most of the cities hoping to be big tech hubs. I believe Google already employs 6,000 in New York. Facebook employs 5,000. Amazon announced they were hiring 2,000 more just as the HQ2 bidding got underway. So in effect, NYC is already getting a piece of that action. Per the article, the city of New York has 291,000 tech jobs vs. 347,000 in Silicon Valley. That’s a decent comparison on a total jobs basis, though obviously the lion’s share of the value is getting captured in the Valley.

    It also illustrates that New York’s tech environment is heavily driven by major, established players, many of them Silicon Valley based, that see NYC as a place they can recruit gobs of high end talent. What I don’t see in New York is a lot of huge, indigenous startups growing to be platform players. There are a lot of new media companies in New York. And there are some companies based here like Etsy and Kickstarter. But the impression I get is that the explosion in employment is coming out of major established firms more so than startups. New York is an obvious place for marketing, finance and other business functions. But it’s also very easy to get engineering talent to want to live here.

    During the dotcom collapse, New York’s Silicon Alley 1.0 got mostly wiped out. It will be interesting to see what happens to this much larger, corporate driven ecosystem the next time there’s a downturn in tech.

    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 by Dmitry Avdeev, CC BY-SA 3.0

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    Suburbs have largely been dismissed by environmentalists and urban planners as bad for the planet, a form that needed to be eliminated to make way for a bright urban future. Yet, after a few years of demographic stultification amid the Great Recession, Americans are again heading to the suburbs in large numbers, particularly millennials.

    So rather than fight the tide and treat suburbanization as an evil to be squeezed out, perhaps a better approach would be to modify the suburban form in ways that address its most glaring environmental weakness: dependence on gas-powered automobiles. The rise of ride-sharing, electric cars and ultimately the self-driving automobile seem likely to alter this paradigm. In most other ways, suburbs are at the least no more damaging than dense cities, and they are superior in terms of air quality, maintaining biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storm water management.

    We may well be on the verge of evolving a new kind of highly sustainable, near–zero carbon form, one linked by technology, and economically (and increasingly culturally) self-sufficient. Autonomous cars will remotely park in solar-charged sheds off-site, to be called to the home through handheld devices, thus eliminating the need for garages and driveways. With safer vehicles that can see and react to situations better, roadways will be designed with much less paving to mitigate storm water runoff and flooding. Homes will have drone delivery ports built in, greatly reducing the number of daily household trips and congestion. With much less redundant paving and more undisturbed land, autonomous suburbs will expand parks, bike trails and farms, and reduce forest fragmentation. Some of the next generation of suburbs will be anchored by main street districts, some of them restored, while others will be built from scratch, as we have seen in places like the Woodlands outside Houston and Valencia north of Los Angeles.

    Read the entire piece 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.

    Alan Berger is Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he teaches courses open to the entire student body. He is founding director of P-REX lab, at MIT, a research lab focused on environmental problems caused by urbanization, including the design, remediation, and reuse of waste landscapes worldwide. He is also Co-Director of Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism at MIT (LCAU).

    Photo: Google Self-Driving Car via Flickr, using CC License.

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    Localism in America, a compilation of essays from the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, explores the merits of local governing and how reinvigorating local solution-making is best for American democracy as a whole. Read an excerpt from the introduction, authored by Joel Kotkin and Ryan Streeter, below.

    "One of the distinguishing characteristics of American dynamism is that, at its heart, the United States is an intramural, competitive enterprise. Competition among cities, regions, and states for people and investment has been essential to our success as a nation.

    Interstate migration has always allowed people to “vote with their feet” and escape a bleak environment for a more promising one. Until the end of the 19th century, this primarily meant moving from the East Coast to the West. “The peculiarity of American institutions,” noted historian Frederick Jackson Turner, “is the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people.”

    Then came other mass movements, including the “great migration” of six million African Americans from the segregated South to the less stringently racist cities of the North. Today there is a reverse migration—among African Americans but also the rest of the country—to the less-regulated, lower-tax states of the Southeast and Intermountain West. Throughout our history, this battle between and within regions has allowed individuals and businesses the luxury of choosing the kind of environment they preferred or that fit their essential needs."

    Read the full report here.

    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.

    Ryan Streeter is the director of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he oversees research in education, American citizenship, politics, public opinion, and social and cultural studies. Before joining AEI, he was executive director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas at Austin.

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    Immigration and diversity represent both America’s greatest weapon and, increasingly, a lethal challenge to our democracy. The debate over the “dreamers” — the roughly 700,000 young people brought to the country illegally — has already caused one government shutdown and can lead to others.

    The intensity of this issue has been exacerbated by “fake news” promulgated both from the nationalist right and the globalist “open borders” left. Neither view fits either reality or the long-term needs of the country.

    Desperately needed is something all too lacking in our political discourse: common sense. Both the nationalist right’s alleged notion of maintaining “a white America” and the open borders notions on the left are fundamentally incompatible with any workable national future.

    Nativist exaggerations

    President Trump’s political ascendency has rested, in large part, on nativism, from the moment he announced his improbable run, with egregious slams at Mexican immigrants, and to his first, poorly considered attempt to restrict travel from Muslim countries. These views are based largely on half-truths that are common on the far-right: that immigrants are revenue-sucking parasites intent on transforming America into a hodgepodge of ethnic cantons.

    In reality, immigrants vary tremendously, but some of their contributions to the economy are very real, with higher levels of labor participation than natives. Newcomers tend to be disproportionately more entrepreneurial than native born Americans — both on Main Street and Silicon Valley — at a time when our startup culture has weakened. There is some evidence that the undocumented commit more crimes than citizens but most research suggests overall newcomers commit less crime. Cities with high numbers of immigrants such as New York and Los Angeles are safer than those, like Detroit, New Orleans, Memphis and Baltimore which have relatively few.

    Ironically many smaller cities, particularly in the Midwest and South, where opposition to immigration tends to be strongest, actually could use more immigrants. These are often communities that have a hard time holding onto their local pool of young talent. Earlier this month employers in Springfield, Missouri, a city with thriving blue collar sectors and growing STEM economy, repeatedly complained about labor shortages and spoke of efforts to recruit immigrants from places like the Philippines.

    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: Elvert Barnes, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    Housing affordability is what largely drives the standard of living the United States. The 14th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey showed that, in 2016, there was a 0.83 correlation between the housing unaffordability, measured by the Median Multiple (median house price divided by median household income) and the composite cost of living (Note 1) for households entering the housing market in the 107 metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 residents (Note 2). This cost of living is the income required to live a "median standard of living" (Note 3).

    Housing is the largest expenditure item in the household budget. Higher house prices have a disproportionate potential to reduce the standard of living by consuming funds that would otherwise be available to purchase other goods and services. Even more concerning, high house prices, and related high rents, increase relative poverty, as many lower income households may have to forego basic goods and services because of higher housing costs, and may even be forced to seek public housing subsidies.

    Worsening housing affordability and its adverse impact on the declining standard of living threaten one of the greatest human advances in history – the democratization of prosperity. The abject poverty that had afflicted humanity for millennia until barely 200 years ago has been replaced by unimaginable affluence and dramatic reductions in poverty, with considerable progress made since the World War II recovery. Economists Diedre McClosky of the University of Illinois (Chicago) and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University have published works documenting this progress.

    Example: San Francisco and Atlanta

    The influence of housing costs on the standard of living is illustrated by comparing the San Francisco and Atlanta metropolitan areas.

    In the San Francisco metropolitan area, the median household income (not adjusted for the cost of living) is approximately 55 percent greater than in the Atlanta metropolitan area (Figure 1, column 1).

    Without housing, there is little difference in the cost of living between San Francisco and Atlanta (Figure 1, Column 2). San Francisco's cost of living for goods and services other than housing is no more than nine percent higher than in Atlanta (Figure 1, column 2).

    However, San Francisco’s cost of housing is nearly three times that of Atlanta (Figure 1, Column 3). This higher cost of housing drives San Francisco’s cost of living to more than 75 percent above that of Atlanta (Figure 1, Column 4).

    San Francisco's high cost of housing clearly cancels out its income advantage over Atlanta. When adjusted for the cost of living, the San Francisco household’s income is only 12 above that required for the median standard of living (which is defined in Note 3). By comparison, the Atlanta household has an cost of living adjusted income 17 percent greater than required for the median standard of living (Figure 1, column 4).

    The Atlanta advantage would likely be greater if the effect of the progressive federal income tax were included and even greater if California’s onerous state income tax were considered. This is particularly relevant under the newly enacted federal tax law. (Note 4).

    Similar comparisons could be made between severely unaffordable markets, such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, New York and Denver with much more affordable markets, such as Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and Indianapolis.

    Well-Functioning Housing Markets

    The key to both housing affordability and an affordable standard of living is a competitive land market that makes it possible to produce housing at production costs, including competitive profit margins. Economists Edward Glaeser of Harvard University and Joseph Gyourko of the University of Pennsylvania, have defined this concept as the minimum profitable production cost (MPPC).

    For single detached houses in the United States, their research indicates that land (with associated infrastructure) costs 20% or less of the MPPC final house and land sale price. Glaeser and Gyourko consider a housing market to be functioning well if houses are produced at no more than 25 percent above the MPPC.

    Glaeser and Gyourko find little change in construction costs over the period that unaffordable markets have developed. The key difference is that land costs have risen substantially. For example, Glaeser and Gyourko find that virtually all of the costs above minimum production costs in the San Francisco metropolitan area are in land. According to their estimates (adjusted to allocate profits based proportionally between construction and land), land in the San Francisco metropolitan area is valued at 10 times the cost that would be expected in a well functioning housing market (Figure 2). Rather than representing 20 percent of the final cost, they estimated land represents more than 70 percent of the cost. The San Francisco market, with its strong urban containment policies had been well-functioning before the imposition of restrictive land use regulation, starting about 1970, when Median Multiples were under 3.0.

    Still Unaffordable Even if the House is Free

    With land costs so high in San Francisco, even if the house could be built for free, the land alone would be severely unaffordable, as is indicated in Figure 3.

    Extraordinarily high house prices in places like San Francisco have significantly reduced discretionary income in the costly markets that could otherwise be used for other goods and services. If land markets were competitive, as before, households could consume or save more. This would increase the standard of living, and lead to higher levels of employment and economic growth. Further, the higher housing prices feed the demand for more low-income affordable housing, which requires public subsidies.

    Note 1: This article is adapted from the 14th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.

    Note 2: Correlation is measured on a scale of from 1.00 (perfect correlation or perfect relationship) to minus 1.00 (no correlation or no relationship). This analysis compares 2016 costs of living for households moving to metropolitan areas and the corresponding Median Multiples, weighted by the national home ownership versus rental share. The calculation the home buyer purchases the median priced house at typical purchase conditions. See Center for Opportunity Urbanism (2017), COU Standard of Living Index.

    Note 3: The median standard of living is defined as the cost of living for a household recently moving to the area. It is assumed that the household will either purchase a median prices house, on typical terms, or pay median rent for a housing unit. The data is weighted at the US tenure rates for home ownership and renting.

    Note 4: Comparable income tax information is not readily available.

    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: San Francisco by Bernard Gagnon (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    "What the hell is going on in Chicago?"

    I must admit, when I first heard that statement from President Donald Trump, it angered me. The Donald has said a lot of cringe-worthy things over the years, but this struck a nerve.

    That rough comment was certainly targeted at Chicago's reputation for escalating violent crime (and, many Chicagoans believe, Trump's desire to disparage the hometown of the president who preceded him, whenever he has a chance). Those points notwithstanding, Chicago does exhibit a confounding set of statistics and indicators that really make one wonder about the Windy City's direction.

    Here's what I mean. There is good Chicago news that shows it's keeping up with the high-flying metros:

      •  Last year, for the fourth consecutive year Chicago ranked first among large metros (over one million) for corporate relocations and expansions, according to Site Selection magazine. The magazine noted 424 relocation or expansion projects in the Chicago area in 2016, translating into $2.8 billion in new investment and more than 14,000 jobs, according to World Business Chicago.

      •  The number of corporate relocations and expansions is creating a construction boom in the Windy City. For two years running Chicago has ranked second in the number of active construction crane use, behind Seattle, according to the Seattle Times' analysis of data from Rider Levett Bucknall, a firm that tracks construction crane use around the world. One only need look at the city's ever-changing skyline for confirmation.

    But there is middling to subpar news about Chicago that shows it's not performing economically at an elite level, like many of the global cities and tech hubs it compares itself to:

      •  Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that of the 30 largest U.S. metros (more than two million residents), Chicago ranks 14th in its growth rate of GDP per capita between 2008 and 2016, and ranks 13th in absolute GDP per capita. In both cases, ranking above Chicago are the global "superstar" cities and tech hubs that are familiar urban revival success stories, and ranking below it are tourism-oriented Sun Belt metros and manufacturing-oriented Rust Belt metros still recovering from the Great Recession.

      •  In an article I recently published at my Forbes blog site comparing large U.S. metro housing markets, Chicago stood out as an outlier that defied easy characterization. Comparing the 51 largest metros (those over one million residents) using U.S. Census data from 2008 and 2016, I found that median home values dropped from an above-average $269,900 in 2008 to a below-average $229,900 in 2016, a drop of 14.8% and the largest such drop among the metros evaluated. The home value decline puts Chicago in the same category as hard-hit Sun Belt metros like Las Vegas, Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg. However, median rent values rose dramatically, going from $772 in 2008 to $1,050 in 2016, an increase of 36%. Although the absolute median rent value is not as high as some of the high-priced metros, Chicago's rate of change is: only Denver, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and San Jose saw their median rent values rise at a faster pace. And Chicago's dearth of housing unit growth, just 1.1% between 2008 and 2016, puts it on par with Rust Belt brethren Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and St. Louis, which all had housing unit growth rates less than 1.5%.

    But what draws nationwide attention to Chicago is its poor demographic and social indicators:

      •  In absolute terms Chicago has led the nation in total murders for at least three years running, with 496 murders in 2015, 762 in 2016 and 679 in 2017.

      •  For some years now, however, Chicago's murder totals have overshadowed the fact that it has a lower murder rate than many cities. For example, in 2015, Chicago ranked 25th in overall murder rate with 17.52 murders per 100,000 residents. Cities with higher rates in 2015 include Pittsburgh (18.57), Atlanta (20.23), Oakland (20.33), Kansas City (23.03), and Washington, D.C. (24.10). St. Louis, Baltimore and Detroit had the highest murder rates in 2015.

      •  Similarly, Chicago ranks high, but not the highest, for its overall violent crime rate. In 2016 Chicago ranked 24th in a list of the 25 "most dangerous" cities, with a violent crime rate of 1,106 incidents per 100,000 residents. St. Louis led this list with 1,913 incidents per 100,000 residents.

    Taken together, it means that Chicago has a confounding set of demographic characteristics that set it apart among American metro areas:

      •  Between 2010 and 2016, the Chicago metro area grew only 0.55%, going from 9.46 million to 9.51 million residents over that span. The meager growth rate ranks it 31st out of the 34 metros with more than two million people, beating out Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

      •  The city itself has followed suit, growing only 0.35% between 2010-2016. Of the 34 cities with more than 500,000 residents, only Detroit, Baltimore and Milwaukee had slower growth.

      •  The stagnant population in Chicago is the result of some significant churn. The number of whites and blacks are down significantly in the metro area since 2010 (-3.0% and -5.1%, respectively), but offset by strong growth among Latinos (6.8%).

      •  Within the city, however, the results are more striking. The number of whites and Latinos has increased slightly since 2010 (3.2% and 3.6%, respectively), but the city's black population appears to be in freefall -- down -10.6% since 2010, and down a staggering 25.5% since 2000.

    So what type of city and metro is Chicago exactly? Is it the darling of the corporate set, becoming a fantastic location for headquarters relocations and expansions? Is it a place with a middling economy, perhaps still struggling with its transition from manufacturing-oriented to the 21st century New Economy? Is it a place with a crime and demographic profile more akin to its Rust Belt and Old South brethren, with less in common with the coastal superstars?

    Intriguingly it's all of the above. And that makes it difficult to make any kind of guess what Chicago's future will be.

    The only way I can make sense of what's happening in Chicago and what could likely come of it is with a space metaphor. Chicago is like a rocket whose design, engine and fuel -- its economy -- is sufficient to get it into a low orbit circling Earth. Chicago has enough momentum, because of its location, its size, and educational and institutional assets, to maintain its low orbit virtually into perpetuity.

    Consider the rocket's cargo, Chicago residents. The low orbit works well for those who know how to use it to propel themselves to higher levels. But those looking for the Chicago rocket alone to boost them to higher levels may find themselves disappointed; it simply doesn't have the power to push it further out.

    Here's where the metaphor gets a little fuzzy. I'm not certain if the Chicago rocket cargo, the residents, is jettisoning itself in an attempt to reach individual higher orbits, or if Mission Control -- the political and economic elite that guides the rocket -- is leading the jettison to reduce weight and allow the rocket to ascend to a higher orbit.

    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: Chicago from above via

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    California left-wingers who want to densify cities to make them affordable are getting some push-back from other left-wingers who think density will push low-income people out of neighborhoods. A proposed bill to eliminate zoning in transit-rich areas in order to allow developers to build high-density housing would, say opponents, displace low-income families from neighborhoods with high rental rates in favor of high-income whites who can afford to pay for high-rise housing.

    The opponents aren’t wrong. On one hand, increasing housing supply would seem to make housing more affordable. But affordable for whom? With housing prices in some California cities averaging more than $1,000 per square foot, building high-density housing that costs $400 to $500 a square foot would allow people who can afford that to find a place to live. But hardly anyone can afford that.

    The problem is that high-density housing–that is, mid-rise and high-rise housing–costs 50 to 68 percent more, per square foot, to build than low-density housing. If California really wants to build housing that is affordable to low-income people, it needs to build more low-density housing. To build that, it needs to open up land that has been off-limits to development because it is outside of urban-growth boundaries.

    Denver is making the same mistake. The region has had an urban-growth boundary that has made Denver housing twice as expensive as housing in peer cities such as Albuquerque, Dallas, and Phoenix. Rather than abolish the boundary, Denver is allowing developers to build higher provided they set aside a few units for “affordable housing” — which means charging more for the remaining units to make up for the losses on the affordable ones. That will raise, not lower, overall housing prices because other sellers will see that new units are selling for higher prices.

    Speaking of housing prices, the Federal Housing Finance Agency has released housing indices by state and metropolitan area through the third quarter of 2017. The Antiplanner has enhanced the files for metropolitan areas and states by adjusting the numbers for inflation and making it easy to make charts like the one above for any six regions or states.

    If you haven’t used one of these files before, go to cell AQ72 in the metropolitan areas file and cell BO210 in the states file for instructions on how to change the metropolitan areas or states shown in the charts. In the metro areas file, the inflation-adjusted chart appears around cell AQ40 while the non-inflation-adjusted chart appears around cell AQ3. The states file only has a chart for inflation-adjusted data and it appears around BO180.

    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: Downtown Los Angeles, via first tuesday Journal.

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    A century ago Detroit was a boomtown and Los Angeles a sleepy refuge for sun-seeking Midwesterners. A half-century later, L.A. was the fastest-growing big city in the high-income world, while Detroit was beginning its long tailspin. In the ’70s, New York was the “rotten apple” and seemed destined for further decline. But for the past 20 years it has enjoyed an enormous surge of wealth, as have many of the countries’ dense, culturally creative cities.

    In other words, when it comes to the death and life of American cities, things change, often in unpredictable, once unthinkable ways. Now, high prices and a lean to the left in the nation’s coastal metropolises could spell new opportunity for more business-friendly, less costly regions like Dallas-Fort Worth and Salt Lake City. If current trends continue, there may be new hope not only for Midwestern cities like Columbus, Indianapolis and Kansas City, but even for some long down-on-their-luck metros, like Detroit and Cleveland.

    Read the entire piece at Chief

    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: Salt Lake City, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    In the latest report from research and policy organization Environmental Progress, "California in Danger: Why the Dream is Dying and How We Can Save It," Michael Shellenberger highlights the most pressing issues facing California today and how we can solve them. Read an excerpt from the executive summary below.

    California today is frequently held up as a progressive model for the rest of the United States. In 2011, California had a $27 billion budget deficit. Today, it has a $19 billion budget surplus. In 2012, Californians voted to raise income taxes, particularly on the wealthy, to increase funding for under-performing schools. The state is a renewable energy leader. And its leaders are standing up to President Donald Trump on everything from immigration to marijuana to offshore oil drilling.

    But a closer look reveals deeper problems. California is the most expensive state for housing in the country after Hawaii, and today is suffering from one of the most severe homelessness crises in its history. In the face of a housing shortage, Millennials, renters, and employers are fleeing the state. High housing prices siphon away from the productive economy $140 billion annually. At the state and local level, Democrats and progressives have responded by mandating and extending subsidies for low-income housing. But not only are the subsidies and mandates inadequate to meet demand, they also serve to make housing more expensive for the middle-class.

    California’s high cost of living is a major factor behind the state having the country’s highest rate of poverty and inequality. When the cost of living is taken into account, California still spends less on K-12 education than all but four other states. California’s income taxes are high but so is it’s sales tax, which is regressive, while property taxes are low and disproportionately burden new and young homeowners. While the operating budget is in surplus, the state is leaving its young with a $366 billion public pension and health care debt.

    Read the full report here.

    Michael Shellenberger is an author, environmental policy expert, cofounder of Breakthrough Institute and founder of Environmental Progress, and California gubernatorial candidate.

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    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

    – The Who, “We won’t be fooled again”, 1971

    Once seen as the saviors of America’s economy, Silicon Valley is turning into something more of an emerging axis of evil. “Brain-hacking” tech companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, as one prominent tech investor puts it, have become so intrusive as to alarm critics on both right and left.

    Firms like Google, which once advertised themselves as committed to being not “evil,” are now increasingly seen as epitomizing Hades’ legions. The tech giants now constitute the world’s five largest companies in market capitalization. Rather than idealistic newcomers, they increasingly reflect the worst of American capitalism — squashing competitors, using indentured servants, attempting to fix wages, depressing incomes, creating ever more social anomie and alienation.

    At the same time these firms are fostering what British academic David Lyon has called a “surveillance society” both here and abroad. Companies like Facebook and Google thrive by mining personal data, and their only way to grow, as Wired recently suggested, was, creepily, to “know you better.”

    The techie vision of the future is one in which the middle class all but disappears, with those not sufficiently merged with machine intelligence relegated to rent-paying serfs living on “income maintenance.” Theirs is a world in where long-standing local affinities are supplanted by Facebook’s concept of digitally-created “meaningful communities.”

    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: C.E. Kent, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    The combination of renewed interest in Tonya Harding (due to the film, I, Tonya) and the winter Olympics made me think of class and sport lately – especially sports that involve snow and ice. Although winter sports might be considered quite ordinary for some who live in very cold climates (such as Norwegians), most require expensive equipment and travel.

    Harding’s story illustrates this quite well. She came from a working-class family and trained in an ice-rink located in a shopping mall. Based on the representation of her life in I, Tonya and in documentaries about the skater, she struggled to fit in with her peers because she lacked the cultural and economic capital. Her costumes were home-made, her hair was too big, and her muscular frame lacked the expected look of a figure skater. This doesn’t excuse any involvement she may have had in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan (herself from a working-class background), but Harding’s ‘rough’ ways made her an outsider from the beginning of her career. In many ways she was an imposter in the sport.

    Working-class people remain outsiders in winter sports, as the current Olympics show. Watching the amazing feats of the athletes is quite thrilling. The jumping, sliding, and skating at break neck speeds is impressive. But to get to this level, athletes need significant resources. Unlike Harding, most winter athletes have had enough financial support from their families to enjoy regular visits to ski areas, skating lessons, and expensive equipment. Even if a working-class person lived in a cold climate, near ski resorts, what are their chances of spending time there – outside of working at the resort?

    I don’t mean to disparage the athletes I’ve been watching on television. Many have had struggles to overcome, and their stories are presented as inspiring. We hear about the years of sacrifice, the grueling training schedules, and overcoming injury. Hard work and determination are celebrated. While these seem like working-class values, a deeper look makes clear that these are stories of privilege. No doubt, Olympic athletes have worked hard, but their success doesn’t demonstrate that ‘anyone can do it, as long as you dream big’. We hear about families moving closer to facilities or forgoing vacations and leisure activities in order to train. Parents have left their jobs to focus on supporting their athlete children. But these sacrifices require money and networks. A parent earning minimum wage on a casual contract can’t leave their job to spend all day at the ice-rink. Most can’t even afford the lessons. And even if a potential Olympian is scouted and sponsored, most working-class families don’t have the means to move closer to a training facility. Plenty of working-class families work hard and have ambitions, but they need capital to realize those dreams.

    Why does the lack of class diversity in Alpine sports matter? Will it improve the lives of working-class people to see athletes from working-class backgrounds? Should working-class people just ignore the winter Olympics and stick to watching soccer, football, track and field and rugby league — sports that we might have a chance of participating in? The answer lies in the value of sports in general. Athletic endeavor inspires us. We love stories of athletes overcoming obstacles to compete, especially when a competitor comes from a background like our own. Sports people can be important role models for working-class youth, especially if they use their influence to speak truth to power. Think Muhammad Ali, Billie-Jean King, Serena Williams, or Adam Goodes (Indigenous Australian Rules Football player). For a working-class young person, watching someone like them compete in a sport that is outside of their current possibilities demonstrates that working class people belong in all areas of life. And lack of diversity matters overall, a point that is ironically reflected in the praise for the diversity of this year’s US Olympic team. The 244-person team includes ten Black and eleven Asian-American competitors.

    Sport is also important for working-class communities. Support for a team brings people together, helping to create and maintain a sense of collective identity. It provides a release from the grind of everyday life and can even provide a livelihood for some working-class people.

    The amazing tricks performed by the aerial skiers or the snowboarders don’t represent possibilities for most working-class people. Of course, a few working-class athletes – like Harding – have made it to the Olympics despite the classed odds being stacked against them. But exceptions don’t counter the rule. For the most part, the glamour of the ice-rink, the sparkle of the piste is out of reach for working-class sport fans and remains another of the domains reserved for the middle and upper-classes. It doesn’t really matter whether the working-class kid in inner-city London, the western suburbs of Sydney, or rural America actually wants to take up the luge. The point is that working-class people should be represented across all aspects of society.

    This piece originally appeared on Working-Class Perspectives.

    Sarah Attfield is an associate lecturer in communication in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Syndey. Her scholarly work is focused on social class in popular culture and literature, particularly the representation of working class life. She has published work on UK grime, dubstep and hardcore punk as well as on working class poetry. Her poetry has been published widely in Australian literary journals, and she has performed her poetry in a variety of venues across Australia.

    Photo: Via

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    Over the past three years, the nation’s largest transit systems have endured a broad and unprecedented ridership decline. By far the largest drop has been in Los Angeles and this has resulted in justifiable consternation.

    Metro, the largest transit system in Los Angeles County, has seen its passenger counts (boardings, see Note 1) drop from over 1.5 million each weekday in its recent 2013 peak, to just over 1.25 million in 2017. This decline has occurred at the same time as Metro’s third most successful new rail line, the Expo line, from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles, was opened. Figure 1 shows 2010 and 2017 ridership and indicates that for each Expo line passenger, there was a loss of three passengers in the rest of the Metro system.

    This is occurring as Metro has undertaken one of the most significant rail and busway building programs in modern US history. Now six rail lines and two busways head to different destinations from downtown, complemented by one lateral line (the Green Line) and one busway (the Orange Line). Yet, despite expenditures of over $15 billion on the already opened rail and busway lines, ridership has never been restored to its 1985 bus only peak.

    Responses to the Metro Ridership Collapse

    There have been differing responses to the continuing decline. Some --- in the face of dismal numbers --- anticipate a future of greater transit ridership and less car use. For example:

    Larry Wilson, a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board (which includes such outlets as the Orange County Register, the Los Angeles Daily News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and the Pasadena Star-News) recently suggested that increasing traffic congestion will drive higher ridership. He concludes that “Transit ridership will come back, once the system connects more dots.”

    Los Angeles Times columnist Liam Dillon expresses concern that the state is falling far short of progress toward the mobility transformation considered necessary by the California Air Resources Board. This would require “four times” more frequent travel by walking, a “nine-fold” increase in bicycling” and a “substantial boost in bus and rail ridership.” After decades of trying to entice drivers to walk, cycle and jump on transit, with virtually no success, this “necessity” is not likely to be achieved without compulsion. Nor has it anywhere else in the world.

    Others suggest that the ridership losses are driven by structural factors.

    Substantial coverage was given to a recent report produced for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the local metropolitan planning organization (MPO). The U.C.L.A. authors, Michael Manville, Brian D. Taylor and Evelyn Blumenberg note that: “Areas that were heavily populated with transit commuters in the year 2000 became, in the next 15 years, slightly less poor, and significantly less foreign born. Perhaps most important, the share of households without vehicles in these neighborhoods fell notably. All these factors align with a narrative where a transit-using populace is replaced by people who are more likely to drive.”

    They also note the benefits to lower income households who obtain cars: “When lower-income people graduate from transit to driving, transit agencies bear a cost, but the other side of that cost is a large benefit for both the people who start driving and for society overall.” This is a refreshing rebuttal to the academic dogma that often sees the purpose of cities in terms of “place-making,” or transit, rather than people, a distortion roundly criticized by economists at the London School of Economics.

    This trend could augur more transit losses for Los Angeles. Low-income households seem likely to continue buying cars because of the mobility options they offer, not the least of which is that 60 times (not 60 percent, but 6,000 percent) as many jobs can be reached in 30 minutes by car than by transit by the average Los Angeles commuter, according to measures published by University of Minnesota researchers. Their data also shows that drivers can reach more than 150 times as many jobs by driving as by walking.

    Another theory, strikingly consistent with the UCLA observations, is advanced by Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed entitled: “Transit-oriented development? More like transit rider displacement.” Ms. Rosenthal cites data showing that “…L.A.'s transit riders are mostly low-income black and Latinos: 88% of Metro bus riders are people of color, and more than 50% have annual family incomes under $15,000. When they lose housing near bus or rail lines, they lose access to transit.” Her point is that the transit-oriented development that occurs along rail lines displaces transit riders, who cannot afford higher rents.

    Metro’s aggressive rail building program may thus, albeit unintentionally, be contributing to the ridership losses, as the increasing number of affluent riders are far less than the number of lower income transit riders who are being driven farther away from transit. I am confident that none of us serving on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission at the creation of the modern rail system expected it to lead to lower ridership (Note 1).

    Even the Proponents Projections do not Support the Narrative

    Meanwhile, hopes for greater transit ridership hinge on the new rail lines, like the Purple Line extension to Westwood and the Crenshaw line. These, however, are vain hopes, because not even the transit planners project meaningful transit ridership increases. In the long run (2030 for the Crenshaw line and 2035 for the Purple line), official projections indicate not many more than 30,000 additional riders on a daily basis. Figure 2 illustrates the 2010 ridership level, and the lower 2017 level, with the additional ridership projected for the Purple and Crenshaw lines.

    These 30,000 new riders should be compared to the 18,000,000 million new daily trips that are anticipated in the region by 2030. The 30,000 is not even sufficient to retain transit’s share. For example, the Crenshaw line planning documents indicate that transit accounted for 2.3 percent of regional trips. The very same planning document predicts a market share reduction by 2030 with the addition of the Crenshaw line. Even adding the projected Purple line riders, the share of trips by transit would drop to 2.0 percent, a reduction of 14 percent.

    Utopian Fantasy: Connecting the Dots by Transit

    No vision of a Los Angeles with meaningfully and proportionally less automobile use is rational (or for that matter would it be in any other modern urban area, but that is a different article). There is simply not enough money for transit to connect enough “dots.” Professor Jean-Claude Ziv and I found that to “connect” the geographical “dots” (equal the connectivity of the automobile) with rapid transit would require from half to three-quarters world megacity gross domestic products, each year, in a paper presented to the World Conference on Transport Research Society (WCTRS) in 2007. Of course, some dots can be effectively connected, like to the largest downtowns (central business districts), by far the easiest to serve tend to average around 10 percent of employment, though much less in highly decentralized Los Angeles. But that is a far cry from an automobile competitive regional transit system.

    The reality is that the millions of Los Angeles households could not retain their standard of living if they rode transit, much less walked or cycled. Many more would be in poverty. People will choose transit (and walking and cycling) only if the travel times and geographical coverage are competitive with driving. Moreover, there is no point in delusions about radical land use transformations, especially where governments require the consent of the governed. In short, there is no roadmap to any transit utopia connecting sufficient dots, because none are feasible.

    Note 1: US transit agencies count passenger “boardings,” which is the number of times a passenger enters a vehicle to travel from their origin to the destination. Thus, a passenger whose trip takes two buses and one train is counted as three.

    Note 2: My involvement as a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission is detailed in Transit in Los Angeles.

    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: Los Angeles Blue Line, Long Beach (by author).

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    My latest column is now online in the March issue of Governing. It’s called “A Tip for Infrastructure Builders: Fix It First.” Here’s an excerpt:

    "Infrastructure investment is also not likely to spur economic growth in depressed locales. Where I grew up in southern Indiana, Interstate 64 runs east-west across the state, linking St. Louis with Louisville, Ky. Though it might have made sense to build it as part of a national network, this lightly traveled road hasn’t spurred much economic growth in the rural counties it passes through. Visiting Flint, Mich., it’s hard not to be struck by the juxtaposition of a pristine eight-lane interstate alongside the decayed infrastructure of that economically distressed city.

    Today’s businesses care much more about things like an available, quality labor force than they do about infrastructure. That’s because despite its age, our infrastructure is already pretty good.

    Prioritizing spending on maintenance is also more equitable. Only the faster-growing places need lots of new infrastructure. But almost every place has infrastructure maintenance needs."

    Click through to read the whole thing.

    This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

    Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

    Photo: Via Urbanophile.

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    The California Democratic Party’s refusal to endorse the reelection of Senator Dianne Feinstein represents a breaking point both for the state’s progressives and, arguably, the future of the party nationwide. Feinstein symbolizes, if anyone does, the old Democratic establishment that, while far from conservative, nevertheless appealed to many mainstream businesses and affluent suburban voters. The rejection of Feinstein reveals the eclipse of the moderate, mainstream Democratic Party, and the rise of Green and identity-oriented politics, appealing to the coastal gentry. It offers little to traditional middle-class Democrats and even less to those further afield, in places like the industrial Midwest or the South. In these parts of the country, bread-and-butter issues that concern families remain more persuasive than gestural politics.

    To its many admirers back east, California has emerged as the role model for a brave new Democratic future. The high-tech, culturally progressive Golden State seems to be an ideal incubator of whatever politics will follow the Trump era.

    Certainly, California is an ideal place to observe this shift, as radicalism faces no restraints here. The Republican Party has little to no influence in politics and culture and not much even among business leaders. For the Democrats, this vacuum allows for a kind of internecine struggle resembling that of the Bolsheviks after the death of Lenin. And just as happened then, a new Stalinism of sorts seems to be emerging—in this case, to the consternation not only of conservatives but also of traditional liberals and moderates of the Feinstein stamp.

    Read the entire piece at City Journal.

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

    Photo: BenFranske [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    Big city America has long demonstrated a distaste for its smaller cousins. This sentiment has, if anything, intensified with the election of President Donald Trump, whose improbable victory was made possible by strong support in small cities and towns across the country.

    Once exemplars of de Tocquevillian American exceptionalism, now they’re subject to such jibes as a Silicon Valley executive's infamous assertion last year that “no educated person wants to live in a s***hole with stupid people.” And to be sure, “the little town blues” as Brookings has characterized it, are real: many of these smaller communities are in demographic decline as the ambitious young go elsewhere, leaving them ever whiter and older, and the departures of large company headquarters, such as ADM and Caterpillar, has been a blow.

    Read the entire piece at

    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: Via

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  • 03/11/18--22:33: Cronyism and its Scapegoats
  • Cronyism destroys trust and assigns the blame to scapegoats of its own creation.

    Only a fiercely committed left or right-winger would fail to recognize that there is today a social and political divide that does not easily fit within the traditional mold of left vs. right. If, loosely speaking, the left leans socialist and the right leans capitalist, there is a third branch, cronyism, that is characterized by the rising power and wealth of rent-seeking industries and individuals. In the past, this branch was dominant mainly in poorer countries with weaker institutions. But today it has also gained significant strength in a number of developed countries, including the United States.

    In fact, if the Republican Party has been hijacked by Trumpism, as some allege, then we could say that capitalism has been similarly hijacked by cronyism. In our view, this parallel is nearly seamless, given that the GOP is traditionally pro-capitalism – in words if not always in deeds – and that the incumbent administration is largely populated with captains of rent-seeking industries.

    Rent seekers themselves claim to be capitalists – many quote freely from Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand -, an amalgamation that gets a regular airing in the media when, for example, a finance executive or a Reagan administration official pens an op-ed touting the recently enacted tax reform or other initiative as a victory for free market capitalism.

    As to the left, it is more than happy to stick the capitalist label on cronies (with for example the convenient oxymoron “crony capitalism”) since it helps it to discredit the profit motive of individuals and corporations and to highlight the widening wealth inequality in American society, while claiming that its long-standing anti free market philosophy is being vindicated by the abuses inflicted by cronies.

    We are fortunate however that the separation of capitalism and cronyism is gaining more and more understanding. In a recent interview about his work on the rising mortality of working-age whites, Princeton Economics Professor and Nobel Prize Winner Angus Deaton clearly differentiated between capitalism and rent-seeking [our emphasis]:

    A lot of people are thinking about rent seeking. There is this sense that it is not just letting it go to the people at the top, it is letting the people at the top get rich on the backs of ordinary people.

    I’m in favor of inequality if it comes about from people making great innovations that make us all better off. And I think those people deserve to be rich. But the people who get rich by lobbying the Congress to give them special protections that come out of the hides of the workers seems to be a bad idea.

    With this statement, Professor Deaton drew a straight line connecting the rent-seeking economy with the surge in opioid usage and “deaths of despair” among white Americans. This differs significantly from other theories that attribute these social ills to joblessness resulting from ‘unfair’ free trade or unchecked immigration. Perhaps then it is cronyism that is the real culprit? Not the barefoot immigrant but the well-heeled lobbyist or executive?

    Cronyism and Trust

    Underlying the social crisis identified by Deaton are the growing disenchantment and falling trust among constituencies across America. Revolt gives way to despair when trust in the institutions that are tasked with enforcing equity begins to falter. Cronyism of course destroys trust because it corrodes faith in the integrity of these institutions.

    To use the most obvious example, if one of the reasons of the 2008 crisis was the rise of too big to fail banks, then why are these same banks ten years later as big or bigger than they were in 2008? A probable explanation is the influence of insiders seeking to blunt the impact of regulation or to arrest any initiative directed at breaking up the mega-banks. For context, consider this chart from Visual Capitalist that shows how 37 banks in 1990 merged and merged again over time to create a group of four that today hold 45% of all US customer deposits. Whether they should be broken up remains an open question and a valid debate, now nearly ten years after the crisis.

    This lack of action after the 2008 debacle, whether on too big to fail banks or on white collar prosecutions, has contributed to a hollowing out of the effectiveness of government institutions, with predictable results. According to Joseph Parilla, a fellow at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, trust in national institutions has taken a big hit in the forty-five years since 1972:

    Trust in the federal government to “do what is right” declined from 53 percent to 22 percent since 1972. Trust in media has declined from 68 percent to 32 percent. We also trust each other less: The share of adults that felt “most people can be trusted” dropped from 46 percent to 31 percent.

    On the other hand, looking at the local level,

    The one area where trust has remained high is within local communities. In fact, trust in local government has actually increased over the past several decades, and Americans remain very satisfied with their friendships and social networks.

    Why? Americans have been self-selecting into communities that reflect their cultural and ideological preferences. We likely display more affinity for those institutions and leaders that are closest to our influence.

    So, Americans trust what is close to them in part because they choose it and control it, but they are less trusting of what is far and less easy to choose and control. Neither is really good news. On one hand, it is normal to trust a proximate community that you chose to join. The inclination to trust, in this case, precedes the selection and is then confirmed as a natural and expected result. On the other hand, the decline in trust vis a vis far away national institutions is ripe with undesirable consequences.

    Missed Promises

    Trust tends to wane when promises made are not honored, and when well-founded expectations are disappointed. When it comes to the government, it would be too easy to list all the promises that were made and missed in recent decades, from balanced budgets that rarely balance, to free trade agreements that create large inequities, to trillions of dollars spent nation-building abroad, to wars won that are still being fought, to bailouts that lead years later to larger bailouts, etc.

    The central cause for the decrease in trust is the global ascendance of cronyism, a phenomenon that continues to corrode the institutions of this and other countries. This growth was accelerated by globalization and in 2008 by the unwillingness of policy makers to let failing companies and individuals simply go under. In our view, Trumpism with its ersatz populism and its promotion of rent-seeking sectors is not as advertised a new dawn but the penultimate stage of cronyism to be replaced by the final and most complete stage under a quasi socialist administration.

    Fueling this populism is the clear fact that many people are unhappy and are closing in and hunkering down on the local level. But this too has undesirable consequences in that it leaves out the nomads in our society who do not “have a local” level, in other words who are not by history or heritage part of any local community. These include mainly two groups: first, the 14% foreign-born residents who by definition did not originate in any locality in America, and second, the educated elites, or “cosmopolitans” in the parlance of another era, who have left their original local cities and towns to live in global cities like New York or London.

    Not coincidentally, these are precisely the two groups scapegoated by cronies looking to deflect blame for their own misdeeds. Both groups are now under attack from the new populism and both are at danger of becoming the chief victims of the decline in trust. Let us examine each in turn.

    Immigration and Social Capital

    Immigration. What is it good for?

    In our view, the smartest way to think of immigration is within the framework of social capital. Social capital is the collection of networks and interactions among people in a society that foster trust and reciprocity and that help that society function effectively. Corporations, schools, parent-teacher associations, sports teams, bowling leagues, political parties, book clubs etc. are all networks that strengthen social capital.

    1912 Immigrants Waiting for Medical Examination (Source: Popular Science Monthly Vol. 80)

    In his book Bowling Alone, the author and sociologist Robert D. Putnam differentiates between bonding and bridging social capital as follows:

    Of all the dimensions along which forms of social capital vary, perhaps the most important is the distinction between bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive). Some forms of social capital are, by choice or necessity, inward looking and tend to reinforce exclusive identities and homogeneous groups. Examples of bonding social capital include ethnic fraternal organizations, church-based women’s reading groups, and fashionable country clubs. Other networks are outward looking and encompass people across diverse social cleavages. Examples of bridging social capital include the civil rights movement, many youths service groups and ecumenical religious organizations.

    Bonding social capital is good for undergirding specific reciprocity and mobilizing solidarity… Bridging networks, by contrast, are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion.

    Bonding social capital is good for “getting by”, but bridging social capital is crucial for “getting ahead.”

    Bridging social capital can generate broader identities and reciprocity, whereas bonding social capital bolsters our narrower selves.

    Bonding social capital has high levels of trust and reciprocity but it is exclusionary and is strongest within a singular community. By contrast bridging social capital has lower levels of trust and reciprocity but it is inclusive and acts as a bridge among disparate communities.

    Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said in this podcast that cities and communities should try to find the right balance between change and preservation, and between bonding and bridging social capital. He made these comments in the context of the ongoing debate on immigration:

    [at 2:55] I suggest thinking about that balance like Aristotle talked about virtue. Virtue is the mean between two extremes. There is a happy medium.

    [at 3:15] I see immigration as a practical thing. It’s a change force. You absolutely need to have some change in your cities. You need to have new blood, you need to have new ideas.

    Without this new blood, there is an increased risk of atrophy in places with too few immigrants, or too little bridging social capital:

    [at 3:55] Immigrants are the natural constituency of the new. A lot of these midwestern cities I wrote about really had difficulty changing and adapting to the future. And that is because they didn’t have any new blood. So they sort of fossilized. All the social networks and the ways of doing business there really made it impossible to move forward. If you don’t have a certain percentage of newcomers, it is very difficult to do that.

    [at 8:50] When you have too many connections and it is all the same people – imagine the same ten people who have always been in the room – there are never any new ideas that come in, and it is hard to change. You keep getting locked into the same patterns.

    Renn also highlights the risk of too little bonding social capital. There are trade-offs to consider when a place has too many newcomers.

    [at 3:30] But if you have too much change, too many newcomers, you hear things like “we are losing our soul as a city”.

    [at 6:50] Immigration does bring a lot of uncomfortable change for a lot of places and a lot of people, particularly in cities where it is not the norm. Research has shown that diversity, which immigration can promote, does in fact lower social capital and lower social trust. Some of that is good because these Rust Belt communities have too much social capital.

    On the other hand,

    [at 9:20] When you start having too little bonding social capital, you can end up with tremendous divisions, lack of social solidarity, and a sort of social disruption.

    Some bonding social capital is hugely positive, but too much can lead to atrophy and sclerosis. Conversely, some amount of bridging capital is needed to move forward, but too much may result in social disruption. This means that the main virtue of some immigration is precisely the fact that immigrants do not fit in at first and that they bring something new and constructive. The fact that the foreign-born do not “have a local”, do not have ties to one locality, is the main benefit of welcoming foreign-born people in our midst in the first place.

    The question then is whether there are too many immigrants in America today and whether we have deviated from the Aristotelian happy medium. The foreign-born in New York City and New York State add up to 37% and 22% of their respective populations, well above the 14% national average. Upstate New York (excluding the City and near suburbs) by contrast only has 5% foreign-born. A large number of Southern and Midwestern states have fewer than 5% foreign-born. Every place seems to have found its own equilibrium, the level at which it can absorb immigrants without causing disruption. But places that are economically stagnant should perhaps ponder the question of whether they have too much bonding and not enough bridging capital.

    Elites and Cronies

    The other target of cronyism are the nomadic urban elites on both coasts. There is some irony in cronies donning the mantle of populism and seeking to scapegoat these elites given that they travel in the same circles, socialize at the same clubs, work at the same firms and have their children educated at the same schools. From the vantage point of an outsider, there is very little that differentiates cronies from the urban cosmopolitan elites.

    Yet, in a most brazen “not me, but him” act of self exculpation, cronies in rent-seeking sectors have deflected all responsibility for the crash in trust away from themselves and redirected it towards other subsets of the elites, mainly academia and the media, notwithstanding the fact that this is the same academia that they court (often without reserve) to educate their children and the same media that they court to gain some measure of public notoriety.

    Of course, scapegoaters are not intellectually rigorous and a bona fide elite crony may see no contradiction whatsoever in downing a fellow member of the elite across town. Quite the opposite in fact. The ranks of the elites have become so bloated in recent decades that a periodic culling of the more vulnerable would suit the survivors just fine even if there is little to differentiate them from the fallen, outside of serendipity and a fortunate set of connections.

    For the demagogue and the intellectually unrigorous, there are many available pretexts to persecute people individually or as a group, as history has shown repeatedly with the victimization of ethnicities and religions that stood out as being different, as “having no local”. This is all the work of dishonesty and scapegoating for the sake of self-exoneration about the crash in trust. It has worked before and it may work again.

    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: Gerald Carter, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    Once seen as a human-scale alternative to the crowded cities of the past, California’s cities are targeted by policy makers and planners dreaming of bringing back the “good old days,” circa 1900, when most people in the largest cities lived in small, cramped apartments. This move is being fronted by well-funded YIMBYs (“yes in my backyard”), who claim ever greater densification will help relieve the state’s severe housing crisis.

    The goal, as stated by one YIMBY journalist, is startling in its retroactive boldness. “Getting people out of their cars in favor of walking, cycling or riding mass transit.” notes Liam Dillion, “will require the development of new, closely packed housing near jobs and commercial centers at a rate not seen in the United States since at least before World War II.”

    Besides being ahistorical — this kind of housing was restricted to the urban cores a few of the largest metropolitan areas — many residents of these districts, including in California, gleefully abandoned this lifestyle for a more private, lower-density and family friendly lifestyle as soon as it became practicable. In fact, millions of people moved here from crowded cities, small towns, rural areas and other countries to enjoy this lifestyle.

    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: Omar Bárcena, via Flickr, using CC License.

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  • 03/13/18--22:33: Is Mayor a Dead End Job?
  • We constantly hear that it’s the era of cities. Benjamin Barber wrote a book called If Mayors Ruled the World. Mayors are touted as pragmatic problem solvers who are taking on the challenges politicians at other levels of government are afraid to face.

    One would think that if mayors were that much better than state or federal officials, then mayor would be a great stepping stone to higher office. However, that does not appear to be the case. Only three presidents had ever served as mayor: Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Calvin Coolidge. Grover Cleveland, mayor of Buffalo, was the only one to helm a major city.

    It’s similar for other offices. In 2012 a blogger looked at the members of the US Senate. Only four of them had been mayor immediately prior to running for office. (Two others had been county executives). Five others had served as mayor, but held intermediate office before being selected to Senate. That’s less than 10% mayors.

    It’s the same with governors. Here’s what the Washington Post had to say about that:

    The jump from chief executive of a town to of the state is rare.Five states are headed by former mayors. Two, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley were mayors of their state’s largest city, Denver and Baltimore, respectively.Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) were mayors of their state’s third largest cities, Stamford, and Knoxville. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is the odd man out, having been mayor of a smaller city: Waterville, population 15,855.

    Some young, ambitious politicians have jumped into the local arena, possibly inspired by Cory Booker, who parlayed his tenure as mayor into a place in the Senate. But it hasn’t necessarily worked for them yet in terms of getting into higher office.

    One such young mayor who has gotten huge attention is Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Politico recently ran a flattering profile of him, saying that “Pete Buttigieg could be the Democrats’ savior—if he can only find his way out of South Bend.” Mayor Pete as he’s known is 36, went to Harvard, was a Rhodes Scholar, did a stint at McKinsey, served in Afghanistan with the Naval Reserves (intelligence), speaks several languages, etc. I’ve never heard a bad word about him. But it’s not obvious how he moves up. As Politico puts it:

    There is one glaring problem: The routes to higher office that are available to Buttigieg, as a progressive hailing from a state trending in the opposite direction, are winding and pockmarked. He could dither in Congress, if he could win a seat at all in his Republican-leaning home district. He could risk his political hide running statewide in Indiana, even though Trump bested Hillary Clinton there by 19 points. Maybe Buttigieg angles for a Cabinet post in the next Democratic administration? That’s three years away, at minimum. Last winter, he sought to lead the Democratic National Committee, earning endorsements from five former party chairs, but he ultimately ceded to contenders with higher name recognition.

    A bitter irony is at play here: At a moment when the faces of the Democratic Party are 67-year-old Chuck Schumer and 77-year-old Nancy Pelosi, when so many novice Democrats are banging at the gate, spurred into action by powerful social currents and opposition to the president, one of the party’s most talented young politicians has nowhere to go.

    Indiana is a red state and mayor hasn’t generally been a great route to higher office. Two Indianapolis mayors after Richard Lugar ran for statewide office and lost. But the pattern is clearly more widespread.

    Looking around, you hear about lots of people who’ve acquired the monicker “Mayor for Life,” but not nearly as many former mayors who moved up to higher office at all, much less proven to be dynamos there.

    What accounts for this? I don’t know. Maybe local politics is seen as small ball. Maybe the political skills that work well at the local level (say, retail politics) don’t scale. Maybe it’s because cities are generally dominated completely by Democrats, and mayors have no experience in campaigning with a more contested electorate. Maybe a lot of mayors simply don’t want to move up. For whatever reason, being a mayor appears to be more likely a terminal position than a stepping stone to bigger things.

    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: Cory Booker, the mayor who successfully moved to higher office

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