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    Tulsa is joining the parade of places that are providing economic development incentives to people who are willing to relocate there. I previously mentioned Vermont’s program and also that of a Cincinnati suburb.

    I’ve been pretty critical of these. They have the whiff of desperation about them even though these places should be positioned to attract people. Tulsa in fact is growing right in line with the US average population growth rate.

    I’ve never been to Tulsa so won’t comment on them specifically. I just find it curious that so many places are turning to this approach to try to lure talent.

    There are so many other traditional ways to market your city to outsiders that haven’t yet been exhausted in these places. My recent paper on civic branding talks about how cities overwhelmingly try to sell themselves using generic descriptors rather than stake out a unique place in the market.

    I’ve been puzzling over why this is for a long time. It’s probably multi-factoral. At some levels many of these places don’t actually want to attract outsiders because that would threaten the status quo. (Though cities going to far as to offer $10K to someone to move must mean it). It’s also the case that civic marketing is often overseen by committee and is handled by the agency responsible for, at the end of the day, booking conventions not luring residents. And also maybe that the real primary audience for this material is internal.

    There are definitely a lot of places in America that face legitimate challenges and where convincing someone to move there is going to be a tough sell. But there are many other places that have all the potential in the world but don’t seem to be interested in achieving it. For those that do want it, I’m not convinced a generic financial incentive to relocate is the right answer.

    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 Credit: Tulsa, Oklahoma by Jordan Michael Winn

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  • 11/27/18--21:33: How Much Density Is Enough?
  • Portland New Urbanist Joe Cortright has rarely seen a high-density development he didn’t like. Like Marxist economists who always begin their papers by referring to quotations from Karl Marx, Cortright takes his cues from Jane Jacobs.

    Most recently, he argues that the reason why most Millennials, along with most people of almost all other categories, live in suburbs is that they are forced to do so by evil zoning rules that prohibit that densities that people actually prefer. Or, as he put it, there is a “pent-up demand for more urban neighborhoods that can’t be satisfied because of zoning.”

    He bases his claim on a survey of people in Atlanta and Boston asking whether they would prefer to live in a walkable neighborhood or an auto-oriented neighborhood. More people in Atlanta preferred auto-oriented neighborhoods, and 90 to 95 percent of the auto-oriented people in both cities actually lived in auto-oriented neighborhoods. However, in Atlanta, just 48 percent of people who said they preferred walkable neighborhoods were able to live in such neighborhoods, compared with 83 percent in Boston. Cortright attributes the shortfall in walkable neighborhoods to zoning.

    But there is an alternate explanation that is much more likely to be true. In places like Atlanta, developers will build for the market, and they are able to easily persuade cities to alter zoning if the market demands something different from existing zoning. (Such alterations are admittedly more difficult in Boston.) If that is true, then why do less than half the Atlantans who want to live in walkable neighborhoods get to do so?

    The answer is cost, a variable that was completely ignored in the surveys cited by Cortright. Though Cortright claims to be an economist, he seems to consider costs irrelevant. The reality is that density costs more. Land in dense areas costs more because there is more competition for its use. Construction of dense housing costs more per square foot.

    If the surveys cited by Cortright were honest, they would have asked, “Would you rather pay $400,000 for a 1,000-square-foot condo in a walkable neighborhood or $200,000 for a 2,000-square-foot single-family home in an auto-oriented neighborhood?” If the question were asked this way, then the answers would be a lot closer to how people actually live. If anything, there is a shortage of low-density housing in places like Boston, not the other way around.

    This piece first appeared on The Antiplanner.

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

    Photo credit: Robbie Shade [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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    Two days after the mid-term elections, The Washington Post published an analysis under the headline “These wealthy neighborhoods delivered Democrats the House majority.” That headline is false in several different ways, but it is being repeated among a large group of the punditry because it fits into a class narrative that sees affluent, college-educated white people who live in suburbs as citadels of tolerant decency while white folks without bachelor’s degrees, wherever they live, are wall-to-wall racist and sexist xenophobes.

    There is some evidence for that narrative, as whites without bachelor’s degrees (who in electoral analyses are called “the white working class”) are among President Trump’s strongest supporters. According to nationally aggregated exit polls, they voted for Trump by 37 points in 2016 and for GOP House candidates by 24 points in 2018. In contrast, “educated whites” gave Trump only a 3-point advantage in 2016 and then flipped to Democratic candidates by 8 points in 2018.

    A significant section of the punditry, including many Clinton Democrats, have latched on to this phenomenon to argue that the whole ballgame for the Dems, in 2018’s blue wave and for 2020, is about winning traditionally Republican suburbs while ignoring what’s left of their traditional base in the white part of the working class. An important political shift is happening in suburbs, where half of all voters live, but it is only one part of what generated the blue wave, and these suburbs are much more diverse and complicated places than the punditry allows.

    The Washington Post analysis, for example, focused on six suburban districts outside Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Richmond, and Washington, D.C., which voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 while also sending Republicans to the House of Representatives. All six, along with similar traditionally Republican suburban districts, flipped to Dems earlier this month. These kinds of districts definitely played an important role in Democrats winning the House, and we should celebrate every country-club Republican who is outraged by Trump’s nationalist mendacity, racist dog whistles, old-fashioned male supremacy, or just plain crudeness. But these districts are much more complicated than the “wealthy neighborhoods” contained within them, and most importantly, they are only one part of how the Democrats won the House.

    Flips within the so-called white working class are proportionately more important. First, while the GOP won among the white working class this year by 24 points, that is a substantial shift away from the 37-point advantage they gave Trump in 2016. And because this group of whites represents 41% of all voters, compared with college-educated whites who make up only 31%, that 13-point shift produced some 6 million additional votes for Dem candidates versus the 4 million produced by the 11-point gain Dems achieved among the white middle class. So unlike the widely cited pre-election prediction by Ronald Brownstein that the Dems’ blue wave would be an exclusively suburban tsunami, shifts toward the Dems among “poorly educated” whites were of greater importance than the shift in the metro suburbs. In the exit polls, “non-whites,” including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Others, were about 29% of voters and gave Dems an overwhelming 54-point advantage – both numbers just 1-point higher than in 2016. As the core of the Democratic base, people of color provide the foundation for any Democratic victory, but the shifts among both kinds of whites in 2018 account for the flip of the House.

    Second, along with the dozen or so suburban districts they flipped, Dems also flipped at least 14 House districts that cannot be characterized as “suburban,” let alone “wealthy.” Nate Silver highlighted many of these as “Obama-Trump” districts because they went for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. There were 21 such districts, mostly in Rust Belt states where there are large proportions of white working-class voters – including 6 in New York, 3 each in Iowa and Minnesota, 2 each in Illinois and New Jersey, and one each in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Democrats won 14 of them, and that is at least as important as the “wealthy suburban districts” D.C. pundits continue to focus on.

    What’s more, even in the traditional Republican suburban districts The Post chose to highlight, wealthy voters were not obviously more flippy than middle-income voters in those districts; those with household incomes in the $50-75k range also “surged” for Dems in comparison to their Republican pasts. Two-thirds of suburban residents do not have bachelor’s degrees, and the largest group is middle income, not affluent, let alone “wealthy.” Much of this is apparent from the data The Post authors report and display in various graphics, but they consistently emphasize the role of “the wealthy,” whom they apparently define as households with more than $100k in annual incomes. According to their own graphic, of the 29 House seats that had flipped to Dems by the time they were writing, only three came from what they define as “wealthy” districts. What’s more, in the nationally aggregated polls, Democrats failed to gain House votes versus the 2016 Trump vote in only one income category – those with household incomes of more than $100k. The Post analysis is correct in saying that “suburban neighborhoods . . . are trending increasingly left,” but they are wrong to assume that suburbs are uniformly affluent and college educated (or white).

    Worse, their analysis tells only one half of the story of the Dems’ 2018 blue wave, and the smaller half at that. The 13-point shift away from Republicans by working-class whites is important even if it did not produce a majority for Dems nationwide. The difference between Clinton winning about 30% of that group in 2016 and Obama winning 40% of it in 2008 and 2012 is the difference between Democrats holding power or not.

    The exclusive focus on suburbs as if they are wall-to-wall white middle-class professionals, which the influential Ron Brownstein continues to champion post-election, supports a Democratic political strategy that wants to run against Trump’s offensive style and values rather than on a substantive economic-justice program that could move toward renewing the kind of multi-racial, cross-class coalition that was such an important part of the Democrats’ 2008 sweep of executive and legislative power. In my view, that would be a horrendous strategic mistake. But worse, and not unrelated, it continues a moral narrative, common among many Clinton Democrats, that implicitly and often very explicitly values people with bachelor’s degrees over those without. That attitude, as much as any strategic choice, adds toxicity to our already toxic Trumpian environment.

    This piece originally appeared on Working-Class Perspectives.

    Jack Metzgar is a retired Professor of Humanities from Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he is a core member of the Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies. His research interests include labor politics, working-class voting patterns, working-class culture, and popular and political discourse about class. He is a former President of the Working-Class Studies Association.

    Photo credit: VJnet, via Flickr, using CC License.

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    Australia is one of the world’s most urban nations, with nearly 90% of its population living in urban areas, according to the United Nations (2018 estimate). Only four nations with as many residents have a larger urban population percentage (Argentina, Japan, Venezuela, and Brazil).

    More Australians live in urban areas than in the United Kingdom (83.4%) United States (82.3%), and Canada (81.4% ). Australia’s urbanization rate is about half-again that of the world (55.3%) and well above that of the two most populous nations, China (59.2%) and India (34.0%).

    Australia, however, is not among the most populous countries. With 24.7 million residents, Australia has fewer residents than California or Texas. Indeed, other states and provinces are much larger than Australia. For example, the state of Uttar Pradesh in India has more than eight times the population (over 200 million), while China’s Guangdong province has more than four times the population (over 100 million).

    Australia’s Urban Centres

    As a result, Australia has no megacities (urban areas over 10 million) and none of its urban areas exceeds 5,000,000 population.

    Like a number of nations, Australia’s national statistical authority, the Australian Bureau of Statistics compiles data on continuously built-up urban areas from its census, conducted every five years. Similar data is published in Canada (called “population centres”), Denmark, Finland, France, India, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom (called “built-up” areas), and the United States. Australia, however, uses a lower population density for threshold as small area building blocks for urban areas, which it calls “urban centres” than typical. Generally, other nations use a minimum urban standard of approximately 400 residents per square kilometer, or 1,000 per square mile. As a result, the Australia urban population densities are not directly comparable to the urban areas of the other nations.

    In 2016, there were approximately 20.9 million urban residents in the nearly 700 urban centres, which covered 23,100 square kilometers (8,900 square miles). This is 0.29% of Australia’s land area, one of the lowest figures in the world. The overall urban density of 903 per square kilometer (2,340 per square mile) is similar to the US figure from the 2010 census of 905 per square kilometer, However, the lower population threshold and that fact that Australia counts settlements with more than 1,000 residents as urban, compared to the U.S. minimum of 2,500 means that its urban areas are denser (though by an unknown amount).

    Largest Urban Centres

    Sydney (Figures 6-11) is the largest urban center in Australia, a position its metropolitan area (which includes the Sydney urban center, and exurbanization) has held since the early 20th century. Sydney’s urban centre has 4.3 million resident and the highest density among the largest urban centres, at 2,000 per square kilometer (5,100 per square mile). Melbourne (Figures 12-14), the second largest metropolitan areas is also the second largest urban centre, with 4.2 million residents and an urban density of less than 1,600 per square kilometer (4,000 per square kilometer)

    There are three additional urban centres with more than 1,000,000 residents, Brisbane (Queensland [Figures 15-19]), Perth (Western Australia [Figures 20-22]) and Adelaide (South Australia [Figures 23-24]). Brisbane and Perth are considerably less dense, with little more than 1,000 per square kilometer (below 3,000 per square mile). The densest of these three is the smallest, Adelaide, at nearly 1,400 per square kilometer (3,600 per square mile).

    These five largest urban areas all have large central business district (CBDs) that appear to be physically dominant, due to their high-rise buildings, but which typically have less than 20% of the employment. There are smaller subcenters, which are generally synonymous with the “edge city” concept identified by Joel Garreau in his 1991 book Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. Sydney’s Norwest is an edge city, (Figure 10). More than two-thirds of employment is dispersed in each of the urban areas, according to a recent report by Marion Terrill and Hugh Batrouney of the Grattan Institute (See: Remarkably adaptive Australian cities in a time of growth). This urban development (Figure 1) pattern is roughly similar to that of Canadian and US urban areas, where dispersion and subcenters dominate the employment market (see: Job Dispersion Eases Growth in Australian Cities).

    Between 55% and 60% of Australia’s urban population is concentrated in these five largest urban centers (Figure 1). By world standards, this is very high (Figure 2). Japan and South Korea have a larger share of their populations in urban areas with more than 1,000,000 residents, at 60% and more. The United States and Canada follow 8 to 13 percentage points behind. Australia’s cross-Tasman neighbor, New Zealand is far below, at 32% (though it has only one urban area of this size). Larger European Union nations and soon the separated United Kingdom have somewhat smaller number percentages of their population in these largest urban areas. By comparison, approximately 25% of the world population lives in urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population.

    Other Urban Centres

    Australia has few urban centers with between 100,000 and 1,000,000 population. Only one, the Gold Coast-Tweed Heads (Queensland-New South Wales [Figures 25-26]), has more than 500,000 residents. The Gold Coast is Australia’s principal resort and retirement area and is nearly contiguous with Brisbane, only 80 kilometers 50 miles) to the northwest. The Sunshine Coast, the second largest resort and retirement area, is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Brisbane. The Sunshine Coast is the 11th largest urban centre.

    The nation’s capital, Canberra (Australian Capital Territory-New South Wales [Figures 27-30]) has over 400,000 residents, while only three others have more than 250,000 population, each an exurb of Sydney. Central Coast is in the Sydney metropolitan area (Greater Capital City Statistical Area), while Newcastle and Wollongong are in adjacent metropolitan areas (Significant Urban Areas). Others of the largest urban centres are in relatively close proximity to the largest urban areas, such as Geelong (Figure 36), Ballarat and Bengido, which are from 75 to 150 kilometers of Melbourne, and Toowoomba, approximately 75 kilometers from Brisbane.

    There are also photographs of 12th ranked Hobart, capital of Tasmania (Figures 31-33), 16th ranked Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory (Figure 34), 23rd ranked Launceston (Tasmania) and 51st ranked Alice Springs in the center of the nation, with nearby Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olgas, in the Northern Territory (Figure 37-40).

    Population densities fall sharply in the smaller categories of urban centres (Figure 4). However, Sydney is not the densest. Four other urban centers are denser, with Meridan Plains, QLD (near Sunshine Coast) holding the number one position, at 2,399 per square kilometer (6,213 per square mile). Meridan Plains had fewer than 1,400 residents, according to the 2016 census. Overall, Australia has 50 urban centres with more than 25,000 residents (Table). A table has also been posted to the internet showing data for all of Australia’s urban centres (See: AUSTRALIA URBAN AREAS: URBAN CENTRES [Built Up Urban Areas) 2016 Census]). Photographs follow, in Figures 5 to 40.

    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: Sydney Opera House (by Author)

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    In 2004, President George W. Bush announced the aim of promoting a broader “Ownership Society,” in which more Americans could benefit from owning a home, retirement accounts, and other financial assets. “If you own something,” he declared, “you have a vital stake in the future of our country. The more ownership there is in America, the more vitality there is in America.” President Bush’s premise echoes ideas advanced by virtually all presidents since Franklin Roosevelt.

    Decades of evidence suggest this premise is correct: Asset ownership generally improves the well-being of families and provides an irreplaceable rung on the ladder to a stable place in the middle class. Even so, the share of households owning a home or other assets has fallen over the last decade, particularly among vulnerable groups like African-Americans, Hispanics, and millennials. To revive upward mobility and safeguard the “American Dream” of a secure middle-class life, reversing this trend is essential.  

    Why ownership matters

    Households accumulate assets to prepare for retirement, as well as for lumpy expenses like college tuition and medical bills. Accumulated savings are the most important funding source for startup businesses — and the decline in asset ownership arguably helps explain a puzzling downtrend in startup activity. Asset holdings also serve as a “buffer stock” enabling families to smooth spending over time in the face of ups and downs in their income.

    Asset ownership is especially important to middle-class families in the United States compared to other economies, in view of America’s relatively modest government safety net. Social Security, for instance, replaces only about 40 percent of a median individual’s earnings during her retirement years, or 30 percent for someone earning about $100,000 – less than in most European countries.

    Middle-class families also encounter much higher tuition bills and health expenses than peers elsewhere. Studies show that even a small savings stock makes a big difference to the well-being of lower-income families experiencing a financial setback.

    The evidence also suggests that, for most families, home ownership brings considerable benefits.

    Ownership is, first, a hedge against rising housing costs. Having such a hedge has turned out to be pivotal to American households over the last two decades. New construction of rental units aimed at lower-income families has languished far below the pace seen in the late 20th century, adjusted for population size. In part because of this supply constraint, median rents have surged 32 percent in constant dollars since 2001,  while median real wages have barely budged. 

    More than 40 percent of America’s 44 million renter households are now “rent-burdened,” as the government defines it — spending more than 30 percent of income on housing  while a quarter spend more than 50 percent.

    Home ownership also promotes household wealth-building. In theory, a family could always rent a home and redirect the money they would have spent on a down payment and mortgage principal payments to stocks and bonds. In practice, careful studies in the U.S.and other countries have shown that homeowners accumulate greater net wealth over time than otherwise similar renters.

    One reason is that required payments on a mortgage effectively force homeowners to build equity in their home over time, overcoming some of the behavioral challenges in the way of wealth accumulation. Another reason: while typical appreciation in house values after taxes and maintenance is relatively low, homeowners can and do borrow most of the cost of purchasing a home, which they can’t do with liquid assets. Net returns on a homeowner’s 20 percent down payment are at least equivalent to returns on a portfolio of stocks and bonds, on average.

    It’s not surprising, then, that 87 percent of Americans continue to view home ownership as part of the American Dream. According to another survey, 90 percent of young renters wish to buy a home someday, defying the myth that millennials value ownership less than previous generations did at the same age. African-Americans and Hispanics are even more likely than white Americans to aspire towards home ownership, a Harvard study found.  

    When a family owns their home, benefits spill over to the wider community. A variety of studies demonstrate that neighborhoods with high home ownership rates experience higher civic engagement, less resident turnover, greater property appreciation, and less high-displacement gentrification. The whole neighborhood derives value from the financial and “sweat-equity” investments homeowners make in their homes.

    It’s recently become fashionable to argue that the financial crisis of 2007-2009 discredited the “Ownership Society” as a policy aim. According to critics, Clinton- and Bush-era policies to promote home ownership were destined to fail and, moreover, fueled the financial sector excesses that spawned the crisis. This argument represents a lazy and indefensible misreading of the record.

    The housing crash proved that the disastrous pattern of housing finance that emerged between 2004 and 2007  no-money-down “liar” loans, dishonestly-rated securitization structures, and the whole miasma of self-delusion and fraud depicted in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short  was bound to end badly. But it doesn’t follow that lower-income families are incapable of responsible home ownership. Ownership rates were almost as high in the U.S. during the 1960s as they were at the peak of the excesses in 2005, with no housing crises.

    Also, bad lending to commercial real estate developers  including builders of rental housing  has sparked far more banking crises in history than lending to homeowners. Bad lending coupled with under-capitalized banks caused the crash of 2008, not home ownership as such.

    Finally, critics of home ownership fail to consider that a rental-dominated market would confer tremendous market power on large landlords, reinforcing what author Joel Kotkin refers to as “lord-and-serf” dynamics and driving inequality higher. The only alternative would be rent control, which would devastate already-anemic construction activity and create growing housing shortages.

    Ownership rates in decline

    The home ownership rate declined from a peak of 69.2 percent of households in 2004 to a 50-year low of 63.1 percent in 2016, bouncing back slightly last year. The decline has been especially severe among African-Americans, Hispanics, people without a college degree, and millennials.

    As of 2015, ownership rates among both the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups were more than 10 percent lower than for the same groups three decades earlier. The U.S. was once an international leader in home ownership rates, but now ranks 35th out of 44 advanced countries.

    Likewise, enrollment rates in 401(k) plans and other tax-advantaged retirement programs have declined considerably since the 1990s for African-Americans, Hispanics, and young adults. Only 52 percent of Americans in the middle income quintile — and just 31 percent of the lower-middle quintile — had money in retirement accounts as of last year.

    The net wealth, after household debt, of middle-income Americans has deteriorated recently as well. According to a 2017 Pew Research report, median net wealth for middle-income white, African-American, and Hispanic households has fallen 19 percent, 38 percent, and 46 percent, respectively, over the last decade.

    A new study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis estimated that the accumulated assets of the median household “headed” by a 35-year-old are running 40 percent below the level one would expect at this stage based on the experience of earlier generations. 

    Why has asset ownership fallen so much, particularly among middle-income families? The chief factor accounting for declining home ownership rates is, almost surely, the fact that house prices have been at sky-high levels by historical standards, both before 2008 and again over the last five years. Ownership rates actually fell from 2004 to 2007 despite the wild excesses of housing finance during those years, because houses became so unaffordable.

    As for retirement assets, the existing system is failing all too many middle-income households. People find it too easy to withdraw account balances and too difficult to port accounts over to new employers, which means a substantial minority of enrollees have virtually nothing in their accounts. The share of smaller employerswho even offer a 401(k) plan has fallen considerably over the last two decades, to less than half.

    For millennials, one more impediment to asset accumulation is the millstone of student debt. Outstanding student loans have exploded upwards from under $400 billion in 2005 to $1.5 trillion today. 

    Reviving the Ownership Society 

    Providing a “hand-up” to help lower-income people onto the first rung of the ladder to stable asset ownership is one of the most powerful engines for upward mobility and a sustainable middle class.

    Government at all levels should promote sustainable home ownership by:

    • Loosening onerous land use restrictions to stimulate development of much-needed housing supply and drive down housing prices – as studies show that cities with the least restrictive zoning rules like Dallas, Nashville, and Charlotte have experienced the most construction and relatively modest housing price increases;
    • Using property tax incentives to incentivize homeowners and landlords to rehab existing homes, which could add as much to the future housing stock as any plausible amount of new construction;
    • Phasing out the mortgage interest deduction for middle-income families and higher to eliminate the price distortions this needless tax break creates, and converting it into a refundable tax credit for lower-income families, who currently derive no benefit from it; and
    • Taxing land more heavily and structures more lightly to induce development.

    To promote asset accumulation in retirement plans and other savings accounts, Congress should replace today’s heavily-regulated, burdensome mix of retirement mechanisms with a single system of easily portable, tax-advantaged “universal savings accounts,” with far higher contribution limits. President Bush pushed unsuccessfully for such a system in the early 2000s, and numerous such proposals are circulating today.

    Government at all levels should stop penalizing savings in determining eligibility for means-tested benefit programs. They should also consider innovative experiments in matching contributions by lower-income families to savings vehicles. One example is the promising “Individual Development Account” program, which helped low-income savers to more than triple their savings relative to a control group in a randomized trial last year sponsored by the Urban Institute.

    The federal government should overhaul the disastrous student loan system to reverse the rapid buildup of indebtedness, which today renders the dream of wealth-building an unreachable fantasy for millions of young Americans.

    And policymakers should do all they can to foster the emergence of cheap, technology-enabled, no-conflicts financial advice to middle- and lower-income people – which is almost impossible to provide in the over-regulated and conflict-ridden financial services environment of today. 

    President Bush was right in 2004, and his vision of an “Ownership Society” is more valid than ever in 2018. Building asset holdings is one sure way to bolster America’s middle class. 

    This piece originally appeared in The Catalyst, a journal of ideas from the Bush Institute.

    J.H. Cullum Clark is Director, Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative and an Adjunct Professor of Economics at SMU.

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  • 12/02/18--21:33: The Soul Of The New Machine
  • Thirty-five years ago Tracy Kidder electrified readers with his “Soul of a New Machine,” which detailed the development of a minicomputer. Today we may be seeing the emergence of another machine, a political variety that could turn the country toward a permanent one-party state.

    This evolution has its roots in California, where a combination of Silicon Valley technology, changing demographics, control of media, culture and academia have worked to all but eliminate the once-fearsome state GOP. For all intents and purposes, the California Republican Party has ceased to exist.

    But this is not, as some conservatives contend, a case simply of California lunacy. Several once historically conservative states — Colorado, Arizona, Nevada — have been turning ever-bluer in recent elections. The party now barely is able to hold onto seats in places such as Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida, while the Midwest, the region that elected Donald Trump, seems to be shifting back to its bluer past.

    The road to Dominion

    Just two years ago, the Republican Party was at its apex at the state level, while controlling both the House and the Senate. Yet Trump’s histrionics and narcissistic persona have undermined his own party, as Utah’s defeated Rep. Mia Love recently suggested. “It’s all the Donald that’s killed us,” says Kevin Shuvalov, recounting the beating Republicans suffered in most Texas metro areas, and where Beto O’Rourke almost dethroned Senator Ted Cruz.

    Trump’s antics, particularly on immigration, have brought the fabulously rich Brahmin elite — Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, the Silicon Valley billionaires — out in force, continuing a trend that has been building for at least a decade. But they also built a very impressive grassroots funding base. Together these two efforts allowed the Democrats to garner effort for two-thirds of spending on critical congressional races.

    Money, as the late Jesse Unruh put it, is “the mother’s milk of politics” and the Democrats employed it in part to finance a first-rate get out the vote effort. This helped raise the midterm turnout to its highest rate since 1914. Numerous well-targeted campaigns in fairly affluent suburban districts saw GOP candidates, notably in Congress, chopped up like unwelcome crabgrass.

    In my own Orange County district, Elizabeth Warren acolyte Katie Porter outspent, out-hustled and out-thought our listless Congresswoman Mimi Walters. Porter canvassers, young and enthusiastic, visited our house three times, but we never saw anyone from Walters’ campaign. Porter’s well-done ads, following the approved script of health care and opposition to Trump, appeared on popular websites and sports events, while Walters’ were virtually non-existent. In the end Walters’ addled handlers tried to win by waving the bloody shirt of potential tax returns and calling Porter a liberal; those old tactics failed miserably.

    Demographics and political economy

    Amid the best economy for minorities in a generation, the Republicans have managed to further alienate the fastest-growing groups in the country. The Latino share of the midterm vote, notes the GOP consulting firm of Melman Castagnetti, has risen from 5.6 percent in 2006 to 11 percent in 2018. Two-thirds of those votes went to the Democrats.

    Other strongly Democratic groups — millennials, educated women, professionals — also turned out in big numbers, leaving the GOP with an aging, heavily white and working-class base. As suggested by falling oil prices, a weak housing market and new layoffs at General Motors, the GOP’s economic base could be buckling. In the long run the Democrats now enjoy almost uniform support from the less threatened quasi-monopolies of the tech and media oligarchy.

    To this, notes one GOP strategist, add Trump’s uncanny ability to alienate well-to-do conservatives. When the rich of Dallas, for example, close their wallets while the Silicon Valley types, Wall Street and Hollywood open theirs, it’s a recipe for GOP disaster.

    The only thing Democrats need to fear is themselves

    Trump has accelerated the movement of almost everyone — outside his working class and Main Street base — toward the Democrats and their shiny new machine. But politics is not yet fully based on algorithms; people still have unpredictable sensitivities, even if the alternative is Trump.

    Several issues could derail the Democrats, notably their apparent embrace of “open borders,” something most Americans will not welcome. Their parade of “free” programs may mean much higher taxes. More regulation, notably on energy, and calls for a climate change “command economy” could threaten the incomes and lifestyles of most Americans, particularly the critical suburban voters. Programs that punish the middle and working class in order to “save the planet” are already causing chaos in France. This might happen here as well, but only after 2020, when the Democrats may have the power to impose them.

    Increasingly the great Trump triumph of 2016 is looking more and more of a pyrrhic victory. With more Democrats in the 116th Congress than 34 other states combined, California, not Indiana or Ohio, is becoming the country’s premier political center. Our “model” of a one-party progressive dictatorship, built on an odd coalition of the rich and poor, is inexorably moving beyond the Sierras and into the rest of the country.

    This piece originally appeared on The Orange County Register.

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

    Photo: Via KNX1070 NewsRadio.

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    I have been a steadfast critic of the project to build two new bridges across the Ohio River in Louisville for over a decade. In fact, my first critical post on the bridges proposal was put up in 2007 less than six months after starting my original Urbanophile blog.

    The end result was even worse than I anticipated. The project has proven to be a money waster of the highest order, and in fact by far the biggest American transportation boondoggle I can identify in the 21st century so far.

    Part of the agreement between Indiana and Kentucky to build the bridges was that they would do official before and after surveys of traffic to determine the impact of the new bridges on traffic flow. The study was published in August of this year.

    The result? The two states spent $1.3 billion dollars to build a parallel I-65 span in downtown Louisville that doubled the capacity of that crossing. After spending that money, traffic fell by 50%.

    Let me repeat that: Indiana and Kentucky spent $1.3 billion to double the capacity of a road while traffic levels were cut in half.

    Here’s a chart showing the before and after traffic levels on the bridges.

    And here’s a percent change look.

    The project doubled the size of the I-65 crossing and built a new East End crossing that didn’t previously exist. Each of these were around $1.3 billion separately.

    What happened is that to pay for (part) of the bridges, a toll was added to the previously free I-65 bridge, and a new crossing in the East End was also tolled. This simply led to a diversion of traffic to the other two bridges that didn’t have tolls. In fact, the existing free I-64 Sherman Minton Bridge now carries more traffic than all of the toll bridges combined. (Unsurprisingly, there’s talk of temporarily closing that bridge for rehabilitation).

    Total cross-river traffic has actually fallen since 2013, albeit only slightly. But traffic on the Clark Memorial (2nd Street) Bridge is up 75%. This is traffic choosing the free route to get to downtown. This happened even though the Clark Bridge has seen its number of lanes cut in half due to a lengthy repainting project. Traffic on the I-64 bridge increased by 23%. There’s no percent change on the East End bridge since it didn’t previously exist.

    I have always said that the East End bridge made sense conceptually because it added a crossing where one did not exist previously and where traffic would otherwise have to go many miles out of the way to get across the river. The actual bridge was too expensive (also $1.3 billion or so), in part because of a ludicrous tunnel built on the Kentucky side, but at least the basic bridge was a sound project.

    But an expanded downtown crossing never made sense. Not only has it proven to be a transportation waste, it is a negative in other ways. For example, the project doubled the width of interstate overpasses through downtown Louisville, creating a bigger barrier between downtown and the booming NuLu district to the East.

    Most gallingly, Louisville decided to double down on freeways at a time when most cities are looking at ways to reduce the negative impact of freeways on downtowns and even tear them out entirely in some cases. A very viable proposal to do just that in Louisville called 8664 was rejected by policymakers, who insisted on spending $1.3 billion on this disaster.

    Not only was this project a colossal waste of $1.3 billion. Not only did it harm the urban fabric of downtown Louisville. But there’s also reason to believe it diverted economic activity away from Louisville.

    Looking at the numbers in table 3.1., it looks like truck traffic across the river has fallen by almost a third since 2013. Here’s the chart:

    20% of 224,700 is 44,940. 14% of 220,200 is 30,828. That’s 14,112 trucks (i.e., commercial traffic) gone. Where did they go? If you are a region that’s banking on the distribution industry for a big part of your future blue collar employment growth, the tolls on these bridges can’t be good news. That’s particularly true when no surrounding competitor city has tolls.

    I don’t generally like to say “I told you so” – but in this case I’ll make an exception. My analysis of this bridge project was known to decision makers well in advance of the project moving forward. I know that for a fact. What’s more, probably nothing harmed my standing in certain political circles more than this reportage. The 8664 idea was very widely circulated and understood by everyone in Louisville leadership.

    This boondoggle didn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t a result of ignorance. It was well known in advance that it was a bad idea. It was a deliberate, conscious choice.

    The fact that these states found $1.3 billion to spend on this downtown bridge is one reason why I will never again accept the “there’s no money for that” excuse on anything again. States keep finding plenty of money to spend on things of little to no value – like this bridges project.

    I’m not hostile to road spending, so my opposition to this project was never based on an ideological opposition to cars but because it made no transportation or financial sense. It doesn’t make sense to build new roads in stagnant or shrinking places and we should be cautious about speculative projects in an age where we don’t know what the pending possible disruption of driverless cars might bring, but I’m a big advocate of building more roads in rapidly growing places. Unfortunately, the project selection process in most states seems to alight upon the worst projects while the best go unfunded.

    Is there another place in the country where somebody spent $1.3 billion to double the capacity of a road whose traffic then fell by half? I can’t think of another example remotely like this. It may well be that something like the MTA East Side Access in New York has seen cost overruns that dwarf this. But at least that project will be useful when it’s done. This is a total waste. That’s why the Louisville downtown bridge is the biggest transportation boondoggle of the 21st century to date.

    By rights I should be writing this for a major national publication instead of putting it on my personal web site. But I love Louisville and Southern Indiana (my hometown) and don’t want to create negative press for them. I just want it known for the record that this did not have to happen.

    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 Credit: Bart Evans, CC BY 2.0

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    It’s become common folklore that California is booming and incoming Governor Newsom and the Democratic supermajority have more taxpayer money than they will know how to spend, save, or invest. Nothing could be farther from the truth; and it’s the California voters and taxpayers who will continue to be pay for this mistake. We literally owe trillions that isn’t being discussed. Just the estimated payments on public employee pensions in California will increase from $31 billion in today’s dollars to $59 billion in 2024; and this number is based on non-recessionary conditions or a major correction in the stock market. And California immediately needs $800 billion to over $1 trillion worth of infrastructure repairs, upgrades and new construction.

    A conservative estimate of California’s total debt by the California Policy Center in a 2017 study – before new tax and bond obligations recently voted in were factored – puts California’s total local and state debt at $1.3 trillion. The Stanford University Pension Institute ( in 2017 calculated California’s unfunded liability at $1.4 trillion and CalPERS also with an unfunded liability of $1.4 trillion, with CalSTRS billions underwater as well to give, “real state debt of $2.8 trillion.”

    Whichever calculation is used California owes trillions and doesn’t have a plan in place to address this issue. What should be clear is that California does not have a surplus or anything near a surplus factoring in total debt and infrastructure for a basic, functioning society California citizens and non-citizens expect. This figure also doesn’t factor in health care costs rising under Covered California, Medi-Cal or possibly expanding Medicare to include all Californians living in-state.

    These financial and societal facts will affect overall fiscal health and the ability to pay back debts accruing interest or fall under the category of a future obligation. Government services at the state, county and local level are at risk if a recent announcement by the CalPERS Board is taken into consideration titled, “Risks Report,” highlighted, “The greatest risk to the system continues to be the ability of employers to make their required contributions.”

    Taxpayers will have to make up the shortfall through additional taxes – like eliminating Prop 13, voting in a VAT or services tax or some combination thereof – otherwise first responder-response-times, social services for the poor and needy; and environmental standard protocols will erode.

    There are other factors California will need to overcome to pay back their debt and realize we do not have a budget surplus. California’s unemployment rate is 33rd in the nation at 4.1%. The national unemployment rate is 3.7%. We have the highest taxes in the nation when the variables of the gas tax, state income tax, and sales tax are put into the equation. Additionally, California has the highest housing and rents in the nation per amount of residents. The median home price in California is roughly $544,900 whereas the remainder of the United States is estimated at $220,000. We artificially suppress housing supply (particularly, single-family-home) – though demand hasn’t diminished – driving up prices. Our stringent environmental standards evidenced by CEQA, SB 375, AB 32, SB 100 and CARB is hurting job growth and economic sustainability.

    High taxes and regulations; and a tough business environment are some of the reasons why Toyota, Occidental Petroleum, and Nestle USA food conglomerate left California. Now the second largest firm in California – McKesson Pharmaceuticals is seriously contemplating leaving for Texas – according to a report by the San Francisco Business Times. The issue isn’t whether or not these companies leave; instead it’s the high paying jobs with benefits across all income spectrums being driven out of California. Moreover, we need successful firms to assist tackling the trillions we owe in pensions, bond obligations and infrastructure requirements.

    After this recent election where it has become proper to bash Republicans – especially California Republicans – many will postulate there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats. When there is nothing farther from the truth. I’m not speaking about politics, which is essentially the means for winning elections and building coalitions for governance, I’m speaking about actual policies. How do you allocate taxpayer money? Do you want to tackle California’s debt or speak about a surplus instead? Do you believe in abortion, gay marriage, some form of socialism? Do you build a larger navy to confront global problems? Do you believe in fracking?

    Those are policy decisions that have wide ramifications for California policymakers and voters. The California Democratic Party currently believes in spending more than it takes in by amounts it will never be able to recover; though incoming Governor Newsome showed variables of fiscal restraint as Mayor of San Francisco. Of course there are establishment cronies and swamp-dwellers in both parties; but if you only take environmental policy using Tom Steyer as an example there has never been a more powerful oligarch in recent memory.

    The planet and California isn’t better off for the policies Mr. Steyer advocates for and our poverty and homelessness continues being the worst in the nation. These are examples of policy decisions similar to believing there is a budget surplus that have long-term, negative ramifications.

    What the surplus doesn’t take into account is California’s real poverty rate, which the Census Bureau standard now has at 19% and 43.9% higher than the remainder of the US. Disenchantment and disillusionment with both parties is en vogue, but there is too much at stake in our financial future to allow the Democratic supermajority to be let off the hook by continuing to spout the mantra of budget surplus.

    Todd Royal is a committee member for the California energy and electrical committee for the American Society of Civil Engineer; and an energy consultant focusing on the geopolitics of energy directly related to foreign policy, national security and domestic exploration and production based in Los Angeles. He can be reached via Twitter @TCR_Consulting.

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    Life expectancy for Americans has fallen to an average of 78.6 years. This is a drop from the most recent estimates—indicating a downward trend that is virtually unheard of in Western countries. A report just released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls this “a disturbing result not seen in the US…since 1915 through 1918, which included World War I and a flu pandemic.” The report blames the downward trend on increases in opioid abuse, suicide, and diabetes.

    So perhaps it is fitting that when ABC debuted The Conners, a spinoff from last year’s canceled Roseanne, the writers decided to kill off Roseanne Conner by having her succumb to an opioid addiction—an addiction so secret that even her husband, Dan (John Goodman) was shocked when his daughters started unearthing random bottles of pain pills around the house after Roseanne’s death.

    The real life Roseanne Barr is still very much alive, as she reminded her fans when The Connors debuted in mid-October, tweeting, “I’m not dead, b*&%#es.” But it was a tweet last May that killed Barr’s tenure at ABC. She tweeted about President Obama’s close advisor, Valerie Jarrett: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” At first Barr blamed the tweet on the sleep aid, Ambien, and then she claimed that didn’t know Jarrett was African American. Finally, she apologized: “to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me—my joke was in bad taste.” But the damage was done. ABC promptly canceled Roseanne, calling Barr’s tweet “abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values.”

    Sara Gilbert, who plays Roseanne’s daughter Darlene, and Goodman scrambled to find a way to keep the show alive. Indeed, the Roseanne reboot was Gilbert’s idea in the first place. They were also concerned about the ability of the hundreds of people employed by the sitcom, in front of and behind the camera, to keep their jobs.

    Ironically, perhaps, some have argued that The Conners is just as good—and maybe even better—than Roseanne. The show was always an ensemble piece, and every actor associated with the reboot has remained. Even better, D.J.’s (Michal Fishman) African American wife, who last spring was off camera fighting in Afghanistan, is now back from the war (Maya Lynne Robinson), and there are delightful cameos by Johnny Galecki as Darlene’s ex-husband, Matthew Broderick as Jackie’s pompous Halloween date, and Jay R. Ferguson (Peggy’s bearded coworker from Mad Men!) as Darlene’s new boss at a tabloid newspaper.

    Michael Schneider writing for Indiewire suggests that without the distraction of Roseanne Barr’s politics the show can go back to doing what it did so well in the 1990s: chronicling the woes of the working class. The Conners struggle with many problems familiar to working-class families: the grief from losing someone to opioid addiction, the additional loss of Roseanne’s income, alcoholism, being fired, being underemployed, being forced to work in crappy service industry jobs because nothing else is available, blue collar jobs that suck, dicey sexual situations in the workplace, and a threadbare house that is falling apart and which has to hold several generations because of finances. The Conners also face less class-specific problems of tween sexuality, teenage sex, divorce, religion, politics, and a multi-racial family.

    One of the most interesting consequences of the Roseanne reboot, its subsequent cancellation, and its rebirth as The Conners is that television critics are talking about class on television. These discussions fall into two oddly contradictory threads. Some argue that television has never properly addressed class, arguing, as Pepi Lesteinya did in Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class, that television has either long ignored, mocked, or derided the working class in its portrayals. The other thread, which seems to belie the first, is that in the good old days television represented the working class with love, but that now those days are gone.

    The truth is more complicated than either of these claims.

    First, working-class people have always been featured on network television in greater numbers than we have been able to see as scholars, in part because there are simply too many hours to count, watch, and apprehend. From my own research, I can assert that 1950s television was weird, heterogeneous, ethnically and racially diverse, full of working-class characters and themes, and ideologically diverse as well. While this is not a view in the scholarly mainstream, I have allies for this argument in the scholars who contributed to The Other Fifties: Interrogating Mid Century Icons, and, especially, Horace Newcomb’s chapter, “Meaningful Difference in 50s Television.”

    Despite the seeming scarcity of working-class themed television comedies, many such shows have been at the center of a canon of the most watched and re-watched series in television history. The 1950s offered The Honeymooners and The Life of Riley, game shows like Queen for a Day, and variety shows featuring diverse casts such as TheMilton Berle Show and TheRed Skelton Show. The 1960s and 70s brought dozens of television series about public sector workers (nurses, teachers, cops, and fire fighters) and classics like All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Maude, and Laverne and Shirley. Don’t forget the longest running TV series in history, The Simpsons or more recent series such as Two Broke Girls and Superstore. Across these eras, working-class characters, working-class writers, and actors from working-class backgrounds have always been a core staple of the small screen. A quick visual for this comes from Vulture’s timeline of working class sitcoms on network television.

    Despite all this attention to the working class, one thing is for sure: television is bad at class struggle. On rare occasions, such as with the 1990s drama WWII era Homefront (1991-1993), unions are portrayed with dignity and realism, but for the most part television either ignores or distorts class conflict. On the other hand, the most consistent theme of most working-class sitcoms, including The Conners, is that it is a struggle to be working class.

    In an op-ed last week David Brooks mused about the decline in life expectancy for Americans, concluding that since the economy is currently going gangbusters, that the only thing that can explain the uptick in opioid deaths and suicides among working-class Americans is some strange brew of economics, philosophical rot, and moral decay. But Brooks is wrong. Whatever the GDP might indicate, the American economy has been in decline for working people for a long time—even more so since the financial collapse of 2008. There is no single state in the US in which a minimum wage job can afford a worker a two-bedroom apartment. Inequality is more pronounced than in any time in US history. African American poverty in the South is considered by the UN to be some of the worst anywhere in the world. And as Forbes magazine reported in August, the real economy isn’t booming.

    For now The Conners remain on the air, with their lives and their dignity intact, if only just barely. I hope that ABC and its viewers will keep the show on the air long enough for us to keep talking about class and culture—and about class struggle. The struggle is real.

    This piece originally appeared on Working-Class Perspectives.

    Kathy M. Newman is an Associate Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University and author of Radio-Active: Advertising and Activism 1935-1947.

    Photo by Eric McCandless, ABC

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    Home ownership is finally increasing in the United States, following the housing bust. The Census Bureau reports that 63.9 percent of households owned their own homes in 2017. This represents the first annual home ownership increase in more than 10 years, as a string of losses followed the housing bust after 2006. The home ownership rate has continued to increase, and stood at 64.4 percent in the third quarter of 2018. This is just above the 64.3 percent average home ownership rate for the three decades ending in 1994. Much of the subsequent increase in home ownership was the result of the housing bubble (Figure 1). The authors of a Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco working paper (Paolo Gelain of the European Central Bank and Norges Bank, Kevin J. Lansing of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and Gisle J. Natvik of the BI Norwegian Business School) characterized this as:

    … a classic speculative bubble involving naive projections about future asset values, imprudent lending against risky collateral, and ineffective regulatory oversight."

    Much of the angst about falling home ownership since the Great Financial Crisis insufficiently accounts for unusual, and hopefully not to be repeated influences. Yet the differences between metropolitan areas are enormous.

    Highest Home Ownership Rates

    The data from the American Community Survey shows that Grand Rapids, Michigan has the highest home ownership rate among the 53 major metropolitan areas (over 1,000,000 population). With 73.4 percent of households owning homes, Grand Rapids has a 3.2 percentage point margin over second ranked Minneapolis-St. Paul (Minnesota-Wisconsin), which has a 70.2 percent home ownership rate. Grand Rapids and Minneapolis-St. Paul are the only major metropolitan areas with home ownership rates exceeding 70 percent. The table shows home ownership rates for the 53 major metropolitan areas.

    Pittsburgh, St. Louis (Missouri-Illinois) and Detroit ranked third through fifth in home ownership, they were followed by Salt Lake City, Birmingham, Raleigh, Louisville (Kentucky-Indiana), and Baltimore. All of the top ten metropolitan areas had home ownership rates of 66.6 percent or higher (Figure 2).

    Lowest Home Ownership Rates

    The lowest home ownership rate was in Los Angeles, at 48.4 percent (a ranking of 53rd). This is more than one third below that of leader Grand Rapids and 3.4 percentage points below New York (New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania), at 51.8 percent. Three other metropolitan areas had home ownership rates below 55 percent, 51st ranked San Diego, 50th ranked Las Vegas, and 49th ranked San Francisco. The other metropolitan areas among the lowest 10 home ownership rates were all below 60 percent, San Jose, Austin, Miami, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Milwaukee (Figure 3).

    California’s Low Home Ownership Rates

    California’s major metropolitan areas are disproportionately ranked with among the lowest home ownership rates. None has a home ownership rank in the top one-half of metropolitan areas. Four of the six metropolitan areas with the lowest home ownership rates are in California, including the two largest. The Los Angeles home ownership rate is nearly one-quarter below that of the nation. The San Francisco home ownership rate is 14 percent below the national rate. The fourth largest metropolitan area, San Diego, has a home ownership rate 16 percent below that of the nation. San Jose, with the highest median income of any major metropolitan area, has a home ownership rate 10 percent below the US rate.

    While Sacramento is not among the 10 metropolitan areas with the lowest home ownership rates in the nation, it ranks 12th worst, at six percent below the national rate. Only Riverside-San Bernardino has a home ownership rate nearly equal to that of the nation, at 63.0 percent.

    There have been multiple reports from California’s Legislative Analyst, as well as others tracing much of the higher housing costs to some of the most restrictive land use regulations, in a state with the highest urban population density in the nation. Further, California’s high house prices make it far more expensive to provide subsidized, affordable housing because its costs are tied to housing costs in the market. A consequence is that California has the highest housing cost adjusted poverty rate among the 50 states.

    The Importance of Home Ownership

    In a recent article, Cullum Clark, Director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative, reminds us that home ownership has been a priority of presidents since FDR (see: The Benefits of Home Ownership Mean We Should Still Believe in the American Dream). He says that “Providing a 'hand-up' to help lower-income people onto the first rung of the ladder to stable asset ownership is one of the most powerful engines for upward mobility and a sustainable middle class.” This is crucial to a prosperous and inclusive future.

    Improving home ownership does not require liar loans or dishonestly rated securities. It can be accomplished by allowing competitive land markets to operate. This requires allowing starter housing to be built that can be afforded by the starter home consumers of the future, such as millennials and many minority households.

    Photograph: Grand Rapids

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  • 12/07/18--21:33: Miami’s New Temples
  • I scratched my head over this one for a while before I eventually came around. Give me a minute to come full circle here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This piece first appeared on Granola Shotgun.

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

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    In launching their now successful protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s gas hike, the French gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) have revived their country’s reputation for rebelling against monarchial rule. It may well foreshadow a bitter, albeit largely avoidable, battle over how to address the issue of climate change.

    Macron’s approach may have made him a favorite of editorial writers, who see him as the new “sun king,” but he is far more disliked by his own people than Trump is by Americans. The new French rebellion parallels the revolutionary resentments that ultimately overthrew aristocratic and clerical privilege that allowed them to live in splendor while the Third Estate, the middle class, suffered.

    Climate: Beyond hysteria

    Macron’s policies rest on the notion of an on-going climate catastrophe embraced by media, the academy and the intelligentsia. Every time weather takes a nasty turn as it often does — heat waves, downpours, forest fires, floods — it’s often attributed to climate change.

    This leads to the notion that we need to embrace climate “hysteria,” as one New York Times reporter suggested recently. This does not seem the best basis to create an enduring and workable policy. Like other pressing issues, environmental concerns need to be addressed in a rational and equitable manner. The mainstream media has become the biggest obstacle here, as evidenced by coverage of a recent report suggesting a huge economic hit from climate change. As President Obama’s undersecretary of energy for science, physicist Steven Koonin, suggests, these projections reflected only highly improbable worse case scenarios based on such things as ever growing coal usage and no significant technological improvement.

    Who pays for environmental virtue?

    The gilets jaune revolt begs the issue: who pays to save the planet? The Paris accords absolved the very countries driving emission increases — China and India — from mandating emissions cuts until 2030, leaving the burden largely on the backs of the West’s own middle and working classes.

    Yet many of these people need fossil fuels to get to work or operate their businesses. Tourists may gape at the high-speed trains and the Paris Metro, but the vast majority get to work in cars. More than 80 percent of the Paris metropolitan area population lives in the suburbs and exurbs, in an area nearly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

    Like the revolutionaries of 1789, people are enraged by the hypocrisy of their betters. In pre-revolutionary times, French aristocrats and top clerics preached Christian charity while indulging in gluttony, sexual adventurism and lavish spending. Today they see the well-off and well-connected buying their modern version of indulgences through carbon credits and other virtue-signaling devices. Meanwhile, as many as 30 percent of Germans and as many as half of Greeks are spending 10 percent or more of their income on energy, the definition of “energy poverty.” This is occurring while these policies prove sadly ineffective in reducing emissions while the much disdained US leads the large countries in cuts.

    Is there a Third Way?

    In California the zealous apparatchiks of the Air Resource Board are working overtime to make life worse for most residents — even though the state since 2007 has trailed 35 states in emission declines. California’s gains are further clouded by the fact that the state exports its pollution to other states as well as overseas. And the fires, which produced massive emissions, were made much worse by state’s mismanaged forest policies — and those imposed on federal lands by environmental groups. (Just because Trump says something doesn’t make it de facto untrue).

    Ultimately politics may force a shift in these policies. Unlike China, people in democracies sometimes fight back against their governments. Already political leaders in Alberta and Ontario have broken with federal climate policies seen as hurting their provincial economies. In the US many states, including left-leaning Washington and Colorado, rejected such things as carbon taxes and bans on oil drilling, in part due to concerns over energy bills.

    Like Macron and leaders elsewhere, the woke folks running California may not escape a citizen rebellion forever. There’s already a major lawsuit against climate policies brought by 200 veteran civil rights leaders on behalf of mostly minority working class voters. In the trial deliberation Attorney General Xavier Becerra has all but admitted that the state does not consider class or race as relevant in climate policies which may not play so well with that part of their own political base.
    Hopefully grassroots pressure will shift the policy agenda. Already some environmentalists are approving of trimming the forests. Others are proposing more expenditures on resiliency — coastal walls, dispersed power systems, better storage of water — to meet the challenges presented by climate change.

    The world, California included, needs to respond to the climate challenge with a pragmatism based on realism and respect for citizens’ aspirations. No democratic society can be expected to openly impose a radical decline in living standards; that has already been made clear in France, and may be shape politics here in the US, and even here in California, for years to come.

    This piece originally appeared on The Orange County Register.

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

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

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    The Center for Urban Opportunity (COU) has developed a measure (the “COU Standard of Living Index”) that estimates the purchasing power of real average pay in metropolitan areas compared to that of the average employee who moves to a new residence. We have found that the places that return the most for median pay are varied. Some, like leaders San Jose, Boston and Seattle come from the ranks of high-priced places that deliver even better pay. But most are decidedly in the heartland, led by Durham, North Carolina, Houston, Detroit, Atlanta and Charlotte, where lower costs meet relatively lower pay.

    Read or download the full report here.

    Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

    Photo by Smithfl [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

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    It has been 10 years since passage of California Proposition 1A the High-Speed Rail Act that approved the $9.95 billion bond, a down payment on a high-speed rail project that was optimistically estimated by proponents at that time to cost $40 billion. Today, the California high-speed rail cost may approach $100 billion. Public enthusiasm is obviously dwindling.

    Supporters of the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed rail line hope that erecting part of the line now will make future governors less likely to abandon the project. The entire 800-mile line is scheduled for completion by 2033. There is no shortage of obstacles to what even the project’s biggest boosters call an ambitious timetable, including the engineering challenge of tunneling through the Tehachapi Mountains, a seismically active barrier between the Central Valley and Los Angeles.

    In addition to the continuous cost overruns and schedule delays, by law, the State will not operate the train, nor subsidize its operation. Once built, the State will seek an operator of the completed project, through competitive bidding. State law says that the system MUST OPERATE WITHOUT A TAXPAYER SUBSIDY, but according to a Reason Foundation study, there are more than 100 bullet trains worldwide and except for the one or two that operate profitably, all require subsidies, thus the end results for California’s high speed rail is that it will most likely necessitate taxpayer subsidies or higher fares per mile, or both.

    Beginning construction without all of the financing in place represents a strategic gamble by the rail authority, and by Governor Brown, that once enough work is completed, future leaders may be intimidated to abandon the project and leave a landscape of unfinished pillars, viaducts, bridges and track beds. Faced with reduced resources, the authority has altered its plans, and is now focused on finishing a 119-mile stretch of track from Bakersfield to Madera by 2022.

    The continued delays and rising costs have fueled criticism that California, perhaps the most prosperous state in the nation, is squandering money on a transportation project that critics describe as a prime example of big government waste in a state controlled by Democrats.

    For all the construction, the project faces the ever-present threat that a future governor may decide that state resources would be better used dealing with, to name one example, the housing, homeless and poverty crisis. Governor Jerry Brown, a big proponent, is leaving office at the end of the year.

    The coastal elites who support “going to green electricity” at all costs just don’t care that the working poor and struggling middle class living away from California’s coast are bearing the brunt of higher energy costs. “Clean electricity” doesn’t run the military, airports, cruise liners, supertankers, ports, and transportation industries, nor does electricity produce 6,000 products from petroleum that are used by every infrastructure, that are made from the chemicals and by-products that are manufactured from crude oil. The inconvenient truth about AB 32 the Global warming initiative, as well as Cap and Trade and its extension to 2030, is that we now have higher gasoline prices and higher electricity costs.

    Since our state has the worst poverty rate in the nation where 1 out of 5 California families are barely hanging on, it’s hard to understand the time and effort being extended on the subject of the emissions crusade that is obviously negatively impacting our poverty and homeless populations.

    Driving or flying from a multitude of airports can be done at virtually any time of day, but the inflexibility of how many train departure times would be available from a limited number of trains would impact the convenience factor offered by cars and planes and thus also adversely affect train ridership. The snowballing effect of lower ridership would be higher fares for those that do use the train as there would be no state subsidies available. Lower ridership would further impact the ROI risks for invested capital.

    Just like the land line phones that have become obsolete as a result of cell phone technologies, future travel needs may be impacted in the coming decades as a result of the ever growing virtual world for office workers and online classes for students. There is also a rise of alternatives to both private automobiles and public transit, such as Uber and bicycling, and the coming evolution of driverless vehicles.

    The latest business plan of completing a high speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles that cannot be subsidized by law is essentially a going-out-of-business plan that is discussed in a Reason Foundation Due Diligence Report.

    However, once the high speed rail is ever operating, and the realization that subsidizing funds may be required to augment ridership income, future leaders will be loath to walk away from the $100 billion project and you can bet on it that Californians will be further burdened with subsidizing costs, or some form of greenhouse gas offsets paid for by businesses to pay for the trains operation!

    This piece originally appeared on CFACT.

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

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    I’ve written about Kokomo, Indiana before and also posted a podcast with its mayor. It’s a small manufacturing city in Indiana, far from glamorous and with its own set of challenges, that has been seeking to reinvent itself for the 21st century. My latest City Journal article is a look at Kokomo and what it’s been up to.

    "Today, Kokomo is in the midst of a multiyear transformation that’s dramatically reshaping it. Downtown is home to new co-working spaces, retailers, restaurants, and a brewery. More than 200 upscale apartments have been built across several developments, along with new senior housing and upgraded public-housing developments. Renovators are working on single-family homes in near-downtown neighborhoods. The city is expanding parks, trails, and bike lanes, and has built a downtown baseball stadium, home to a collegiate summer-league team. Every stoplight was removed from the core of downtown, every one-way street converted to two-way, and numerous intersections were redesigned with attractively landscaped pedestrian-friendly bump-outs and decorative flower-planters on streetlights. There’s a sparkling new YMCA, a central parking garage, new firehouses, and a refurbished city hall. After several decades without public transit, the city restarted bus service, which now operates five routes, all fare-free.

    The catalyst for all this change has been Mayor Greg Goodnight, in alliance with the Chamber of Commerce, the school corporation, and other community groups. Goodnight is arguably the most dynamic Democratic politician in Indiana. He’s a union blueblood—he was previously president of the local United Steelworkers, and his father was formerly the regional president of the Teamsters. But he’s also a fiscal hawk who has tussled with local public-employee unions, including a bruising multi-month standoff with the firefighters. And he’s a strong proponent of creative-class-style place-making as well. Goodnight, who does not hold a college degree, gave himself a master class in urbanism by reading classics in the field from authors including Jane Jacobs, Edward Glaeser, and Jeff Speck. Books on cities line the shelves behind his desk, and he’s internalized them better than many planners. Kokomo’s infrastructure projects, in particular, are well designed, with great attention to detail. Goodnight’s leadership is arguably the model of the working-class/creative-class, blue-collar/white-collar synthesis that many believe we need today."

    Click over 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.