To casual observers, it may seem evident by now that urban density is not only fashionable, but has economic and environmental benefits. This does not mean, however, that the government always responds accordingly. For decades, federal land use and transportation policies have been inspired by the 1950s belief that suburbs, rather than cities, were what boosted upward mobility — and the Federal Housing Administration persists in favoring single-family over multi-family units. In late August, these FHA policies were reviewed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but rather than evening the playing field, HUD extended the same tired incentives for sprawl.… Read more
Public works projects often come at heavy expense. Whether it’s building new schools, municipal halls or other facilities, such projects produce not only upfront costs, but depending on their magnitude, long-term debts. There is, however, a way to mitigate costs, or even make a project more profitable: Sell off the air rights.
This is an idea that, while holding vast economic potential, is used sparingly in America. Nowadays whenever cities build a central library, to name one example, they usually construct a single-use facility that is only a few stories tall, if that.… Read more
The Congressional battle over shoring up the Highway Trust Fund has been painted as one between those willing to pay for transportation infrastructure and those willing to let it crumble. But really, the debate is over which level of government should control policy. Democrats would like to refurbish the fund, since it would keep road and transit construction largely under federal oversight. Some Republicans would like to extinguish it, so that localities could pay for, and thus dictate, their own policies. The Republican argument is partly inspired by the fact that federal bureaucracy adds expense to transportation projects.… Read more
With all the new public works construction underway in my hometown of Charlottesville, Va., it can be tough avoiding traffic jams these days. The main thruway, the U.S. Route 250 bypass, can be a particular nightmare because of construction on an interchange. For a nearby retail center, though, the construction has been a downright business killer. An article in the local newspaper quoted a coffeehouse owner as saying he had lost customers and was cutting staff; other businesses’ sales have dipped by 40 percent.… Read more
In a tale that mixes a city’s growing class divide and Dickensian conditions in a public facility, two Washington, D.C. news stories — the ongoing fiasco at General Hospital, where hundreds of homeless families are being warehoused, and the groundbreaking for The Wharf’s upscale housing and retail at the Southwest Waterfront — intersect to show how a city’s housing policy can exacerbate its homelessness problem by driving up building costs and limiting supply of new homes.
Since 2010, the same year that D.C.… Read more
It is remarkable these days how quickly an idea, once resurrected by a spastic media, can move from the fringe into the mainstream. Formerly the utopian din exclusive to protesters swarming the nation’s Burger Kings and Pizza Huts, minimum wage reforms are now reality for some cities.
At the federal level, the debate has remained relatively moderate, with President Obama recently urging Congress to increase the wage to $10.10 an hour. But in cities, conversation has become action. Last November, Seatac, WA, became the first city to raise its minimum wage to $15, a seemingly radical move that was attributed to the region’s socialist rumblings.… Read more
[Originally published by the Daily Beast]
Sometimes academic studies are good at officially validating what people already know intuitively. For Americans who wait through lengthy public transportation commutes, it’s common sense that owning a car would offer advantages. Now two recent studies show that cars offer more than just convenience: they can give lower income Americans an economic leg up.
A 2011 Brookings Institute study (PDF) found that in the 100 largest U.S. metro areas, only 22% of low- and middle-skill jobs were accessible by public transit in under 90 minutes, suggesting that today’s working-class riders cannot access needed opportunities.… Read more
[Originally published by Forbes]
In late April, President Obama took an executive action that had been ignored for a decade, and sent a surface transportation bill to Congress. The 4-year, $302 billion GROW AMERICA act would take numerous measures to shore up current transportation underfunding. There is much inside the bill that might be contentious for Republicans and Democrats, given their differing preferences on the proper federal role in transportation. But one provision should be broadly endorsed: lifting the interstate toll ban.
The act would allow states to toll their own stretches of interstate, something that has been forbidden for a century.… Read more
If one trend draws near-universal contempt from America’s urban commentariat, it is that declining cities still subsidize fancy developments to spur “revitalization.” For decades, publicly financed malls, stadiums, and convention centers have been built in cities from Stockton to Baltimore. These projects’ general failure to profit, much less boost their surroundings, raises the question of when they will finally be dismissed as growth strategies. Apparently, it won’t be in St. Louis.
After years of delay, the $100 million Ballpark Village has opened downtown.… Read more