San Diego, CA
There was a reason I was riding a car from Los Angeles to San Diego, and it was one that I’d cracked up to the failures of the California government. For decades, the state has talked about building a bullet train that will connect both cities, and the ones further north, at speeds of 220 mph. But none of the train has yet been completed, and so there I was late Saturday morning, still stuck in traffic outside downtown L.A.
The same lethargy that’s curtailed this project has affected similar ones across California. San Francisco’s BART system, which will eventually connect the East Bay to Silicon Valley, has remained incomplete for even longer. Future transit lines for Sacramento are also but a pipe dream. There still isn’t a subway that goes all the way down Los Angeles’ main boulevard, Wilshire, nor one connecting to its airport. And these examples, limited to passenger rail, don’t even begin to stress California’s shortcomings on other needed infrastructure. Read More »
When inaugurated four years ago, President Obama was dismissed by some Republicans as a mere public whim, to be tolerated momentarily and defeated next election. But his more recent inauguration has spurred debates among these Republicans on why exactly that wasn’t achieved. One reason was because of Republicans’ inability to connect with various demographics—from women, to Millennials, to Latinos and Muslims—that are now more prominent in America. But another demographic that they lost—and one which encompasses these others—is America’s rising number of urbanites. Read More »
Chicago, beginning with Obama’s national run, and continuing with the election of his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as mayor, has been much in the news the past few years. Oftentimes the media can’t seem to decide whether that news should be good or bad, which is odd considering an impartial glance suggests the latter. While downtown is revitalizing, Chicago overall is in decline. From 2000-2010 it had more population loss than any U.S. city save Detroit, dropping to its 1910 numbers. With this decline comes the typical host of urban maladies—the city’s murder count is well above NYC’s, despite having a third the population; city council is famously corrupt and unaccountable; unemployment exceeds 10%; and its combined sales taxes are the nation’s second highest. Here is the recent coverage:
1. An NYT magazine article analyzes the city’s downtown-centric growth strategy, which some think causes disinvestment in outlying neighborhoods. An NYT book review months earlier attributes Chicago’s troubles to residents’ abnormally rosy view of their city.
2. Time Magazine published its own cover article about Emanuel last week, titled “Chicago Bull.” Because I don’t have an online subscription I can’t access it. But if the profile is like those on others who have graced the magazine’s cover (see Obama, Bloomberg, JFK) you can count on it being simple, ingratiating and marvelously fact-free.
3. Someone I’d like to introduce my audience to, if they don’t already know, is Aaron Renn. He is an IT consultant who runs the “Urbanophile” blog. I had the pleasure of talking to him by phone this week to get advice about this whole blogging industry of which I know so little. Aaron now lives in Providence, but cut his teeth writing about Chicago, and still focuses heavily on the city.
4. What would a Chicago post be without links to the Drudge Report, with its daily doses of Schadenfreude about the city’s failings under “Godfather” Emanuel? This morning it informed dear readers that the day before, a mom was shot while walking her kid to school on the south side, and that a high school in the near-western suburbs concluded its year with a 300-person brawl.
The cherry blossoms in Washington, DC, may have been delayed by a cold early spring, but after finally blooming, there wasn’t any dip in the number of people wishing to see them. Instead visitors were out in droves that first weekend in April, meandering around a Tidal Basin lined with greens and whites and pinks, against the backdrop of the nation’s finest monuments. But unfortunately for these visitors, the trip back wasn’t as scenic, since roads between the Basin and downtown were slammed with traffic cops, bumper-to-bumper cars, and bicyclists seemingly on a suicide mission. This extended to the National Mall, validating a recent Washington Post editorial about the need to alleviate the area’s congestion.
The editorial was addressed to “anyone who has ever circled the Mall, looking for a place to park,” or who has avoided this altogether since it “would be impossible.” It was also addressed to those who have soured to the Mall’s gasoline fumes, obstructive tour buses, and lack of restrooms. For these and other problems, the Post had a “sensible idea”: build an underground parking structure. Read More »
- Last week marked the end of the much-heralded, 10-week-long Floyd v. City of New York trial. This was for a federal lawsuit being made against the city on grounds that its stop-and-frisk policy is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The trial alluded to the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, which enables officers to search people on the street not after arrest, but based on reasonable suspicion that they’re carrying a gun. It was seen then as something that could prevent crime in legitimately threatening situations (the ruling defended cops who had frisked two suspicious-looking guys and found revolvers).
But in the decades since, stop-and-frisks have been used almost reflexively in New York City, namely under Mayor Bloomberg, who has expanded their use six-fold to a whopping 5 MILLION incidences. The mayor and NYPD defend this as necessary in continuing the city’s crime decreases. Others think it violates the 4th amendment and the spirit of the 1968 ruling, and is another example of the mayor’s growing unconcern for citizen freedoms. Here’s a roundup:
- A Huffington Post article summing up the Floyd v. New York City trial
- A New York Times forum last year featuring various opinions from different writers
- A New Yorker profile on the judge in the case, whose liberal track record suggests she may rule against the policy.
- Last weeks’ New York Magazine article about a rogue cop who lashed out not only against the idea of stop-and-frisks, but the way they’re presumably encouraged because of the NYPD’s “quota” system
- Heather MacDonald has famously defended the practice, recently for City Journal and the Wall Street Journal
- Reason Magazine criticizes the policy, and the mayor who has expanded it
- I was honored to be published this week by City Journal, which I consider to be America’s paper of record for urban issues. My article was about the relationship between different areas’ level of “economic freedom”, and their rate of job growth.
I didn’t think that I’d still be in Charlottesville months after spring vacation, but there I was last Sunday, rather than in Washington, DC, hobbling along with my brother. I had been delayed not only by a sprained ankle, but by a certain gravitational pull about my hometown that always keeps me here too long. This pull is hard to escape from because of how absent it can seem in larger cities. It is Charlottesville’s sense of community. Read More »
-I finally have a weekly outlet for my articles—I’m submitting them on midnight every Sunday to the Urban Times. This is a London-based website that deals with global issues, mainly of the urban stripe, but that also covers politics, technology, art, culture, etc. Right now the website is a start-up that recently expanded its online format, and has mild readership and corporate backing. But I think the site has potential—along with smart editors, it has a fresh design, relevant content, and good photos. And of course it goes by the name “Urban Times”, making it legit on that front alone. Here are some good recent articles from their “Design” category:
1. On the genius of New York City’s street grid
2. On an iconic graffiti wall in London
3. On abandoned spaces, and their potential for revitalization, in the US and EU
4. On the new parking structure being proposed for below the National Mall, and the pedestrian mall in Charlottesville, VA. Both were penned by yours truly.
-Another of my articles, on San Francisco taxi regulations, got published this week on Joe Peach’s This Big City website.
Generally, whether or not presidents are reelected, and how they are judged historically, depends on their stances on a few key issues. President Obama’s reelection was, as he noted, a positive referendum on his health and stimulus bills, and his proposed taxing of the rich. But the measures which better reveal a president’s underlying philosophy are the small ones he takes, often incrementally and with little public notice. Under Obama such measures have amounted to a cornucopia of placations for traditional left-wing groups, from his energy policies, to his favoritism of unions, to his further nationalization of public schools. Such measures, writes Stanley Kurtz, signal his preference for centralized governance, and are particularly noticeable in his urban policies, which Kurtz criticizes in his new book, Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities.
According to Kurtz, Obama’s urban policies center on “regionalism”, which the author defines as the goal to “abolish the suburbs, ideally by having cities annex surrounding suburban municipalities.” Read More »
There were many advantages to having the type of upbringing that I did in Charlottesville, VA. Both my family and the town itself—with its mix of Southern and university character—familiarized me with the best of traditional and progressive worldviews. But one thing Charlottesville didn’t reveal was what adult culture is actually like across the rest of America. Even following high school, I still believed most of the nation’s adults behaved like the professional-level ones from my childhood, holding jobs and raising families. So you can imagine my culture shock when moving at age nineteen to New York City. Read More »
It’s ironic that New York City, which pioneered the national model for public housing in the 1930s, has been the slowest to reform its existing stock. After all that old model, inspired by Ebenezer Howard’s “Garden Cities” and Le Corbusier’s “Towers in the Park”, has proven particularly incompatible with Gotham. Walk today along Manhattan’s or Brooklyn’s waterfronts, or through Harlem, East New York, Red Hook, SoBro, the Lower East Side, or Queens, and you find variations of the same “project”: multiple high-rise public housing towers are separated from each other by several acres; the spaces between are filled with basketball courts, green spaces, and parking lots; while the complexes overall are bounded by large gates. NYC’s public housing was first designed in this spread-out way because planners thought it would bring a suburban aesthetic to the inner-city poor. But those public spaces soon became dangerous and underused, and the complexes themselves ghettos isolated from NYC’s vibrant street life. Over the decades similar projects became so problematic that other cities just dynamited theirs. But in NYC they continue as forbidding, multi-block behemoths that disrupt the city’s most valuable neighborhoods.
Of course this has led to calls for the Housing Authority to tear them down. But recently the authority has pondered a better idea: instead of spending the money on demolition, and on housing the displaced, it wants to repair the existing stock, and have private developers build new towers in the empty spaces. This would increase the amount of housing, generate more revenue, and according to New York Magazine’s Justin Davidson, fill these “cavities in the city grid” with foot traffic. But because it would also privatize public assets, and crunch market rate housing up against the poor, it is being criticized by social justice advocates. Links are below:
1. A government report from 2008 detailing how specific lots should be redeveloped
2. Davidson’s article in favor of the idea
3. A City Limits article that is more critical
4. A breakdown in the Atlantic Cities on how best to redesign these kinds of spaces
5. A City Journal article from way back in 1996 that covers the same subject