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May 15, 2007

Quality of Life Linkage

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Sci-fi giant Orson Scott Card has caught a feverish case of the New Urbanist bug. Nice passage:

I'm not urging that the government mandate any more absurd mileage requirements for cars, or ration gasoline, or any other absurd proposals ... In fact, all that I want government to do, locally and at higher levels, is to stop with the regulations that force us to use cars for everything, and replace them with regulations that permit us to walk or bike.

Surveying some of the dumbass actions government has taken over the last 50 years, Card writes, "It's as if government looked at the beloved old neighborhoods that people drive through with yearning and nostalgia, and banned them."

In this piece, he highlights a fact that isn't acknowledged often enough in debates about cars, transportation, and social policy: More than 40,000 people die in the U.S. every year in car accidents. That's almost as many Americans as died in the entire Vietnam War. We have evidently made a bargain with ourselves: Having cars and driving them as much as we do is worth 40,000 deaths every year.

* In his short review of a new biography of Berkeley restauranteur Alice Waters, Fred Volker provides a fast introduction to an important moment in American cultural history: the birth of "California Cuisine." Waters (in my opinion, a major American cultural figure) was hit hard by a youthful visit to France -- her senses were awakened. But she wanted to preserve the informality that she loved about California life too. The result was California cuisine, a major contributor to America's food (and hence aesethetics and quality of life) consciousness.

* Steve Sailer sifts through some fascinating demographic data and -- bless his heart -- doesn't neglect quality of life factors. Why are so many conservative commentators so dismissive of -- and even scornful of -- quality of life questions? Don't they realize how off-putting such behavior is? This piece of Steve's is, IMHO, a great snapshot of where we currently stand as a nation.



posted by Michael at May 15, 2007


Is "restauranteur" a Californian contribution to English?

Posted by: dearieme on May 15, 2007 4:19 PM

I heard a talk last week by Mike Montemerlo, software lead for the Stanford team that produced Stanley, the robot car that won the DARPA desert driving challenge a couple of years ago. Fascinating project, amusing speaker, had a great time.

Mike kicked off, though, with another interesting statistic about the motives for producing robot cars - 2.8 MILLION traffic injuries per year in the US. Holy crap. That's one percent of the population injured, Every year. Holy crap.

Now I come to think of it, three people I knew died in road accidents. I suppose I'm not untypical in that respect. They were all when I was in my teens & 20s, long time ago now.

Posted by: Alan Little on May 15, 2007 5:41 PM

Reading Card's remarks really brought home to me why Tokyo is so much more appealing to me than any of the American cities -- it doesn't seem to be subject to those bizarre zoning rules. You can walk down the street, and whether you're in the heart of the central 23 wards, or out in Mitaka-shi or wherever, in the suburb-ish areas out west, you're never more than a few blocks from a little shoutengai, a shopping street, with little shops and groceries and restaurants and whatnot. There's little local clinics and hospitals in every neighbourhood too, it seems, which must be extremely convenient, and a mix of expensive and inexpensive housing in most neighbourhoods (if not all). And the trains run on time -- something American public transit operators have not quite managed to figure out. You can schedule around the subway and light rail schedule, to within the minute. People pack in about twice as tightly as they do here in the US, but they also queue up, in a civilised way; they can do this because the trains stop at the same place every time, so you know where the doors are going to be. And the buses are quite reliable too, safe and clean, and reasonably pleasant. And the streets are safe at all hours.

Tokyo is not only the largest city on the whole of the Earth; I think it may well be the pleasantest too.

Posted by: Taeyoung on May 15, 2007 10:00 PM

Before we describe the road death toll as a "price" for having the automobile, we have to compare against the alternatives. What came before, riding horseback, was much more of a killer. The automobile was largely a step forward.

What alternatives we have now are far safer, though.

Posted by: Omri on May 15, 2007 11:25 PM

Dearieme -- It's a hilarious word, isn't it? I'd love to know its history.

Alan -- Holy crap indeed. That's a huge number.

Taeyoung -- That's a fascinating snapshot, tks. Imagine being able to count on buses being on time!

Omri -- Were horses far more of a killer? Interesting. I wonder what the single easiest and cheapest step would be to make a dramatic dent in the U.S.'s car-accident rate. Driving less certainly couldn't hurt but despite this I don't imagine that's about to happen to any significant degree. Another neat fact in that item: there are more cars in America than there are drivers 1148 cars per thousand people.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 16, 2007 12:47 AM

You might find the car is a life saver when it's an ambulance rushing you to the hospital.

Look, if all of you want to live in busy cities, I can understand that. But personally I would shoot myself if I had to live in one. The noise alone would do it. Different strokes, right? Why does everybody assume their own preferences are somehow morally better than others?

Posted by: Todd Flethcer on May 16, 2007 1:00 AM

Backing up Todd Flethcer: I really think Card's problem is that he's an urbanist in a country that never has been inclined to be urban. The race to the suburbs, which Card describes as engineered, was, on the contrary, the most popular democratic movement that ever occured in this country. Those urban neighborhoods that he describes so lovingly were tight, noisy, grimy traps that millions, at the first opportunity, fled. Now, in the age of the internet and a flowering of regional access to culture of every type, he expects an in-migration back to the old big cities? Dream on.

Posted by: ricpic on May 16, 2007 8:22 AM

The appeal of suburbia, of having a larger house and a yard the kids can play in, is almost always dismissed by New Urbanist types, and I can't help noticing how few of them have children. Obviously, suburbs exist because many, many people want to live in them. Conservative and Libertarian New Urbanists, in order to deny this fact, often fall back on a sort of "false conciousness" type of theory that they would accept in virtually no other area of human relations. Yes, gas consumption and traffic fatalities are a problem, but they exist because of genuine human desires for freedom and autonomy, not because people have been brainwashed by the auto makers. Most people simply don't want to live in 19th Century -style cities - witness the fact that automotive culture takes hold in almost all countries as soon as the populace can afford cars. New Urbanists need to have more respect for the preferences of ordinary people, and work with those, not against them.

Posted by: tschafer on May 16, 2007 9:06 AM

I think y'all might be overdoing the objections to New Urbanism, as though it's made up of a bunch of socialists intent on new-style top-down lifestyle-dictating. Yet NU is often dismissed from the other side (the Evil architecture-school, architecture-mag side) as accomplishing nothing but making nicer suburbs. You got something against nicer suburbs? BTW, New Urbers generally don't fetishize the city, they're often at least as taken with towns.

Card is Card, but what most of the NU'ers are peddling is towns or neighborhoods that provide more in the way of walking (and interacting) opportunities than sprawl-style suburbia does, and town centers.

Card does have one important point -- one I never hear the pro-sprawl crowd address -- which is that it's literally against the law to build NU-style in many places. Local laws, practices, regulations, and customs ensure that the only new houses and neighborhoods that can be created are in the sprawl style. Much of the work the NUers do is trying to open up these markets.

Here's a comparison: Apple vs. Microsoft. Where new housing goes we currently live in a world where it's legal only to buy Microsoft. Yet there's a proven market for Apple (NU developments, when created, command a premium), and Apple certainly adds something important to the computing ecosystem.

Here's another one: organic food. Like Apple, it may always be for a minority market. But why should it be against the law? And isn't it a nice thing that these days you can find organic produce and meats in many regular food stores?

Why shouldn't NU-style developments be a regular and available part of the general housing market?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 16, 2007 10:04 AM

Michael, the way you put it makes me think it's not so much about density. (I don't know much about NU). I *would* like to have a more walkable neighborhood, if it could also be done without typical urban density. Maybe pockets of housing interspersed with woods, or in my case, desert? There are areas with some of those qualities, but I've been reluctant to buy in them because I know the open space will be developed in the future, so what's the point?

Also, you're point about the lack of choice because of zoning is right. I recently bought a house in the Phoneix metro area. There's basically one flavor on offer, which is puzzling since in every other sphere choice is exploding.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on May 16, 2007 11:49 AM

Not to be pendantic or anything, but I believe the word is "restaurateur", no "n". The inclusion of the "n" is a common error. What I've never been able to find out is why the "n" is dropped in "restraurateur". Ideas, anyone?

Posted by: PatrickH on May 16, 2007 11:59 AM

Orson Scott Card is the first person to have said anything intelligent about sprawl and energy efficiency and what to do about it. It is the zoning and land use regulations that have resulting in everyone having to drive forever to do basic stuff like shopping, going to the gym, restaurants, and what not.

It is funny how the so-called "greens" have never tripped to this. I think alot of people (including myself) would like to live in places where we did not have to drive so much and could walk or bike more.

There are "new urbanist" places where you can live the kind of life that Card describes (downtown Portland, places in Hillsboro, etc.). The problem is that most of them are very expensive (condos being in the $300-400K range), which immediately excludes alot of people who would otherwise choose this way to live. If I could afford it, I would definitely live in downtown Portland.

I really don't like the conventional American sprawl life-style.

I lived in Tokyo area for 9 years and, yes, there are convenience stores and what not within walking (or biking) distance to whereever you live. This is a nice feature even with the modern architecture being butt-ugly.

There is one and only one benefit to the American sprawl style. Everything is so spread out and decentralized that there are really no useful targets for terrorists to bomb.

Posted by: Kurt9 on May 16, 2007 12:35 PM

ricpic: The race to the suburbs, which Card describes as engineered, was, on the contrary, the most popular democratic movement that ever occured in this country.

Yeah, but there are suburbs, and there are suburbs. The suburb my parents raced to in the 1950s was, in concept, no different from a lot of less appealing suburbs you see today - a tract development of modest concrete-block "ranch" homes. Yeah, every family had a car, (hospitals, e.g., were not in walking distance) but it was a real neighborhood, self-contained for the necessities of daily life - you could walk to the schools, walk to the grocery stores, the post office, the coffee shops, the churches, walk to the bakeries, the restaurants, the bars (where everybody did, as a matter of fact, know your name, so as teenagers we did need cars to drive to bars where we wouldn't be caught out). It's still a real neighborhood - despite the fact that the current residents of this once crime-free area are now regularly preyed upon by rape-and-burglary tourists from the more, er, vibrant areas, and that those small, unimproved houses are now selling in the seven figures. They cost that much because, despite its strains, the neighborhood has maintained its coherence and human scale. Which brings us to tschafer:

Obviously, suburbs exist because many, many people want to live in them.

Yes, some people do. I'm not arguing for a shot at imposing my aesthetic preferences on people who really do prefer exurbs, where acquiring the daily necessities requires car excursions of many miles on major highways. But these types of suburbs also exist because "many, many people" cannot afford the price of life in a "walking" (not necessarily "city") neighborhood with decent schools for their children. As you seem to recognize, but don't really examine. Trust me, I didn't turn my nose up at the kind of house and nabe I grew up in because I'm wild about Ultima Thule. My humble natal neighborhood isn't completely out of my financial reach because everybody just loooves exurbs.

I've got a lot of skepticism toward "new urbanists", but the idea appeals because "many, many people" are uppity enough to think they're entitled to emotionally and aesthetically satisfying environments, even if they have the poor taste not to have a few extra hundred-thou or million lying around to sink into real estate. (I do actually live now in a "walking" suburb with good schools and a cafe and wine-bar we can stroll to. But we had to leave the fond flesh-pots of Megalopolis far behind to afford it. I recently came across the contention that our current choice of abode was a "trend". "Hey, David", I said to the spouse, "This guy says we're trendsetters! And all this time I thought we were just losers!")

(I notice after writing this that Michael is addressing these and related points in his reply.)

Michael - I too appreciated Sailer's discussion of quality-of-life factors. As for "Why are so many conservative commentators so dismissive of -- and even scornful of -- quality of life questions?", I can think of three things:

1) Some people really are just philistines. (Who was it that quipped recently along the lines of "hey conservatives! If you're gonna have a culture war, you need to get some culture first!") Best exemplified by the autistic lackwits one finds liberally scattered about the internet, who will argue with a straight face that American culture is superior to French culture in every possible aspect. (Even though they themselves seem strangely unacquainted with any of the genuine virtues or glories of America unrelated to economics.)

2) Some people have enough money that they are shielded from uglification. La dolce vita is available anywhere if you've got the do-re-mi.

3) A combination of 1) and 2). I know people who live in Swishest Exurbia, with beautiful homes amid exquisite landscaping (three guesses on who's maintaining it all). But I can't spend more than half a day visiting before I start jumping out of my skin, so profound is the lack of thereness, there. Maybe I'm just frightened by the realization that one would starve to death if the SUV wouldn't start, so remote are the houses from any public space - even though everything within a hundred miles is developed out the wazoo. And I say this as a person who's natural temperament is markedly a-social.

Posted by: Moira Breen on May 16, 2007 12:41 PM

I like the idea of a more walkable space, it's the density I don't like. Do the two have to go hand in hand? Maybe you could have cores of development interspersed with open space?

You're right about the lack of choice. Having recently bought a house, I can say that there's basically one flavor on offer, which is surprising in the face of exploding choice in every other sphere. But I'm not sure it's zoning; doesn't Houston have no zoning at all? I think it's pretty much like everywhere else.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on May 16, 2007 1:02 PM

There's nothing wrong with those types of smaller, walkable developments. To the contrary of what you might think my opinion would be, I think its a good idea.

The reason why such types of developments are outlawed is that people don't want commercial development integrated into their neighborhoods. The zoning laws reflect this. It also becomes much harder to attract retail if they have to build small stores to serve just a small population. They would want larger stores (economies of scale) and parking lots, so no luck there either.

I think the best opportunity for the New Urbanists is not the suburbs, especially post WWII, but the older, close suburbs and some places already in cities, near the edges or places that can be redeveloped. Evanston IL is an example. Lots of new high rises going in (with plenty of controversy). Still, its more like what is described here.

I don't think we are going to go backwards, but forward to a different concept. NU'sters need to pick their spots to do it.

Posted by: BIOH on May 16, 2007 1:05 PM

We drove through Habersham, a massive New Urbanist project in outside of Beaufort, SC. It was amazingly enticing, if a bit Disneylandish. What we like most about it was the mixed-use quality, where you have shops next to houses next to recreational areas, etc. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the scenery is gorgeous. Anyway, these place were going for almost twice the average area housing rate, and these were not overly large homes. I think that fact, duplicated wherever these types of areas are, whether old or new, demonstrates that many people would love to live in them.

I've lived in the suburbs pretty much all of my life. I like the space and the freedom that my kids have there. But my big gripe is the near impossibility to walk to anything you need to do. Fix that, and the suburbs are ideal for me.

Posted by: the patriarch on May 16, 2007 1:41 PM

"What alternatives we have now are far safer, though." I have read quite a bit about transportation through-out American history and I really doubt that. Whether comparing current Automobile travel to Trains, Streetcars, Horse and Buggy, or just plain old horses, I believe that our current mode is BY FAR the most dangerous that we have ever had. Ever since the Highways were built they have become Death Traps. It is not so much the cars that are dangerous, but the Highways and Freeways that enable people to collide with one another at high speeds.

"But personally I would shoot myself if I had to live in one." It is not so much that you would have to live in one, but that we had more "urban diversity" back in the day. 100 years ago we had large cities, Mid-Size towns, Small Villages, and Country and Farm life. Now, we seem to only have Suburbs connected via dangerous highways and freeways. I wouldn't want to live in a big city either, but I wouldn't mind a Small-Town or Village. With a market that I could easily walk to.

"Obviously, suburbs exist because many, many people want to live in them." The Modern day suburb exists because we are forced to pay for "High-Speed" Roads that come to a stand still when we need them most (i.e. Rush Hour). Nobody asked for the modern highway. Roads that were paved? Yes. 10 lane Death-Traps? No. Progressive Engineers (and Robert Moses and GM, and the NAZIs) thought that one up.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a nice house with a yard. In many ways it is the American Dream. But forcing everyone to pay for the Highways that make many of them possible is wrong. It used to be that you had to take a country road (often unpaved) to get to these country houses. And those roads were cleared and cared for by locals. Their homes, their roads, their work. Fair enough.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on May 16, 2007 2:10 PM

Not to be outdone on pedantry... Strictly speaking, the N isn't dropped; -ant and -ateur are separate suffixes.

Let's strip away the French facade, and translate them into good old Anglo-latin. A restaurant is a place that _restores_ you; it is a _restorant_. The job of the restaurateur is likewise to restore you; he is a _restorator_.

Turn them back into French, it's _restaurer_, _restaurant_, and _restaurateur_. The question is, why isn't it _restaureur_ instead of _restaurateur_? I suspect the Latinate form was considered more impressive or more euphonic.

Posted by: Intellectual Pariah on May 16, 2007 5:42 PM

I was so ready to give Sailer a read....and, then, he praised the big B. I had to stop.

Sorry. I have issues with the big B. Edmund Burke can have it, is all I can say.*

*Read the Sailer essay. It only makes sense in context.

**The big B has issues because of the -native- born, you know. The native born type with the flippy, fair-trade scarves and sandals and NPR sticker on volvo.......

***You make the same point, Michael B, and I make the same counterpoint each time! Aesthetics differ....the whole quality of life thing is a tricky question. Viva federalism and the whole blue-state, red-state checkerboard. Also, these cities could revitalize themselves if they wouldn't over, or poorly, regulate.

Posted by: MD on May 16, 2007 6:38 PM

Oh, and, finally, the obvious. If the schools were better, the cities would be (insert obvious comment here).

1. Safety.
2. Schools.
3. Affordibility.

If my dear neighborhood sandal wearers could just get their heads around that....

And for the whole some conservatives are just philistines thing? Please. Okay, maybe they are, but if preferring to live in lemony-fresh, new, clean house, instead of a smelly old, creaky old, mold-filled rehab, makes me a philistine, so be it. I live in one of those coastal elite cities, and I'm tired of dirty trains and dirty side-walks and dirty stores and dirty stares because you didn't run over an old lady to beat a red light. Of course, that has to do with the crappy attitude toward physical work around it would kill people to wash a window or sweep a stoop? Is being house proud a thing of the past?

*Ironically, I am moving from one coastal city to another. But the midwestern coastal elite city is cheaper. And, the Mexican filled neighborhoods are much nicer than the empty, boarded-up places they used to be, before they moved in.....

Posted by: MD on May 16, 2007 6:51 PM

"We are forced to pay for high speed roads..."

Yes, because you buy gasoline. Stop buying gasoline, and no new roads will be built. Simple.

I had no idea that suburbs were really the result of Nazi scheming. I thought that they were the result of Soviet scheming to blow us up with big nuclear bombs. Hey, while were at it, do you think people started moving out of cities because they were targets? Its an interesting thought.

I'll have to agree with ricpic. Suburbs are democratically chosen. I really am not looking forward to having the government take over every facet of our lives, including getting us back and forth to work. If you want to see waste and inefficiency, wait for that.

The real truth is that you can live in walkable-community small towns all over america and mail order just about everything you want. But culture types don't want to live in shootin' country. Its boring as hell out in the hinterlands. That's suit me fine, as I grew up there. But for the rest of you, perhaps not so much.

When is it not beat-up-on-the-white-middle-class-suburbanites day? I sure could use a break from it. Look, you CAN live in communities like that. They will just be higher density ones like in cities or near (old) suburbs with downtowns and ways to get into the big city. That's the only way a big store chain will locate in that kind of area. You can't have everything. So set a good example, and maybe more will follow, eh? And I'm not being snarky with that last comment. You gotta show it can work. Don't wait for everybody else to make it easy.

Posted by: BIOH on May 16, 2007 10:39 PM

MD, by the big B you mean the same place that's forever identified in my mind with Big D? (D for dig, you know?)?

By any chance, when you leave that quintessence of dirt, could you proceed through this one on your way to nirvana?
Will be so happy to make your acquaintance.

Posted by: Tat on May 17, 2007 12:20 AM

I read the original WSJ article by Barone and was stunned that he never mentioned schools. If you happen to be rich enough to afford private school for the children, then you can live in NYC, LA*, etc and probably stay in the city. If you happen to be middle-class and can't afford private school, you head out. You don't want to send the children to lousy city schools that are dangerous to boot. This was what built Fairfax County VA.

The interesting thing is that now the inner suburbs like FXCo are experiencing the same type of school deterioration that DC has (special ed, ESL, crime, gangs) because of the inundation of low-skilled immigrants. Both single-family housing and taxes are costly there and young families that might have gritted their teeth, extended themselves financially, and paid both for the opportunity to send their kids to excellent schools are saying, "Who needs this?" and moving farther out. Why pay higher and higher taxes - ESL & special ed are expensive - for schools that are getting worse? The result is sprawl and more sprawl.

* From the SF Cronical: California's high school graduation rate dropped to a 10-year low last year as a third of the Class of 2006 left without a diploma, according to state Department of Education numbers posted Friday.
Statewide, the graduation rate was 67 percent of the 423,289 seniors in 2006. That is down from 71 percent in 2005.
That 4 percentage point decline works out to an additional 21,000 students who did not don a cap and gown. [...]
The significant decline came as the state required a test of basic skills, known as the exit exam, for graduation for the first time.
Nonetheless, the decline comes after more than a decade of expensive changes in the classroom -- class-size reduction, higher standards, additional teacher training and more.

Posted by: D Flinchum on May 17, 2007 9:23 AM

Yes, because you buy gasoline. Stop buying gasoline, and no new roads will be built. Simple.

Huh? I am not following. I understand that we buy gasoline, but I don't follow how that dictates Federal and State Highway Bills.

I had no idea that suburbs were really the result of Nazi scheming.

I was not trying to be funny. The Nazis were amongst the very first "bureaucrats" to mandate "High Speed" roads. Even though, at the time, about 1 in 43 Germans owned a car. They were very progressive.

Suburbs are democratically chosen.

True, but our choices are really limited. Like Michael has said before, when the New Urbanist communities are built (and most of them are not Anti-Automobile in the least) the demand is very high and property value often skyrocket.

I really am not looking forward to having the government take over every facet of our lives, including getting us back and forth to work.

I agree. I would hate that too. I think that "Mandating" Train Stations, Railroads, Subways, and Light Rail is a bad thing. I thought it was done much better when it was (mostly) driven by the Free Market.

Its boring as hell out in the hinterlands. That's suit me fine, as I grew up there

You see, I think that modern Suburban development is reducing our chances of having nice "hinterlands". I think that New Urbanist developments which are more dense provide a much greater chance of having "hinterlands" and "country" and "country towns". Whereas the modern suburb needs so much land and so many highways to accomplish their goal that it uses up much more of the "hinterlands".

You can't have everything. So set a good example, and maybe more will follow, eh?

I am not looking for everything, just some more choices. And I think that good examples have been set in the New Urbanist communities that have been built. But for a long time, and still continuing today, Zoning Laws, Land Use Rules and Highway Bills basically dictated that we would have these Post-War Suburbs.

And BIOH, like I said before, I am a big fan. And one of the reasons why I like many of these New Urbanist communities is that they see the value in what was and is Traditional. In many ways, they are Anti-Progressive. The people who push for this NU communities tend to be in love with all of the old European and American Architecture. Architecture that provided something for the public to be proud of. Not some disgusting building that some Starchitect built to glorify his own Progressive Individuality.

Ian Lewis

Posted by: Ian Lewis on May 17, 2007 9:40 AM

BIOH: I'll have to agree with ricpic. Suburbs are democratically chosen. I really am not looking forward to having the government take over every facet of our lives, including getting us back and forth to work. If you want to see waste and inefficiency, wait for that.

I'm mystified why you and others keep interpreting an expressed desire for more choice in "neighborhood style" as a petition for government intervention. (Or why white middle-class suburbanites pining for pleasanter neighborhoods constitutes "beating up on white middle-class suburbanites".) Some of us have builders and developers in mind, who just might be amenable to customer preferences. If it's true that people snap-up houses in "new urban" neighborhoods, driving up the price, then we can assume that there is a demand, no? It also tells you that sprawl-land (not suburbs, per se) is for many people a result of Hobson's, not democratic, choice.

Posted by: Moira Breen on May 17, 2007 1:56 PM


110% wrong. I think the walkable neighborhood is a good thing. What I actually said is that the way you see things set up today really is a result of many people's preferences, and they have agreed to it enthusiatically. If any number of people want to create more walkable environments, they are better off doing it in higher density places, like cities and older near suburbs that were actually set up that way. There is a better chance that a neighborhood like that would thrive because there are many job options in such a place, as opposed to an island out in the new suburbs. Also, the higher density would also attract retail, rather than the suburban island. That's it. I don't like it when people such as Kunstler and others beat up on those who have bought into the suburban concept. Its their choice too. They like it. Give them a break and just go after what you want with like-minded people. If others see it working, maybe they will buy in.

I completely disagree with your last sentence. And so do the people buying those suburban homes. Don't forget that demand too. In reality, it dwarfs the NU demand.

Posted by: BIOH on May 17, 2007 6:45 PM

Moira's comment above (her first, longer comment) was IMO very thoughtful and rather brilliantly written, deserved to be a blog post itself.

Just putting my neutral economist hat on...part of this has to do with economies of scale in big-box retailing, such that small food shops are basically disappearing. If you have only a few enormous super-market stores, you can expect that those stores will A) kill street life around them, as they must be surrounded by acres of parking, and B) be out of walking distance from most residential areas, since there are so few of them.

Posted by: mq on May 17, 2007 7:37 PM

Great discussion, and sorry I've come to it a bit late this time.

I live in Hong Kong, which is even more densely populated than Tokyo, and which exhibits many of the features Taeyoung has mentioned. You really can combine livable population density with a sense of countryside just 'over there' -- that's what Hong Kong is like, with incredibly dense urban areas surrounded by green mountains. Here the trains run so frequently you don't even need to think about schedules. Shops, doctors' offices, and other amenties are everywhere. Is there a price to be paid? Sure. For most of us, it means living in a small, expensive apartment, with no hope of having a house with a yard. Is the tradeoff worth it?

Well, instead of bloviating on here, I'll invite you to read three articles I've done on pretty much just this topic at my website (apologies for the self-promotion!): here, here and here.

Posted by: mr tall on May 17, 2007 11:19 PM

BIOH, would you agree that the suburbs require a greater level of government subsidization to exist than do more densely populated areas? Everything from the highway and road system to the foreign policy that ensures a steady supply of oil to the massive public works that bring water to far-reaching suburbs. I'm not even saying this is a bad thing, but it always frustrates me that people who rail against governemtn "interference" are often those who benefit, or even depend on, the most of such federal action.

I live in the suburbs, but I do realize the cost that sprawl incurs.

Posted by: the patriarch on May 18, 2007 1:36 AM

"Don't forget that demand too. In reality, it dwarfs the NU demand."

I really don't know if that is true. I can only speak about what I have seen, so this is not scientific. But when you see the prices that houses (of all sizes) in NU communities get and the prices that houses (of all sizes) in traditional suburbs get, their is not comparison, the NU houses have much more demand.

Also, it seems that the value of the NU houses go up at a faster rate than traditional houses.

Posted by: Ian Lewis on May 18, 2007 10:19 AM


You have it backwards. Its the suburbs that subsidize the cities.

A subsidy is giving people money because their enterprise doesn't generate enough to cover costs, correct? So government spending is not per se a subsidy, but when money gets shifted from the ones paying to the ones not paying, its is a subsidy.

People pay for the cost of highways through gas taxes, and for developments, through the initial sale of the home and property taxes. The suburbs fully fund roads and public works in their areas.

In fact, politicians steal money from the road funds every year and spend them on social programs. It is public transportation in America that is subsidized. The real cost per ride is twice what is charged. So the car users subsidize public transport. The infrastructure in big cites is FAR more complex and expensive than that in the suburbs, and there's lots more of it. And the suburbanites subsidize big city schools where the poor city residents can't fund their own schools with their meager property taxes.

Suburbs are big money generators for governments all over. That's why the government likes them so much.

What people are really saying with the New Urbanism is that they want all the advantages of city living with less density and minorities. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Posted by: BIOH on May 18, 2007 11:59 AM

In 1966 some 53 thousand people died in automobile accidents. In 2006 about 40 thousand people died in automobile accidents. This in in the face of a remarkable expansion in population, and an even more remarkable expansion in the amount of annual road milage. Isn't it about time we did something about this precipitous adjustment in the fatality rate per mile traveled?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on May 18, 2007 12:19 PM

Local governments now realize that suburban sprawl is inefficient and expensive to build and maintain. It was the confluence of freeways and desire of every American to own a house and a yard post WWII that created suburbs. Most major urban areas have embraced new urbanism for a decade, but old urban patterns take decades to correct. And many families with children still fuel the suburban housing market which is at the heart of our traffic woes.

Posted by: mr. closets on May 20, 2007 9:54 AM

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