Market Urbanism http://marketurbanism.com Liberalizing cities | From the bottom up Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:08:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 https://i2.wp.com/marketurbanism.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/cropped-Market-Urbanism-icon.png?fit=32%2C32 Market Urbanism http://marketurbanism.com 32 32 3505127 Why Autonomous Vehicles != Endless Sprawl http://marketurbanism.com/2018/07/18/10154/ http://marketurbanism.com/2018/07/18/10154/#respond Wed, 18 Jul 2018 12:45:13 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10154 There’s been an ongoing debate in urbanist circles about whether autonomous vehicles (AVs) will damn us to perpetual sprawl and super commuting. I don’t believe that they will. In the first place, the business conditions under which AVs could conceivably induce more sprawl are unlikely. And in the second, there are numerous other factors that […]

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There’s been an ongoing debate in urbanist circles about whether autonomous vehicles (AVs) will damn us to perpetual sprawl and super commuting. I don’t believe that they will. In the first place, the business conditions under which AVs could conceivably induce more sprawl are unlikely. And in the second, there are numerous other factors that will affect the future of urban development in the US. That’s not to say we won’t double down on past mistakes, but it won’t be AVs that single handedly bring about that future on their own. 

No One Wants To Sell You a Self Driving Car

For AVs to even begin to induce more sprawl, they need to facilitate super commuting. For that to happen at any significant scale, they need to be ubiquitous and privately owned. And that is something I don’t think we’re going to see for one simple reason — it’s a product no one is selling.

Ole Muskie notwithstanding, no one with capital to burn thinks selling private AVs is a winning strategy (with good reason). Given the accumulated R&D costs of the last several years, the price a firm would need to charge for the first generation of personal AVs would be astronomical. Moreover, a company selling personal AVs would give up on mountains of valuable data generated as the vehicle racked up mileage. Trip data feeds back in to improving the ability of AVs to navigate and data about consumer habits is valuable as well.

Artist’s rendition of an AV (circa 2013)…still a bit behind schedule

We should also remember that the state of AV technology is still quite…meh. And in the absence of a step function improvement in the technology, the fastest way to get to market is to restrict the problem space. That means means a driverless TNC service that can be limited to trips in certain areas under certain conditions. Shutting down service during inclement weather is a lot easier than trying to tell car owners when/where they can use their vehicle.

Aside from what firms are and aren’t doing with AVs specifically, it’s important to note how AVs fit into the larger business strategies forming around mobility. All the major players are looking at mobility as a commodified service and are bundling access to these services in a way that’s accustoming consumers to thinking multimodally. Even Ford no longer thinks of itself as a car company, now they sell mobility.  

TLDR: The idea of selling personally owned AVs makes no sense and personal AVs are a prerequisite for AVs  to even begin creating the conditions under which we might double down on low density land use patterns. 

Cars Don’t Create Sprawl, People Do

The last 80 years of transportation policy in the U.S. has been all about making the world into a safer place…for cars. The interstate highway system, government mandated sprawl, parking subsidies, etc were all explicit policy decisions that rendered car ownership the only sensible choice for most Americans. We engineered sprawl to accommodate the car, the car didn’t organically induce sprawl on its own.

Similarly, the policies we choose today will determine whether and how our cities function in fifty years time. If we allow densification where prices warrant it, if we support effective mass transit, if we permit firms to bring alternative transit modes to market….we’ll reduce sprawl and, in some places, maybe even begin reversing it.

My expectation is that YIMBY activism will liberalize land use policy to different degrees in different cities and that we’ll get marginally denser cities as a result. I further expect this to coincide with an explosion in transportation options and a movement to redo urban infrastructure so that we can accommodate transit modes other than driving. These are the things, taken together, that are going to shape our cities going forward. Technology will color the tradeoffs we make, but no single variable will determine the future alone. 

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does gentrification cause eviction? http://marketurbanism.com/2018/06/27/does-gentrification-cause-eviction/ http://marketurbanism.com/2018/06/27/does-gentrification-cause-eviction/#respond Wed, 27 Jun 2018 19:18:37 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10132 I found an interesting new website: EvictionLab.    This website contains eviction data by city for a large number of American communities. One might think that gentrifying cities and/or high cost cities have more evictions.  But interestingly, low-cost, poor cities tend to have more evictions.   Nine of the ten cities with the highest eviction rates […]

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I found an interesting new website: EvictionLab.    This website contains eviction data by city for a large number of American communities.

One might think that gentrifying cities and/or high cost cities have more evictions.  But interestingly, low-cost, poor cities tend to have more evictions.   Nine of the ten cities with the highest eviction rates are in low-cost southern states; the tenth is Warren, Michigan.

Even within states, low-cost cities tend to have higher eviction rates than more expensive, gentrifying cities.  For example, Fresno has the highest eviction rate of any major city in California- 2.8 (that is, 2.8 evictions for every 100 renter households) while Los Angeles and San Francisco are below 0.5.  Seattle has a lower eviction rate (0.3) than Washington’s smaller cities, Austin has a lower eviction rate than Dallas or Houston (0.98 percent as opposed to over 1.5 percent for Houston and Dallas). Miami’s 2.01 percent eviction rate, although high by national standards, is lower than that of other Florida cities such as Jacksonville (5.34) and Tampa (3).  New Orleans (1.6) has a lower eviction rate than Baton Rouge and Shreveport (both of which clock in at over 4 percent).   New York City is a partial exception- its 1.61 rate is higher than that of Syracuse and Yonkers; on the other hand no statistics are available for the state’s two biggest cheaper cities, Buffalo and Rochester.

So what does it all mean? It seems clear that there is not a strong correlation between gentrification and eviction, or for that matter between higher-than-average housing costs and eviction.  Beyond that, I’m not sure what conclusions to draw.

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How Much Should We Blame Planners for Sprawl? http://marketurbanism.com/2018/06/26/how-much-should-we-blame-planners-for-sprawl/ http://marketurbanism.com/2018/06/26/how-much-should-we-blame-planners-for-sprawl/#respond Tue, 26 Jun 2018 14:00:41 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10125 How much should we blame planning for the degree to which cities sprawl? As much time as we (justifiably) spend here on this blog explaining how conventional U.S. planning drives excessive sprawl, it’s worth periodically remembering that, at the end of the day, the actual extent of the horizontal expansion of cities is largely outside […]

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Broadacre City, Frank Lloyd Wright's sprawling vision

How much should we blame planning for the degree to which cities sprawl? As much time as we (justifiably) spend here on this blog explaining how conventional U.S. planning drives excessive sprawl, it’s worth periodically remembering that, at the end of the day, the actual extent of the horizontal expansion of cities is largely outside the control of urban planning.

Consider Houston. Whenever I say anything nice about Houston’s relatively liberal approach to land-use regulation, someone invariably comments some variation of the following: “Yes, that’s all well and good in theory. But in practice, heavily regulated cities like Boston are far more urban and walkable, so maybe relaxed land-use regulations aren’t so great.”

Indeed, most of Houston is classic sprawl. But this begs the question: to what extent can urban planning policy be blamed for sprawl?

The urban economist Jan Brueckner, drawing on an extensive literature, distinguishes between the “fundamental forces” that naturally drive urban growth outward and the market failures that push this growth beyond what might occur in an appropriately regulated market. (For the purposes of this post, I’ll be using “sprawl” and “horizontal urban expansion” interchangeably. In the same paper, Brueckner thoughtfully distinguishes the two.) The latter, urban planners can address. The former, not so much.

Let’s look first at the “fundamental” variables that planners have little to no control over. Brueckner identifies three: population growth, rising income, and falling commuting costs. The first variable is obvious: as cities grow, demand for all housing goes up, and some of that housing goes out on the periphery regardless of planning policy. Metropolises like Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta are currently experiencing 2% population growth every year, meaning they are on track to double in population in the next 35 years. You would expect a lot of horizontal expansion, all else being equal!

The second variable is income. Houses are what an economist might call a normal necessity good. It’s a normal good in that, as we get richer, we spend more on it. But it’s also a necessity good, meaning that as we get richer, we spend proportionally less of our income on it. This first stage is essentially what has been happening in Sun Belt cities like Charlotte, Houston, and Orlando over the past few decades, where median incomes have in many cases doubled. With all that new demand for housing, you would expect a lot of it to go out on the periphery on greenfields, regardless of planning policy.

The third variable is commuting costs. If it’s cheap to commute long distances, people will do it. Nested in this variable is the fact of technological change and progress. The cities that are booming today are taking form in an age when most people can afford to buy a one-ton metal machine and commute alone to work at roughly 60 miles per hour. It’s easy to get far out of town, where land is cheap and even a middle class resident can afford a decent sized home on a quarter acre lot. When Boston and Philadelphia were building up and out, the big new thing in transportation was the electric streetcar, and many people still had to walk. Land values within walking distance of these transit options were unsurprisingly quite high, meaning that housing had to go up, not out. We shouldn’t expect these classes of cities to come out looking the same.

On top of Brueckner’s three variables, I’ll add two more that come up a lot in these discussions. The fourth variable is agricultural productivity. Under the standard urban model, the outer edge of a metropolis is the point at which residential, commercial, and industrial developers are unable to profitably outbid agriculture for land. That means that in regions with high agricultural productivity, you would expect to see more compact cities, and in regions with low agricultural productivity, you would expect to see more sprawling cities.

This theory has been repeatedly tested and validated. And short of running a few hundred regressions, you can intuitively work it out: in a place like Las Vegas and Phoenix, land holds no agricultural value whatsoever, so once some form of development pencils out, it happens. On the flip side, in regions of outstanding agricultural productivity like Western Oregon and Central Kentucky, rents for urban uses must be quite high before developers can outbid agricultural uses. Why do you think Lexington, Kentucky and Portland, Oregon were the first and second cities, respectively, to adopt urban growth boundaries? Because they both are home to large, power agricultural interest groups (the horse industry is quite powerful in my home state of Kentucky) and land rents were so high that the pressure to expand outward was already weak relative to other cities. Of course, as rising residential rents inch further above agricultural rents in these two cities, their growth boundaries may gradually weaken.

A fifth and final variable is landscape. No matter what all the other variables are doing, if a city is bounded by the ocean—Seattle, San Francisco, Miami—or mountains—Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Asheville—you could expect it to quickly start building up, since it’s either very expensive or physically impossible to build out. Take a look at a random sampling of of metropolises regularly derided as sprawling—Oklahoma City, Raleigh, Columbus—and you will find that many sit on a flat, featureless plain with few barriers to horizontal growth. The effect of geographic features like this is so robust that it’s standard practice for researchers to control for them when studying topics like urban form and housing affordability.

So let’s bring it all together. Houston is a rapidly growing city, where incomes have approximately doubled since 1990 and nearly everyone can afford to commute alone by car. Agricultural productivity is not unusually high and the metropolis sits on a flat, featureless plain. It would be weird if Houston didn’t sprawl under these conditions. Indeed, it would almost be a miracle if planners and policymakers could have forced the city to do anything else.  

None of this is to say that planners and policymakers have no control over sprawl. As Brueckner and others have pointed out, virtually every U.S. city under-prices the negative externalities associated with long commutes—namely, congestion and air pollution—and fails to internalize the cost of new infrastructure involved in suburban development. At the same time, most cities—even Houston and many of its suburbs—make it tough to build dense new housing in existing urban areas and require new housing on the periphery to sit on large lots along wide roads. All of this is bad and it needs to be reevaluated. To be clear, I don’t mean to diminish the harmful impact these policies! But these market and policy failures are only part of the set of variables driving urban form.

Cities are vast, complex systems, beyond the comprehension or control of any single individual or group. As the urbanist Alain Bertaud puts it, different cities should often be treated as different species entirely; Atlanta and Barcelona have about as much in common as an elephant and a mouse. They’re both mammals, sure, but try to treat them the same and the results could be messy. All of this should leave us humbled—but not incapacitated!—about the power of planning and policy to reshape cities. And it should leave urbanists less confident in their harsh moral judgement of today’s sprawling cities. You’re not going to turn Houston into Boston. But that doesn’t mean that tinkering on the edges won’t help.

For future content and discussion, follow me on Twitter at @mnolangray.

 

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Morton’s Fork and land use issues http://marketurbanism.com/2018/06/25/mortons-fork-and-land-use-issues/ http://marketurbanism.com/2018/06/25/mortons-fork-and-land-use-issues/#respond Mon, 25 Jun 2018 21:47:02 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10121 I recently discovered a new logical fallacy: the “Morton’s Fork” fallacy.  This argument is one in which contradictory observations lead to the same conclusion.  For example, if I argue that new housing near public transit is bad because it (1) spurs gentrification by bringing rich people into the neighborhood and (2) increases crime by bringing […]

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I recently discovered a new logical fallacy: the “Morton’s Fork” fallacy.  This argument is one in which contradictory observations lead to the same conclusion.  For example, if I argue that new housing near public transit is bad because it (1) spurs gentrification by bringing rich people into the neighborhood and (2) increases crime by bringing poor people into the neighborhood, I am engaging in this fallacy.  Similarly, I have heard arguments that new housing is bad because it (1) brings down property values and (2) increases property values.

In such situations, it is sometimes possible that one of the two claims could be true, but it is unlikely that both claims could be true.

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Ch. 1 What is a City?: Concluding thoughts & works cited http://marketurbanism.com/2018/05/31/ch-1-what-is-a-city-concluding-thoughts-works-cited/ Thu, 31 May 2018 20:20:38 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10081 Viewing cities as spontaneous orders and not as works of art helps to explain the tradeoff between scale and order, as well as the role of time in softening the severity of that tradeoff. Complexity and creativity are at odds with scale and the comprehensiveness of design because increasing scale impinges on the action spaces […]

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Viewing cities as spontaneous orders and not as works of art helps to explain the tradeoff between scale and order, as well as the role of time in softening the severity of that tradeoff. Complexity and creativity are at odds with scale and the comprehensiveness of design because increasing scale impinges on the action spaces where creative, informal contact tends to happen. Design might complement that informal contact to a point, but beyond a fairly low level it begins to overwhelm it.

Again, small is not always beautiful, and big is sometimes unavoidable. That makes it all the more important to understand the impact of scale and design on spontaneous social orders.

That applies as much to private as it does to public projects. When the designs are small relative to the surrounding social milieu, the downside of the tradeoff isn’t very steep. The problems start when budget constraints are soft and projects become mega-projects and mega-projects become giga-projects. I don’t want to sound too ideological – Jane Jacobs somehow avoided being ideologically pigeonholed all her life – but soft budget constraints are primarily the domain of governmental and, especially, of so-called public-private developments: Those elephantine-starchitectural-wonder-complexes that too-often strive for off-the-charts wow-factors. Without legal privileges, subsidies, and eminent domain, could the scale and degree of design of purely privately funded developments even begin to compare to those? I don’t think so.

The rules of the game of urban processes interact in complex ways. So deliberately changing some of those rules to achieve a particular outcome is akin to trying to impose a particular design on the social order, killing the social order in the process, although perhaps preserving the appearance of life. Taxidermy again. (That, by the way, is why I have problems with landmarks preservation on the scale practiced in many major cities today, including New York.)

I worry that we pay lip service to “mixed uses” and “density” and “diversity” without really understanding exactly what these mean and how they are important for economic development and liveliness. Jacobs explained how a living city fosters economic development and liveliness – for her the two go together – by promoting the diversity of land-use and of skills, knowledge, and tastes. A government can’t build an entire city (or neighborhood even) because it can only go so far in constructing that kind of diversity and the self-regulating processes that emerge from it. But in the ordinary course of its activities a government can at least refrain from doing the things that would thwart the emergence of the invisible social infrastructure that gives rise to that diversity, development, and liveliness.

And because I’m afraid they won’t refrain, I worry that when planners propose fixes for traffic, poverty, crime, discrimination, pollution, obesity, economic ennui, or whatever, they do so without seeing or caring about the things that constitute what Ken-Ichi Sasaki (1998) calls a city’s “urban tactility,” another part of the fine-structure of society that is the result of human action but not of human design.

So, I end Chapter 1 with this final thought: The more precise and comprehensive and accurate your image of city is, the less likely that the place you’re imagining really is a city. A city is not man-made thing.

 

[In this space I’ll be posting quotes, ideas, and excerpts relating to a book I’m writing (thus far untitled), which I might describe as “What I have learned from the economic and social theory of Jane Jacobs.”  My hope is to get thoughtful, informed feedback that will be useful in shaping the book.]

 

Works Cited In Chapter 1

Gehl, Jan & Birgette Svarre (2013). How to Study Public Life. London: Island Press.

Hayek, Friedrich A. (1948). “The use of knowledge in society.” In: Friedrich. A. Hayek (Ed.) (1948) Individualism and Economic Order. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Hayek, Friedrich A. (1967). “The results of human action but not of human design.” In: Friedrich A. Hayek (Ed.) (1967) Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Ikeda, Sanford (2007). “Urbanizing economics.” Review of Austrian Economics, 20(4), 213-220.

Ikeda, Sanford (2010). “The mirage of the efficient city.” In: Stephen A. Goldsmith & Lynne Elizabeth (Eds.), What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs. Oakland, CA: New Village Press.

Jacobs, Jane (1961) The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage.

Jacobs, Jane (1969). The Economy of Cities. New York: Vintage.

Kirzner, Israel M. (1973). Competition and Entrepreneurship. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Koolhaas, Rem (1994). Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for New York. New York: Monacelli Press.

Lachmann, Ludwig M. (1978). Capital and Its Structure. Kansas City: Sheed, Andrews and McMeel.

Lynch, Kevin (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Pirenne, Henri (1952). Medieval Cities: Their Origin and the Rival of Trade. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

Putnam, Robert (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Touchstone.

Sasaki, Ken-Ichi (1998). “For whom is city design? Tacility versus visuality.” In: Malcolm Miles, Tim Hall & Iain Borden (Eds.), The City Cultures Reader. New York: Routledge.

Wagner, Richard E. (2010). “Entangled political economy: A keynote address.” Manuscript.

Weber, Max (1958). The City. Don Martindale & Gertrud Neuwirth (Trans. & Eds.). New York: Free Press.

Whyte, William H. (1980). “Small urban spaces.” In: Albert LaFarge (Ed.) (2000) The Essential William H. Whyte. New York: Fordham Univ. Press.

Wirth, Louis (1938). “Urbanism as a way of life.” The American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 44(1):1-24.

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The High Cost of Solar Mandates http://marketurbanism.com/2018/05/30/the-high-cost-of-solar-mandates/ Wed, 30 May 2018 22:11:24 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10084 By Christopher Koopman and Josh T. Smith Facing a current housing crisis that is putting working families on the brink of homelessness, it would seem like California would have one of two options. The state could take steps to alleviate the growing problem. Alternatively, it could sit on its hands and do nothing at all. […]

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By Christopher Koopman and Josh T. Smith

Facing a current housing crisis that is putting working families on the brink of homelessness, it would seem like California would have one of two options. The state could take steps to alleviate the growing problem. Alternatively, it could sit on its hands and do nothing at all. It seems, however, the state has found a third option: make matters worse.

After it’s vote last week, the California Energy Commission took another step toward requiring all new homes under three stories to have solar panels installed beginning in 2020. Right now only between 15 and 20 percent of new single-family homes in California install rooftop solar. While solar may make economic and environmental sense for some, mandating it for all Californians will backfire by worsening the state’s housing affordability crisis, disincentivizing the building of newer, more energy efficient houses, and continuing to hurt the poor in a state that is already home to the highest rate of unsheltered homeless in the nation.

The housing crisis in California is largely driven by a simple economic problem: housing supply has failed to keep up with demand. As the demand for homes in the Golden State has increased, the housing supply has failed to respond.

Why? In particular, restrictive zoning policies continue to slow development and force prices up. Now people making $80,000 a year are having a hard time finding affordable housing.

Make no mistake, skyrocketing housing prices are a growing problem in large cities across the country, but especially so in California. The 2017 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority report estimated there was a 23 percent increase in homelessness from 2016 to 2017. That’s almost 11,000 additional people without homes.

By mandating solar panels on all new houses, California’s regulators are essentially adding $9,500 to the cost of every new home in the name. A regressive policy disproportionately affects those on the margins, where each dollar may be the difference between homeownership and eviction. And while there can be honest debate over whether the positive environmental impact of solar panels are worth the cost, this cost must be measured against the backdrop of families being stretched thin by an already expensive housing market.

Moreover, requiring solar panels on new homes may work to undermine environmental efforts. Energy efficiency is a worthy goal; however, by increasing the cost of new housing, we can expect to see less of it. This is the same theory underpinning the soda taxes in effect in Berkeley and Oakland. Instead of seeing newer, more energy efficient housing units spring up across the state, many homeowners will remain in older, less energy efficient houses.

If the goal is to increase solar panel installations, there are better ways of achieving this without further burdening the poor or worsening California’s housing crisis. One change would be removing President Trump’s recently ordered taxes on solar panel imports. Those taxes will raise the price of solar panels, slow solar adoption in the United States, and likely cost more American jobs than they save.

Another approach to encourage installations would be to adopt a permitting process like Australia’s. Solar installations in the United States cost twice as much as in Australia. As the former CEO of Sungevity explains, this is the result of superfluous safety requirements that exist in the US but not in Australia. With less red tape and lower solar installation costs, solar panels are found across all types of homes in Australia, both low-income and high-income homes.

While the proposed mandate is still working its way through the regulatory process, there are better ways to promote solar. By focusing on reducing the current barriers to deploying solar panels, regulators can make a positive contribution to furthering solar technology across California without further limiting access to housing.

Christopher Koopman, senior director of strategy and research at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University. Josh T. Smith is a research manager with the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University.

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Ch. 1 What is a City?: Cities cannot be efficient http://marketurbanism.com/2018/05/29/ch-1-what-is-a-city-cities-cannot-be-efficient/ Tue, 29 May 2018 17:06:19 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10074 Before we can correct what we think is wrong with a city, we need an appropriate standard of what is right. That standard of rightness in turn depends on our understanding how the thing we are trying to fix is supposed to work. In this regard I’m afraid neither standard macroeconomics nor microeconomics is much […]

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Before we can correct what we think is wrong with a city, we need an appropriate standard of what is right. That standard of rightness in turn depends on our understanding how the thing we are trying to fix is supposed to work.

In this regard I’m afraid neither standard macroeconomics nor microeconomics is much help at all.

In traditional macroeconomics, too much important detail is lost in its pre-occupation with aggregates and averages. For example, standard macroeconomic theory treats capital as homogeneous, and so makes no distinction between a hammer and a harbor, except that a harbor may be the equivalent of many, many hammers. Such an approach is too blunt an instrument for getting to the level of detail needed to appreciate the complex time-structure of capital of an economy, let alone to tell us what would be necessary to promote that structure (Lachmann 1978).  Jacobs expressed antipathy toward macroeconomics.

Macro-economics—large-scale economics—is the branch of learning entrusted with the theory and practice of understanding and fostering national and international economies. It is a shambles. Its undoing was the good fortune of having been believed in and acted upon in a big way (Jacobs 1984: 6-7)

Earlier in this Chapter we saw that, unlike a living city, a nation-state is not a natural unit of economic analysis. In Jacobs’s words:

Nations are political and military entities, and so are blocs of nations. But it doesn’t necessarily follow from this that they are also the basic, salient entities of economic life or that they are particularly useful for probing the mysteries of economic structure, the reasons for rise and decline of wealth. Indeed, the failure of national governments and blocs of nations to force economic life to do their bidding suggests some sort of essential irrelevance (Jacobs 1984: 31-32).

The limitations of standard microeconomics are in some sense even more severe. Efforts to make cities run more efficiently, for example, when “efficient” means something more than simply “the way I want to see things done,” run up against a deep conceptual problem (Ikeda 2010). Strictly speaking, an action is efficient when a person achieves a given end with the least costly of all available means. In other words, if you know what the most valuable end that you could be pursuing is, and if you know what the correct value of each of the possible means to achieve that end are, then your choices have a very good chance of being efficient. It would simply be a matter of matching the known, least-cost means to the known, highest-valued ends. But if you lack knowledge of any part of that ends-means framework, if your knowledge is not perfect, it would be impossible to tell whether any particular ends-means combination is efficient or inefficient. You can’t compare a given outcome with an ideal outcome if you don’t know what that ideal outcome might be. Efficiency might be appropriate in Louis Wirth’s 3-variable city but useless in a Jacobsian system of organized complexity.

The starting point of Jacobs or of Hayek or of Israel Kirzner (1973) is that a person is aware of only a small portion of the total amount of information she needs for the successful completion of her plans. Also, people make mistakes, plans conflict. Again, the social processes in cities are precisely what facilitate the discovery of conflicts and errors as well as harness the knowledge needed for their resolution.

Real markets are never efficient and neither are real cities. But the good news is that, given the nature of the trial-and-error process, we wouldn’t want them to be. As Jacobs puts it:

But I propose to argue that these grave and real deficiencies are necessary to economic development and thus are exactly what make cities uniquely valuable to economic life. By this, I do not mean that cities are economically valuable in spite of their inefficiency and impracticality but rather because they are inefficient and impractical (1969: 86).

To someone trained in standard economics that sounds paradoxical. If you understand why a city cannot be a work of art, however, it’s common sense.

A living city works by effectively combining what I call the “4 Ds,” diversity and density to generate discovery and development. Without going too deeply into what a normative standard consistent with promoting creative discovery would look like, I’ll just say that it would focus on whether the rules of the game empower creativity, more so than on trying to prevent the gales of dark destruction. The focus would be on what keeps creation ahead of destruction, and definitely not on how closely the outcomes we can measure match the ideal outcomes that we can only imagine.

 

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[In this space I’ll be posting quotes, ideas, and excerpts relating to a book I’m writing (thus far untitled), which I might describe as “What I have learned from the economic and social theory of Jane Jacobs.”  My hope is to get thoughtful, informed feedback that will be useful in shaping the book.]

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The “Old People Need Cars” Argument- Myth or Fact? http://marketurbanism.com/2018/05/23/the-old-people-need-cars-argument-myth-or-fact/ Wed, 23 May 2018 20:08:58 +0000 http://marketurbanism.com/?p=10061 The needs of the aged are often a political football in disputes over transportation policy.  On the one hand, defenders of low-cost parking and other car-oriented policies argue that older people all need cars because they can’t be bothered to walk.  On the other hand, smart growth types argue that we will all be too […]

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The needs of the aged are often a political football in disputes over transportation policy.  On the one hand, defenders of low-cost parking and other car-oriented policies argue that older people all need cars because they can’t be bothered to walk.  On the other hand, smart growth types argue that we will all be too old to drive someday, so we need to end the reign of car dependency.

One way of examining the issue is to find out whether seniors in fact drive more than everyone else.  Happily, the 2016 American Community Survey comes to our rescue here.  In Manhattan where I live, there are just over 129,000 senior-headed households with no car, and just over 36,000 with a vehicle available.  So contrary to car-lobby conventional wisdom, only about 22 percent of senior-headed households have a car.  How does that compare with other age groups?  On the one hand, only about 25,000 out of 200,000, or 12 percent, of millennial-headed households (that is, households headed by someone under 35) have a vehicle.  But among Manhattan households headed by persons between 35 and 64, about 28 percent (just over 109,000 out of just over 386,000)  have a vehicle- more than senior-headed households, to my surprise.

So I rate the “Old People Need Cars” claim as Mostly False: most seniors here in Manhattan don’t have cars, even though they are more likely to own cars than millenials.  On the other hand, the latter fact suggests that seniors are rarely physically incapable of using cars.

The post The “Old People Need Cars” Argument- Myth or Fact? appeared first on Market Urbanism.

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