Why Can’t We Get Cities Right?

Caught between rampant development and NIMBYism.

Comments: 252

  1. NIMBYism is part of a larger systematic problem of downloading costs.

    Everyone wants to be paid a large wage, live in very affordable housing ( rent or own ) have ultra safe streets, no congestion, no pollution and be around people that look, talk and live exactly like them. There is always going to be a balance, but hardly anyone is willing to pay for it.

    Even when we do elect politicians that promise one thing, there is still the chance they will zone your area for industry or commerce that might be unsavory. Couple that with problems and preventative measures that must be met at the state and federal level, because they are too big and costly.

    Even if your city is doing it right, mother nature does not care.

  2. There isn't much we get right today because the driving principles behind the things we do aren't right or wrong, necessary and prudent, but which special interest group will benefit. This is what hobbles our politics from practically the grassroots all the way up to the top.

    When we have a very large group of special interests that have been fighting science tooth and nail for the sake of profit and under the cover of "maximizing profit for shareholders," bad decisions are made.

    When we have all of big business succeeding in instilling and keeping alive zombie ideas that, in turn, cause every day citizens to believe in them, then we don't get cities or rural areas right.

    When we have politicians who run on one platform but tell their donors the exact opposite, we don't get government right. When we have politicians telling their voters, I will leave it up to those you elect to decide, we get the other side elected when ours gets discouraged.

    When we have politicians who pander, whether it is to voters who want them to pursue NIMBY policies or corporate interests who want their interests placed first, we get cities with terrible problems. In Houston, planning is the problem. In cities like LA and San Francisco, affordable housing is the problem. Everywhere, it's the rot of money in politics that is the reason why we've stopped getting things right.

    Triangulation: When Neoliberalism Is At Its Most Dangerous To Voters https://wp.me/p2KJ3H-2Jr

  3. As for exploding oil refineries being in the midst of neighborhoods, yes, cities are at fault for allowing both to exist in the same living spaces. But after Harvey, the EPA has yet to inspect these exploding sites and the AP, which reported on this, is under attack by the EPA.

    See While Trump Tweets Away, Democracy Is Being Undone
    https://wp.me/p2KJ3H-2Jj

    For those of you who read California news, Mayor Eric Garcetti is in trouble for taking $30 million of donations made to "his favorite charities" from corporations that have apparently won city contracts. He apparently overused a technique rooted in some obscure fundraising law, called behesting, that our governor employs. https://www.scpr.org/news/2017/08/23/74917/la-mayor-garcetti-behested-pa...

  4. Rima--as far as I'm concerned California is just a series of natural disasters waiting to happen. Among the problems your state faces are wildfires, mudslides and earthquakes. Aren't you just a little bit nervous that one day the San Andres Fault is going to level California with one gigantic earthquake? It's just a matter of time before the long dreaded "big one" strikes. You're living on borrowed time in an unstable danger zone. Can't blame oligarchs or neoliberalism for that. You choose to live where you do and you'll eventually have to face the consequences of that decision if and when "the big one" hits.

  5. Sharon...

    I've survived tornadoes, earthquakes, and muggings here in the US, terrorist attacks and even two attempted coups while overseas. Nature is what it is, unless oligarchs and neoliberals sell us down the river and do things that make Mother Nature mad.

  6. In NYC people mix, in passing, in public spaces. In Houston sprawl is an expression of a desire to work and live in localities which correspond to wealth ranges.

    NYC epitomizes a concentration of income inequality, but is less dedicated to isolation of extreme wealth. Houston has grown while more dedicated to serving wealth in strata.

  7. apologies to G& S

    I am a distraught Donald, I'm frustrated by the Storm,
    I planned to close the Government, for alt-right it’s a norm,
    Bald blackmail for the Great Trump Wall, the cash that I require,
    Harvey was uninvited, and it slipped under the wire,
    We’ll have to pay out plenty, there’s a lot of damage done,
    It keeps me from a battle I could easily have won,
    I hate rebuilding Houston, it’s all mud and muck and slime,
    So let’s put off assistance, until some far later time,
    Help them by and by.

  8. i dunno larry..... rebuilding houston? maybe a challenge worthy of his ego and helpful to his wallet. i would worry, as krugman said, that the EPA will not be around to oversee the toxins that have undoubtedly been spread with the rising waters.

  9. I'm all for capitalism, but these days it's too expensive. From greedy real estate developers in Houston to oil and petrochemical companies that seem to be more unstable than a nuclear reactor when a disaster hits to all the environmental damage that is causing weather that is causing untold deaths, disease and doing billions of dollars worth of damage all around the planet it is becoming the mother of too much destruction.

    At the same time, science, education, literacy, health in general and any movement to protect human and worker rights are under attack. It is these attributes that provide health and true wealth in a community many times over.

  10. The problem is this is not really capitalism because those petrochemical companies and real estate developers are not liable for the costs of their activities -- they just skim off the profits and leave the taxpayers to pay for the garbage clean up.

  11. San Francisco wouldn't be worth visiting or living in if it weren't for NIMBYism. No, the bigger problem facing coastal cities (coastal states, really) is unsustainable population growth. It's time to re-think growth-at-all-costs.

  12. But there is a built-in fix to some extent. Unsustainable growth amid limited resources means the sky-rocketing costs in California, including housing. Which leads to the business exodus that's been happening in recent years, where inland cities offer much better deals and lower taxes. Companies can even bring their workers along if the inducements are high enough.

  13. In the time it took the United States population to double the population of California tripled.

  14. There is more to SF's regulations than just NIMBY: Sf is both a city and a county. It is subject to earthquakes as we all know. Most of the land has been built on, what is left is mostly open spaces for public use. The developers had their day, it is the Western Addition. The redevelopment agency allowed the tearing down of affordable older housing for the building of more upscale apartments. It also forced people to sell excellent view properties at a low price for the benefit of friends of Alioto.

    The Western addition forced low income people to move to West Berkeley and West Oakland, into crowded conditions overloading the schools, creating a de facto ghetto for Black people. The Black Panthers were a result of this. It began as a movement to feed the children breakfast, it was resented by the white population in the East Bay.

    Huston is an example of no zoning, developers run wild. A land that had manged to weather storms for centuries, was paved, channeled, and turned into a disaster waiting to happen. Texas is notorious for its objection to regulations. Chemical plants built next to residential areas, many companies like chrome platting moved from California to Texas to get away from environmental standards. Environmentalists are the enemy in Texas, but now the nation has to pay for ignoring those treehuggers.

    The red states do not like our environmental regulations, but California is the richest state, now there are fund raisers for Texans here.

  15. "Most of the land has been built on, what is left is mostly open spaces for public use."

    False. There are still plenty of surface parking lots and ugly, often shuttered, one or two story commercial buildings throughout central SF and along all of the major streets. You don't even have to go that high to get much more density for more housing. Five to seven to nine floor buildings can be inserted in most areas and three to five floor buildings along quieter streets and the scale and architectural integrity of the city would not be affected.

  16. @ peter..... don't worry. all of those surface parking lots and low commercial buildings you on folsom and howard etc? they are already owned by developers and will be built on soon. the street will be the same size and the sewers and other utilities in the ground will be the same size as well..... leading to even worse traffic, if that's possible, and unending construction in the streets to upgrade the utilities for the new use. i know a man that owns about a 1/2 a city block of old (some pre 1900) commercial buildings on 2nd street just off of market. i was always attracted to and amazed by these old, low slung and fairly well maintained buildings in the midst of the soul killing architecture. i have not driven down that street in a very long time..... i hope they are still there.

  17. don't worry david..... you can still get your old iron bumper plated in the East Bay! and you can get that security gate for your trade alley galvanized there as well.... but probably not for long and not at the high level of quality that Faith Plating had when they were king in san francisco. the reformulation of the products has as much to do with this decline in quality as the environmental regs that govern the shops. personally i prefer the old san francisco with it's working class and light industry to the current hipster regime.

  18. Cities are in a real sense the personification of the best and worst of human civilization - the living together of people - so in a real sense the failures of cities is not an American problem but really a human problem. One would be hard pressed to find a city anywhere in the world that isn't slowly (or in many cases, quickly) sinking under the weight of its problems.

    What city in the world doesn't face a lack of decent affordable housing, decaying infrastructure, impossible traffic, crime, poverty, broken neighborhoods, and inadequate protection from natural or manmade disaster?

    Cities are ultimately built on the notion of bringing in people first and worrying what to do with them later (ie paying and building the infrastructure needed to support the people). Rarely do "cities" consider the real cost of development (besides that developers don't want to pay for it), or that the more you build the more there is to maintain. Before long there is so much infrastructure to maintain it is almost impossible to replace it as fast as it falls apart.

    As that saying goes, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." It is as true of our cities as our environment and unfortunately in both cases no one ever wants to pay back what they borrow.

  19. "hard pressed to find a city anywhere in the world that isn't slowly (or in many cases, quickly) sinking under the weight of its problems"? In my neck of the global woods I would name Hamburg, Vienna or Riga as candidates. These are all cities that have a long tradition of public/administrative control over the private sector ensuring that in major decisions about infrastructure (traffic, mass transit, energy consumption, waste disposal etc.) the common good (as opposed to private profit) is the overriding consideration.

  20. If we had such a city in America it would soon be overrun with all those forces that ruin cities, it's the American way. Krugman cites Chicago, but leaves off how insanely dangerous it is. Part of the problem is there are too many of us, another part is many of us lack the instinct or ethic to cooperate in close proximity. If long term studies were done for all the environmental considerations and all the other factors, nothing would get built.

  21. @zb Your comment *might* apply to the US but is demonstrably false when you apply it to the rest of the world. Here's a hint: stick to what you know.

  22. I would add another critical missing component to US cities: communal open spaces like the piazzas or plazas in Europe. Overall, Europeans are more satisfied with their lives than their US counterparts and I am convinced that the connections and interactions that occur in a pizza contribute to that satisfaction.
    If we want more people to live in an environmentally responsible urban setting, then we need to create outdoor spaces where we can communicate with each other. Not fenced-in backyards that exclude and create fear of The Others.

  23. Pizza is very satisfying :)

  24. Yes, but we have behavioral problems. I was privileged to visit Spain several times 20-25 years ago, and, in public spaces, Americans stuck out like sore thumbs, loud, boorish, clueless. Transfer the life of those squares and plazas into our cities without changing our propensity to self-absorbed thoughtlessness, and someone will be blasting vulgar "music", many will be drunk or high and misbehaving as a result, things will be stolen, fights will be picked, and, of course, we have more guns than people among us.

    NIce thoughts though. We can dream, can't we?

  25. Pizza does make for the best connections and interactions:)

  26. San Francisco proper is actually adding housing units as fast as it can, and in fact is already one of the highest-density cities in the United States. The problem, though, is that the infrastructure is not there to support the density. So the quality of life is rapidly declining. For example, much of the city is choked with traffic for virtually all of the day, and one of San Franciscans' main complaints (along with cost of living, homeless people, and dirty streets) is the poor quality of the public transportation system.

  27. @Californian

    You're kidding about SF's public transportation, right? Moving people around SF began with the cable cars in 1870 and besides a massive Muni system with routes to all corners of the City, Bay Area Counties invested in BART nearly 40 years ago, one of the first urban rapid transit systems in the country.

    The best transit system can be overwhelmed by demand, which has grown faster than capacity. And traffic congestion is a result of nearly a quarter million people who commute into SF from Marin, and the East and South Bays every weekday.

    A major transportation hub connecting Peninsula trains, Muni and East Bay buses, Muni trams, and BART will be completed downtown next year. The Third Street light rail now connects the Southern end with downtown. A subway connecting Chinatown and North Beach with downtown is under construction.

    SF's investment in public transportation is a model for any urban area. But like Houston, it can and does get flooded with cars, bikes, trucks, conveying too many people into a very small space.

    When I graduated in 1968 from Galileo High School in SF there were 714,000 residents. Now there's 864,000. Traffic and congestion are the result of too many people, not too few buses or trams.

    By the way, in addition to a robust public transit system, SF is among the most walk-able cities in the world.

  28. Look at any survey about gripes of citizens of SF and SF Muni always comes in very high, if not highest. I walk and take the bus frequently; although I have a car, I put on very little mileage (about 3K/year in the 6 mos/year I live in SF). Maybe you haven't spent enough time waiting on windy corners waiting for buses that fail to show. Compare SF's transportation with cities like Paris, Berlin, London, etc. and there's only one (printable) word to describe it: inadequate.

  29. @ californian..... uh, hmmm..... i moved to san francisco in 1977. they were complaining about muni then and they have complained every year since. it is more a reflex than a reflection on the system. along with the beauty of the city? you get a lot of complainers. usually complainers that are being squeezed out of the city by the costs to there wallet and their psyche. we have waves of dreamers..... the beats, the hippies, the gays, the first internet boom and now the google bus set. some make it some don't and they complain about everything on their way out.
    PS: i am glad i took my gains and don't live in SF anymore

  30. You forgot to mention New Orleans—

    A huge bowl (with the poorest at the bottom) built below sea level.

    After the storm surge and breaching of levees in 2005, many experts said it should not have been rebuilt.

  31. I guess they should have let Venice go, too. But let's not just be sentimental about culture.
    The fact is that New Orleans will ALWAYS be a critical port city because of the Mississippi River's central role in the economy and transportation infrastructure of the nation. And the technology to deal with the city's below-sea-level topography is already available and gradually being implemented. None of which is too say that New Orleans is a good location for expanding suburban development. Preservation of surrounding marshlands and the remaining barrier islands is crucial to the mitigation of hazards that New Orleans will always face from tropical storm systems.
    If Rotterdam--home to Europe's largest port--continues to thrive with neighborhoods as much as 20 feet below sea-level, then there is no reason that New Orleans (where the lowest elevations ranges from 1-7 feet below sea level) cannot do the same with the appropriate engineering and land use policy.

  32. Houston and San Francisco are apple and orange. There's no comparison.

    Why Harvey had such a devastating impact on Houston reflects a Lone Star political ethos that's anti-government and pro-business. Houston's no-holds-barred development bias bears no similarity to SF's heavily planned and zoned use of scarce land. We don't do NIMBY because we don't have backyards to fight over.

    SF is all of 49 square miles, 7 miles by 7 miles, with Golden Gate Park (bigger than Central Park) and the Golden Gate Recreation Area (formerly the Presidio Army Base), and you have the definition of scarcity. And don't forget the San Andreas fault under the City and the nearby 116 mile joined Rodgers Creek and Hayward faults, space for 860,000 residents is literally at a premium.

    Unfortunately SF is equally pro-big business as Houston. Any major development -- Salesforce or Charles Schwab most recently -- can build Manhattan-size skyscrapers by hiring any of SF's notorious fixers to get their project built. The City's 7 hills no longer offer magical views, unless you like skyscrapers.

    Until very recently, developers weren't active in SF for lack of demand and low ROI given zoning issues. Then a tidal wave of overpaid and obnoxious tech millionaires and minions created demand and now 50,000 new units are underway, without a single project blocked by residents.

    I know SF. SF was a home of mine. And Houston, sir, is no Frisco.

  33. No one who lives here call a it "Frisco."

  34. I agree with nearly all of this. For a US city (unlike Europe and Asia) SF is considered densely populated (as is Boston), but the majority of its residents live in less than 1/4 of the city--the northeast quadrant where most commerce and tourism also take place. Housing in much of the other 3/4 is single family. I also agree with Dr. Krugman that more housing should reduce escalating prices in SF--to the benefit of residents, workers and employers. And it can be accomplished without sacrificing quality of life. Imagine if the density, texture and vitality of SF's North Beach were introduced to only a fraction of the other quadrants. Similar to North Beach tall buildings could average 6 stories and low buildings 3. Also similar to North Beach very few would be single family. One result would be a lot more housing accompanied by lower prices. Another benefit would be more street life and potential for commerce. Another would be more people to look at and an excuse to hang out. Finally, similar to North Beach--and unlike Houston--very few buildings would have private garages, but the added population should justify improved transit service.

  35. @Russell

    Herb Caen, SF's iconic gossip columnist, died awhile ago. He started a ruse that "Real San Franciscans" didn't call it Frisco to fool newcomers into thinking they were making like the natives (and could be mistaken for one) by not calling it "Frisco."

    In a City awash with first timers, some very pretentious and eager to be authentic, it became a Scarlet Letter that identified newcomers when they were PC about Frisco.

    If you happened into any of the mostly gone neighborhood bars packed with now extinct working class Irish and Italians you'd hear nothing but Frisco being bandied about in reference to The City.

    And woe unto anyone who objected to "Frisco" in front of 2nd or 3rd generation native sons and daughters. Either it was instant Ice Age and you were flash frozen or became the donkey everyone would take turns leading down a trail of disdain and comeuppance.

    Only those who never kissed the Blarney Stone prefer Ess Hef or San Fran to Frisco.

    Folks who aren't so anxious about passing for authentic easily picked up Herb Caen's ruse and referred to The City as "The City." Like most residents do. Like the Warriors -- currently inhabitants of Oaktown -- where you indicate you reside -- foreshadowed their move to The City by having emblazoned on their jerseys "The City."

    Of course there haven't been "Real San Franciscans" for ages except for the newcomers eager to pass for one.

    More than a place, The City is an attitude. Not what you call it.

  36. Galveston was devastated by a hurricane over a century ago. When they rebuilt they made sure that they built using codes to withstand future hurricane damage. Everytime California is forced to rebuild after an earthquake the new buildings must follow updated codes to withstand future earthquakes. We can't stop mother nature but we can make smart decisions to ensure that we survive what she throws at us.

    Houston has a choice as it rebuilds. Continue with the status quo of no regulations do what you want or follow other cities who have had to rebuild and put sensible rules in place. The city was warned repeatedly that a hurricane would be devastating yet local leaders did nothing. Now the rest of us will be expected to bail them out but I doubt that generosity will be repeated if they make the same choices.

    America has a housing shortage. Yes we need to do something about it. Building new housing isn't the only solution. Other countries have bullet trains that allow commuters to live outside the city but still have a reasonable commute. What a way to rejuvenate small cities that are dying.

    For far too long we've been focused on military campaigns abroad. Our politicians need to turn their attention to the needs of our own country. Perhaps Harvey is the wakeup call that they've needed to stop neglecting our infrastructure needs.

  37. I agree with you comments. After having 3 500-year floods in only a few years, it seems that Houston didn't learn much from the first one or the second one. Will they learn from the third one or, at this point with all the urban sprawl in place, is it too late to do much?

  38. I believe the next Democrat running for president should run on a platform of bringing our troops home, stop wasting money on military adventures and invest in rebuilding America.

  39. The old story of privatising the profits and socialising the losses.

  40. Urban policy in the USA is generally inferior to that in Europe. The big difference in European cities is that people come first, development profits come second while in the USA it seems to be the other way around. European cities are more pedestrian and bike-friendly rather than auto-centric, designed for public transit, and filled with public spaces. All of that requires putting the needs of the citizens ahead of private development profits, which could easily be done here as well if the people only demanded it.

  41. European cities were built long before there were automobiles, and it stands to reason that they would therefore be more pedestrian friendly. Even those rebuilt after WWII largely mimicked their pre-war footprint. Angels dance on the head of a pin while NYC and NJ watch the collapse of the mass transit systems they have, and don't even consider building new ones--unless they are named after former governors whose son currently has dominion over such matters.

  42. "European cities were built long before there were automobiles [...] therefore be more pedestrian friendly."

    Sure. And by some supernatural miracle, they are also more bicycle-friendly today than US cities. Has nothing to do with planning. ;-)

  43. Foolish people demand low taxes on the argument that they can best decide what to do with their money. Somehow they never decide that going in together with their neighbors on facilities everyone benefits from is a sensible idea.

  44. The other scarcely mentioned variable is population growth. With population growth in cities, the perceived "standard of living" always goes down.

    Whether that population growth results from "legal" or "illegal" immigration, more people means less space per person, more competition among people to get the basic necessities of life as they have come to expect it, where they live.

    Look at the apartment layouts in a "pre-war" building in New York city, look at the spaciousness of these old rent-regulated apartments, and you can see how much living space average families expected to have. Now, such spacious accommodations, expected as a standard in our recent less crowded past, are the province of only the very wealthy.

    There will always be migration within any country, and among countries. But even domestic immigration, in large enough numbers, can cause resentment and backlash. Remember John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath", about the resentment of "Oakies" migrating to California during the depression and fleeing the "dustbowl"?

    But an even greater, long term challenge to social stability, is the vast imbalance among the developed and third world countries - in economic opportunity, social safety and personal freedoms, and the hope for a better future - all factors which will continue to drive immigration from poorer to wealthier nations. Especially with misguided policies like "birth right citizenship".

    The problem is way deeper than building codes and land use.

  45. Oh. Not according to the times and the left. We have plenty of room and just need to add a green strip or two and we'll have no problem accommodating the 2-3 million extra people we add every year to this country. The right has climate deniers. The left have basic number deniers. In my lifetime the population of the U.S. has doubled. If you can look at that and not see a problem you should be institutionalized.

  46. No one is denying population has not increased. What is your solution to mitigating births?

  47. Houston has a once in a lifetime chance to switch their transportation model to the e-bike from car centric.

    500,000 cars were destroyed in the flood, and instead of replacing them with other cars, replace them with e-bikes. E-bikes now have Lithium batteries can have ranges of 20 to 40 miles, enough for the typical commute. (Some hobbyists have added larger batteries and they enjoy ranges over 100 miles.)

    E-bikes have other advantages: they are less costly than cars and can be quickly replaced, they don't pollute, and they return health and long life to the user with the mild to moderate exercise.

    Cities that have added greenways for bikes see a development boom. A merchant that changes one car parking spot to a 20 e-bike parking lot sees an increase in business.

    Both Bosch and Yamaha have produced reliable mid-drive units that are used all over Europe and the rest of the world.

  48. I lived in Houston. The very concept of something called an 'e-bike' is anathema to the psyche of that city.

  49. Not sure if you've watched your tv in the last week but the majority of Houston residents I saw aren't going anywhere on a bike, at least no bike I've ever seen.

  50. Have you ever been to Houston in the summer?

  51. SF and Houston are two faces of (literally) the same coin.
    Every other community in the US is some combination of these two extremes and there is little to no hope of any change in zoning and housing policy coming from state level, much less the federal level. No one wants to alienate the underlying entrenched groups, they're all voters and demostrated to be very vocal about protecting their interests.
    So Houston will rebuild and any flood rezoning will be marginal window dressing at best. It's just cheaper to take the "free" handouts rebuild. Why would Houston city hall tax its citizens and impose "unnecessary" costs on builders when the they can get that money directly from Congress aka the blue states?
    San Francisco has the same entrenched situation, for the same reasons : money and votes. Live outside and have a brutal commute? You don't get a vote in the decision. Homeowners are voters, the tech-erati don't do commutes and are just fine living in a sanitized museum, so who cares?
    NIMBYism and urban sprawl are here to stay, they're in the DNA of the US democracy.

  52. Planning has such a well known liberal bias. No zoning law,paving
    over wetlands and flood plains, what could possibly go wrong.
    We learned that Katrina was a man made disaster
    When will they every learn when will they learn

    word

  53. I'm pretty sure the 5 boroughs would have some serious issues if 48 inches of rain dropped in 48 hours, not to mention some mega storm surge washing up from the Atlantic Ocean.

  54. "Why Can’t We Get Cities Right?" because this is the USA, not Europe. Once the political blather is stripped away, money is the only thing that matters.

  55. you can probably start to understand the differences and the pressures by looking at Euro and US population growth over 20 or 30 years.

  56. @alan: the problem is not so much one of dealing with population growth as one of being able to handle population density. And the US's laissez faire approach is clearly failing while the Europeans are doing OK (if only barely).

  57. Actually American cities are following many European cities where the central part of the city is very expensive across-the-board, while middle class and lower live further outside the perimeter.

  58. Here in the Midwest, a majority of people prefer single family homes if they can afford them. As I observe the development behind me, I am not sure why. No one spends any time outside on the lovely decks and patios. No one has a garden beyond a few token flowers. Almost everyone has a riding lawn mower to minimize the time that outside task requires. Even the children are not in evidence. What is the point of a yard? Might as well live in a well-designed condo, townhouse or high rise.

  59. Our mayor (of a noted midwestern suburb) has done a great job attracting business and improving quality of life with great schools, trails, parks, music center, arts district, with some debt but less than the equivalent of a household mortgage and car payment. The thanks he gets is constant complaining. We pay too much taxes (we pay less than neighboring suburbs). And why doesn't the mayor get rid of coyotes, foxes, hawks, etc. Too many people in the US want services, but don't want to pay for them. We can't do cities because we all think we are cowboys, ready to move to the next town when we get some money.

  60. Not just in the Midwest
    I live in Newton MA, an affluent suburb just west of Boston
    IN my neighborhood of $$$ homes, on large (for boston) lots, it is rare to see people outside except for gardeners, who generate enormous amts of noise an pollution making the yards perfect
    We don't really need much AC here ,but people have been installing heatpumps and central AC which makes a lot of noise, which further reduces outside play

  61. To :Oh, please: Funny you should bring that up--I have made, recently, a similar observation. I happen to like entertaining--friends, family, students...so use my backyard with some frequency. I have a less than fabulous flower garden, but I try. I've lived in my suburban house for close to 40 years. Houses sell from about $325K up to about $700K in my neighborhood. I can see what goes on in our contiguous properties easily--2 houses to the right, 2 to the left, and four houses on another street with backyards abutting mine or visible to me. This is the truth: in 40 years, I can remember exactly no one ever using their backyards in 5 of the 8 houses. (By "using their backyards" I mean grilling, watching the birds, sitting outside for more than 5 minutes, entertaining.) Lawn care companies do the mowing, and a couple of pots of geraniums will constitute a garden. Even when the properties were sold, the pattern held. One house has small children, and they play outside. As soon as the kids hit school age, they might as well sell and live in an apartment. Since the rise of central air conditioning, there appears to be no reason for big properties and "fresh air." I suppose we all buy these houses for the school districts and some idea about privacy. Why else?
    Who knows?

  62. Paul Collier in his award-winning book,"The Bottom Billion" describes the global barriers to development made more intense by failures in cities as urbanization is a key structure and force in economic growth and higher national incomes. Urbanization is increasing rapidly, but is failing almost everywhere: and the failures are almost impossible to fix.

    Collier, formerly Director of Development for the World Bank, describes "ostriches." (I call them "blind mules") whose denial or romanticism block progress by hindering plans and processes that will allow cities to rebalance--advance the working class, provide affordable housing, maintain infrastructure and attract capital investment that brings global wealth to the local economy.

    Many know my favorite American urban regions that work: Research Triangle, NC, has sustained growth since the 1950s through coordinated planning that has protected affordable housing, created new jobs at all income levels, and set high standards for education, arts, and quality of life. Its latest plan adds 100,000 jobs. Charleston, SC has become a global hub for transportation manufacturing with Boeing, Volvo, and Mercedes arriving in the last decade, but has shown sensitivity to housing issues. West Virginia's rural-based, 5 county Chemical Alliance Zone ships a billion dollars of exports; its 15,000 manufacturing jobs pay $70K+.

    At the opposite end is Detroit. Politics is often blamed, but its planning failed. Remember: excess creates waste!

  63. My son lives in a fairly depressing Brooklyn neighborhood in the process of gentrification. Once the car shops with chain link fences are converted to fashionable coffee houses and the shoddy and dirty exteriors of apt. buildings are cleaned up, rents will soar (and they are already very high).

    The people with families and without big incomes will be forced to move and another segregated neighborhood for the privileged will be born. The property owners will see there wealth multiply.

    Economically integrated neighborhoods are an essential component of a functioning meritocracy. Children take their formative lessons form their peers even more than from their parents. Friends from childhood are often friends for life.

    American society has become increasingly economically segregated and more and more a class system where privilege is passed on from generation to generation.

    If you want to defuse the anger of the working class so something like a Trump presidency doesn't happen again- or worse, give working class parents reason to believe their children have an equal opportunity to rise as the children of the professional class. Truly integrated urban neighborhoods would help.

  64. Let me see if I understand. If you're an auto worker in Detroit or a coal miner in West Virginia, and it's financially difficult if not impossible to continue to live where you do, you should not expect any assistance because you are wrong to resist the economic reality that you need to relocate. But if you're a long time resident of Brooklyn or Dan Francisco or Denver, government should do everything in its power to adjust the market to allow you to stay. Did I get that right?

  65. Well, is there a difference between staying someplace where there are no jobs, and trying to make it so that people can afford to live somewhere where there ARE jobs?

  66. A class stratified society ultimately destroys meritocracy and will eventually fatally damage this country if the inequitable distribution of wealth here isn't reversed. The gap between the lowest paid and highest paid worker should not be allowed to keep growing in the name of unfettered capitalism.

    However the government manages to more equitably distribute the wealth of our nation is unimportant if it helps destroy the development of a permanent aristocracy where inheritance more and more becomes ones fate. If there are better ways than subsidized housing to accomplish this, I'm all ears.

    The ability to rise on ones merits is not ultimately maintained in unfettered capitalism and allowing such a system will rapidly remove America as the world dominating power by countries that do a better job of utilizing their human capital- probably China.

  67. I have relatives who live in San Francisco. This article barely scratches the surface. State, county, & municipal legislators have made it impossible for new housing to be built quickly.This is a Democratic controlled state from top to bottom. Affordable housing has always been one of the cornerstones of the Democratic Party. This state should be a showcase on how well we can execute this policy. Instead, it's yet another example of our complete intellectually bankruptcy. It's symptomatic I think of a much bigger problem. The growing divide between some Democrats who want to practice what they preach & fanatical progressives who want to strangle everything. Environmentalists will go to the barricades to stop any housing projects from being built here. Mind you we are talking about affordable housing for working class families. Thanks to their efforts the gateway to middle-class security, has been pushed beyond their reach. The ease with which environmentalists can stop housing developments is a direct result of the numerous local and state laws that favor environmental concerns over affordable housing. The result:millions of people are without access to high-quality affordable housing. Do we really need people in the party who are subverting core American values? If we can't fix affordable housing here in the next four years then we are a joke. All of us have a stake in solving California’s (and soon, the nation’s) housing-affordability crisis, whether we realize it or not.

  68. You cannot possibly be serious Mr. Krugman.

    "And while geography — the constraint imposed by water and mountains — is often offered as an excuse for the Bay Area’s failure to build more housing, there’s no good reason it couldn’t build up. San Francisco housing is now quite a lot more expensive than New York housing, so why not have more tall buildings?" GEOGRAPHY, that's why.

    The disaster I see taking place in San Francisco is the exact opposite of the one you seem to see: it appears that as many people as possible are trying to cram themselves into a very small city situated on the tip of a peninsula, which is right on the edge of the continental plate - it's just a few miles away in the Pacific ocean, and there are about 350 faults all through the area. Most of the city is pretty unsuitable for earthquake-safe construction; a lot more of the city than you might think is built on 19th century landfill or sand. And if we do succeed in cramming ever more people into the city and the Bay Area, what do you suppose is going to happen WHEN the earthquake strikes? You may not have heard, but we are overdue here for a major earthquake, and that we're substantially unprepared for it. SF and LA are in terrible locations for major cities!

    “The San Francisco Bay Area should live every day like it is the day of The Big One,” said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Ned Field, lead author of the eight-year-long analysis, called the “Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast.”

  69. I don't think you've got it quite right. Shouldn't we take a look at Tokyo which is at least as earthquake prone as SF. It has an abundance of multi-story housing. The majority of housing in SF is single-family as any visit to the Richmond, Sunset or Bernal Heights reveals. SF could in theory quadruple its housing by merely allowing four-flats, a common residential feature of Chicago.

  70. But aren't there techniques for building in earthquake zones? Asian countries like Korea, Japan, Singapore and Korea are in earthquake-prone areas and they have developed high density building techniques. But they are also cultures that value the common good over individualism and are less prone to sentimentality over potential dangerous building stock than in knocking it down and getting it right for the greater good. And yes, a bit of town planning would be useful in areas like Houston. Superfund sites next to housing?

  71. The sooner, the better. The loss of authentic Chinese cuisine would be a shame but the displacement of hoards of self-important resisters to the northwest coastal enclaves of their political soulmates suffering in triple-digit summer temperatures thanks to their overuse of concrete is a refugee tale to be witnessed as comic relief in every place east of the new Nevada waterfront.

  72. Paul, the reason we do not get our cities right is because we are Americans - even I am one.

    If I were to continue as my other self, Swede, European, emeritus professor of earth and environmental science I could list the many approaches followed here in Swedenthat are unthinkable in most of the US. I spare you by listing only one - the US refuses (pun intended) to make use of the free energy resource every city produces, solid waste and food waste. Sweden heats its cities and runs many of its vehicles using that resource. Never in my America.

    Yet even Sweden cannot seem to do this one thing right, build the housing so desparately needed. Reported today in DN: Building rental units costs more in Sweden per unit than anywhere else in EU.

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com
    Dual citizen US SE

  73. Dr. K., it took you nine paragraphs to get to it I think is the most crucial element of a manageable versus unmanageable city: public transportation that works, is affordable, is reliable.

    The city nightmare of gridlock has become an every day occurrence in the Boston area, both in the city and periods west, south, and north. Without good public transportation, workers can't get to their jobs easily and still have a life. Without reasonable commutes, these workers can't become invested in the key issues affecting the city where they spend the majority of their working hours.

    European countries do a far better job of ensuring people can get to their jobs because public transportation systems are reliable and important to the city mayors.

    The US should take a page out of
    types of urban infrastructure European cities deem important and why. Listen less to developers and more to the people who live and work and play in the city.

  74. And what is particularly scary about your comments is that Boston, by American standards, has good public transit. (Albeit a system with serious deferred maintenance issues, poor coverage of major working class neighborhoods, and a schedule that shuts down too early to support many service workers.)

  75. We have deferred maintenance of infrastructure in part because infrastructure costs significantly more in the U.S, than even Europe with their high wages and social democracy. The problem is not construction workers getting paid too well. It's work rules which undermine efficient use of workers. It is also convoluted, defensive contracting and regulation which slows everything down. Infrastructure in the US costs multiples per mile than in Europe.
    https://www.the-american-interest.com/2017/02/10/why-we-cant-have-nice-t...

  76. @ Christine McM - Christine I have finally changed my basic approach to writing as a dual citizen US SE. Now, as in the comment just 3 recs down from yours - at 11:13 GMT I state simply, we won't do x - for your comment public transportation - because we are Americans.

    Case in point: I will start my 2 h work at Red Cross for Träna Svenska at 16:00. I simply look in my cptr for buses and see times for lines 3, 12, 13 one of each passing about every 5 min. Yesterday I happened to write a comment at gemli about my life as a Brown University student living at home in Seekonk MA. In Seekonk there were and are no buses - period. In Rumford RI 1 mile away there are buses, not very frequent, but long ago there were trolleys. Not any more.

    I make every other week trips from Linköping to an island off the Swedish west coast. The public-private transportation is seamless: bus-bus-trolley-ferry.
    Larry L.

  77. Build all the new high-rises and roads you want: the fact is, our largest cities are now a congested, overcrowded mess and accommodating more people isn't the solution. Quality of life has gone down: how much time are we wasting commuting and in traffic jams on the weekends too? Nobody wants to pay more taxes for infrastructure or mass transit, nor user fees. Government is said to be the problem; somehow this is all supposed to come for free.
    We now have 7.5 billion people on this planet. That is more than enough. Time to stop the War on Contraception, being waged by Republicans and various religions, and get serious about how many people should live on this planet. This world was not just created for us, yet we are in the process of causing a slow motion mass species extinction.
    When I hear Democrats talking about free college for everyone (i.e. paid by someone else, one way or another) I'm thinking: "Why are people having more children than they can support?" There's something wrong with that picture. And I'm a Democrat.

  78. And yet, fertility rates in the US are declining.

  79. Thomas, Washington DC: Nobody wants to pay? Speak for yourself.

  80. Agreed. People would have only the children they could support if sex and health eduction were taught responsibility and birth control and vasectomies were freely available, yes? Other countries, like France, offer paid education through University. We also have wage stagnation going on 30+ years and no paid maternity coverage for a reasonable length of time or Universal childcare like other enlightened countries. Republicans have repeatedly tried to defund the programs that work: HeadStart, Planned Parenthood, insurance-covered contraception, the ACA, and on and on. Why do you think it's a big stretch for America?

  81. Rents are beyond the working class in every state of the Union. It's more than Nimbyism, it is stagnant wages and disinvestment in public housing.

    Add in the glorification of the personal motor vehicle. Many people want to live on their quarter acre beyond the reach of "those people." San Francisco may be a partial exception to this, but the NIMBY's in general are strongest in the reptilian suburbs, for example the generation long legal struggle to build affordable housing in Long Island suburbs.

    You can't have urban density without investment in public transportation infrastructure, another favorite target of the Reptilian Neo-Cons. There may be both sides (See: New York Transportation Infrastructure), but Reptilian control and refusal to invest at State and National level has exasperated the problems.

    We have now had a generation of underinvestment and disinvestment in the things we know help, public transit and public housing.

  82. When rent takes HALF of what you've got, you'll always be a have not. We can #MakeRentAffordable; http://bit.ly/2gmsfaq

  83. My sister lived in Humble, Texas over twenty years ago. She had three "hundred year floods" in fifteen years. While cleaning up from one of them, she found a live copperhead under her little boy's toy chest.

    At about the same time, I was in college. I remember reading a "scholarly" article about the evils of city planning-- using Houston as a shining example of how eliminating zoning ordinances encourages growth. I remember that article because I kept thinking, "there's got to be a catch, here."

    I keep thinking about that article as I feel for the people of Houston. I also think about that snake under the toy chest. Houstonians, we are all wishing you can stay safe and well.

  84. Contrary to what Krugman posited, I would argue that in New York City developers are given rather broad latitude to build as they wish and this deference has led to a massive and almost entirely unchecked displacement of longtime lower- and middle-income residents from neighborhoods that have been rapidly remade. Those people ultimately find that the older or more modest homes in which they resided no longer exist, having been replaced by new or “improved” housing that is far more expensive. Meanwhile, such development also prevents new people from the same income brackets from moving into such neighborhoods.

    The smattering here and there of more affordable housing does very little to counter the hemorrhaging of high-quality living areas for working- and middle-class residents. The decrease in the number of rent-stabilized and rent-controlled housing only compounds the issue.

    And, like the Bay Area, many workers in the Tri-State region have resorted to living very far from their jobs. They commute ninety minutes, two hours or more each-way between their homes in far-flung areas to their jobs in the city. (Or they live with roommates in small quarters.) It's a city that has grown too expensive for them because of its unimaginative, inconsiderate and unchecked development that strongly favors only the most well-heeled to the detriment of everyone else.

    More new and revitalized developments throughout the area should be geared for middle- and lower-income residents.

  85. Houston’s sprawling concrete jungle turned it into a gigantic bathtub for 4+ feet of water raining down in a deluge in almost no time.

    We should certainly encourage urban green development and mass transit with the understanding that they will not protect us in the long term from issues with local and global overpopulation.

    Let’s hope that Hurricane Irma does not manage to ultimately hit Texas and its surrounding areas. That would be reminiscent of the scene from the 1983 movie “The Day After” – when the city was struck by two nuclear bombs just seconds apart.

    It’s a horrific picture to contemplate. But we can also be reminded of the dialogue in “Titanic” – when the captain asks the carpenter if they can save the ship using the pumps, and the response is that they buy you minutes only.

    Unless we can veer away from the lurking iceberg of denial and inaction with global warming and climate change, our country may likewise be going down by the head, coastal regions first. In the long run, where do we expect the lifeboats to take all the survivors?

  86. We are told that Houston's unrestricted development makes it susceptible to flooding. and there is truth in that. But when it comes to a stagnant tropical storm that drops 50 inches of rain, no city design can withstand that. According to those who study these things, as reported in the Atlantic, Harvey probably would have done the most damage in either New York or Miami.

  87. Right, Michjas.
    If design and planning minimums are created and enforced for 800 year storm events, a vast amount of the USA would be uninhabitable by fiat.
    Additionally, shots at Texas and Houston specifically should consider that Texas is one of the less dependent on Federal funds than most other states, and receives inflow of Federal funds at a very low level to their GDP.
    Life ain't Sim City...

  88. It is not one storm. This is the THIRD "500 year flood" Houston has seen in fewer than five years.
    Houston has paved over its wetlands, nature's sponges. I don't know much about Miami, but parts of New York, the West Shore of Staten Island and the South Shore of Queens still have significant wetlands, which help. And New York has not had a repeat of Sandy in five years, while Houston has had three such flood events.

  89. It seems like another instance of 'sorting' Dr. K., where we've clustered together in like-minded groups, and people often choose to live in places where the prevailing ethos/power structure of either NIMBYism or of wide-open lack of regulation prevails.

    But it has to be pointed out that even if Houston were some sort of paragon of regulation, there isn't a place in America that could withstand 45-50" of rain in 3-4 days, anymore than San Francisco withstood its 1906 earthquake, or than Chicago or NY could handle 450-500" of snow (the equivalent of 45-50" of rain) that fell in 3-4 days then melted as soon as it hit ground.

    Chicago, NY, Buffalo, or Boston would all be catastrophes too, if snow the depth of 4-5 story buildings blanketed their areas and immediately melted, not to mention the runoff from their surrounding areas.

    Houston should have realized climate change makes its risks more like those of Miami than of inland DFW or San Antonio, but Houston didn't want to be more costly than its peer cities; perhaps that psychology is what drives other large metropolitan areas ?

    So what will Houston and Texas do now, with a GOP'ers ensconced in D.C., where djt has revoked yet another Obama era policy, that will now make it easier to build flimsy infrastructure:

    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/16/543712263/trump-rolls-...

    Having a dunce in the White House has mortal consequences.

  90. Dr. K., in almost all the cases you mention, we're dealing with coastal cities, highlighting the fact that over 50% of U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coastline - perhaps the reason Chicago's housing is cheaper, relatively, is partly just due to its geography ?

  91. R. Law, you ignored the point. Nothing is all or nothing. (Oops.). Houston could have done a lot better with that rain, even built in a wrong place.

  92. Prof Krugman, and so many of the commentators, seem to be talking about cities without any apparent theory of cities. Perhaps this paper "The City as One Thing" by Profs Bill Hillier and Laura Vaughn - http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/3272/ - would be useful as an introduction to a theory of cities that starts with the space of the city.

    The differing physical patterns of the built space of Houston and San Francisco - the DNA of the space - seem so vastly different. It would be helpful to have some clarity of description of those spatial patternings, before working up prescriptions for fixing cities.

    The simple answer to the Professor's question "Why can't we get cities right" is that as a society we don't really want cities. We "want" amalgamations of highly bounded, separated, and commodified spaces, isolated spatial objects, separated but reconnected by the commodified and represented exchanges that form the "fabric" of our separated society.

    Yes, Houston needs resiliency in its infrastructure design, and it also needs resiliency in its social/spatial fabric.

    And though density and building height is one of the answers to our sprawled world I would not keeping putting more and more people right on top of those geological fault lines under San Francisco. That is just another form of non-resilient urban growth.

  93. The same thing is happening in every city in America in which people want to live. Hyper-expensive housing, long commutes, overcrowded city centers, extreme inequality of wealth, reduced quality of life. Each one of these characteristics is worsening at an alarming rate, choking the planet toward death. Growth at all costs simply does not work.

  94. America says it's the land where one may pursue happiness, but for most of us that equates to pursuing money in our greed. Cities merely concentrate the pursuit of money and greed, so why shouldn't they be crass excrescences upon the landscape? Texas uniquely voted to join the USA in 1846, an act that touched off the Mexican War shortly thereafter, and has always regarded United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations as suggestions, not ironclad necessities. Though other cities are situated in states that are more conservative in their adherence to the legal framework, however much it's paying lip service or done in sincerity, they are there for their inhabitants to make money and show off. Don't look for anything but crassness in America anno 2017, and you won't be disappointed with our conurbations either.

  95. "In particular, we should encourage construction that takes advantage of the most effective mass transit technology yet devised: the elevator."

    The elevator is quite inefficient and people living high up tend to avoid going out on the street because it's too much hassle. Even in places like NYC, not as many people live high up (above the 10th floor or so) as people tend to imagine. In well-managed European cities, density is achieved not through very high buildings but through mostly 4-8 story city blocks. In the US in contrast, let me cite the example of Philly, where whole neighborhoods consist of little row houses no more than two stories - often even just one story - tall. Space use is incredibly inefficient and those neighborhoods also tend to have no community infrastructure, like public parks, just rows and rows of inefficient little houses. And that is isn't even suburbia, it's inside the core city! The core cities could do more for density without building skyscrapers, but it should also be clear that they can't carry the whole burden of urban density without the suburbs doing their part.

  96. Here's the truth: Toxic water will kill more people that the water from Hurricane Hervey. Toxic water, you say! Talk about the chemicals...what do you think is in oil or in exploding chemical plants? All along the Texas coast there is abundant toxic material. Do we know what those chemicals might be?

    Texas politicians want to hide information about the abundant chemical poisons from the public. Those politicians have passed laws that prevent us from knowing the poisons.

    Molly Ivins, a Texas journalist who knew the political shenanigans taking place in her state. She had it right when she stated that Texas is the "national laboratory for bad laws." Those bad laws are poisoning Texas. Time to replace those Texas politicians with honest people.

  97. "We" cannot get cities right because they are not being administered for us, the ordinary American people, but instead for the 1% oligarchic investor class.
    That is the way of almost all falling empires, from Greece and Rome to London and Moscow, as power and wealth gets concentrated in fewer and fewer greedy hands.
    Democracy is but an illusion, as demonstrated by the last two elections won by truly creepy Republican minority Presidents.
    Now, if America had Oregon's vote by mail scheme, and if the draft were reinstitution with national health care given to all who serve in some way, maybe things would change. I wouldn't hold my breath.
    Hugh Massengill, Eugene Oregon

  98. Hugh you are correct about the 1% investor class. And we get to see the trickle down theory of Greed at work. I have a saying about development - Is it need or greed. The greed of the 1% class is reflected in almost all levels of the investor developer class. At the present time I see a run up to the renter class as a solution to housing. But I see this as a one sided benefit, benefiting the developer while stiffing the renter. Whether urban or inner city once the tax breaks and or low interest loans thrown at these "music men" run out so do they, leaving others with the problems that were ignored in the rush to profit thru greed. Development is necessary but it is also necessary that it be done for the long term health of the community and not for the short term profits of a few.

  99. Here in Boston, we have the worst of all worlds: only the well connected can build, and they build big, plus traffic jams 24/7.

    More generally, the cause of the problem is obvious: too many people living (or trying to live) in the same space. Either we abandon the "growth is always good" mentality or we spread out the population into the vast undeveloped areas of the country (sit at the window seat on a trans continental flight on a clear day and you'll see huge wide open spaces), otherwise this problem will only grow. These are the only three choices, take your pick. Personally, I'd "vote" for less (or even diminished) growth, less population, a more steady state economy. Where is it written that the Earth's population must grow continuously?

  100. To spread out the population we would have to spread out the jobs. Two things are wrong with the country you see below you on transcontinental flights: not enough water and not enough jobs.

  101. I live in Portland, OR, which threads the needle that Professor Krugman suggests sane urban policy would undertake. That is, there is state-imposed growth boundary around the metropolitan area deterring leap-frog development while the city's urban planners have made it their goal to dramatically increase density in the city's core. To this end, mass transit and bike lanes have been enhanced. The problem here is that high-rise construction is inherently expensive so it doesn't help the working class that used to be the heartbeat of this formerly blue-collar city. Portland is now "hot" (literally, too) and housing costs are significantly higher than they were just a couple of decades ago. It's a mecca for soft urbanophiles who want their organic espresso and pot but not homeless shelters or real diversity. I heard Portland's siren song four years ago and moved here from Phoenix. What I learned is that there are no escape clauses for Americans running away from history, nature, and a sustainable future.

  102. Sir Paul (Collier) argues that effective planning and its process only succeeds when accompanied by good governance: regulation that puts safety above costs and profits, knowledge which is accessible to citizens through transparency, advocacy that makes its best case without fear or blame--decisions and review which do not involve people with an agenda bias and vested interests—the opposite of what we are witnessing in Trump's administration, whose cabinet officials oppose healthcare, environmental regulation, safety nets, and a host of national protections that address opportunity and quality of life.

    Trump's team argues two fallacies widely believed: balance sheet politics, that regulation kills growth; and the lost of freedom, that regulation takes away choice and blunts individual effort. Truth is, their opposition is formed in greed: in a mature economy like the US, growth is limited. (How many more Walmarts, cell phones, or rail cars do we need?) Profit is squeezed from job cuts and income transfers--not from expansion or new sales.

    In cities this means exorbitant rents! Or as Jarend Krushner does, suing tenants for in default before he bought properties. (He owns 20,000 low income units.)

    Change means fighting against American builders to adapt zero-energy housing whose bills for heating and cooling are less than $10 a month!

    It also means electing new local politicians who engage global best practices rather than being well-endowed blind mules.

  103. San Francisco cannot build up due to earthquakes. Many European cities don't build up, either. They build together with row houses and open space.

  104. SF doesn't build because it doesn't want to. Why don't you read before you respond?

  105. The problems Mr. Krugman describes transcends big cities and relates more to the 1000's of municipalities in the surrounding metropolitan areas.Beginning in the 1960's, the federal government created and funded 100's of metropolitan planning agencies (MPO's) as a requirement for supporting and funding the land use-transportation connection . However, the vast majority of the MPO entities lack the legal clout and fall prey to the local planning and zoning boards that enforce too many small minded decisions.Their cumulative impact usually does not give enough attention to promoting more compact,transit oriented development but rather encourage a landscape with more pavement that is also more prone to natural disasters!
    Dr. Floyd Lapp, FAICP Adjunct Professor of Urban Planning, Columbia University

  106. I've lived in Charlotte since 1964. Developers are allowed to build pretty much anything anywhere they want aided by city tax policy (they pay developers for roads, etc.). There's a development across from my neighborhood that's a triangle piece of land with roads on all 3 sides. The entire are except a tiny perimeter is paved. Right up to the front door. With a retaining pond as the centerpiece. They are 2800 sf and selling for $400,000 and up.
    It is insane.

  107. I live in a Ft. Worth suburb with a population well in excess of 300,000. This sprawling city has no mass transportation system, and indeed, every time the voters have been asked if we should build one, they turn thumbs down. Opponents of such a system maintain that the absence of a concentrated central business district renders mass transit impractical.

    I have heard more candid comments to the effect that a bus system would attract the wrong kind of people to live in one of the most politically conservative cities in the country. But efforts to prevent that 'disaster' failed long ago; ethnic minorities predominate in the eastern section of the city.

    This distorted pattern of development, exemplified by heavy traffic congestion throughout most of a typical day, reflects the long dominance of real estate developers on the city council. Some years ago, when DART, the light rail system that links the cities of the Metroplex (anchored in Dallas and Ft. Worth) wanted to build through Arlington, the mayor and city council refused to foot the bill for running the track through heavily populated portions of the city. So the track runs far north of where most people live, making the system very inconvenient for commuters who work in Dallas or Ft. Worth.

    We don't face the threat of floods in Arlington, but our air is certainly a lot dirtier than it has to be.

  108. Houston being the epicenter of this human-exacerbated tragedy probably means that the rebuilding will be as thoughtless and ill-conceived as the parts of the city that are un-salvagable.

    Every legitimate climate scientist has predicted this exact result of climate change: larger, more intense storms with more available water, as well as a change in previously predictable wind patterns. This is far from the final punishing storm we will be facing, and almost certainly far from Houston's last massive storm.

    Yet, the 30-35% of Americans who support trump will continue to agree with his administration's climate change denial rhetoric, as well as the majority of Texans, if their elections reflect their opinions. Since these are the politicians who will be creating urban policy for rebuilding, we are looking at a re-build of Houston with no vision, without using this grand opportunity for improvement. Rooftop solar, public transit, roads that absorb energy, bike lanes, leaving some areas green to absorb rain water, and so much more is possible.
    It is way past time for all of us who understand the massive and existential threat that destroying our climate due to a lack of will to create a new energy policy to speak up every day in every way.

  109. Wow, Professor K, this is the first time I have ever disagreed with you!
    San Francisco is a beautiful old city set on hills and surrounded by mountains and sea. Filling it up with tall skyscrapers to accommodate the number of people who want to live there would almost certainly create vast environmental problems, and one earthquake would bring it all down. Comparing San Francisco and Houston is a perfect example of the kind of "false equivalency" you normally abhor.

  110. I'm not so sure that was the point he was making. It seemed to me that all he was saying about San Francisco is that it is very expensive for service people to live close in to the city where they work. Long commutes are a problem for people who lack the means to do so.

    Indeed, San Francisco is a beautiful city for those of us with the means to visit fron Boston or Lake Wylie but maybe some moderation would not be a bad idea.

  111. Tokyo has many tall buildings in an earthquake zone.

  112. Relax. Every place has its specificities, But this story is less about the trees than the forest : this article is NOT about SF nor even Houston, and that's the whole point...The article is about a nationwide failure to arbitrate between competing interests for the common good.
    You really can't argue 4 hour commutes for some in SF and catastrophic flooding made worse by unbridled growth in Houston constitute convenient illustrations of the dismal results of the persverse behaviours described.

  113. I met a woman once who had recently retired, selling her successful civil engineering consulting business she had started more than a decade earlier. Her business came to be dominated by a single freeway interchange project that was still incomplete after a decade (now finished).

    Now the Seattle metro area has started a huge mass transit project that will take 25 years to complete at a cost of over $1 billion per mile, worsening regional transportation for much of that time with construction obstruction. By comparison, the Seattle Monorail and dedicated stations, still in operation today, was built through the center of the city at a cost of $3 million a mile, about $25 million in current dollars. Why does it cost 40 times more per mile today and 20 times longer to build transportation?

    If we could figure out how to accomplish major construction with effective mitigation of environmental, seismic and flooding risk and in a faster and less disruptive way, NIMBY proponents might be more supportive of responsible development and infrastructure.

  114. After having lived in Seattle for almost 30 years, I've seen it change into what so many other coastal cities have become: not so much a place in which one lives, but a place where your wallet is constantly being emptied for housing, goods and services at ultra-premium prices. In many cases, there are no "public spaces" to enjoy, unless you like sitting in traffic or escaping to the suburban malls.

  115. Three things.
    First, add Vancouver, BC to your list of cities that get it right. Vancouver is a forest of high-rise buildings surrounded by forest and it is magnificent.
    Second, you have to tackle the issue of infrastructure costs. Sunbelt cities don't have enough which is part of their secret of success, making cost per unit cheap. But then you have to deal with traffic, pollution, and insufficient preparedness. Big costal cities do a better job of infrastructure but it's old and in need of expansion if it's going to handle more demand.
    Lastly, consider that new ties are extremely rare today but they are the natural consequence of over crowding. In the 19th century when things got crowded we packed up our wagons and headed west. Today? Today we might need to go up but no one haas an appetite for the infrastructure costs of new cities, a product of low tax fetishes. This fall in congress we will debate taxes and what to do to prevent future calamities. Want to guess how that will turn out?

  116. It's no surprise that Houston's is laid out something like an evolved mining camp, given its dependence on extraction industries. That and the appeal of the sunny lifestyle brought growth. Oil will eventually decline, but it doesn't look like the weather is going to improve. It's a whole lot calmer in the rust belt extending from Youngstown to Milwaukee. And, actually, there's a lot more going on in those towns than you might think. The price is certainly right.

  117. In Houston, the highways are eight lanes wide and jammed bumper to bumper, 24 hour a day. It takes an hour to get anywhere. Phoenix is so hot, you have to stay inside until evening. Las Vegas is booming. There is no water. Raging forest fires regularly tear through Arizona. But yet these areas have tremendous growth rates.

    These areas are flat as a pancake. If it does rain, the place floods. They have huge pumping stations to get the water out because there is no place for it to go.

    Houston was built on swamp land. Nature wants it to be a swamp. Florida is a gigantic wetland.

    And now climate change is making the dry areas drier and the wet areas wetter. More floods, more droughts.

    America has more open space than it knows what to do with. This country is gigantic. But we pick the most difficult places to build cities. We build in deserts, swamps, and forests. We build next to the sea at extremely low elevation.

    Compared to geologic time, America has been densely populated only a microsecond. The buildout occurred during a period of moderate weather. Now the weather is changing and changing fast. CO2 is making it change for the worst.

    We had electric street cars, but the auto industry got rid of them. City planning is just more and bigger highways. We live inside our cars.

    It is too expensive to rebuild after repeated massive flooding and fires. We just can't afford this any longer.

  118. As a former Midwestern, the dangerous spots are just prettier. In all the comments here, no one seems interested in moving to Iowa or South Dakota.

  119. I've always thought that the reason San Francisco doesn't build up is that what goes up might come down: just wait for the next earthquake. I know that there are ways to engineer around that possibility, but there are also limitations.

  120. I challenge Krugman to identify any city anywhere which gets 40 or more inches of rain in a few days and does not flood. That said the speed with which the tropical storm Harvey became a Cat. 4 hurricane has to be the result of human induced climate change. Hurricanes get more intense over warm water and the Gulf of Mexico is 7 degrees warmer this summer than its historical average.

  121. Yes, most cities would have flooded with that level of rainfall, but the point is that smart planning and design would mitigate the effects of significant rainfall. Smart design could mean the difference between 150,000 homes being lost and 50,000 homes being lost. It could mean that you build chemical plants so that they're not near residential areas and leaking toxic stew into the floodwaters. That's the difference between planning and not planning. It's unfortunate that even in the aftermath of this catastrophe so many people are still ignoring the fact that while we can't prevent the storms, we CAN affect the outcome.

  122. Houstonians embrace non-regulation. This is a city with no zoning laws. Any building restrictions are in deeds not in city ordinances, i.e. self-imposed instead of government action. The chemical plants were built before the subdivisions. So homeowners knew the risks. Texas embraces its lack of environmental protections. Look at who gets elected in this state, red meat Republicans. The governor, Greg Abbott, got ticked off because Austin would not let him cut down a tree so he tried to eliminate all tree ordinances at the local level in the last legislative session. Texans won't submit to most restrictions on business or development. That said Houston is too flat to prevent flooding. The cost of addressing rainfall on this scale would be astronomical. My guess is that unconsciously most Houstonians are willing to have affordable housing and plentiful jobs for an awful flood now and then. And the federal assistance will likely be about 1/4th the cost of rebuilding, of which the rest will be out of pocket since so few have flood insurance.

  123. Cities with robust zoning and land use planning foster crony capitalism just as state and federal governments. The difference is scale. Changing the permitted use of a tract of land requires action by the elected city council. Developers who make modest, but significant, political contributions are rewarded with quickly granted permits. Those who don't are rewarded with nitpicking, delay and frustration. The same applies to construction requirements and inspections. A lot of shoddy construction by contractors who make political contributions is approved.

    Houston may not have planning and zoning, but it controls growth by providing potable water service, installing sewers, building streets and highways, and the many other actions that enable tracts of land to change from farm fields into urban lots. The Houston system is just crony capitalism on steroids. External costs are ignored in favor of growth and expansion.

  124. Move Silicon Valley to Detroit: Space, ripe for development and intelligent urban planning, with the addition of a good public transportation system that many in the area support. If we can just elect an enlightened state government, there is still the muscle memory of a liberal state with strong support for workers rights.

  125. great weather, tolerance of others, beautiful scenery, long term smart and entrepreneurial risk takers as part of the culture. not sure these SV lures describe Motown.

  126. The one solution to urban growth, and a host of other problems, that rarely gets mentioned is fewer people. On a global basis, that means a cut in the birth rate. Unfortunately, most religions are opposed to that, because it would reduce their membership.

  127. @ N Guest-not that simple, look what decrease in birth rate does to the age pyramid. Try Japan for starters.
    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com

  128. Educate women and the birth rate goes down.

  129. Hey man don't forget the strongman with Superior race theory! 6 million people capable of reproducing were eliminated in a few short years.

  130. I'd like to start by thanking Paul. While his column isn't lacking in the obligatory swipe at Trump, Trump-bashing isn't its primary theme, or even a particularly important one. The tension between over-development and NIMBYism is a timely issue that predates the current political actors, and its consideration has great general value.

    On that issue, it's really all about local interests, which we can't seem to ignore, whether it's Manhattan, San Francisco , Houston or many other cities.

  131. In Manhattan, the interests are those of a professional nomenklatura, run riot in its desire to regulate EVERYTHING intensively, in part driven by the island's density of population and diversity but really by its cultural history, a desire to dictate norms from on high. Officiousness reigns supreme there, where you can't replace a light in the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District without a memo explicitly allowing it, signed by God. And God takes His sweet time, and often refuses. But at least towers are permitted, even there, occasionally.

    San Francisco is architecturally unique, far more so than Manhattan even believes itself to be. For their town fathers to accept the changing demands of increasing population density would be for that interest to be subsumed, and it ain't goin' down without a fight. Before that happens, I can see new cities built within fifty miles, complete with both high-density industrial parks AND residential accommodations -- and an exodus from the old city.

    Houston is about as American a city in its outlook and its contempt for order as it's possible to be, always looking to grow explosively and chaotically. Until a Gulf engorged by waters risen from global climate change reclaims it, don't expect this to change. The up-side is that after Harvey, land might be cheaper for awhile, and they might finally get Gilley's right again. But an elementary school WITHOUT a chemical plant neighbor wouldn't be Houston.

  132. The goads forcing the alignment of local interests with real-world needs rarely exist yet. Frankly, I believe that climate change, encroaching waters, might finally force that alignment, toward the end of this century and the into next. The real meaning of current projections is that we're eventually going to lose these coast-bound cities and need to engineer new ones to accommodate our populations -- here and across the world. It's when old interests are destroyed in such a manner that we can start talking seriously about new norms that make sense.

  133. Cheaper real estate. Isn't that what Trump said after 911?

  134. I'm astonished that Professor Krugman ignores climate change in this piece. Tall buildings won't prevent more and more disastrous weather events from occurring. Failure to plan for such events while attempting to reverse the increase of carbon emissions is what we should be talking about. Taller buildings indeed!

  135. On the contrary, tall buildings are more efficient and reduce sprawl. Tall buildings permit the density required for effective mass transit, and permit land that otherwise would be paved over to remain available for flood management. Tall buildings require less energy, pesticides, fertilizer and irrigation water. The carbon footprint of a New Yorker is a fraction of that of a suburban Atlantan.

  136. Taller buildings increase density, which theoretically brings more people closer to their work and thus makes them less likely to drive (or at least drive far), thus decreasing greenhouse emissions. And there are economies of scale as well with energy use and larger buildings, if they're done right. So while it's not the whole solution, it's a piece.

  137. The only permanent solution is birth control and reduced immigration.

  138. Paul, can you find a major city that seems to balance competing needs? It's one thing to expose flaws in urban planning. It's quite another to seek out the success story, such as they may be.

  139. Chicago is an example. Great public transportation, huge city with different types of housing, from 100 story buldings to single family homes, $100 for a monthly trans pass, no need for a car, over 50 beaches and many public parks.

  140. chicago

  141. A word of caution on Chicago (I live in Chicago): Chicago may be a great, affordable city if you are upper-middle-class or above. It is not an undiscovered paradise. The sales taxes (including all groceries) in both Chicago and Cook County are staggeringly high. I myself don't own a car, but I do have evening access to one, when a friend and I go shopping, etc. Outside of the downtown area, you will encounter difficulty without some access to a car. Chicago, which has no rent stabilization, has not been immune to the pressures experienced by every other major metro.

  142. If I see one more corporatist decry NIMBYism I'll scream. Why should residents have a say? In NYC anyone who dares suggest that perhaps a 90 stories building with units going for $100 million or more shouldn't be built and certainly shouldn't enjoy tax abatements, is a NIMBY. The mayor is a big proponent of solving the homeless problems of billionaires...yes, I said billionaires. He's all about pay to play and zoning for dollars and he's never met a developers check or lobbyist he didn't like.

    Tall building don't solve housing problems. They solve the problems of greedy developers who want more money. Paul, you need to read more about the impact on cities of tall and taller and super tall buildings...loss of light and air, untenable burdens on emergency services and wanton disregard of construction safety and infrastructure issues.

    We can't get cites right because the people who live in them don't have much of a voice, only lobbyists, developers and billionaires do.

  143. You are so right

  144. "Justice Holmes", you are confusing separate issues: corruption, and planned density. Tax abatements in NYC are a crooked scheme, as are others (and not only in NYC). That has nothing to do with the difficulties of mass transport, except that it costs needed money, which is an indirect effect. And density doesn't require 100-story $50 million/per apartment towers. Your last sentence sums it up well, but that is not an argument against density as such.

  145. Growth should be based around a few basic factors, like impact on environment that can cause disaster - such as polluting the aquifer, or causing flooding, or destroying vegetation that prevents landslides; like water availability to the area; like transportation, school availability.

    Krugman suggests more building up - which works well if the ground beneath is suitable to high rise, something that Houston's swamps and San Francisco's fault lines might make expensive.

    But if sprawl is the right answer - driven by need and planned growth and not a strong real estate lobby, then there are ways to do it better, with careful sighting, understanding permeable cover limitations, and building transit alongside.

    If we cannot build up, that doesn't mean we cannot build better.

  146. This article raises necessary and cogent points. I would add one consideration: San Francisco is in an earthquake zone. While there is now excellent technology that allows tall buildings to weather quakes, nobody who's been at even the eighth or tenth story of such a building during a quake would want to live there.

  147. Good point, but if you look at San Francisco you'll see it's predominantly 1 to 3 story buildings. If all of those buildings were six stories (think Brooklyn), the housing crisis would disappear. One doesn't need skyscrapers to increase density and vibrancy, one just needs a greater number of people per square foot than is possible with 1 to 3 story structures.

  148. How does Tokyo do it?

  149. PK -- but we do have Ben Carson heading up housing and urban development, so all is well.

  150. Some time ago I wrote a note to myself:One day Planet Earth will be swirling in dead space with the other planets doing the same.

    We made a mistake, just as the Roman Empire did: we're the best and can do whatever we want. They learned differently and soon we also will.

  151. Professor K's description of Atlanta as "anything goes" is spot-on. Cranes everywhere (especially in Midtown) and clear-cutting of neighborhood forests for more apartments, condos, strip malls, senior centers etc. with no apparent regard for the already horrific traffic and absence of a sustainable water supply. The increasing menagerie of deer, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and owls seeking shelter in my heavily-wooded backyard as undeveloped land gives way to sprawl is quite sad.

  152. One impediment to building up that was not mentioned that is an important consideration in San Francisco is earthquakes. Has engineering reached a point where it is safe to build skyscrapers in the heart of earthquake country? I think not. Better go back to the drawing board on that one.

  153. See Tokyo

  154. In defense of San Francisco, it is tough to build skyward, not just from politics but it is in a major earthquake zone. I would think that there are vertical limitations on building height out of protection for the residents in an earthquake.

  155. Every time it floods, toxic chemicals are released into the flood waters and this goes for nearly every area. Where was Krugman's concern for Houston in 2015 and 2016 or after Ike and Rita? What he concerned about toxic waters from MN to MS in 1993? Or is this just another outlet for his hate for Trump? Or is it his hatred of all things rural that drove him to write this anti-sustainable article?

    The solution can be found in Europe where there are more densely populated urban areas but overall size is limited so you do not get sprawling cities like Houston. Allowing businesses to concentrate in just one area is hazardous to people, environment, and society. Here too the solution can be found in Europe. And yes, I have lived in Europe.

  156. The solution in Europe is essentially large amounts of mass transit.
    You can get any where in Europe with a combination of trains, subways, street cars, and buses. Its almost always fast and convenient.
    America decided to base our culture around the car and urban planners like Robert Moses, in concert with the oil corporations, ripped out much of the public transportation.
    I'm not against cars. I have a couple myself. But if I can get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time without one, I do. Its less stressful and less polluting, and discourages sprawl.

  157. The solution to high housing costs is not to destroy the center city by replacing every historic building with a 50 story high rise. Instead, we need to build better mass transit so that the walking city can expand -- if NY or SF had modern transit systems and high speed suburban trains, those long commutes would be shorter. There is no reason why downtown Philadelphia shouldn't be an hour from Grand Central, or that it takes longer to get from Nassau county to Manhattan than it did a century ago, or that much of outer Brooklyn and Queens is more than an hour from the city center. And while Silicon Valley does need to allow walking density, destroying SF's historic center is a foolish alternative to building a regional mass transit system that is up to modern standards.

  158. "Much of outer Brooklyn and Queens [was] more than an hour" (or close to it) from Downtown Manhattan 60 years ago, I believe.

  159. What ever happened to BART? SF invested in an excellent transportation system. It may need to be updated, but it is unfair to compare SF with Houston on this issue.

  160. Rivers flood and when the levees fail, the flood becomes a disaster movie. Small towns along the rivers often figure out that building in a flood plain is not a good long term strategy and rebuild on higher ground.

  161. One word: earthquake

  162. Did you hear the rumble from North Korea?
    It's too far but you can hear the rumble in Oklahoma from fracking! Man made earthquakes galore.

  163. It's great to see Paul Krugman write about something other than deficits, taxes, and Republicans' "post-fact" policies. He should do this more often!

    The issue of urban housing is, as Krugman says, complicated. Houston's lack of zoning made it a disaster area, in my opinion, decades before Hurricane Harvey. New York and San Francisco are in thrall to wealthy real estate interests, who think of cities almost solely as markets, and want to see the value of their assets rise. I wish Krugman had written a bit more about reasonable rent regulation and requirements to construct housing for middle-class and working-class renters or buyers. Krugman seems here to focus principally on supply-and-demand--that is simply on constructing more units, but the issue and the range of solutions are much more complicated.

  164. Prof. Krugman's column is so "all over the place" that it's difficult to know where to start.

    Most discouraging is the suggestion that the answer to San Francisco's housing prices is to take San Francisco, a city of gorgeous light, Mediterranean color, and views of water and mountains, and allow lots more high-rise housing, presumably in the dreary stripped-of-ornamentation Modern style, so that San Francisco's views can be blocked and its streets as overshadowed (physically and psychologically) as those of other cities, such as (to pick an example not at random) New York.

    There is no mention that one of the things about "getting cities right" is to base them on public transit, especially electrified rail-based transit, whether above- or below-ground; to stop building highways; and to tear out the existing highways which did so much to break up the continuity of city neighborhoods, degrade air quality, and fill cities with garbage and tacky sprawl. It should be the national infrastructure policy that trains between cities and streetcars within them are the preferred form of transportation spending. This would also do something about our contribution to global warming, a cause which Prof. Krugman has previously said he favors.

    Then, as economist, Mr. Krugman can't seem to advocate, or mention, stringent rent controls, taxes on windfall profits from sales in generally and "flipping" in particular, taxes on part-time homes left empty, and . . . I've reached the word limit.

  165. Bravo. In this instance, I don't think Mr. Krugman is taking quality of life into consideration at all. It would break my heart to see San Francisco, one of the few urban gems of our country, turn into Yonkers. It's not just about commuting time and affordability, though these things are very important. It's about intangibles as well. Where I live, we used to have a beautiful area that sat right on the river. There were parks, boat docks, small seaside restaurants, beautiful walkways; all of this against a background of green mountainside. Now the developers have come in and, oh yes, there's a lot more housing. They gouged the mountainside and put up condominiums, with no grass or trees in front, just glass enclosed or marble-enclosed units, one after the other, after the other. Now, they're putting buildings on top of buildings, filling in the river so they can build more condos on the river, gauging all the small business owners and cutting down the parks. It's a nightmare.

  166. While I agree that the management of urban growth and affordable urban housing in some areas is a disaster, Krugman makes no mention of one of the most obvious contradictions to building upward on the west coast: earthquakes and fault lines.

    Anyone that recalls the earthquake in 1989 (and especially those who don't) should check out the NYT coverage of the event on 10/17/89 to remind themselves of the devastation before deciding on such simplistic solutions. Following the disaster, it was roughly a decade before all the new road construction and routes were completed--think of the famous picture of the collapsed highway in Oakland. Building upward, even with the massively improved earthquake code that came out of that disaster, is a very expensive fantasy.

  167. We still hover around a 600K population in Vermont. One of the most rural states in the union. Tourism plays a huge part in our economic survival. At the same time it's not easy to make a living here. There's an old adage of how to make a small fortune in VT. Start with a big one! It speaks to some degree about the difficulty of surviving in a slowly growing state where many of our homes are second homes. Some how, our State remains stunningly beautiful. We most be doing something right.

  168. We in the United States have been spoiled in ways that we don't seem to appreciate. Loads of land to build single family houses. Cheap petroleum that leads to scads of cars and limited public transportation. A political culture that questions the value of urban planning or zoning laws. No one seems to want to address the issue of truly affordable and dignified housing.
    Thousands and thousands of Houstonians have paid the price with their homes, dreams and sometimes their lives. A strong earthquake could easily cause as much damage in San Francisco.
    We are becoming an urban nation, in spite of our best efforts to ignore or deny it. Great cities require planning, at least some regulation and proactive local government. Chicago is far from perfect but a guided tour through the city with an architect or engineer quickly shows that a little planning goes a long way and makes for a more liveable city.
    I hope that we have learned something from Harvey, although we probably will have successfully forgotten by Thanksgiving.

  169. Texans learn something from Harvey? I doubt it. It's more important to them to strap on guns and scream about having the "freedom" to do anything and everything they want to the land, this country and each other. It's a suicidal state and will continue on the same path. They will forget any lessons learned from Harvey and build even more recklessly than before. Sorry, but I just don't have any hope at all when it comes to Texas.

  170. Krugman refers to NIMBYism in NYC but fails to acknowledge the cause. Very little, if any, of the development in NYC has been accompanied by infrastructure improvements or additions. As a result, we have more people in certain areas and fewer resources for those people.

    Everywhere that I have lived and worked in Queens and Manhattan over the past decade has seen some residential and/or commercial development. The trains service in those areas has gotten worse and more crowded in that time, as chronicled in this newspaper, and there is less parking, more trash, and more crowded schools. So why exactly would anyone in their right mind sign up for more development when the development is objectively lowering quality of life? "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell." We need to have some actual city planning here.

  171. Why can't we get cities right? Like many problems, the solutions don't matter when those that can implement the solutions don't have the problems. Infrastructure and affordable housing aren't problems of the 1/4% running things.

  172. The big question is housing for whom?
    Most developers are interested only in highest possible profit, often duping city planners with promises of a handful of included affordable housing units and other amenities that often don't make it to the final building phasse or in a much diminished state.

    I once met a developer who focused on affordable housing for families. He made a very good living and gained much satisfaction from his work. He was a happy man.

    If only there were more like him, needless to say...

  173. Exactly. But also important to note that affordable housing is typically made possible by public subsidies.

  174. Weak column today. Chicago housing prices are lower than New York or San Francisco because of geography. You see, there is a larger supply of land in places that are not small islands or peninuslas (duh). More important, most housing construction occurs outside of center city areas and is constrained by the availability of roads and utilities like water, sewage and electricity lines. Since transportation and utilities are costly and provided by local government, it is appropriate that the government has a role in guiding growth. Omission of these factors results in an inadequate analysis. The sort of amateurish stuff one hears on conservative talk radio. Best to stay with topics you know something about, Dr. Krugman.

  175. Krugman has previously written about "zoned" vs. "non-zoned" America; i.e. places like Houston (or Chicago) where land is plentiful and housing relatively cheap, and "zone" places like SF, NY or others where both zoning and geographical boundaries tend to push up prices. He can't repeat everything; only has 800 words.

  176. Perhaps this is one of those "missing the forest for the trees" comments?
    "Why Can’t We Get Cities Right?" isn't answered solely by availability of open land nor geography. If it were so then the problems would be universal, when counterexamples of successful cities *elsewhere* abound.
    And so the article examines larger systemic *political* issues which drive a nationwide failure to arbitrate between competing interests for the common good - the larger American theme to which Krugman alludes.
    -Captain Obvious.

  177. Maybe earthquake considerations should enter into building up in San Francisco and? Maybe people should not be building or rebuilding in areas prone to extreme weather, flooding, hurricanes etc. The elevator is good but so is the bullet train.

  178. My daughter is a global user of cities. Her residences, work, play, and net worth are tethered to them. She is witness to the damage and social distress that high rents, poor planning, and selective reinvestment causes. Much of the urban failure, its problem set, is hidden in common: a template of repeated structures that make such flaws and failure seem inevitable.

    High rents reoccurs; affordable housing like the Levitt towns has disappeared. Crime flourishes; schools fail. Neighborhoods lack grocery stores and jobs. The absence of public transportation helps seal the fate.

    She tells how working in downtown Detroit, at midday, the traffic lights on the main avenues only blink; traffic was insufficient to require full stops. She has seen the return of big investment that displaces people with low income.

    Yet her knowledge and training tells her that the forces of greed and collapse can be rebuked. She heads one of only five energy coops nationwide (hers is in Philadelphia) that purchases purchases and sells renewable energy; she is engaged in the national debate of how to make the public grid become cost effective while adding new services.

    She describes knowledge as a key to change. Information about technical advances creates engaged citizenship. Whether in housing, public transportation, job development, infrastructure, or planning, cities are inevitably defined by greed or best practices. Increasingly those best practices are outside of the US!

  179. Kudos to your daughter for her leadership in the energy distribution sector. Rebuilding the U.S.'s outdated electrical grid and encouraging distributed generation and the development of microgrids and nanogrids should be a component of a national infrastructure program.

  180. At one Philadelphia area hearing for a permit to build apartments, on privately owned apartment zoned land, neighbors complained that building these new units will take away their constant use of the undeveloped land.
    It was their dog walking and kid's playground, where their kids have even played and built "forts!"
    It was their "forest view!"

    Actually, it is trespassing and theft of property from the owner!
    They all want convenient shopping centers and roads, but let it be next to someone else's property!

  181. Just as I was about to sail away from this essay on urban living, a voice was heard saying 'stay'. Earlier this rural town dweller was wondering why is the mere mention of a small grocery store for the residents met with resistance on the basis that it would not be competitive with the supermarket.

    Perhaps a phone call with the new Mayor might be one way to have a non-political exchange. It doesn't concern me what is happening in our cities because my new nest is in a country lane? Wait, there was a time, nearly two decades in New York where before taking the elevator at Rockefeller No. 30, I would purchase a copy of The New York Times for the office. My boss had already read it at his home, and I needed it for the cross-word puzzle at lunch.

    More important, it gave information about what was happening in the City and on occasion, my boss had something to say. Economic cuts and sacrifices would be necessary to save whatever needed to be saved at the time (I never told him about the death threat received on a Monday morning), and he forged ahead. The City and its Infrastructure. The Department of Education where the Chancellor plays an prominent role, when my boss took a look at schools, he fired the above and found another.

    The photo of his standing in the rubble of the South Bronx where it was imperative to start rebuilding affordable housing. He disliked being known as 'Mr. Fix-It'.

    With Houston, Flint and many other cities, in mind, let US try again.

  182. Chicago is a wonderful city. Walk in The Loop and you'll be venturing into a monumental museum of late nineteenth-century American architecture. The Sullivan Building (formerly Carson-Pirie Scott), the beautiful Reliance, the Monadnock, and don't forget the Hancock. The skyscraper was born here.

    But stats regarding density in Chicago ought to take into account the endless suburbs that sprawl across the prairie, but aren't counted as part of the metropolis. (The same is true for anybody gauging the population of St. Louis.)

    Why doesn't Skokie, outside Chicago, flood? Probably because it's not located against the Gulf of Mexico. Why doesn't Lake Michigan rise up and swallow the Hancock? I have no idea.

  183. Years ago I stayed in a very nice hotel in the Philippines, with high towers and a beautiful lobby. A few weeks after my visit, an earthquake hit it. The entire hotel slid down the hillside, and became a pile of rubble in the ravine at the bottom. A lot of people were killed.

    What looks nice can be done wrong, massively disastrously wrong. Without stringent zoning and inspection, it will be. That is cheaper, and looks great until it doesn't. Short term thinking just does not see the stupid, or does not care because it will be somebody else's problem.

    So Houston's lack of regulation hits home, but so does building up in an earthquake zone.

    Perhaps we should focus instead on why all those people want to live in the same place -- jobs. Spread out the jobs, and the people will spread out to their jobs. Business licences can do what zoning could do, but cheaper.

  184. Japan has its fair share of tall buildings in an earthquake zone. Designed and built properly they they are fine.

  185. Your example of the Philippines hotel tower that collapsed in an earthquake is an excellent illustration of the need for building codes that require resilience in the face of the natural disasters (earthquake, hurricane, tornado, wind) that can strike a location.

  186. That was the Hyatt Terraces Hotel, collapsed on July 16, 1990.

  187. Managing population growth is just as important as managing economic growth. The presumption that unfettered "growth" is good completely ignores the carrying capacity of planet earth, which is already straining under its current load.

    Until and unless human beings can break their addiction to unrestrained reproduction and consumption, we are doomed as a species.

  188. Jan. why can you and every other rational person see this, but the times and prof krugman cannot? They either don't look at the numbers or there is an agenda. No amount of urban planning, greenbelts, mass transit or anything else will ameliorate the problems of our cities and planet if we don't come to grips with the fact that unlimited growth (population or economic) on a finite planet is not only impossible but ultimately suicidal.

  189. In real life, the poorer a family/country is, the more children parents make, in the hope that at least some of them will survive long enough to help providing for the family and parents, mainly through cultivating small pieces of land.

    Once the economy has grown and wealth has been more or less equally distributed, parents tend to stick to one or two children only, as they don't need them in order to survive anymore. So the population doesn't really grow anymore.

    It's because there still are poor and developing countries that the world's population continues to grow fast today, not because of economic growth.

    On the other hand, what has been proven to mainly destroy the planet today is unprecedentedly fast global warming. THAT isn't provoked by the poor spending their entire life cultivating a small piece of land, but by the wealthy burning fossil fuels.

    Fortunately, we know how to continue to grow the economy all while leaving fossil fuels behind.

    And studies have already shown that IF the wealthy adopt a way of producing that is less polluting, and if developing countries immediately adopt clean energy rather than using fossil fuels like we do, the planet can easily feed and support 10 billion people.

    Conclusion: there is no "unrestrained" reproduction, humans have more children when they need them to survive. And consumption in itself isn't bad, everything depends on how we consume, whereas a 2% economic growth (= typical for wealthy countries) is actually low.

  190. Yes, I totally agree with you. However, the elephant in the room is that with our capitalist system we have created a monster that requires perpetual growth or it collapses. I would like to see Dr. Krugman address that issue.

  191. Cities are controlled by zoning, density, mortgage regulations, lack of infrastructure, cultural bias, income levels and a lack of dynamic leadership. For too long cities in our country have taken a back seat to suburbs and the life of blah. Time for urban centers to take control.

  192. I would be interesting in Professor Krugman having a dialogue with Professor Richard Florida on this topic since Florida researches and writes so much about urban living. It is also interesting to note that the city examples here are among our largest first-tier cities. What lessons might be gleaned from large second-tier cities like Indianapolis, Portland, Minneapolis, Denver, et al?

  193. The US system of urban policy privileges local control over regional concerns. This is deeply engrained in our history, and affects everything from housing to transportation. Effective regional governance can mitigate the concerns the author mentions, but there are very few examples of that in the US.

    Perhaps the best example of regional planning in the US is in fact NYC. The lines blur here since NYC is legally one city, but the size and scope of land use planning within the city's 305 square miles (vs San Francisco's 49) effectively make it a regional question simply within the five boroughs. Outside of NYC, the same kind of local protectionism is present and difficult to overcome. The dispute between Westchester County and HUD is one example.

    Other examples of effective regional governance are statewide laws such as Massachusetts 40B, which requires localities to build their fair share of affordable and rental housing. This law has been fairly effective, but even still has been rife with NIMBYism, and there are few equivalents elsewhere in the US.

  194. Massachusetts' 40B requirements are a good thing, but they don't fulfill the demand for affordable housing. Housing prices across much of Massachusetts, especially the Boston area, have escalated well beyond household incomes.

  195. I wonder why high-paying jobs seem to be so densely concentrated in the major, Class-B-airport cities. Why for the software industry, which by its nature seems fundamentally amenable to decentralization, does there even need to be a "Silicon Valley"? For that matter, must there be a "Wall Street"? There are many second- and third-tier cities in the U.S. How are they doing and could we devise policy that would encourage and assist relocation there by companies and workers? Not just workers at those companies, by the way, but also those in the myriad service industries that are demanded by any large population.

  196. Columbus is over 200 square miles with big green front and backyards and lots of empty shopping centers. Affordable housing, yes and a good chunk of is crumbling in neighborhoods people close their eyes to. Aside from a few neighborhoods, this is a city filled with tract homes, devoid of charm.
    San Francisco is 49 square miles with no front yards to speak of and the postage size backyards do not require a lawnmower. It is a city filled with beautiful Victorians that I hope they will never tear down for high rises. They did that in the Fillmore years ago. Affordable, depends on when you bought but adjust for not needing to pay for heat and air conditioning and a much more usable public transportation. Food prices are slightly cheaper. Crumbling neighborhoods are being revived but it is true that average Joe would have difficulty making the rent, without roomates, in the city. Places here are much smaller making our green areas even more important. We spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying everything the city has to offer.
    Bottom line, you don't have as many choices when your city is unable to sprawl like other cities. Build up? It is harder with a city filled with beautiful buildings that deserve to stay. Much easier in a city with the ability to expand. In those cities, when you lose interest, move down the road a couple of miles and knock down the trees and pave over.

  197. There is another possible solution to the sprawl that Dr. Krugman describes and that would be high speed mass transit. Trains in Europe and Asia can travel at 200 mph and more - but antiquated political thinking - coupled with American's love affair with their cars has prevented any discussion about the uses of mass transit for all - usually relegating it to being an option for the poor.

  198. Super fast trains are also super expensive. West Europe has spiffy expensive trains and cheap airlines -- but there are also cheaper trains etc. In urban areas you need public transit SYSTEM, interlocking combination of bus lines and rail transit, plus bike lanes for healthy short to medium distance commuters. And this is what you see in attractive European cities.

  199. You failed to read the article. NIMBY! If property owners can't build on their own land how will builders get the needed land for high speed rails? What neighborhoods in NYC, New Rochelle, Stamford, New Haven, etc are to be destroyed for a new train line to Boston? In France, the national government just took the land needed for the TGV. That won't work in the US.

  200. Ummm - yes, I read the article rather carefully.

    The 19th and 20th centuries saw a lot of railroad expansion in the US that used rights-of-way that are no longer used - areas that used four or six rail lines that have been scaled back to one or two tracks - or none. Or tunnels - or elevated tracks over exiting freeways could be used.

    We like to pride ourselves on innovation and creative problem solving - and this is a perfect opportunity for it.

  201. A side effect of extreme commuting due to expensive housing is a more polluting carbon footprint from cars, something that California can ill-afford. Still, in the post-WWII era, California has done much control emissions, particularly from cars; it's been far more responsible than the State of Texas or the City of Houston.

    Several decades ago, a number of states in the northeast and elsewhere adopted California's strict auto emissions standard, virtually forcing the auto industry to adopt that standard nationally. Volvo was one of the first: when I purchased my 1982 Volvo that year in Massachusetts, it met the California standard. The states out-distanced Washington.

    Under the current administration in Washington, little will be done to establish progressive national standards for anything, let alone cities. This issue of the NY Times reports that the Department of Health and Human Services is actively using its budget to undermine Obamacare.

    It's up to enlightened states and cities to establish policies as models for the rest of the nation to make living in urban areas more affordable and with a smaller carbon footprint. Such policies take decades to have visible effect, particularly in urban development. After all, the interstate highway system was created under President Eisenhower sixty years ago and the EPA was established under Richard Nixon over forty years ago. Both shaped our urban lives today, for good and ill.

  202. The theme that ties both examples of Houston and San Francisco together is unchecked corporate capitalism. Until Americans commit to a serious cultural shift that places the welfare of the people well above the welfare of business interests, this problem will continue to grow.

    As someone who has lived in both LA (widespread gridlock, horrible public transport) and NYC (unfettered gentrification), my last few years here in Switzerland has opened my eyes to a European mindset so far from what seems possible in America. I enjoy one of the best public transportation systems in the world, bike lanes and pedestrian ways, clean public parks and spaces, mixed-income neighborhoods with strong renters' rights, and efficient waste disposal and recycling services, just to name a few.

    Switzerland happens to make this work through a strong direct democracy voting system and heavily regulated albeit capitalistic industry with public/private partnerships (i.e. the Swiss federal railway system or SBB). But this is just an example. There are many mixes of government and economy that can achieve great cities, so long as the underlying attitude is that cities must serve the wellbeing of its citizens—all, not just some of them—first and foremost.

  203. Agreed. Getting Americans to think about quality of life for everyone instead of money as a value system looks pretty impossible

  204. I agree that the type of public-private cooperation that you mention for Switzerland, including a robust infrastructure network (including, but not limited to, public transit, waste management, recycling and parks), is critical. Regrettably, the U.S. has failed to supply the necessary infrastructure, putting us further behind.

    The U.S. is being outpaced by Switzerland, Sweden, Germany and Denmark. The gap will grow due to the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accords.

  205. Switzerland also has a personal income tax rate of about 40% to pay for all of those nice things. Good luck with trying to raise taxes here, that's a no no. We want our improvements without having to pay for them.

  206. Most North American cities' problems can be traced down to two things: the private automobile and our insistence in living in single-family houses.

    The near-total car dependence in the most sprawling cities, such as Houston, Atlanta, Toronto, Calgary, Dallas, LA, etc. has led to permanent gridlock, paved-over areas and general blight.

    Single-family homes, as one other commenter noted, are anathema to modern life anyhow: people generally don't go outside all that much anymore (how many kids are playing outside on your street right now?) and beyond a token 200-400 sq. ft. patio area with BBQ and some garden furniture, the rest of the space goes wasted.

    Mr. Krugman's assertion that elevators are the best mass-transit devices ever created is a bit of a stretch, but has a grain of truth. Elevators don't mean that we all should live in 30-storey (or higher) towers... but mid-size development (6- to 10-storeys) and general urban densification (townhouses, low-rise condos, right-sized SFHs), combined with effective and efficient public transit and accessible public spaces could help alleviate many issues: we'd walk more (and be healthier), get to know our neighbours more (and be happier and safer), get to work (and home) faster and save money in the process.

    Just because it seems to be every North American's right for a family of 4 to live in a 3000 sq. ft. house sitting on a quarter or half acre of land and drive 2 hours alone to work in an SUV doesn't mean it's right.

  207. I want 5 acres. It is not my right, but it is my goal. I don't feel bad about it. Sorry. Quite happy to work from home.

  208. Last November, while driving from the Golden Gate Bridge to the airport, I noticed block upon block upon block of 2 or maybe three story buildings. Probably duplexes at most. In Gothenberg Sweden, where I spent a sabbatical year, you would see blocks of 5-7 story multifamily buildings. If looked at from overhead, they were mostly build around a central square, which were used by the residents with picnic tables, BBQ grills and some play areas. I thought that style of development would suit San Franciso and increase the number of housing units.

  209. The livable-walkable neighborhood thesis works only when there is sufficient public transit to keep people out of their cars. When density is added in areas with limited transit, the result is clogged roads and the worsening of greenhouse gas emissions. Developers and planning/zoning officials sometimes forget that you can't have transit-oriented development without the transit.

    But in transit-rich environments, it makes sense to add density.


  210. Growth management is now only by trying to correct the
    almost insurmountable. Deep respect for brilliant planning and
    design talent is a missing element.

  211. Noam Chomsky said that "cost and risk are socialized while profit is privatized."

  212. NIMBY feelings are in large part caused by fear of rampant development. Real estate developers are some of the largest contributors to local politicians in any city and they are ever pushing for more growth and higher densities. Residents in a community should have some say in whether they want more density or not. In my town growth is strictly limited by both historical designations and concerns about hurricane evacuation, but the developers are constantly chipping away, looking for loop holes in the rules.

  213. Dr Krugman You might be interested in the somewhat mathematical new book "Scale" by Geoffrey West. A major part of it is an attempt to try to see common trends in cities and to quantify the problem of city planning. A really interesting read that discusses growth patterns and sustainability.

  214. Cars take up more room than people, and makes paved surfaces necessary both to move and park. Paved surfaces also do not need to be impermeable to water. And up up and away with elevators, you bet! The answer to these problems is smart technology and planning, not sprawl: nature is under too much pressure already.

  215. There is a paradox at work here. It is the fight between inexorable economic growth, on the one hand, and its consequences, on the other.

    No doubt the supporters of laissez-faire government would bridle at public sector intrusion into the unfettered rights of developers to do as they wish, regardless of the collateral damage they inflict in their collectivity. At the same time, the knowledge that the federal government will stand at the ready or in other words, the nation's taxpayers, from everywhere else, will step in and pay for local sins, becomes the costly irony in the mix.

    Ultimately, it is the strength of our union as a country that compels the nation's taxpayers to step in and provide emergency assistance when it is necessary to do so. But local communities accepting the largesse of others should reasonably be expected to govern according to certain standards when such standards could mitigate the damage inflicted by natural disasters that might not otherwise be so extreme, and could perhaps even be partly avoidable.

  216. This is so often stated in terms of private property and personal wealth versus "government", but its not that.

    Nor is it freedom or the free market or democracy versus socialism.

    Those are gross lies of Right and the rich.

    If this was a free market, Exxon would be setting aside some of its gajillions to pay its share of the cost of pollution, health care, and a despoiled environment resulting from its nefarious corporate ways.

    And Don Blankenship would be rotting in the jail where he belongs for facilitating the murder of 38 people.

    And Walmart would struggling to repay the millions of dollars in public benefits they stole to keep their employees working like peons in woebegone palaces of fake and shoddy merchandise.

    All these wrapped-in-the-flag, bloated-with-ego, super-rich super-patriots are the biggest socialist cabal in American history.

  217. Building high is not the only way to create high density housing developments.
    It's a misconception that the only way to house more people is to cram them into tall structures with tiny living spaces and little or no access to open private space.
    Moreover, mid and high rise buildings with their greater dependency on mechanical systems; elevators; sewer pumps and the like represent their own hazards and inefficiencies in the event of emergencies which are becoming more frequent events worldwide.
    There is another solution: low rise, high density terrace garden developments where people- young and old- kids and yes animals too have
    have meaningful outdoor area to play , rest and recreate. This can happen right in city cores and with careful design and planning provide just as many dwelling units or more than tall buildings.
    The benefits of living close to the ground, with generous patios and urban gardens and roofs that capture solar energy and provide meaningful gathering places for community activities. that shape the urban environment 24/7 with human activity and enliven the city experience are manifest in parts of many cities around the world.
    There is a better way to build housing that avoids the mistakes of both Huston and San Francisco. Folks building a thousand or more years ago, in places like Iran and the American west achieved it. We can too.

  218. This America--you want answers, follow the money. When you do you see red states will not regulate to benefit the many and blue states will continue to build housing for the rich...and the beat goes on

  219. The biggest issue we have is not recognizing that we are overpopulating the earth.
    Period.
    Too many people for our resources and other species.
    All the elevators and trains in the world won't do it.
    We need to consciously lower our world population and establish policies that encourage those one-child or no child families so that our world population gets back to a more sustainable 3 billion instead of the bloat we are facing now.

  220. The right and the left have agenda driven philosophies that are diametrically opposed to what you suggest. Unfortunately reality, physics and nature will see that order is restored at some point. By then we will have likely destroyed the systems upon which all life depends. Of coarse that is all avoidable by just seeing limits to human growth.

  221. Dr. Krugman, this conservative thinks you just wrote an excellent column. The NIMBY cities needed to be taken to task by a liberal; I also find some points of agreement with your sunbelt opinions.

  222. I can't believe nobody on here is talking about the quality of schools. Zoning and urban sprawl are closely related to people looking for 'good schools' Zip-code segregation is closely related to school districts and zip-codes produce invisible inequalities and injustices. Education in America has produced so many problems, from prison pipelines to debt to urban sprawl. Ironically, the people who have defended public education the most vociferously are usually the first to bail and either enroll in expensive private schools or move to exclusively-zoned zip codes. Crummy public schools aren't merely mediocre. They actively hurt many children and communities. Nobody wants to talk about it.

  223. Baked into our American DNA is a libertarian strain that opposes regulation in principle. Whether it be guns or chemical plants, the citizenry of this country leans towards freedom to do what you want, which the Republican party has skillfully capitalized on. Even when these disasters strike, any attempt at regulate zoning more tightly, for example, will be go down in defeat. Watch the rebuilding efforts in Houston---and for that matter New Orleans---and see if there is any attempt at regulating where housing and industry is located---I predict, no restrictions on coastal building. Urban planning has come a long way, with many designs to make our urban areas more affordable and more safe--look to Scandinavian countries for models---but, we don't do planning well --- especially, in industries, like Real Estate, where the "art of the deal" overrules any art of the real.

  224. Transportation systems. Cities were formed due to being hubs of some kind of transport, watering hole, river crossings, harbor, or path crossing. Reliable decent public transport requires Zoning planned rationally rather than financially. A mix of jobs and housing can work as can grouping businesses and concentrating homes. Either model needs to be planned and then adhered to for decades to develop the cultural acceptance driving the public's desires. Laying a public transport system over existing American cities is a giant task due to our enslavement to automobiles. Coupled with jobs not being career length, we have a workforce needing to be hither, thither and yon. We are faced with having to end NIMBYism or end up subsidizing others Back Yards due to poor decisions by those others.

  225. People are upset about losing American culture, but look in the wrong places from the source.
    The problem is sprawl and strip malls. Our culture used to be about cities, towns, villages, and the farms that surrounded them.
    Most businesses were local small businesses owned by sole proprietors. Downtown was the center of life, even if it was just a Post office and a general store.
    But with the rise of the car as the main means of transportation, parking lots took over the landscape, downtowns didn't have enough parking, and the strip mall became ubiquitous.
    Each town used to have its own culture with local stores and restaurants, usually with ethnic flavor and a sense of community.
    But the strip malls all around the country are exactly the same. Ten or so corporate franchises that are the same everywhere. You can barely tell Georgia from New Jersey anymore. Miles of giant parking lots with the same pharmacies, supermarkets, fast food joints and Box Stores.
    Yes people like the low prices, consistency, and the ability to avoid other humans as they drive from store to store, but what have we given up?
    The people that work in these stores for minimum wage, used to own small businesses. Sticking with fast food because it is uniform means you don't have to risk going to a truly bad restaurant, but you will also never find a great little diner. Talk about mediocrity.
    And we don't get to know other people in our community in a town square that used to be the center.

  226. I find a great analogy in how most vegetables and fruit in the US doesn't spoil easily and is gorgeous to look at... but tastes bland. Indeed, what have we given up? Time for the pendulum to swing the other way.

  227. "Strip Mall"--you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. You mean shopping mall. Strip malls are smaller and can be anchored by a corporate vendor such as a 7-Eleven, but usually also host small local businesses such as restaurants, cleaners, and nail salons.

  228. An additional factor in allowing little regulation is the costs of disasters are largely born by federal money, regardless of how lack of regulation contributed to the disaster. If the amount of federal disaster aid were reduced by a modest percent when lack of regulation contributed to the disaster, this might have some effect.

  229. It is tempting to blame the flooding in Houston on under-regulated construction, but I am not sure that the connection is that clear-cut. As I understand it, the area around Houston has been prone to serious flooding going back to the 19th century, long before there was development on anything like the scale we today. The human consequences of flooding have risen drastically, of course, simply because there are more humans there, and fewer cows.

  230. The point is not that regulations in the form of urban and transportation planning and land use would make coastal cities like Houston, New Orleans, or New York less flood prone but that flooding and water management solutions would be built into planning and development so that when the inevitable occurred the human and financial impact would be less catestrophic. Copenhagen and Amsterdam are for centuries lived with and managed their cities flooding potential, and are now looking to the threat imposed by rising sea levels due to global warming. We could have and should be doing this now. It is not as if NOBODY has been issuing warnings about risk to our coastal cities for a long, long time.

  231. Also, Houston has sunk and the seas have risen a total of 12 inches in half
    a century. That'll help a flood any day.

  232. What is clear cut is that development has built up and paved over much of the land. When water arrives in volume, it no longer has places to go - no wetlands to act like sponges to hold back flooding, no floodplains to expand into, no ground to soak into. All of those impervious highways and parking lots and buildings are designed to drain water away from themselves - it's the equivalent of covering the landscape with funnels that collect water over large areas and then concentrate it into limited outflows. Good enough in normal times, but not enough room to receive all that water when there's a lot of it. It's like dumping 50 gallons of water all at once into a kitchen sink - it just can't drain fast enough. And if you been filling up the sink with dirty dishes, pots and pans - there's even less room for the water.

  233. If America gets cities wrong, perhaps the answer is to look around the world at cities done right, and try to figure out what's different.

    We can make a list of things that are desirable: affordable housing, employment opportunities, a healthy environment, access to food and water, access to healthcare, good transportation systems, responsive and effective government, financial stability, good schools, good infrastructure... This isn't hard to figure out, so what's the problem?

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest something simple: follow the money.

    Who has the money in a given city, and what do they want? What will they pay for, and how will they get it? The collapse of Detroit came about when money fled to the suburbs, and the state allowed the city to starve. In Houston, the petrochemical industry and developers have been calling the shots. San Francisco - shall we look to the financial sector and corporations?

    I suspect if you look at cities around the world, what you'll find makes a difference is how much inequality the society they're in tolerates. Address that and the rest will start to fall in line.

  234. Why can't we get cities right? One word answer: GREED.
    For constantly expanding metropoles, there's never enough land to suit the growing population, which in turn drives up the value of real estate, making housing development more expensive. At least that how the theory goes.
    But of course, there's more to it than that -- and that's where 'NIMBY' comes in.
    Anyone living in NYC knows this, and sees proof of it daily.
    More housing may be going up, but practically none of it is suited to a working population.
    Stratospheric rents have become the norm.
    Still, they keep on building.
    So it's not surprising that Hurricane Harvey had much the same effects on Houston that Hurricane Sandy had here in New York. The culprit: Over-development.
    Add to this what happens when you have a lower land mass sitting right next to rivers and oceans that tend to surge during storm activity -- and the location of electric or petro-chemical facilities, a fleeing human and traffic population, hospitals that have to be shut down or evacuated, plus a failing public transportation system -- and you have the chaos that confronted not only Houston, but New York and New Orleans as well.
    The question is; have we learned?
    Seeing as Donald Trump recently scrapped Obama's flood protection rules just days before Harvey hit, and hasn't said anything about re-establishing them, or anything similar, it's hard to tell.
    We'll just have to wait for the next hurricane to see.
    But that may be too late.

  235. San Francisco is highly earthquake prone and that's governed thinking on construction for many years. There are current design techniques in use for tall buildings baed on performance in modeled earthquakes but that applies to new construction from the ground up, and there is simply not a lot of space for new construction. Effort is required just to fortify existing structures, many of which are old, against destructive shaking. It's too easy to criticize San Francisco until you've lived there, and understand the limits of land availability and the problems with nature (susceptibility to floods, earthquakes, mud slides and fire) that are absent elsewhere.

  236. San Francisco and its environs are at risk of earthquakes. Building taller buildings isn't a good answer. Buiding better public transit systems is. Where would you rather live? In a place where there's strict land use regulation, like the Bay Area, or where there's none, like Houston?

  237. Maybe the most basic problem, in the end, is that we can't even fully recognize the existence and value of. "the public" in the United States. This seems to always leave us in the maddening position of knowing what to do ... and not doing it.

  238. Paul,

    Finally, someone is talking about urban planning. But, while I agree with you about Houston, I think you're wrong about San Francisco.

    San Francisco is a national treasure and is right to limit development. Leave the high rises and skyscrapers to New York, Chicago and, yes, Houston.

    And as many commenters have noted, it's not just about aesthetics; San Francisco is prone to earthquakes. If high rises don't collapse, earthquakes can still cause a lot of harm by taking out those miracle transportation devices you talk about - elevators.

    Here in SC, we also have a national treasure in Charleston. Fortunately, unlike the urban non-planners in Houston, Charleston has an administration set up by the great Joe Riley which plans for the future. Unfortunately, with sea levels rising, that might not be enough to prevent a Houston-like catastrophe in it's near future.

  239. thank you for this post...do we really want to see a significant growth in population in San Francisco?...I'd much rather see companies move further out to where workers could afford homes or rent....and if workers cannot be found because of high prices I would think that would eventually happen...

  240. Charleston, that utopia of race relations.

  241. Well, Chicago proper isn't densely populated all in all; the average building height is three stories.

    Chicago is densely populated along the lakefront and downtown. If is also high income in those areas. All the rest, not so much.

    Looking past the lakefront and CBD, the metro area sprawls like any other city built post WWII.

  242. Chicago's suburbs sprawl similarly to other cities' except unconstrained by any natural features except the lake,and most of the in-city homes and apartment bldgs are pre-WWII. I live in the bungalow belt which stretches across wide swathes of both the north and south sides of town, and these 100 year old brick bldgs are holding up nicely (with appropriate maintenance, of course). I moved here from NYC and was able to buy at a price which in New York would have limited me to Sullivan County or further upstate. Chgo is also losing population, which may help keep some housing prices modest, and there seems to be little purchase of upscale properties by foreigners for investment.

  243. Your basic bungalow is a single family brick home that would survive an atomic blast and has a small yard. But I don't think we can count the bungalow belt as not sprawl: the neighborhoods are low density, high traffic and insufficient public transportation and public spaces.

  244. The major problem of the cities is the single biggest problem of the Country: the vanishing middle class and concentration of power and money in an elite who could not care less. Long commutes? Who does that? Life above the 20th floor? Who does that? Crowded, cramped trains and planes ? Who does that? Private jets and limos? Who does that?

    Control of Congress and State Legistures and Mayors? Who does that?

    Solutions don't matter if those that can implement them don't see any problem.

  245. imo, yo have it exactly backward
    the middle class is the largest voting block in any city
    People in the middle class - like me - don't want to see a 30 story apt building put up in a neighborhood of single family homes

  246. It's a little more complex than that, @John. It's not as if the wealthy don't care. You'd be surprised at how little power they have. Yes, they have incredible wealth, but do note that Donald Trump is president. He's really not *their* choice.

    As the great Tip O'Neil said, "all politics is local". So people *could* possibly vote for representatives who address the problems of the middle class. Many do not.

    Growth is a very hard problem. The wealthy aren't going to solve it. And voters *themselves* can't seem to solve it.

    We seem to vote for free-enterprise, capitalistic solutions, and we are where we are. As a society, we shun centralist, planned solutions. There is no government mandate for high speed rail, or even public transportation. And there is no national public mandate for these.

    Your outrage is registered, but we are trying to figure out the solutions, and then we have to figure out how to implement them. The solutions are difficult politcal problems.

    But if we do not elect intelligent people, we are at a disadvantage. The wealthy could not prevent the Trump election. He was elected by the people, with the leverage provided by the Electoral College. We have implementers that see the problems. We need intelligent politicians who will address the problems.

  247. We've become a selfish society, sad. It just depends upon whose ox is being gored! I have to believe that we'er better than this or our children won't survive.

  248. How many heavily damaged East coast coastal cities will it take before we decide that redeveloping them is a poor idea? I think that there is little need for large population centers to be based on the coast. Our transportation network needs work, but is generally pretty good. We should maintain ports, but move the large populations inland to do the work of adding value to the commodities we import.

  249. "'Both sides [also] get it wrong'" when it comes to the impact of global warming--whether they deny it (as it in Houston) or not (as in San Francisco and New York). We're facing not only more severe storms like Harvey and Sandy and Katrina before it as the air and, especially, the oceans warm, but increasing flooding due to rising sea levels as the glaciers melt. All these cities and others are vulnerable, but none have faced the need to address the problem that requires moving people off of flood plains, raising houses off the ground to avoid flooding, building dikes and dams to contain flood water, improving water drainage, and rethinking elevating mass transit systems to avoid the flooding we in New York experienced with Sandy. Houston is both a warning and a potential lesson for all major American coastal cities from New York to San Francisco. We now must face the new reality that we do, in fact, need a massive infrastructure program instead of a massive tax cut to protect the millions of Americans who live in large coastal urban environments from the coming storms like Harvey and the relentless increase in the sea levels. Further denial only means further disaster.

  250. Chicago's home prices are only "relatively low" when compared with New York's or San Francisco's. A one-bedroom condo in the city runs between $200,000 and $400,000. Two-bedrooms are $300,000 to $700,000. To find a house for under half a million, you have to go into a segregated neighborhood where commerce is anemic, crime rates are high, and the public schools have been shuttered or handed over to charter corporations. My wife and I got lucky and found a landlord who hasn't raised our rent since we moved in five years ago -- the $1,350 a month we're paying for our two-bedroom apartment is about $400 a month below the neighborhood median. This probably sounds like a steal to someone living in New York City, but ask someone from Albany how it sounds. Or Dayton, Ohio. Or Arkansas.

    And yeah, to a certain extent, you get what you pay for -- I wouldn't want to live in Arkansas, or even Dayton. But the minimum wage in Chicago is still only $11 (our Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, recently vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 across the state), or $440 for a month's full-time work (if you can find full-time work). If there's a lesson my city can teach you, it's that even what we do here to make housing affordable isn't nearly enough.

  251. (I live in Chicago.) I agree with you, and left a similar comment earlier about Chicago that appears to be lost. Chicago might be wonderfully inexpensive for the upper middle class and above. Otherwise, a word of caution. The city is not a bargain. I am glad to have a place to live, but the sales taxes (including all groceries) are staggering, both for the city of Chicago and Cook County. Chicago has no rent stabilization. Outside of the downtown area, it will be difficult without some access to a car, contrary to a few comments earlier about the city. Chicago has been subject to the same market forces, especially in housing costs, as every other major metro.