Many retro-urban theorists maintain that high density is the key to urban prosperity. These theorists often point for justification to Santa Fe Institute research that, they claim, links productivity with density. Yet in reality it does nothing of the kind. Instead the study emphasizes that population size, not compactness, is the decisive factor.
Size does matter. A region is helped by the infrastructure that generally comes only with a large population, for example airports. But being big does not mean being dense. In fact the U.S. cities that made the largest gains in GDP in 2011 — Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and greater Detroit — are not dense cities at all. Continue reading
Rhode Island’s tallest building will soon be its most visible symbol of the state’s long economic decline. The 26-story Art Deco-style skyscraper, known to some as the “Superman building” for its similarity to the Daily Planet headquarters in the old TV show, is losing its sole tenant this month. No one is moving in, and the building, the most distinctive feature on the Providence skyline, will no longer be fully illuminated at night, if at all, its owner says. It’s a blow for the city and the state, which had 9.4 percent unemployment in February and has had one of the worst jobless rates in the nation for years.
Nicolas Retsinas, a senior lecturer in real estate at Harvard Business School, says 111 Westminster, as the building is also known, will be “the ultimate urban pothole.”
The bad decisions are all too easy to describe. Back when times were better, Stockton embraced a combination of overly generous compensation packages for city employees and excessive debt spending—not only on pension bonds but also on bonds to pay for redevelopment projects, which were supposed to revive the downtown area. Stockton was awash with the revenue that poured into their treasuries during the boom when home prices were so high and squandered tax dollars to embark on ill-conceived development projects, including subsidized stadiums. They predictably failed. The biggest problem for Stockton and other cities such as Mammoth Lakes, which followed Stockton into bankruptcy on Monday, wasn’t the property bubble but what they did with the revenue. The real question is whether officials in other California cities will learn anything about fiscal discipline and stop blaming unforeseen economic consequences for their own bad decisions.
Something has been lost from our discussion of cities: the human element. The goal of urban planners should not be to fulfill their own grandiose visions of megacities on a hill, but to meet the needs of the people living in them, particularly those people suffering from overcrowding, environmental misery, and social inequality.
Ultimately, dispersion — both city to suburb and megacity to small city — holds out some intriguing solutions to current urban problems. The idea took hold during the initial golden age of industrial growth — the English 19th century — when suburban “garden cities” were established around London’s borders. The great early 20th-century visionary Ebenezer Howard saw this as a means to create a “new civilization” superior to the crowded, dirty, and congested cities of his day.
Despite all the “back to the city” hype of the past decade, more than 80 percent of new metropolitan growth in the United States since 2000 has been in suburbs.
The City Planning Department failed to include the downzoning option in the Hollywood Community Plan Update submitted to the City Council for consideration. Here are two documents split in four parts for easy downloading. These documents were submitted by People for Livable Communities (PLC) to be added to the administrative record. They explain why downzoning is the only rational alternative to the project.
To download all four pdf files, Click Here