COSMOS + TAXIS Issue on Jane Jacobs

by Sandy Ikeda

Jane Jacobs’ writings span several disciplines—including ethics and most especially economics—but she is best known for her contributions to and her critique of urban planning, design, and policy. Many of those whom she influenced in academia, policy, and activism took the occasion of her one-hundredth birthday in 2016 to celebrate those contributions through lectures, biographies, and various events and publications.

The current issue of COSMOS + TAXIS is offered in that same spirit. I am especially pleased that it includes the contributions of a diversity of scholars—with backgrounds in economics, urban policy, urban planning, geography, architectural history, and engineering—with a diversity of insights expressed from the perspectives of epistemology, intellectual history, spatial analysis, urban history, private cities, mercantilism, and of course spontaneous order; and ranging in approach from the theoretical to the historical to the applied. Indeed, we learn from Jacobs that from the diversity of the living city springs experiment, creativity, and surprise; and that pertains equally to the realm of living ideas. Read these pages and be surprised!


“Unintended consequences of ‘Smart Growth'”

by Sandy Ikeda

That’s the title of a video interview I did with the Mackinac Center that was posted on their website a few days ago. I did it last summer and it runs about twelve minutes.

It’s very hard to do justice to either the SG side or my critique in such a condensed interview, though I think it gets the main points across fairly well. Still, here’s a couple of things. Continue reading

The High Line Park: Turnstyles Anyone?

by Bill Butos

The recently opened High Line Park in the hip Chelsea area on New York’s West Side is all the rage.  The High Line sits on a stretch of a defunct elevated freight railway along 10thAvenue from Ganesvoort St. (which is just south of 14th St.) to 20th street.  The City plans to extend it to 34th St.   A green urban advocacy group, Friends of the High Line, has steered this part of the project to completion.  It’s become a tourist destination and a favorite platform for celebs and fashionistas.  And it fits perfectly into the nearby Meatpacking and Chelsea areas with their trendy eateries, late night clubs, and designer clothes shops.  By all accounts it purports to represent the future of urban eco-friendly planning and judging by the number of visitors (about 20,000 per week), it’s a grand success.  (See here and a video appreciation by supporters here.)

After my second walk-through, my appreciation turned slightly positive.  It is fun walking above the streets and catching new perspectives of the City from 30 feet above.  But the empty-lot weeds masquerading as (carefully maintained) indigenous flora still look ugly and many of the views are rather uninspiring.  And I am also a taxpayer. Continue reading

Earthquake, shmearthquake

by Sandy Ikeda

“To Protect an Ancient City, China Moves to Raze It” The city is Kashgar, “the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in central Asia….”

Local authorities claim that by pre-emptively demolishing 85% of it they will be protecting its citizens from the kind of catastrophe that befell Chengdu last year. As Robert Moses was fond of saying:  “If the ends don’t justify the means, what does?” Continue reading

In Vauban, no car AND no double-hyphen

by Sandy Ikeda

In Germany, they’re banning cars in the “green” village of Vauban, where you may still be permitted to pay $40,000 for a parking space in the outskirts but only if you also buy a home. Meanwhile, the other day Germany’s Constitutional Court again upheld a ban on double-hyphenated names. So will Frieda Rosemarie Thalheim-Kunz-Hallstein simply become, in the time-honored German way, Frieda Rosemarie Thalheimkunzhallstein?

Rothbard on sprawl and discrimination

by Sandy Ikeda

Over at Market Urbanism they’re discussing Murray Rothbard’s analysis in For a New Liberty (1973) of how local public-school financing created incentives (1) for urban populations to move to the suburbs and (2) for suburbs to discriminate against low-income (re black) families via zoning and building regulations.

So add public schools to the list of other, sprawl-encouraging factors in the US such as federal subsidies for roads and infrastructure and, of course, the decades-long policy of promoting single- over multi-family housing. Oh, and let’s not forget the indirect but lasting impact of the Great Depression on the demise of downtowns (something Jane Jacobs argues in her last book).

This story from last year documents the continuing appeal of suburban and “micropolitan” lifestyles to most Americans.

Two interesting models of urban redevelopment

by Sandy Ikeda

From the New York Times, “An Effort to Save Flint, Mich., by Shrinking It”:

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods. The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

After Katrina, some urbanists urged New Orleans authorities to adopt something like this policy of “planed shrinkage,” but largely for political reasons it was summarily rejected.

Given New Orleans’s cultural heritage, perhaps they might also find Cleveland’s approach useful, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, “Artists v. Blight”: Continue reading

Infrastructure: Here’s what Robert Moses would do today

by Sandy Ikeda

Mid-Manhattan Expressway
(Map by “vanshnookenraggen.”)

With your indulgence, I’ll get to my main point, and this map, in a moment.

But first, as we all know, the House has just passed a special ex post tax on bonuses awarded to individuals working for companies that received bail-out money. (One egregious violation of the rule of law deserves another then?) Over at Marginal Revolution they’re blogging about one really bad consequence of this hasty piece of policy-making: It seems that any family earning more than $250K with a member connected to a bailed-out institution will be marginally taxed at 90%. If it passes, I’m sure this in turn will give rise to further interventions as Congress tries to deal with THAT snafu (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn it).

The AIG fiasco is just one, economically insignificant but politically sensitive, instance of the countless unintended consequences that we should expect in the coming months and years issuing from the various bailouts and stimuli. Continue reading

New York, the unfinished city

by Sandy Ikeda

A friend from France, who is both an artist and an economist, on a visit to New York last year said she loves this place so much because every time she comes here she always finds it new and interesting. Well, couldn’t you say that about any great city? Apparently not.

Thomas Bender’s The Unfinished City: New York and the Metropolitan Idea observes:

Those who have Paris or Vienna or Budapest or Mexico City or Buenos Aires (or one of many other cities) in their minds as proper metropolitan centers will be disappointed by New York. From such a point of view New York has not yet completed its progress to full metropolitan status. But that perspective radically mistakes the case. New York’s character is to be unfinished. It is not a failed or incomplete example of something else; it is sui generis…It’s very essence is to be continually in the making, to never be completely resolved.

Max Page describes this process in terms of the dialectic between economic development and city planning, in his interesting and informative book, The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, where he quotes O. Henry’s famous quip: “It’ll be a great place if they ever finish it.” Continue reading

On corners: My father and Jane Jacobs

by Sandy Ikeda

Also in “The City” section of Sunday’s The New York Times is a fun article about city corners called “Cornerville” that details the intensity of life at a particular spot of urban convergence, the intersection of 23rd Street and 7th Avenue, near the famed Chelsea Hotel.  (Curiously, the article seems to just stop without really ending.)

Anyway, my late father often told me, when I was very young and more interested in real estate values than in studying cities, that it’s best to invest early in corner properties, whether in the city or country.  He prospered by following this strategy, but he didn’t explain why it worked.  Jane Jacobs does, sort of. Continue reading

Another side of Mumbai

by Sandy Ikeda

Because of their location, Dharavi’s residents have been locked for years in a tug of war with government officials who look hungrily at such choice land and dream their own dreams of reincarnation.  If the officials get their way, the slum will be demolished and reborn as a gleaming collection of high-rise apartments, office towers and manicured parks. Residents who arrived before 2000 would be re-housed elsewhere in Dharavi in small flats of 225 square feet – smaller than a suburban American garage – while an influx of richer folk and big companies would turn the area into one of Mumbai’s fashionable addresses.

But many who live here take fierce pride in a community that they and their families built, for some over several generations, with little help from the state. They refuse to be uprooted without a fight.

This is from an article published last September 8th in the Los Angeles Times called “Dharavi, India’s largest slum, eyed by Mumbai developers” about the ethnically and religiously diverse community in the heart of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the site of terrible violence today. Continue reading