What City Observatory did this week
1. When we measure segregation, we almost always use Census numbers that reflect where people live—ie, where their homes are. But people don’t spend all day in their homes, so a team of researchers used Twitter data from Louisville, KY to figure out where they spend their days. The results are a fascinating look at the asymmetry of segregation and neighborhood isolation: while residents of the lower-income, predominantly black West End ranged all over the city, residents of the wealthier, whiter side of town nearly entirely avoided the West End.
2. This week, the USDOT is releasing its new road performance metrics. While they may seem like the kind of wonkish details that only an engineer could love, anyone who cares about the livability and accessibility of their communities ought to be paying close attention, since the performance measures that state and local governments have to hit will help determine whether our roads are amenable to walking, biking, and transit service, or force nearly everyone into cars. Unfortunately, the new standards fail on several counts, including relying on a measure of congestion that rewards building empty roads and discounts the benefits of shorter commutes. The rules also represent a major missed opportunity to address climate change. Another option would have been to build measures that focus on reducing total driving and commute times, and take into account transit travel time.
3. Marijuana policy is sometimes dismissed as a novelty issue. Butdecriminalization and legalization actually have serious implications for urban policy for several reasons, from tax revenue, to economic development and industry clustering, to cultural signaling and Tiebout sorting, to spatially biased policing with implications for equity and economic mobility. Drug policy is one arena where state and local governments could use their positions as policy laboratories to find a better balance.
4. This week, City Observatory released a new, easy-to-share infographic that summarizes research by ourselves and others on neighborhood change. The big takeaways: over the last 40 years, neighborhoods with poverty rates over twice the national average have been much more likely to remain poor and lose significant population than they have been to gentrify. Along with our report, “Lost in Place,”which has interactive maps and tools to show how your city has changed since 1970, we hope this infographic will be useful for communicating the data on neighborhood change.
The week’s must reads
1. “NIMBY,” or “Not In My Backyard,” is a well-known epithet against people who agree that some kind of development—apartments, or schools, or shops—should gosomewhere, but not in their neighborhood. But now the New York Times covers the rise of self-described YIMBYs: people organizing and advocating for more housing development, in their backyards and elsewhere. The piece profiles Sonja Trauss of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, who has become one of the national leaders of the movement. If there’s going to be the political will to address America’s “shortage of cities,” people like Trauss may play a major role in building it.
2. We’ve been advocates of more big-picture reimaginings of federal housing policy—and this week, we’re joined by Demos’ Matt Breunig, commenting on an essay inDemocracy Journal by Peter Dreier that suggests creating an entitlement housing allowance through the Earned Income Tax Credit. Breunig, on the other hand, points out that a yearly lump sum may not be the best way of distributing benefits for a cost that renters face monthly. See our pieces about this sort of low-income housing entitlement with vouchers or tax credits.
3. This week, San Francisco became the first US city to require that all new housing in buildings that are 10 or fewer stories include solar panels. Unfortunately, as Vox explains, this is a much less effective anti-greenhouse emissions policy than just allowing more housing to begin with. Because people in dense, transit- and walking-friendly cities like San Francisco are much more efficient in their energy usage, increasing the number of people who live in them has major environmental dividends. Vox estimates that the carbon benefits of the solar panel mandate is about a third of the carbon benefits of allowing 10,000 units of new housing in the city.
1. Children do worse on academic tests if there has been a homicide in their neighborhood within the last week. Building on that finding, NYU sociologist Patrick Sharkey has found a strong link between counties with high levels of violent crime and lower levels of economic mobility, even holding other factors constant. The effects are sensitive enough that children growing up in a place during periods of relatively low crime did better as adults than children who grew up in the same places during periods of higher crime. This study adds an important piece to our understanding of how place affects the long-term outcomes of its residents.
2. The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology has released perhapsthe most comprehensive, easy-to-use transit database yet. Called “AllTransit,” it combines original analysis of transit access and quality with well-organized aggregation of existing data on ridership, service, and demographics. The tool is designed for use by policymakers and advocates to see where transit is and isn’t working—and how it may be creating opportunity, or failing to do so, for different people in different parts of a region. Anyone trying to understand the landscape of sustainable transportation in the US should check it out.
3. Are American cities no longer eating up as many acres of farmland as they used to? That’s the question posed by Issi Romem at buildzoom. Romem finds that the number of square miles consumed by new urban (or perhaps “suburban” is the better term) developments has stayed remarkably steady over the last several decades. But that evenness hides major variations at the metropolitan level: while some regions, like Atlanta, are growing in physical area even more rapidly, others, like the Bay Area, have seen growth come nearly to a halt. There’s a lot to unpack here, from the physical growth that far outstrips population growth in places like Cleveland or Atlanta, to the unfortunate reality that most US cities that add enough housing to keep prices low do so by adding low-density subdivisions on the urban fringe. (It’s also worth noting that this analysis ignores the higher transportation costs associated with that kind of sprawling development.) It’s important to recognize that almost no US city have land use plans that facilitate density where it’s most demanded. If we allow for more density and “missing middle” housing, we wouldn’t need to choose between “expansive” and “expensive” cities.
The Week Observed is City Observatory’s weekly newsletter. Every Friday, we give you a quick review of the most important articles, blog posts, and scholarly research on American cities.
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