What City Observatory did this week

1. Why aren’t we talking about Marietta, Georgia? Joe Cortright covers a Robert Moses-style case of “slum clearance” in suburban Atlanta. The city of Marietta is demolishing a complex of apartments that, over the last few generations, have transitioned from upper-income and homogeneously white to relatively high-poverty and mostly people of color. While plans to relocate the residents are vague, the city knows what it wants to build in their place: a private retail and office development. Given the intense coverage of the displacement of low-income people of color in places like San Francisco and Brooklyn, we ask: Why aren’t we talking about Marietta?

2. What can conservatives do for cities? Daniel Kay Hertz considers the conservative urban policy agenda put forth by a recent National Review essay, but finds something odd: Two of its major ideas have already been proposed or enacted by left-of-center decision-makers, and are vociferously opposed by the conservative establishment. Still, conservatism does have something to offer city dwellers – you can find it in Jane Jacobs.

3. In The value of walkability across the US, Joe Cortright digs through some numbers in the newly-published book Zillow Talk, from the online real estate company. Using their own extensive data sets and Walk Score, Zillow’s authors reinforce earlier research by Cortright showing a strong link between walkability and home prices. On average, a 15-point increase in a neighborhood’s Walk Score increases home values by 12% – though it ranges from 4% in New York City to 24% in Chicago.

The week’s must reads

1. NYU’s Furman Center hosts a discussion on place- and people-based economic development strategies from some of the smartest thinkers on issues of urban inequality. Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson argues that while mobility vouchers can be effective, they may be difficult to scale, and need to be combined with durable investments in low-income communities across the country – including cash transfers to people living in “compounded deprivation”: low-income residents of high-poverty neighborhoods. Roseanne Haggerty, the CEO of Community Solutions; professor and author Richard Florida; and professor Michael Stoll respond with their own ideas.

2. What is the political cost of supporting fair housing? At CityLab, Kriston Capps explores what kind of backlash we might expect from the Obama Administration’s move to more aggressively enforce the 1968 Fair Housing Act. He cites Westchester County, just outside New York City, where a Republican won back-to-back elections for County Executive, partly by campaigning against a HUD lawsuit that would have required more affordable housing and looser zoning laws.

3. Was one of the fathers of modernism in urban planning a humanist visionary or a fascist? The New York Times covers a new exhibition on Le Corbusier in Paris that has reignited a debate on one of the most famous architects of the 20th century. Although Le Corbusier’s airy, minimalist designs helped revolutionize postwar construction, he also had ties to far-right groups in the years leading up to World War Two, and his grand plans, including “Contemporary City” and “Radiant City,” were open about designing cities around class stratification. If nothing else, the controversy serves as a reminder that urban planning has always been about social planning as well.

New knowledge

1. Why is American zoning so different from the rest of the developed world? Planning Perspectives reviews a new book by Sonia Hirt, Zoned in the USA, which seeks to answer just that question. Hirt notes the discrepancy between the US reputation for extreme attachment to property rights and its land use law, which stands alone in its aggressive regulation of the built environment. She takes on William Fischel’s “homevoter hypothesis,” which speculates that zoning was created by homeowners looking to increase their property values, and instead turns to cultural factors and available land to explain legally mandated low-density housing.

2. In “Transportation Access, Rental Vouchers, and Neighborhood Satisfaction,” Casey Dawkins, Jae Sik Jeon, and Rolf Pendall examine the effect of transportation access – both in terms of private vehicles and public transit – on the neighborhood satisfaction of Housing Choice Voucher recipients. They find that greater access to both kinds of transportation increases neighborhood satisfaction – but that the importance of private vehicles depends on whether there is good public transit access.

3. In 2012, the state of California ended its Redevelopment Areas (RDA) program, a kind of tax-increment financing. In Economic Development Quarterly, Charles Swenson finds that RDA had not led to significant positive economic impacts in the areas where it was implemented, and that the state was probably correct to end the program.

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.

Our goal is to help you keep up with – and participate in – the ongoing debate about how to create prosperous, equitable, and livable cities, without having to wade through the hundreds of thousands of words produced on the subject every week by yourself.

If you have any ideas for making The Week Observed better, we’d love to hear them! Let us know at jcortright@cityobservatory.org, dkhertz@cityobservatory.org, or on Twitter at @cityobs.

To sign up, click “Subscribe” at the top of the page!