Below is the inaugural issue of The Week Observed, City Observatory’s weekly newsletter. Every Friday, we’ll 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.

Each issue of The Week Observed will have three parts. First, we’ll recap our own work. Next, we’ll link to three of the most interesting articles or blog posts about urban issues. Finally, we’ll include links to longer reports, either from academics, think tanks, or independent researchers, that have expanded our knowledge about cities and how to make them better.

The Week Observed is a new project, and we’d love to hear about ways about ways to make it better. Feel free to contact either of us at our email addresses below, or shoot a note over Twitter to @cityobs.


  • Joe Cortright (
  • Daniel Kay Hertz (

What City Observatory did this week

1. Portland, the Mission, and the housing affordability debate. Daniel Hertz says critics of the proposed “Mission moratorium” are right that holding back new construction will only drive up prices regionally – but argues that fear of displacement is sometimes a separate question.

2. The new trend in homeownership: Gerontrification. Joe Cortright digs into two new housing reports from the Urban Institute and Harvard, and finds an under-reported shift in homeownership towards the elderly.

3. In case you missed it, earlier this month we released our latest CityReport, “Less in Common.” In it, we find evidence that our common civic spaces are shrinking, with terrible consequences for economic vitality and opportunity.

The week’s must reads

1. The American Planning Association and the National Resources Defense Council give a good overview of the Senate’s proposed federal transportation bill, the unfortunately-named DRIVE Act. Particularly worrisome is the replacement of the popular TIGER grants program with the “AMP,” which would give even greater privilege to highway projects. Next month, Congress faces (yet another) deadline to fix the Highway Trust Fund, so look for action on the DRIVE Act next week.

2. The AP has a good overview of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to uphold the “disparate impact” standard under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, giving a big win to affordable housing advocates and the Obama Administration’s HUD.  In many cities, the location of publicly subsidized housing has reinforced concentrations of poverty, especially for people of color.

3. Margery Austin Turner at the Urban Institute synthesizes the new evidence about place-based economic mobility from Raj Chetty, and argues that we have to redouble our efforts both to improve the quality of low-income neighborhoods, as well as to give residents of those neighborhoods the chance to move to higher-opportunity communities if we so choose. (Turner’s piece came out before this week, but it’s important, and seeing as this newsletter did not yet exist, we’re going to cheat.)

New knowledge

1. The Urban Institute’s “Headship and Homeownership: What Does the Future Hold?”, and Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies’ “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015” – which Joe built off of in the post linked above – are both worth a read on their own.

2. Smart Growth America released “Core Values: Why American Companies Are Moving Downtown.” The findings here are consistent with the trends we spotted in our City Observatory report on “Surging City Center Job Growth” earlier this year.

The report includes interviews with 40 of the almost 500 companies that have chosen to create jobs in walkable downtowns in the last five years. They find relocation decisions were driven by:

  • proximity to educated workers,
  • proximity to customers and business partners, and
  • a desire for a distinct office culture, among other reasons.

We really like that this report “shows its work”: They’ve compiled a list of the companies that moved or expanded downtown, and even created an online mapping tool so you can see the current and former locations of the firms that moved.

3. At the Urban Institute, Corianne Scally discusses a paper she co-wrote on why so many programs designed to increase the housing mobility of low-income residents don’t work as well as one might hope. At the heart of the issue: sources of instability, including job loss or other personal circumstances, that cause frequent and urgent moves.