What City Observatory did this week

1. City home prices outpacing suburbs by 50 percent.  Joe Cortright examines a new study prepared by investment firm Fitch looking at the growing value premium in central cities.  Since 2000, home prices have grown 50 percent faster in urban centers than in their surrounding metro areas.  For hard headed Wall Street types, the analysts sound surprisingly like new urbanists, citing walkability and a “paradigm shift” in attitudes about cities.  This is strong evidence of the growing demand for urban living, which Fitch expects to continue.  Their outlook for homeownership and suburban growth is decidedly bearish.

2. The next road safety revolution.  Daniel Kay Hertz looks at the mayhem that cars cause in urban areas.  While we’ve made significant advances in protecting vehicle occupants from the effects of crashes, the way we’ve designed our cities around car travel has created big risks for people who walk or bicycle.  The victims are disproportionately young: car crashes are the leading cause of death for those under 25, and more than 3,000 Americans age 19 and under died in car crashes in 2013. Many of them weren’t even in cars: almost 500 were simply walking down a sidewalk or crossing the street.

3.  Between high rises and single family homes.  The housing affordability and availability problems that plague many of our cities may be aggravated by the missing middle of housing types–smaller-scale, lower-impact duplexes, triplexes and apartment courts, that have all but disappeared with the advent of stringent single-family zoning.  Daniel Kay Hertz reviews metro level data on the dominance of single-family housing, and the general paucity of these smaller, 2-4 unit structures.  As we look to accommodate the growing demand for urban living, filling the missing middle void is one way to affordably provide a range of housing options in existing neighborhoods.

4.  StrongTowns published Joe Cortright’s critical review of Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s recent book on infrastrucuture “Move.” For those hoping that a Harvard Business School professor would do a rigorous, hard-headed look at the deep-seated business model flaws in our current transportation system, the reader will be greatly disappointed.  Cortright argues that “Move” overlooks important trends–notably the declining demand for car travel–and fails to diagnose the chief underlying problem with transportation–we get the prices wrong.

The week’s must reads

1. In a new report for the Century Foundation —The Architecture of Segregation — Paul Jargowsky maps the continuing increase in the number of neighborhoods of concentrated poverty in the nation’s urban areas.   His data show that the number of people living in high-poverty ghettos, barrios, and slums has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 7.2 million to 13.8 million.   Blacks, Latinos and children are disproportionately likely to live in these high poverty neighborhoods.  These data show that the trends we outlined in our 2014 report Lost in Place have continued, and if anything appear to be accelerating.

2. Its one of the most common refrains in almost every land use controversy everywhere:  there isn’t enough parking.  But is it true?  Writing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Nathaniel Hood shows that its easy to put that glib assertion to a straightforward quantitative test.  His article, “How to respond when someone complains there’s no parking” outlines four simple steps that just about anyone can take to measure parking availability.  He shows how you can Google Maps to flag parking structures and surface parking lots, photograph under-utilized parking, and even conduct your own parking availability experiments.

New knowledge

1. New evidence for the power of industry clusters. Alexander Klein and Nicholas Crafts of the University of Kent look at the growth of cities and manufacturing productivity over the period 1880 to 1930.  They explore the relative contributions of industry specialization (so-called Marshallian externalities) and industry diversity (so called Jacobs externalities) on the rate of employment growth and producitivity in US cities.  They conclude that during this time period, growth was strongly influenced by industry specialization (cities getting better at doing the things they were strong at doing already), and that only larger cities exhibited significant gains from having a variety or diversity of industry sectors.

2. Uber and auto crashes.  By giving people who drink a ready alternative to driving their own vehicle, ride sharing services like Uber may reduce the number of alcohol related fatalities. A study by two Temple University researchers looks at the correlation between car crash rates and the growth of Uber use in different cities.  The researchers exploit a natural experiment–the gradual roll-out of UberX services in different California communities.  They find that the introduction of the lower-cost ride dispatch service is associated with a 3.6 percent to 5.6 percent reduction in “motor vehicle homicides”.  The study suggests that if UberX availability extended nationally, it might save as many as 500 lives annually.

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. You can sign up to get it in your inbox by clicking “Subscribe” at the top of the page!

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