What City Observatory did this week

1. In More evidence on the changing demographics of American downtowns, Daniel Kay Hertz looks at a recent study from the Cleveland Fed on growing high-income neighborhoods in city cores. While there has been dramatic growth in “upper-third” areas near American downtowns – with New York, Chicago, and Portland leading the pack – most city cores are actually still disproportionately poor. And tying this new data to our own Young and Restlessreport, the number of “upper-third” neighborhoods in city centers is highly correlated with the number of young, well-educated residents.

2. In The devilish details of getting a VMT fee right, Joe Cortright picks apart the latest proposal for a vehicle miles tax in Oregon. The heart of the problem is that road use costs society a lot of money in congestion, road maintenance, and pollution, but road users don’t see those costs when they drive. A successful VMT should charge drivers what their use actually costs, which means it should be higher for larger, less fuel efficient vehicles. Unfortunately, the Oregon law charges a flat rate – which means it will essentially be punishing fuel-efficient vehicles to subsidize ones that are more polluting.

The week’s must reads

1. This week, HUD announced its final rule on requiring local governments to “affirmatively further” fair housing based on the 1968 Fair Housing Act. At theWashington Post, Emily Badger explores what this means for American cities. One of the main new requirements is periodic reports from local governments on conditions of segregation within their jurisdiction, and what may be preventing greater integration. HUD will also create a clearinghouse of fair housing data for the entire country, allowing people to see concentrations of public housing, poverty, and racial groups.

2. In 65% of Seattle, building apartments – or any kind of multi-family housing – is illegal. But as the Seattle Transit Blog explains, a mayoral panel has broached whether it makes sense to continue to mandate low-density, higher-cost housing at a time when the city is growing rapidly. STB also covers some of the panel’s other interesting ideas, including eliminating parking requirements that raise construction costs and subsidize car ownership at the expense of those who have fewer vehicles; and increasing height limits across the board in multi-family neighborhoods to allow more homes to be built, increasing access to the city and giving supply a better chance to catch up to housing demand. You can also read more at The Urbanist.

3. It’s stunning coming from a Department of Transportation head, but Iowa’s DOT chief Paul Trombino said this week that his state’s road network has been overbuilt and needs to shrink to a more reasonable size that’s easier to maintain. CityLab‘s Eric Jaffe backs Trombino up, pointing out that per capita driving in Iowa has been falling since 2004, and the state is already struggling to keep its existing highways in good condition. Iowa’s recognition of the problem comes after Washington State’s DOT finally changed its official travel predictions to acknowledge that driving there is falling as well. These are examples for other state and local DOTs to be following.

New knowledge

1. The Census’ Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics data doesn’t get a lot of love, but it’s one of the best sources of information about the geography of jobs and work that exists. This week, LEHD updated its “On the Map” web app with the results of its 2012 origin-destination employment statistics, giving access to another year’s worth of information about how the locations of jobs and workers are shifting in American cities.

2. Sound pollution – from airplanes, heavily-trafficked high-speed roads, or other sources – is a major issue for urban quality of life. Now a new company, HowLoud, is looking to be the WalkScore of sound pollution, giving people a quick look at how it varies from one neighborhood to another. The website currently has data only for Los Angeles and Orange County, but is looking to expand to the entire United States and Canada.

3. Does faster Internet access improve student productivity and learning? A new NBER paper looks at random variation in Internet speeds among English households to see whether students who had faster Internet access had better educational performance than kids with lower speeds. Their finding: Internet speed had “exactly zero” impact on educational attainment. They also found that improvements in Internet speed had no effect on the amount of time students spent online or offline.

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.

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