Lily Kuo, “African cities are starting to look eerily like Chinese ones“, Citylab. A good feature on Africa’s growing and changing cities, which are getting a lot in the way of investment and technical advice from Chinese firms. African cities are (in my view) going to become increasingly important over the next century – my main hope is that their population growth is matched with economic and social dynamism:
Do you see similarities between the pace and kind of urbanization in Africa that you do in China?
We all know China’s unprecedented urban transformation, which transformed China from a rural into an urban society in one generation. Now, Africa is urbanizing at the same pace as China did in the past 30 years, but in a process that is less coordinated and aligned. People do not only move to the capitals of African countries, but especially top second and third tier cities.
There are many resemblances. First of all, the speed of urbanization is similar. But also, the level of energy and dynamism and the ambition for progress in Chinese and African cities are comparable. Driving through the fringe of Nairobi, with its construction sites, road works, traffic jams, and advertisements for furniture and processed food one could easily imagine being in the outskirts of a Chinese city.
Here are some plans for a Chinese-led development on the Lekki Peninsula in Lagos – that’s one of the places where I grew up:
As cities in Africa and elsewhere grow, they need to be careful that they’re growing in a way that connects people rather than maroons them. A reader sent us this reminder of how poor street design and insane laws in US cities prevent people from using the simplest and cheapest transport mode – stepping out the front door and walking.
Antonia Malchik, “The end of walking“, Aeon:
In 2013 more than 4,700 pedestrians were killed, and an estimated 66,000 injured, in what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls ‘traffic crashes’. That’s a bite-sized phrase for what is, essentially, people in cars killing and injuring people on foot.
Kate Kraft, the National Coalition Director for America Walks, an advocacy organisation for walkability, says that, ever since towns began removing streetcars, we’ve undermined transit systems that would support the walker and planned instead for the car. Walking is an impediment to the car culture we revere, an experience we’ve intentionally designed out of our lives…
Over the past 80 years, walking simply as a way to get somewhere, let alone for pleasure, has become such an alien concept to Americans that small movements towards making neighbourhoods and communities more walkable are met with fierce, indignant resistance. Much of this fight has to do with who pays for the sidewalks. Once an area has been designed without walkability in mind, it’s extremely expensive to reverse the infrastructure. Municipalities and suburbs alike have to consider curbs, gutters, stormwater runoff, ongoing maintenance, and snow removal. I live in Montana, where snow cover from early November to late April is normal. While my town ploughs the roads, homeowners are legally obliged to keep sidewalks adjacent to their properties clear of snow with shovels or snowblowers. It’s excellent exercise, but not necessarily fun, especially for the elderly or disabled. In heavy winters shovelling can feel fruitless, and it’s not uncommon to see pedestrians giving up on icy sidewalks and shifting to the well-cleared roads.
The resistance to sidewalks, and to walking, often splits along generational lines. People who have come of age and grown old in a car-centric culture have trouble seeing why they should pay to enable walkers. One neighbourhood in suburban Chicago fought sidewalks so bitterly, with long-time residents speaking against sidewalk calls from younger families, that it ended up with a walkway stopping pointlessly halfway down a block.
I’m a sucker for maps, and this one is particularly fantastic:
For some context on how travel speeds have changed, here’s David Harvey’s infographic showing the world “shrinking” as transport technology has improved. (From The Condition of Postmodernity.) Notice that there have been very few improvements since jet aircrafts (and containerised shipping) in the 1960s:
Ben Casselman, “What we don’t know about Canada might hurt us“, Fivethirtyeight. For the data wonks, a nice look at the negative impact of changes to Canada’s census. As it happens, I was recently working on a project that required Canadian census data. These changes made it more challenging to get the right data:
In 2006, the small Canadian town of Snow Lake, Manitoba, had 837 residents, many of whom worked in the local mining industry. It was a prosperous community: The typical family earned 84,000 Canadian dollars a year, well above the national median of about $66,000, and the unemployment rate was just 5.1 percent even though only a small fraction of residents had a college degree.
Five years later, Snow Lake had lost more than a tenth of its population, shrinking to 723 residents. But the government doesn’t know who those residents were — what they earned, how much school they’d completed, whether they were working. That’s because in 2011, unlike five years earlier, filling out the government survey that collected the information wasn’t mandatory — and nearly three-quarters of the Snow Lake residents who received it decided not to bother…
That seemingly small change has had far-reaching consequences. Canadian researchers say the new, optional National Household Survey is less reliable, less comprehensive and significantly more expensive than the mandatory survey it replaced. And it isn’t just researchers who are worried: A diverse set of groups, from local governments to business organizations, has criticized the shift to an optional survey as shortsighted.
Critics argue that the voluntary survey fell short in two crucial ways. First, because response rates were so much lower, the survey wasn’t able to collect reliable data on smaller communities, including Canada’s many sparsely populated areas. Second, surveyors struggled to collect sufficient data on certain groups — the poor, aboriginal populations, immigrants and others — that have always been among the hardest to reach. That means the resulting data could be biased, possibly in ways that could be difficult to detect.
On a completely different note, here are four designs for adding bike lanes to existing lanes from Jeff Speck (via Vox):
And now, two Auckland-focused articles. First, here’s the PM talking about what might (or might not) happen to the property market (from Interest.co.nz):
“If you look at Christchurch as quite a good example — when supply starts to meet demand then prices don’t go up anymore,” Key said. “And, actually over time, and it’s one of the things the Reserve Bank didn’t say, but frankly they should have said, is interest rates won’t stay low forever,” he said.
“So when people go buy houses purely on the expectation they are going to get a capital gain, you’ve just got to be careful they don’t come in for a nasty surprise – just like those people who bought stocks recently, and thought they were always going to go up forever, are in for a nasty surprise today.”
Later Key said history showed prices never went in one director forever. “If people think Auckland house prices are going up forever, they are misguided. History tells you that’s not normally the case, that the market goes in one direction forever,” he said when asked if the global market slump would hit Auckland housing.
Here’s a question for Auckland’s property owners. Be honest. If you could take out a mortgage fixed for 12 years at 4.01 per cent to invest in an asset that will last decades and have a guaranteed customer base of over 1.5 million, would you? Would you take on that debt if the interest cost was less than 15 per cent of your income?
Auckland urgently needs investment in its roads, rail networks, buses, water systems and other infrastructure to cope with an extra million people over the next 50 years or so. They will be ratepayers and the growth of Auckland’s economy will support that debt.
The two-faced approach on the personal debts of ratepayers and the public debts of their councils in a city growing as fast as Auckland is odd. Ask yourself: would you borrow at 4 per cent to invest in multi-generational assets with guaranteed customers in a fast-growing economy? Of course you would.
Lastly, a few pieces on how we think, plan, and build our cities. In “Point of view matters: the scourge of modelitis“, Urban kchoze observes that the relevant viewpoint that should be considered when assessing planning applications (and planning rules) should be the perspective on the street rather than a top-down or ‘Sim City’ view. I really like the way he goes out and finds highly specific examples of things being done well or poorly:
Someone who sees cities from the point of view of a pedestrian knows that the human scale is horizontal, not vertical.
This focus on verticality is a clear effect of modelitis, higher stories are usually not visible from the ground for pedestrians. Even when they are, people tend to look down, not up, so most people will not even notice how tall buildings really are unless they take the time to check. A focus on a proper point of view, one of pedestrians, would focus on how a building’s 3 or 4 lowest stories meet the street, not on how high it is, ESPECIALLY when the sidewalks have awnings, in which case the buildings are largely not even visible!
|At the foot of the Empire State Building, sorry for the windshield perspective, the actual height of the building is irrelevant|
So even if you care about harmony and order in urbanism, you should focus on the harmony and order as seen from the street, not as seen on a model of the city or from the sky. For example, Vancouver has had good urban planners who understood this and allowed skyscrapers that also had podiums that maintained the “street walls”.
|“Vancouverism”, towers are present without disrupting the “walls” of the street”, they are in the background, not the foreground|
|This is the view from the street, again, forgive the windshield perspective|
This piece from Melbourne offers some thoughts on regulation of apartments, which is currently under consideration by the Victorian state government. It suggests investigating options for improving information available to renters and buyers of apartments as an alternative to regulations. Mark Sheppard, “Better apartments for the future“, Urban Melbourne:
We believe that many people make a deliberate choice to accept a lower standard of one or more aspects of amenity when buying or renting an apartment, either because this is the only way they can afford to enter the market, or as a trade-off for a higher standard of another aspect of amenity, such as location. An obvious example of this is people who choose to live in an apartment in a converted warehouse or office building, without a balcony or car parking space, because it enables them to live in the CBD where they don’t have the financial and time costs of travel to work and entertainment. Another example is studio apartments without a separate bedroom, which provide an affordable first home option. A further example is people who choose a south-facing apartment for its view, despite the lack of solar access…
There is also a legitimate concern that people do not fully understand the amenity standards of the apartments they are considering buying or renting, particularly with off-the-plan apartment sales. In response to this, we suggest that a rating system be developed for apartment amenity and that each apartment for sale or rent be required to have its rating explained to potential purchasers or renters. A standard set of apartment amenity criteria could be developed, so that apartments can be easily compared. For example, the size and access to natural daylight and ventilation of each room (including ceiling height), living room solar access, balcony size and solar access, energy efficiency, noise, outlook, storage, adaptability, universal accessibility, corridor daylight and ventilation, car parking and provision of communal facilities could all be rated “good”, “standard” or “poor”, based on a standard set of objective 2 criteria. At the same time, the location of the apartment in terms of its accessibility to amenities such as public transport and parks could be rated.
A rating system would ensure that potential purchasers and renters can make informed choices about apartments, without restricting the options available to them. It would also ensure that the price of apartments is closely related to their amenity, so that relatively poor apartments provide an affordable housing option.
Lastly, here’s a positive example of how public transport investments can benefit society by connecting people who want jobs (but who may not have the cars to get there) with firms that want workers:
— Yingling Fan (@yinglingfan) August 27, 2015