CMJ under construction
CMJ under construction

Here is a remarkable story from the United State’s Depart of Transportation. USDOT Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is leading a ‘crusade’ to bring attention to the disruptive and discriminatory legacy of urban highways. Foxx has first hand experience of how transport designs influenced opportunity- “As a child, Anthony Foxx knew he couldn’t ride his bike far from home without being blocked by a freeway” (Washington Post).  As Eisenhower-era infrastructure starts to reach the end of it’s lifespan, it will be interesting to see how quickly cities start adapting legacy infrastructure for the 21st Century.

In what might be called synchronicity, the State of New York announced they will be tearing down the 18.4 mile Robert Moses Parkway that by-passes and severs Niagara Falls.

Cuomo said that for years, the state and city leaders have talked about removing the parkway around the city, but most felt the project was too big and too expensive.“There’s nothing too ambitious for New York,” the governor said. “We are a state of people who were told ‘no, you can’t’ and we said ‘yes, you could.’ ”

“It’s a highway. It’s asphalt. It’s concrete,” Cuomo said. “You get a shovel. You hit enough times, it cracks. You pick it up and put in a truck and no more highway,” he told the crowd, which both laughed and cheered.

Alan Semuels, “A Departure From Decades of Highway Policy“, The Atlantic.

When his grandparents bought the house in 1961, he says, the area was part of an interconnected networks of streets and homes, a true neighborhood. Later, the state added two highways, cutting the house and its neighbors off from the rest of the city. There was one road in and out after the highways were completed, and the neighborhood slowly became a place where no one wanted to live or open a business, and where not even the pizza-delivery guy would go.

This pattern was not unique to Foxx’s neighborhood. For decades federal money has been used to build highways through many American cities, destroying neighborhoods in the process. Foxx acknowledges that urban freeways were routed through low-income and minority neighborhoods, and that those divisions created “disconnections from opportunity that still exist to this day.” But now, Foxx says, he wants to do something about that. And as transportation secretary, he potentially can.

Joseph Stromberg, “Highways gutted American cities. So why did they build them“,  Vox.

So why did cities help build the expressways that would so profoundly decimate them? The answer involves a mix of self-interested industry groups, design choices made by people far away, a lack of municipal foresight, and outright institutional racism.

“There was an immense amount of funding that would go to local governments for building freeways, but they had little to no influence over where they’d go,” says Joseph DiMento, a law professor who co-wrote Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways. “There was also a racially motivated desire to eliminate what people called ‘urban blight.’ The funds were seen as a way to fix the urban core by replacing blight with freeways.”

Here is an epic rant on housing in San Francisco. While our housing shortage is not so extreme, and we have nowhere near the economic conditions, some points remain relevant to Auckland.  Zac Townsend, “Broken Promises: The Housing Market in San Francisco (And Ten Ideas to Fix It)“.

One of the things, if not the thing, that I loved most about that neighborhood was that it felt like what a diverse urban landscape could and should feel like. Within blocks of my building and inside it, there were Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, yuppie white folks like me, Hasidic Jews, African-American and West African blacks (nearby Flatbush is one of the largest black neighborhoods in New York City), Ecuadorians, West Indians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Pakistanis, and more, with wonderful, family-owned restaurants and shops to match these many micro-communities.

I want to live in a beautiful, multiethnic, socioeconomically mixed community. A city where people of low, moderate, and high incomes live together, and people of different ethnicities interact. That’s my dream. That’s why I love cities: people mixing together, cross-pollinating perspectives and experiences.

That’s not San Francisco right now. It might have been in the past, but it certainly won’t be in the future — unless we get over ourselves and start building much more housing. Everywhere. Immediately.


While the parking debate is largely over, here are some reminders of how parking policy raises the cost of living and why city parking facilities may not be a great long term investment.

David Z Morris, “Trader Joe’s Parking Lots Aren’t Insane. We Are.“, Fortune.

Trader Joe’s takes advantage of that fact. By keeping their stores and parking lots small, the grocer lowers overall costs, helping you get (to choose my two favorite examples) soy chorizo for $1.99 and a bottle of recognizable cabernet sauvignon for three bucks. The densely arranged stores also help them get more than double the sales per square foot of competitors.

Kyle Smith,”Neighborhood Affordability: What Does Parking Have To Do With It?“, CNT.

…CNT interviewed multifamily developers in Chicago and found that when municipalities ask developers to build too much parking, those spaces add time and money to projects. They drive up construction costs and rents for market-rate units. And parking requirements hinder the development of affordable housing near transit because subsidy programs cannot account for the dual price premiums on parking and land.

Joe Cortright, “It’s time for a “big short” in parking“, CityCommentary.

So who, exactly is “long” in the parking market? Well, there are some private firms who build and operate parking lots. But in many places around the country, the entities that have made substantial future bets on parking are local governments. Since the 1930s, city governments have been borrowing money to build and operate municipal parking lots for public use. Most big cities operate a substantial parking enterprise….

There’s a good chance that many of these parking lots will become stranded assets: expensive, debt-financed projects that no longer generate enough revenue to cover their costs of construction and operation. When we add in the considerable social costs of subsidized parking and driving, newly constructed parking structures in cities may be the urban equivalent of new coal-fired power plants: obsolete, value-destroying activities. There’s not a lot cities can do about previous decisions to take on debt to build parking garages, but going forward, it seems like they ought to take a very careful look at whether it’s a sound investment, or whether they’re setting themselves up to be on the wrong side of tomorrow’s “Big Short.”

Please add your other links in the comments section.

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  1. I don’t know how to insert pictures into my comments. But two pictures I tweeted on “art becomes reality” shows how the housing market is working in Vancouver and San Francisco and given the way housing prices are inflating in Auckland has implications for us too. Auckland like Vancouver and San Francisco being another great city on the Pacific rim.

    I think this indicates there is a dynamic process with a speculative/time dimension as well as the static 3 dimensional geographic process we are more familiar with. The tail end of this discussion being here

  2. If we’re going to get rid of anything, we should start with the Victoria Park overpass.

    I have no idea how it ever got through planning, it’s horrific.

    1. It would be gone now but for a trivial sum that Joyce wouldn’t agree to spending when they were building the first tunnel.

      However I’m not so opposed to it that much; at least it creates very little severance; I like riding and walking under it. Compared to the rest of the CMJ which is a huge place ruining blight this thing doesn’t actually block normal life from continuing beneath and around it.

      Putting a lid on some of the more obvious nasties in Grafton and out the back of K are more important in my view.

      1. Get rid of it – never
        I played many a game of cricket on Victoria Park and tried many times to land one on the overpass. Never managed it. But holy shit did I try

  3. Cities of concrete concrete. Cities of Ashfelt, motorways crossing the land, cutting off neighbors, friends. Fences.
    No where but concrete at far as the eye can see. Gross to look at, sickening to watch 1000’s of motor cars jammed on a freeway, sitting still, idling away. It’s a human sickness of corporate greed. The single mindness of the human who owns this contraption the car…Removed all the greenery, lush bush, birds and fauna, changed their landscape eroded life, fun, freedom. Correct. This can be changed. Reversed. Replanted, re-designed. Re-moved.

  4. Here is one from Germany
    Das Blaubeurer Tor – Ulm. WW2 80% of the city centre lay in ruins, City gates and entrance was undamaged. Highway engineers took the top off and filled the moat, built a road over the top and a road ring around it. The gate now serves as a kind of bridge piers for Wallstraßenbrücke ( Interstate 10 ) and occasionally as a place to sleep for the homeless.

  5. When the Waterview Connection’s done, you could get rid of SH16 up to where it meets with the connection and start repairing Newton, Kingsland and Grey Lynn. Well, at least think about it for once the CRL’s done; that whole spine will then be served by the western line so the motorway will be completely redundant.

    1. I don’t understand this at all. SH16 is not being replicated by the Waterview Connection; it’s joining SH16 and SH20 i.e. SH16 still has to go into town

      1. Was going to write a proper reply; can’t be arsed because it’s a waste of time; why does it ‘have’ to go into town? It will be completely redundant and a massive waste of space, people-time, and money.

  6. Primary objection to the San Francisco article is regarding the rezoning of commercial areas to residential. Adding more residences to commercial areas is certainly worthwhile and we should strive for it, but there’s no need to kill the commercial aspect as well. The places that people most want to live with the highest rents, as always, seem to be the mixed-use areas.

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