Hi and welcome back to Sunday Reading. I’m returning this week to Richard Florida where he highlights how restrictive development regulations have contributed to the “new urban crisis”. Richard Florida, “Meet the ‘New Urban Luddites’“, City Lab.

The New Urban Luddism does not just limit the construction of new homes and apartments; more troublingly, it also puts an artificial cap on the further development and expansion of entire cities. Schools, sewer lines, electric power grids, and, even more importantly, the transit and subway lines required to move people around get much costlier to develop as a place grows bigger. Most troublingly: In places like the Bay Area, the Luddites are the ones imposing restrictions on the location of high-tech start-ups—limiting the development of industries that ultimately help to power growth. If populism and Trump reflects the anti-urban backlash of the right, such attempts to limit high-tech development in urban centers reflects an anti-urbanism of the left.

This brings us face to face with both the central element of the New Urban Crisis and the central contradiction of contemporary capitalism. The clustering force is at once the main engine of economic growth and the biggest driver of inequality. The concentration of talent and economic activity in fewer and fewer places not only divides the world’s cities into winners and losers, but ensures that the winner cities become unaffordable for all but the most advantaged. This unrelenting cycle is great news for wealthy landlords and homeowners, but bad news for almost everyone else.

Singing from the same song sheet is economist Edward Glaeser- “Reforming land use regulations” Brookings.

Arguably, land use controls have a more widespread impact on the lives of ordinary Americans than any other regulation. These controls, typically imposed by localities, make housing more expensive and restrict the growth of America’s most successful metropolitan areas. These regulations have accreted over time with virtually no cost-benefit analysis. Restricting growth is often locally popular. Promoting affordability is hardly a financially attractive aim for someone who owns a home. Yet the maze of local land use controls imposes costs on outsiders, and on the American economy as a whole.

Land use controls that limit the growth of such successful cities mean that Americans increasingly live in places that make it easy to build, not in places with higher levels of productivity. Hsieh and Moretti (2015) have estimated that “lowering regulatory constraints” in areas like New York and Silicon Valley would “increase U.S. GDP by 9.5%.” Whether these exact figures are correct, they provide a basis for the claim that America’s most important, and potentially costly, regulations are land use controls.

All that is familiar ground but there is an intriguing discussion about a methodology to understand the regulatory influence on housing.

Housing advocates often discuss affordability, which is defined by linking the cost of living to incomes. But the regulatory approach on housing should compare housing prices to the Minimum Profitable Construction Cost, or MPPC. An unfettered construction market won’t magically reduce the price of purchasing lumber or plumbing. The best price outcome possible, without subsidies, is that prices hew more closely to the physical cost of building.

Here is nice summary of the opportunities and challenges of public private partnerships: “How and when to use private money in infrastructure projects” The Economist.

That leaves the third substantial difficulty, of getting the financial structure of PPP deals right, so that taxpayers, politicians, banks and fund managers are all content. The first need is to work out whether, and how, private capital will provide benefits that public finance cannot. Too often, the main reason for a government to bring in private capital is a bad one: to follow fiscal rules that cap public borrowing or debt. “If the starting-point is to keep a commitment off the public-sector balance-sheet, it’s hard to negotiate a good deal,” says Andy Rose of the Global Infrastructure Investor Association.

Recently published research from the University of Glascow finds walking and cycling to work reduces the risk of death and the burden of important chronic conditions. Jason Gill and Carlos Celis-Morales, “Cycling to work: major new study suggests health benefits are staggering”  SBS.

We found that cycling to work was associated with a 41 per cent lower risk of dying overall compared to commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.

With health outcomes like that, it’s not surprising that many cities and governments are investing in initiatives to support walking and cycling to work. Here is a neat innovation in Utrecht that helps cyclists time their approach to intersections to minimise stopping. John Metcalfe, “This Magic Dutch Traffic Light Helps Bicyclists Avoid Stopping” City Lab.

On the other end of the spectrum of road safety, here is some research that tracks the regularity in which motorists in the United States use their phones while driving.  Noah Budnick, “Largest Distracted Driving Behavior Study“, Zendrive Blog

Zendrive conducted the Distracted Driving Behavior Study to look at the frequency and duration of phone use behind the wheel. This study aggregated and analyzed data from 3.1-million anonymized drivers, who took 570-million trips, covering 5.6-billion miles nationwide between December 2016 and February 2017.

This is the largest distracted driving study conducted to-date. There are many small scale distracted driving reports, but their conclusions vary and their statistical robustness is questionable. This topic is too important to leave ambiguous.

  • Our top finding shows that drivers used their phones during 88-percent of the 570-million trips analyzed.

Traffic deaths are preventable. We know what behaviors contribute to traffic deaths, so we can develop strategies to reduce, and eventually eliminate, them. To this effort, Zendrive brings new data and new insights into problems we haven’t been able to measure before, like phone use behind the wheel.

That’s all for this week. Please leave your links in the comment section.

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  1. ‘The clustering force is at once the main engine of economic growth and the biggest driver of inequality. The concentration of talent and economic activity in fewer and fewer places not only divides the world’s cities into winners and losers, but ensures that the winner cities become unaffordable for all but the most advantaged. This unrelenting cycle is great news for wealthy landlords and homeowners, but bad news for almost everyone else.’

    That is a fantastic quote. In that perspective, consider the great cities of Australasia and their integration with the East Asia powerhouses as the new ‘Sun belt”. There are indeed big inequality problems looming which will cause big social problems if not addressed in the years to come.

    But contrast the plight of these cities where jobs are plentiful (even if casualised and low paid in many cases) with Southern Europe. 30% plus unemployed among the young and no solution in sight.

  2. There is a consultation on the AT website to reconfigure lanes on Beach Rd CBD, on the approach to the Parnell Rise/ Stanley St crossroads. It’s an ideal place to add an extra 50-100m of Parnell-bound cycle lane. Since they will be digging up the traffic island anyway perhaps a narrower traffic island and tweaked city-bound lane would allow room for this with minimal extra cost to the project no loss of motor vehicle lanes. It would bolt on nicely to the current Parnell-bound cycle lane that currently terminates just short of this point. It won’t go further into Parnell at this time, but surely is a good value for money way to get useful additional cycle lane distance at what is the pinch point for cyclists heading toward Parnell. It (and the city-bound lane on other side of the road) could even be protected with St Lukes Rd style buffers perhaps.
    It’s a real pity small AT roading projects like this don’t automatically try and include value-for-money pedestrian/cycle improvements – so much opportunity for AT to get more out of their budgets, rather than returning to this point to spend more money and causing more disruption with a separate cycling project at a later date.
    Unfortunately this consultation closes today (30 April) so not much time left to try and influence the outcome.

    1. Ask for a Non-Motorised User audit to be done as part of the Beach Rd works. AT have started doing these. I don’t know what triggers the use of an NMU audit – would be interested to hear if they will do it. One of the co-authors of this paper works at AT (or was, when the paper was written):


  3. why do the police protect the criminals who vote to restrict land use to such an extent people become effectively homeless. Why does the Government allow the RMA to stop people having shelter and why dont we jail these politicians who support the RMA as thieves. As that is what they are no? Why do we even have buildings permits in law? Construction of shelter on land can be considered a Crime? Disgusting

    1. Your questions are naive in the extreme. I suggest that you need to educate yourself a bit more before making such comments – you can download both the Resource Management Act and the Building Act at http://www.legislation.govt.nz which may help you understand the issues.

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