Welcome back to Sunday Reading. These posts are now irregular, but hopefully still interesting. I’ll start off here with a bit of disappointing news from California where State Representative Scott Wiener’s housing bill was killed.
Benjamin Schneider, “YIMBYs Defeated as California’s Transit Density Bill Stalls“, CityLab.
An ambitious zoning bill in California that was aimed at alleviating the state’s acute housing shortage has not survived its first committee hearing. On Tuesday night, legislators killed SB 827, which would have allowed the construction of apartment buildings up to five stories tall near every high-frequency mass transit stop in the state.
SB 827 sparked a spirited debate about how the state should address its housing crisis. Its lead sponsor, State Senator Scott Wiener, argued that wresting zoning decisions away from local municipalities and forcing communities to build more densely near transit was the best way to both ease housing affordability in cities like San Francisco and help the state hit its ambitious environmental goals. Supporters of the bill—dubbed YIMBYs, for “Yes In My Backyard”—took on residents from wealthier, single-family home neighborhoods, who deployed the traditional NIMBY argument that the bill imperiled neighborhood character and would lead to traffic and parking woes.
Housing and urbanism in the West Coast is not so much of debate anymore as it is a numbers game. How long will the surge of younger workers be locked out of cities by arcane and exclusive housing policies? Paul Roberts,”My Generation Is Never Going to Have That”, Politico.
To Lubarsky, a number cruncher-turned-housing activist, Wallingford’s architectural jewels, with their grand front porches and exquisite topiary, are emblematic of this city’s potentially fatal flaw: a housing market so expensive it’s throttling one of America’s biggest urban success stories. Decades ago, these tidy homes were cheap enough for schoolteachers and firefighters. Today, most cost at least a million dollars, and what was once a proudly middle-class neighborhood has morphed into a financially gated community.
Part of the problem, Lubarsky admits, is people like himself: Seattle’s red-hot tech economy, led by companies such as Amazon and Groupon (where Lubarsky works), has filled the city with an army of well-paid workers bidding up the price of housing. But that tech-fueled demand has tended to overshadow the other driver: insufficient supply. Since the end of the financial crisis, Lubarsky says, Seattle has added roughly 100,000 jobs, but barely 32,000 new homes and apartment units. “We’ve underbuilt every year since 2010,” he adds. And a big part of that deficit, Lubarsky says, is due to neighborhoods like Wallingford, where zoning laws make it almost impossible to build anything other than a single-family house.
That’s why Lubarsky wants to radically reconceive the way Seattle lives. For several years, he and fellow activists have waged a data-driven campaign to change the city’s zoning to allow more “density” in single-family neighborhoods, which account for more than half of the city’s land. If this pro-density campaign succeeds, neighborhoods like Wallingford could be transformed by a wave of new construction that would gradually replace single-family homes with duplexes, town homes, apartments and other multifamily housing types. And that would go some of the way toward solving a paradox that threatens many of America’s most successful cities: the younger workers needed to maintain that urban success can no longer afford to live there.
Here’s straight talk from Justin Gillis and Hal Harvey on how cars haven’t been working out for cities- “Cars Are Ruining Our Cities“, The New York Times.
A century of experience has taught us the folly of it. Three pathologies emerge. First, every car becomes the enemy of every other. The car you hate most is the one that’s right in front of you not moving. As cars pile in, journey times and pollution rise.
Second, after a certain point, more cars make the city a less congenial place for strollers, bicyclists and people who take public transit to their destinations. The cars push out frolicking kids, quiet afternoons reading on a bench and sidewalk cafes. So we give up our public space, our neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and ultimately our personal mobility for the next car, and the next one.
And then there is the odd fact, counterintuitive as it is, that building more roads does not really cure congestion and can even make it worse. The problem, as experts realized starting in the 1930s, is that as soon as you build a highway or add lanes to a freeway, cars show up to fill the available capacity. The phenomenon is so well understood that it has a name: induced traffic demand.
removing cars from cities is not only one of the best things we can do for sustainability and facilitating mobility – it's also one of the best ways to increase urban livability.
Schloßplatz Lahr. Lahr has a pop of about 45k. pic.twitter.com/Rg8bB5MQKW
— mike eliason (@bruteforceblog) April 23, 2018
I look forward to visiting Dunedin. It reminds me of my favourite college towns in California. Zooming around in Streetview has given me the impression that it suffers from road gigantism with standardised road reserves and a nasty looking one-way system through downtown. Here’s a story about an effort to scale back motordom with a pedestrianisation scheme in the ‘Octagon’. This sounds great and I’d like to hear more about it. Tim Miller, “No-cars Octagon possible“, Otago Daily Times.
A pedestrian-only zone in Dunedin’s city centre could be a step closer to reality.
A report on the public’s response to the five-day pedestrian-only trial of the area during Easter weekend was also presented.
More than 90% of the 550 people surveyed, both by independent contractors during the weekend and online, rated the experience positive.
Online feedback on the trial is open until April 30 but so far more than 90% have supported a permanent or occasional pedestrianised Octagon.
Getting to a transit stop/station is an under appreciated part of a public transportation journey. For whatever reason, transit provider don’t consider the micro-level details that make the system work. Here’s a new world city that is starting to do a better job at this. Steve Hymon, “First/Last Mile Plan to improve neighborhood access to Blue Line is adopted; first of its kind plan in U.S.” TheSource.
Among the improvements the plan calls for are better sidewalks, more and safer crosswalks, more lighting for pedestrians, better and safer bike lanes and facilities, more trees to supply shade, bus stop improvements, pickup/dropoff locations near stations and landscaping.
— Kees van der Leun (@Sustainable2050) April 28, 2018
Here’s a book review of Richard Sennett’s new book “Building and Dwelling”. Justin McGuirk, “Can Cities Make Us Better Citizens?” The New Yorker.
More bracing is the assertion that a healthy city cannot merely be designed; it needs to be enacted by its citizens. The nub of “Building and Dwelling” is that the open city is a demanding place. Anyone who has taken part in community meetings, resident groups, or planning consultations will know that getting people to agree is hard work. And to be a citizen of the open city requires patience and adaptability in the face of the unfamiliar—qualities that Sennett finds embodied in the migrant. One of the book’s final sentences concludes, “The ethical connection between urbanist and urbanite lies in practising a certain kind of modesty: living one among many, engaged in a world that does not mirror oneself.” Typically idealistic, typically urbane, it’s a sentiment that’s well-timed for the disputes of our day.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.