Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Everything you need to know about urbanism in four blog posts from Larry Littlefield

I was reading an entry on the NYC transportation blog Second Avenue Sagas about the proposed AirTrain to LaGuardia Airport in response to a not very informative press release from NYC's Global Gateway Alliance--business advocates for the city's airports--about transit connections to the world's 30 busiest airports, and some of the comments were by Larry Littlefield, the back and forth patter congratulated him on a letter he had published in the Economist, so I dug a bit deeper into his oeuvre.

He appears to be an investment analyst, maybe a couple years older than I. Lives in Brooklyn. He focuses a lot on urban economics, the real dynamics of the housing market, and municipal finances, especially pension liabilities (in fact, his reasoning reminds me a lot of blog commenter charlie). His blog is called Saying the Unsaid in New York.

These four posts are the rough equivalent to reading Cities in Full by Belmont, but much more dark.

His writings make me appreciate more that DC proper is an outlier in that its economic future is rosier than most cities--because we are a true city-state.  Even if Congress controls some of the city's destiny, having control over most of the tax revenue stream (with the exception that we can't tax nonresident income earned in the city) puts DC ahead of most others.  Although, we still have the municipal worker pension overhang in the city and in the transit system, which will handcuff the city quite a bit still, especially as we can only grow our revenue streams intensively, not by annexation.

1. "The (New) Urban Crisis"

2.  "Can The Urban Archipelago Be Recreated?"

3. "How Then Shall We Live: Housing in the Wake of Generation Greed

4. "How Then Shall We Live: Transportation in the Wake of Generation Greed"

FWIW, the section of his blog, Helpful Background and Greatest Hits, is even more dark. We're f*ed. And maybe it's better I don't have kids, as it's that generation who are stuck with the consequences of what they're being left by the previous generations--what Mr. Littlefield calls "Generation Greed" and  the policies and practices they have begat, to their financial benefit now but at a mortgaging fo the future.

It's not just about crony capitalism, but pensions, housing policies that supported suburban development, and other policies that supported automobile dependence, etc., which happened to be sustainable only in the immediate conditions after World War II, when the US emerged, temporarily but we didn't know that at the time, as the globe's richest country.

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At 8:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes, great stuff. Like your writing, a lot to agree with and a lot to disagree with.

My quick two cents -- he is too concentrated on the granular, and ignoring the bigger picture in the US, which I surmise is Hirschman unbalanced growth issue.

(And speaking of Hirschman, that the giant disappointment with Obama --- this is the guy who should have understood voice vs exit but it turns out he never heard of it.)

the unbalanced growth is your strong market/weak market. Strong market are places that are adapting to New World Order. Weak market is not.

So, can we run strong market cities (Boston, SF, Manhattan/Brooklyn, DC) as luxury goods or not?

The constant comparsion to Canada is also useful -- how are they able to build functional urban areas?

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Canada only has about seven major cities: Montreal; Toronto; and Vancouver are the big three. Then you have Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta, strong because of the oil industry. Ottawa because it's the national capital. Then what, Winnipeg? Saskatoon?

Vancouver gets a lot of Asian capital. Toronto probably has its share of global capital too. Montreal, being Francophone, no longer benefits as much as it did before the Parti Quebecois came to power and a lot of industry and financial firms decamped to Toronto.

But yes, I think your terming of strong market cities as "luxury goods" is a fair assessment.

At 9:06 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Regina, Saskatoon, London -- even the smaller cities are far more urban.

In any case, I remember someone saying our entire economic system since 1970 was dedicated to building the best houses in the world.* And and we got there! Screw the moon. I want a big house.

The problem is we didn't look at how to value the land.

In terms of strong market, I would say that restrictions on supply are neccessary.

* 30 year mortgage, securitization, too big to fail, Fannie Mae, and a floating currency.


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