Urban Jungle

Housing Reserves for Endangered Human Habitat
  1. Carlos Castañeda, “Protestors Block, Barf on Bus in Fight Against Yahoo’s Oakland Shuttles, April 2, 2014, http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/04/02/protesters-block-vomit-on-yahoo-employee-shuttle-bus-in-oakland/.

  2. Siddarth Sharma, “How Palo Alto Voted in the 2016 Election,” The Paly Voice, http://palyvoice.com/2016/11/10/how-palo-alto-voted-in-the-2016-election/.

  3. See, e.g., M.K. Styllinski, “Dark Green X: UN Agenda 21 And Smart Growth,” Infrakshun, https://infrakshun.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/dark-green-x-un-agenda-and-smart-growth-2/, and Joe Otto, “Marxism and Fascism Being Implemented in Your Neighborhood,” Conservative Daily, March 17, 2013, https://conservative-daily.com/2013/03/17/marxism-and-fascism-being-implemented-in-your-neighborhood/.

  4. See, e.g., Joel Kotkin, The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us (Evanston, IL: Agate B2, 2016). Kotkin is a perceptive author who argues powerfully for the need for more housing. Although I respect his views and value his many insights, I must reject his emphasis on suburbanization on environmental grounds.

  5. Other writers, not surprisingly, disagree profoundly with Kotkin. See, for example, Ryan Gravel’s aptly titled and innovative study, Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities (St. Martin’s Press, 2016). Charles Siegel backs up a similar claim with data from The Levittowners: Ways of Life and Politics in a New Suburban Community (Pantheon Books, 1967): “In fact, the data we have shows that most of the people who moved to the new postwar suburbs did not particularly want to live in this sort of neighborhood. When Herbert Gans interviewed the residents of Levittown, a name that was symbolic of the mass suburbs of the fifties, he found that 72% of them had moved there for reasons that had nothing to do with its suburban setting.” Siegel, Unplanning, 32.

  6. Others on the Right, however, fear that the resulting population movements could turn “red” states such as Texas “purple” or even “blue.”

  7. See W. Gardner Selby, “Rick Perry Correct that Trucks Cost Half as Much to Rent Going from Austin to San Francisco than the Other Way Around,” Politifact Texas, March 12, 2014, http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2014/mar/12/rick-perry/rick-perry-correct-trucks-cost-half-much-rent-goin/.

  8. See the webpage of the YIMBY Party: http://www.sfyimby.org.

  9. Adam Negourney and Conor Dougherty, “The Cost of a Hot Economy: A Severe Housing Crisis,” New York Times, July 18, 2017, A1, A13, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/us/california-housing-crisis.html.

  10. This formulation is not entirely accurate, as extensive private planning would be necessary for every individual housing project. As a result, they would all be ever vulnerable to the so-called planning fallacy, as outlined by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (Kahneman, Thinking: Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), which holds that planners tend to systematically underestimate costs, time, and obstacles while overestimating the benefits of whatever projects are being devised. The signal difference, however, is one of scale and exclusivity. Master plans devised by governmental forces tend to be more susceptible to catastrophe than small, project-specific private plans both because of the former’s greater size and because they are largely shielded from market discipline. Bad plans need to be able to fail: an opportunity that the market provides much more readily than bureaucrats. Nassim Nicholas Taleb nicely summarizes the situation: “Urban planning, incidentally, demonstrates the central property of the so-called top-down effect: top-down is usually irreversible, so mistakes tend to stick, whereas bottom up is gradual and incremental, with creation and destruction along the way, though presumably with a positive slope.” Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Random House, 2012, 324.

  11. C.K. Prahalad, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits (Philadelphia: Wharton School, 2004).

  12. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great America Cities (New York: Vintage, 1962).

  13. Charles Siegel, Unplanning: Livable Cities and Political Choices (Berkeley, CA: Preservation Institute, 2010). http://www.preservenet.com/unplanning/Unplanning.pdf.

  14. We might want to consider as well Charles Seigel’s idea that limiting transportation, especially by removing subsidies of all sorts, could actually enhance urban livability. As he argues, “Rather than demanding that the planners provide us with more transportation, we need to realize that we would be better off with less transportation – and that the way to get there is by using the law to put direct limits on destructive forms of transportation.” Siegel, Unplanning, 122.

  15. The concept of “unplanning” has been developed at length by Charles Siegel in Unplanning: Livable Cities and Political Choices (2010). Siegel is highly critical of conventional urban environmental thinking, arguing that “environmentalists want more urban planning in order to undo problems caused by modernist urban planning. Environmentalists want to build cities with walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods — cities designed like American cities were a century ago, before most people ever heard of city planning.” Siegel, Unplanning, 5. But, unlike the current proposal, Siegel would apply “unplanning” across the board and is skeptical of efforts to focus development around transit stations. As the first two paragraphs of his book put it:

    "Environmentalists have not moved beyond the modernist faith in city planning. They say that our cities’ environmental problems are caused by lack of planning. When they see problems that were obviously caused by planning, they blame them on insufficient planning – on “piecemeal planning” that looked at transportation or at zoning in isolation. Instead, they say, we need comprehensive regional land-use and transportation planning: if a single agency controlled land-use planning and transportation planning for an entire metropolitan region, it could concentrate new development near transit stations in order to stop sprawl and reduce automobile dependency.

    Conservatives attack this sort of comprehensive planning on the grounds that it reduces freedom of choice and that it would replace local decision making with centralized decision making by technocratic planners. Environmentalists have a hard time convincing the public to let the planners make decisions that now are made by individuals and by local government" (Siegel, Unplanning, 5).

  16. Liam Dillion, “A Major California Housing Bill Failed After Opposition from the Low-Income Residents It Aimed to Help. Here’s How It Went Wrong,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2018, https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-housing-bill-failure-equity-groups-20180502-story.html.

  17. Julia Galef, “Should We Build Lots More Housing in San Francisco? Three Reasons People Disagree,” https://juliagalef.com/2017/07/13/should-we-build-lots-more-housing-in-san-francisco-three-reasons-people-disagree/#_edn1.

  18. Paul Groth, Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

  19. The shuttering of SRO hotels was not, of course, the only cause of the crisis of homelessness. The closing of mental hospitals and the societal increase in drug abuse, for example, were perhaps even more important.

  20. See, e.g., “Diana Diamond, “Even a Bike Bridge Project Can’t Escape the Infamous ‘Palo Alto Process,’” The Mercury News, December 16, 2015, http://www.mercurynews.com/2015/12/16/diana-diamond-even-a-bike-bridge-project-cant-escape-the-infamous-palo-alto-process.